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Let's Eat! Dining Along Wisconsin's Great River Road

Great River Road Restaurants

By Amy Gabay
Onalaska Tourism Commission

There is something about living on a working river that inspires ingenuity and creativity. The fact that this inventiveness spreads itself across creative endeavors all the way down to what is put on your plate is a fantastic bonus to those lucky enough to live along the Mississippi River.

When you plan your drive along the northern half of the Great River Road, you’ll find many great choices for a meal. Here are a few favorites among the locals.

Red Pines Bar & Grill – Onalaska

On the backwaters of the Mississippi, Red Pines offers a relaxed atmosphere to enjoy a view of the water, watch the activity on the boat landing and take in the delicious smells coming from their outdoor smoker while dining on the patio. Weekend campfires, sundowner shots to put the day to rest, live music on Saturdays and delicious food makes Red Pines a great choice.

The menu offers standard pub fare, but also some dishes inspired from being on Lake Onalaska, a 3.75-mile-wide pool of the Mississippi, including a stringer full of breaded or pan-fried Lake Perch. The cheese curds are from the Westby Cooperative Creamery, and late-night pizza at the bar is a tasty bonus.

What to Eat: The spicy Cajun Catfish Strips appetizer is delicious, and locals will tell you the colossal hand-breaded walleye filet, The Wally Pike, is the thing to try.

The Historic Trempealeau Hotel – Trempealeau

Catch live music on the outdoor bandstand every Thursday and Saturday at this fun and funky hotel, where most of the time there is no cover charge, only a passing of the hat. The Trempealeau Hotel puts on five yearly music festivals, including Reggae Fest in May and Tremptoberfest in September, both great times to visit.

The 1871 building has grown from hotel to full bar and restaurant, where the food is made to order from scratch using responsibly sourced and local ingredients. The view of Lock and Dam 6 makes the wait go by fast. Their nontraditional walleye, rolled in herbed panko breadcrumbs and baked, is their biggest seller. The Fish Stew also boasts a loyal following.

What to Eat: The words walnut burger and Trempealeau Hotel go hand in hand. Their famous vegetarian burger is topped with mayo, sprouts and tomato on a toasted roll. Yum!

Hillside Fish House – Fountain City

Simple and unassuming, the Hillside Fish House might look like a drive-by, but the number of cars in the parking lot will have you taking a second look. On the bluff side of the River Road, the Hillside has been serving up good meals to travelers for more than 150 years.  

When you stop in, they'll start you out with garlic bread and bread and butter pickles. Be sure to take a look at the wine selection from local vineyards and find something to pair with their seafood, which they're best known for. Reservations are recommended.

What to Eat: The Seafood Platter of shrimp, cod and scallops can be prepared any way you want it. 

Pier 4 Café and Smokehouse – Alma

Serving down home cookin' with a casual atmosphere, Pier 4 is a great stop for breakfast or barbecue. Savor homemade bread and jam or the fantastic German Potato Pancakes while enjoying views of the Mississippi and the trains that zip past.

For lunch, all smoked items are hand-rubbed and slow-cooked in an on-site smoker with the restaurant’s own special blend of seasonings. The barbecue sauces are homemade, too. If you like the seasonings, you’re in luck because some are available to take home with you. 

The café only serves until 2 p.m., and you may want to get there early to avoid the lines. 

What to Eat: Try the Pulled Pork Sandwich with tangy barbecue sauce, fries and Mississippi Mud Cake – Oh my!

Harbor View Café – Pepin

This café offers what its name suggests – a charming view of the sailboats on Lake Pepin –along with attentive staff, and food so beautifully presented you will be tempted to take a quick picture of it. Harbor View is a small restaurant that’s big on flavor. Their unique eats are made with high-quality, fresh ingredients, with a dessert list that will keep you saving room for a sweet treat. 

You'll find a chalk board instead of paper menus among their fun décor. Some favorites grace the board daily, but the selection of entrées changes each day. Current menus can be found on Facebook if you want to take a peek ahead of time. 

What to Eat: Good enough to be on the menu every day, the Alaskan Halibut is sautéed with black butter caper sauce.


Do you have a favorite spot to dine when traveling the Great River Road? Let us know in a comment below!

This entry was posted in Restaurants