Taste the world at Milwaukee’s international restaurants

Going to the annual Holiday Folk Fair International at State Fair Park means trying foods from dozens of cuisines around the globe. Folk Fair is virtual again in 2021 because of the pandemic, but that doesn’t mean you can’t sample the world in the Milwaukee area.

You could even pick up some takeout before settling in with a virtual Folk Fair session. 

A couple of notes: Immy’s African Cuisine, which previously served at Folk Fair, is to resume offering takeout sometime in mid-November, after a summer of markets and festivals; follow the company on Facebook to keep tabs.

And by no means is this a complete list of the area’s international restaurants, or of all the cuisines a Folk Fair visitor would find in a typical year. It’s a starting point for finding some of the world’s delicious foods here at home: 

ETHIOPIAN

Ethiopian Cottage

These stews and sautes of meats (lamb, beef and chicken plus seafood options) or vegetables (like excellent collard greens, legumes and mixtures such as cabbage, carrot and onion) are meant for sharing. They’re placed atop pliant injera, the sourdough flatbread that’s both tasty platter and utensil. If it’s a snack you’re after, the beef or lentil sambusas are crisped, savory pleasures, as is kategna, simply warm injera with melted butter and spices, but utterly delicious.

Hours:  5-9 p.m. Tuesday-Friday and 1-9 p.m. Saturday-Sunday during the pandemic; takeout only for now because of COVID-19. 1824 N. Farwell Ave. (414) 224-5226. ethiopiancottagerest.com.  

FILIPINO

Meat on the Street

Filipino flavors are tangy, funky and subtly sweet, often all in one dish. Consider sinigang, a sour soup of pork cabbage and tamarind. There are meat skewers and fried rolls among the dishes, and Meat on the Street has designed burritos that fuse Filipino flavors into a familiar package. Here’s your chance to try ice cream in flavors of ube (purple sweet potato) or pandan (an herb reminiscent of vanilla). Meat on the Street, a counter-service restaurant, also operates a food truck renamed this year to Tatay’s Truck.

Hours: 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Tuesday and Thursday-Saturday. 1125 N. Ninth St., in the mini food hall at the Eleven25 Building in the Pabst complex. motscatering.com; online ordering only.

GREEK

Santorini Grill

The dishes here seem to evoke the sunshine of the Greek island for which this vendor at the Mequon Public Market is named: tender grilled octopus, skewers of chicken souvlaki that taste of lemon and herbs, crisp spanakopita. Pull up a seat at one of a couple of little tables right at the stall (they can be reserved) or head to the market’s spacious second floor. 

Hours: 11 a.m.-8 p.m. daily. 6300 W. Mequon Road, Mequon, in the Mequon Public Market. (414) 716-5723. Order in person, call ahead or order onlinesantorinigrillmequon.com. 

GUATEMALAN

Mara’s Grill

Tucked alongside a larger menu of Mexican dishes and sandwiches are some Guatemalan plates. Consider the chicken pipian, in a complex mole of roasted tomatoes and chilies and ground pumpkin and sesame seeds, or the chicken flautas, which would be called tacos in Guatemala. Mara’s has a few small tables, but orders mostly are taken to go.

Hours: 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday-Saturday. 3441 N. 84th St. (414) 810-0031. Call ahead to order. marasgrillwi.com

HMONG

Thai Bangkok

Don’t let the restaurant’s name fool you — several excellent Hmong dishes are on the menu of this small diner and takeout spot, like the sausages served with sticky or white rice and the catfish that’s crushed and aromatic with lemongrass, basil and chilies. The restaurant also has a second location, with a briefer menu but many of the same dishes, called Thai Bangkok Express.

Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Saturday. 9112 W. Brown Deer Road. (414) 362-0189. thaibangkok-restaurant.com

Thai Bangkok Express: 9201 W. Capitol Drive; (414) 585-9993. It has online ordering at thaibangkok-express.com and delivery. That location’s hours are 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and 4-8 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday-Saturday.

HONDURAN

El Rincon Catracho

At Milwaukee’s only Honduran restaurant, which opened during the pandemic, diners can try the baleada, melted cheese and refried beans in a flour tortilla. Or items such as Honduran enchiladas (which resemble Mexican tostadas, with their flat, crisp tortilla) and tacos (which resemble Mexican flautas, rolled and fried), soups, entrees and more. Finding the differences and similarities among cuisines is part of the joy of dining out. El Rincon Catracho also serves a menu of Mexican dishes. (Look for a full review of El Rincon Catracho in the coming days.)

Hours: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. 1401 W. Washington St. (414) 455-3671. elrinconcatrachomke.com to order online for takeout; dine-in available.

INDIAN

Indian Delight

The all-vegetarian menu at this counter-service restaurant carries an array of snacks (such as vada pav, a potato patty on a bun with sauces) and chaat (pani puri, the crisps with potatoes, chickpeas, yogurt and chutney). For meals, there are curries (including the cauliflower-potato dish aloo gobi and the black lentil dal makhani). Don’t forget the breads (naan made with red onion and paratha with muli — white, or daikon, radish) with your curry. 

Hours: 4-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 am.-9 p.m. Friday-Sunday, and carryout only during the pandemic, with curbside service and delivery available by calling. 140 E. Drexel Ave., Oak Creek. (414) 301-5091. indiandelightwi.com

ISRAELI

Falafel Guys

A crowning glory that’s distinctly Israeli at this Middle Eastern restaurant is its fried-eggplant sandwich, tricked out with hard-cooked egg, tahini, hummus, pickles and an Israeli salad of tomato, cucumber and onion, on pita imported from Israel. But the chicken shawarma (sandwich or, at dinner, as an entree), thigh meat cut from a rotisserie, is another great choice, as is falafel. The many snack options include nicely smoky baba ghanouj.

Hours: 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday; lunch menu served until 3 p.m. 6300 W. Mequon Road, Mequon, in the Mequon Public Market.  (262) 302-4122. felafelguysmke.com

JAMAICAN

Mobay Cafe

Mobay Cafe — named for Montego Bay in Jamaica, where the owner is from — serves excellent versions of classic dishes such as escovitch fish, braised oxtails, and jerk chicken in a spicy, complex sauce. But it also serves dishes from elsewhere in the Caribbean, and designed some dishes of its own, such as stuffed plantains that are geared toward vegetarian and vegan diners. 

Hours: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and 5-9 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and 5-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. 1022 S. First St. (414) 988-9196. Online ordering for carryout during the day at mobaycafe.com.

MALAYSIAN

Mr. Wok

Chinese and Thai dishes fill much of the menu, but Mr. Wok is the only restaurant in the Milwaukee area to serve Malaysian dishes, as well. It’s one of many melting-pot cuisines; the foods of China and India, among others, have shaped it. Mr. Wok has snacks such as roti chani, flatbread fried fresh and served with a curry of chicken and potato, and main dishes including beef or chicken rendang, flavored with lemongrass, coconut and spices, and mee goreng, long noodles with fried tofu and vegetables. 

Hours: 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Friday, 4-8 p.m. Saturday. 2128 Silvernail Road, Pewaukee, in Silvernail Plaza. (262) 521-9780. Takeout only because of the pandemic.

MEXICAN

Chilango Express

Cuisines of any country vary by region, of course. At Chilango Express, the popular weekend special of lamb barbacoa is a specialty of the area around Mexico City. The meat is sold by the pound, with handmade tortillas, lime, cilantro and salsa on the side, plus lamb broth with chickpeas. Not there on a Saturday or Sunday? Huaraches are terrific, with a layer of bean at the center of the corn dough. Top it off with one of eight kinds of meat or one of five vegetarian toppings, such as mushrooms or sauteed pumpkin flowers.

Hours: 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Saturday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday. 7030 W. Lincoln Ave., West Allis. (414) 807-7948 or (414) 541-8201. Delivery by EatStreet and restaurant’s own driver; online ordering available. chilangoexpress.com

PALESTINIAN

Taqwa’s Bakery and Restaurant

Expect fresh bread and delicious sweets, of course, since Taqwa’s emphasizes its baked goods, but its excellent regular menu is a must. Consider dishes such as lamb chops or grape leaves stuffed with beef and rice. It’s impossible to leave hungry if you order dawalee, which combines stuffed grape leaves with a chicken-leg quarter and cucumber salad, or mosakhan, two chicken-leg quarters with the large taboun bread and cucumber salad. Taqwa’s serves breakfast dishes, too. 

Hours: 10 a.m.-9 p.m. daily. 4651 S. 27th St., Greenfield. (414) 539-6878. facebook.com/taqwasBnR

PAKISTANI

Peshawar

A must-try at this Pakistani restaurant is the dish that the city of Peshawar is known for, chapli kebab, grilled beef patties that explode with flavor. But the same could be said for so many of the menu items, such as the whole chicken charga, dal fry and mutton korma. Bihari kebab — beef in a marinade of spiced yogurt — is terrific as a sandwich.

Hours: 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. 7510 W. Layton Ave., Greenfield. (414) 800-4226 (delivery available and reservations accepted). peshawarrestaurant.com 

Peruvian

Chef Paz

Delicate ceviche is a specialty of Peru and at Chef Paz, fish salads “cooked” in lime juice. Plates can be hearty, too, such as classic lomo saltado; the soy-sauce seasoning the beef shows China’s influence on Peruvian cuisine, or tacu tacu Chef Paz, a canary bean and rice cake, sautéed beef with tomato, red onion and red pepper, topped off with fried egg. Have a chicha morada to drink, the sweet beverage made from purple corn, cinnamon and cloves.

Hours: 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, noon-5 p.m. Sunday. 9039 W. National Ave., West Allis. (414) 327-1600. chefpaz.com

SALVADORAN

El Salvador

Everyone ought to have the pupusas. The corn-dough patties that are so closely associated with the country are a delight, with fillings such as pork, beans and cheese (revueltas) and loroco, the flower with an herbaceous flavor. For crunch and tang alongside them, there are quick-pickled, fine-cut cabbage (curtido), and fresh-tasting tomato salsa. But El Salvador’s carne asada also is a must: ultra-savory slices of steak served with casamiento (red beans and rice, married together), a small salad and handmade tortillas. For a snack, try a pork or chicken tamal, steamed in banana leaf.

Hours: 10 a.m.-10 p.m. daily.  2316 S. 6th St. (414) 645-1768. elsalvadorrestaurants.com

SOMALI

Blue Star Cafe

The scent of warm spices rises from entrees such as kay-kay, goat on the bone or other meats with broth to plump pieces of fried flatbread. Or from chicken or beef suqar, the pieces of meat garnished with sweet pops of raisins; it’s served with rice or thin strands of pasta, which can be traced to Somalia’s days as an Italian colony. Blue Star makes hefty sandwiches from its meat and fish, and prepares snacks such as velvety hummus and sambusas, pastries filled with beef, chicken or greens and mixed vegetables.

Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday. 1619 N. Farwell Ave. (414) 273-9744. 

Syrian 

Damascus Gate

At Damascus Gate, founded to help refugees who fled the conflict in Syria, dishes will be familiar to customers of Middle Eastern restaurants: mezze such as hummus and falafel, grilled meats including kefta kebab, sandwiches made on shrek, the large, thin flatbread. But diners at Damascus Gate will find touches that are distinctly Syrian, such as the muhallaya for dessert: rice pudding with a touch of rosewater.

Hours: 11:30 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11:30 a.m.- 9 p.m. Friday-Saturday, noon-7 p.m. Sunday. 807 W. Historic Mitchell St. (414) 810-3561. damascusgatemilwaukee.com

THAI

Kim’s Thai

Kim’s Thai offers a full range of Thai dishes — noodle, rice, curries and more. Standouts include the snappy sausage and the chicken wings that are deboned and stuffed like an egg roll, and Panang curry, made with coconut milk, green beans and basil. The curries can be made with squash in place of meat, another plus. And heat lovers can turn the dial as high as they wish (5 on a scale of 10 was impressively spicy).

Hours: 11 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 5-8:30 p.m. Sunday. 938 W. Layton Ave., in the IHOP plaza. Takeout only because of the pandemic; call in advance: (414) 282-8687. kimsthairestaurant.com

VIETNAMESE

Pho Saigon

Pho Saigon prepares Vietnamese staples including bun, the noodle salad to toss together with grilled meat vegetables, an egg roll and fish sauce. The pho with a diner’s choice of meats is a big draw, plain by the number of bowls on tables, and it’s easy to see why. The broth is flavorful and well clarified, and the garnishes for the noodle bowl perfectly fresh: bean sprouts, jalapeño slices and a large stem of basil.

Hours: 10 a.m. – 9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday. 10534 W. Greenfield Ave., West Allis. For carryout, call (414) 828-9698 or order online. phosaigon-mke.com

See Folk Fair online

Holiday Folk Fair International events for 2021 can be watched at the fair’s website, folkfair.org, and its Facebook page from Nov. 19 to 21. Online fair events will include demonstrations by cooks and artists as well as music and dance performances that reflect the heritage of the greater Milwaukee area’s residents.

Contact dining critic Carol Deptolla at carol.deptolla@jrn.com or (414) 224-2841, or through the Journal Sentinel Food & Home page on Facebook. Follow her on Twitter at @mkediner or Instagram at @mke_diner.

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