Gobblin’ Guide – Where to eat during the Madison GP

Madison has a lot of incredible food, much of it concentrated in a few active neighborhoods.  That said, I expect the food situation at the Madison Grand Prix to be especially bad for one reason – the event venue (on the east side of section 7 of the map below, next to the tiny body of water that looks like a pair of brackets) is not really within walking distance of any decent restaurant.

This means you’ll likely have to make plans with your group *before* driving or getting a ride to your destination. The best way to make this process easier is to be informed about the areas you should be focusing on, and making choices that will leave you options should your plans fall through.

Madison Map

As seen on this map, the center of the city is smooshed between two major lakes. The strip of land between them (which locals will refer to as “the isthmus”) is the downtown area, with the enormous Capitol Building (map section 3) at its center. As you spread out from that center point, the area becomes less urban and dissolves into suburbs. Parking downtown is really cheap – usually $1 an hour in the garages. This makes it very convenient to visit some of the best restaurants in that area.

The West side of that strip is the UW campus (map sections 1, 2 and 9) and a lot of restaurants and attractions that thrive in a college-town setting. One major artery of this area is State Street (down the middle of sections 1, 2 and 3) – a pedestrian-only street littered with delicious, quick eats and a couple of truly solid sit-down restaurants. There is no home game this weekend, so I don’t expect the massive crowds that come with them – but be prepared for a bunch of drunk college kids after 10pm.

The East side is a bit gentrified – the restaurants tend to be kind of trendy, with a good selection of ethnic dining choices. I guess this would be the hipster neighborhood of town, though it has most of my personal favorite restaurants. The area nightclub and bars tend to have a bare-minimum number of “bros” if you’re looking to avoid such a thing. The major concentration in this area is called the Willy Street neighborhood(south side of map section 6), and just walking down the street there will present you with a ton of options. Note that I live and spend most of my time east of downtown, so I have an inherent bias.

All the areas listed above can be reached by car in about 10 minutes from the venue. Other neighborhoods have great choices as well, but they’re less concentrated. I’ve asked some other locals for their suggestions, and have split them into categories based on what kind of experience you’re looking for:

Just landed at the airport and want something to eat on your way to the venue?

  • Smoky Jon’s #1 BBQ
  • Ale Asylum
  • La Tagura
  • Burrito Drive

Want to eat as close to the venue as possible?

  • Taqueria Guadalajara
  • Noosh (i’ve received differing accounts as to whether this place is open or not)
  • Dotty Dumpling’s Dowry
  • Ian’s Pizza

Want to get the authentic Madison experience (cheese curds and/or beer!)?

  • The Old Fashioned
  • The Farmer’s Market
  • Ale Asylum
  • Dotty Dumpling’s Dowry
  • State Street, in general

Looking to eat a quick dinner for $10-15?

  • State Street, in general
  • Taqueria Guadalajara
  • Smoky Jon’s #1 BBQ
  • Ian’s Pizza
  • Paul’s Pel’Meni

Completely hammered and just want to stuff food in your face?

  • Burrito Drive
  • Paul’s Pel’Meni
  • State Street, in general
  • Ian’s Pizza

Great options for Vegetarians?

  • Taqueria Guadalajara
  • Ha Long Bay
  • Lao Laan Xang
  • Umami
  • Paul’s Pel’Meni
  • Ian’s Pizza
  • El Dorado
  • Monty’s Blue Plate Diner
  • Maharani Indian Restaurant
  • Himal Chuli

Need breakfast in order to function as a human?

  • The Farmer’s Market
  • Sophia’s Bakery and Cafe
  • Monty’s Blue Plate Diner
  • La Brioche True Food
  • El Dorado
  • Short Stack

By popular demand, here is a link to a recent article about Madison’s most popular breweries: http://www.pastemagazine.com/articles/2015/10/beer-guide-to-madison-wisconsin.html?a=1

FARMERS MARKET – this takes over the entire Capitol Square (map section 3) every saturday morning until two. This is both good and bad. Good because it’s full of farmer’s market-y food, and bad because it means there is a lot of extra traffic at restaurants downtown.

Taqueria Guadalajara (map section 7, close to the venue, Open until 11pm) – As the name suggests, this is a mexican restaurant. It is quite close to the venue, and their food is great. Like most Madison restaurants, there are some vegetarian options. I’ve yet to have anything bad on the menu. The horchata is well worth it, if you’re into things that are delicious.

Ha Long Bay (map section 6, Open until 9:30pm) – This place is my personal favorite spot in town, and I know that’s not an uncommon position. It’s a Thai / Vietnamese restaurant with a huge selection of curries and soups, all of which can be customized in a variety of ways – lots of vegetarian and vegan options. The food is simply unmatched, but the crowd can be a bit much. When they get reallllly busy, they just stop answering their phone, so call ahead and if they don’t answer, move on. PS: The Thai Iced Tea is worth the wait alone.

Lao Laan Xang (two locations in map section 6, Open until 10:00pm) – This is a Laotian restaurant that serves a huge variety of curries (the tech is their squash curry) but it often ends up acting as “the place we go when the line at Ha Long Bay is too long.” I know quite a few people who swear that it’s better, so don’t hesitate to check it out. Their two locations are only about a mile apart, so if one is busy, don’t lose hope.

The Old Fashioned (map section 3, Kitchen open until Midnight) – This is the big “classic Madison” restaurant. Amazing cheese curds (definitely don’t pass on them, and make sure to get the tiger sauce), dozens of beers, lots of high-end bar food. They have a bunch of fish-fry specials on Friday nights, as do a many other places in town.

Umami (map section 6, open until 11pm) – Expensive ($15ish), but high-quality ramen and small-plate asian dishes (try the pork buns and pot stickers) and really interesting drinks. There’s usually a wait and you almost always need a reservation. It is directly across the street from Plan B, the local dance club.

Burrito Drive (map sections 6, open until 3AM) is a few blocks down the road from Plan B . They have a bunch of messy, filling foods that are the perfect follow-up to a night of drinking. Their menu includes hits like Mid-Wexican Wontons and a dozen different burritos. I’m told that their chocolate bread pudding is amazing.

Smoky Jon’s #1 BBQ (map section 17, open until 9pm) – Very close to the airport, with takeout and dine-in BBQ. It’s very focused on the award winning sauce (the awards are plastered all over every wall in the place), which goes super well with their fries. I recommend either the ribs, the brisket, or the pork shoulder with fries and coleslaw.

That BBQ Joint (map section 6, open until 8pm) – A more southern BBQ place. Lots of smoked everything, jalapeno hush puppies, fried macaroni and cheese, great mustard sauces, etc. They recently moved closer to downtown and i’ve yet to visit their new location, so i can’t really speak to the atmosphere or expected wait. They do takeout and they’re pretty quick about it.

Ale Asylum (map section 17, Kitchen until 10pm, then only Pizza until midnight, bar till 2am) – Also close to the airport. They’re a decent brewery, but their stuff trends a little too hoppy for me. Food is decent bar food, the seating area is pretty large.

Dotty Dumplings Dowry (map section 2, open till Midnight) – Ignore the name: this is a burger joint. There are a bunch of creative options, their cheese curds are great, and they’ve got a well-stocked bar. There’s often a wait – but Ian’s Pizza is right next door, and they can get you slices pretty quickly as a backup plan.

Ian’s Pizza (map sections 2 and 3, open until 2:30am) – This is the ubiquitous college town pizza place: you’ve been here before – they serve macaroni and cheese pizza, BBQ pizza, chipotle sweet potato pizza, etc, etc, etc. Slices are a few dollars, and if you call ahead, you can even get a few vegan pizza options. Their october pizza specials are: Drunken Ravioli, Chili Cheese Frito, Chicken Mashed Potato, Chicken Cordon Blue, and Black Bean Feta Avocado Tomato.

Paul’s Pel’Meni (map section 2, on a side road right off state street, open until 3am) – Their menu has exactly three things – Potato Dumplings, Beef Dumplings, and Black Bread. I’ve never had the bread, but good lord are the dumplings amazing. They cook them up to order, and then serve them with a variety of spices, and with servings of sour cream. If you want to eat something basic and filling for $6.50, this is your ideal spot. It gets busy at times, but it’s often empty when the rest of State Street is packed. OPEN UNTIL 3am ON FRIDAY AND SATURDAY!

El Dorado (map section 6, open until 10pm) – Middle of the road quality tex-mex food, with a bunch of twists. Some Vegan options, a few asian-fusion dishes, etc. A solid brunch on Saturday and Sunday. Lots of drinks.

Monty’s Blue Plate Diner (map section 6, open 7am – 9pm) – A classic diner with a huge breakfast menu. Plenty of veggie / vegan options, including a full-separate menu for our meatless friends. This is one of the best values in breakfast – it’s reasonably priced and the food is excellent. They’re also very fast if you get there early enough. I’ve had my food ten minutes after ordering more than once.

La Taguara (far south side of map section 17, open until 10pm) – Venezuelan food. A lot of meat and rice and plantains – all delicious and hearty, with a lot of unique flavors.

Maharani Indian Restaurant (map section 3, open for lunch buffet at 11:30, close at 10pm) – Decent Indian restaurant with a great lunch buffet, not far from the venue. 

Tex Tubb’s Taco Palace (map section 6, open until 11pm) – Tex Tubb’s does interesting/unusual taco combinations, and make an insane vegan nachos. But really, they have blended crazy-flavor margaritas which is their claim to fame.

Restaurant Muramoto (map sections 3 and 5, open until 10pm) – Two locations. Tapas and sushi. Full bars. Not much to say – if you want sushi, you know what to do. Make sure you call ahead – neither place has an abundance of seating.

Red (map section 3, open until 10pm) – Another sushi place. This is the more stylish of the sushi restaurants, and their interior is very small. I’ve been quoted some absurd wait times. On the expensive side, but well worth it.

Alchemy (map section 6, kitchen until 1am) – great burgers and veggie options (their brussels sprouts are unreal) and the serve food until 1am Friday and Saturday.

Essen Haus (border of map sections 3 and 6, food until 11) – German beer hall with those nice glass boots you can pass around the table while listening to live polka music. It tends to be a pretty high-energy place.

Sophia’s Bakery and Cafe (map section 6, open only Saturday and Sunday, 8am – 2pm) – Their omelettes are among my favorite breakfasts in town, but you’ve got to be up for the setting – it’s an open seating arrangement, so you end up sharing tables with whomever comes in. You can always get your food to go. They’re CASH ONLY, so don’t mess that up.

Manna Cafe and Bakery (south side of map section 17, open at 7am) – Another insane breakfast place. Good coffee, amazing eggs benedict, great pancakes, etc. It’s taking all my restraint to avoid making a Mana pun.

La Brioche True Food (map section 9, open 7am Saturday, 8am Sunday) – pretentious but delicious. Prepare to be served toxin-free, filtered water and all organic GMO free everything. The dining area is actually quite fancy – live piano music, etc. Don’t have anything bad to say about the food itself though – make sure to check out their bakery display case – bring me a cream puff if you go!

Himal Chuli (map section 2) Nepalese food right on state street. A lot of my vegetarian friends LOVE this place. I thought it was pretty good the one time i ate there, but felt it was a little overpriced. Infinite veggie options though, so click the link and check out the menu if you think it might be your thing.

Great Dane (north map section 8, south side of map section 12, map section 3, east side of map section 14) I don’t love this place. The atmosphere is cool, and they’re VERY large so you can seat huge groups, but the food is very very average. I’m including it because it’s by far the number one place people complained about not having on the list, but i’ve always seen it as a step up from the regional chains with a beer selection matched by, well, just about every other serious place that serves beer. I don’t think it’s anything special, but if you’ve got a group of 20 or something, it’s realistically probably your best option.


I haven’t been to the rest of these, but they’ve all come recommended by friends:

Graze (map section 3, open until 11pm)   upscale locally sourced hipster food, but good. Full bar.

Noosh (map section 7) – It’s not on Google maps yet, but apparently it’s on South Park street. Very new and I haven’t been there yet, but a friend relayed this: “Persian comfort food. Saffron chicken in lamb fat, tasty dishes featuring tomatoes, eggs and eggplants.” Very close to the venue. (i’ve received differing accounts as to whether this place is open or not)

The Tornado Steakhouse / Tempest Oyster Bar (map section 3) These two restaurants are a few blocks from each other. I’ve never been to either, but they’re among the high end places downtown. Take me here when you win the GP. They’re both open very late (1am), with their own late-night menus.

Natt Spil (map section 3, food until 1am)   You know that tavern in Nepal at the beginning of Raiders of the Lost Ark?  This is like that with less lighting. (thanks to a secret contributor for this review!) Crazy pizzas, dim sum, cantonese food, and other off-the-wall options

Samba (map section 2, open until 10pm) – All you can eat Brazilian steak house. You know the drill.

Weary Traveler (map section 6)  Pub but actually good.  Full bar.

Pig in a Fur Coat (map section 6, open until 11pm)   Tapas. This place was blowing up in the madison subreddit’s quest for underrated restaurants a few weeks ago. Expensive, high-end food.

Sardine (map section 6, open until 11pm) sat/sun brunch (9-2). Open till 11. French place with lake views. Slightly upscale, definitely recommend

Short Stack (map section 2/3 – right on the corner. Open 24 hours thursday – sunday) This place always has a line when I want breakfast, but they’re open 24/7 on weekends, and I’ve had people swear by their biscuits and gravy. If you’re a gambler, and i know you are, check out their blind special – pay $7 and they bring you out a meal that otherwise retails for $13.

Sa Bai Thong (map section 9, open until 10pm) – Thai food.

The rest of the Capitol Square (map section 3):

  • Cooper’s Tavern   Irish pub, full bar
  • Brocach Irish Pub   Full bar
  • The Argus   bar and grill, vegan options.
  • The Merchant   full bar

The rest of State Street (map sections 1 and 2):

  • Chipotle
  • Five Guys
  • The Parthenon – Quality gyros
  • A hundred other small restaurants and chains


There are a ton, way too many to list, but here are two that are frequented by many magic players i know:

Plan B *DANCE CLUB* (map section 6) A dance-centric nightclub with a very LGBT-friendly atmosphere. If you’re looking for a night out, you can’t go wrong with dinner at Umami, or one of the many nearby restaurants, followed by Plan B.

Karaoke Kid (map section 2) – A popular Karaoke bar that’s reasonably close to the venue. UltraPro is sponsoring an open event there at 8pm on Sunday night, if you’re staying in town – just show a magic card or UltraPro product to get in the door. There will also be a raffle on-site at 10pm, sponsored by the following local stores: I’m Board, Misty Mountain Games, Mox Mania, Pegasus Games, and PowerNine.com

!!!!!BONUS – other places to play Magic in town!!!!!!

Did you get in early and are looking to FNM?

Netherworld (map section 3) – FNM: 7pm Draft

Downtown, just a few blocks west of the Capitol Building. The store tends to have a reputation for being cutthroat, and many of the most successful players in town game there, but i’ve always found it to be a friendly place.

Mox Mania (map section 20)- FNM: 6:30pm Modern, Standard, Draft

Probably the most popular place in town. It’s on the far west side, and I hear they get really big crowds for their events, but my personal experience there is lacking.

Misty Mountain (map section 15) – FNM: 6:30pm Draft

On the far Southeast Side. Their playspace is massive, as they used to host 200ish person PTQs back when those were a thing. They have a draft FNM at 6:30.

I’m Board (map section 18) – FNM: 6pm Casual Sealed and Modern

As the name suggests, they have a great selection of Board Games.

Pegasus (map section 20) – FNM: 6pm Draft

Just across the street from Mox Mania, this is a more relaxed and casual environment.

If you’re not looking to game, but want to find some elusive foil forgeign singles for your cube or whatever, PowerNine.com has their home base on State Street downtown. They’re among the most prolific eBay Magic dealers – period, and they will have a booth at the venue, so if you need something really rare, talk to them early in the weekend and they can almost assuredly hook you up by the time your trip, if not the day, is over.

3 thoughts on “Gobblin’ Guide – Where to eat during the Madison GP

  1. Nice write up. I’m not a fan of The Old Fashioned–it’s a bit greasy. I like The Side Door for that sort of food, and everything I’ve had from there has been gas. A Pig in a Fur Coat has fantastic service and the food is good and prepared all fancy, but it is expensive and probably only worth it if you’re a self-described “foodie.” Even then, Graze or the Tornado Steakhouse are a little more “worth,” although the service is slower at these restaurants and I’d only recommend them if you don’t mind a wait. If you’re looking for value, Tornado has a 14 dollar steak on the late night menu (10pm-1am).

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