Best Asian Restaurant
Main Moon Chinese Food Restaurant, 3900 Erie St.;
Main Moon 2, 4915 Washington Ave., Racine
It may be no surprise to their customers that the Main Moon restaurants were selected best Asian restaurant this year by Journal Times readers.
Taking his Moo Goo Gai Pan to go, longtime Racine resident Jordan Berala agrees with the rating. "I eat here all the time. For the last 20 years. They're reasonable, quick," Berala said. "I believe it's the best Chinese restaurant in Racine."
Co-owners Carol and Jin Xiang Chen brought their love of cooking together when they moved from New York to Racine in the early 1980s. "This is New York Chinese," Carol Chen said.
While the secret recipes are locked away, the fresh local ingredients, caring attitude and sense of community give them an edge in the business.
This day, she opened the restaurant at 10:15 a.m. and already had catering orders for 70 people. Many longtime workers work fast and smart, cleaning as they go.
"We know a lot of our customers and we know what they want. We make them happy," Carol Chen said.
With beef raised in Green Bay, and in the summer, locally grown vegetables in their dishes like garlic chicken with snow peas or the spicy Szechuan shrimp with an orange slice, it's not hard to see how their fresh offerings are a crowd-pleaser for table dining, carry-out and delivery.
"My secret recipe is my family," Carol Chen said.
From a humble start of just the two of them, they now employ dozens of workers who have stayed to work for decades.
"I feel thankful every day," Carol Chen said.
Second place: Sticky Rice Thai, 203 Sixth St., Racine
Third place: Shogun Japanese Steakhouse, 518 College Ave., Racine
Best Bakery & Best Kringle
O&H Danish Bakery, 5910 Washington Ave., Mount Pleasant; 1841 Douglas Ave., Racine; and 4006 Durand Ave., Racine
Kringle has been the official state pastry since 2013, and it’s been the official Racine pastry since long before that. It’s that kringle tradition that O&H has been proud to be a part of since 1949 and for 2017, Journal Times readers voted O&H the Best Kringle in Racine County.
Matt Horton, vice president of marketing for O&H Kringle, said, “For us, kringle is something we take a lot of pride in personally. It’s really important for Wisconsin and for Racine and we try to create that in every kringle we make.”
For O&H, the kringle is a symbol of family, and the company works hard to satisfy everyone. They recently started experimenting with new flavors every two weeks as part of an explorer series. Several fan favorites have been the brandy old fashioned kringle and the root beer float kringle.
While new flavors have proven popular and given people a new reason to stop in more often, pecan kringle remains the most popular, made with cinnamon, fancy pecans and brown sugar. After that, it’s probably Door County cherry, Horton said, then it’s seasonal favorites like the fall pumpkin caramel kringle.
But O&H doesn’t stop at kringle. Employees make more than 100 different bakery items, a tasty array that helped the company win in both the Best Kringle and Best Bakery categories, as selected by Journal Times readers.
Second place: Bendtsen’s Bakery, 3200 Washington Ave., Racine
Third place: Festival Foods, 5740 Washington Ave., Mount Pleasant
Second place: Bendtsen’s Bakery, 3200 Washington Ave., Racine
Third place: Larsen’s Bakery, 3311 Washington Ave., Racine
Best Breakfast & Best New Business
Blue Bear, 2920 Taylor Ave., Racine
Blue Bear garnered double honors in this year’s Best of Racine County competition. The casual, cheerful eatery at the corner of Durand and Taylor avenues was voted as the Best New Business and as having the Best Breakfast. Blue Bear opened last September and soon became a local favorite spot for breakfast or lunch.
Co-owner Tesa Santoro-Schulte credits the fresh, locally sourced farm-to-table food and a dedicated staff for the restaurant’s popularity.
“My husband bakes all of our breads and pastries from scratch,” Santoro-Schulte said. “We use several local farmers in season and even grow some of our own vegetables in organic soil without any pesticides. Our meats come from local farm co-ops who use sustainable practices without hormones or antibiotics."
The restaurants serve breakfast, lunch and brunch dishes that could be described as comfort foods with an artisanal flair. Menu items include maple glazes donuts, bison sausage benedict, and blue “beary” pancakes with lemon streusel crumbs, blueberry glaze, and bacon, chicken, bison or veggie sausage. Many dishes are gluten-free.
But what makes Blue Bear truly special is the staff, Santoro-Schulte said.
“(Kitchen manager) Oscar (Alejandre) and (house manager) Dustin (Dykstra) work very hard with our entire staff to provide the best possible food and service,” commented Santoro-Schulte. “We are very thankful for the group of young men and women that we have working for us.”
Blue Bear is open 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.
Second place: Roberts Roost, 600 Sixth St., Racine
Third place: Meli Café Pancake House and Restaurant, 1158 Prairie Drive, Mount Pleasant
Best New Business
Second place: The Nash, 522 Sixth St., Racine
Third place: The Dish, 1220 N. Ohio St., Racine
Charcoal Grill, 8300 Washington Ave., Mount Pleasant; 3839 Douglas Ave., Racine; 580 Milwaukee Ave., Burlington
Charcoal Grill’s Sunday brunch buffet has been voted Racine County’s best buffet. Charcoal Grill owner Jeff Marsh thinks he knows why. At $14.95 for more than 20 different food choices, he said, “I feel like it’s great value. That’s why it’s so popular.”
The Charcoal Grill on Highway 20 averages about 400 people for the buffet that runs from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Marsh said. The Burlington restaurant is not far behind at about 350.
The food lineup includes egg entrees, ham, ribs, rotisserie chicken, bratwurst in summer, breakfast pizzas, cheesy bake hash browns, salads, cold fruits and desserts. “The eggs Benedict is very popular,” Marsh said, as well as biscuits and gravy, “and obviously, the meat selection.”
Another popular choice are the omelets made to order on the spot.
“It’s a pretty big selection; I think that’s why it’s so popular,” Marsh said. “We put out a lot of items, and at a very good price.”
Second place: Asian Buffet, 3701 Durand Ave., Racine
Third place: Reefpoint Brew House, 2 Christopher Columbus Causeway, Racine
Best Café/Coffee Shop
Wilson’s Coffee and Tea, 3306 Washington Ave., Racine
Tucked away in West Racine is a small cafe that has become a big gathering spot over the years: Wilson’s Coffee and Tea. At Wilson’s, they roast their own coffee and bake their own pastries, but the one thing that makes them truly special is the customers, said Renae Wilson, who co-owns Wilson’s with her brother, Neal.
It's those customers who helped make Wilson's Racine County's Best Cafe/Coffee shop for 2017, as selected by Journal Times readers.
“We have really excellent customers,” Wilson said. “They are friendly to each other and most of them leave the place cleaner than when they arrive.”
It’s those customers who have helped establish Wilson’s into a type of community, Wilson said.
“We joked in the past, if there are three people in the store, two of them will know each other and will introduce themselves to the third,” Wilson said.
When there are days that are really busy, staff introduce customers to each other and see if they can share a table. “They have a new friend,” Wilson said.
When you add together that conversation and company, along with homemade treats and freshly brewed coffee, it’s no wonder Wilson’s continues to thrive. In addition to coffee, they also have a large tea selection — hence the name Wilson’s Coffee and Tea.
Wilson’s is open Monday to Friday 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.; Saturday 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Second place: Mocha Lisa Coffeehouse, 2825 4½ Mile Road, Caledonia; Mocha Lisa Express, located inside the Piggly Wiggly at 5201 Washington Ave., Racine
Third place: Starbucks, 5658 Washington Ave., Mount Pleasant; and 2805 South Green Bay Road, Racine
Jimmy John’s, 141 Main St., Racine, and 5502 Washington Ave., Mount Pleasant
For the fourth year in a row, Jimmy John’s keeps living up to its famous slogan by again winning Best Delivery in the county.
“I mean, we’re freaky fast,” said Desiree Thomas, general manager of the Downtown Racine location, which as been open for about eight years. “We can make 30-second sandwiches and be out the door immediately.”
While the number of orders can vary every day, Thomas said that about half of any given day’s sandwich orders are for delivery. Customers have the option to schedule a later delivery time or “as soon as possible” when ordering online.
In any case, to ensure sandwiches remain fresh when delivered, Thomas said it’s important for the sandwiches to made and delivered in a timely manner — whether it’s a single sandwich or a group order for an office lunch.
“People understand it’ll take a little longer larger orders,” Thomas said. “But in general, we try to get orders out the door within 5 minutes. It’s great that our customers recognize that.”
Coming in second and third are two DeRango’s the Pizza King locations on Highway 20 and 6 Mile Road.
Second place: DeRango Pizza King, 6100 Washington Ave., Mount Pleasant
Third place: DeRango’s, 4621 Six Mile Road, Caledonia
Best Fish Fry
Cliff's Boathouse Cafe, 301 Hamilton St., Racine
There’s a new king fish in town.
After finishing second or third in this category for the past 10 years, Cliff’s Boathouse Café has been voted the best fish fry in town.
Yardarm Bar & Grill, which had had a virtual stranglehold on the tasty title, placed second this year. Mike & Angelo’s was third. Cliff’s placed third in the 2016 voting, after finishing second to Yardarm in 2015, 2014, 2013 and 2012.
Clifford Wolosek opened Cliff’s on July 3, 1987, in the parking lot of the Racine Eagles Club. The squat, white-bricked, red-trimmed eatery has less than a dozen tables and is open only Thursday through Sunday.
But it's hard to find a seat on Fridays, said Marc Brunette, Wolosek's stepson and current manager. "It's crazy," Brunette said. "We can have 20, 30 people waiting outside."
Cliff's secret? Fresh ingredients, a light beer breading on the all-you-can-eat snow cod, and wondrously thin potato pancakes said Brunette, who has been involved with the business since he was a teenager.
"People really love all those things and they keep coming back for them," he said. "We've been going pretty good for the last 30 years, so there's no reason to change anything."
Second place: Yardarm Bar & Grill, 920 Erie St., Racine
Third place: Mike & Angelo’s, 6214 Washington Ave., Mount Pleasant
Best Franchise/Chain Restaurant
Chick-fil-A, 5315 Washington Ave., Mount Pleasant
Chick-fil-A takes the No. 1 spot again this year in the Best Franchise/Chain Restaurant category. It’s a repeat that can largely be attributed to consistently delicious food and high quality service provided by its employees, said Jenny Miller, director of operations.
“When we hire, we try to hire good quality people,” Miller said. “They need to be service-minded, genuine and have a kind personality.”
“We say ‘It’s our pleasure,’ instead of ‘You’re welcome,’” she added. “That’s what we’re known for, but we really take that to heart.”
The second win comes just a few months after the individually operated, free-standing restaurant celebrated its one-year anniversary in March. It was also just about a year ago that its operator, Brian Goode, arrived from Georgia — the home base of the company, which operates more than 1,950 stores in 42 states and Washington, D.C.
“He brought that Southern hospitality with him, which now everyone here just strives for,” Miller said.
Family-owned Chick-fil-A lays claim to being the largest quick-service chicken restaurant chain in the United States, based on domestic annual sales of more than $6 billion in 2015.
Coming in second is Culver’s, which ruled this category for three years prior to Chick-fil-A. Jose’s Blue Sombrero, which also has a location in Brookfield, comes in third.
Second place: Culver’s, 5801 21st St., Racine; 722 S. Sylvania Ave., Yorkville; 1073 Milwaukee Ave., Burlington
Third place: Jose’s Blue Sombrero, 6430 Washington Ave., Mount Pleasant
Best Ice Cream/Frozen Treats
Culver’s, 5801 21st St., Racine; 722 S. Sylvania Ave., Yorkville; 1073 Milwaukee Ave., Burlington
Reigning champion Culver’s takes the award for best ice cream yet again, and it’s not without reason.
“We have such a great variety in the flavor of the day,” said Pete Haman, co-owner of the Culver’s restaurants at 21st Street and Sylvania Avenue. “The fresh frozen custard is almost addicting.”
The flavor of the day certainly does add variety, especially when factoring in that every Culver’s restaurant picks its own flavors every month from an approved corporate list.
That variety, Haman said, is what keeps people coming back — and they can even double dip by trying different flavors from different restaurants in the same day. The custard is made fresh in small batches every two hours, meaning it has never been sitting long.
Though Culver’s is not without its fair share of local competition, the variety of flavors and different treats keeps the champ on top. Customers can also indulge in concrete mixers, shakes, frozen lemonade and more to satiate their sweet tooth.
Second place: Dairy Queen, 3320 Douglas Ave., Racine; 3918 Durand Ave., Racine; 7106 Washington Ave., Mount Pleasant
Third place: Sugar Shack Sweet Shop, 530 Monument Square, Racine
Best Italian Restaurant & Best Pizza
Wells Brothers, 2148 Mead St., Mount Pleasant
Bill Rivers' labor of love started in 1998, when he made a suggestion to his uncle, Tony Wells. Why not move the Wells Brothers restaurant out to Washington Avenue in the building recently vacated by the Ensenada Mexican Restaurant franchise?
"He said, ‘Who wants to work that hard?,’” Rivers said. "I said, ‘I do.’ And he said, ‘Are you interested in the place?’ I said, ‘I've always been interested.’”
So Rivers bought the famed local restaurant with his cousin, Paula Wells-Huck (he has since become sole owner). And nearly 20 years later, Wells Brothers is thriving more than ever at the corner of Mead and 22nd streets, where it has stood since 1921. Why didn't Rivers ever see his vision of a new location come to pass?
"I guess because the business is so good and there's no overhead," said the 61-year-old Rivers, a 1974 St. Catherine's High School graduate. "And people love the place. They love the charm of the old building. People always say, ‘If you move it, it won't be the same.’”
However charming the 96-year-old building is, though, the real attraction is the food available in Wells Brothers, which is open Tuesday through Saturday. If you want a table, you'd best get there sooner rather than later.
"People love the pizza and they love the charm of the old building," Rivers said. "It's just been around forever, so it's one of those things that continues to keep rolling. It's got a great following. We have great customers, loyal customers."
Best Italian Restaurant
Second place: Salute Italian Restaurant, 314 Main St., Racine
Third place: Infusino's Pizzeria & Restaurant, 3325 Rapids Drive and 3301 Washington Ave., Racine
Second place: Infusino's Pizzeria & Restaurant, 3325 Rapids Drive and 3301 Washington Ave., Racine
Third place: Mike & Angelo's, 6214 Washington Ave., Mount Pleasant
Best Lunch & Best Sandwich/Burger
Kewpee Sandwich Shop, 520 Wisconsin Ave., Racine
Rick Buehrens takes his job seriously. As owner of the wildly popular Kewpee Sandwich Shop at 520 Wisconsin Ave. in Racine, Buehrens puts in long hours and takes a hands-on approach to make sure everything is right.
Buehrens arrives at work at 4:30 in the morning and stays until his services aren’t needed. He follows this routine almost the entire year.
“I go on vacation twice a year: in April and in September,’’ said Buehrens, who has owned Kewpee since 2003. “This is my life.’’
It’s a life a lot of customers and Journal Times’ readers are appreciative of, as evidenced by Kewpee’s selection as the winner of the Best Lunch and Best Sandwich/Burger categories in the Best of Racine County contest.
Buehrens, who started working at Kewpee 40 years ago as a dishwasher, said he is heavily involved in all aspects of his business, from cooking on the grill, to working the register to cleaning up, although he is quick to point out that he has a “great crew’’ assisting him.
Kewpee, which has 10 employees, has earned a stellar reputation for its hamburgers and cheeseburgers. Buehrens estimates 600 burgers will be sold daily at the shop.
Kewpee has so many repeat customers that Buehrens and his staff often know what the customer wants before he or she orders.
“I see a lot of the same people come in here,’’ said Buehrens, a 1979 graduate of Racine Lutheran High School. “We have people who have been coming here before I was here. I have some customers who come here every single day.’’
While Buehrens has owned Kewpee for 14 years, the pub has been in business since 1926. He feels being a long-established business with a good reputation has made Kewpee a successful venture.
“I think it’s the tradition Kewpee has,’’ Buehrens said. “It’s been the same place for a long time; nothing has really changed and I think people like that.’’
Second place: Blue Bear, 2920 Taylor Ave., Racine
Third place: Chick-fil-A, 5315 Washington Ave., Mount Pleasant
Second place: Culver's, 5801 21st Street, Racine; 722 S. Sylvania Ave., Sturtevant; 1073 Milwaukee Ave., Burlington
Lee's Deli, 2615 Washington Ave., Racine
Best Mexican Restaurant & Best Happy Hour
Jose’s Blue Sombrero, 6430 Washington Ave., Mount Pleasant
For the sixth time, Jose’s Blue Sombrero in Mount Pleasant won a category in the Best of Racine County contest — in fact, it won two. Not only was Jose's Blue Sombrero voted Best Happy Hour but it won Best Mexican Restaurant as well.
Racine resident Sheeka Lee slurped a frosty strawberry margarita during the happy hour special where she got a $5 margarita for $3.50 from 3 to 6 p.m., plus she had a choice of beef or chicken tacos at the complimentary taco bar from 3 to 5 p.m. "It's not too expensive and you get free tacos," Lee said. "This is a nice atmosphere."
Jose's offers 14 different flavors of margaritas, including the popular "El Tornado" with a layer of frozen sangria or you can grab a number of Mexican beers like the popular Dos Equis XX.
Lee ate dinner and ordered a chicken enchilada. "I order the green sauce. I like it spicy," Lee said.
Andy Talbott, general manager, said all the salsa, sauces and meat is prepared daily.
"We have homemade recipes from scratch daily," Talbott said. "Our tableside guacamole is our best-seller. We can make it chunky or smooth, mild or spicy."
What sets them apart is the street sheet menus and a sneak preview of some of the newest, hottest recipes they're trying out that if popular, could make it onto the permanent menu.
"Today you could get an curry coconut chicken taco," Talbott said. "We get a little creative with the tacos. That sets us a part from other Mexican food restaurants."
Best Mexican Restaurant
Second place: Javier’s, 2011 Lathrop Ave., Racine
Third place: La Tapatia, 1951 Mead St., Racine
Best Happy Hour
Second place: Dewey's Restaurant and Sports Bar, 600 Main St., Racine
Third place: Yardarm Bar & Grill, 920 Erie St., Racine
Best Outdoor Dining
Reefpoint Brew House, 2 Christopher Columbus Causeway, Racine
The Reefpoint Brew House’s upstairs location at 2 Christopher Columbus Causeway, on Racine’s lakefront, makes it an ideal location for outdoor dining. Best of Racine County voters seem to agree, choosing it as their favorite spot.
Reefpoint customers can choose from several outdoor dining areas, all of which offer panoramic views of Lake Michigan and the harbor. And they don’t have to wait for summer to come in order to enjoy them. One of the restaurant’s outdoor decks features its own bar and is heated during the colder months.
The view, though, is just part of what makes outdoor dining at Reefpoint a “wonderful experience,” according to Tom Landreman, restaurant co-owner.
“It really is a combination of the view, the food, the service and the entertainment,” Landreman said.
Known for its barbecue, the Brew House’s menu also offers everything from steaks and seafood to specialties such as Smokehouse Jambalaya and a build-your-own Brew House Mac and Cheese — as well as burgers, sandwiches, salads and more.
Outdoor decks at Reefpoint offer plenty of table seating, as well as couches and fire pits. And, if all those seats are taken, customers are welcome to eat at the deck bar, Landreman said.
“We think we have a really unique setting here,” he said.
Second place: John’s Dock, 303 Dodge St., Racine
Third place: Charcoal Grill & Rotisserie, 8300 Washington Ave., Mount Pleasant; 3839 Douglas Ave., Racine; and 580 Milwaukee Ave., Burlington
Olde Madrid, 418 Sixth St., Racine
After climbing the ranks for years, Olde Madrid took first place in 2016 in the Best of Racine County contest in a hard-fought victory. It looks like the beloved tapas joint is staying on top for another year, with its uniquely Spanish menu and local ingredients.
The restaurant’s success, co-owner and chef Manny Salinas said, was only possible through the support of its fans. “Without the support, I wouldn’t be who I am today,” he said.
Olde Madrid’s menu is as diverse as it is tasty, with everything from Salinas’ current favorite, Diablo wings, to roasted chicken and cherries to the bestselling gumbo (“It’s to die for!” Salinas assured). All the meat is fresh from Waukesha and the seafood is right out of Chicago, and it’s always made to order.
“The thing about us is we have so many different things,” Salinas said after trying to pick just one favorite. He couldn’t really pin one down, because he said it changes all the time.
Even though you’ll never catch Olde Madrid wanting for customers, Salinas didn’t think the business could succeed in the beginning.
“I never really thought it would stick,” he explained. “I figured if I made it to six months, I’d give myself a pat on the back — but here I am 10 years later.”
Second place: Oh Dennis! Saloon and Charcoal House, 4301 Douglas Ave., Caledonia
Third place: Sebastian’s, 6025 Douglas Ave., Caledonia
Panera Bread, 5630 Washington Ave., Mount Pleasant
Panera Bread has the county’s best salads, according to Best of Racine County voters.
The Panera Bread website shows a dozen different types of salads. Some examples include:
Asian sesame salad with chicken. It is described as having chicken raised without antibiotics, Romaine lettuce, cilantro, toasted almonds, sesame seeds and wonton strips tossed in Asian sesame vinaigrette.
Southwest chile lime ranch salad. It contains smoked, pulled chicken raised without antibiotics, Romaine lettuce, arugula, adobo corn blend, quinoa tomato sofrito blend, fresh cilantro and masa crisps tossed in freshly made chile lime rojo ranch and topped with feta and avocado.
Modern Greek salad with quinoa. It contains quinoa tomato sofrito blend, Romaine, kale, cucumbers and kalamata olives tossed in Greek dressing and topped with feta and toasted almonds.
Panera salads come in whole or half-size portions.
Second place: Olive Garden Italian Restaurant, 6000 Durand Ave., Racine
Third place: Out of the Pan, 550 State St., Racine
Best Wings & Best Sports Bar
Buckets Pub, 2031 Lathrop Ave., Racine
The gentleman sitting at the bar at Buckets Pub looked confused, but in a good way. He kept peering around, not really sure what he was looking for.
“I didn’t know what was going on, so I asked him,’’ said Christine Grochowski, manager of the popular sports bar located at 2031 Lathrop Ave. in Racine. “He said we had so many TVs, so many options, he didn’t know which one to watch. So, he was having trouble deciding which one to watch.’’
Indeed, there aren’t a shortage of TVs at Buckets Pub, which was chosen the winner of the Sports Bar and Wings categories in The Journal Times’ Best of Racine County contest.
Grochowski said Buckets Pub has 51 TVs throughout its expansive layout. What’s more, she said Buckets Pub has extensive television programming, particularly for sports enthusiasts who follow Major League Baseball, the National Football League, National Basketball Association and National Hockey League.
“We have all the fun packages," Grochowski said. "We take pride in having all of those stations.’’
She and her Buckets Pub colleagues also take great pride in their various types of chicken wings. Buckets offers signature flavored wings, teriyaki wings, boneless wings, roasted wings and grilled wings.
Grochowski said one of the primary reasons their signature wings are so popular is their “secret’’ seasoning. “We have a house blend that is (well received),’’ Grochowski said, “but, sorry, I can’t give that (the ingredients) to you.’’
Buckets Pub, which has been in business since 1984, is open daily, usually from 11 a.m. until 2 a.m. They are, of course, especially busy during major sporting events, and on nights when they have special offers on their wings.
Asked how many wings will be consumed on any given day, Grochowski said, “It varies. We’ll sell hundreds on most days and even thousands on days like the Super Bowl or during March Madness ... our customers like our wings.’’
Second place: Scores, 4915 Washington Ave., Racine
Third place: Buffalo Wild Wings, 5880 Durand Ave., Racine,
Best Sports Bar
Second place: Scores, 4915 Washington Ave., Racine
Third place: Dewey’s Restaurant & Sports Bar, 600 Main St., Racine