You know the scenario: You’re a hungry traveler who isn’t familiar with the local culinary offerings.
Or maybe you’ve got friends or family in town and they want to go out for a bite. Either way, you’ve got some tough choices to make: The Eau Claire area is chock-full of great dining options, but how do you find the restaurant that’s right for you? On the fly, you have to take what you know about your party’s culinary likes, dislikes, and idiosyncrasies and identify a place that fits everyone’s needs. This can be tough, so we’ve tried to alleviate some of the difficulty by creating a list of different kinds of eaters and suggesting places to take them. The next time you encounter such a situation, peruse our list, find your friends or family, and make the best decision when dining out!
Whether to come off as cultured as Anthony Bourdain or merely to seem courageous, adventurers seek a little thrill in their eating experiences – often looking for strange or unique ingredients that others may avoid. If you fit this mold, the Valley offers more than a few interesting places to check out. Amid wings, nachos, and onion rings, you’ll also find fried calamari (described as “battered tubes and tentacles”) on the menu at The Livery (316 Wisconsin St., Eau Claire), a downtown bar and grill-style eatery that combines historical urban with modern hip. And while sushi may not carry the adventurous cachet it used to, it’s unlikely your guests have dined on squid salad or baby octopus, both of which can be found at Ninja Japanese and Chinese Restaurant (405 S. Barstow St., Eau Claire), alongside eel, sea urchin, and flying fish eggs. If your guests think raw tuna is passé, then take them to The Raw Deal (603 S. Broadway St., Menomonie) where the vegan menu includes faux tuna sandwiches, portabella tacos, and carob bars.
FOR TIMID SOULS
We all know them. And maybe you’re one yourself. And that’s OK. Time souls don’t want to take risks in their meal choices. When they go out, they only want to eat things they know they are going to like. Craving an all-American soup and sandwich? Visit Acoustic Café (505 S. Barstow St., Eau Claire), a beloved downtown spot known for hot hoagies, satisfying soups, fresh baked goods, coffee, and live music. For places that won’t scare your taste buds, we suggest tried-and-true home-style eateries like Altoona Family Restaurant (2000 N. Hillcrest Parkway, Altoona) or Randy’s Family Restaurant (1132 MacArthur Ave., Eau Claire), where a sample of warm pudding begins your meal. (It’s like a hug from grandma.) And speaking of grandma, even she can’t object to perennial Italian favorites such as Olive Garden (4920 Golf Road, Eau Claire) or Draganetti’s Ristorante (3120 E. Clairemont Ave., Altoona). Finally, for the “I just want a hamburger” crowd, check out top options like Girolamo’s Court’n House Bar & Grill (113 W. Grand Ave., Eau Claire) and Milwaukee Burger Co. (2620 E. Clairemont Ave., Eau Claire), where delicious, no-nonsense burgers are served next to specialty options for the slightly more adventurous.
Eating out in a new culinary environment can mean more than checking out unfamiliar restaurants; it can mean grazing on ingredients that were literally grown in the place you’re visiting. If you really want to sink your teeth into the Chippewa Valley, several restaurants are happy to oblige with farm-to-table fare. The Informalist (333 Gibson St., Eau Claire, inside The Lismore Hotel) offers up entrees built around everything from Chippewa Valley-raised trout to bison. The Local Lounge (2106 N. Clairemont Ave., Eau Claire) relies on local ingredients for gourmet dishes such as foie gras and duck confit hash as well as hearty favorites like ribeye steaks and pork loins. And The Lakely (516 Galloway St., Eau Claire, inside The Oxbow Hotel) serves a frequently changing “modern Midwest” menu (poutine, beef shank, vegetable roulade with wild rice) plus live jazz and hand-crafted cocktails.
Not to be mistaken for places that give you huge portions (something many of the Valley’s bars and grills do a great job of), this category instead includes the kind of diners who can never make up their mind about what dish to order. “They all sound so good!” they say. So if you’ve got someone who you know likes to try a little of his, a little of yours, and maybe even a little from the table next door, we suggest Mona Lisa’s, Zanzibar, and The Lakely. All three have great entrée menus, but in this case you may want to look at the ever changing selection of appetizers, cheese, and tapas at Mona Lisa’s (428 Water St., Eau Claire); the ever adaptable Lahvosh (Armenia cracker bread) options at Zanzibar (228 E. Main St., Menomonie); and the Scandinavian-style Koldtbord with artisanal meats, cheeses, and more at The Lakely (518 Galloway St., Eau Claire).
FOR SPICE LOVERS
Are your dinner companions the kind of folks who sneak bottles of Tabasco into restaurants? Who complain that the salsa that causes steam to shoot from the ears of regular mortals is actually a “little bland”? Fortunately, you’ve got plenty of choices to offer up for people who crave an extra sensory kick with each bite. With every dish coming with a spice level option from one to four, Singha Thai (203 N. Barstow St., Eau Claire) is an obvious favorite for heat-seekers. Once at Mahli Thai (212 N. Bridge St., Chippewa Falls) one of our magazine’s staff members practically had an out-of-body experience thanks to a ghost pepper. The Valley has numerous authentico Mexican restaurants – check out Taqueria la Poblanita (2436 London Road, Eau Claire) for a hidden gem – where they’ll gladly dial up the heat if you ask. And over at Buffalo Wild Wings (4612 Keystone Crossing, Eau Claire) a plateful of wings glazed in Blazin’ sauce will scorch anyone’s taste buds to perfection.
For a comprehensive online guide to all the dining and drinking establishments in the Eau Claire area, visit http://volumeone.org/restaurants.