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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Friday, April 19, 2024

The best food in Madison

Best pizza & A-bar food: IAN’S

There’s a reason Ian’s Pizza is recognized not just as a great place to get food after downing shots at the bar, but also the kind off pizza restaurant that’s just as good sober.

It’s the best place to get food when you’re drunk because of the outlandish combinations of meats and cheeses and fries and sauces that everyone loves while intoxicated. And it’s the best pizza restaurant in town because those novel pizza ideas are executed with an emphasis on local ingredients and gourmet preparation.

Ian’s isn’t the kind of drunk food you regret eating the next day (if anything, you regret not eating more), nor is it some dingy grease trap serving up sub-par slices. It’s a place that Madisonians take pride in —the perfect kind of restaurant that’s delicious at 2 p.m., and even more tasty at 2 a.m.

That’s why Ian’s is on top in both of these categories, and chances are will stay there for years to come.


There are few titles more hotly contested in our fair city than that of what restaurant has Madison’s best burger on its menu. But while the shootout between Dotty Dumpling’s Dowry and the likes of the Old Fashioned or Weary Traveler Free House is a close one, Dotty’s reigns supreme thanks in no small part to the variety of amazing burgers on its menu.

Their names, like “Heart Throb” (pepper jack, bacon and spicy sauce), “Gladiator” (muenster, bacon, red onion and “boomerang sauce”) and “Aphrodite” (tapenade, feta, spinach and red pepper mayo), are a hint to eclectic options for Dotty’s burgers. This writer’s favorite is the “Stanley’s Blue Ribbon” burger, topped with cream cheese, barbecue sauce and an onion ring, a rich, over-the-top burger that will make your heart sing (though that might just be the cholesterol).

It’ll show you why Dotty’s is the best place on the isthmus to get a burger.

Best breakfast: MICKIES DAIRY BAR

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Whether you’re ordering the plate-sized pancakes or an egg scrambler oozing with cheddar cheese, make sure to head to Mickies Dairy Bar on an empty stomach. Doing breakfast on a budget? No problem, because they’ve got $1 cinnamon rolls as big as your face. I’m told they have a lunch menu, but when I show up to this breakfast hot spot I’ve got a one-track mind (and stomach) for the most important meal of the day.

Aside from gargantuan-portioned grub, Mickies Dairy Bar is also the best place to start your morning (or, let’s be real here, afternoon) because of its 1950s diner charm. Check out meal prices from 1946 as you gleefully stuff your stomach.

Best Mexican food: LOS GEMELOS

Among the bros of this campus, the debate often rages: Qdoba or Chipotle? Among those who can appreciate real Mexican food, and not just chains, the winner is obvious: None of the above.

No, the best Mexican food in Madison is just off of State Street at Los Gemelos, a fantastic taqueria serving up authentic cuisine. Stray from the conventional fare of burritos and you won’t be disappointed —try a couple of their carne asada tacos, or their delicious al pastor gorditas, pop open a Jarritos soda (or a Pacifico beer) and enjoy the Spanish telenovelas on the restaurant’s TVs.


You won’t find better Mexican food anywhere close to campus.



If Disney movies have taught us anything, it’s that pasta is the first step toward love (or at least a mid-meal puppy smooch).

That’s why Tutto Pasta is the ideal place to take your carb-loving honey. Tutto features a menu with a wide variety of Italian fare beyond just pasta and boasts plenty of intimate seating so you and your sweetheart never have to lose each other’s gaze. The extensive dessert menu will help you end your night on a sweet note—especially the lava cake, the ideal treat for getting the passion flowing. Entrees generally run between $11-16 and will impress any significant other.


It is often advised that when you have to do something nerve-racking, do so in a calming environment. Whether you are a native or adopted Wisconsinite, nothing puts us quite at ease like a cold beer and deep-fried cheese curds. Knowing that, look no further than the Old Fashioned next time you summon the courage to ask the beauty from your political science class on a date.

The perks: The delicious food is affordable without you seeming like a cheap bastard, the place is loud enough to drown out awkward silences and both parties will get to flex their beer-pretention muscles. Sconnie flirting at its finest!

Best vegetarian: SUNROOM CAFE

Breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner—The Sunroom Café offers something vegetarian and delicious for every meal. Quiches and scramblers make the breakfast menu. The cheddar cheese-topped veggie burger on its fresh roll makes a great lunch or dinner, and roasted potatoes make an ideal side dish for all. Every day, they offer savory soups that are meat-based, vegetarian or vegan. The ingredients in every dish are fresh, the service is friendly and everyone is presented with a wealth of options at every meal. But for veg-heads and meat-eaters alike, the most important rule to follow: Don’t forget the fresh-baked dessert!


Espresso Royale brews up smooth, bold, clean coffee that makes the brown water you make at home pale by comparison.

Not a coffee drinker? Not a problem. Espresso’s signature Cacao Royale blends hot chocolate and spices to make a caffeine-loaded, coffee-free treat.

If you’re looking for a beverage on a budget, stop in to either of their two State Street locations on Wednesdays for $2.25 any-size lattes.

But watch out for the desserts, or you might accidentally devour a few chocolate-hazelnut scones and pieces of pumpkin bread before you can say “large latte.”

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