The Best Madison Restaurants *not* on State Street

Welcome back to school, Badgers! It has been a great summer, but with school back in session comes the stress of classes, part-time jobs, orgs and social commitments. Outside of those obligations, though, one of my favorite things to do in my free time is to explore all of the unique restaurants that our foodie city has to offer.

Although newcomers to Madison tend to head straight to State Street for bites because of its familiar name, I’ve found that the food options on State can sometimes be too corporate and often subpar. This summer, I took it upon myself to venture elsewhere in Madison to discover the best eats by not eating at the same place more than once. I was overwhelmed by the amazing restaurants I stumbled upon. Here are some of my favorite places from this summer; and although they are not exactly on-campus, they are absolutely worth the trip...


1. New Orleans Take-Out (Monroe St.)

Down on Monroe Street lies one of Madison’s greatest hidden foodie treasures. Although not typically well-known among UW students, New Orleans Take-Out is a fast, casual spot that is beloved by the Madison community—and for a good reason. The restaurant serves classic Cajun/New Orleans dishes such as po’ boy sandwiches, red beans and rice and sweet potato pecan pie. They even offer crawfish, catfish and oysters, which are generally rare finds in Madison.

The Mardi Gras Combo, with a side of cornbread!


My favorite dishes are the Shrimp Po’ Boy with garlic sauce (or the Cheese Po’ Boy if you’re a vegetarian!) and the Deb’s Barbeque Shrimp.  If you’re new to the Creole scene, the Mardi Gras Combo is a great way to start, since it allows you to sample three traditional dishes: the Jambalaya, Red Beans & Rice, and Shrimp Creole. Be sure to grab a bite at NOTO after game day, as it’s only a two-minute walk from Camp Randall!


2. Monty’s Blue Plate Diner (Atwood Ave.)

If you’re looking for an affordable, delicious brunch, look no further than Monty’s Blue Plate Diner. The variety offered for breakfast, brunch and lunch is unmatched by any other brunch spots I’ve been to in Madison. And although there are tons of different options to choose from, you can rest assured that whatever you order will be fresh and tasty.  They offer dishes on the sweet side, like the Almond Milk French Toast, as well as ones on the savory side. My go-to savory plate is the Vegetarian Hash (pictured below), which is made of potatoes, peppers and Tempeh. It’s served with eggs of your style, as well as a homemade biscuit and fruit. I like to top it with poached eggs and avocado.  

My Vegetarian Hash with poached eggs and avocado in front; Monty’s Cristo sandwich featured in back.

Photo by Stephanie Qadir


Another fan-favorite is the Eggs Mornay. It comes with two poached eggs on English Muffins and is topped with the house-made Mornay sauce. The sauce is comparable in texture and flavor to Hollandaise sauce; so if you’re a fan of Eggs Benedict, you’ll love the Eggs Mornay.  


3. Ha Long Bay (Williamson St.)

As a connoisseur of Thai food, I make it my mission to try any pan-Asian restaurant’s variety of curries, noodles, and noodle soups. Ha Long Bay, located on foodie hot hub Willie Street, serves traditional Thai, Vietnamese and Laotian dishes. One of the things I love about Thai restaurants is the wide variety of Vegetarian/Vegan options they offer—they're environmentally conscious but aren't devoid of flavor. I sampled the squash curry, panang curry, and tom kha noodle soup and have been astounded by the flavor explosion that each one produces. Still, you can choose to adjust the spice level on any dish. With each bite, you’ll taste a little bit of Thailand; so go here if you’re about flavorful, exotic food that’s wallet-friendly. You won’t regret it!

The panang curry at Ha Long Bay


4. Canteen (S. Hamilton St.)

As someone who loves Mexican food, I simply can’t reserve my weekly taco intake for only Taco Tuesdays. So when Canteen came to town on S. Hamilton St., I knew I had to head over to see what all the fuss was about. Not only does the ambiance of the small restaurant emit a Tex-Mex vibe (think brightly painted faux-cow skulls and woven baskets hung on the walls), but their creative tacos and side dishes will nip any taco craving right in the bud. The fried cauliflower taco, which is topped with house Mexican slaw and crema, was my favorite of all the ones I tried.  Of course, Canteen offers more than just tacos; they also serve up traditional Mexican plates such as Tortas and Burritos, and their street corn is out of this world. Be sure to hit up Canteen the next time you want to change your Taco Tuesday routine!

My three delicious Canteen tacos: from left to right, Grilled Farmer’s Cheese, Tecate Fish, and Fried Cauliflower. Street corn peeking in on the side!

Photo by Stephanie Qadir



5. Red Sushi (W. Washington Ave.)

I’ve sampled my fair share of sushi around Madison, and I’ve never had an experience quite like dining at Red. Although a little on the pricier side, the quality of Red's vegetarian, cooked, raw and seasonal rolls make the eatery stand out from your garden-variety college town sushi (no offense, Sushi Express!) Red has a rotating seasonal sushi menu that features in-season produce, and their year-round rolls include ingredients that I’ve virtually never seen at any other sushi spot in Madison, such as micro beets, Fresno chili, and figs. The fish itself is surprisingly fresh for land-locked Wisconsin, and the carefully crafted presentation is only the tip of the iceberg into some of the best-tasting sushi I’ve ever had. Red also offers a weekday lunch special that offers any two rolls off the lunch menu for only $13.50, which makes for an affordable way to try all that it has to offer.  

My Spicy Godzilla roll (left) and Unagi roll (right)

Photo by Stephanie Qadir


The next time you’re thinking about heading to State for a meal on the town, think twice! Amazing new restaurants might be literally around the corner—and you will have to explore them all to truly get a taste of Madison!