This City Is An Underrated Foodie Destination To Add To Your Midwest Bucket List

When thinking about foodie destinations, places like New York City, Tokyo, and Rome come to mind. But a lesser-known culinary hub can be found in the Midwest, in Madison, Wisconsin to be specific. There are a few things that the city of Madison is known for. For example, it's a popular college town as it's home to the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The city also boasts a burgeoning craft beer scene. And it's an impressive destination for dishes with local ingredients and international influences. Among the best restaurants in the Midwest, many Madison restaurants are lauded with numerous accolades. L'Etoile (French-inspired dishes) and Fairchild (fine dining) are both helmed by James Beard Award winners, in addition to multiple chefs from other local restaurants who've also been nominated.

Madison is arguably one of the farm-to-table pioneers of the region. Indeed, many of the city's local restaurants lean into the farm-to-table philosophy. These venues serve up mouth-watering dishes that are elevated with homegrown ingredients.

Where to eat in Madison

Local specialties are not to be missed, and the city is known for a few culinary delights. Like the rest of Wisconsin, Madison is known for its dairy. And where there's dairy, there's cheese and ice cream too. For ice cream, options include the Sassy Cow Creamery, Michael's Frozen Custard, and Babcock Dairy store on the UW-Madison campus. You can also snag locally produced cheese at Babcock's. If you want more cheese, visit Fromagination for some of the Midwest's best cheeses, plus a variety of sandwiches as well.

For dinner, and a taste of classic Wisconsin, head over to the Old Fashioned, located near the Dane County Farmers' Market. This supper club serves up its namesake drink but also quintessential Wisconsin dishes. Here you'll find menu items like bratwurst, cheese curds (voted Wisconsin's best), and fish fry. Usually the Midwest tradition is fish fry on Fridays, but luckily the Old Fashioned offers it every day.

Other restaurants to try are Ian's Pizza, Mickey's Dairy Bar (breakfast grub), and A Pig in a Fur Coat (Mediterranean comfort food). Or hit up Paul's Pel'meni to try some Russian meat dumplings. You know it's going to be good when there's only one thing on the menu.

If you find it overwhelming to choose from the city's many options, Madison Food Explorers offers private tours for four or more. Expert guides will take you on a culinary journey of local restaurants. You'll also get a slice of Madison's history, architecture, and culture.

Visit Dane County Farmers' Market

One of the driving forces behind Madison's farm-to-table movement is the Dane County Farmers' Market. Established in 1972, it's the largest producer-only market in the country. According to the Dane County Farmers' Market, this means, "All of the items for sale are grown, raised, and produced in Wisconsin by the person behind the stand."

Popular with local restaurants like The Old Fashioned, the market is a much-visited attraction on its own. Located in the area around the Wisconsin State Capitol building, more than 20,000 people visit the market every Saturday. On Wednesdays, a smaller version of the Saturday market operates near the City County Building. Both markets are open weekly from mid-April to early November. If you're planning a visit during winter, don't worry as the markets go indoors during the colder months.

As for what you can find there, the market often doesn't know which vendors will be there until they show up in the morning. Strolling through the aisles, you'll find more than 150 local purveyors of fresh produce, flowers, pastries, and cheeses. If there's a vendor you don't want to miss, you can call the market to check if they're there before you go. A tip for those who have gone cashless: Hit up an ATM if you plan on buying something. Some vendors accept credit cards, PayPal, or Venmo but not all.