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Nov 3, 2010 11:26 AM

Madison International restos and markets?

Does Madison have a large international cuisine selection? I am most interested in:

Vietnamese: Are there lots of pho houses? Banh Mi places? General Vietnamese and Chinese-Vietnamese places?

Chinese: Chinese BBQ? Dim sum? Any other regional Chinese? (Sichuanese? Taiwanese?)

East and South East Asian groceries? Large or small?

Korean food and groceries? I am addicted!!!

South Asian: Is there a section of town with a South Asian strip mall or road with lots of shops? In terms of restos, can I find chaat, dosas, or any other regional/specialty Indian restos? Are there any restos that self-label as Pakistani? Are there South Asian owned zabihah halaal butchers?

Arabic food or Arab markets?

Mexican: Taco stands and trucks? Pollos asados? Mexican groceries? La comida mexicana es mi alma y corazon.

Any other Latin American? El Salvadorean? I love pupusas.

Any other heavily present ethnic community that contributes to the food scene? Somali restos, kosher delis, etc? I don't know much about Madison demographics as the categories on city data are general. Tell me about the international food scene in Madison, please.

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  1. I have been digging around on Yelp and it seems there are lots of Vietnamese and Chinese, Arab, Afghan, Mexican...there are 10 Indian restos or so, a few that mention Indian-Pakistani. However, Yelp doesn't list any Indian market or Pakistani grocery. Can it be so that there is no desi grocery in the Madison area. From Yelp it looks like there are a few East Asian (Chinese or Korean) owned markets that stock multinational products...I have lived in a town like this before and sadly the Indian products were stale and the Pakistani products were non existent except for Shan Masala. What do desi cooks do in Madison for ingredients? Do people drive to Milwaukee?

    Please touch on this concern if you know anything about this.

    Thanks in advance.

    2 Replies
    1. re: luckyfatima

      A specific Indian grocery in Madison is Maharani's on Odana Road. A great international grocery (Mexican/all kinds of Asian/Middle Eastern) is Yue Wah on Park Street.

      1. re: itsbubbles

        I found a forum called Mad Indians (love the name!!!) and saw that there are several Indian groceries in the Madison, WI area. It seems there are even tiffin services available for bachelors or others who desire such meals for 5-8$/meal. And home prepared biriani. I am guessing there are a lot of South Indians in Madison based on what I saw in the forums. It looks more promising to me, now. Thanks.

      1. Wow. You must not think much of us, or haven't heard the line about Madison having more restaurants per capita than any other city in the US.

        Vietnamese: Try Vientiane Palace or Ha Long Bay. Banh mi at Graze and Mermaid Cafe are great.

        Chinese: Orient House just opened and has a nice English-language "Chinese" menu. Fugu is the same. Dim sum is a weak point here. Americanized takeout Chinese is also weak, though see Orient House and China Wok on Fordem.

        Southeast Asian groceries: Midway, Viet Hoa, Yue Wah. All respectably large.

        Korean: New Seoul for food, Lee's Oriental for grocery.

        South Asia: Odana Rd. has Indian food and grocery options. Maharani is good, Maharajah is popular (but less good). Swagat has strong southern Indian options. Kabul is Afghani; don't think we've got anything Pakistani. Also not sure on halal butchery, but you could check with People's Bakery, which also sells lunch and dinner items.

        Arabic: That covers a lot of ground, doesn't it? See: People's Bakery (Lebanese), Shish Cafe, and the wonderful Faouzi's (Moroccan).

        Mexican: Hold onto your hat. Madison's taqueria boom has only now subsided. Antojitos El Toril, Taqueria Guanajuato, Taqueria Guadalajara, El Pastor, La Mestiza, Los Gemelos, Pan and Pan, La Concha... Guanajuato has a nice grocery as well, so does Super Tienda Latina.

        Latin American: La Zacatecana for pupusas.

        Madison has three strong Caribbean/Jamaican restaurants, the best of which is (arguably) David's Jamaican. They make ackee and codfish, with fresh ackee--not canned. Amazing. Noodle shops are on the rise now, with Pho Nam and Thai Noodles just opened and Umami Ramen set to open in a bit.

        There's at least a little of just about everything here, though Russian has had a tough go of it.

        Lee's Oriental
        3240 University Ave Frnt Frnt, Madison, WI 53705

        La Mestiza
        6644 Odana Rd, Madison, WI 53719

        Vientiane Palace Restaurant
        1441 Regent St, Madison, WI 53711

        Taqueria Guanajuato
        1318 S Midvale Blvd, Madison, WI 53711

        David's Jamaican
        1616 Beld St, Madison, WI 53715

        Ha Long Bay
        1353 Williamson St, Madison, WI 53703

        9 Replies
        1. re: TheBookPolice

          Thanks for your detailed response, this is what I am looking idea of how much of each, how diverse (ie. Arabic: Yemeni? Moroccan? Levantine?, all?)

          I apologize for sounding like I was insulting Madison...that wasn't my intention. I really don't know anything about Madison beyond what I can see from searching the CH board, and also reading City Data info and forums and Yelp. That's why I am asking. I am just gauging how livable Madison would be for me since I love international foods, and also mostly cook Pakistani food at home and just want to make sure Madison has everything I am looking for. My husband has an excellent job offer there. Food availability is one of the major things for me to consider (perhaps even above weather ;-) ) So I want to know in great detail what the "ethnic" food scene is like in Madison, we eat out often and we are "ethnic" people who have needs for our cooking ingredients. Husband has a less financially attractive offer in a major Atlantic coast city where we would be guaranteed endless cuisines, but I think living in Madison will be nicer---food is really the tipping point for me in what opinion/advice I give my husband as we make our relocation decisions.

          If my husband does take the offer, I am looking forward to the good eats there.

          BTW, on Yelp I could tell that some of your Indian restos are Pakistani owned and do sell Pakistani foods. Oooh, and also there are two Nepali restos with good reviews. Good eats abound in Madison, very good to know indeed. Disappointed about lack of dim sum, though.

          1. re: luckyfatima

            Kyle is probably too shy to tell you, but check out for some of his articles on the lesser-known foods in Madison, as well as commentary in the forums on that site.

            1. re: itsbubbles

              Actually, I got said recommendation deleted by the mods.

              The rest of what I wanted to express, however, is the following:

              Hey, no offense taken. It was a Bugs Bunny, "he don't know me very well, do he" kind of remark. No worries!

              Madison's gonna beat every eastern seaboard metropolis on cost of living, and it's a great town for food.

              There are actually three Himalayan restaurants on State St. (our pedestrian mall)--Himal Chuli, Chautara, and Taste of Tibet. All are great.

              Chautara Restaurant
              334 State St, Madison, WI 53703

              1. re: TheBookPolice

                Darn. I walked by all three of them during a visit this summer, but I couldn't talk my companions into trying them. next trip.

                1. re: TheBookPolice

                  Yes, okay. Thanks to you and itsbubbles for directing me to thedailypage site.

              2. re: luckyfatima

                Madison is home to a major university, as well as being the capitol city of the state.

                As such, it's very cosmopolitan (much more so than you would expect a city of its size to be), and people of every walk of life call it home -- it's a fantastic small city that I'd be happy to live in if it weren't for the harsh winters.

                In the summer the farmer's market on Saturday mornings around Capitol Square is stellar.

                1. re: luckyfatima

                  I live in Madison for my job as well. While I fail to offer here any new specifics (beyond nitpicking and adding a few more favorite local ethnic choices) to what has already been added above, I have to agree, that for its size, Madison has an incredible selection of ethnic foods; it is truly a melting pot and a wonderful place to live and dine. But, yeah, the winters can be cold. The summer is second-to-none, especially with its lakes, creative festivals, many CSAs, and one of the most renowned farmers markets around. As such, it supports a strong scene for organic, local farm-to-table dining and organic cooking enthusiasts.

                  Some of my favorite local ethnic places to dine include:

                  Taste of India (my personal favorite of many Indian restaurants in the area), Shish Cafe (Middle Eastern), Lulu's (Middle Eastern), Kabul's (Afghan), Sa-Bai Thong (Thai), Bandung Indonesian Restaurant, Lao Laan-Xang (Thai)!!!!!, Casa Del Sol (Mexican), and so on. It's hard to keep up with all of them. We even have (had?) a traditional Russian restaurant.

                  Lao Laan-Xang Restaurant
                  1146 Williamson St, Madison, WI 53703

                  Bandung Indonesian Restaurant
                  600 Williamson St Ste M, Madison, WI 53703

                2. re: TheBookPolice

                  >> haven't heard the line about Madison having more restaurants per capita than any other city in the US.

                  A lot of cities make the same claim. According to the link cited in this discussion, of ten cities making that claim, Madison is third, behind Dallas and Wichita:

                  Woo hoo! Almost as many restaurants per capita as Wichita! :)

                  1. re: TheBookPolice

                    Back when this question was first posted, there weren't many Chinese options to mention. But in the last few months, there's been a huge increase of options that i just wanted to mention. My husband's family is Chinese from southern California and we could never take them out to eat in Madison. But on their most recent visit there were a few options.

                    Lee's Garden, on Mineral Point is in a non-descript strip mall. But it has a new chef who has some amazing dishes.

                    Fugu has started a huge trend and a few other Sichuan places have opened. The one we like the best is Ichiban on Park St (what's up with the Japanese names?!?!) The hot pot is great, and most of the food really good. The service can be spotty.

                    I'm curious about the Sichuan place opening on University.

                    Dumpling Haus in Hilldale is expensive. But if you're looking for homemade dumplings, it seems they have a monopoly. Not all the items are great. After sampling the whole menu, I now only order a few times--but my tummy is happy when I do. (Har Gow, potstickers, haus dumplings, haus bao)

                  2. How I'd grade each of the ethnicities you mentioned in madison:

                    Vietnamese: B-

                    Chinese: D- ... abysmal. We have one mediocre Dim Sum place that might be worth a visit if you are in major withdrawl. We used to have a great regional chinese place but the chef left and now it's crap like all other chinese places in Madison. Still, we have a lot of cheap places with "unidentifiable fried chunk" entrees so it doesn't quite stoop to an F I guess...

                    Asian Grocer: B - mostly because of Yue Wah

                    Korean Food and Grocer: Don't know about Grocers; we have a couple of "meh" Korean restaurants that are ok if you are craving, so maybe C?

                    South Asian: C+/B- no strip of shops, tons of Indian restaurants spread out that all taste basically the same (serviceable - used to be terrible about 10 years back but it has improved). You can get chaat and dosas at some of them. Yue Wah, Penzey's will cover your spice/dal/cooking needs pretty easily.

                    Arabic Food: C- a few places but hardly anything gourmet

                    Arabic Market: F - don't know if we even have one

                    Mexican: C+ ... we have a lot but nothing really close to the quality of nearby Chicago or Milwaukee. Book outlines the options pretty well, though I would add in Cilantro (if it's still open) though it's not really a taqueria per se.

                    Other Latin American: We have a Costa Rican place. Pretty good.

                    Other ethnicities: Laotian: A, Indonesian: B. Both worth trying here.

                    no Somali that I know if, an average Ethiopian place.
                    Tons of Indian restaurants but they are all basically the same.

                    Until Jan 1 we have a great scandinavian/american place called Magnus. They will be switching to more of a global ethnic theme soon though.

                    We do have some terrific restaurants, but many of them are more california cuisine / local farm-to-table with french stylings types of places. Also a great Asian Fusion place.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: TAsunder

                      Yue Wah does have an Arabic section, or at least they did last time I was there.

                    2. For what it's worth, the student-heavy Regent St. restaurant Palis has just announced that its entire menu is now halal.