Chomping and Chugging

your choices for the Chippewa Valley’s best in Chomping and Chugging

V1 Staff, illustrated by Erik Christenson

BEST UPSCALE DINING

1st Place: Haymarket Grill
2nd Place: Shanghai Bistro
3rd Place: Mona Lisa’s

Date night, birthday, impressing out-of-town buddies, or simply the desire for an urban-chic atmosphere: all perfect reasons to choose the winners for upscale dining. Moving up a spot from last year, Haymarket Grill (101 Graham Ave) snags first with seasonal menus full of creative dishes and an emphasis on locally grown ingredients. Diners also dig the split-level interior, providing a café, bar, and cozy candlelit area. Shanghai Bistro (2930 Craig Rd) takes second with its stylishly authentic surroundings and sushi bar. Sip on sake while you peruse Shanghai’s extensive menu of Asian fare. Mona Lisa’s (428 Water St), another Best Of alum, comes in third for its innovative take on Mediterranean and Italian cuisine. Local artists’ finest paintings provide the background for a trendy, chill dining experience that will entice patrons to order another bottle of wine and stay a while. – Caitlin Heidbrink

Downsville Pick: The Creamery Restaurant & Inn, E4620 Cty Road C


MOST INSPIRED/INTERESTING RESTAURANT ATMOSPHERE

1st Place: Shanghai Bistro
2nd Place: Haymarket Grill
3rd Place: Stella Blues

What better way to impress a first date, celebrate with friends, or make awkward conversation with relatives you barely know (or barely like) than to go out to eat at a restaurant with great atmosphere? The best of which can be found at Shanghai Bistro (2930 Craig Rd). How can you beat the excitement of colorful, little sushi creations, or dishes served on their own flaming grill? The décor is chic and striking, immediately setting a unique tone. Add live jazz and you have quite an experience awaiting you. Another delightfully modern dining experience can be found at Haymarket Grill (101 Graham Ave). Everything is crisp, neat and clean. Whether having lunch, or drinks and dessert, this place sets the right mood. The multi-tiered eating areas create an open feeling, yet the color, lighting, and closeness make it cozy. Third place Stella Blues (306 E. Madison St.) has dramatic colors, vivid artwork, and with the options of both bar-type dining in the front and urban dining in the back, this restaurant gives you choices. – Ashley F. Dziuk

Chippewa Choice: Bridge Street Station, 212 N. Bridge St.
Menomonie Pick: Zanzibar, 228 Main St.


BEST PIZZA

1st Place: Sammy’s
2nd Place: Jeff & Jim’s
3rd Place: Mancino’s (tied)
3rd Place: Toppers (tied)

You may not believe this, but the Chippewa Valley has at least 35 pizza joints. So when you’re in the mood for a slice of pie, where do you turn? Most apparently turn to Sammy’s (2812 London Road), a family-style establishment with a popular lunch buffet and glorious thin-crusted creations. Jeff & Jim’s (421 Water St.) is the place to go for doughy, gourmet pizzas at buy-one-get-one prices and the infamous Smotherella Sticks. Sharing slots for third place are Mancino’s (809 W Clairemont Ave. and 4056 Commonwealth Ave.) and Toppers (1616 N Clairemont Ave and 2159 Eastridge Ctr), eateries known respectively for their deliciously gooey pizza and Grinder sandwiches, and late-night staples such as the oily, melty goodness of a pizza and cheese sticks combination. – Trevor Kupfer


BEST SALAD BAR

1st Place: Festival Foods
2nd Place: Pizza Del Re
3rd Place: Pizza Plus

OK, we get it. The type of salad lover that is attracted to a salad bar is not someone who necessarily looks for fresh arugala, baby greens, and light homemade vinaigrettes. This crowd seems more focused on unlimited dressing and who has the biggest bucket of cheese. First place winner Festival Foods (3007 Mall Dr.), for example, has tons of delicious fresh veggies on its bar, along with all the classic salad distractions like chopped eggs, and just around the corner is a mountain of fried chicken. Both second place Pizza Del Re (911 N. Hastings Way) and third place Pizza Plus (208 S. Barstow) also just happen to be home to two of the area’s most-loved pizza buffets, so if your load of bacon bits doesn’t negate the caloric value of your salad, the pepperoni pie and cheesy-garlic bread certainly will. Finally, some salads we can get behind! – Eric Rasmussen
 

BEST SUBS/SANDWICHES

1st Place: Mancino’s
2nd Place: Acoustic Café
3rd Place: Erbert’s and Gerbert’s

 
One day, while playing cards, the Earl of Sandwich requested that his lunch be served between two pieces of bread, so he could eat while he continued playing. Hundreds of years later, we have about 3,000 sandwich options in Eau Claire. Mancino’s (809 W. Clairemont Ave. & 4056 Commonwealth Ave.) wins this year with their tasty grinders. Their bread is unique – it’s kind of… airy, we guess, but it’s pleasantly chewy(?) – look, we’re not bread scientists. Let’s just call it delicious. They also have a ton of creative varieties. Acoustic Café’s (505 S. Barstow) selection is a little more classic – ham, roast beef, tuna, etc. – but their fancy touches (provolone, banana peppers, dressing) blasted them into second place. Erbert and Gerbert’s (409 Water St. and 3003 London Rd.) is actually a franchise based out of Eau Claire, and their collection of wackily named sandwiches and bread innards earned them third. – Eric Rasmussen


BEST COMFORT FOOD

1st Place: Culver’s (tied)
1st Place: Randy’s Family Restaurant (tied)
2nd Place: Altoona Family Restaurant
3rd Place: Blue Moon

You would assume the definition of comfort food would vary so much from person to person that this category would all over the place – maybe nothing puts you at ease like steaming plate of plain tofu. But, according to this year’s winners, most of us look for something a little greasier and a little saltier when we need a meal to make us feel better. Culver’s (2021 Brackett Ave., 2525 W. Folsom Ave., 1330 Stout Road, and 2573 Commercial Blvd., Chippewa Falls) tied this year with Randy’s Family Restaurant (1132 W. Macarthur) for first. Both places know their way around a juicy burger and a stack of French fries, and both are masters of dessert, with Culver’s focusing on custard and Randy’s highlighting pie. Second and third place follow Randy’s lead as top-notch purveyors of American-style family cuisine. Altoona Family Restaurant (2000 N. Hillcrest Pkwy.) boasts an enormous menu of sandwiches and dinners with plenty of fried items, while Blue Moon (805 S. Hastings Way) carries the Heckel’s torch with its enormous comforting menu. – Eric Rasmussen


BEST BAKERY

1st Place: Marie’s Original Bakery
2nd Place: Dessert First
3rd Place: Obsession Chocolates

Who can resist the rich warm scent of baked goods on a brisk fall morning? You said Marie’s Original Bakery (307 S. Barstow St.) is the hardest to resist. Pastry chef Marie creates distinctly European croissants, galettes, and scones, as well as original breads. Marie’s pumpkin cranberry walnut scones are lightly sweet and enjoyably tart at the same time. Dessert First (210 S. Barstow St.), just across and down a block from Marie’s, rolls into second place. The cakery specializes in irresistible cupcakes, baking at least five varieties daily. Sandi, the owner, also offers savory fare with her legendary Bacon Cheddar Chive muffins. If you happen to be on Water St. when assailed by wafts of cocoa, its likely you’re near Obsession Chocolates (310 Water St.), a chocolaterie that offers extraordinary truffles and baked treats made with organic ingredients. – Carrie A. Weiss
 

BEST VEGETARIAN MENU

1st Place: Haymarket Grill
2nd Place: Shanghai Bistro
3rd Place: Pad Thai

When meat is the last thing on your mind, these dining opportunities top the list for local vegetarians. Its second year in first place, Haymarket Grill (101 Graham Avenue) got high marks for its rotating menu of fresh ingredients and contemporary choices like the Bleu Cheese Risotto Fritters. Meat-avoiders gave second place to Shanghai Bistro (2930 Craig Rd), for a modern Asian menu full of satisfying meatless options. In third, Pad Thai (203 N Barstow St) gets props for their superior noodles, egg rolls, and tantalizing tofu. Leave the Boca Burgers in the freezer – the Chippewa Valley has got it covered. – Caitlin Heidbrink


BEST BURGERS

1st Place: Mogie’s
2nd Place: Wigwam Tavern
3rd Place: Court’N House

Although most restaurants manage to throw a beef patty between slices of bread in some form, three establishments happened to be a cut about the rest. Last year’s first place winner took first yet again. Mogie’s Pub & Restaurant (436 Water St.) managed to flame-broil the competition again, beating the other guys as top burger stop of the Chippewa Valley. Voters may have responded well to Mogie’s dynamic burger list, or their assortment of local and regional beers and convenient location – just inside the Water Street bar gamut. The Wigwam (314 E. Madison St.) pulled off second place, likely attributed to their 1/3-pound patties and soft buns that come lightly buttered and toasted. The Court‘N House (113 W. Grand Ave.) charmed and courted voters with their Thursday night specials, free food during Packer games’ halftime, and a video slideshow of historic Eau Claire, locking themselves into third place. – Tyler Griggs

Chippewa Choice: Bridge Street Station, 212 N. Bridge St.
 

BEST ASIAN RESTAURANT

1st Place: Shanghai Bistro
2nd Place: Pad Tahi
3rd Place: Tokyo Japanese Restaurant 

Maybe it’s the sushi happy hour, the cheap lunch menu (averaging $4) or the atmosphere on Friday and Saturday nights when lights go down to maximum sensuality as smooth jazz plays. Whatever the case, Shanghai Bistro (2930 Craig Rd.) has done it again, snagging first place for the second year in a row. Likewise, Pad Thai (203 N. Barstow) again made second place. The downtown salt-of-the-earth Thai diner boasts a casual dining experience and a good place to test your spiciness threshold (most menu items are metered with a range of chili peppers). And maybe voters were enticed by their new buy-nine-get-one-free Pad Thai Smart Card. Tokyo Japanese Restaurant (2426 London Rd.) bumped Hmong Noodle Wrap from third, making its first appearance on these survey charts. – Tyler Griggs
 

BEST PLACE FOR MEXICAN

1st Place: Cancun Mexican Grill
2nd Place: El Patio
3rd Place: Manny’s Mexican Cocina

Whether you just want to munch on chips and salsa or you’re in the market for a comida completa, Cancun Mexican Grill is the best place for Mexican in the Chippewa Valley (2120 Highland Ave., 2713 N. Clairemont Ave., and 475 Chippewa Mall Dr. in Chippewa Falls). From tacos to chalupas, Cancun offers everything in authentic Mexican fare. Try the huevos on their lunch menu. El Patio (228 Water St., 2823 London Rd., 1414 9th St. Menmonie) is the Chippewa Valley’s next choice for traditional Mexican. House margaritas and a sizzling platter of fajitas define this dining experience. El Patio’s convenient location makes it’s late-night, weekend burrito counter a stellar draw. If seafood is what you seek, the Chippewa Valley recommends Manny’s Mexican Cocina (4207 Oakwood Hills Pkwy.). The specialty Mexican restaurant features more than 20 saltwater dishes, including swordfish, halibut, and sea bass. – Carrie A. Weiss

Chippewa Choice: Casa Mexicana, 324 N. Bridge St., Chippewa Falls
 

BEST COFFEE

1st Place: Racy D’Lene’s
2nd Place: Gloria Jean’s
3rd Place: Coffee Grounds

In a place like Eau Claire where caffeine is available on every other block, how do the local spots keep a loyal crowd? First place winner Racy’s (404 Riverside Ave) knows exactly how to deliver fresh and comforting eats, creative smoothie concoctions, and a low-key, comfy interior. Above all, this place sets the local standard for a quality coffee menu without the fuss. For a convenient, sweet cup of brew, second place Gloria Jeans (3210 N Clairemont Ave and 4800 Golf Rd) has got it covered with two easy locations. Whether it’s time for some new threads at the Oakwood Mall or a quick trip to Menards for the sharpest chainsaw money can buy, caffeine addicts can have their fix. Third place Coffee Grounds (3460 Mall Dr) not only serves up high quality hot beverages, but they also boast a selection of micro-brew beers, fine wines, cheese, chocolate, kitchenware, and premium cigars. – Caitlin Heidbrink


BEST PLACE FOR A QUICK LUNCH

1st Place: Acoustic Café
2nd Place: Mancino’s
3rd Place: Grand Avenue Café

Quick and easy meals are the butter of the lunch existence – usually sandwiches, soups, pitas, pizzas, etc. When it comes to a quick lunch that is also a taste bud kicker, these three places get it to you swiftly and deliciously. Topping the list is Acoustic Café (505 S. Barstow St), a downtown staple with great art, live music, and very high ceilings, plus delicious soups, warm breads and pitas, various vegetarian options, and hot caffeinated coffee to help eliminate the after-lunch downers. Holding in at number two is Mancino’s (809 W Clairemont Ave and 4056 Commonwealth Ave) pizza and grinders. The best BBQ chicken pizza I have yet to come across in my over eating adventures and the ultimate shredded pork sandwich. A laundry list of grinding is available to meet all tastes…and all are delicious. Wrapping up the list is Grand Avenue Café (199 W Grand Ave.) and their hearty sandwiches. The little nook across the bridge from downtown is always a winner and will never disappoint. It’s like eating lunch in your neighbor’s house with relaxing conversation to ease your mind into the afternoon. – Mark Koenig

Up-and-Comer: Little Caesar’s Pizza, 2905 Mall Dr.


BEST ALL-AROUND DESSERT

1st Place: Dessert First
2nd Place: Haymarket Grill
3rd Place: Cold Stone Creamery

Perhaps the only place I have ever seen an upscale cupcake is Dessert First (210 Barstow St.). A California-inspired bakery that puts a classy spin on the treats I used to serve my fellow third-grade classmates years ago, their cupcakes come in flavors like Pink Velvet, Vanilla Sparkle, Chocolate Mint, and Peaches & Cream. Eating even one really will make you want to eat your dessert – and last. In second place is Haymarket Grill (101 Graham Ave.), where a local twist is put on an upscale menu of American-style cuisine. Among the classic dessert options are rich cheesecakes, made-from-scratch ice cream, and finer dishes like crème brulee. In the mood for something colder? Try third-place winner Cold Stone Creamery (4613 Keystone Xing.), where you could order all of the aforementioned treats, ice-cream-style – seriously. At this unique ice cream shop, customers can chose from a mind-boggling array of ingredients and flavors (according to the creamery, there are over 11 million possibilities), then watch their ice cream creation form right in front of them as employees mix each choice together on a frozen granite stone. – Emily Thierfelder

Chippewa Choice: Olsen’s Ice Cream Parlor, 611 N. Bridge St., Chippewa Falls


BEST BREAKFAST SPOT

1st Place: The Nucelus
2nd Place: Grand Avenue Café
3rd Place: Chick-A-Dee’s Family Restaurant

Breakfast should be seized by the belt and tossed into the routine of morning activities – if it hasn’t been already, that is. I skip it or under-treat myself more often than not which turns my lunches into a gorge fest and dinners into a time of mystification where hunger becomes an elusive pixy that is catchable only in bags of Doritos and cans of cola. So fill up your tank early to level out your feedings throughout the day. Atop the Valley’s list is The Nucleus (405 Water St). The front side of Racy D’lene’s has the coffee you would come to expect and the delicious omelets, crepes, quiches, and baked goods you’re A.M. body craves. Second place is the Grand Avenue Café (199 W Grand Ave) with a quaint living-room like dining experience and delicious food with friendly/smiley staff – yes, bread pudding is breakfast. And what’s a breakfast list without Chick-A-Dee’s (1928 3rd St.)? In third place this classic breakfast menu will cure hunger, hangovers, broken hearts, and twisted ankles with the beating of an egg. Scrumptiously economical, too. – Mark Koenig


BEST CHEESE CURDS

1st Place: Dooley’s Pub
2nd Place: Stones Throw
3rd Place: Northern Wisconsin State Fair

All cheese curds are not created equal. To be clear, this category is speaking of the deep-fried variety, not those cold squeaky ones. And while plenty of local restaurants can cut open the standard old bag of frozen cheese chunks, dump them in the fryer, and pretend like one local curd is as good as the next, most fall considerably short of doing Wisconsin proud. This year saw readers decide Dooley’s (442 Water St.) cheese curd offering earned the top spot, and for good reason. These massive cubes of gooey goodness clearly float to the top of the local curd scene (except a few show up totally empty from time to time). Rounding out the curd category is the hand-rolled selection of custom flavors that spice up The Stones Throw’s (304 Eau Claire St.) worthy curds, and of course your annual dose of cholesterol from the Northern Wisconsin State Fair (Chippewa Falls). Hot tip: There’s already rumor that the brand new Milwaukee Burger Co. in the former Grizzly’s space makes a mighty good pile of curds – so we’ll see how that shapes up in 2009. – Nick Meyer
 

BEST RIBS

1st Place: Famous Dave’s
2nd Place: Mike’s Smokehouse
3rd Place: Haymarket Grill

You’ll pardon me if I mess up this metaphor, but I believe we can all agree that ribs are the backbone of our nation. Obviously not physiologically (I’m not really clear how that would work out,) but at the very least spiritually, ribs are something that bind us together. Ribs slathered in sauce, soaked in weird concoctions, and slammed on a grill – this is what has made America great. Well, that and liberty. Anyway, the best in the Chippewa Valley goes this year to Famous Dave’s (2911 Mall Dr.). Let’s forget for a second how disturbing it is to have a mascot who is potentially eating its kin, and strictly focus on rib-osity. Does the food come with amazing choices for tangy sauce? Check. Does it come with a giant assortment of sides? Check. Does it come out on a giant garbage can lid? Double Check. Famous Dave’s has been doing it right all over the Midwest for years, it was about time for Eau Claire to be conquered by this BBQ powerhouse. Local Favorite’s Mike’s Smokehouse (2235 N Clairemont Ave) and Haymarket Grill (101 Graham Ave.) also will satisfy the meat cravings of any red-blooded American you may need to feed. One other note, props to Mike’s Smokehouse for coming in second in both the rib and chicken categories, they must be doing something right over there. – Ian Jacoby
 

BEST CHICKEN

1st Place: Chicken Unlimited
2nd Place: Mike’s Smokehouse
3rd Place: Buffalo Wild Wings

The worst rumor to surface in the last year had nothing to do with Bill Ayers, the economy, or even Miley Cyrus’ makeup budget. It was simply this: Chicken Unlimited (1410 S Hastings Way) was going to close. For as long as I can remember it has been a bastion of greasy, awesome food in times of uncertainty. Thankfully, further fact checking revealed this rumor to be nothing but a busted up lie, but the nearly universal response from people who know Chicken’s chicken was a testament to the fried goodness that feeds our huddled masses. They have awesome piles of sweet, sweet bird legs, fluffy biscuits, and the nicest cashiers in Eau Claire. If you think you know something about poultry, but have never been blessed with a mouthful of Unlimited, well, you’re just embarrassing yourself, friend. Props to other local faves Mike’s Smokehouse (2235 N Clairemont Ave) and BWW (4612 Keystone Crossing)  for putting out quality chicken products as well. – Ian Jacoby
 

BEST FISH FRY

1st Place: Wigwam Tavern
2nd Place: Mike’s Smokehouse
3rd Place: Albertville Tavern (tied)
3rd Place: Girolamo’s Court’N House (tied)

Fish fillets, scorching hot fry oil, and Friday nights – the magical trio of ingredients needed for good time in Wisconsin. But since every single gol-darn eatery in the area has access to these items, it’s hard to pick your favorite fish fry spot. But pick you did, and your votes hoisted Wigwam Tavern (314 E. Madison St.) to the top of the flaky fish heap, with their classic barroom atmosphere right in downtown Eau Claire. The Wigwam upset local fish fry juggernaut Mike’s Smokehouse (2235 N Clairemont Ave.) – last year’s winner. Tied for third were the always-plentiful Albertville Tavern (8114 35th St., Colfax) and the fry-i-licious Court’N House (113 W. Grand Ave.). – Mike Paulus

Augusta Pick: The Back Bear Supper Club, 2001 Hwy 27


BEST STEAK

1st Place: Houligans Steak & Seafood Pub
2nd Place: Haymarket Grill
3rd Place: Fischer’s on the Green

“Candied Garlic New York Strip” is a phrase that haunts the dreams of local steak-lovers. This succulent cut of meat is the juiciest jewel in the local steakhouse crown, and the tasty fillet helped Houligans Steak & Seafood Pub (415 S. Barstow St.) win your vote for the Valley’s best steakhouse – for the second year in a row. For the first year in a row, Haymarket Grill (101 Graham Ave.) made the top three with their modest menu of flavor-packed steaks. Haymarket edged Fischer’s On The Green (2333 Hillcrest Pkwy.) from last year’s second place standing to third. But no one can touch Fischer’s local legacy beef. In some form or another, the steakhouse has been searing up beautifully aged meat for Eau Clairians longer than most of us have been alive. – Mike Paulus


BEST RESTAURANT FOR GOOD WAITSTAFF

1st Place: Haymarket Grill
2nd Place: Shanghai Bistro
3rd Place: Grand Avenue Café

There can be no mistake, for the second consecutive year these eateries made it into the top three spots for phenomenal service in the Chippewa Valley. So what makes a quality wait staff? I asked some of the servers from these winning teams. Speaking for the first-place team at Haymarket Grill (101 Graham Ave.), server John says he prefers working with people to manual labor, so serving is an ideal job for him. Shanghai Bistro (2930 Craig Rd.) is up a slot from last year. Since then, server Sandra has come on board to serve the Asian cuisine. She explains that passion and the great restaurant atmosphere make her job truly fun. Serving at Grand Avenue Café (119 W. Grand Ave.) must not be like working at all.  Janessa, a server says she and her coworkers enjoy socializing, and what’s more, they’re good at it. – Carrie A. Weiss


BEST LATE-NIGHT NOSHING

1st Place: Jeff & Jim’s
2nd Place: Toppers
3rd Place: Erbert’s & Gerbert’s

The common thread tying together your favorite late-night nosheries is that their signature dishes all perfectly polish off a late evening (most likely spent at bars). Loaded with delicious carbs to soak up your liquid lunch, these delivery items satisfy every possible craving. Jeff & Jim’s (421 Water St.) smotherella sticks do the trick, as do their buy-one-get-one pizzas and to-die-for roasted subs. Toppers’ (1616 N Clairemont Ave and 2159 Eastridge Ctr) melty sensations also fit the bill, either with a nice cheese-loaded pizza or some sticks. Erbert’s & Gerbert’s (409 Water St and 3003 London Road) has your needs covered, too. When pizza doesn’t do the trick, you can sit back and relax while they deliver a satisfying sandwich of your choice. – Trevor Kupfer


BEST ITALIAN FOOD

1st Place: Draganetti’s
2nd Place: Mona Lisa’s
3rd Place: Mancino’s

Pizza, spaghetti, lasagna, ravioli…is your mouth watering yet? Three restaurants in the Chippewa Valley have honed combinations of cheese, garlic, and tomatoes into their own signature dishes. The very best of these can be found on the menu at Draganetti’s Ristorante (3120 Hillcrest Pkwy), voted the top Italian food in the Chippewa Valley. From zuppa to fettuccini to tiramisu, Draganetti’s offers a truly complete fare of traditional Italian. Draganetti’s pizza, which you can have hot in-house or frozen to go, has been made the same delicious way for nearly 60 years. Mona Lisa’s (428 Water St.) swings into second place for its innovative Italian and Mediterranean cuisine. The contemporary restaurant puts seasonal spins on old Italian favorites, like adding delicately cooked butternut squash to a creamy ravioli dish. Pasta and pizza are staples on the ever-changing menu. In third place is your quicker stop for great Italian, Mancino’s (809 W. Clairemont Ave. and 4056 Commonwealth Ave.). Baked pasta with deliciously buttery and crispy breadsticks is sure to satisfy. – Carrie A. Weiss

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