Wisconsin Cheese to Please: 9 Signature Dishes From Madison Restaurants

From comfort food to exotic desserts, Wisconsin’s capital doesn’t disappoint

The Chicago Dog at Melted is so cheesy it’s impossible to resist.


Wisconsin cheese represents more than a quarter of the nation’s total cheese production. So here in America’s Dairyland, cows reign and cheese is king. In the state capital, you can find an abundance of top Madison restaurants serving dishes dreamed up by dairy lovers, like old fashioned mac ‘n’ cheese (made with a local aged cheddar, of course) and more unique plates like cheese-topped fried plantains. For the cheesehead in everyone, here are a few favorite dishes from Madison restaurants—plus some surprising offerings even locals might not expect.

Chicago dog

Looking for the best lunch in Madison? Melted, a popular Capitol Square food cart, offers an array of grilled cheese sandwiches. The Chicago dog is packed with a quarter-pound, ballpark-style frank, Emmi Roth sharp cheddar and Muenster cheeses, onions, house-made spicy jalapeno-pickle relish and deli mustard—all on grilled sourdough bread.

Mac ‘n’ cheese pizza

This best-seller at Ian’s Pizza is a dairy lover’s delight. A layer of mozzarella on puffy, chewy crust is covered with crème fraiche, topped with elbow noodles and Wisconsin mild cheddar, then baked until piping hot. A local favorite, it has proven to be worth the hype, selling more than 1,000 slices on a typical Saturday. It has even been named the best pizza in the state by Food Network Magazine.

Sweet potato oatmeal pancakes

Mascarpone cheese and strawberries on pancakes at Short Stack Eatery? Yes, please! Photo credit: @lauren_hintz

A welcome change from the typical syrup-laden breakfast, these hearty cakes from Short Stack Eatery are made with pureed sweet potatoes and oats and are topped with a whipped Wisconsin-made maple-bourbon mascarpone cheese, sliced strawberries and a sprinkle of powdered sugar.

Tajadas con queso

This specialty, served at La Taguara, the city’s first Venezuelan restaurant, starts with sweet plantains that have been sliced thinly and fried until golden and caramelized. Next, the crispy plantains are topped with shredded queso blanco and a mild sour cream. Perfect as a dessert or as an appetizer.


The melty raclette at Porter is the stuff of foodie dreams. Did we mention it’s offered just once a month and is all-you-can-eat? Photo credit: Eric Tadsen

Local Roth Raclette cheese finds its way onto plates once a month at Porter, the trendsetting cafe on Madison’s south side. This unique Wisconsin cheese has an aromatic flavor and velvety texture, and it’s part of a culinary experience (also called raclette) in which the cheese is heated until sizzling, and then scraped over a plate of roasted vegetables, fingerling potatoes, prosciutto and Fox Heritage Farms ham. Served with fresh bread, it’s a great dish to share with friends.

Brunchzilla bloody mary

A one-liter meal in a glass! Enjoy the house bloody mary, made with Reyka vodka, at Nitty Gritty. It’s garnished with fresh cheese curds, a pickle and olive and a trifecta of meat that includes a sausage link, a slice of cherrywood-smoked bacon and a beef stick. As if that weren’t enough, it’s topped with a mini burger and served with a beer chaser.

Tempura bacon-wrapped cheese curds

You haven’t tried cheese curds until you’ve sampled these tempura bacon-wrapped cheese curds at Heritage Tavern.

The stars of this Heritage Tavern dish are Farmer John’s cheese curds, which are wrapped in house-cured maple bacon (from chef Dan Fox’s own Fox Heritage Farms) and encased in impossibly light batter. Presented on kebab sticks, the bites are served with three delicious dipping sauces: buttermilk, carrot ginger coulis and truffled fish.

Hot & spicy cheese bread

Grab a loaf of still-warm bread from Stella’s any Saturday between April and November at the Dane County Farmers’ Market in downtown Madison. It’s stuffed with provolone and Monterey Jack cheese, herbs and red pepper—and it’s addictive.

Middle Eastern cheesecake

The dainty cheesecake at Layla’s is almost too beautiful to eat. Almost.

This warm-weather menu item from downtown Persian restaurant Layla’s features a shredded phyllo dough crust and a filling of Capri goat cheese, cardamom and smooth, lightly sweetened cream cheese, all baked and served cool.

Getting hungry? Find hotels in Madison.




More to Explore


Things to do in Madison

Discover unique sights and fun activities in Wisconsin's capital city.

Read More

Best Restaurants in Madison

Sit down for a pint of beer or feed your inner cheesehead at these top Madison restaurants.

Read More

Best Water Parks Near Madison

Cool off at one of these great water parks that are fun for the whole family.

Read More


Search Hotels