I enjoy dining out and find Appleton and the Fox Cities to have a rich variety of good restaurants. I've traveled to many cities and nations, trying many restaurants and many cuisines, and don't feel disadvantaged to live in Appleton. For those of us who want to get good value for our money and good food, Appleton is a great place to eat out.
Here I discuss places in the Fox Cities that I think deserve some kind of award for what they offer. Give them a try and let me know what you think.
- Apollon - Webmaster's Choice: Best Greek Food
One of Appleton's nicest and most delicious restaurants. Good Greek food in a pleasant setting. I've had e-mail from people who feel it's an utterly superb restaurant with great service, and I have to agree. Wonderful dolmades, great egg and lemon soup, delightful lamb and excellent seafood. Quite popular for dinner just before at big show at the PAC, so be sure to get reservations of there's a major show or performance that night.
In Oct. 2010 I had to entertain some very important business guests and wanted a classy place with a sure-fire positive experience. While many possibilities crossed my mind, I settled on Apollon and scored a victory. Three of us tried their swordfish steak and it was terrific. Very rich in flavor and not overcooked. Another man had a lamb dish and was very impressed. If you like lamb, Apollon is the place. Background music was pleasant. Service was excellent.
I was there twice in the spring of 2009 and was amazed both times. One dish, orange roughy with pesto, was absolutely perfect--not overcooked, as often happens with seafood. I describe that experience in the post "Perfection at Apollon" on the Appleton Blog. Later, I took two friends from Europe there. From Macedonia and Montenegro next to Greece, they were familiar with fine Mediterranean food and were impressed with the meal. I was truly transported by the best Moussaka I have ever tasted. Moussaka can be a bit boring sometimes, but not the way it is prepared at Apollon. I asked the chef about it afterwards, and was pleased to learn that he actually won an award at an international competition in Europe for his Moussaka. The sauce on it is what really brings it to life. Just amazing.
Here's a story I heard from a friend about Apollon that I shared when I featured Apollon on the Appleton Blog:
An acquaintance of mine recently had visitors from the East Coast spend some time with her here in Appleton. The visitors were joking about what they would be able to find for dinner in a Midwest town like Appleton, thinking that Pizza Hut would the most elevated cuisine that our "flyover village" might offer. My acquaintance took them to Apollon, (207 N Appleton St., just a few yards west of the Appleton public library, as their map indicates - (920) 739-1122). Apollon offers high-quality authentic Greek food in a pleasant setting, an excellent choice for visitors used to high culinary standards.
As they were enjoying some impressive food, beautiful notes from a female voice sounded in the background. At first they thought it was recorded music being played over a sound system, but they soon noticed this was live. In fact, a fabulous singer was providing live operatic entertainment in their restaurant - and it was tremendously beautiful. It turns out that the woman was a Greek opera star whose son attends Lawrence University, and she was visiting him that week. While in town that night, she kindly offered a little operatic flare for her fellow Greeks at Apollon.
The visitors were wowed at the combination of food and entertainment they found in Appleton. My acquaintance shrugged her shoulders and said, "Yeah, just a typical night in Appleton."
- Carmella's -- Webmaster's Choice: Best Italian (and Maybe Best Overall)
Carmella's, an Italian Bistro gets my nod for the best Italian food in the Fox Valley, if not the best food overall. Compared to typical restaurants in the Valley, it's on the expensive side, but that hasn't slowed down the steady stream of fans this new bistro is attracting. The story is that two sisters with an amazing Italian mother decided to write down all her recipes and offer their favorites to the rest of us. Thus Carmella's was born. You can view their menu online: creative salads, paninis, main courses, desserts and more. Each is crafted with attention to detail and marvelous flavors. "They get it, they really get it," I said to myself when I ate there. Just their selection of cheeses reveals that they really get good food. Mmm, what cheese!
It can get crowded and some people report that service can be too slow during peak times, so choose your time carefully and make reservations. Then be patient. It's also a lively place, so if you want a quiet conversation, it might not be the right choice. But for the food, it's hard to beat.
Carmella's is tucked into the corner of a strip mall by the Fox River Mall, next to Penzey's Spices and close to Chili's. 716 North Casaloma Drive, Appleton, WI. Phone: (920) 882-4044
- Confucius Restaurant -- Webmaster's Choice: Best Chinese (Tie)
Confucius has excellent Chinese food with a chef that many of my Chinese friends consider to be the best in the area, though we have some very skilled chefs battling for that honor. The regular menu for lunch or dinner is broad with many excellent choices that will be made deliciously. However, this restaurant earned a special place in my heart when they hit a home run for me when I needed an authentic Chinese luncheon for a group of 10 people including a high-ranking official from the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C. I went to the owner the day before the event and explained what I wanted: an authentic, delicious Chinese luncheon to honor a government official who was representing the nation of China at an award even in Appleton. They accepted the challenge and wowed my guests. We had a large round table with all 10 guests seated there as one delicious dish after another was brought out in traditional Chinese style. The official from the Chinese Embassy said that he could not get food that good in Chinatown in Washington, D.C. Another friend who had been living in Suzhou, China for the past year said he couldn't get food that good in Suzhou. Everyone was wowed. It cost more than a typical lunch, definitely, but it was definitely worth it. Home run authentic: they can do it at Confucius if that's what you need.
Confucius is at 2230 E Northland Ave in Appleton, near Super Bowl. Turn into the same parking lot you would use to access Super Bowl. Phone: (920) 968-1688. Tell them Jeff sent you.
In 2012, after living in China for a year, Confucius was the first place I went to (after a mandatory trip to Five Guys moments after stepping off the plane). I took my wife and seven relatives there to let them experience the kind of amazing food I was used to in China. Naturally, I talked with the owner to ask for the more authentic Chinese food that they would have available that evening, resulting in a marvelous beef hotpot and a marinated salmon being added to the menu. The dishes we tried were delicious, well seasoned, and consistent with the great food that I have come to love in China. Kudos, Confucius!
- Asian Thai Restaurant -- Webmaster's Choice: Best Chinese (Tie)
Asian Thai opened in 2010 with a delicious menu with both Chinese and Thai dishes. The chef seems skilled in both cuisines--both styles were nicely prepared. I was wild about the Chinese stuffed eggplant dish--one of the best eggplant dishes ever, with crisp skin and delicious shrimp stuffing and a perfect hoisin sauce that made it irresistible. The brown rice we chose was surprisingly good and made the meal even more hearty and delicious. Service is very professional and friendly. A great place for lunch or dinner. The ambience is classy, bright, and quiet. Highly recommended. They are on Northland Avenue right next to Koreana: 201 W Northland Ave # E, Appleton. Phone: (920) 734-6888.
- Blueberry Hill -- Webmaster's Choice: Best Breakfast in the Fox Cities
Blueberry Hill received the Golden Fork Award in 2007 for the Best Breakfast, and I have to concur. I took five people there recently where we shared dishes, and after tasting a broad cross-section of their food, I was impressed with almost everything. Their crepes are perfect - not easy to do. My asparagus Swiss cheese omelette was fluffy and tasty (the lightly steamed asparagus was too crunchy for one person's taste, but I liked it). The Belgian waffle was excellent, and even the hash browns were perfect. I fed five people and one baby for $34 plus tip. On a Saturday morning in Feb. 2008, the place was busy but extremely well managed. I was simply amazed at how quickly our food was brought to us. Must have been a huge crew of good cooks to handle so many people. Efficient, courteous staff (though I've had a serious complaint recently about the experience during a busy time--let me know how your experience was!). 3626 W College Ave., just to the east of Westhill. (920) 830-7600.
- Cherry on Top -- Webmaster's Choice: Best Ice Cream Shop
In 2010, downtown Neenah received an exciting ice cream shop at 130 West Wisconsin Avenue. The black and white Holstein cow motif on the building makes it easy to spot. They offer real hand-scooped ice cream that can be served as cones, sundaes, shakes, etc. They also offer real fruit smoothies, some of the best you'll find, and a few other treats. One thing I like is the presence of a water fountain in the shop since good ice cream often makes one thirst. Tip: a single scoop can be split into two flavors, but they half-scoops for each flavor are big enough to count as one scoop in my book. Very friendly staff, great quality ice cream, and good prices. Nice place to take the kids or your date for a treat.
- Cy's Asian Bistro -- Webmaster's Choice: Best Thai in the Fox Cities
This new Thai restaurant is in Neenah, but well worth the 10 or 15 minute drive from Appleton. Small, cozy, but filled with some mighty fine Thai flavors. Great for lunch or dinner. I took my wife and a couple of Russian guests there for lunch recently - tremendous! My wife strongly recommends their green curries; I was crazy about the red. They also offer "Take and Bake Thai Pizza" made with their delightful, mild green curry sauce. Let me know how it is - I haven't tried it yet. 208 W. Wisconsin Ave. in Neenah, across from Zacatecas Mexican Restaurant. It's small, so get there early for lunch before it fills up. Same for dinner. Call (920) 969-9549.
- Five Guys - Webmaster's Choice: Best Chain and Best Burgers
After experiencing some of the world's best cuisine during a year in China, I returned to Appleton for a visit and made my first stop, just moments after getting off the plane, at Five Guys, the popular new chain that has finally come to Appleton. This creative hamburger joint, with roots in Milwaukee, serves customized burgers that can, if properly selected, top almost any other burger you've had. Creative, fun, fresh, delicious, and one of the most popular choices for burgers in the Midwest. Even the veggie burgers are awesome. Give them a try!
- HuHot Mongolian Grill -- Webmaster's Choice: Best Mongolian Grill, Best New Restaurant of 2006
HuHot Mongolian Grill is one of my top picks for exciting dining in Appleton. It's a Mongolian barbecue with the best ingredients and sauces I've seen for this kind of restaurant. It's all you can eat for about $14 a person (dinner) - not bad for such high-quality all-you-can eat food. The decor is fresh and attractive and the service is great, including the talented cooks who manage to keep track of everybody's customized food as they grill it for it you. They just opened in mid-February 2006, but business is already brisk and I think they'll keep going strong. In fact, it can be so brisk that I recommend you avoid peak times, like early Friday evening. The line to get your food becomes too long.
I was pleased to see that salmon was one of the choices for ingredients (other meats include chicken, pork, and beef). There are also three different kinds of noodles. I like the Thai rice noodles and the Chinese lo-mein-style wheat-based noodles. A scrumptious selection of veggies is available, all remarkably fresh and attractive. I loaded up on cilantro, broccoli, and other items. One thing that really sets HuHot apart is the rich variety of sauces, about 20 in total. In addition to the basic sauces like ginger water, lime, sesame oil, etc., they have a great selection of premixed complex sauces such as Black Thai Peanut, Yellow Belly Curry (with coconut milk), and "Kung Pao...Yow!"
I was also impressed with the salad that came with my meal. Beautifully prepared with elegant dark green lettuce and a delicious oriental salad dressing.
Given how quickly the bowls of food are cooked, HuHot could almost count as fast food. But it's also an elegant and classy place for a special occasion or a treat for the family.
You can get Mongolian barbecue at several other places in the Fox Cities, such as China King in Oshkosh, and Asian Garden in Appleton (Mongo's is now closed), but HuHot was the most enjoyable for me. I'm anxious to go back!
HuHot is at 3456 West College Ave. in Appleton. Phone: (920) 257-2555. (HuHot was also featured on the Appleton Blog, Feb. 27, 2006.)
- Josef's Gyros (Gyros Kabob) - Webmaster's Choice: Best Gyros
Gyros Kabob for years was hidden away in a little cranny at Soldiers Square. Business was good, in spite of the awkward location - it's hard to keep great food a secret! Then they expanded to a more prominent location at 205 W. College Avenue, and then in 2010 moved back into the original but now expanded space, adding space once occupied by Cobblestone Deli across from the Avenue Mall at 119 East College Avenue. The official address is 118 Soldiers Square. What you need to remember is this: they make the best gyros in town. The owner and super cook, Josef, has quite a story (you can read it on their Website) and is a very kind and energetic human being. And he understands what gyros are meant to be. The pita bread alone is worth a visit: tender, tasty, and lightly toasted just before being served. A variety of gyro and kabob-based pita sandwiches are offered, along with baklava for dessert and a few other items. I thrilled four people for under $20 recently for dinner. Open for lunch also. Call 920-830-9355. He has a second location in Neenah, Gyro's Kabob, in the place once occupied by Sassy Sal's on Wisconsin Ave. almost next to Hong Kong Buffet and Zacatecas. Very popular!
- Koreana Restaurant -- Webmaster's Choice: Best Korean and Best Sushi
It's exciting enough that Korean food has finally come to Appleton - but we're talking about EXCELLENT Korean food and excellent sushi. This started as a small extension of an oriental grocery store in 1997, but in 2000 moved to a spacious location on Northland Avenue with a major upgrade in the menu. This is one of my favorite restaurants. I am simply delighted with the great flavors. Plus the place is attractive (one of the most beautiful interiors of any restaurant in the Valley), clean, with rapid service. Bee-bim bop, bulgoki, noodle soup, and many more dishes are featured on their menu. 201 W Northland Ave, Appleton, 54911 - (920) 733-3205.
Selecting a winner for best sushi in the Fox Valley is very difficult. Appleton has long had great sushi at Koreana (delicious, high-end), Far East, Nakashimas, and Fuji Sushi (a buffet with perhaps the best value for hungry sushi cravers), not to mention the relatively recent addition of Dong Po's sushi bar and limited sushi offerings (mostly in the style of California rolls) at Asia Garden, Hong Kong Buffet in Neenah, and some other places. But in late 2010, we had a surprising sushi surge on the southeast side of town, where Sapporos and the Thai, Sushi, and Japanese Steakhouse establishments are now competing within a few blocks of each other on Eisenhower Road. I review Sapporo Sushi below, and one can make a case that it or Far East have the best sushi. What do you think?
- Noodles and Company - - Webmaster's Choice: Best Chain and Best Fast Food
I first ran into Noodles and Company in downtown Madison, where I was anxious to try their cuisine but deterred by a long line of locals (mostly students) trying to get into this popular place since I was in a hurry. The new (2005) Noodles and Company in Appleton does not have that problem (at least not yet), so I've been able to try it twice now with members of my family - and we've been thoroughly impressed. They offer a variety of outstanding noodle dishes covering Asian, Mediterranean, and American style food. The Asian dishes have bold flavors as fine as much more expensive restaurants. The Japanese pan noodles (udon) are outstanding, as is the Pad Thai, Bangkok Curry, Curry Soup, and Italian Penne. A typical dish costs $5 (I added the "vegetable trio" for another $1.75 - not needed but I love lots of veggies), and they will let you customize your meal as well. And if you don't like the flavor, they will adjust it or replace it. My Bangkok Curry on my second visit had a weak flavor, but they quickly brought me a little dish with additional sauce that brought the meal to perfection. The service is incredibly fast - you may have your food within five minutes or less from the time you order (about 2 minutes on my second visit). You pay at the order counter and they bring the food to your table if you are eating in. They also have a drive through - an indication of how quickly the dishes can be prepared. But it doesn't taste like fast food at all - the quality is outstanding. One sign of quality, in my opinion, is their choice of hot sauce on every table: my favorite Huy Fong Sriracha chili-garlic sauce. First class! I also recommend their flatbread - a delicious pancake-like bread for just 65 cents. Very tasty. And they offer some of our favorite trendy soft drinks, including excellent cream soda and Wisconsin root beer. They are on the north side of the Fox River Mall, at 4333 West Wisconsin Avenue. Open 11 AM to 9 PM Sun-Wed, and until 10 PM the rest of the week. Phone: (920) 734-4859; fax: (920) 734-4895. Also be sure to get a frequent eater card.
- Mi Casa - Webmaster's Choice: Best Mexican
Move over, Solea, La Michoacana, and several other great Mexican places in town. You're all terrific, but as of May 2011, I've got a great new winner for the prize of Best Mexican Restaurant in the Fox Valley: Mi Casa in Menasha. After driving by it many times, I finally tried Mi Casa on 14 Tayco Street, near the intersection with Main Street. Wow! I've now been there with guests 3 times with 3 terrific experiences. The pleasant decor and friendly service raised my expectations right away, and they were met and exceeded with the food. My first time there I had their famous fish tacos, one of my favorite Mexican meals. It's easy to make fish tacos bland or to overcook the fish, but at Mi Casa the fish was perfect and the tacos were flavorful and delicious. The corn tortillas were prepared just right, at least for my tastes. I was also delighted to have horchata, the Mexican rice drink that I love. Most Mexican restaurants in the Valley don't offer horchata, and some that do just use a mass-produced powder mix instead of making it themselves. Mi Casa's horchata is homemade and delicious.
My second time there I made a stunning discovery: they offer Oaxaca-style tamales, an unusual tamale steamed inside banana leaves with a completely different texture and intriguing flavor. I've been searching for that kind of tamale since I encountered them in southern Mexico in 2009 during an innovation-related business trip in Veracruz State. The search is over! I'll be back for sure. These were absolutely delicious.
On my third visit, I had mole chicken made with the best mole I can remember. I've had mole dishes in several parts of southern Mexico, including the city of Oaxaca where mole has its roots, but the custom home-made mole sauce at Mi Casa is as good or better than any I can remember. It's a reddish brown mole made from roasted seeds, chocolate, bread, and other ingredients, without being too salty or oily. And it's not the standard Goya mole sold in bottles at Mexican stores everywhere, which is fine but not outstanding and perhaps a bit too bitter. The mole at Mi Casa makes me want to say "Olé Mole!" or even "Holy Mole!"
The chef is actually from Veracruz State in Mexico, a southern area on the Atlantic coast that is famed for its great seafood and flavorful dishes. It's close to Oaxaca, which may explain the Oaxacan influence. I love both Veracruz- and Oaxaca-style food.
The chips and salsa are OK, but they don't currently include the bean dip that is popular in many local Mexican restaurants. I miss the bean dip, but their homemade tortilla chips are among the best in the Valley.
Give Mi Casa a try and tell them that a tall crazy gringo sent you. They'll know who you mean.
Mi Casa: 14 Tayco Street, Menasha, WI 54952. Phone: (920) 720-3600.
- The Red Ox -- Webmaster's Choice: Best Lunch Menu, Best Philly Sandwich, and now Best Fish Sandwich
I can praise the Red Ox on south Oneida Street for many reasons--great sandwiches, wonderful menu for meat and fish, good desserts, and a warm but casual atmosphere--but the tuna steak sandwich during an August 2010 visit vastly exceeded expectations. I give it my award for the best fish sandwich in town. The chef at Red Ox understands that fish does not have to be overcooked and rubbery. In fact, if a customer asks for it medium rare, as I did, then medium rare it is. The thick, fresh, and surprisingly large tuna steak is cooked with a nice mix of Cajun spices and served with a delicious sauce on a bun. It was eye-opening good! Have never had a tuna steak that was so delicious. Kudos, Red Ox!
A Dec. 2009 post on the Appleton Blog praised the Red Ox for the best Philly sandwich in town. I've been on a mission to find the best Philly, ever since falling in love with authentic Philly cheesesteak sandwiches while on a trip to Philadelphia. There are some good choices in town, but the Red Ox please my palette best in that crucial category. But they go way beyond that by offering one of the most interesting menus I've seen, especially for lunch. Twelve varieties of salmon? Awesome. Lots of great sandwiches, steaks, salads, and fish to choose from, and great deserts.
The restaurant has changed a lot inside since I was first there maybe 10 years ago. Nicely remodeled, pleasant smell, cheerful and quiet. I've been there twice for lunch. Most memorably, I tried the prime rib Philly sandwich. Outstanding, even if it departs somewhat from Philadelphia-style Phillies. The prime rib was so tender - thick, juicy pieces. The bun had the perfectly crisp interior toasting that adds crunch and flavor to a Philly. Real cheese was used, not processed cheese, which I greatly prefer. Mushrooms were grilled just right. It's served au jus. My friend tried one too and was also impressed.
Service was great.
The Red Ox Supper Club is at 2318 South Oneida Street, Appleton, WI. Phone: (920) 830-4121. Tell them Jeff sent you!
- Victoria's - Webmaster's Choice: Most Likely to Please Most People
Victoria's offers good Italian food at low cost. Very large quantities (ok, TOO large, in my opinion) are a trademark of this place. I've entertained well-fed people from the east coast at Victoria's and they were really impressed, so it's pretty good. I've been there many times with people from different walks of life, and consistently find that Victoria's please most people most of the time. Huge variety of dishes, though sometimes the emphasis seems to be on quantity rather than quality. Nice decor, great service, and a large variety of people-pleasing-platters.
Personally, it's not my favorite Italian, but for the price, it's not a bad choice.
- Waverly Beach -- Webmaster's Choice: Best Fish Fry
A few years ago I tried a fish fry at Waverly Beach in Menasha (at the southern end of Oneida Street on the lake) and it was pretty good. Went again in May 2009 and it was even better. Most of the activity at Waverly these days seems to be in the large bar area, but behind the bar overlooking Lake Winnebago is a reasonably sized dining area with good service and excellent, inexpensive food. And I really love the view of the lake.
My wife ordered a seafood combination plate with shrimp, haddock, perch, and scallops. All were deep fried. I am not normally a fan of deep fried food, but it was done so well at Waverly's that I couldn't resist. The breading was light and thin, so it didn't overwhelm the seafood or cover it in grease. What really impressed me was that at least three different batters appear to have been used: a spicy batter for the shrimp, a light batter for the perch, and a traditional batter for the haddock. I'm not quite sure, but the point is that they different seafood items were all prepared in distinct ways that helped bring out the flavor, instead of everything being treated the same and tasting the same. The scallops were perfect - not overcooked. The haddock was my favorite, but the shrimp was also excellent.
I ordered a Philly sandwich with prime rib. The meet was sliced fairly thick compared to the normal Philly style sandwiches, but was very good. Nicely seasoned. I enjoyed it - but especially enjoyed nibbling at my wife's food.
The sandwich was $9 and the seafood plate was $14, as I recall. Not bad at all! Hope to be back soon.
- Antojitos Mexicanos
A reader with a lot of experience in Mexico first alerted me to the opportunity for authentic Mexican food at Antojitos, one of the best places in town with some of the most authentic Mexican food you'll find. Antojitos Mexicanos is at 207 N Richmond St., Appleton, WI (phone: 920-380-0244) next to Little Ceaser's on Richmond Street, just north of College Avenue, Antojitos Mexicanos offers inexpensive Mexican food with great flavors. Their tacos, for example, are unlike the tacos found in most Mexican restaurants in the US, but are the perfect double-corn-tortilla open faced treats that I love. Real gorditas, too - greasy but delicious. A highlight of one visit was the fish tostada - an impressively delicious mixture of tender fish and rich flavorings on a crisp tostada. And yes, they have horchata, my favorite Mexican rice drink.
The food is quite inexpensive. You can order gorditas for $2 each, and two might be all you need. Tacos are even less.
The tortilla chips are homemade - thus a bit heavy and greasy, but good.
Service is fast and friendly.
The decor and tables are suited for a fast food place, so don't expect fancy - but do expect tasty.
Bienvenido, Antojitos Mexicanos!
- Asian Garden
Asian Garden, formerly Great Wall Chinese, is a good Chinese buffet conveniently located near the Fox River Mall at 405 N. Mall Drive, Appleton. The restaurant features a large spread of items, rivaling that of Hong Kong Buffet in Neenah. It's a good choice for lunch, with comfortable booths and a quiet atmosphere. The food is good and fresh with an excellent variety, but not many of the dishes stand out as really excellent -- a common problem for buffets, of course. The buffet includes a Mongolian barbecue, but the selection of ingredients is relatively small and the cook prepares only one person's food at a time, resulting in a painfully slow wait during busy times. I suggest skipping the Mongolian barbecue and focusing on other items, including the good California rolls and excellent variety of fruit. Open all week long. Phone: (920) 954-8888.
- Atlanta Bread Company
This chain from the South has become quite a hit in this far corner of the North. It's one of my favorite places for a good low-cost meal. If you love good breads, don't miss this place. I recommend a half-and-half combo (half a sandwich and a soup) with the soup upgraded for $1 extra to a bread bowl of soup. You can also buy loaves of excellent crusty breads. Recently, I took six friends there and they all were pleased with my recommendation of the half-and-half with soup in a bread bowl. I got positive feedback on their chicken chili and their potato soup. i tried the roasted red pepper soup with feta cheese and was impressed with the rich flavors, though perhaps the soup would be better with a little less oil in it. The California Avocado sandwich is a particular favorite of mine, and also got good reviews from those that tried it. On the down side, their bagels are dense and relatively flat, so don't bother. Just about everything else is outstanding. They also have wireless Internet access. Location:: 650 N. Casaloma Drive just west of the Mall, in the same parking area as DSW Shoes, phone (920) 735-1540 (they closed a second location in Darboy near Wal-Mart - I think the traffic problem there hurt them).
As I reported on the Appleton Blog, Bennigan's opened their doors in Appleton on Nov. 2, 2010 with a kick-off celebration that packed the restaurant with delighted patrons. I am grateful that they gave me the opportunity to be there with some guests. Delicious food and good service, and they were doing great on day 1. Not bad. This new restaurant on Mall Drive near the Fox River Mall (149 N. Mall Drive, Appleton) brings a fun Irish twist to hearty American favorites. And yes, they've got a lot of beer and other beverages.
This new Bennigan's has an upbeat decor that emphasizes the themes of fun, lively, and tasteful. They have a gas fireplace on the patio outside, a nice place to gather when the weather permits, while the inside is classy, bright, and comfortable.
I've been there a few times and it's always been fun and tasty. On my first visit, everyone in our group was impressed with their meal. We started with a Southwest Sampler, an appetizer with a variety of southwest-themed foods such as a delicious cheese and chicken quesadilla, nachos, and other items, all surprisingly good. I ordered something that looked simple but was another surprise on the plus side: the O'Toole Pretzel Sandwich, a turkey and cheese sandwich on an awesome pretzel bread bun. Excellent flavor.
Another surprise was the chicken spinach salad. Sounds hohum, but it was beautiful, flavorful, and filling. I got to sample some of that and plan to order it when I go back, A lot of chicken, wonderful sauce, and many of my favorite sald fixings. More of a high protein meal than a salad.
The hand-battered fish and chips also delighted. Might be the best in the Valley. Very fresh, cooked just right, not greasy, with a batter that really added value. Nice.
For desert, the Smores Brownie Sundae also exceeded my expectations. Beautiful presentation including a toasted marchmallow on the side of the plate, with an arrangement of ice cream and browniea on the plate.
Service was excellent--surprisingly informative, friendly, efficient, and accurate. On our first visit, we had Chandra helping us plus a fun chat with the bar manager who helped us feel even more welcome.
The only weakness in the meal, in my opinion, was with the flavored lemonades we tried. Too sweet for my taste and too much ice in the glass. Still good.
For having such good food, Benigan's is remarkably inexpensive and may be one of the best values in the Valley.
- Big Apple Bagels
After a couple trips to New York City, my bagel awareness is at an all-time high, and I've been on a quest for Appleton's best bagels. While several bagel shops and bakeries sell a lot of bagels to hungry Fox Cities dwellers, I hadn't found true bagel greatness in the area until last month when I walked into Big Apple Bagels. Oh la la! These people know their bagels, bagels that come close enough to actual New York bagels to fool most non-New Yorkers. While a quirk in the laws of physics actually makes it physically impossible for perfect bagels to exist more than about 30 miles outside of Manhattan, Big Apple gets close enough for my taste.
I'm delighted at the many fine varieties they offer. Their egg bagel is light and flavorful, for example. I have tried five varieties so far and think they've really got a winning approach. Delicious! They also offer a variety of sandwiches, smoothies, and other fare. Great place for a quick lunch!
Big Apple Bagels can be found on the west side of town at 2601 W College Avenue, phone: (920) 739-0618. A second location for you east-siders is near the southeast Wal-Mart, across Calumet close to Kohl's: W3192 County Road KK, phone: (920) 733-3120.
- Big Shanghai Buffet
They claim to have the largest number of dishes of any Chinese buffet in the area. Reasonably good quality. Many people like it and tell me it's great for lunch. If you go for dinner, go early - probably no later than 7:00 PM. On June 22, 2005, my son and I, both feeling very hungry after a long day (my wife and other boys were out West then), went there at 8:15 P.M. for dinner, 45 minutes before closing, and found that nearly all of their hot dishes were empty. There were a couple dozen or so empty bins and only about six with anything left. We should have walked out, because five minutes later there were only two or three with anything left, but we had already begun eating. As I stared forlornly at an entire row of 16 empty bins with appealing names, empty plate in hand, the manager said I could pick one dish and she would cook more, but it was hard to select something based on the appearance of the aged scraps. We ate some remnants and left. Their policy of letting the bins go empty is bad business. It's not like there were no customers - there were about a dozen people in the restaurant, at least one of which wrote a review of their experience, and a group of about six people came in but wisely walked out when they saw that all the food was gone. Corner of Calumet and South Oneida.
- B.J. Clancy's Grill and Bar
Offers good steaks and American fare. Good desserts, too. Was back in Dec. 2008 for lunch with friends - good basic soup and salad. Friendly service. B.J. Clancy's is in south Appleton at the intersection of Oneida (Hwy 10) and Midway Road (Hwy AP). Technically, it's just inside the border of Menasha, so smoking is allowed.
- Buca di Beppo
Buca di Beppo Italian is a popular Italian restaurant chain that began in Milwaukee and has now spread to many parts of the nation. One of their recent additions is Grand Chute near the Fox River mall, where Buca can be found at 1190 North Casaloma Drive Appleton. I first tried Buca in Salt Lake City and have come to really love their salads, pasta dishes, and deserts. Often busy, so think about reservations early. Phone: (920) 739-3745.
- Buffalo Wild Wings
Another fine chain with great food. Buffalo Wild Wings has two locations in Appleton, one at 4601 West College Avenue not far from the Fox River Mall (phone 920-830-4169) and the other on Calumet near Home Depot in the southeast part of Appleton (3201 E. Calumet St., phone 920-733-9464). I took a son to the one near Home Depot. Very impressive chicken! We had chicken legs on one of their "chicken leg Wednesdays" in several flavors -- garlic, hot pepper, blue cheese, teriyaki. They have some of the best sauces for chicken you'll ever find. A lot of good food for not too much money.
- Cannova's - Great Italian Food in Neenah
In early 2007, my wife and I took a visitor to dinner at Cannova's Pizzeria in downtown Neenah (113 W Wisconsin Ave, Neenah, WI). This is a classy restaurant that offers great pizza and some outstanding Italian dishes. My friend, a scholar and traveler who spends a lot of time in Europe, was impressed. We went on a cold Thursday evening, and the place was packed, but we got the best table in the house at the front window. I was impressed with the salad, a very nice mix of hearty ingredient, and then truly delighted with the lamb chops, the special of the day. Honestly, I have never tasted better lamb. Perfectly done! And so tender. The lamb was presented on a bed of risotto with beets on the side. Very pretty. The risotto was a little too "al dente" for me, but was very good nonetheless. And the beets were outstanding.
My wife tried the scallops and was pleased. Our guest tried another pasta dish and enjoyed it as well. But I think I had the best of the three dishes.
The selection of deserts was hard to resist. I kept things light with a simple orange sherbet, but it was a high quality version.
Service was very good. The place is attractive and lively, but not too noisy - no hideous music blaring. Easy to have a conversation.
Entrees range from about $9 to $17 each. Reasonably priced.
- China Dragon Buffet
A little east of the huge Regency cinema on College Boulevard (Hwy CE) east of town, the China Dragon Buffet offer a good Chinese buffet. They have many Chinese dishes, several soups, plus desserts, fruits, salad items, and vanilla and chocolate soft ice cream (relatively low-fat for reduced guilt, the way I like it, though some won't care for this). I don't think they use MSG (no MSG aftertaste hits me after eating there). I previously gave this a Webmaster's Choice Award for best Chinese buffet, but now I'm not so sure. They seem to have changed management and made some changes in the food, so the last time I was there was not quite as good as I previously experienced. Maybe just an off night.
The lunch buffet is open from 11:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday, with the dinner buffet from 4:30 to 9:00 p.m. Take-out is also offered, and China Dragon Buffet now provides broad delivery service for all of Appleton, Menasha, Kimberly, Little Chute, Combined Locks, Kaukauna, and even the Sherwood Area. Call (920) 830-8158.
The address is W3169 Van Roy Road, Appleton, WI 54915, but think of it as being on the south side of College Avenue (Highway CE) near Kimberly just west of Eisenhower Drive. It is about one block west of Regal Cinema, next to the new Big Lots store. From College Avenue, turn south on Eisenhower and immediately turn right onto Van Roy Road or into the Big Lots parking lot.
- China Garden -- Good Chinese and Friendly Service
China Garden has been in business since 2006 in Darboy at W6141 Country Road KK (Calumet Street) just a couple blocks east of Wal-Mart (W6141 County Road KK, by the Tanglz Salon). I've been there twice now and find it to be surprisingly good, inexpensive, with a friendly and entertaining atmosphere, thanks to the charming personality of the owner.
It's a small restaurant that seems to do most of its business as take out, so it probably won't be crowded when you go - and that means the charming owner will be able to visit with you. He is more native Appletonian than I am, since he came here at age 9, but he went back to Hong Kong for several years of education and has a rich Chinese heritage that he shares at China Garden.
During my family's visits to China Garden, we've been pleased with several dishes. Recently we tried Wor Shu Duck, a crispy duck dish which, like Peking Duck, has a delicious skin. This was one of the best duck dishes I've had, coupled with excellent sauteed vegetables in a flavorful sauce. More duck than I expected. It's one of the more expensive items on the menu at just $10.50. It's more than one person can eat, I think.
I was especially impressed with a vegetarian dish, the Home Style Bean Cake, which had fried tofu in a delicious sauce with sauteed vegetables. I was pleased with the flavors and surprised to see so much of this excellent food for just $5.95. We also tried Beef with Chinese Mushrooms and Bamboo Shoots ($8.65) and Triple in Garlic Sauce (jumbo shrimp, beef, and chicken with vegetables, $9.85). All very pleasing with a variety of flavors. The four dishes were more than four of us could eat, including two teenage boys. I think we could have fed five or six people with the four dishes we ordered.
Previously we enjoyed the Chef's special called Happy Family, a combination of lobster, shrimp, scallops, chicken, pork, and vegetables. It's tied for the most expensive dish on the menu, at a mere $11.75.
The hot and sour soup was excellent.
The rich menu of China Garden emphasizes Szechwan, Hunan, and Cantonese dishes. Like most Chinese restaurants in the Valley and in the US, this one offers foods adapted for American pallets and employing readily available ingredients like carrots and broccoli that might not play such a prominent role in restaurants seeking to provide exotic, authentic encounters with the foods of the Orient. And that's just what you need when you're taking your family out to dinner - especially on a budget.
China Garden is open seven days a week and offers free delivery (minimum order $18). MasterCard and Visa accepted. Open for lunch, with 32 different $4.95 lunch specials. Hours: 10:30 am - 9:30 pm Monday to Saturday, and noon to 9:30 pm Sunday.
I believe no MSG is used.
Call (920) 380-0058. Fax: (920) 380-0079. Be sure to say the tall guy with the family of four sent you.
- China Star
Small Chinese restaurant with a lunch buffet. Only a few tables, mostly for takeout, but a great choice. Very good soups and a great menu. Inexpensive. $5 for a quart of hot and sour soup - good stuff. I've used them for take-out a few times and have been pretty happy. Have also eaten there a couple of times. Nice staff. They are in Menasha in the Shopko Plaza area, just south of Highway 441 on Memorial/Appleton Road (Highway 47), next to Gold's Gym. 1770 Appleton Road, Menasha, WI. Phone: (920) 731-3088.
- Cinders Charcoal Grill
A popular steak house with three locations in the Fox Valley: 1309 E. Wisconsin Ave., Appleton (920-738-0100), 2369 W. Wisconsin Ave, Appleton (920-738-0116), and 221 South Kensington Drive (by Menards), Appleton (920-739-5969). I include this by popular demand since I haven't been there yet (OK, I'm not a huge fan of steak). One friend strongly recommends their Saturday special of a 10 ounce Sirloin steak for $10. The buildings new or remodeled and are said to be quite nice inside. Let me know what you think. Here's one recent comment (May 2007):
While there are steaks on the menu (and they may be quite good), they are most famous for their charcoal-grilled burgers, brats, and chopped steak sandwiches, which are outstanding. The atmosphere at the two older locations is typical 60s greasy spoon/drive-in, while the East-side Kensington location is more hunting-lodge/sports bar mix (wood decor all around with quite a few TVs on the walls). You really are doing yourself a disservice by not visiting. It may even overtake Red Robin for your best burgers pick.
- Cold Stone Creamery
Looking for a high-quality ice-cream shop? Cold Stone Creamery provides almost unlimited choices for the ice-cream mixtures they blend by hand as you watch with real ice cream they make on the premises each day. It's top quality and pricey, but a great way to get a special treat. There are two stores in town, one in the Fox River Mall and the other next to Starbucks on Calumet Street (KK) and Highway 41, just west of Highway 41 on the north side of the road. We went there on opening night and were pleased, though my Italian Sorbet was more like an American sherbet. But the mixed ice cream creations were great.
A Wisconsin chain offering the best fast food around. Wonderful sandwiches, soups, fish, and especially their frozen custard! A classy place for fast food, but affordable. One is near Woodman's groceries and the other I frequent is on Highway KK (Calumet Street) in the south east part of town, just east of Highway 441.
- El Jaripeo
Fox Valley Mexican food fans are buzzing with gusto about this inexpensive and fun new addition to the Valley. El Jaripeo offers relatively authentic Latino cuisine in a fun setting at low prices. Check out their menu and see for yourself. The owner is from Guanajuato, Mexico, where the cooking is delicious based on what I've tasted from my own friends from that part of Mexico, deep in the heart of the country. Reviews on Yelp.com are very positive. Said to be fast and delicious.
It's where a Hardees used to be in Little Chute, and one reader calls it the "Mexican Hardees," but I think that's too complimentary of Hardees. On Main Ave in Little Chute in front of Hardware Hank/Piggly Wiggly. 1821 E. Main St., Little Chute, WI 54140. Phone: (920) 759-9480. Open 11:00 A.M. to 10:00 P.M. seven days a week. Let me know what you think!
- Far East Korean and Japanese Restaurant
The Far East Restaurant on south Oneida Street in Appleton, near St. Elizabeth's hospital, is one I've stubbornly avoided for years. I had a bad experience with the previous restaurant in that building, and unfairly kept that mental image as a barrier. But in June 2007, after hearing several people tell me how good the sushi was, I decided it was time to ignore an irrelevant past and give it a try. Good idea! The Far East Restaurant offers some of the finest sushi in the Fox Valley, in my opinion. The unagi - fresh water eel - was the best I've had, done perfectly and beautifully with a delightful sauce. The combination plate of sushi and sashimi was truly a pleasant surprise, with remarkably rich and tender fish and wonderful sushi rice. The tuna and salmon were rich and full in flavor, and the squid was some of the best I've had, tender and more flavorful than usual. So much was a pleasant surprise.
For three people, the cost, including tax and tip, was $72. That included two extra appetizers and four sushi orders in addition to the combination plate, which was priced at $38. (No drinks were ordered.) Everything is a la carte. Given that the Fuji Sushi buffer is $12 a person for dinner or $10 for lunch, as I recall, the Far East Restaurant might be viewed as on the pricey side, but if you're looking for great sushi, this should be on your list.
Ambience is pleasant and a bit dark. Quiet, comfortable. Excellent service. No complaints.
Far East Korean and Japanese: 1330 South Oneida Street, Appleton, WI 54915. Phone:
Be sure to try the unagi! (Posted on The Appleton Blog, June 20, 2007.)
- Frank's Pizza Palace
I've had e-mail recommending Frank's. Quite a few people like it, for reasons not clear to me. I finally went there with my wife on March 4, 2005. Sorry, folks - I really struggled with their pizza. But when I tried it again in 2009, I began to understand why it's so popular. Though I prefer thick crust pizza, their thin crust really can be delicious and helps one focus on the sauce and the toppings rather than a vast amount of bread. They do offer some thicker crust pizzas that are much more my style and very good. Something must have gone wrong with the sauce that I
There's a lot of history to Frank's and a buzzing, excitement atmosphere in this place that brought pizza to the Fox Valley over 50 years ago. Give it a try!
They also great root beer in a chilled glass mug - they way A&W used to.
815 W. College Ave., open 4 p.m. daily. Phone 920-734-9131.)
Fairly new to Appleton, Fratello's is a fun pasta, steak, and seafood place with two great locations: Fratello's Waterfront, located on the north shore of the beautiful Fox River in what used to be the high-end and obscurely named "J a Restaurant" near Oneida Flats, about 100 yards downstream of the dam beneath the Memorial Drive bridge, and Fratello's Fox River Mall, formerly the Fox River Brewing Company. There are three other Fratello's around the state in Oshkosh, Milwaukee, and Madison. I've been there about 4 times and have been please with the food and the setting. Well presented, stylish, and delicious. Midrange in price. Beautiful setting and good service. Their white chicken chili has my vote for the best soup in the Valley. Also loved the tuna ahi lollipop appetizers! The gnocchi is also terrific, as was the butternut squash ravioli my wife ordered. One of the best views in the Valley.
Fratello's Waterfront is located at 501 W. Water Street, which is the road on the north side of the river along Oneida Flats. It's just west of the Paper Industry Hall of Fame, right where Water Street turns away from the river and heads uphill (about two blocks west of the Lawrence Arts Academy). A member of the Supple Restaurant Group. Note: A trusted friend told me that Fratello disappointed his out-of-town visitors recently when they served instant mashed potatoes as part of a salmon dish. Instant mashed potatoes?? They were certain that's what they were. Well, I still like the place - but will avoid the mashed potatoes. Don't think they do that anymore - do they? Love the place.
- Fuji Sushi
In March 2007, I went to Fuji Sushi at 1003 West Northland Avenue, on the south side of the street across from Northland Mall. Very impressive! This is a clean and delicious buffet with real sushi (salmon, clam, tilapia, etc.), many varieties of sushi rolls, several excellent Chinese dishes and some good deserts. Spartan decor but excellent food. For lunch of dinner, the cost is about $10 per person.
One of the best choices for sushi, especially if you don't have a lot of time. Koreana still has the best sushi in town, in my opinion, but if you want sushi in a buffet setting, you won't beat Fuji Sushi! (Also see my post on the Appleton Blog.) Others in 2012 have written that it's the best lunch in town. Not sure about that, but it is a fabulous choice.
Closed Mondays. Phone (920) 832-1388.
In May 2006, I took some of my family to Galvan's Restaurant, 2220 E Northland Ave. by the Superbowl bowling alley. Galvan's is a family diner that has been praised for their gyros. They also offer basic sandwiches, soups, pies, etc. Fairly inexpensive and generally OK basic food is my take, but there were a couple glitches. I started with an order of their soup of the day, seafood gumbo - but they were all out of that. This was a bit late, around 8 PM, but still, that's a real shame. They also offered white chicken chili and regular red chili, or so the waitress claimed, so I ordered a bowl of the red chili. What was served me was a version of refried bean soup, similar to a recipe that my wife has used, but far less appetizing because this version had a lot of cream in it. I think the ingredients were cream, pureed refried beans, tomato chunks, chicken, and chili spices. It was an awkward combination with a coarse, almost gritty texture and did not seem to fit into any chili category that I was familiar with. I couldn't finish it.
The gyro was good, except that the white sauce was based on sour cream instead of yogurt used with "real" gyro dishes. I'm sure many people prefer the fattier sauce, though. Others had a basic hamburger (looked OK) and a Reuben sandwich that was good but was inadequate when it comes to the sauce that should be inside on the bread - just not enough or not tasty enough to enhance the sandwich.
On a later visit, the salmon with broccoli was quite good, as was the soup.
- Good Company
A lively, long-time-standing restaurant on the corner of Richmond Street and College Avenue with a diverse menu ranging from burgers to Italian and Mexican cuisine. Dishes are reasonably priced and generally good. While I've had negative reports about the Mexican dishes, the Italian food tends to be very popular, especially the lasagna. I recently tried the linguine Alfredo and found it bland, as were some other pasta dishes, though still OK. Many people love the place. It has great old-style ambiance, with some amazing photos of movie and TV stars from 40+ years ago, along with other relics of the previous century or beyond. Worth a visit just to see and enjoy the interior, but enjoy the food also!
- Glass Nickel Pizza
A new pizza spot on West College Avenue in the building once occupied by Los Compadres and years ago by Friar Tucks (Friar Tucks, by the way, has been revived and is now a little further west on the south side of the street). Great pizza, paninis and sandwiches. Big, hearty salads. The crust on the pizza is the way I like--medium thickness, well cooked and flavorful. Their vegetarian pizza may well be the best veggie pizza I've encountered. They get it. Glass Nickel has its origins in Madison. I believe this is the second shop the team of owners has opened. Take a look at the bar where you'll see beautiful art made with thousands of nickels embedded in an epoxy coating. Very cool. Service is great.
- Hong Kong Buffet (Neenah)
One of my favorite Chinese buffets, with what may be the biggest selection in the Fox Cities (close to that of Big Shanghai Buffet, anyway). The buffet even includes some decent but low-cost sushi. A great place for lunch. Good chicken and beef dishes, plenty of broccoli variations, a baked salmon dish is always there, a load of fried things in addition to vegetables and healthy fare, plus soft ice cream. 145 W Wisconsin Ave, Neenah. Phone: (920) 720-7089.
- La Bamba: "Burritos as Big as Your Head"
La Bamba used to be on College Avenue, but is now on Wisconsin Avenue. This fine little fast food place offers some of my favorite Mexican food, specializing in awesome, low-cost burritos. It's also one of the very few places in the area serving horchata, a favorite drink of mine made from rice water with a little cinnamon and sugar. Who can live without horchata? And if you ever need to eat late, this may be the latest closing restaurant around, staying open until 3:00 AM, providing refuge to those of you who stumble out of bars as they close.
- Lombardi's Steakhouse
Located in the Radisson Paper Valley Hotel (333. W. College Avenue), this classy and elegant restaurant offers what may be the best steaks in the state. I went there with a gift certificate recently and was simply amazed at the quality of the food - a meal I will not soon forget. But it is expensive. Without drinks or dessert, you can expect to pay $30 for a typical meal. Three of use shared a 30-ounce porterhouse steak and an order of crab legs, plus two of their large sides dishes (the garlic smashed potatoes were fantastic!), for $85 plus tip. Open daily, 4 PM till midnight. Call 920-380-9390 for reservations. Casual dress is acceptable.
- The Machine Shed
Great country cooking for hearty appetites. The Machine Shed offers unlimited applesauce, cold slaw, and great breads as appetizers and side dishes for their fine main dishes (fish, chicken, steaks, sandwiches, etc.) at pretty low prices. And the lemonade is good, though it's served in decorative mason jars (I prefer regular glasses). Relaxed rustic atmosphere with a gift shop, reminiscent of the smaller Cracker Barrel that used to be at this location. Located near the Fox River Mall at the corner of College Avenue and Highway 41 under a towering sign. (Turn into the mall entrance from College, then quickly turn right again towards 41.)
Friends from California recently tried it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They thought breakfast was especially good.
- The Madhouse Grill
The Madhouse Grill in Neenah (124 West Wisconsin Avenue, next to Great Harvest Bread) is a popular place that I've had several people recommend. Finally gave it a try--very impressive. Great salads and sandwiches. Mary Mo (comment used with permission) recommends the Cabernet-cherry Lamb Burger and the fries as wonderful choices. Been there? Let me know your preferences.
- Mary's Family Restaurant
Need good home cooking at a low price? Looking for a fast bowl of soup and slice of pie? For full meals or just dessert, Mary's has been a real tradition for many in Appleton. Not very fancy and not very exotic, but good food and service at a low price makes Mary's a useful addition to anybody's dining list. (A nice place to take someone who doesn't like ethnic food.) Two locations: 2312 North Richmond or 2106 South Oneida in Appleton.
- La Michoacana
La Michoacana is relatively new Mexican place. They began in Menasha around late 2010 and have now moved to downtown Appleton in a nice spot at 211 College Avenue. They have some of the most authentic Mexican food in the area, according to one Mexican friend of mine. Also some of the most affordable. You can have a great meal of large tacos for just a few bucks.
From the state of Michoacan in southern Mexico, corn tortillas are the norm here with terrific flavoring. You'll find some items you've probably never seen before, such as the torta ahogada, a wet sandwich covered in chili sauce. I loved it! But the less challenging tacos, tamales, burritos, enchiladas, sopes, tortas, and other dishes are also great and surprisingly inexpensive. Oh, and they serve horchata, a Mexican drink made from rice, sugar, and a touch of cinnamon.
- Min Du Buffet
This Chinese restaurant in Appleton (opened around the beginning of 2003) offers reasonably priced and well spiced Chinese food. The lunch buffet and dinner buffets are inexpensive. They offer some California rolls and a variety of hot dishes. Not a huge menu, but adequate and generally good food. The dessert area also includes lychee nuts and other unusual items. Min Du is at 100 West Wisconsin Avenue, about 2 blocks west of Richmond Street, in a strip mall on the north side of Wisconsin. (920) 731-3327.
- Nakashima's Japanese Steakhouse
Included here by popular demand! This restaurant offers showmanship from the cooks and great food. Two of my son have been there and loved it. A favorite restaurant of some visitors to Appleton. Based on recent reports, the sushi is excellent and the showmanship of the chefs is entertaining as they chop and prepare food.
One of the best bets for creative American fare at reasonable prices. I've been to O'Charley's for both lunch and dinner and was impressed both times. I took some special guests there for dinner (Feb. 2008) and they really enjoyed it. A relatively quiet and pleasant atmosphere enables conversation, with food that is carefully prepared with some exciting and original concepts. Service was outstanding. Their cedar grilled salmon and prime rib pasta were great. 3775 W. College Ave., just a few yard west of Westhill on the south side of College. (920) 734-1456.
- Old Country Buffet
Now near the Fox River Mall, this restaurant offers casual buffet dining (all you can eat) at a low price with generally excellent food. I love their dessert bar. Great place to take hungry kids. 4531 W Wisconsin Ave, Appleton. (920) 830-6486.
- The Olive Garden
It's a chain, but one with fabulous Italian food. Unfortunately, there is a risk of HUGE wait times. Reminds me of Yogi Berra's quip about a restaurant: "Nobody goes there anymore - it's too crowded." On a recent Saturday, we waited nearly an hour just to be seated. We could blame that on the weekend. But then my wife went with a small group on a Wednesday night and had another huge wait (over 30 minutes to be seated). Lots of empty tables, just not enough staff to handle the people who came. Now that's a problem. If you are lucky and get served quickly, try their truly amazing dish, "Ravioli a Portabello" (ravioli stuffed with a mushroom filling that's out of this world, if you're into mushrooms). Bonus: soft drinks, bread sticks, and the soup that goes with your entree are replenished for free, if you want them. It's near the northwest corner of the Fox River Mall, 1275 North Casaloma Dr. (off of Wisconsin Avenue). Ph: 954-8005. They don't accept reservations.
- The Orchard Cafe
Good place for breakfasts or lunch (dinner is no longer served). Located in the atrium of the Radisson Paper Valley Hotel on College Avenue. The Orchard Cafe has a relaxing atmosphere well suited for conversation. I've been there several times for business breakfasts and can recommend the Mariners Benedict dish as one of the best egg dishes you'll ever have.
Bread in the Fox Cities
The quality of bread available in the Fox Cities has been on a healthy uptrend. Great places for delicious bread include Atlanta Bread Company near the mall, Panera Bread on west College Avenue, Great Harvest Bread in downtown Neenah, Breadsmith in north Appleton and Darboy, Dolce Vita on Kensington across from Best Buy, and several grocery stores. Breadsmith's granola bread is among my favorites, but the overall best shop, in my opinion, is Great Harvest in Neenah. Awesome staff, great selection of breads, and free samples that are big enough to almost be a quick meal. Their Woodstock bread is especially good. They also make sandwiches for you--delicious!
Finally, Appleton has Panera Bread, one of the best national chains with food created by foodies to please foodies at a low price. Bagels, bread, sandwiches, salads, soups, and deserts. Their Asiago cheese bagel is one of their signature specialties that ranks among the best bagels ever. Cleer paninis and excellent soups will keep you coming back. Pick up a load of great bread while you're there. One of the best places for a fast, inexpensive but interesting meal. At 3320 W. College Avenue, near HuHot. Phone: (920) 733-7417. Fax: (920) 733-7419.
- The Pasty Koop
Pasties, baked fresh daily at this shop, are a Midwest food item that is foreign to many visitors. According to John L. Hoh, Jr., of Milwaukee, "pasties were a meat-potatoes-carrot-rhutabaga concoction brought over from Wales by Welsh miners coming to mine copper in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and in the mines of Southwest Wisconsin. This Yooper delight is now available in Appleton." The Pasty Koop is at 135 E. Wisconsin Ave., across from St. Therese Church. Phone: (920) 830-0896. Hours: M-F, 5:30 AM - 6 PM; Saturday, 5:30 AM - 2 PM; closed Sundays and holidays.
- Pooh Saan
Drawing upon the cuisine of southeast Asia, Pooh Saan offers authentic dishes from Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Indonesia at low prices. Plus they've got the best bubble tea (sometimes called "Boba tea") in the Vellay--tasty icy smoothies with large, soft tapioca pearls that go up the extra-wide straw. They come in several flavors. My favorite is strawberry-mango. Mmmm.
My favorite dish there is the pho, the Vietnamese-Laotian soup with noodles, meat balls, fresh basil, and other goodies. Pho (sort of pronounced like "fur" but mostly without the trailing "r" sound) is a popular and fun dish.
Here's a comment received from a local fan of Pooh Saan in email from 2011:
I went to Pooh Saan for the first time last week and it was just what I needed. It was quiet with a very warm and personable manager. He was very clear and patient in explaining everything AND it was all amazing. We weren't able to have the egg rolls because his wife is the one who is entrusted with this task and she was out of town. However, we had the spring roll and that was among the best I've ever had. The chicken laab entree is by far the tastiest dish, of any cuisine, I've had since I first had the love-love roll at Koreana.
I highly recommend Pooh Saan and intend to go there in a bit to get my lunch that I've looked forward to having there all week. I hope his wife is back so I can sample the egg rolls that all my friends claim is the best.
Also received a comment from Mary Mo, used with permission, recommending the Chicken Pho and the Pork Laab as excellent choices at Pooh Saan.
Like Dong Po, the great Chinese place on College Avenue, Pooh Saan has a name that reflects a truly authentic Asian restaurant--a name that American marketers would never think of. Authentic and tasty.
- Pullman's -- A Fun Place for American-Style Food
One of Appleton's newest restaurants is Pullman's in Trolley Square in the Oneida Flats area deep in the Valley, right next to the Fox River at 619 Olde Oneida Street. Such a beautiful view, right across the river from Fratello's and the Atlas Coffee Mill. Pullman's has a sports bar area with huge TV screens for watching sports events. We were seated in the restaurant area, which has very high ceilings with decor representing the brick walls of old city buildings. Lively, pleasant, and popular. The first time we tried to go there, there was a 45 minute wait. We got there very early on a Friday the next time, about 5:30 pm, and just barely got in before it got full.
Cuisine includes American food such as burgers, fish, seafood dishes, popular sandwiches, steaks, and some vegetarian dishes. See the Pullman's menu online.
I had the best lobster bisque ever there. Delightful! Almost enough to win my award for the best soup in Appleton for a while, anyway--though there are many contenders. The salads are excellent, as are the sandwiches. Call 920-830-7855.
- Red Lobster
A chain, but a popular one with excellent food. In April 2010, I took my wife there and was impressed with perfect rainbow trout, outstanding side dishes, and delicious shrimp. The scallops that came with her meal were the midget variety that lacks the potential of regular scallops. But overall we felt the quality was good and the service excellent.
I watched live lobsters in their lobster tank while waiting to be served. Interesting to see some alpha-male behavior as one or two doomed lobsters tried to bully the rest. What did they think they were achieving under such dire circumstances?
Near the Fox River Mall (northwest side): 1200 North Casaloma Drive, Appleton, WI. Phone: (920) 749-0644. They don't take reservations.
- Red Robin
I really like their smoothies and their veggie burger. It's a chain, but a fun one. Located near Home Depot on the southeast side of town (Calumet and Kensington, on the south side of Calumet). Fun place! I had the Garden Burger - one of the best vegetarian burgers I've had. My son and daughter-in-law had another gourmet burger and a pasta dish and were quite happy with their food. The burgers might be considered pricey - around $8 typically, but that's a large portion with plenty to eat, including fries. Then the Hawaiian Heart Throb Smoothie really won me over - absolutely delicious, almost as good as the ones I make. It came in a beautiful, artsy glass that I was tempted to photograph (but refrained).
Service was very friendly and attentive. And you can tell that the people there, both customers and employees, are having fun. I like that. N109 Stoney Brook Rd, Appleton. Phone: (920) 733-8750.
A pleasant, quiet restaurant in the heart of Neenah is Remington's inside the Holiday Inn Neenah Riverwalk Hotel (formerly called the Valley Inn), 123 E Wisconsin Ave, Neenah. Remington's has a number of beautiful brass sculptures featuring the famous Western-themed work of Frederic Remington. Most are reproductions, but one by the restaurant and one behind the front desk of the hotel are originals. Beautiful! I've been to Remington's for breakfast, lunch, and dinner now, and thought they did a good job each time. It's basic American fare at reasonable prices with good service. One thing my wife and I noticed was that the amount of food was right - not an overwhelming pile of calories or a skimpy nugget or two, but enough for a good meal without regrets. Phone: (920) 725-8441.
- Sai Ram Indian Cuisine
Sai Ram was the first to bring excellent Indian food to Appleton. Located on the north side of town at 253 W. Northland Avenue (ph. 733-3003). For lunch, they offer a superb buffet that is as good as what you'll find in the highly touted Indian restaurants of Chicago or other big cities. The owners and hosts are kind, warm people that add to the experience. A real favorite of mine! They offer some spicy dishes, but most are within the range of typical North Americans. Their nan bread is usually excellent, and their meat and vegetable dishes tend to be richly flavored and prepared with care. Enjoy!
A chain, but one of the best, in my opinion. An outstanding deli with some tremendous hot sandwiches. Great bread is the key, made from scratch, I understand. 881 North Casaloma Drive, Appleton. Phone: (920) 731-7272.
- Jet Sushi Buffet
Formerly Sapporo Sushi, which I loved. Jet Sushi is felt by some to be even better. Jet offers an all-you-can sushi buffet with excellent chefs. Like Sapporo, Jet offers the chain of sushi boats floating past customers so you can select what you want. Good service, too, I've heard. Jet is at N 162 Eisenhower Drive # 300, just north of Calumet in the strip mall on the east side of the street across from Kohls, very close to the popular new Anytime Fitness gym. Phone (920) 993-2222.
- Seasons Restaurant
A popular choice for trendy dining. It now offers the high-end but affordable US and European menu that Seasons is famous for, with a Thai section reflecting some of the best choices that the owner's Lemon Grass restaurant (now closed) offered, with the same Thai chef servicing the Thai menu. Very unusual breadth is the result. While Seasons has a reputation for being expensive, the prices have actually come down strongly to reflect the economic realities of our economy while still offering some of the best in service and quality.
Many execs in the area use this routinely for entertaining guests and some tell me it's their favorite place in town. Definitely classy with great good and generally excellent service. Soups are outstanding, and meats are done almost to perfection (friend of mine recently gave me rave reviews for their ribeye and filet mignon). Deserts are superbly done as well, based on my last visit there. They have a great room for corporate meetings, receptions, and other events. Excellent for a special event or special evening. Definitely worth a try. Across from the Holiday Inn at 213 South Nicolet Road.
- Señor Tequila's
Reasonably good Mexican food in a great downtown location on College Avenue (531 West). I've been there three times. The first time, the Mexican-style scrambled eggs were outstanding (better than the related dish I had once in Ciudad de Juarez, where I learned to relish spicy Mexican "huevos"). The second time, I tried a shrimp taco, which was pretty good but rather bland. LAst time I tried a vegetarian burrito that was terrific. Love the salsa, too - perhaps the best in town. They used to have large screens playing loud videos, but that annoyance is gone now. In general, they've got good prices, a good menu, and nice atmosphere. Worth a try.
- Seven Angels
A new low-cost family restaurant with a surprisingly diverse menu and generally OK food (not great, though). There is a children's menu and specials for seniors as well. The 5,600-square-foot restaurant seats 180 people. It's next to Lawrence University's Banta BowlIt's at 1401 E. John St. If you're coming from downtown, take College Avenue east across the bridge, then at the intersection, continue toward the right, heading southeast on John street. It's just past the intersection on the right at a site that used to be a Hardees, close to the Banta Bowl of Lawrence University. I took six people there and we were generally very pleased with the soups (outstanding!) and the entrees. Warning: my key lime pie had a stiff, high-fat green frosting on it that destroyed the pie. 2008 update: Went there again and found some of the food on the disappointing side. A quality review is needed, in my opinion.
- Solea Mexican Grill
There are three Soleas in the Valley. The one I tried most recently (Dec. 2012) is the Appleton Solea on Casaloma Drive, just east of the Mall close to Integrity Drive.
One of my past choices for best Mexican food in the Valley was Solea. They are still great, but I favor the interesting southern Mexican cuisine of Mi Casa, at least for now. But Solea is definitely a winner. It's Neenah location is perhaps the most upscale Mexican restaurant in the Valley. The original Solea Mexican Grill is at 709 N. Appleton Street in Menasha, formerly Los Compadres. In late 2008, Solea expanded by opening a classy new restaurant in southern Neenah at 1350 Gillingham Road in the building that used to be Gulliver's, just a few yards west of Highway 41 at the Breezewood exit. Both restaurants are worth your attention for great Mexican food. Their Website is www.soleamexicangrill.com/. In early 2011 or late 2010, they added a third location: 1104 Mutual Way, just west of the Fox River Mall, visible from Casaloma Drive in the site that used to be Tumbleweed and the Mesquite Grill.
I visited Solea in Neenah in Jan. 2009 and was impressed with the remodeled building and the great service. Food was excellent. I tried the fish tacos and was pleased with the rich flavor and presentation. I took a vegetarian friend who had vegetarian fajitas (had to ask - they aren't on the menu). His dish was very good - except I think the grilled baby carrots didn't fit and they were still not cooked enough. There wasn't a less expensive lunch menu, as far as I could tell.
La Solea changed owners in 2007 or 2008, keeping many of the great dishes that won me over and adding some new twists. It's all about flavor at La Solea. You'll start with their fabulous bean dip and nachos, and then get to choose from a wide variety of Mexican dishes that are closer to authentic than most other Mexican restaurants in Wisconsin. They still have the awesome bean dip that Los Compadres had (and still has in its new locations). The meals are not too expensive and full of rich flavor, including great guacamole. The Fox Cities have a strong selection of outstanding Mexican restaurants, with Solea Grill and La Solea being right up there with the best. Highly recommended!
- Stuc's Pizza
A popular pizza place at 110 N. Douglas Avenue, visible on the north side of College Avenue about 1 mile west of downtown. on College Ave. Their deep dish pizzas are said to be better than those of the famous Pizzeria Uno in Chicago (the place where deep dish pizza allegedly originated). They seem to focus on takeout business, but you can sit down and eat inside as well. Update: The calzones at Stuc's are said to be some of the best ever (a friend of mine says the sausage-onion calzones are especially terrific). Also received a strong recommendation for their tomato-chicken-basil salad. Very delicious, and large enough that it could be a meal for two, especially if you take it out. Stuc's has a terrific reputation for great food.
- Steak Escape
Steak Escape is in the Fox River Mall and is a vital source of Philadelphia Cheesesteaks and other sandwiches. I'm told that their fresh-cut fries, cooked in peanut oil, are divine.
- A Taste of Thai
This Thai restaurant on the east end of College Avenue offers an excellent menu with high-quality Thai food. The red curries are especially good. Sorry, no green curry. One possible problem: sometimes the service is extremely slow. Recently we were seated for over 30 minutes before we could even place our order, and it was another 30 minutes or so before the food came.
- Texas Roadhouse -
After several experiences there, I have to say that I really like Texas Roadhouse. Yes, it's a chain, but clearly one of the most popular this part of Wisconsin has seen. This restaurant is designed to feed people well and keep them happy. And what food! Good steaks at some of the best prices I've seen, please a lot of other great choices. (I have had a complaint about their use of MSG there. Please inquire!) OK, for you gourmets, there are higher-end steaks that you can enjoy (for a lot more money). But even very expensive meat can be done poorly, as I recently experienced at Black and Tan Grille, shortly before it went under in 2011. So don't turn your nose up at the relatively sure thing you'll get at low cost here.
They used to be open for lunch everyday, but now lunch is available Friday-Sunday. For the rest of the week, they're open from 4 PM to 10 PM (11 PM on Friday). See their hours on their Appleton location page.
Since they are fun, delicious and inexpensive, the place is popular and often busy. If you're smart, you'll call before you get there to let them know you're coming. They'll put you on the wait list as if you had just walked in the door - you can do this for up to an hour before you arrive. On a Friday or Saturday, there might be 20 to 40 minutes wait, so it's good to call first. This worked out perfectly for us. But if you do have to wait, don't worry. They have a waiting room where you can eat all the salted peanuts in shells that you want, and you can just throw the shells on the floor. I guess that's supposed to be Texas style, but we Midwestern folk seem to get the hand of that right away. Also, while we were waiting, a girl came around with free samples of their delicious onion rings and dip for people to try. I like this business model: they work hard to keep you happy. Part of their secret is having lots of energetic and friendly employees. Even though the place was packed, we received a lot of personal attention from several staff members. Amazing service. Shortly after we were seated, we were brought wonderfully delicious fresh-baked rolls. Yum! We ate them in a hurry, so they brought us more.We placed our orders and were served surprisingly quickly. One of my sons and I shared a T-bone steak, one of the best I've had, while another son enjoyed a combo platter with steak and chicken, and my wife had a small sirloin steak that turned out to be the best sirloin I can remember. And we really enjoyed the side dishes as well. The chili, like all their side dishes, was made on site from fresh ingredients, not canned. The salad was fine, their green beans were wonderfully flavored, and the sweet potato was to die for - well maybe not die, but it's worth at least a mild stroke.
My first time there, I had dinner there with a couple of outstanding patent lawyers early on a weeknight when it wasn't too busy (and still pretty new to Appleton). Perhaps it's too rowdy for a business dinner, but it was mighty fun with excellent food at surprisingly low prices. My Dallas steak was outstanding and the homemade rolls were great, but my favorite part of the meal was a side dish, their baked sweet potato that was covered with brown sugar and topped with half-melted marshmallows. They gave me some cinnamon at my request. It was huge, superb, and better than almost any dessert I've had - but I'm quite partial to sweet potatoes. (My years in the South may be to blame.)
Texas Roadhouse is next to Woodfield Suites on College Avenue, just east of Highway 41. 3910 W College Ave, Appleton. Phone: (920) 738-7427. (Texas Roadhouse was also featured on the Appleton Blog, Feb. 24, 2006.)
- TGI Friday's
A national chain - but a great one. Lots of atmosphere, unusual yet delectable food, and not expensive. Love the oddities on the wall and ceiling. By the Fox River Mall. Fairly noisy, though.
- Zacatecas Mexican
Zacatecas is a popular Mexican restaurant in downtown Neenah. They offer some relatively authentic dishes with a good mole, good tacos, etc. I tried the enchiladas blancas recently and was pleased. I would call it Americanized semi-authentic, in my opinion, which is what a lot of people prefer. Good food, very good service, and a pleasant environment. Nice place for lunch, with your choice of a weekday lunch buffet or menu items.
- TJ Thai & Japanese Steakhouse
New sushi and Thai food restaurant on the southeast corner of Appleton, just east of Wal-Mart on Calumet, in the building that once was Luckie's and before that, Grazie's Italian. Very classy place with a mix of sushi, hot Thai dishes, and Japanese steak house service. Some of the best sushi in the Valley. I was wowed by the Thai eggplant dish. Very busy, very popular. Reservations recommended. Phone: (920) 831-8330. Address: W. 6157 Lorna Lane, Appleton, WI 54915.
Zuppa's is in Neenah, just a few minutes south of Appleton, and gets my thumbs up as one of the best places for lunch. You order your food cafeteria-style at the food preparation area and carry it away on a tray, but don't let this casual approach fool you. Exotic salads, great pasta, good pizzas and sandwiches - a very robust selection that can satisfy almost anyone. Kudos to their talented chef. The selection of deserts is also quite tempting. And I like the relaxed, attractive decor. Two can have a delightful meal for $30 or less.
Located at 1540 South Commercial Street (in The Shops at Mahler Farms), downtown Neenah. Phone: (920) 720-5045. Closed Sundays, and they close at 8 pm otherwise, so don't plan on a late meal. It's just south of the Copps near Commercial and Breezewood on the south end of Neenah, in a small strip mall. The understated sign makes it easy to miss - but don't miss this place! See their Website: Zuppas.com.
These are some restaurants that might not appeal to me personally (or ones that I just haven't had the time or incentive to try), but may be worth considering. The Menasha Grille on Main Street in downtown Menasha offers some Cajun cuisine. I went there for there lunch buffet at the end of 2005. It was OK, but I found the flavors to be timid. I understand they do a better job for dinner, but haven't tried it yet.
I tried the Golden Corral on Richmond Ave. in Appleton in 2010 for my first time. You can get a lot of calories for your money there--reasonable prices, lots of food--but it was unappetizing and disappointing on several levels. Don't think I can recommend it at this time.
Another place that was "OK but disappointing" was Michiel's in Menasha, although I highly recommend Michiel's banquet hall in Appleton as a place for receptions.
For those who prefer to cook their own food, Woodman's is the biggest store around. I like it for its great produce, huge selections, and exciting ethnic specialties (they even have yerba mate, the popular South American beverage). Visitors often are surprised to see the name of another popular chain, Piggly Wiggly. If you say it fast and keep a straight face, no one will trouble you. Copps, Festival Foods, and Pick 'N Save are also popular.
For spices, Penzeys near the Fox River Mall is hard to beat. Incredible selection, low prices.
In addition, there are many pubs and bars all over Appleton that also serve a variety of foods, though I personally avoid bars.
Of course, there are many more great places to ward off hunger. For a quick treat, many people like Manderfield's Bakery. For those with a flare for Asian specialties, Appleton has several oriental grocery stores (catering primarily to the Hmong community). So many choices - so little time to eat!
Finally, feel free to let us know you're opinions. Here's an example from one person in 2009:
Yeah, that sounds good. Like Appleton and the Fox Cities in general. A great place with a lot of good food, if you know where to look.