Wisconsin Food+Drink

Surprise, Surprise: Chicago-Based Firm Ranks Wausau, La Crosse Least Trendy Cities for Cuisine

Badger State brethren rank at the bottom for diverse dining

McKenna Scherer, photos by Andrea Paulseth |

UNSCATHED & UNBOTHERED. We will just be over here, in our slice of Wisconsin, with an NFL team that isn't the Chicago Bears and traffic that isn't in a halt several times a day.
UNSCATHED & UNBOTHERED. We will just be over here, in our slice of Wisconsin, with an NFL team that isn't the Chicago Bears and traffic that doesn't grind to a halt several times a day.

There’s something about a Wisconsin city that relishes in its outdoor beauty and recreation across all four seasons, celebrates its flourishing arts scene, and joyfully supports its small businesses and array of shops.

It’s a bummer when the food options aren’t diverse and uber plentiful, though. Especially when it’s folks from Illinois making that judgment. We are up in arms about this injustice, for America’s Dairyland deserves better. What do you have, Illinois, besides stop-and-go traffic and the Chicago Bears?

According to Datassential, a Chicago-based consulting firm (it’s only fitting a business from Illinois would be hating on Wisconsin) that focuses on restauranteurs and the world of cuisine, fellow Wisco cities Wausau and La Crosse are near the very bottom of the pile when it comes to diverse cuisine scenes. Wausau, in fact, fell dead last in the nation.

it’s only fitting a business from illinois would be hating on wisconsin.

Datassential analyzed the menus of restaurants in cities across the nation with the goal of measuring and identifying which offered the greatest variety of cuisines, and in Wausau, they found variety fell behind other large cities.

Wisconsin Public Radio noted that in a large city such as Miami – which has a population above 400,000 – one person would need to venture across 29 different cuisines offered to explore 90% of the dining market. In Wausau – whose population is about 40,000 – a person would need to explore just 11 eateries to experience 90% of the available dining market.

Of course the obvious place to compare to Wausau would be Miami, what with all the things in common: the weather, general landscape, and population size. 

Southwest of Wausau, and a bit closer to the Chippewa Valley, is La Crosse, which ultimately fell fourth in Datassential’s rankings of least “trend-forward” cities. The analysis found a person could sample 13 varieties of cuisine and have enjoyed 90% of La Crosse’s available eatery market.

WPR’s “The Morning Show” recently interviewed Mike Kostyo, an associate director for Datassential, to discuss the firm’s analysis and food trends. Kostyo acknowledged the low rankings of some Wisconsin cities, joking, “If we do anger anybody, don’t come after me.”

He noted 11 different cuisines in a city the size of Wausau is a good amount, and folks are able to access more options now thanks to online ordering and transportation.

Fortunately, Eau Claire was not identified as falling at the low end of the firm’s scale. That’s probably because of the city’s breathtaking, show-stopping, stunningly diverse array of cuisine. I mean, with the likes of Panda Express, the newly-opened Crumbl Cookie, and (coming soon) Chick-fil-A – alongside four McDonald’s locations! – it’s clear why we escaped the scathe of Datassential.

But in all seriousness, we think the Eau Claire area avoided the fate of Wasuau and La Crosse thanks to our small businesses, unique and entrepreneurial-led eateries, and the fact Chippewa Valley diners are always up for new tastes. 

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