In her Best Bites series, dining critic Rachel Bernhard rounds up some of the most delicious dishes she ate around Milwaukee in recent weeks. From food-truck finds to fine-dining dishes, these are some of her favorite things that crossed her plate each month.
November was hands-down my busiest month of the year. I took a little time off to travel to New Orleans, where I continued to eat like it’s my job — minus the notetaking. And while I could’ve dined at one of the many Milwaukee restaurants that offered special Thanksgiving meals over the holiday, I spent it enjoying a home-cooked spread with a game-day twist: pulled turkey sandwiches, stuffing-stuffed mushrooms and cranberry chutney devoured while watching the Packers pull off a thrilling win against the Detroit Lions.
So with all of the time spent out of town, my list is a bit of a shorty this time. But don’t worry — these three are still wow-worthy dishes that gave me even more things to be thankful for in November.
Maine lobster roll from St. Paul Fish Company
On what was supposed to be a quick pop-in to the Milwaukee Public Market, 400 N. Water St., to pick up some Spice House spices (yes, I do enjoy cooking at home when I’m not exploring new restaurants), I saw a couple stools open at St. Paul’s Fish Company’s bar. Open seats are coveted at the busy fish market/restaurant, and it was almost lunch time, so I altered my afternoon plans and bellied up to the bar.
I knew exactly what I would order: the Maine lobster roll. It had been a couple years since I last bit into that buttery split-top roll filled with fresh Maine lobster meat, and it was as delicious as I’d remembered. Sure, $22 for a sandwich seems pretty steep, but when I say the roll is absolutely filled with big hunks of tender lobster, I mean it. A chewy, crisp-edged New England-style bun serves as the tasty vehicle for a cold lobster salad lightly dressed in mayo to let the meat’s sweetness come through. Plus, it comes with a pile of (really respectable) french fries and a side of crisp coleslaw.
The whole plate was ready in less than 10 minutes. What a luxurious way to flop down for a speedy lunch on an afternoon spent running errands! I won’t wait so long before my next visit.
Pud kee mow from Mekong Cafe
Last month I made a special trip to Milwaukee’s west side to visit Mekong Café, 5930 W. North Ave., curious to see how things had changed since it reopened for dine-in service earlier this year. While things feel a little more casual there in its current state (the space now operates as a part Asian grocery and part restaurant), the quality of the food is just as phenomenal as it was before the pandemic forced the restaurant to shift its model.
Mekong Cafe’s pud kee mow is one of my favorite versions of the dish in the city. The dish, which is sometimes known as drunken noodles, is such a comfort: wide rice noodles in a savory sauce with a heat level that can vary from mild to break-a-sweat spicy. And Mekong can bring the serious heat if you’re up to it (choose a spice level from one to four).
What sets Mekong Cafe’s pud kee mow apart is the freshness of the ingredients with those chewy noodles. The onions and green beans are cooked perfectly crisp-tender, lending an irresistibly snappy crunch. There’s a generous amount of fresh holy basil, too, which helps offset the savory flavor of the dish, making it feel as light and fresh as it is comforting.
Next time I stop in I know I’ll order something different (there’s too much I love here, including the panang curry and its Laotian larb), but I might need to take some of that pud kee mow to go (great news: it travels terrifically).
Green Sky Roll: Sushi Yuki
Whenever I go out for sushi, one thing’s for sure: I’m going to order a spicy tuna roll. It’s the sweet (OK, spicy) and simple base that I build the rest of my order around. From there, I like to go a little wild, choosing from house specialty rolls that I haven’t seen done anywhere else.
The spicy tuna roll (called the Crunchy Spicy Tuna Roll on their menu) at Sushi Yuki, 2349 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., is a solid showing, but I really loved the new Bay View restaurant’s gorgeous Green Sky Roll for its inventiveness.
There’s a lot going on with it, but it all works. The main roll is stuffed with yellowtail, salmon, white tuna, tilapia and a little cilantro. Then it’s topped with a thin slice of green serrano pepper, lime, green tobiko (fly fish roe) and a basil ponzu sauce.
I loved the citrusy ponzu sauce. Cut with fresh basil, it brightened up the whole roll and made every bite taste so vibrant. No soy sauce, ginger or wasabi is needed to amp up the flavor on this roll — just drag each piece through the zippy sauce and enjoy it for what it is. So fresh and fun.
Rachel Bernhard joined the Journal Sentinel as dining critic in June 2023. She’s been busy exploring the Milwaukee area food scene to share her favorite finds with readers along the way. Like all Journal Sentinel reporters, she buys all meals, accepts no gifts and is independent of all establishments she covers.