Where to Find Authentic, Not Americanized, Ethnic Restaurants in Milwaukee

One of the great joys of traveling is eating. Trying out the gustatory specialties of a city, a region or even a country can introduce us to a place and its people in a very immediate way.

But most of us can’t travel as much as we’d like to. So in order to immerse ourselves in the flavors of the world, we depend on restaurants here at home. And as you might guess, some of them do really well representing their cuisines and others tend to “Americanize” their offerings.

Ann Christenson is the senior editor and dining critic at the magazine. She wrote the cover story of this month’s Milwaukee Magazine, Best Ethnic Restaurants, which is also featured in the Milwaukee Magazine Podcast.

Christenson was searching for anything that was beyond "appealing to the lowest common denominator," something she hates to admit. But with Chinese and Mexican restaurants serving Americanized food such as chop suey, crab rangoon or various kinds of tacos, the article needed to question what makes food truly ethnic.

"I just started looking at what is the best food that kind of takes people out of their comfort zone. And I was trying to answer that question a lot, but I felt like this was really, really overwhelming," says Christenson.

However, a trip around the city proved fruitful in finding many hidden gems that have remained true to their origins - spanning from Latin America to Thailand. Christenson highlights a few of her favorite discoveries:

Latin American

  •  La Borincana - "You cannot go wrong with roast pork and plantains."
  •  Guadalajara - "Wonderful, just great food. Not expensive, quality, really nicely done and simple."
  •  El Canaveral - "Their pozole is a great pork shoulder soup."
  • Chef Paz - "Peruvian. Really interesting ceviches and a really great beef stir fry."

Credit chefpazrestaurant.com

African

  • Irie Zulu - "Just in the last year or so...those different parts of Africa and Jamaica together weren't represented before that."

Jamaican Jerk wings with sweet fried plantains served at Irie Zulu.
Credit Irie Zulu / facebook.com

Middle Eastern

  • Casablanca - "I don't think you could probably do it any better (at least in town) than Casablanca, which also has a great vegetarian buffet at lunch time."

Thai - 35th and National is a place where you'll easily find new Thai food, which is very good."

Pud Prig Sod
Credit Kim's Thai Restaurant / facebook.com