By Shayna Mace with additional reporting by Shelby Rowe Moyer | Image courtesy of TravelWisconsin.com
The promise of waterfront dining on balmy days is what we live for during Wisconsin’s frigid months. If you’re ready for a day out on the town, here are a few beloved restaurants with al fresco dining, complete with beautiful lake views.
Before you go, though, check their websites. Many have limited seating, and some are requiring reservations. (Note that because of restrictions starting on July 2, 2020, restaurants are permitted to have 25% capacity for indoor dining, and are allowed outdoor seating, with social distancing).
The Edgewater’s pier has always been the place to be since the hotel’s opening back in 1948. If you’re coming by water, simply pull up, dock and enjoy a casual, leisurely meal at The Boathouse, which serves warm-weather fare like cheese curds made with Milwaukee’s Clock Shadow Creamery cheese, a simple Boathouse Burger or the ubiquitous Friday night favorite, the fish fry. Their cocktail menu leans in the craft direction and plenty of local brews can be had, all while enjoying the breeze off of the lake.
INSIDER TIP: The ice cream cookie sandwich is the perfect meal-ender.
Known for its laid-back atmosphere, tropical vibe and lakefront tiki bar, this family-owned Lake Waubesa eatery is a must to visit by boat or land. The no-fuss menu features wraps, sandwiches, burgers and appetizers—like the fabulous Shrimp Christy, wrapped in pepperjack cheese and bacon, served with chips and pico de gallo.
INSIDER TIP: The second-floor deck overlooking the water is a prime spot to catch the water action and soak in warm weather.
The Terrace celebrates its 91st season this year as one of the best places to be in Madison in the summertime. And, with the improvements made to the Terrace in 2016, it boasts even more seating, better sight lines and most importantly, a better Brat Stand. Grab a brat, beer and a scoop of famous Babcock ice cream (made on UW–Madison’s campus) and settle in on a Sunburst chair to chat with friends, listen to some live music or just enjoy the view.
INSIDER TIP: The trademark Sunburst chairs are in John Deere green, Allis Chalmers orange and yellow to celebrate spring and fall — the seasons students most associate with the Terrace.
This 59-year-old family business traces its roots back to the (now-closed) Nibble Nook, an eight-seat hamburger restaurant on East Washington Avenue that was purchased by Betty and Bill von Rutenberg in 1961. The family has two waterfront restaurants (Mariner’s Inn and Nau-Ti-Gal) and Betty Lou Cruises that sail on both Lake Monona and Lake Mendota. The nautically inspired restaurants all focus on seafood and all offer stunning views of Lake Mendota.
INSIDER TIP: A seat on the waterfront patio at Mariner’s Inn is one of the best in the house.
One of the most exquisitely appointed restaurants in Madison, open since 2006, Sardine is a beloved institution, perched on the shores of Lake Monona. Once an icehouse and tobacco warehouse, the vintage bistro aesthetic carries on beautifully with wood beams and subway tile throughout. The French-inspired seasonal menu focuses heavily on meat and seafood — like the seared salmon, cassoulet and, of course, moules frites.
INSIDER TIP: The brunch menu is one of the most divine in the city, with delicious options (omelets, salads and entrees), great cocktails and, if you can sit on their deck, a gorgeous lake view to boot.
From the industrial design touches (Edison bulb pendants, corrugated metal accents and pipe shelving) to the spacious wraparound bar, this sophisticated restaurant is a welcome waterfront option on Lake Waubesa. Have a seat on the deck outfitted with twinkling café lights and order up one of 30 daily rotating selections of draft beer from local favorites like Vintage Brewing, New Glarus and Wisconsin Brewing Company.
INSIDER TIP: Enjoy brunch on Sundays with a tinge of southern influence — like in the deep-fried pecan chicken and French toast or the chimichurri breakfast tacos.
Casual dining is anything but dull when you’re perched lakeside with a basket of truffle fries and a beer. Grab a seat on the deck just steps from Lake Monona for a salty break. The menu boasts Wisconsin pub classics, including the fan-favorite cheese curds, brats, burgers and wings. But they also feature some southern classics, like Louisiana catfish and Cajun jambalaya.
INISDER TIP: Want to dine from your boat? Order carry-out and staff will walk it out to the dock.
Nothing in Madison is quite like Lake Vista Café. Situated atop Monona Terrace, which was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1938 — with tweaks made by the architect in 1938 and 1958 — the café has 180-degree views of Lake Monona. Sit back and relax with a seasonal sandwich followed by a light dessert, or take a quick break and enjoy the views with a coffee in hand.
INSIDER TIP: The homemade fries come with a rémoulade sauce that is divine.