Sophie Bolich

“Farm-To-Table” Mexican Restaurant Expanding to Milwaukee

Migrants will offer breakfast, tacos and scratch-made tortillas at downtown food hall.

By - Jul 21st, 2023 04:14 pm
Paper Table sign. Photo taken Dec. 30, 2022 by Sophie Bolich.

Paper Table sign. Photo taken Dec. 30, 2022 by Sophie Bolich.

Farm-to-table dining has always come naturally to Oscar Villarreal. The Madison chef grew up on a farm in the small town of Delavan, where he and his family tended to the land, incorporating the fruits — and vegetables — of their labor into traditional Mexican recipes.

“I still remember all the aromas from the fields,” said Villareal, who recalls the scent of mint, potatoes and an incoming rainstorm on the property. “It was probably one of the best childhoods I could have ever tried to imagine.”

Villarreal’s life, in a way, is also farm-to-table. As a young man, he left the family farm to pursue a career in the hospitality industry — starting his studies at a school in Lake Geneva and then heading south to Florida to finish at Walt Disney World.

The 20-year industry veteran has led several restaurants throughout Wisconsin. He opened Migrants, a Madison taco restaurant, in 2020. After three years of developing the concept, Villarreal is preparing to open a second location. This time in Milwaukee.

Located at 733-737 N. Milwaukee St., the concept will operate as a ghost kitchen out of Paper Table.

When the new restaurant opens — which could happen as soon as early August — guests can expect a thoughtful menu of scratch-made dishes, including beef barbacoa and chicken tinga tacos, which are flavored with a homemade spice mix and served with handmade corn or flour tortillas.

Villarreal makes his flour tortillas the same way his mom did — with avocado instead of lard — but said he’s been experimenting with vegan butter and coconut oil in pursuit of the perfect recipe.

The restaurant will also serve breakfast items, including burritos and Colectivo Coffee.

“I tried to source everything I can from here in Wisconsin,” said Villarreal, who also noted that he only cooks with olive oil, rather than canola and vegetable oils.

And though he strives to keep his ingredients local, Villarreal’s flavor inspiration comes from across the globe.

The chef draws from a lineup of nearly a dozen salsas to kick up the intensity of any dish. He started with just four, but expanded the selection with input from friends and family members.

The salsas run the gamut from a basic mix of black beans and corn, to a creamy green salsa with avocado, to a sweet and sizzling habanero mango version.

Villarreal said that his salsas, as well as his other recipes, are all inspired by travel, visits to friends and connection with family members.

“Either my grandmother or my aunt go somewhere and they bring back a salsa, or I visit somebody and this is the salsa they had,” he said. “So I’ve developed 10 different salsas that I really, really like.”

As his business continues to grow, Villarreal said he keeps his family at the heart of all he does. The name itself, Migrants, is a nod to his family’s background as migrant workers.

“The name came from that,” he said. “I’m used to going to work out in the field, and we would have our tacos or burritos and my mom would pack extra to share with others that were not as fortunate as us.”

Eventually, Villarreal said he hopes to establish a storefront where he can display old photos of his relatives.

“That’s why I actually made it,” he said of the restaurant. “It’s an homage to my family.”

Villarreal said he hopes to open the restaurant in early-to-mid August “if all goes well.” Once open, the restaurant’s proposed hours of operation are Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to midnight and Saturday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to midnight, according to a license application.

If you think stories like this are important, become a member of Urban Milwaukee and help support real, independent journalism. Plus you get some cool added benefits.

Categories: Food & Drink

Leave a Reply

You must be an Urban Milwaukee member to leave a comment. Membership, which includes a host of perks, including an ad-free website, tickets to marquee events like Summerfest, the Wisconsin State Fair and the Florentine Opera, a better photo browser and access to members-only, behind-the-scenes tours, starts at $9/month. Learn more.

Join now and cancel anytime.

If you are an existing member, sign-in to leave a comment.

Have questions? Need to report an error? Contact Us