In Fall 2004, the Riverwest Co-op Grocery & Café (733 E. Clarke St., Milwaukee, WI 53212; phone: (414) 264-7933) launched an all-vegetarian café next to its grocery store (which is located in the Riverwest district, an eclectic and somewhat dilapidated part of East Milwaukee). This is an exciting addition to the vegetarian community in town, and early reports suggest that the café is popular. Themenu isn’t huge and the hours are spotty (you should call ahead to check hours), but we enjoyed our meals on our first visit. Virtually every menu item can be made vegan, and prices are extremely reasonable (the most expensive item on the menu is $6.00). We especially liked the vegan pancakes—they were decently fluffy, and it was impossible to tell that they were vegan.
Our second visit was less rewarding. We tried the philly sandwich, the chicken-fried tofu sandwich and the spring roll and weren’t crazy about any of them. In particular, both my wife and I thought the spring roll didn’t taste good at all. Also, note that all three sandwiches we have tried were liberally drenched in nayo. We don’t really like mayo or nayo; if you don’t either, make sure you specify “no nayo” in your order.
There are only 3 ramshackle tables at the restaurant, so you will probably want (need?) to take your meal to-go. While you’re waiting for your meal, you can check out the tiny selection of groceries at the co-op; you’ll have better selection at the Outpost or Beans & Barley, but the co-op’s offerings still are a welcome contribution to the community.
The only other all-vegetarian restaurant in town is Bombay Sweets Vegetarian Restaurant (3401 South 13th St., Milwaukee, WI 53215; phone: (414) 383-3553). Bombay Sweets is located in an out-of-the-way neighborhood in South Milwaukee, in a small mini-mall next to a convenience store that also serves the Indian community. Bombay Sweets is VERY no-frills: cheap plastic tables, sparse décor, plasticware cutlery. As for the food, Bombay Sweets is a mixed bag. The food is cheap (most expensive menu item is $5), the menu is huge and varied, and they have a large deli case of Indian snacks and dessert. The problem is that the food isn’t that great and the place isn’t that clean. We don’t go here very often, mostly because we live on the North Shore, but also because the quality of food makes it hard to justify going out of our way. Nevertheless, prior to the opening of the Riverwest Co-op Café, we took a certain amount of pride that Milwaukee could support at least one all-vegetarian restaurant.
While the restaurant is not exclusively vegetarian, vegetarians and meat-eaters alike love Beans & Barley (1901 E. North Ave, Milwaukee, WI 53202; phone: (414) 278-7878), located in a hip part of East Milwaukee. B&B will please every palate, so it often emerges as the consensus choice when trying to please a diverse audience. Just about everything on the menu is good; my favorites include the seitan fajitas (a frequent special), the tofu stir-fry, the vegan burrito and the vegetarian chili. Prices are reasonable—most dishes are $5-$7. The only problem is that B&B gets very crowded at peak hours. If I go for a weekday lunch, I go at 11:30 or 1:30; otherwise, the wait can be a half-hour. Weekends can also be crowded (on the weekends, I try to go in the late afternoon or after 6:30). B&B has a small but complete natural foods store attached to the restaurant.
When looking for a little higher-end vegetarian-friendly restaurant, the clear choice in my opinion is Barossa in Walker’s Point (235 S. Second St. Milwaukee, WI, phone: (414) 272-8466)). The menu isnearly all-organic, and one of the co-owners is a vegetarian—which means that the restaurant understands vegetarian food. The menu always has at least a half-dozen creative vegetarian entrees, and often several of the choices are vegan. Even the waitstaff “gets it.” However, meat-eaters will be extremely happy here too, so Barossa is another good consensus choice. Prices are reasonable for a mid-elegance restaurant; I expect the bill to run $20-$30 per person. The food is very good, although personally I’m just as happy going to Beans & Barley for less than half the price. As a result, I only go to Barossa when someone else is paying. Walker’s Point is an old warehouse district, so be prepared for a crummy neighborhood, but the restaurant’s inside is trendy and tastefully done. I recommend reservations, especially for dinner.
Roots (1818 N. Hubbard St., Milwaukee, WI 53212; phone: (414) 374-8480) on Brewer’s Hill occupies the same niche as Barossa: a higher-end restaurant heavy on the organic/locally-produced food with a nod to the vegetarian clientele. However, I’m less enthusiastic about Roots than Barossa. The menu is more expensive, the food isn’t quite as good, the vegetarian choices are fewer, and the restaurant can be a little smokier (especially in the “Cellar”). While it’s nice to have a restaurant like Roots in town, I would not pick it over Barossa. Root’s only advantage is its location high on a bluff overlooking the Milwaukee River, which gives it a commanding panoramic view of downtown Milwaukee. Reservations also recommended.
1978 N. Farwell Ave., Milwaukee, WI 53202. Phone: (414) 277-0485
A tiny Middle Eastern restaurant. The food is cheap but I don’t think it’s very good.
1505 W. Mequon Road, Mequon, WI 53092. Phone: (414) 241-7074
Great place for breakfast or lunch. The grilled banana pancakes are outstanding and I like the vegan burger. Prices are moderate ($7-10 per entrée). Café 1505 is one of the few restaurants we patronize that has a decent outdoor seating area. We often take out-of-town guests here.
4511 N. Oakland Ave., Shorewood, WI 53211. Phone: (414) 332-2024
A forgettable old-style Chinese restaurant. Yuck. We won’t be going back.
2205 E. Capitol Dr., Milwaukee, WI. Phone: (414) 962-0100
Good and convenient but casual restaurant (you order at the counter and they bring to your table). Good pastas, salads and vegetarian chili. Meals are fresh and can be low far. Prices are a little high ($8-10 for an entrée) for a place where you order at the counter.
1692-94 N. Van Buren St., Milwaukee, WI. Phone: (414) 220-0202
This place gets lots of buzz, for reasons not entirely clear to me. The décor is trendy, but the food is so-so and way overpriced. The vegetarian thali special was $19! I’m not going back on my dime.
818 E. Center St., Milwaukee, WI. Phone: 414-374-FUEL.
I haven’t tried this restaurant yet, but it has an impressive list of vegetarian and vegan choices: at least 10 vegetarian sandwiches (most have cheese, but a few are vegan), several vegetarian burritos, vegetarian soups and a vegetarian chili. However, this place is notoriously smoky, so this may be best thought of as a take-out restaurant.
1550 N. Farwell Ave., Milwaukee, WI 53202. Phone: (414) 276-2250.
One of the better Indian food restaurants in town, but this is a partially-backhanded compliment. Indian food connoisseurs will not be impressed, and it’s hard to justify picking this restaurant.
Noodles & Co.
8779 N. Port Washington Road, Fox Point, WI. Phone: (262) 540-6601
A good and convenient place for fast food dining/takeout. The numerous vegetarian dishes are starred on the menu. Prices are around $5-$6 for entrees.
732 E. Burleigh, Milwaukee, WI 53212. Phone: (414) 251-4455
A number of other vegetarians had recommended this Vietnamese restaurant, so we were really excited to try it. However, we were disappointed. The food just wasn’t that flavorful. We won’t be going back.
For another perspective on vegetarian restaurants, Mollie Boutell lists her 8 top vegetarian picks in Milwaukee.
OTHER VEGETARIAN RESOURCES
The Outpost Natural Foods Coop is a grocery store with locations on Milwaukee’s East Side (100 East Capitol Drive, Milwaukee, WI 53212; phone: (414) 961-2597) and West Side (7000 West State Street, Wauwatosa, WI 53213; phone: (414) 778-2012). We’re very lucky to have the Outpost. It’s the largest natural foods store in town by far, and it’s complete enough to serve as a primary grocery store. It has the largest and best organic produce section in town. It also has a nice deli and salad bar for a quick meal. The big problem with the Outpost is that it’s very expensive as a grocery store, so we use it only to supplement our principal grocery store, and even then usually buy only items on sale. While we like the Outpost, we are also eagerly awaiting the arrival of Whole Foods in Fall 2006. When Whole Foods gets here, I don’t know how the Outpost is going to successfully compete (this is also a big problem for Beans & Barley’s small grocery store, which will be right across the street from a new and huge Whole Foods).
For more information on the Milwaukee vegetarian community, see Milwaukee Area Resources for Vegetarians. The group meets monthly and warmly welcomes new attendees. The long-time members have great tips on coping with life as a vegetarian/vegan in the Midwest.
For a listing of cooperative farms and farmer’s markets in the Milwaukee area, see http://www.wisconline.com/greenmap/milwaukee/sites/food.html