Here are my recommendations.
Best fine dining:
1. L'Etoile - Farm-to-table style restaurant, new american similar to chez panisse. Local, seasonal, sustainable. Gorgeous new location. Highly acclaimed.
2. Restaurant Magnus - Upscale scandinavian fare. Try the pastrami steak, duck, bison sliders, and just about any cocktail. James Beard Semifinalist this year.
3. Restaurant Muramoto - Asian fusion. Good stuff. Not as unique as the above two but a great upscale place nonetheless.
4. Eno Vino. Small plate food. Good stuff. A bit of a drive from downtown.
Best pub food:
1. Graze - Upscale comfort food. Next door to L'Etoile. Try the "pork cubed," chicken and waffles, hickory nut caramel pie, or just about anything else
2. Cooper's Tavern - The typical gastropub. Good food, great beer selection.
3. The Old Fashioned - Great place for wisconsin fare such as cheese curds, brandy old fashioneds, mac and cheese
Often recommended to out-of-towners:
1. The great dane. Decent food, but a madison institution
2. Ian's - just for the mac and cheese pizza
3. Fromagination - mostly to shop for cheese, but they have good sandwiches too
Best Foreign food:
1. Italian - Lombardino's. Good value, a bit of a drive from downtown
2. Italian - Osteria Papavero. Always good
3. East Asian - Lao Laan Xang. Great laotian food. Both locations are great.
4. East Asian - Ha Long Bay. Huge menu, but largely successful.
120 E Wilson St Ste 3, Madison, WI 53703
25 N Pinckney St, Madison, WI 53703
128 E Wilson St, Madison, WI 53703
225 King St, Madison, WI 53703
Lao Laan Xang Restaurant
2098 Atwood Ave, Madison, WI 53704
12 S Carroll St, Madison, WI
2500 University Ave, Madison, WI 53705
Ha Long Bay
1353 Williamson St, Madison, WI 53703
You MUST include Fresco when recommending places for fine dining. The contemporary American food is excellent (especially the chocolate-filled beignets for dessert), and the location next to the sculpture garden on the roof of the museum of contemporary art, with a view of the capitol, is a plus. www.frescomadison.com
Well, my opinion is based on both having eaten at all of my top 4 and your top 3 at least 5 times each, as well as local and national acclaim. Not sure what yours is based on. Harvest is fairly well-acclaimed; I could at least see why someone would list that restaurant in the top three. Personally, I find it inferior in every regard to L'Etoile (except steak choices) and only care to visit there during restaurant week in Madison in the future. Fresco doesn't have anywhere near the acclaim that L'Etoile, Magnus, Muramoto, Eno Vino, or Harvest have. It's also merely the third best "local, seasonal" restaurant in the city.
But, like you said, you are welcome to your own opinion using your own reference points.
25 N Pinckney St, Madison, WI 53703
I don't care about how much "acclaim" a place gets, only about how good the food is when I go there. And regardless of acclaim, the food at Fresco has been excellent when I've gone there.
I also don't care to deride someone else's opinion by getting into an arrogant argument over "my opinion is better than your opinion". Food and taste is all a matter of opinion, and different people have different opinions - something ALL of us here on Chowhound need to accept, without insulting each other.
"You are welcome to yours" along with telling me what I "must" include in my own recommendations came off as exactly what you were saying we should avoid here on chowhound. I inferred extreme arrogance those remarks. I apologize for misinterpreting. All restaurants mentioned are good meals.
I wholeheartedly agree on the best pub food -- all great options.
I would add Roman Candle for pizza (my fave, though my husband prefers Glass Nickel East) and our favorite restaurant in the city: Sardine.
Sardine does approachable, slightly upscale French-inspired cuisine in a beautiful dining room with high ceilings and a view of the lake. I just tried a new cocktail there called the basil smash that is made like a mojito -- delicious. I'm a huge fan of their brunches (try the frisee salad with wedges of St. Andre and grapefruit) and their Bloody Marys might be the best in town.
1054 Williamson St Ste A, Madison, WI 53703
We have had great fun and good food at Jac's on Monroe Street. Brasserie food in a small, energetic atmosphere. Most impressed by their bar. Try their Sazerac or Aviation, if you're in a cocktail mood.
Lombardino's is always a great location. Don't expect "red sauce Italian", but DO expect great flavors for good value.
Feeling carnivorous? Look into Samba Brazilian Steakhouse.
Gonna be in town for a Friday night? Try a Madison staple and get reservations at Avenue Bar for fish fry.
On the Square? Try The Old-Fashoined for a fantastic spin on Wisconsin tavern food.
Madison Magazine's "Best of Madison" might be a great resource....http://www.madisonmagazine.com/Madiso...
Monroe Street Cafe
561 Monroe St, Detroit, MI 48226
On the Square Cafe
PO Box 284, Kalida, OH 45853
2500 University Ave, Madison, WI 53705
This is a post from a couple of years ago but is still applicable except for Wah Kee. The last time we were at there, the broth in one of the soups tasted like soap. We have not been back due to circumstances and are hoping this was just an anomaly.
We have three favorite restaurants in Madison. Just one of them has a west side location. But Madison is so small, driving to the east side is not that inconvenient.
New Orleans Take-Out is small, just a counter and stools, but has authentic Creole food. (Don’t say “Cajun” to the owner; he makes a sharp distinction.) The shrimp poorboys are a must. Oyster poorboys are available in season. The Etoufée is very good, but very hot. The original east side location is at 1920 Fordem Ave. There is now a west side location near the stadium, at 1517 Monroe St. http://www.eatmobettah.com/New%20Orleans%20Take%20Out1/Menu.html
The best barbecue in Wisconsin is found at Smokey Jon’s, 2310 Packers Ave. This is on the far east side, near the entrance to the airport, but well worth the drive. www.smokyjons.com
We also love the Wah Kee Noodle House at 600 Williamson St. It is the type of authentic Asian noodle house found rarely in the Midwest. Its location is not too far east; it’s close to the Capitol. It is on the northeast corner of where Williamson, Wilson, Blair and John Nolan streets all meet.
These are all down-scale places. For something upscale, one must dine at the venerable and nationally-known L’Etoile, found on the east side of the Capitol Square, at 25 N. Pinckney St.
Now we must talk about drinking beer, a Madison essential. The Memorial Union on the UW campus has a wonderful German “Rathskeller” with muraled walls, where the students hang out. (Don’t miss the west wall mural “When Wine and Beer are at War”, written in German.) The Rathskeller leads out to the relaxing lakeside Terrace, a must-see during the summer months. (If you’re not a student, you must buy a one-day pass for a couple of bucks to drink beer there. The pass is not needed for food or non-alcoholic beverage purchases.)
A fine brewpub, The Great Dane, stands one block to the southeast of the Capitol Square at 123 E. Doty St. (at Doty & King streets). The Essenhaus is an atmospheric German beer hall and restaurant at 514 E. Wilson St., just across from the Wah Kee Noodle House.
New Orleans Take-Out
1517 Monroe St, Madison, WI 53711
3433 W National Ave, Milwaukee, WI 53215
Here are some of the more comprehensive discussions. Some of these are a few years old but many have been updated recently.