Cari Taylor-Carlson

Botanas Is a Loud Letdown

Loud decor, a loud din, and tasteless, mass-produced food.

By - Jun 13th, 2017 01:47 pm
Botanas. Photo by Justin Gordon.

Botanas. Photo by Justin Gordon.

Here’s the best thing I can write after two visits to Botanas. They serve giant sodas, so huge that when a companion joked, “Should I ask for a carryout cup?” we laughed, until our attentive server overheard her comment and brought a carryout cup for the remains of her coke.

Giant soda. Photo by Cari Taylor-Carlson.

Giant soda. Photo by Cari Taylor-Carlson.

Here’s another positive about Botanas. On both visits we experienced excellent service that went far beyond the usual. Here’s the third plus, and this is a big one in Walker’s Point where parking on weekend nights can be an issue; Botanas has an exclusive parking lot for their customers.

Now for the rest of the review. We came on a Thursday following a Hangman Tour where we learned about The Whoring 20s and a slew of Milwaukee’s prominent madams. We wanted a quick meal and a beer. What we didn’t want, or expect, when we decided on Botanas, was a dining room where the noise level exceeded anything I’ve experienced in a local restaurant. Noise in a bar, yes, that’s a given, especially on a weekend night, but not at a place where people came to eat and hopefully enjoy some conversation. Botanas has three dining rooms, so why stick customers, us, in the smallest one, when there were empty tables in the other two rooms? The décor in this particular room, the one furthest from the entrance, would fit nicely into a themed Mexican jungle room at Disneyland. Three dimensional clouds are plastered on the ceiling; strange gargoyles protrude from the walls; and fake plants drip from the ceiling in this plastic jungle which thus achieves an overall effect of total claustrophobia.

Since I wanted a light meal, I ordered a Small Cheese Quesadilla from the A La Carte menu and what I got was a soggy tortilla with lukewarm cheese, served with very tired lettuce and half a dozen chunks of chopped tomato.

When I ordered guacamole from the Encendido a Lada, a list of side orders, our server asked if I wanted it chunky or whipped. Whipped? Never. She brought a bowl, a bit more guacamole than I expected for $1.50. This pale green, bland, apparently mass-produced dish had no resemblance to what we call guacamole. We queried our server who had misunderstood our order in the surrounding din and said she had brought the wrong guacamole, whipped, not chunky, and a table order, not the side I had requested. She removed the charge from the bill.

An order of Mexican Pizza, a House Specialty, was no better. The best part was the crisp underlying flour tortilla. The rest, a gloppy pile of refried beans topped with too much melted cheese, had no eye or mouth appeal. Maybe when there are 30 House Specialties on the menu, some might go astray.

The Taco Salad turned out to have most of the same ingredients as the pizza except it was loaded into a flour tortilla shell and included ground beef.

After this debacle, I returned with two friends hoping that my first impression could be corrected. From the Mini-Combo Lunch Specials, a list of 16, most of which involved enchiladas, tacos, burritos, tostadas, and chimichangas, we ordered all the above in various combinations of two. Each order came with a cup of spicy black bean soup, the best part of our otherwise uninspired meal. We were saved by the salsa which we dumped on everything, including the rice and beans, hoping to pimp up the insipid flavors of everything on our plates.

I left so much food that a manager stopped by to ask if everything was all right. I replied in my polite voice, “Thanks for asking. Everything is fine.” The manager was followed by our server who assumed I wanted a second meal at home and brought me a take-home container. I said, “No thank you.”

Botanas did not expand from one dining room to three by serving what we experienced as pseudo Mexican/Tex-Mex food which appeared to be mass-produced. I ate there back when there was one dining room, the food was exceptional, and the service likewise. Only the excellent service remains. Now with three dining rooms and triple the number of mouths to feed, could the kitchen be overextended? I hope many of those 30 specialties which I didn’t sample are delicious, because it’s sad to see a restaurant slide into mediocrity when they had such a fine start.

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On the Menu

The Rundown

  • Location: 816 S. 5th St.
  • Phone: 414-672-3755
  • Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sun-Thu, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fri-Sat
  • Neighborhood:Neighborhood:
  • Website:
  • UM Rating: 4.0333333333333 stars (average of Yelp, Trip Advisor and Zomato)

35 thoughts on “Dining: Botanas Is a Loud Letdown”

  1. Mama says:

    Huh. Just ate there (for the 500th or so time) with a friend from Arizona who wanted Mexican because “there’s no good Mexican food in Arizona” where she’s from. She loved her food. So did I.

    The service is excellent, yes. And the Walker’s Point location does get loud.

    The food is, indeed, uninspired – the usual taco, burrito, enchilada, plop of beans, plop of rice. While uninspired, it’s tasty nevertheless, and a reliable meal.

  2. IzzyDidIt says:

    Botanas is Botanas, it doesn’t pretend to be hip and cool like all the other restaurants that somehow make it onto the “Best Mexican” restaurants every year. As a Mexican-American, I often laugh at the fact that Bel Air or Corazon or one of the handful of other “Authentic” Mexican restaurants are lauded, for what in my and many of my counterparts’ opinions, is bland, flavorless, and as far from authentic as possible. Also, spoiler alert! Tequila and margaritas often have the side-affect of creating a loud, rowdy and fun atmosphere, funny how you failed to mention whether other patrons had the same complaint as you regarding the noise. My suggestion, if you want a fast, quick flavorful mexican meal and beer, next time stop at Chipotle, and they’ll take great care of you. Stay out of Walker’s Point, you pretentious, entitled and snobby customers are the kind that many residents in the area want to keep out, lest you ruin the charm that has made WP the funky, quirky diverse neighborhood we have all grown to love.

  3. John says:

    I am going to call total Shenanigans on the visitor from Arizona who cannot get great Mexican food in her town. There is not a single city in AZ without a number of excellent places unless they maybe live on one of the Reservations in NE AZ.

    Having eaten at a number of very famous places around the country, LA, San Fran, Phoenix, Tucson, San Diego, Chicago etc., I find Corazon to be exceptional, and very far from bland, especially in comparison to a Botanas or La Fuente.

  4. Tina says:

    I call bull on this article, can vouch for Botanas as one of the best Mexican restaurants in Milwaukee. Good food and Margaritas are outstanding.

  5. Tim says:

    I bet IzzyDidIt is pretty new to the area, irony much? Probably think they’re “keeping Milwaukee weird!!!!!!”… sigh.

    Their food is not what is was, it seems they rely on location & familiarity. La Fuente is in the same trap. They’re still fun places to go but it’s not the same. Maybe the restaurants didn’t change but we did, do we expect more from restaurants today? You bet.

  6. Milwaukee Native says:

    “We were saved by the salsa which we dumped on everything, including the rice and beans, hoping to pimp up the insipid flavors of everything on our plates.”

    How does one”pimp up ” flavors? Did you mean pump up?

  7. Huck L. Berry says:

    Next time go to La Casa de Alberto.

  8. COLIN STUART says:

    LOL… you order the quesadilla and complain about it being a quesadilla??! That’s how they always are, why on earth would you order one. Then a mexican pizza too?? If you want to test out the mexican food, please order the mexican food… like burritos / tacos / enchiladas / etc.

    Regardless though, Botanas is pretty weak. Just your typical mexican food you can get in any major city in the US.

    If you want delicious and cheap chicken mole / tacos / tostada / margaritas… go to Conejitos.
    If you want delicious and also pretty fair priced PARRILLADAS go to Las Palmas.

  9. no says:

    Your journalism skill shows here. Not only do the locals refute your entire article, but you cannot even get the website for the restaurant correct. Your link leads to a bad DNS error. Try putting a www. in front of it.

  10. Abbi says:

    Why didn’t you tell the manager the truth?

  11. MkeDiner says:

    Writing such a negative review after telling a manager who rightly assumed you were less than happy and inquired presumably so they could help change your experience for the better is not very polite, despite whatever tone of voice you used in your reply.

  12. MKEFoodLover says:

    Really disappointed in this review. If you are going to critique an establishment, and that critique is going to be published for all to see, please have the professionalism and decency to be a stand-up human and tell them when something is not to your liking. The passive-aggressiveness of the statement “I left so much food that a manager stopped by to ask if everything was all right. I replied in my polite voice, “Thanks for asking. Everything is fine.” The manager was followed by our server who assumed I wanted a second meal at home and brought me a take-home container. I said, “No thank you.”, is so childish and immature, you should not be reviewing professional establishments. Grow up!

  13. judith moriarty says:

    Carri: hey girl, next time you should wear a disguise, a wig and dark glasses perhaps, like food critics are known to do. So few food reviews tell it like it is, which is to say, like the “critic,” sez it is.Your review is fair and good fun. it’s refreshing to read comments that aren’t based on whether or not the restaurant owner(s) purchased an ad. Editors deny that has anthing at all to do with reviews, but gee whiz, it sure seems to…

  14. Vincent Hanna says:

    I can’t remember ever reading a restaurant review like this, where a critic was greatly unsatisfied and lied about their feelings when asked about them by the manager. I would think that critic or not someone would have the decency to be honest with a manager. This is a terrible review.

  15. IzzyDidIt says:

    @Tim I actually grew up in the Walker’s Point area, and my family owns several properties in the immediate Walker’s Point area. I attended Vieu grade school for a few years before it was renamed Escuela Vieu, my dad and uncles attended boy’s Tech, and I attended catechism classes at St. Patricks Church. I am far from new to the area with 30+ years of my life spent directly in this area, my family, much longer. So I am quite an expert on the character of Walker’s Point.

  16. Sean says:

    This review really sits wrong with me. I don’t appreciate how the critic didn’t make the manager aware of the issues and then published this piece for the public to develop an opinion of the establishment. Fortunately the UM readers are smarter than this author thought and can see through the BS. Also if you’re a restaurant critic you should also know how a restaurant operates. They seat in sections and don’t open additional sections until one is nearly full. Most importantly though if you ask to be seated away from the crowd, most restaurant will gladly seat you as so.

  17. Cal says:

    I expect more of urban Milwaukee than entirely unprofessional food criticism. While I disagree with the author on their assessment of the food (as others have noted, it’s a local favorite), that isn’t what leaves such a bad taste in the mouth.

    1. The author went to an authentic Mexican restaurant and ordered entirely inauthentic items and expects them to be their best food.

    2. The author was asked what could be done to make the experience better and lied to the waiter.

    3. The author, rather than accepting that Botanas isn’t Bel-air or C-viche or some other hip place, bashes the decor of what really is just a family neighborhood joint.

    4. The author claims that the best thing about Botanas is that the drinks are large- what about the fact that it’s a local family owned place that does really good business, or that it provides a place for locals in Walker’s point, or that the food is priced so that working families can afford to go out to it once in a while?

    5. Speaking of families, I know for a fact that the reason that the smaller dining room is used is because the larger ones are often rented out for birthday parties for kids, or dinners for sports teams, or other events.

    6. The author clearly used right click-> synonyms in order to write the article. And she didn’t even use appropriate synonyms at that. Nobody- not even people with large vocabularies- says things like “pimp up the insipid flavors of everything ”

    Again, I expect more of this website. I don’t know how this critic was hired, or if it’s a guest piece, or if the article is featured as a favor, but please don’t include anything like this again. Urban Milwaukee shouldn’t be a website that stoops so low.

  18. reader says:

    Their Gazpacho soup is stone cold!!

  19. leah says:

    Must comment on this and support the reporter. I’ve always thought that food reporters in Milwaukee were way to soft out of fear of retaliation or , more likely, because of the city’s long standing inferiority complex. I think that food and art critics hate to give negative reviews because the city is so small (everyone knows everyone!) and because each of them are Milwaukee boosters at heart. A food reporter becomes a food reporter because they are a supporter of the scene. The same with the arts reporter. When is the last time you read a truly honest bad review in the MJS or the Shepard or Onmilwaukee or anywhere else?? That’s always bothered me. I think many of the reporters believe that a bad review does damage to the city’s reputation, especially when it is for a long loved institution like Botanas.
    Bravo to you Cari for telling it like it is. I hope that others will show the same resolve and understand that we are a big enough city with plenty of great places and shows that we don’t have to protect the weak, underperforming and those that are just skating by on their reputation.

  20. Calvin says:

    @Leah. It would be an entirely different story if this was that sort of article. But it plainly isn’t. This isn’t a fair review, where she took that reputation down based on sound arguments. Rather, she seems content to disparage said sterling reputation based on little more than her disgust with food that was never going to be in its wheelhouse and her contempt for the outdated decor of a family restaurant. Her past articles cheerlead nearly every establishment she visits, as long as it’s either expensive or suitably hip.

    Don’t pretend she’s some sort of renegade Anton Ego that the city needs but doesn’t want. I’ve seen more serious food critiques and critics on WordPress. The author displays none of the knowledge, experience, eloquence, or professionalism that would be necessary to take her seriously in the manner you prescribe. I agree with the other commenters- this is seriously disappointing from a site that I usually admire.

  21. Tina says:

    @Ieah: But Botanas is none of what you’re describing. Its a staple on the south side of Milwaukee with delicious food and tasty margaritas. Carly’s article is not a true reflection of the restaurant and she ordered things that were not of traditional Mexican food. Her article is trash!! Keep your ass at tasteless and bland bel-air and go be bougee somewhere else if you got a problem with Botanas.

  22. Vincent Hanna says:

    Tina your remarks are very strange. I have been reading restaurant reviews in the Journal Sentinel and Milwaukee Magazine for years. The critics frequently give mixed reviews to restaurants. The current critics give no impression that they are afraid to be honest or too harsh.

  23. Mike Bark says:

    “Thanks for asking. Everything is fine”.

    What she should have said was: “I’m fine. I have to go home now and write a hit piece about your establishment and I may or may not be secretly upset that you seem to be having some success and have been able to expand”.

    We’ve all gotten some dishes from an establishment that may not have been up to snuff, but just about any business owner wants an opportunity to make things right if the customer does not feel like things are up to par. Kudos to Botanas for being out there, employing people and taking some risks and offering a level of customer service that is high enough to be proactive on noting that this person might not be enjoying their experience.

    While we want honest reviews it would have been nice to see the author give them a chance to rectify the shortcomings she felt they had and also order something a bit more than Tex-Mex food that isn’t exactly intended to blow a person away.

  24. H-dog says:

    I’m throwing my support for Botanas. Sure, like any restaurant, some dishes can be hit or miss. Sometimes it depends on what you order. Try the Mexican Tacos (that’s exactly how it’s listed on the menu). It’s chopped flank steak with simple cilantro and onions – just like the street tacos in Mexico.

    I would also reconsider calling Botanas “pseudo Mexican/Tex-Mex” when voluntarily ordering Mexican Pizza, Quissadilla (I know what I wrote) and TACO SALAD. I know we’re in Wisconsin but still…

    I’ll admit my bias: I work on the same block as Botanas. They’re very respectful to their neighbors and support the community. Check out the flowers that they plant every season, and the fake deer family aligning their parking lot gate. Jaime is friendly and responsive. So is his staff. Actually, the staff and service is simply excellent!

    With respect of the opinion of this author, I would take this review with a grain of salt. Ah, F it. Salt that rim and pour me a Margarita.

  25. Jeff says:

    As a former restaurant owner/operator I learned that if you put an item on your menu, authentic or not, you better be willing to make it the best damn thing there is or take it off the menu. If Botanas has a Mexican pizza, it needs to be great, not covered by the excuse that it’s not authentic.

  26. jessica says:

    I agree that Botanas is uninspired, boring, and frequently soggy. I only go for work outings, which for some reason always wind up there. I do agree that the service is usually good (found out last time that not even the rice is vegetarian, when the waiter advised me after ordering a vegetarian lunch).

    For Mexican food I go to Conejito’s or Guadalajara. And for tacos I just go to Bel-Air or Corazon, because I prefer freshness and flavor over authenticity.

  27. Robert Miranda says:

    That’s how gentrification works. Pushing out long standing Latino presence in the area. Poor article written by a racist hack.

  28. WashCoRepub says:

    Please mark the date, so we can note when Robert Miranda truly jumped the shark into new waters of ludicrousness. Now, criticizing Latino food or the atmosphere of a Latino restaurant apparently means you’re a racist.

    Hey Bob, if you criticize a Perkins or a Cheesecake Factory I won’t take it personally.

  29. Huck L. Berry says:

    @Roberta Miranda

    Gentrification is good. It gets rid of all the third world benefits spongers that refuse to work or assimilate. Europeans built Walker’s Point and have every right to move back. Take your racism elsewhere.

  30. Vincent Hanna says:

    “Gentrification is good. It gets rid of all the third world benefits spongers that refuse to work or assimilate. Europeans built Walker’s Point and have every right to move back. Take your racism elsewhere.”

    I mean, I, uh, I don’t even, this is…. The Richard Spencer Fan Club is posting on UM. Wonderful.

  31. Huck L. Berry says:

    Ahh, good one. You assume that all third world people are non-white, and yet I’m the racist? Third world is also a mindset, you dolt.

    What I said = BAD

    Roberta calling Cari the Food Critic racist without any evidence = GOOD

  32. Jim hankes says:

    Biased and unfair
    Ordering untraditional
    By god she complains about decor when her pictures show her in dated 1990’s clothing. Come on people she’s a futz with biased opinions

  33. Jerry Kobs says:

    I was really caught off guard with this review….i wish the critic was honest with the manager…as I former restaurant owner operator….i can say I’m easily at Botanas at least once a week…many times twice…ive sampled many items off their menu and have been very happy with the quality of food and friendly and knowledgeable servers….so many guests there consider Botanas home away from home!

  34. Sean Durbin says:

    Quesadilla and Mexican Pizza didn’t give you the authenticity you were looking for??? You are a hack. If an owner/manager AND a server both ask how everything is, you tell them how everything is. You don’t save up your critiques for a petty hit piece. If I go to an Adam Sandler movie, I don’t complain about slapstick, low-brow humor. If you go to a bargain, family-friendly Mexican restaurant, judge it for what it is, not what you think it should be.

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