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Tuesday, September 30, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 45.0° F  Overcast
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2010 Madison's Favorites: Restaurants

To find the best food, you have to be willing to look beyond the obvious places. Isthmus readers do that (a filling station in Westport makes the list), but they also stand by some tried-and-true stars.

New Restaurant
1. The Green Owl Cafe

2. The Coopers Tavern
3. Ha Long Bay

New restaurants have been opening at a steady clip in Madison, and mercifully, many have been packing in customers. This was a neck-and-neck race. In the end, the Green Owl Cafe, Madison's first dedicated vegetarian restaurant in some time, edged out the Coopers Tavern for top honors. But the Square's wildly popular Irish gastropub can feel good about its runner-up status. Ha Long Bay, the Viet-Thai restaurant on Willy Street that opened a little over a year ago (but not in time to make last summer's poll), nabbed third.

Food Cart
1. Buraka

2. Jamerica
3. Cafe Costa Rica

Madison uses its food carts to take little trips around the world, all in the span of a lunch hour. Buraka serves spicy African stews on injera, the sourdough pancake; Jamerica jerks up a storm; and Cafe Costa Rica serves tropical-tinged burritos, "Tico Tacos" and luscious handmade empanadas.


Brunch Place
1. Sardine

2. Lazy Jane's Cafe
3. Marigold Kitchen

If you're waking up in time to go out to brunch, definitely make it worth your while by going to Sardine, where Belgian waffles and creamed eggs rub shoulders with a variety of snazzy seafood dishes. Lazy Jane's homey atmosphere and excellent scones and egg dishes help it take second place. Marigold Kitchen, Sardine's sister restaurant, rounds out the top three.

Barbecue Spot
1. Smoky Jon's #1 BBQ

2. Famous Dave's
3. The Haze American + Asian BBQ

A plate of Smoky Jon's #1 BBQ chopped pork shoulder dinner, with award-winning sauce and a couple of sides, is more than enough reason to head to the north side. A newcomer in this category is the Haze Asian + American BBQ, at third, where diners can go Western or Eastern, with plenty of traditional and seasonal sides.

Fish Fry
1. The Avenue Bar

2. Quivey's Grove
3. The Old Fashioned

While there are those always looking for a new fish fry to try, there are many who prefer to go with the tried-and-true. In Madison, that's the legendary fry at the Avenue Bar. And if you don't want to wait for a table on Friday night, note that the deep-fried cod, the lake perch and the fish boil are all available at the Avenue any day of the week.

Chinese Restaurant
1. Imperial Garden West

2. Hong Kong Cafe
3. Imperial Garden East

It's true that Imperial Gardens West and Imperial Gardens East have no relationship to each other and haven't for decades. Yet both place in the poll, with the West location topping the voting. Regent Street's dependable Hong Kong Cafe, one of Madison's few dim sum purveyors, is runner-up.

Plaka Taverna

Greek Restaurant
1. Plaka Taverna

2. The Parthenon
3. Athens Gyros

Top honors go to Plaka Taverna, which transformed from Cleveland's Diner just a couple of years ago to become an attractive Greek restaurant, serving everything from meze (small plates) to full dinners, plus a selection of different ouzos. Yet gyros lovers also know that one of the best can be found at third-place Athens Gyros, in a Shell station on Highway M in the town of Westport. There, Gus Kyriakopoulos and his wife, Angela, also sell a variety of Greek baked goods and other specialties (yogurt, olives).


Indian Restaurant
1. Maharajah

2. Maharani
3. Taj Indian Restaurant

The similarity in names between our top two Indian restaurants seemed to confuse some voters, with some cast for Maharajah-Maharani mashups (like "Majarini" and "Manahari"). Yet in the end, Maharaja, with its east- and west-side locations, grabbed first, with West Washington Avenue's Maharani taking second and South Park Street's Taj third. All three were frequently mentioned for their excellent lunch buffets.

Italian Restaurant Italian Restaurant
1. Lombardino's

2. Osteria Papavero
3. Greenbush Bar

A fresh, seasonal menu coupled with a classic Italian-American restaurant décor has put Lombardino's head and shoulders above the rest. Still, there's much to recommend the classy preparations of Osteria Papavero. The Greenbush Bar, in the basement of the historic Italian Workmen's Club on Regent Street, is a nod to Madison's old Italian neighborhood, the Bush.

Middle Eastern Restaurant
1. Lulu's

2. Shish Cafe
3. Mediterranean Cafe

Madison's first Middle Eastern restaurant, Lulu's, returns to the top of this category. Shish Cafe is not far behind at second, with Mediterranean Cafe also close behind (despite the fact it closes before the dinner hour) at third.

The Old Fashioned

American Regional Cuisine
1. The Old Fashioned

2. Monty's Blue Plate Diner
3. Liliana's

It's nice that you vote the cuisine of our own upper Midwest your favorite. And the crowds at the soon-to-expand Old Fashioned indicate it's more than just a when-in-Rome habit. Monty's Blue Plate Diner represents pure Americana, while Liliana's, of Fitchburg, focuses on the food of New Orleans.

1. Tornado Steak House

2. Smoky's Club
3. Johnny Delmonico's

Tornado Steak House whirls away with this category with its devotion to an old-school steakhouse aesthetic, though it also serves organic grass-fed and corn-fed beef and other delicious nods to 21st-century dining.

Sushi Muramoto

Japanese Restaurant
1. Sushi Muramoto

2. Takara
3. Restaurant Muramoto

When it comes to Japanese food in Madison, the name is Muramoto. Shinji Muramoto's restaurants bookend this category, with bento-box favorite Takara snug in the middle.

Lao Laan-Xang

Southeast Asian Restaurant
1. Lao Laan-Xang

2. Sa-Bai Thong
3. Ha Long Bay

In some categories, the scores aren't even close. This is one of those, with Lao Laan-Xang ahead of the competition by a mile. Head for some of the Laotian house specialties, served with sticky rice, and remember that here, spicy does mean spicy.

Mexican Restaurant
1. Laredo's

2. Taquería Guadalajara
3. La Mestiza

The growing Laredo's empire has expanded to four (five if you count the identically menued but differently named Mi Cocina). Its friendly servers and big menu of combo plates make it a crowd-pleaser. Tiny Taquería Guadalajara on South Park Street, with its tacos, tortas, sopes, huaraches and gorditas, runs a very respectable second. La Mestiza, now boasting a second location downtown in addition to its original Odana Road spot, is third.

Himal Chuli

Wild Card Cuisine
1. Himal Chuli

2. The Green Owl Cafe
3. Restaurant Magnus

It's hard to cover every cuisine (or for that matter, cover restaurants that just serve, you know, good old food). We wanted to fling the doors wide open for this category. Your favorite restaurant in a cuisine we haven't otherwise asked about in this poll is Himal Chuli, State Street's original Nepali restaurant, known for its well-spiced, healthful dishes, delectable momocha dumplings and satisfying vegetarian plates. The vegetarian Green Owl Cafe took second-place honors, and Restaurant Magnus, with its new Scandinavian menu, came in third.

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