Where is the Best Mexican Food in Milwaukee?
You want the answer, but our input, no matter how truthful and passionate it may be, would be considered self-serving. So we did our own search and were doing back-flips when we found a well detailed article written by Dean Voss. Dean and the entire Voss Family have 33 years of travel agency owner experience and as a family they have visited over 22 cities in Mexico and have dined at well over 100 different restaurants in Mexico. Here is their article as seen on On Milwaukee.com, Newswire.com and syndicated by several national press centers.
Where is the Best Mexican Food in Milwaukee?
This is certainly not a new topic. In fact, this question is likely asked, Googled, debated and pondered in Milwaukee, in the late afternoon every day.
As a savvy traveler and addicted-to-Mexican-food-lover, I would first answer that question with a question (even though that’s not polite) and that question is;
“What is your version of Best?”
As a Milwaukee area travel agency owner for 18 years, I was also expected to be somewhat of an international concierge, and I can definitively share with you that everyone has a very different definition of “best.”
If a client wants an insider tip on the best restaurant, my job was to first understand whether my clients definition of “best” meant; most popular, most Americanized or most authentic. Depending on the answer, the restaurant recommendation would differ dramatically.
In my experience, all of the most popular Mexican restaurants in Milwaukee also serve the most Americanized Mexican menus. We all know which local Mexican restaurants draw in the crowds. You and I have been to all or most of these places and the food and atmosphere are quite good.
However, after visiting Mexico 17 times, staying in 22 different cities and eating at over 100 Mexican restaurants, I can assure you, none of them serve up dishes prepared the same way they would be enjoyed in truly authentic Mexican restaurants, in cities like Cancun, Huatulco or Rivera Maya.
So, in 2012 I decided to systematically answer this question:
Where is the Best AUTHENTIC Mexican Food in Milwaukee?
The first thing I needed to is gather data for a real-life comparison. In this case “data” meant visiting traditional Mexican restaurants in Mexico, ordering, tasting and photographing the dishes served.
I selected Cancun, Mexico as the test city because it is the most visited city by Milwaukee area tourists, it was the next trip to Mexico I had already scheduled, and it is likely that many Milwaukeeans have tried one or more of these restaurants (or know someone else that did) perhaps adding some credibility to my results.
Lastly, with help from a local hotel manager, I was also able to choose restaurants that were favorites among the locals, which is a true badge of honor among restaurateurs in tourist cities.
After visiting 3 traditional Mexican restaurants in Cancun, Mexico, that fit my test criteria, I gathered my notes and pictures and headed back to Milwaukee for the most critical part of the test; finding a local restaurant that served Mexican dishes that were prepared, presented and tasted closest to the real thing and ultimately answering the question:
Where is the Best AUTHENTIC Mexican Food in Milwaukee?
Below I share with you the 3 Authentic Mexican Restaurants in Cancun. Mexico, including names, locations, my notes and pictures. Followed by my top pick for Best AUTHENTIC Mexican Food in Milwaukee.
After you read the “data” please feel free to ask questions, comment, or provide recommendations of your own. Only one rule though… no restaurant bashing. Milwaukee is a north-American mecca for Mexican food and every restaurant is good at what they do in their own unique way. Let’s make sure we honor all restaurateurs with kind words and positive feedback.
Comparison Restaurant 1
Julia Mia, Downtown Cancun
Julia Mia is located right in downtown Cancun and I could immediately tell it was going to be a great dining experience because it was full and the crowd was at least 50% area locals, which are always good signs. and tourists alike with its captivating style and interesting recipes. If you happen to go there, the waiters and locals were recommending the seafood dishes, Chips with the fresh-made Mexican mole sauce, and any of the “to-die-for” chocolate desserts.
What I ordered:
Las Enchiladas De Mole: This dish came with fresh tortillas made with just a hint of chocolate, inside the tortillas were stuffed with chicken, nuts, fried plantains and panela male flowers. As enchiladas go, all I can say is these were “The Bomb!”
Carne’ Asada: An excellent cut of beef and seasoned perfectly served with seasoned butter, grilled corn on the cop, guacamole, jalapeno con queso’ and fresh flour tortilla’s. Excellent!
Comparison Restaurant 2
La Habichuela Sunset, Cancun
I was most excited about having La Habichuela Sunset on my test list because my guides insisted that they serve the most authentic Mexican cuisine in all of Cancun. If you are taking your wife or girlfriend to Cancun, trust me, this place is the ultimate spot for a memorable romantic night out. The atmosphere is inspired by a combination ancient Mayan architecture and the famous haciendas of Yucatan, it has a garden that looks like something that could have only been designed in Photoshop and is located right next to the Nichupte Lagoon. I mean “wow!”
What I ordered:
Roasted Chicken (Pollo Pibil): A perfectly cooked butterflied chicken breast barbecued with a mild red-pepper sauce and served with re-fried black beans, corn, guacamole and grilled tomato, onion and green pepper garnish. I portioned off a little of everything into fresh flour tortillas and enjoyed this meal as the best version of chicken tacos you could ever imagine.
Filet a la Tampiquena: was a medium rare cut of meat served with grilled onion, jalapeño pepper, squash and mushrooms. The steak was lightly layered with a mole sauce. It was on the heartier side of the menu for sure, but still highlighted a nice mic of local vegetables and was the perfect companion to the Mexican labeled Cabernet I ordered.
Comparison Restaurant 3
Casa Tequila, Punta Cancun
Casa Tequila was my last stop on my 5 day restaurant tour. Just like the La Habichuela Sunset and Julia Mia, Casa Tequila is often mentioned in the same breath with the best Mexican restaurants in town. We drove about 30 minutes out of the main city to get to Casa Tequila which is in the Punta Cancun area, popular bars, and booming nightlife all over the place. At the restaurant, I was able to swing a table outside on the patio at sunset and you could feel the buzz of the streets and be hypnotized by the Caribbean sun at the same time. Oh yea, the Mexican food was awesome.
What I ordered:
Nachos: I know, not a very creative order, but EVERYONE was recommending then, so I took the bait. It was the right call. The chips were super light and airy and the garnish was loaded with ultra fresh vegetables, goat cheeses, guacamole and a light layer of refried beans. It was more like a Mexican salad compared to the super heavy meaty cheesy version we usually get in Milwaukee. This is the way Nachos should be served always… awesome.
Tacos de Arrachera: Casa Tequilas version of steak tacos was served up on a very nice corn tortilla that was soft and workable with a light little crunch (how did they do that?). The steak was grilled, seasoned and unbelievably tender. I garnished the tacos with sour cream, guacamole and chopped lettuce, peppers, tomato, onion and cilantro. If hadn’t had the Nachos I definitely would have ordered a second serving.
My top pick for Best AUTHENTIC Mexican Food in Milwaukee.
Gus’ Mexican Cantina
6514 S. Lovers Lane Road (Hwy 100)
Hwy 100 South past Hales Corners, in plaza on east side of Hwy 100 across the street from Menards in Franklin.
Gus’ isn’t hard to find, but it’s easy to miss. The restaurant is located on the far end of a strip mall about 100 yards up a hill just off of Hwy 100 where S 108th street turns into Lovers Lane. Kind of where Hales Corners turns into Franklin.
Walking up to the restaurant, I was immediately blown away by the patio area. It’s a nice large area filled with fresh flowers and greenery. If you are a south-sider, you know how rare it is to find a great outdoor atmosphere. Imagine the Gulf of Mexico is down the hill, order an appetizer and a bucket of cold Mexican beers, and you’ll be as close to Mexico as you’ll ever be without actually going there.
Inside is even more mind-blowing, I expected a “strip-mall” restaurant. You know, small bar, 20 tables, cheesy Antonio Banderas posters. Nada! This place is 5000 square feet with 20 foot high ceilings filled with imported Mexican garb, art, and period pieces. They have a huge traditional cantina style bar and can host any size party. The place is unbelievably clean and polished. Trust me, even though I just told you, when you walk in, you will be shocked at the size and feel of this place.
I could literally write a book about the owner Gus Hosseini. It turns out he is some kind of pop-culture-super-star in Milwaukee. But, the purpose of my visit and this article is the food. If you want to find out more about the owners fascinating part of Milwaukee’s history. they have a great info-graphic style write-up on their website About Page at:
This was my sixth Mexican restaurant in search of Most Authentic Mexican Food in Milwaukee and here is where I found it.
What I ordered:
Steak Tacos: I ordered the steak tacos with soft flour tortillas, rice and beans. The most noticeable feature was before even biting into the tacos, was the visually evident freshness of the vegetables. The lettuce and tomatoes had that gloss of green and red that you might see under the misting waters at a fresh vegetable stand. Once diving in, looks were not deceiving; the vegetables were cold, fresh and crispy. The steak was definitely the best premium beef, no fat, seasoned perfectly and that melt-in-your mouth sensation like a premium filet mignon would offer.
Enchiladas: Experience tells me this is the most often ordered dish among “Americanos,” so I decided to give it a try. Personally, I’m not big of corn tortillas, but Gus’ were unusually lighter tasting and softer than I’ve ever had before. In the true essence of authentic Mexican cuisine, the enchiladas were complimented with just the right of amount of cheese and the enchilada sauce had a dark, full bodied taste much like the popular version of mole sauces used with so many dishes at the restaurants in Cancun. I wanted to try as many ingredients possible, so I went with steak, chicken and pork. The steak was “5 Stars” just like with the tacos. The chicken was generously cut which I liked (versus the low quality, heavily shredded you get so often). Surprisingly (for me), the pork was my favorite of the three. It all just worked perfectly together.
On the side: I also wanted to make mention of Gus’ rice, beans, chips and salsa. Again, freshness was the emphasis on everything. The salsa is clearly made fresh every day, it’s light, you can see generous cuts of the ingredients and I was immediately heavily addicted to it as I had to ask for a second helping because it enhanced the flavor of everything. The chips were also made fresh daily and it wasn’t the salt and oil laden chip you get so often. The chips were flaky crisp and dusted with a blend of spices that provided a burst of flavor even on their own. The rice was again super light and flaky and lightly seasoned. It was a nice healthy addition to the entrees. The refried beans were also on the lighter side, almost a whipped consistency. Although rice, beans, chips and salsa may be an afterthought at most local Mexican restaurants, it’s obvious the all Mexican cooking staff put a lot of thought and traditional cooking methods into making these “sides” standout as an equally impressive parts of the meal
After really making it a point to visit, look, feel, talk and taste real authentic Mexican food in the mother land of Mexican Food (Mexico), the most identifiable characteristics of authentic Mexican cooking are “light” and “fresh.”
Here in Milwaukee, we are used to Mexican dishes that are on the heavy side, lots of cheese, usually fired, high percentages of fats and oils. Even when you lift your dish when served, you can feel the weight of the meal is very heavy. After you eat, the plate is usually quite messy from fatty oils, grease from the meats and fats from the large amounts of melted cheeses. Even the tortilla chips seem to have a bulky pop sound when biting into them because of the long deep-frying times.
In Mexico, the cooking is very light and airy. With every dish I ordered, the vegetables were just as much of a focus as the meat and cheese, maybe even more so. I also noticed in the presentation, that you always saw a clear division in foods arranged around your plate. The chefs wanted you to enjoy each part of the meal on its own versus a plate served completely covered in rice, beans and an entrée buried in cheese. Even the tortilla chips were very lightly fried and provided an airy, flaky sensation when eating, but also offered many different flavors versus the salty “crack” of most local Mexican joints.
Mexico is a sunny, coastal, healthy, lifestyle and the cooking style, chosen ingredients, and flavors really capture that lifestyle. The vegetables are very colorful and fresh. The spices and peppers are all used artistically to enhance the flavors of the dishes. The cheeses are shredded very thin and mostly cold and used sparingly as a perfect companion to dishes versus melted and blanketing the entrees.
Gus’ Mexican Cantina did the best job at capturing the light, fresh, authentic taste of real Mexico. The vegetables were crispy and fresh, the meats were tender and moist but not at all greasy. When I finished my meals, my appetite was pleased but I was not “full.” I also could see the bottom of my plate, there wasn’t the ever-present pool of grease or cheese fats. In fact, there was none at all. Eating there was a pleasure and most closely reminded me of the clean, fresh, coastal flavors I enjoyed at all 3 of the Cancun restaurants I visited. As a side note, I also had to kind of laugh to myself, because when I walked into Gus’ there were about 8 Mexican-American men sitting at the bar passing at least 9 different entrees between them. I thought “well that’s a good sign.”
Go there, try it out and share your opinion. I would be interested to see how our opinions compare. Who knows, maybe in my next life I’ll be a world renowned food critic. For now, Ill consider this an awesome experience and hope I turned you one to some great Mexican food at home and abroad.
(For the record: I was not and will not receive or accept any promises, favors, discounts, or financial compensation by any restaurant, their owners or employees of any establishment mentioned in this article. This article was written solely based on my opinion alone and all costs for travel, dining, transportation, entertainment, tips or any other related cost, were paid in full by me from personal funds. This article is available for reproduction with my full consent. I will not expect nor accept compensation of any kind)
Dean S. Voss. Dean is a single dad, entrepreneur, award winning website designer, aging athlete and world traveler currently living in Franklin, Wisconsin. To find out more about Dean and his website design studio visit Wildstylez Website Design Studio