We tried three famous Milwaukee margaritas: we had one runaway favorite

For this  “Take Three Tuesday” we tried three margaritas suggested by our page members . Every three weeks we ask our members to name the best place to get a particular food or drink.   We pick three, check them out, and give you our thoughts.  A year and a half ago we tried margaritas in Racine and Kenosha; this time we focused on Milwaukee.

All of the places we visited are Mexican restaurants that sell high volumes of margaritas and use a mix – no problem.

Coming in at No. 3:

Conejito’s Place – 539 W. Virginia Street, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Conejitos exterior

Conejito’s first opened Milwaukee in 1972 and is consistently voted as “best cheap eats” in various local publications.   Many people glowingly talk about this place as having great food and drinks.  Unfortunately,  I don’t get it.   Yes, the prices are  cheap — but the margaritas were not as drinkable as the other two places, the chips were hard,  and salsa had an unusual taste of seasoning salt.

conejito interior

The day we were there, twenty-somethings dominated the crowd and it probably had something to do with the $3.50 margaritas and food.  The great thing about Mexican food is that  at most places it is quite affordable.

conejito menu

We ordered the $3.50 margarita and it was certainly better than one you would get at a corner bar where the weekend bartender has to ask the owner if they can make margaritas before searching out of forgotten bottle of mix under the bar, but it wasn’t anything to make us return.   The margaritas were poured out of jug of “Evonne’s” mix which was on the sour side.   The place is dumpy, which sometimes I enjoy, don’t get me wrong, but I wasn’t feeling it that day, I liked the more festive atmosphere of the other two places.

Conejito Margaritas

Coming in at No. 2:

La Perla, 734 S. 5th Street, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

This is a larger Mexican restaurant in Walker’s Point,  that throughout the years has marketed itself with clever ad campaigns and billboards.  The day we walked in unfortunately it was 90 degrees and the air conditioning was “caput.”

la perla exterior

The inside is cheerful with multiple patios and two interior seating areas.

la perla margarita

We ordered the traditional margarita on the rocks for $7.25 which was the priciest of the three margaritas that we sampled.   It was a very drinkable margarita — just a tad on the sweet side.  The glass could have used more salt.   Also, no chips were offered to us as it was apparent we were there for the drinks.   There was not much wrong with this margarita except the price.

Coming in at No. 1 (WE LOVE THIS PLACE)

El Fuego, 909 W. Layton Avenue, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

El Fuego Exterior

This is a huge restaurant with a wonderfully festive decor.   It was too hot to sit outside but the patio seating is an oasis on Layton Avenue, which has more chain restaurants than anything in that area.  Expect a wait on Saturday night but don’t let that keep you away; this is one of the few Mexican restaurants to celebrate a special occasion – it has that atmosphere.

el fuego interior

We ordered the traditional margarita on the rocks, which was $6.00 individual or $12.00 for a small pitcher which seemed to equal three margaritas.

el fuego pouring margaritas

The margaritas were not too sweet or too sour, the salt was generous and glass size was adequate.  I haven’t even told you about the best deal in Milwaukee: between 2:30 and 6pm every day these margaritas are only $3.00 each!   I can’t end this without mentioning that the chips that they served with the margaritas were the most fresh, crispiest, hottest, chips I have had in my entire life.

Suggestion, head out to El Fuego right around 2:30 on a summer Saturday or Sunday.  Make sure you have a designated driver though because these drinks packed a punch.  Eat the glorious chips and salsa, sit on the patio, enjoy these few weeks of sunny warm weather we have in Wisconsin.  These are the days.

This small bar makes the best chili in SE Wisconsin

Gray skies, leaf-less trees and cooling temps tend to put me in the mood for hearty comfort foods. And even though temperatures have been warmer than usual for December in SE Wisconsin, chili-eating weather is here.

Just like we’ve done in the past, we asked our readers to send us their favorite chili hotspots. Three locations were selected, chili was enjoyed, and our results are as follows…
#3 – Shirl’s Frozen Custard 7943 Sheridan Road, Kenosha

Shirl’s is a popular spot in Kenosha for burgers and frozen custard, and I’m a little embarrassed to mention that I’d never been here before. So, needless to say, I was excited when Shirl’s was mentioned for our chili challenge.

The chili at Shirl’s (small $2.79, large $3.39) was decent (I’d say it kind of reminded me of Wendy’s chili), albeit a little inconsistent. One serving was pretty greasy with a really strong oregano flavor and a medium heat level with grilled onions. But a later other serving didn’t seem greasy at all and without the overpowering oregano (yay!), but had virtually no heat (boo!) and raw onions. Maybe one bowlful was scooped and served without being stirred up a bit first; that’s my theory anyway. We also asked for cheese and onions to be added. I kind of dug that Shirl’s used nacho cheese instead of shredded cheddar. It seemed like a very “drive-in” thing to do, and I wish similar places would offer a cheese choice – shredded or whiz.
#2 – Swingin’ Door Exchange 219 E. Michigan Street, Milwaukee

This is a bar/restaurant in downtown Milwaukee that has been slinging drinks since 1931.  The vibe was great and the menu went beyond bar food to steaks and complicated salads.

This chili (cup $3.50, bowl $5.50 + $0.50 for cheese/onions) tastes exactly how chili should taste. Thick and spicy and meaty with diced onions and peppers and exactly the right amount of heat. Shredded cheddar and diced raw onions were served on the side so you could decide exactly how much of each you’d like to add. Simply, really good chili.

I just want to take a quick sec to talk about what a fun place this is – from the kitschy decor to the delicious Moscow mules to the 70’s and 80’s music that was playing overhead to the waitstaff singing Little River Band songs with us – I cannot wait to go back to this place. Great time!
 #1 Toad Hall 611 Wisconsin Avenue, Racine

As delicious as the chili was at Swingin’ Door Exchange, the chili at Toad Hall (cup $3.50, bowl $5) is on new level. It’s just so… complex. Smoky, spicy, but also a touch sweet. You can tell after just one bite that this is a recipe that was developed over time. And topped with shredded cheddar and diced red onions – whoa… Corey, Pope of Chilitown, (the creator of the chili recipe mentioned on the Toad Hall menu), well done, sir!

Just to make your mouth water a bit more, Toad Hall also serves up Frito Chili Pie ($7).

Five Unique Bloody Marys in Milwaukee

Welcome guest contributors to Wisfoodtalk.com, Bloody Mary experts, Shannon and TJ .   Shannon and TJ are Wisconsin born and raised, living in Milwaukee with their dog Beau. On the weekend, they are on a (hopefully) never-ending quest to find the best Bloody Mary around.   Find more of the boozy adventures on their blog: BloodyMarysofWisconsin.com   The website features reviews and photos of dozens of Bloody Marys in and around Wisconsin.


“These are five of the most unique Bloody Marys in the area!  There are others out there who may have crazier garnishes, but we thrive to find establishments that make their own Bloody Mary mix.  Milwaukee has a never-ending sea of bars, so creating a Bloody Mary to stand out isn’t the easiest task. ”

4th Base, 5117 W. National Ave, Milwaukee, http://www.the4thbase.com/home


“Fourth Base in West Allis is unique for many reasons.  One of them, as I consider, is their Bloody Mary.  Each one is made by hand, and to order.  With each Bloody Mary, they make fresh onion straws to be plopped right in the drink.  There are so many, they serve the Bloody Mary on a plate as the onion straws overflow the pint glass.  The saltiness of the fried onion goes so perfectly with the classic Bloody Mary mix.  Other garnishes included were a large pickle spear, a slice of fresh yellow squash, fresh green bean, sugar snap pea, a fresh broccoli floret, and a green olive.”

Riverwest Filling Station, 701 E. Keefe Ave, Milwaukee. http://www.the-filling-station.com/


“This is the hottest Bloody Mary in Milwaukee!  The bartender warned me and I went for it anyway.  My palette craves hot foods and I seek spiciness.  I couldn’t hang with this beast though.  They marinate the vodka in ghost peppers for a month.  Not a day, not a week… one month!  This mix knocked me on my butt.  It was so hot, the bartender gave me more tomato juice to level it out after a couple of sips. “I told you so”, she joked.  Riverwest also has regular mixes too.  If hot isn’t your thing, try another one!”

Cafe Bavaria, 7700 Harwood Avenue, Wauwatosa  http://www.cafebavaria.com/


“The house mix is primarily the same at any Lowlands location (Benelux, Centraal, Hollander) but they do add different seasonings and garnishes to make each Bloody Mary unique.  The Wurst Bloody Mary has caraway garlic and horseradish-infused vodka to create a unique spiciness.   This Bloody Mary comes with the typical green olive and pickle plus a pickled brussel sprout, cheese curd, a slice of bacon and wurst slices.  It was a true German/Wisconsin mash-up.”

AJ Bombers, 1247 N. Water Street, Milwaukee  http://www.hospitalitydemocracy.com/aj-bombers/

AJ Bombers

“The Bloody Mary at AJ Bombers can’t get better.  Between the housemade mix and the garnish, you could make it into a meal.  After ordering, they cook up a mini bacon wrapped cheeseburger patty as the garnish.  When you mix these garnishes with the super smooth, homemade mix, AJ Bombers has a winner with this Bloody Mary.  And although this Bloody Mary could be a meal, get a burger too.  They’re fantastic! ”

Transfer Pizzeria Cafe, 101 W. Mitchell Street, Milwaukee http://www.transfermke.com/


Come for the Bloody Mary, stay for the pizza!  This super unique mix has a pizza spin on it that will perk your taste buds.  The thin tomato juice was mixed heavily with basil and parsley that created a very different taste than what you’re used to.  There wasn’t much garlic, horseradish or other typical flavorings either so it was truly in it’s own bracket.  The garnish is simple with a pickle spear, a cheese stick, feta cheese stuffed olive, a pepperoncini and a green olive.

If you know of a great Bloody Mary, shoot Shannon and TJ a message at bloodymarysofwisconsin@gmail.com

Kenosha edges out Milwaukee for the best Meatball “Bomber”

We received a smattering of suggestions for our meatball “sub” Take Three challenge. We chose two places in Kenosha and one in Milwaukee.  Not one of those places referred to this meatball, cheese and bread treat as a “sub”.   In Milwaukee it was a sandwich and in Kenosha, it’s a bomber.   We got one good sandwich and two great sandwiches (or bombers).    By the way, the meatballs were perfect at all three places; it came down to the bread and the sauce.

Coming in at No. 3:   Frankie D’s Vino & Pizzeria, 6316 52nd Street, Kenosha, WI

Frankie D's exterior

This attractive strip-mall bar restaurant hasn’t been around as long as the other two places we visited and had the makings of a great happy hour stop.  There are a few tables and a bar with a menu that focuses on Italian food.

Frankie D's menu

The meatball “bomber” is reasonably priced at $5.95, with an extra $2.00 for the mojo potatoes.   According to Thrillist, if you call a sandwich as “bomber” you are supposed to be from Buffalo, New York.  https://www.thrillist.com/eat/nation/names-for-sub-sandwiches-around-america.  Kenosha people: do you use the word “bomber: for all subs? Now I am curious.

Meatball bomber Frankie D's

We had no problem whatsoever with the meatballs; perfectly flavored, and a nice even consistency.  Make no mistake, this was a good sandwich, the bread was fresh and nicely toasted and the cheese was an appropriate amount.  The issues were that the bread to meatball ratio was a little too tilted toward the bread side.   Also, the sauce, while fresh tasting, didn’t have that umami, meaty taste.

Coming in at No. 2:  Glorioso’s Italian Market, 1011 E. Brady Street, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Glorioso's exterior   Glorioso interior

LOVE this place.   Its a store, deli, bakery, and restaurant in a beautiful location on the East Side of Milwaukee.  (Can you put one on the South Side, pretty please?)  The deli in the back has a full Italian menu that goes beyond typical deli items and there is seating inside as well as outside.

Glorioso menu

As you may notice, the meatball sandwich is the DEAL OF THE CENTURY.   A two-meatball sandwich with cheese is $3.95 and a four meatball sandwich is $6.75.   You save money by eating out with these prices!

On to the sandwich.  The meatballs were wonderful, the sauce was great, the bread, although untoasted, had a great sesame seed flavor that complimented the meatballs.

Glorioso meatball sandwich

Despite this unctuous sandwich, my mind kept wandering…   I couldn’t stop thinking about that sandwich from a few nights ago in Kenosha…..

Coming in at No 1 – Luigi’s Pizza, 7531 39th Ave, Kenosha, Wisconsin. (No website, here is the Google page https://plus.google.com/112051084625920648061/posts

Luigi's Sign

We were first timers to Luigi’s and we get it.   Nothing fancy here.  No remodeled, shiny restaurant.  But if you want a meatball sandwich, excuse me, bomber, to dream about days later, here ya go.

,Luigi's menu cover r

The menu says that Luigi’s has been operated by the same family since 1963 and that everything is made from scratch everyday.  You could taste that in the meatballs and sauce.

Luigis Meatball bomber prices

The bomber wasn’t cheap at $8.50 with cheese, but it could easily feed two people, so the value was there.

Luigi's Meatball Bomber

Those meatballs, that sauce, the toasted bread.   It was perfection.  I really think the umami-meaty flavor meatless sauce took this to the top.  We found the perfect meatball sandwich bomber.  Thanks, our job here is done.

Please Say This is “Nacho” Best Effort…

This week’s challenge – the best nachos. Nachos can be as simple as tortilla chips and cheese, but we were looking for LOADED nachos. Pile. It. On. We received tons of suggestions and decided to mix it up a bit with some “non-traditional” nachos as well. And because it’s hard to compare apples to oranges, I’m not going to rank these places. I’m rating them individually using the 🌽 (corn) scale.

🌽(1) = Avoid at all cost…

🌽🌽🌽🌽🌽(5) = Stop whatever you’re doing! Go eat this right this very second!

First stop – Tacos el Ray 2000 Birch Road, Kenosha

This place can be a bit hard to find if you aren’t familiar with the area; just keep an eye out for their big sign. The interior is a bit retro, but I’ve never found myself being disappointed with their food – way more authentic than Taco Bell, not as “fancy” as La Fogata.

The “loaded” nachos here are called Nachos El Rey ($8.25).

The tortilla chips were served with your choice of ground beef or chicken (we chose ground beef), nacho cheese AND cheddar cheese, refried beans, lettuce, onions, tomatoes, sour cream, guacamole and jalapeño peppers. This was a good size for the price. But this definitely requires a fork – the chips surrounded the toppings in the middle of the plate almost as if it were a dip. The chips were a bit stale also. And I prefer a chunkier guacamole. This seemed puréed. We did like the use of both nacho and shredded cheeses.

Overall rating – 🌽🌽🌽(3)
Next up – Kaiser’s Pizza & Pub 510 57th Street, Kenosha

We stopped here on a Friday, and although it was before what I’d consider to be dinner time, it was packed.

We ordered Kaiser’s Nachos ($9.99) – tortilla chips topped with melted cheddar and mozzarella cheese, shredded beef, lettuce, tomato and red onion. Salsa and sour cream were served on the side. Kaiser’s did not have any guacamole (disappointing), but sliced up some avocado for me as a replacement (not perfect, but it’ll do).

The serving size was big enough to share. I was really looking forward to these, and I was HUNGRY when we arrived, so even though I didn’t really enjoy these a ton, I ate a lot of them. The shredded beef was lacking flavor as if zero seasoning was added during the cooking process. And there was a significant lack of cheese (disappointing, again).

Overall rating – 🌽🌽(2)
On to Smoke Shack 332 N. Milwaukee Street, Milwaukee

If you’re not looking for the sign, you may miss it. Smoke Shack is a cute little restaurant tucked amoungst giant brick buildings in the city. And the interior was just as adorable – I felt like I was inside a Pinterest post.

We ordered Pulled Pork Nachos ($9.50). Large enough to share, these chips were topped with fresh jalapeños, tomato, red onion, black beans, sour cream, melted white cheddar and pulled pork with barbecue sauce.

I love the concept of these nachos – cheesy tortilla chips covered with smokey pulled pork. So the fact that the pork was smothered with a barbecue sauce was a let down. I couldn’t taste the pork at all, only the sauce. And the chunks of tomato, red onion, etc were HUGE. One accidental bite of a large jalapeño sent a member of our party to the rest room for a coughing fit.

Overall rating – 🌽🌽(2)
Last up – Jalapeño Loco 5067 S. Howell Avenue, Milwaukee

We ordered the Super Nachos ($9.75). These tortilla chips were topped with refried beans, ground beef, pork or chicken, melted cheese (cheddar, probably), sour cream and guacamole.

The chicken was yummy and tender. And the way the chips were laid out guaranteed every single chip was covered with tons of toppings (awesome!), however, there was only a single layer of chips (bummer!).  When paying $9.75 for nachos, I expected more. Luckily the complementary chips and salsa were both delicious and refillable.

Overall rating – 🌽🌽🌽(3)
I’m certain we missed some awesome nacho hot spots. Tell us which place we HAVE to go to to get ROCKSTAR nachos.  We’ll be doing a follow-up post in the future.

Captivating Calamari in Southeast Wisconsin

Rest assured, we have some pretty good calamari in SE Wisconsin.   Calamari is the Italian word for squid and all parts of the squid are edible from the tentacles to the body.   All three places we visited, as recommended by our Facebook page members, served hand-breaded, tender calamari with body parts and tentacle parts.      Let’s get something out of the way: can we agree that marinara sauce is really an inappropriate dipping sauce for calamari?   Give me some cocktail or a mayonaise-based sauce any day over marinara sauce.   Only one of the three places we tried served their calamari with marinara,  but even at that place,  cocktail sauce was easily substituted.

Coming in at number three, Boat House Pub and Eatery, 4917 7th Avenue, Kenosha, Wisconsin

Boat House is an attractive restaurant in downtown Kenosha, adjacent to a harbor.

Boathouse sign

The calamari was listed as hand-breaded and was reasonably priced at $7.95.

When the calamari arrived, it was tender, and the batter was unremarkable but yet, fine.   The serving size was appropriate and it was paired with the dreaded marinara sauce.  We asked our friendly waiter for cocktail sauce and he happily brought some to the table.   There were rings as well as the tentacles and we finished the tender fried calamari quickly.

Calamari Boathouse

Coming in at number two was Cafe Hollander, 2608 N. Downer Avenue, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.   (There is a second location in Wauwatosa)

Judging the entire appetizer, Cafe Hollander was probably our favorite of all three, however, focusing purely on the calamari, this one is the second-best.

First, Cafe Hollander is on the North side of Milwaukee and it was packed with a waiting list at 12:30 pm on a Friday.   The outside seating is great and most of the crowd were taking advantage of the beautiful day.

Cafe Hollander exterior two

Cafe Hollander is owned by the Lowlands Group, which also owns Cafe Benelux  in the Third Ward, Cafe Bavaria in Wauwatosa, and Cafe Centraal in Bay View.  The website explains that the restaurants are all European/Belgian-style.  http://www.lowlandsgroup.com/ourcompany/

At Cafe Hollander the calamari ($11.95) has some accompaniments which were delicious and made the dish.

Calamari menu listing

The calamari was tender and the breading had bit of  heat/spice to it.  When paired with the sriracha mayo, this was a bit of an spicy overkill for a couple of us.  In addition, the breading didn’t stick to the calamari quite as well as our winning calamari.

Calamari 3

The peppadew peppers (red in the photo) were tangy but not too spicy but the best part was the fried balsamic marinated cippolini onions (the dark circular things in the photo).   These could be the star of their own appetizer, which I would absolutely order.

And our number one calamari is St. Paul Fish Company, 400 N. Water Street, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

St. Paul Fish Company is located within the Milwaukee Public Market in the Third Ward.   St. Paul sells seafood for takeout, but they also have a full menu and about fifteen restaurant-seating tables.

Public Market Exterior

St Paul Fish Company interior

We ordered the fried calamari for $8.95.   The calamari arrived piping hot with a panko-like breading that stuck to the squid.   The breading was perfectly seasoned.   It was served with both cocktail and remoulade sauce (flavored mayo).   The remoulade sauce was the most complimentary sauce to the calamari.

St Paul Calamari

If we could have put St. Paul’s calamari with the peppers and balsamic onions served by Cafe Hollander, the result would be amazing.    I would love to do another calamari challenge but with grilled calamari or calamari salads.   Anyone have a suggestion for those in SE Wisconsin?

Chili-Cheese Dogs: Good Chili is KEY

I like hotdogs. I know there are folks who say “but they’re made from lips and a**holes”.  Well apparently I love lips and a**holes because hotdogs are delicious.  I don’t eat them often – maybe at a ball game or a few times during a summer cookout – but every once in awhile, I crave a chili dog. We ended up doing a four-tasting this go-around instead of our usual three for Take Three Tuesday, but more on that later.

Coming in at number 4…

Caesar’s Frozen Custard 2721 Douglas Ave, Racine

There was nothing inherently wrong with this chili cheese dog ($3.09). It tasted like an Oscar Meyer hot dog with Hormel chili on top. I like Oscar Meyer hot dogs and Hormel chili – that’s what I use when making a quick chili dog at home – but I wanted something BETTER than I could do at home.  I did like how they split the hot dog down the middle and grilled it. The nacho cheese sauce on top did have a nice little kick of heat, and the bun was soft on the outside and slightly toasted on the inside.

Now, numbers 3 and 2 could go either way, in my opinion. There were things that I liked and didn’t like about both that make it kind of a toss-up for me.

Trolley Dogs 5501 6th Ave, Kenosha

This is a hot dog place, so expectations were high. I appreciated the Vienna beef hot dog used in this chili-cheese dog ($3.99).  It was served on a steamed, poppy seed bun with homemade chili. (Unlike the other two Hormel chili dogs, this one had kidney beans.)  And it was topped with a nacho cheese that had a little kick. But the chili had beans… I don’t care for beans on my chili dog. The chili also lacked flavor; it was there, I could see it, but when you closed your eyes took I bite, you couldn’t even be quite sure you were eating chili.   I left somewhat disappointed.

Martino’s Italian Beef 1215 Layton Ave, Milwaukee

Another hot dog place, more high expectations.  I liked that, again, this chili cheese dog ($3.99) was made using a Vienna beef hot dog. It was served on a steamed poppy seed bun and nacho cheese sauce.  Because the price includes french fries, this is a very good deal. However, the chili wasn’t anything special – it tasted very Hormel-like. The picture may not look like there’s much chili and cheese, but Martino’s placed those toppings under the dog. Overall, I was underwhelmed.

After visiting those three places and not feeling as though there was a clear standout, we decided to add an additional location to our usual Take Three Tuesday. Man, am I glad we did, because coming in at number 1…

Real Chili 419 East Wells Street, Milwaukee and 1625 West Wells.

Menu Marquette real Chili

This was the chili cheese dog ($4.25) I was looking for! First, I liked the finely shredded cheddar Real Chili uses better than the nacho cheese sauce at the other places. The hot dog itself was good – I’m uncertain if it was a Vienna (there was no signage in the restaurant), but it definitely wasn’t an Oscar Meyer. But the key – the chili. What would you expect from a place named Real Chili, right?  It was spicy and, because the ground beef is so finely chopped, it was thick and hearty. There are no fries at this place, but I didn’t care one bit – I was so satisfied with the chili cheese dog alone.

Real Chili is a classic chili joint with a u-shaped counter/bar.  Its never too late to strap on feed bag here; the place is open until 3am.   

Chili Cheese dog marquette location

Yes, it was the most expensive. Yes, it was the farthest drive. But it was totally worth it.