Nothing says romance like cozying up together with a great meal. That's why going out to eat remains a date night staple. You just can't beat fantastic food in a beautiful atmosphere with even better company. Madison is host to a stellar culinary scene with dozens of James Beard Award recognitions and a renowned farm-to-table culture. Locally-sourced and nationally-loved, the restaurants in Madison are exceptional venues for feeling the love.
James Beard recognitions
For a romantic experience with a real "treat yourself" flair, you have to dine at one of our James Beard Award-recognized restaurants.
Madison's 2024 James Bead finalists each bring their own vibe great for different kinds of date nights.
Sean Pharr's vision to showcase Wisconsin's bounty is fully realized at Mint Mark, known for its spread of shareable small plates and beautifully botanic bar and interior design. For a date night that's far more laid back with all the romance of an up-north cabin, you can check out Pharr's other restaurant Hank's next door to the Muskellounge specializing in smash burgers and fish fry.
Pasture and Plenty has been recognized by the James Beard organization for hospitality but is beloved for so much more. The community-centered farm-to-table focus puts great ingredients center stage with a variety of dine-in lunch and dinner options in addition to incredible take-and-bake meals that make for an excellent picnic.
For exceptional, award-winning sweetness, Cocovaa owner Syovata Edari, a semifinalist for best pastry chef or baker, always delivers. Step in the shop to indulge in a rotating menu of bonbons, pastries and warm beverages perfect for a pair of lovebirds to share.
The 2023 winners of Best Chef in the Midwest Itaru Nagano and Andrew Kroeger are running the kitchen at Fairchild, the Monroe Street restaurant known for Wisconsin-inspired and locally-sourced, high-end dishes. Follow Fairchild's Instagram to learn more about the farmers they work with to create their well-loved dishes.
Restaurants from the list of 2023 semifinalists offer menus from across the world. Semifinalist Francesco Mangano at Osteria Papavero makes traditional, rustic Italian fare with a twist. Emerging Chef Semifinalist Jamie Brown-Soukaseume (Hoang) from Ahan is known for her vibrant Asian-inspired dishes at a brand-new expanded restaurant in the eccentric Willy Street neighborhood. At Madison Sourdough, Semifinalist for Outstanding Pastry Chef or Baker Andrew Hutchison is known for his breads and cafe that make for a sweet date day lunch or breakfast.
Madison's history of decorated chefs and restaurants runs deep. The city has claimed 30 nominations in the last 10 years, including at these favorite date-night spots.
Chef Tory Miller and his restaurant L'Etoile are known for being trailblazers of the sustainable, farm-to-table movement alongside former owner and founder Odessa Piper. L'Etoile is a cornerstone of the Madison culinary scene and is situated with an incredible view of the Capitol building, making for an inspiring, romantic backdrop. Beyond the great food menu, L'Etoile has been nominated for James Beard awards for their wine selection which is meticulously curated and seriously impressive.
A Pig in a Fur Coat serves Mediterranean comfort food in a trendy communal atmosphere. Seasonal, rotating dishes and special pop-up menus range from items like wood-fired pizzas to beef tartare. If you want to see a totally different side of chef Daniel Bonanno's culinary prowess, head down the street to his Italian deli Alimentari where you can get epic sandwiches and all the fixings for a romantic picnic.Head chef and Best Chef of the Midwest semifinalist Dan Fox at Heritage Tavern goes beyond farm-to-table cuisine by raising his own pigs for use at his and other Madison-area restaurants. Heritage is cozy and its menu is elevated with some of the finest produce and meat Wisconsin has to offer.
As the only James Beard Award-nominated restaurant with a stunning lakeside view, Sardine is a romantic bistro and bar with an incredible dinner menu and beloved Saturday and Sunday brunch. Locals rave about their frites, which are not only acceptable but encouraged as a brunch course.
Food with a view
Many of Madison's restaurants serve up scenery as phenomenal as the food.
The Harvey House, named by the New York Times as one of America's Best Restaurants in 2022, is an elevated supper club in a former train depot that will stun you when you walk in the door, especially when you round the corner to see the glowing bar featuring a stellar backdrop.
There's not a bad seat in the house at Eno Vino in downtown Madison. Sitting at the top of the AC Hotel, Eno Vino has some of the best views of the Capitol building, even in the women's restroom, which has a reputation for being one of the coolest bathrooms in Madison.
One of the newest additions to the Madison food scene, Lola's has generated lots of buzz for its Midwestern flair on the hi-fi bar. Decked out in moody 1950s-inspired cocktail lounge decor and filled with the sounds of live DJs spinning vinyl, Lola's is an experience hard to find elsewhere. It has also made waves for its bathrooms honoring one of America's favorite blonde bombshells.
There's nothing quite like a farm-to-table dining experience where the farm is within eyesight of the restaurant. The Kitchen at Seven Acre Dairy Company highlights the food growers and artisans of the Sugar River Valley. Its hearty menu is served in a beautiful Wisconsin-inspired dining room with an adjoining patio overlooking the Sugar River. After dinner, you can take a stroll through Paoli and enjoy locally-owned shopping and sipping.