Every time we write about unassuming, small, or hidden gem restaurants in Wisconsin, the comments are filled with suggestions for more spots to try and love. Sure, there’s some really, really spectacular upscale dining or farm-to-table happening here in the Dairy State, but most of us aren’t interested in (and can’t afford) eating like that for every meal. This list is full of quick-eat type spots that provide hearty, filling and downright delicious meals to the folks in their town on a day to day basis. They’re neighborhood stalwarts who bring people back with great food and friendly service. Here, in no particular order, are 15 no-frills restaurants that you can only find here in Wisconsin:
1. Tacos Juanita — Eau Claire
Folks in Eau Claire will probably be upset that other people are getting clued into the fabulousness that is Tacos Juanita. This spot is perfect for this college town and is really one of the state's best dining hidden gems.
2. Hub City Family Restaurant — Plymouth
These guys are only open from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. every day, so get there early for downhome comfort food that's filling, delicious and done right. Located at 409 E Mill St, Plymouth, WI 53073.
3. Paco's Tacos - Stoughton
The Madison suburbs isn't where you'd imagine finding a locally-owned spot doing a spin on Mexican street food, but Paco's is serving up great, fresh flavors in Stoughton. Located at 135 W Main St, Stoughton, WI 53589.
4. The Mint Cafe — Wausau
This spot has been serving Wausau since 1888. Obviously, a few changes have been made along the way, but what remains is a simple cafe serving up great flavors. Located at 422 3rd St, Wausau, WI 54403.
5. The Pine Cone Restaurant — Johnson Creek
This amazing, homestyle restaurant is attached to a gas station just off the interstate exit most known for its outlet mall. But long before being a shoppers paradise, this was the spot about halfway between Milwaukee and Madison where folks gassed up and truckers enjoyed rib-sticking meals and baking that will leave you drooling. Located at 665 Linmar Ln, Johnson Creek, WI 53038.
6. Hmong's Golden Egg Rolls — La Crosse
Hmong are the largest Asian ethnic group in Wisconsin. This restaurant brings the tastes of Laos, Thailand and more to La Crosse. It's simple and authentic and when they say spicy, they're not messing around. You can certainly stick to the favorites you're familiar with and be happy, but letting them direct you to some Laotian staples is always a good choice. Located at 901 State St #110, La Crosse, WI 54601.
7. Sam's Diner —
Sam's looks like the kind of generic diner facade you could see along any highway across the country, but it's a spot readers pointed out as not to be missed. They weren't kidding. This diner has all the staples covered and they are all amazing. Located at 28432 N Lake Dr, Waterford, WI 53185.
8. The Cozzy Corner — Appleton
Anyone within an easy driving distance of the Fox Valley that hasn't traveled for a meal here is no friend of mine. This is my favorite recommendation for people because they never expect it and it always blows them away. Soul food. BBQ. The best owners and staff. Honestly, this should be on all Wisconsinites bucket list.
Located at 111 N Walnut St, Appleton, WI 54911.
9. Shorty's Pizza and Smoked Meat — Superior
The combination of smoked meat and pizza feels very Wisconsin and this spot in Superior feels like a perfect local microcosm. They don't feel like they should go together, but boy do they. Located at 1015 Tower Ave, Superior, WI 54880.
10. Paul's Pel'meni —
Another spot that the college kids all know about and everyone else needs to learn, Paul's is located just steps off State Street. You've probably passed it hundreds of times but if you don't go later at night, when the line is out the door, you'd never know it was there. But these little dumplings are pillows of heaven and the price point can't be beat. Located at 414 W Gilman St, Madison, WI 53703.
11. Shah Jee's — Milwaukee
Located in the basement of an office building, this might be the most unassuming spot you've ever seen, but the line to grab some food should convince you that it's worth the wait. They've been so successful that two more Milwaukee locations are in the works. Located at 770 N Jefferson St, Milwaukee, WI 53202.
12. LD's BBQ — East Troy
If you've lived in the south you know that gas stations can often be serving up the best food, but that's not a particular thing we do much of here in Wisconsin. East Troy isn't exactly a BBQ mecca, either, but LDs overcomes both those things and puts of the best BBQ I've had here from a BP station. Located at 1880 Co Hwy ES, East Troy, WI 53120
13. Kinara Urban Eatery — Sturgeon Bay
Kinara means "waters edge" in Indian, which fits for this location on the Door County peninsula. There's lots of options here, so your whole family should be able to find something they'll love, but the real draw is the flavorful and Indian food. Located at 25 N Madison Ave, Sturgeon Bay, WI 54235.
14. Schubert's Diner and Bakery — Mt. Horeb
Schubert's is a Mount Horeb institution. For more than a century, they've been known for their Swedish and Norwegian bakery and using their awesome products to create delicious dishes like a Lefse Omelet or a Reuben on their signature Swedish Rye. Located at 128 E Main St, Mt Horeb, WI 53572.
15. Jimmy's Grotto — Waukesha
This picture doesn't convey the pure size of the Ponza Rotta, which is basically a deep fried calzone bigger than your head. Located at 314 E Main St, Waukesha, WI 53186.