Nitty Gritty

Chocolate Milkshake

Name: Nitty Gritty

Location: 223 N Frances St, Madison, WI 53703

Ambience: Casual dining, sports bar

Price: $$$

Best Dish: Roasted Garlic Burger

Although best known for birthday traditions, the Nitty stands on its own as a great place to get a hearty burger. With a sports bar atmosphere, they provide classic American dining and (supposedly) decent beer. They are admittedly a little on the expensive side, but their easy substitutions makes them an unusually suitable burger place for vegetarians.


Roasted Garlic Burger

Although they do offer a selection of three vegetarian burgers, I highly recommend subbing in. Any of the Nitty’s burgers can have a veggie patty or a black bean patty substituted in for them for a $1 more. I would recommend their black bean patty because it’s moist and holds together well — two things that I find very difficult to find in any other restaurant’s black bean burgers. Their Chipotle burger and their Roasted Garlic burger ($10.25 before sub for both) are both delcious. The chipotle aioli adds wonderful flavor to the burger, however, I wish that the chipotle flavor was stronger. The Sheboygan hard roll holds up well with the moisture that the aioli adds. My personal favorite is their Roasted Garlic burger — with a strong garlic flavor from the sweet roasted garlic, it complements the black bean burger well and stands on its own. The best part of the burger is the crispy onion strings, which add a really nice textural element between the creaminess of the black bean burger.

In terms of sides, the Nitty has decent cheese curds ($8.25 as appetizer, $1.75 as a side), but they could have been crispier and chewier. I enjoyed both their fries and their onion rings, which were crisp and didn’t get soggy even after sitting a while while I ate my burger. Their milkshakes ($5.99 for virgin, $7.50 with alcohol) are also fantastic — they’re creamy and rich with a strong flavor, and the ice doesn’t settle to the bottom. At $5.99, they seem pricy — however, there’s enough that can it can be split between two people, and the staff is happy to do that.

The Nitty has some of the best black bean burgers I’ve had. If you can take the multiple rounds of Happy Birthday blasted over the speakers, the Nitty is a Madison classic that has great burgers and milkshakes.



Porter Coffee


Name: Porter

Location: 640 W Washington Ave, Madison, WI 53703

Ambience: Hipster coffee shop

Price: $

Best Dish: Mocha

To be fair, I can’t exactly pick any other dish from Porter because I haven’t eaten anything else. I went at 9 AM, and had already had breakfast. My companion did have their avocado toast and enjoyed it — however, for almost $6 for avocado on toast, it seemed a little overpriced.

Porter’s biggest draw is its atmosphere. Tucked behind a bicycle shop just off of the railroad tracks, it’s very inconspicuous. In fact — it was so inconspicuous that Google Maps sent me around in circles for 10 minutes before I finally called my friend to ask where it was. Right outside the shop, there’s a stationary, giant yellow train just waiting there. The inside has an exposed pipe and a modern yet cosy vibe, despite how small it is. The exposed countertops and brick add to the ambience, as does the single, large square table in the center of the coffeeshop that serves as the main seating. Having everyone sit around the same coffee table really does encourage conversation — as I found when I spoke to the person sitting next to me about the newspaper.


As for their drinks, their mocha is delicious. It tastes even better because their whipped cream is light, fluffy, and clearly homemade. As someone who generally does not enjoy whipped cream, this was a very pleasant surprise. Their mocha was a little bit on the stronger side, but it still had the distinctive flavor of the chocolate. The rest of their coffee menu is pretty standard — cortados, macchiatos, lattes, and the like.

Porter is a lovely place to go for a date or just a long conversation with friends. I wouldn’t recommend it for studying simply because it is so small. It’s a great addition to Madison’s local coffeeshops, and definitely a hidden gem.

Update: Porter’s sandwiches are also amazing. Their Veggie sandwich, with tangy artichokes that add a heartiness, arugula, and gooey cheese is phenomenal and is surprisingly one of the best sandwiches I’ve had.

Sol’s on the Square


Name: Sol’s on the Square

Location: 117 E Mifflin St, Madison, WI 53703

Ambience: Warm, family style

Price: $$$

Best Dish: Bibimbap

Korean food stands alone from other Asian food — it tastes completely different from Chinese, Vietnamese or Thai food. Although they’re famous for their BBQ style meat, their vegetarian options are often very flavorful. Madison has two Korean restaurants that I’m aware of — one in Sauk Square, and Sol’s, which is out by the Capitol. Tucked away next to the Heritage Tavern, Sol’s is a nice sit down restaurant with some great vegetarian options.

They pass around four small dishes to share as a table — pickled cucumbers, pickled potato, bean sprouts, and kimchi. I found the pickled potato to have an odd texture, although it was exceptionally flavored all the way through. My favorite was the cucumber. The tartness of the vinegar was just sharp enough to lend flavor, but it didn’t drown out the vegetable and it was well paired with the coolness of the cucumber.

We started with a kimchi pancake (11.99) to share for the table. While it comes with seafood and bacon, the staff was more than willing to make it vegetarian by combining vegetables and kimchi in place of the seafood. The pancake was crisp on the edges and well caramelized, complementing the chewiness of the dough. The kimchi, which tends to be very strong, was muted — I wish there was more kimchi flavor. Sol’s bibimbap ($14.99) was delicious — literally sizzling in the iron bowl, the rice had crisped up well on the bottom and was beautiful to look at with a rich array of vegetables. It included wilted spinach, razor thin slices of zucchini, and carrots that were still crunchy, along with tofu on the top. I wish they had used a firmer tofu, since this tended to crumble when I tried to pick it up with chopsticks. I really liked their spicy sauce, which combined a unique sweetness with a slight kick. It could have been spicier, but it allowed the flavors to come through a little more.

Sol’s is a great Korean restaurant in Madison — it doesn’t come close to matching the quality of Korean food in Chicago or Seattle, where I’ve had the best Korean food, but it does a good job with what it does. The food leaves you feeling content, a balanced, colorful meal even when eating out.

Dough Baby Bakery

Dough Babies

Name: Dough Baby Bakery

Location: 511 State St, Madison, WI 53703

Ambience: Hipster, cute

Price: $

Best Dish: Dough Babies

Specialty donuts have gained quite the following — with Hurts Donuts opening up in Middleton, the classic offerings of Greenbush back on Regent, and now Dough Baby Bakery on State Street, Madison’s donut market is pretty saturated. But Dough Baby Bakery stands out from the rest, and not just because they use locally grown, mostly organic ingredients.

Dough Baby has a constantly changing menu. They adjust for the season and although they have some stand-bys (like their chocolate cake donuts), the fact that you can pick up something unique every time you go is a huge plus. Their attention to ingredients comes through — the raspberry frosted donut I had just after they opened tasted like actual raspberry, not just vague flavor syrup. While their traditional donuts are delicious, Dough Baby really shines with its stuffed donuts. Their apple pie stuffed donut had apple slices coated in cinnamon sugar. The apples maintained their bite, adding tartness that cut through the sweetness, and the flavor diffused throughout the donut. Also fantastic was their pancake batter filled donut. I expected it to become soggy and overly sweet, but the donut held up and the batter was just the right amount of sweetness.

My personal favorite donut is one they have every day — their dough babies, or little donut holes coated in cinnamon sugar. They’re light and the perfect complement to a cup of coffee. At around $2.25 a donut, they are a little on the expensive side but it is definitely worth it for the quality.

Estación Inka


Lomo Saltado Platter

Name: Estación Inka

Location: 606 University Ave, Madison, WI 53715

Ambience: Relaxed, casual

Price: $$-$$$

Best Dish: Lomo Saltado Platter — with mushrooms

At first glance, Estación Inka has no vegetarian options. This isn’t exactly surprising, considering how meat heavy Peruvian food tends to be. However, they’re more than willing to do a vegetarian substitute — if you like mushrooms, that is.

I personally happen to love mushrooms, so I found this restaurant to be a delight. It’s cute, if a little sparse — white walls, white tables, with Peruvian beer cans as a decoration. Their food is unique and very flavorful, particularly the sauce that they gave on the side. The Lomo Saltado platter ($10.99), which is traditionally served with beef, was fantastic. It consists of crispy french fries topped with a rich sautee of mushrooms, carrots, and onions. The onions are crispy despite being cooked down, and the carrots have a nice bite to them. The best part is that the sauce they use actually seeps into the vegetables, lending it the flavor.

Also good was their Chicken Brasa sandwich ($8.99) — which my vegetarian friend substituted mushrooms in for as well. The main problem was that it was effectively the same dish as the Lomo Saltado platter — just… in sandwich form. It was still good, it just doesn’t offer much variety.Instead of french fries, they substituted papitas in, or thin slivers of potato that are deep fried until crispy, and it was definitely the best part of the sandwich.

Their mango smoothie was fine, nothing particularly special. The appeal of Estación Inka comes from the uniqueness of the cuisine they serve — the flavors are different, softer and warmer than Mexican food. If we ate meat, perhaps we would get more of the diversity that Peruvian food has to offer — they are noted for their rotisserie chicken, so any meat-eating friends would have lots of great options. At around $10/person, it’s a little on the expensive side for being a fast casual restaurant, but it does make up for it by filling a niche cuisine.

Chicken Brasa Sandwich

Eldorado Grill

Chef-Crafted Tacos

Name: Eldorado Grill

Location: 744 Williamson St, Madison, WI 53704

Ambience: Upscale, warm

Cost: $$$

Best Dish: Spinach and Mushroom Enchiladas with Salsa Verde (in Platos Mexicanos)

Reminiscent of Rick Bayless’ Frontera Grill in Chicago, Eldorado Grill provides an upscale, rich palette of Southwest dining. They don’t pretend to be an authentic Mexican restaurant — and they aren’t. They excel at Southwestern food (and tequila, according to their webpage), and they’re a fantastic place to go for a nice dinner out.

One thing I really didn’t like was that chips and salsa are $1.99 — you have to ask for them as an appetizer, and a small, three mini-ice cream scoops of guac is $3.99. That being said, both the salsa and the guac are excellent and well worth it, hitting just the right combination of ingredients. The guac is topped with pico, and both of them tasted remarkably fresh, something that is quite rare when it comes to standard chips and dip. Their non-alcoholic margaritas were also very good. We got pomegranate and strawberry. The lime juice was clearly fresh and very tangy, and the underlying fruit flavor came through without seeming false.

However, Eldorado Grill truly was at its best in the entrees. With a remarkable selection of vegetarian options, they made it difficult to choose — but both were outstanding. The chef crafted tacos (which change daily, one meat and one vegetarian selection; $12.99) with sautéed zucchini, wilted spinach, portabella mushrooms, and onions were delicious. The vegetables were well cooked, and the zucchini was flavorful and still firm. But the spinach and mushroom enchiladas ($12.99) were the star of the show. The tanginess of the salsa verde provided the perfect complement to the dryness that tends to accompany corn tortillas, and the mushrooms were extremely flavorful and added a nice bite to the dish. The Monterey Jack and chile pasilla added great depth of flavor, particularly the chile. The rice was well seasoned and surprisingly tasty, and was a great addition.

Clearly, from my long review — this restaurant is well worth a visit. They are definitely on the expensive side, but their ambience affords a great place to take family or friends out for a nice dinner with fantastic food.

Non-alcoholic Strawberry Margarita
Spinach and Mushroom Enchiladas with Salsa Verde

The Green Owl Cafe

Macho Nachos

Name: The Green Owl Cafe

Location: 1970 Atwood Ave, Madison, WI 53704

Ambience: Warm

Cost: $$

Best Dish: Crabby Cakes

Green Owl is an all vegetarian cafe out on Atwood, and the difficult thing about going to places like this — as my companion pointed out — is that there are just so many options to choose from that I never feel like I’ve done justice to the menu. Usually, there’s only one or two vegetarian items on the menu, but Green Owl caters specifically to vegetarians with a variety of meat substitutes.

The restaurant has a couple of good dishes, but also some not so good ones. Their side of kale chips ($3.50) are crispy and perfectly done, but could use more seasoning. The majority of chips lacked salt or seasoning, but the ones that had them were delicious.Their Crabby Cakes ($6.50) were outstanding — described as two tofu mushroom patties baked to a crispy brown outer coating, topped with vegan chipotle remoulade, they were flavorful and served on a bed of greens that added a burst of freshness. The chipotle remoulade was cool, and the flavor of the chipotle came through very well.

The Dijon Chicken sandwich ($9.50) was fine, but my companion felt like it needed more of the dijon flavor and our other meat-eating friend mentioned that the chicken substitute reminded him of the chicken McNuggets from McDonald’s. Also good was the Groundnut Stew ($12), inspired from some African cuisine with a rich flavor palette consisting of sweet potatoes, cabbage, ginger, peanuts and cilantro. The dish was very good, and the brown rice was well cooked. I personally was not a fan of the steamed kale, but my companion enjoyed it. Their Macho Nachos ($10.50)– classified as an appetizer, but great as an entree, were a generous portion of crispy chips, beans, pico, and cheese topped with fresh avocado and a dollop of sour cream. I enjoyed the freshness offered by the avocado, but I wished the ratio of toppings to chips had been higher.

Green Owl is a great concept, but it could have been better executed. They have a few dishes that are flavorful and well worth it, but other dishes are seriously lacking. The Crabby Cakes are fantastic — my meat eating friend even mentioned that although it doesn’t quite meet the texture, the flavor matches closely. They are a unique option out on Madison’s East side for a casual lunch.

Crabby Cakes
Groundnut Stew