Small Plates but Big Taste are the calling cards of La Merenda on the south side of Milwaukee. Located on National Avenue in Walkers Point, La Merenda is just a five minute drive south of downtown. The restaurant itself is slightly smaller and unassuming, but this place offers one of the most unique dining experiences in the city.
The bar area is a cozy and a fun place to watch some of the bartenders make their signature drinks. While I cannot confirm this fact, we were told that La Merenda has makes some of the best Mojitos and Sangria in town. Both went over very well with our group, and during the summer prove to be a perfect start to a meal. Just as a heads up, if the restaurant is crowded, this space can get a little tight, but it is a fun spot for a pre dinner drink or even to enjoy a meal.
The menu at La Merenda is truly all encompassing even though each dish is served small plate style. It appears that this restaurant is committed to giving diners the opportunity to try dishes inspired by countries from every part of the globe. When looking at the menu, diners will note that the country of inspiration is located directly next to the menu item itself. I am not sure of any other restaurant that features a dish from Wisconsin (Cedar Grove Aged Cheddar Ravioli, $8.00), surrounded by a dish from China (Siu Yuk, $8.50), and Jamaica (Jerk Port Loin, $9.00) on the menu.
During our visits we tried a number of dishes. Perhaps my favorite was the Empanada plate ($8.00) from Columbia. The puff pastry was light and flaky while the meat and filling was very fresh. The toasted cumin vinaigrette dressing was the perfect compliment. Another popular dish was the Patatas Bravas y Chorizo ($6.00). The potatoes were fried to just the right crispiness and were served with a tomato sauce and chorizo. The Argentinian Style Beef ($11.00) was tenderloin that was cooked very well and served over sweet plantains. This dish was also extremely popular. Finally the Jerk Pork Loin ($9.00), and Truffled Potato Skins ($3.50) received rave reviews.
Service at La Merenda has always been top notch. On one particular occasion we had a larger party to celebrate a birthday, and the staff was extremely friendly and patient with a large group of diners who had not done the small plate thing before. The staff is very willing to help with drink (wine) selections and they also explain the small plate dining process. It is not discouraged to order more small plates after finishing the first round, if you will.
Finally, one of the great things about this restaurant is the fact that it is so affordable. Nothing is too expensive, and diners can try dishes they may have never had before. This restaurant truly gives diners a worldly experience, yet it charges a very fair price. La Merenda is routinely crowded, so make a reservation if possible. With a menu this diverse, it is no wonder that diners continue to return to this great spot in Walker’s Point.