After being away for nine years in Shanghai, China, I was nervous about moving back to Appleton in early 2020. How could I live without the endless inexpensive restaurants, so many just a short walk from where I lived or worked? How could I endure without all the Asian specialities I had become so fond of? But I've been amazed at how much I love being back in this small town with great people, boundless nature and beauty, and a lot of great food after all.
But COVID has complicated all that! Many restaurants have closed or only offer take out. I'll share my thoughts on take out, but I'll start by sharing where you can eat a great meal and do it in a real restaurant with fresh, piping hot foot that hasn't sat in a bag for 30 minutes before it shows up.
Believe it or not, the Fox Valley actually has many great places where you can still sit down and dine in. That's important to me because the food tastes so much better when it's fresh and beautiful, not stuffed into a carton. So first I'll discuss some places in the Fox Cities that, as of January 2020, provide a sit-down venue for dining. Give them a try and let me know what you think.
- Little Siam Thai Kitchen (Neenah) -- Webmaster's Choice: Best Asian (tie)
Perhaps the most memorable meal in recent months was dinner at Little Siam. It's in the heart of downtown Neenah in the location that used to be Cy's Asian Bistro. Little Siam is affiliated with Bowl 91 in Appleton, another favorite Asian place.
Little Siam has very good Thai food. I've been to Thailand 3 times while I was living in China and absolutely love Thai food. The flavors I encountered at Little Siam seemed very consistent with the food from Thailand that I experienced there and in Shanghai, where Thai is also popular. The red curry was pretty much the best I can remember. The Panang curry was equally good. The rice was also high quality with good flavor and texture. The Creamy Tom Yum soup was about as good as it gets. Excellent flavors. Service was great. We saw lots of take out orders being sent out, so it's busy, but not crowded. It was a week night and we were the only sit down customers for a while. Plenty of space for more.
- Bowl 91 -- Webmaster's Choice: Best Asian (tie)
I'm biased, for after coming back to Appleton after 9 years in China where I traveled all over Asia, I'm very fond of great Asian flavors like what I found at Bowl 91. I've been there several times since coming back. So delicious! To me, their noodle soups are Asian fusion, combining great Japanese noodle dishes with other cuisines in adventurous ways. Very creative. A wonderful place to meet someone for lunch or dinner. Relatively inexpensive with gracious service and such good flavors.
This has the feel of a place that has been honed and refined by a team of professionals making a top-notch chain, but this is a purely local restaurant -- but one that I could see spreading across the country. I like their great Asian flavors just about as much as I love the delicious Thai at Little Siam. Then one day I mentioned how I liked both places to our waitress, and was surprised to learn that the two restaurants, though quite different, both have the same local owner, Yee Lee, a very smart, creative, and tenacious woman who came to the US in 1991. She was just four years old then, a refugee fleeing from unspeakable horrors. After years of hard work, she's created two valuable gems in our community. Thank goodness she's here in the Fox Valley! Well done! (Yee's story is briefly summarized on the Bowl91.com website.)
For taking special friends to dinner in a safe, pleasant setting, Bowl 91, like Little Siam, is a great choice. I love their seasonal dishes, like a stunning butternut squash curry in the fall, or their various curries (Panang curry is a favorite), pad thai or udon noodles, ramen dishes, etc. So much to try.
In the heart of downtown Appleton at 100 E. College Avenue, a wonderful location. Dine in or carry out. Open 11 AM to 8 PM but closed Sundays. (920) 815-3184.
- Antojitos Mexicanos
Dine in for lunch or dinner in the heart of Appleton at one of the more authentic and delicious Mexican places you'll find this far north. Formerly on Richmond St., they are now at 204 E 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. The tortilla chips are homemade. Service is fast and friendly. They even have a vegetarian menu and a kids' menu. Phone: 920-380-0244.
- Cannova's - Great Italian Food in Neenah
Their dining room is now open! With great care in preventing the spread of disease, including rigorous sanitization procedures and spaced apart tables for diners, this is a place to consider for a comfortable, hearty meal. A good Italian place in a charming location in historic downtown Neenah. 113 W Wisconsin Ave, Neenah, WI. This is a classy restaurant that offers great pizza and some outstanding Italian dishes and good desserts. A few years ago, I took a friend there who spends a lot of time in Europe. He was really impressed and felt it compared well with real Italian in Italy. Maybe just being polite, but the food was remarkable that evening. Still reasonably priced.
Yes, dine in is available, as well as contactless curbside pickup. Carmella's, an Italian Bistro gets my nod for some of the best Italian food in the Fox Valley, if not the best food overall. Creative, high quality, with attention to detail. They've received a lot of awards in the Valley for their food, and with good reason. It's somewhat more expensive than many restaurants in the Valley, but for the quality, you could say this bistro is still a real bargain.
The story behind Carmella's 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!
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.
- Cheddar's Scratch Kitchen
Great home cooking with famous croissant appetizers. This was one of the first places I went to when I returned to Appleton after nine years in China, and it was a great reminder of just how good American style home cooking can be. Delicious! Inside is an attractive, comfortable setting where you can dine a safe distance away from others. The menu has something for almost everyone, including a delicious chicken pot pie that I really enjoyed. Shrimp alfredo ($13) and other pasta dishes look good, and as do their salads, deserts, and meat dishes. Creative soft drinks and many interesting main dishes. Cheddars is a national chain but feels like local goodness to me. Conveniently located near the Fox River Mall. Kid-friendly, wheelchair accessible, great sanitation and social distancing, free wi-fi, takeout, etc. Professional and nicely done. Writing about them is making my mouth water. Must return soon!
4531 W. Wisconsin Avenue, (920) 749-0827, open from 11 AM to 10 PM.
- Christiano's Pizza
This relatively new pizza place has a great pizza oven use to make a variety of thin crust pizzas. I like their food (visited in December 2020), but the more expensive "Artisan" pizza I ordered had very little of the interesting artisan ingredients listed and was really just a thinly topped pizza with a lot of arugula piled on after it was cooked. Not very exciting. Still, it was enjoyable to eat there. You order at the counter and take a number. The pizza came fairly quickly. The interior is rather noisy (lots of hard, flat surfaces) but still fun. 2400 S Kensington Dr, Appleton, WI 54915. Phone: (920) 364-9108.
- Cinders Charcoal Grill
A popular steak house with two locations in the Fox Valley: 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). Dine-in, take out, and catering are options.
Last time I was there you could still dine in at Culver's. A Wisconsin chain offering the best fast food around, including what may be the best custard in the Fox Valley. If you're after basic Wisconsin favorites, this is a great choice. Fried fish, custard, and fried cheese curds--all your basic health foods, along with healthy salads, wonderful sandwiches, soups, and more. Both the decor and the food will make you forget it's fast food. Appleton locations include 3631 East Calumet Street Highway 441. Another is near Woodman's groceries at 599 North Westhill Blvd., and yet another is on the north end of Highway 47 at 850 West Evergreen Road. Hours are typically from 10 AM to 10 PM. Dine-in our take out. But warning: at meal time, the drive-thru lines become quite long -- very popular.
- El Azteca
There are several of these in the Valley. I had a good experience at the one at 474 North Eisenhower Drive, but a frustrating experience at the one on Northland Avenue where the meat in their expensive mocajete dish was tough, dry, and flavorless (but the service was excellent). That dish was so disappointing compared to the first time I had that dish at the original La Solea. I also tried a steak fajita at the one on Northland and was also disappointed: flavorless, overcooked, not much reason to eat it. And the tortillas weren't especially good or plentiful. If you try one of these, let me know your experience. El Azteca as a chain is usually OK--may have just been one of those off days for me. But at least we could dine in, and the decor was colorful and pleasant.
- El Jaripeo in Little Chute
Our first great Mexican food when we moved back to the Fox Valley after nine years in China was at El Jaripeo at 1727 Freedom Road in Little Chute, close to Highway 441. There is also a highly acclaimed Jaripeo Mexican Grill on Evergreen Road in north Appleton that we haven't yet tried, which seems to have different ownership. Confusing! All I can say so far is that the restaurant in Little Chute had great food and decor, and made us so glad to be back in North America. Loved the tacos and a fajita, while my wife's burrito was also delicious. Service seemed pretty good and they had homemade horchata, best I've tasted. Anxious to go back! Phone 920-788-6248.
- Far East Korean and Japanese Restaurant
The Far East Restaurant on south Oneida Street in Appleton, near St. Elizabeth's hospital, caught my attention a few years ago when I discovered that it had some of the best 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. It's still open for dinner these days, starting at 5 PM. Get there before 8 PM, when the kitchen typically closes on weekdays. Reservations are recommended, but if it's just one or two people, you can usually call and be served on the same day. Larger groups might be a challenge, so make those reservations well in advance.
Some would call it pricey, but if you're looking for great sushi, this should be on your list.
Far East Korean and Japanese: 1330 South Oneida Street, Appleton, WI 54915. Phone:
Be sure to try the unagi!
- Fox River Brewing Company
Popular local restaurant at the Fox River Mall with a big space that can seat you and your group and still keep groups safely apart in the COVID era. That's a real plus for people who really love the dine-in experience. But they also have options for curbside, to go (pick up your order at the bar), and delivery. Though I'm not a beer drinker, I hear the brews are interesting and people usually love the food.
Fox River Brewing Company, in spite of their impressive facility and professional look as if they were a polished national chain, is really a local company with sites in Appleton and Oshkosh.
Check out the Appleton menu. They have wood oven pizza, creative salads like Thai chicken salad or salmon salad, a nice range of sandwiches like the Fox River Steakburger, and brewhouse favorites like chicken and waffles, white cheddar mac and cheese (comfort food Wisconsin style), and orange friend rice. Fridays they have fresh breaded perch, another Wisconsin tradition. If you're visiting Wisconsin and want to experience some local culture and food, this could be a good choice.
- Fratello's Waterfront
Fratello's Waterfront is a fun pasta, steak, and seafood place with a great menu, beautifully located on the north shore of the Fox River near Oneida Flats, about 100 yards downstream of the dam beneath the Memorial Drive bridge. I've been there several times and have been pleased 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 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). Love the place.
- Galvan's Restaurant and Pancake House
A great place for breakfast or lunch, or a traditional Wisconsin Friday night fish fry. Their hours are 7 AM to 3 PM most days, but they stay open until 8 PM for Friday fish. They are at 2220 E Northland Ave.near the old Superbowl bowling alley, by the intersection of County 00 and Ballard Road (close to Highway 441 via either Ballard Road or Northland). At Galvan's, you can sit down or use take out if you prefer. It's a classic family diner that offers burgers, gyros, fish, sandwiches, soups, pies, etc. Hearty traditional breakfasts also. Good fare, low prices. My experiences there haven't always been great (I'm picky about some things), but usually OK.
- GingeRootz Asian Grille
A classy place with outstanding Asian food with influences from China, Thailand, Korea and Japan. Brilliant flavors, excellent service, pleasant setting.
In 2015, a luncheon of international significance was scheduled to welcome two Chinese dignitaries coming to town to attend the Paper Industry International Hall of Fame annual dinner, where an ancient Chinese inventor would be recognized. I worked with some people in the Chinese community of Appleton to make this a special and delicious luncheon. The place that was recommended to me for the event was GingeRootz. While the Fox Valley has a surprisingly strong group of Chinese and broader Asian restaurants, GingeRootz has a great reputation and really great food. They also have one of the nicest and most useful websites I've seen for a restaurant.
Open daily from 11:00 AM to 9:30 (10:00 on Fridays and Saturdays). 2920 N Ballard Road, Appleton, WI 54911. Phone. 920-738-9688. Email. info at gingerootz.com. Tell them Jeff sent you!
- Good Company
Operating since 1980, Good Company is a real Appleton establishment and a memorable, fun place to eat. This fun and attractive restaurant is big, offering customers plenty of space for safe dining. It's on the corner of Richmond Street and College Avenue. They offer a diverse and interesting menu with numerous choices ranging from burgers to Italian and Mexican cuisine and specials most nights featuring different types of cuisine. Dishes are reasonably priced and generally good. The Italian food tends to be very popular, especially the lasagna. The Mexican food might not be the most authentic, but it's still good. Many people really 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!
You can dine in for lunch or dinner. Hours are 11 AM to 8:30 PM or 9 PM on Fridays and Saturdays. Family friendly with a kid's menu. You can also order online, if you wish.
- Hong Kong Buffet (Neenah)
I needed to meet three friends for dinner recently (Jan. 2021) and Hong Kong Buffet was my choice. They were quite happy and I was impressed that they have managed to still keep the same kind of good food available that has made them a popular place over the years. This is my favorite Chinese buffet in the area, and I'm glad they've survived in spite of COVID. They have what may be the biggest selection in the Fox Cities for a buffet. Their hot and sour soup is really good, and both the meat and vegetable dishes are typically great. The buffet even includes some low-cost sushi. A great place for lunch or dinner. 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.
- HuHot Mongolian Grill
HuHot Mongolian Grill is one of my top picks for exciting dining in Appleton, though my wife isn't fond of it so it's been hard getting back. 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 a set price ($15 for dinner, $11 lunch for weekdays, $13 weekends), not bad at all. The trick is figuring out what combinations work for you. (Some random choices might disappoint.) 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.
One of many positives is that they can accommodate the needs of people with various food allergies, though it may take a little longer to properly prepare your food.
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 as I recall. 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!"
HuHot is at 3456 West College Ave. in Appleton. Phone: (920) 257-2555.
- The Machine Shed
Great country cooking for hearty appetites, and yes, dine-in is available. 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.)
Service has usually been great for us at Machine Shed. I like the rustic decor and just love the food.
Machine Shed is at 220 North Fox River Drive. Call 920.830.2326. They are closed Mondays and Tuesdays. Other days, they open at 7 AM for their famous breakfasts and close at either 8 PM (Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday) or 9 PM (Friday and Saturday).
- Maple Tree Restaurant and Pancake House -- Webmaster's Choice: Best Breakfast
The fascinating owner of this restaurant used to run the Twin City Diner in Appleton. Now he's taken over what used to be Mary's Restaurant on South Oneida Street and turned it into a wonderful diner with some of the best breakfast foot in town, along with lunch and a fun Friday fish fry (for dinner, only open on Fridays). We've been there for both breakfast and the fish fry and enjoyed both. Indeed, one of my biggest surprises in trying Fox Valley food was just how delicious their breakfast was. I tried a special item, the Gypsy Skillet, with an amazing base of hash browns topped with large amounts of veggies, ham, and scrambled eggs. Really flavorful. It also came with a biscit and gravy. Easily enough food for two people -- two of us shared it and were stuffed. Just $11. Amazing. The fish fry was also fun. I had the haddock and think that might be the best item on the fish fry menu. Very moist and tender. Will be back.
Open 7 AM to 3 PM daily, and from 5 PM to 9 PM (I think) on Friday for their fish fry. (920) 358-7397.
- Nakashima's Japanese Steakhouse
Included here by popular demand! This restaurant, open for indoor dining, offers showmanship from the cooks and great food. Two of my sons 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. Open daily from 5 PM to 9 PM (opening at 4 PM on Sunday and closing at 10 PM on Friday and Saturday). 4100 W Pine St. near Highway 41. (920) 739-6057.
- Noodles and Company
Noodles is open for dine-in, 10:30 AM to 10 PM. Two locations are in Appleton: 3719 East Calumet (near Walmart) and 4333 Wisconsin Avenue, near Highway 41. 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. I have taken family members to the Calumet Street location several times and we've been impressed -- not bad for fast food. 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. If you don't like the flavor, they will adjust it or replace it. My Bangkok Curry on one 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 one visit). You pay at the order counter and they bring the food to your table if you are eating in. I also recommend their flatbread. Very tasty. Phone: (920) 830-7887 for Calumet Street, and (920) 734-4859 for West Wisconsin Ave. Also be sure to get a frequent eater card.
- Oasis Restaurant (Honduran Food)
In Feb. 2021, my wife and I had a pleasant and satisfying lunch at little Honduran place called Oasis Restaurant and Pupuseria at 2303 South Oneida Street. It's so easy to miss, but offers great food with comfortable booths and good service. Many people guess that Honduran food will be pretty much the same as Mexican, and while they do offer some Mexican favorites like tacos, tamales, and enchiladas, be sure to try some of the very different Honduran specialties. I tried the Baleada Suprema, like a creative quesadilla with a corn tortilla and really pleasant, mild ingredients inside (avocado, beans, eggs, etc.). We shared one huge serving (split between two bowls) of Sopa de Mondongo y Pata. This large serving of soup, enough for two people, comes with a huge bone and some great veggies, along with some miscellaneous items like a few pieces of cow stomach that many of us gringos aren't used to, but it was really tender. You can pass on anything not familiar because just the broth and the veggies are so flavorful, you'll be glad you tried it (I hope!). Described as "beef foot soup, corn, plantain, yuca, green beans, cabbage, carrots, and cilantro served with corn tortillas." For dessert we had the Empanadas de Plantano which were not too sweet and really delicious, made mostly from plantain.
We really liked this new discovery. Open 10:30 AM to 8:00 PM. Phone: 920-364-0418.
- Pizza Ranch -- Webmaster's Choice: Best Value and Best Place for Kids
The most surprising thing I can say in my efforts to rediscover dining in the Fox Valley after returning to China is that the place I've been to most since coming back, and maybe have enjoyed most, is a place that specializes in a food I'm not super fond of. I'm not crazy about pizza, but I'm probably a little crazy over Pizza Ranch. The reason isn't the pizza, which is actually pretty good, but it's the grandkids. This is a great buffet that my grand children really love. There's a lot of variety and a lot of fun, ranging from the interesting self-serve beverages (a rarity in the COVID era, where many restaurants seem to think that a beverage machine is particularly dangerous) to a very nice salad bar, great fried chicken, soft-serve ice cream, a variety of pizzas, other comfort foods, and very friendly service--all at surprisingly low prices with nice discounts for children. Every visit has been a winner.
139 Eisenhower Drive N Appleton, just north of Calumet Street. Open from 11 AM to 8 PM every day, but later to 9 PM on Saturday and Sunday. Phone: (920) 734-8800. I think this is just about the best value in town, especially if gauged as enjoyment per dollar.
- Pullman's -- A Fun Place for American-Style Food
Pullman's is 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. Go early or make reservations.
Cuisine includes American food such as burgers, fish, seafood dishes, popular sandwiches, steaks, and some vegetarian dishes.
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 solid, popular chain with excellent food. I've had nearly perfect rainbow trout there, outstanding side dishes, and delicious shrimp. The scallops were disappointing once (too small), but overall we felt the quality was good and the service excellent.
Near the Fox River Mall (northwest side): 1200 North Casaloma Drive, Appleton, WI. Phone: (920) 749-0644. Open 11:30 AM to 8:30 PM (9:30 on Fridays and Saturdays). 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 are large -- mot items give you with plenty to eat, including fries.
Service is 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.
- Island Sushi
Formerly Jet Sushi and before that, Sapporo Sushi. Island Sushi continues the tradition of a great sushi buffet at this location, 62 Eisenhower Drive, Appleton, just north of Calumet in the strip mall on the east side of the street across from Kohls. Phone: (920) 993-2222. It may not be the best sushi you've tasted (according to one sushi critic I respect, but the reviews at Yelp are highly positive), yet they have one important secret advantage: they deliver. A family in east Appleton reported to me that they had an OK sushi meal recently that was actually delivered by Island Sushi. Delivery may not be available for all locations nor at all times, so don't have unreasonable expectations, but when there's a polar vortex or something sweeping across Appleton, it's nice to stay home and let someone else bring the sushi to you.
Island Sushi is on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Islandsushibuffet. Keep those sushi boats sailing!
- 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 two Soleas in the Valley. My wife was at the Menasha Solea recently with a friend and brought me some very tasty food. They quite liked it. I have been to the Neenah Solea several times in the past and count it as one of my favorite Mexican places. Solea has been in the Valley for about 15 years, I think, and have earned a good reputation.
Neenah: 1350 Gillingham Road, Neenah, near the Breezewood exit off of Highway 41. Phone: (920) 727-0540. Menasha: 705 Appleton Rd, Menasha. Phone: (920) 729-1011.
- 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. Glad they still have dining in! 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). 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.
Delivery is available from 11 AM to 2 PM. Hours for dine-in are from 11 AM to 9 PM (10 PM on Fridays and Saturdays). Phone: (920) 735-9272.
- 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.
They are at 321 East College Avenue, next to Lawrence University. Hours: Monday 4.00 PM-9.00 PM, Tuesday closed, Wednesday-Friday 11:00 AM to 2:00 PM and 4.00 PM-9.00 PM, Saturday and Sunday noon to 3:00 PM and 4.00 PM-9.00 PM. Phone: (920) 830-2030. Website: http://tasteofthaiappleton.com/. Reservations are a good idea.
- Texas Roadhouse -
Apparently still open for dine-in, fortunately. 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. OK, for you gourmets, there are higher-end steaks that you can enjoy (maybe Beefeaters?). 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 only on Sunday starting at 11:00 AM. On other days they open at 3:30 PM, and close at 10 PM (11:00 PM Saturday and Sunday). Phone: 920-738-7427.
Since they are fun, delicious and inexpensive, the place is popular and often busy. If you're smart, you'll call before you arrive (1 hour ahead is recommended). 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. They have a waiting room where you can eat all the salted peanuts in shells that you want.
My last visit was pre-COVID (will change that soon), so my report is dated. But 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. 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.
Texas Roadhouse is on College Avenue, just east of Highway 41. 3910 W College Ave, Appleton. Phone: (920) 738-7427.
- 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.
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
Famous for their Friday fish fries, but you can get good food there all week long. I don't recommend their fried cod -- too much like tough frozen fish sticks. Just make sure the fish you order hasn't been frozen and it should be fine. Good service and a beautiful setting, looking out at Lake Winnebago. In December 2020, my wife and I walked in for dinner on a week day and were seated quickly. Was still lively, but we didn't need a reservation that night.
I once 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. So it doesn't have to be fish.
Open Tuesday to Sunday at 11 AM. Phone (920) 733-9721.
- 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.
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.
- Asian Thai Restaurant
Dine-in only for now, it seems, but don't let that deter you. 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. They are on Northland Avenue right next to Koreana: 201 W Northland Ave # E, Appleton. Phone: (920) 734-6888. Note: the link is to Asianthaicuisine.com via a secure link TinyUrl.com since the target website lacks secure https ability (SSL), which my site requires.
- Basil Cafe
Curbside or delivery only for now (late 2020) as they undergo Phase I reopening. But their takeout is delicious. A Thai and Southeast Asian restaurant at 1513 North Richmond St. (Highway 47). Before COVID struck, I took a group there and had a superb experience. Service was excellent and the food was flavorful and spiced well. Good ingredients, relatively authentic, nice environment, and relatively inexpensive. Around $14 per person. Prices are still good and the flavors still great. Tom yum soup is a favorite and the curries are very good, such as their green curry. Phone: (920) 830-6741.
- Buffalo Wild Wings
Another popular chain with good 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). They have some of the best sauces for chicken you'll ever find. A lot of good food for not too much money. But not my kind of food, generally.
- Big Apple Bagels
You can go in to order, or order online or by phone and have curbside pickup. Truly awesome bagels with many varieties, bagel sandwiches, and other eats. Their new location on Kensington Drive is great for those who exercise at Crunch Gym (best gym I've seen!), shop at Home Depot or Aldi, or are on their way to or from Highway 441's Calumet Street entrance/exit. Best bagels I've found so far. They come close enough to actual New York bagels to fool most of us 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.
2400 S. Kensington Drive Appleton, WI 54915. Phone: 920-733-3120.
- China Garden -- Good Chinese and Friendly Service
Take-out only for now. China Garden has been in business since 2006 in Darboy at 4055 East Calumet Street, just a couple blocks east of Wal-Mart.
It's a small restaurant that manages to make a lot of pretty good Chinese food. Call (920) 380-0058.
- Dong Po Chinese and Japanese
Take-out only for now, unfortunately. Dong Po has long been regarded for good Chinese food plus good Thai dishes and Japanese food including sushi. Reasonable prices. Check out their menu. Be sure to try their seafood.
- Five Guys - Webmaster's Choice: Best Chain and Best Burgers
Delicious customized burgers that can (and should, IMHO) include their awesome grilled onions and veggies. 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. Since coming back to Appleton, I've been there again and love it, but the last two times I was there, it was for pick up or delivery only. Not that eating in offers amazing decor or anything, but I miss the old days where you could sit and eat your food there.
Address is 37 Mall Dr. Suite 102 near College Avenue and Mall Drive. Phone: (920) 830-6724. Hours are generally from 11am to 10pm, with delivery hours ending at 9:30 PM. Tip: they have made some mistakes in my orders. A small order should be no problem, but when you have a big order with a variety of items, they might mess up. If picking up an order, check it carefully before you drive away for best results.
Good onion rings. Veggie burgers are awesome. Fries are plenteous but best if eaten as soon as they are picked up. With delivery, they might have lost an edge by the time you eat.
- Pierri Pizza
In the building many of you know as Frank's Pizza Palace, once Appleton's longest running pizza restaurant, Pierri Pizza took over in early 2020 and continues offering pizza and some other items like sandwiches, but as of January 2021 at least, they are doing carry-out and delivery only, no dining in.
815 W. College Ave., open 4 p.m. daily. Phone (920) 903-8110.
- Glass Nickel Pizza
With locations in both Appleton and Menasha, Glass Nickel Pizza is one of my favorites. The Appleton shop is not yet open for dining in, just take-out, curbside, or delivery. Great pizza, paninis and sandwiches. Big 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 the Appleton shop was the second one the team of owners has opened. The Appleton shop is at 2120 West College Avenue in Appleton and the Menasha shop is at 217 Washington St., (920) 840-1333. The Menasha shop has "a few cozy tables if you prefer to sit and eat!" I hope Appleton's restaurant will soon have dine in as well.
- Josef's Gyros (Gyros Kabob)
Carry-out only for now, sorry! But they are tasty. 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! They have moved around a bit, but their official address is now 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. Call 920-830-9355.
- Koreana Restaurant --
Koreana is not open for dining in now, but does offer carry out. I have been a fan for years since they have 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. I am simply delighted with the great flavors. Bee-bim bop, bulgoki, noodle soup, and many more dishes are featured on their menu. 201 W Northland Ave, Appleton, 54911 - (920) 733-3205.
- Min Du Buffet
This buffet is currently not really a buffet since they don't offer dine-in, just take-out and delivery. This Chinese restaurant in Appleton (opened around the beginning of 2003) offers reasonably priced and well spiced Chinese food. They offer some California rolls and a variety of hot dishes. Not a huge menu, but adequate and generally good food. Their menu is available online. 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. Open Tuesday through Sunday, 11 AM to 8 PM. Call (920) 731-3327.
- 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.
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 Breadsmith in north Appleton and Darboy, Panera Bread on west College Avenue, and Great Harvest Bread in downtown Neenah. 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!
Panera Bread is one of the best national chains (IMHO) 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. But take-out and delivery only for now, unfortunately. At 3320 W. College Avenue, near HuHot. But a new shop is coming to East Calumet soon. Phone: (920) 733-7417.
- 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. Closed Sundays and holidays.
- Sai Ram Indian Cuisine
Sai Ram is take out or delivery only, unfortunately. I used to love their buffer! 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). We had take out from there recently (Jan. 2021), and it was OK, but frankly, disappointing. Maybe our fault for ordering mild, but for me, Indian food just wasn't mean to be take out. They offer some spicy dishes, but most are within the range of typical North Americans. Their nan bread is usually excellent when fresh, but not so great as takeout.