Growing up in a small town, there wasn’t really much variety to what we could and could not have for a “going out” meal. My town’s options were hamburgers, hotdogs, and, if you really wanted to go all out, you could splurge by going to Applebee’s. (I’m not bashing, I LOVE Applebee’s.) All in all, our choices were limited. It wasn’t until I moved up here to Valparaiso that I was immediately overloaded with so many different styles. As I mentioned in my first post, you could let your taste buds essentially travel the world with so many different flavors. So, after being completely satisfied with my first experience receiving some gourmet tacos from Ricochet’s, I decided that my second taste test was going to be something I was a bit frightened to try. Japanese. Granted, I know a lot of Japanese dishes stem from fish and seafood, but, I did not want to appear that I did not know what I was going to order. (SPOILER ALERT, I was right.)
We first walk into Furin Japanese Steak House and a sense of calm emitted from my worries. We were immediately greeted by a smiling face and were brought to our seats, a quaint little booth that offered my date and I some privacy. Our menus were brought out to us and, remember when I said I was nervous about ordering… well… here it was. I open the menu and instantly had no idea what anything was. There was a lot more on the menu than your stereotypical take out place. From Edamame to Gyoza, I was left with a blank stare into the void of what was my numerous options. After trying to build up some courage to order something completely at random, I hate to say, I chickened out. Fried Rice it was! I ordered the House fried rice which came with crab meat, scallops, Shrimp, and an assortment of other toppings and can I say… DELICIOUS! I know that it is just rice, but it was so much more than that! The combination of the variety of seafood and the consistency of the rice meshed together so incredibly well that I almost forgot it was just rice. Complemented by some piping hot and super comforting Miso Soup. (Which, if I can make even one suggestion, GET. THE. SOUP! Super delicious, and when winter rolls around, will be a must!) and an in-house, superbly made Mai Tai that was concocted right in front of us, the entire meal came together so perfectly.
I left smiling ear to ear about my first experience in a Japanese Steak House. Next time, I want to build up enough courage to order something… new… something crazy… something like… ughh… *Looks at menu…* Niku Udon!! Maybe next time I’ll Google it before I order so I’m not completely confused. You can only send the wait staff away so many times before they start to judge.
Ricochet Tacos, located on 55 Franklin Street in downtown Valparaiso, is a modern and upscale version of your local taco truck brought to life. The combination of the food, atmosphere, and the friendliness of the wait staff immediately put out great vibes and a welcoming sensation. Having never been to a “taco shop” before, I was not truly sure what to expect. The hostess immediately greeted us with a smile and happily escorted us to our table. While at the table, the first thing I noticed was the rustic feel of the table and menus! I felt as if I had been transported back to the future to an old timely cabin from the late 2100’s. The menus; printed on old, worn paper, clip boarded to a plank of polished wood. BUT! Before I go any further, I need to address said menus! Talk about the comedians that work at Ricochet’s! If you have ever been to Ricochet’s, you know what I am talking about. If not, next time you go, take a look at the names of some of their menus items! I do not want to spoil anything, but, the puns are strong with these tacos!
One of the unique aspects if Ricochet’s is that they have a rolling menu of fares and shares to choose from. You could go grab tacos once a month and more than likely see a different taco up for grabs each time! But, while during my visit, I had the upmost pleasure of enjoying two amazing creations. The Handle Bar and California Love Taco. And… HOLY GUACAMOLE what a flavor combination! Half of the ingredients I did not even know or have ever head of. (Seriously.. I’m still not sure what Napa Pico is…) But, that did not stop the flavor truck from making a stop on my taste buds! And do not even get me started on the Empanadas… to die for! Also, they carry a wide array of local and international beers and drinks! You could try a new drink everyday and not run out of options for over a month!
Overall, I can honestly say that Ricochet Tacos served me up probably some of the best tacos I have ever had in my entire life! (Yes, I know Taco Bell’s Cheesy Five Layer Burritos do not count…) The flavor was so much more than I had even expected and the price point was there to match. I never would have even thought that you could mix fried chicken, guacamole vinaigrette, and corn salsa inside a tortilla and tell someone, “Hey, this will be good!” But.. man… does Ricochet’s deliver! Every little thing about Ricochet’s was so enjoyable, so memorable, and absolutely worth a trip back. If you have the time, definitely head on over to the plaza and stop by Ricochet’s! I can personally guarantee you that you will not be let down. I know that when I finally get all moved in and unpacked, and able to call Valparaiso my new home, Taco Tuesday’s WILL be a thing at my apartment! And you’re ALL invited! Just BYOG (Bring Your Own Guac) 😉
Here I am, about to take this two hour drive up north to the city that I will soon call home. Excited, anxious, (and slightly nervous at my own navigational skills..), I was set with the task taking over the blog and video portions of the highly acclaimed Downtown Valparaiso Dining Group. Being the “foodie” that I am, I “devoured” the opportunity. I eagerly approached signs stating that Valparaiso was only miles ahead. As I turned on to Washington Street for the first time, I was greeted by the beautiful Porter County Courthouse, which soon came home to my not so beautiful ’94 Buick. I was not sure where I could and could not park, but a helpful local told me I was fine. If you’re reading this, thanks Ron! Anywho, getting out of the car, I figured I would set out to create a game-plan to tackle all ten restaurants and attempt to get myself acquainted with all of the locations. What is not a better way to document my humiliating journey than to make a video for it! (Check the Downtown Valparaiso Dining Facebook page)
No GPS, no maps, just a list of locations and streets. I was prepared to be driving for countless hours and taking numerous wrong turns down one way streets. But… I very quickly came to realize that the majority of the restaurants were actually on the same street! Lincolnway! Honestly, it was kind of a let down that everyone could not enjoy the failures of my misdirection’s, but on the latter, it was a cool realization to see that all of these amazing eateries are located within walking distance of each other. And, not only that, some are literally right next door to each other! I can factually say that no location is more than just a few minutes of walking. Think of the possibilities! You can get a four course meal in just a few simple steps! Start your day off with a County Skillet at Fork & Cork with the freshest home grown breakfast you could ask for. Then head over to Main+Lincoln for brunch with a M+L Burger (Make sure to add bacon and a fried egg!) For lunch, you have a huge variety of options! Tacos at Ricochet’s, creative dishes from the chefs at Furin Japanese, or some classic American inspired dishes at Radius. Then, for dinner, grab a cocktail and a plate of the best homemade pasta down the street at Sage.
I am still completely blown away and at awe at all of the amazing and creative restaurants in the area! I am becoming extremely impatient that I can not call Downtown Valparaiso my home for at least another month, but, until than, you better believe that I will already be making a list of all I want to experience and try at all ten restaurants. SPOILER ALERT: It’s everything!
Going out to eat is a nice treat and a well-deserved distraction from the many distractions that are in our busy lives. With intimate settings such as low lighting and a relatively smaller dining area, Sage restaurant does their part in making sure that your dining experience is one that allows you to sit back, relax and enjoy some fresh Italian cuisine. “At Sage, we definitely like the idea of, when you go out to dinner, you are there for them and they are there for you. We want you to get closer to them. People building and strengthening their relationships is something we love to be part of. For those reasons, we do not have a television. It is definitely a more intimate environment.” says Jimmy Veal, front house manager at Sage.
Sage restaurant actually got its start in Chesterton in 2011 by husband and wife duo Joe and Melissa Gaal. In 2015, they moved Sage to their current downtown Valparaiso location. “It is a more lively community. They seem to be more creativity-focused and food-focused here, which we have definitely seen to be true. It turned out to be a great move and we still have a lot of great guests who still come here from Chesterton,” said Veal.
Being an Italian restaurant, you will find many of your traditional Italian dishes such as chicken marsala and ravioli and some dishes you that may not be considered traditional. “We have sushi-grade seafood. A lot of things are not what you may find at a traditional Italian restaurant, rather they are plays on some traditional dishes and what Chef Joe wants to showcase to people. The food is fresh and made to order. Chef Joe does not believe in cutting corners when it comes to the quality of food. It is beautiful. There is a passion to what you are seeing on the plate.”
Summertime brings another ambient element to Sage. With a back patio located right next to Urchel Pavilion, this unique feature allows guests to enjoy both Sage restaurant and the happenings of Central Park Plaza. “We are one of the only restaurants that have real estate that opens up onto one of the parks. We feel like that really gives us an edge. You feel more like part of the community.”
With so many events going on, Veal was immediately intrigued by everything that was going on in Valparaiso. “I moved to Valparaiso because of what is happening in downtown. I came to downtown when I started working at Sage and immediately realized that this was the place to be. There are a lot of great people, so many nice events. I tell people that we are incredibly spoiled here and should appreciate what we have.”
Sage restaurant is located at 157 West Lincolnway in downtown Valparaiso. For more information, including a full menu, you can visit their website at sagerestaurant.net. You can also follow them on Facebook, where you can find out about many of the events held by Sage. For reservations, you can call them at (219) 464-7243.
The year was 1985. Michael Jordan was playing in his rookie year, the highest-grossing film was about a teenager in a time-traveling DeLorean and a Spanish restaurant opened up in downtown Valparaiso that is still in operation, in its original location, 33 years later.
Don Quijote has become a mainstay in landscape of downtown Valparaiso. It has become revered for its Spanish cuisine, a wide selection of wine and a friendly staff that goes above and beyond to make you feel like you are part of their family. “I feel like what has made us successful is the dedication, making friends rather than customers, not being arrogant and a love for what you do,” says Carlos Rivero, the longtime and original owner of Don Quijote.
His love for cooking goes back to his childhood in Spain. “My mother was a very good cook and my dad was a chef on a transatlantic passenger ship. He traveled all over the world and when he was home, he would cook and I would watch him. It’s that love for the kitchen and for the food that I owe to my parents.” That love for the kitchen and food inspired Rivero to open up a restaurant after getting married and moving to the United States. “I came here and started working at the steel mill as a bricklayer. After awhile, I started bringing some money over from Spain, which was enough to open this place. When this location became available here in Valpo, I loved it right away, because it was a place right on the main street. I made the best decision of my life establishing myself here in Valpo.”
From Paella to Gazpacho to Cordero Asado, these are just a few of the many Spanish-inspired dishes you will find. When it comes do his food, Rivero believes that all of his dishes should be made with the freshest ingredients. “One thing I strongly believe in is if there is something we have in this restaurant, we have to have the highest quality and freshest that can be found. My fish comes twice a week. I like to run out of it. I keep 10-15 pounds at a time. When I run out, I call again. Nothing is ever stored in a warehouse. Same thing goes for my vegetables. I have a garden in the summer and everything that I use in the restaurant comes from my garden.”
Another major draw to Don Quijote is the vast amount of different wines you can find. “I have 119 wines. In my menu I have about 70, but many of the other wines are specials. I love wines. I could talk about wines for 20 days!” Not only can you drink the wine, but you will also find it is an ingredient in many of the dishes you will find at Don Quijote. “My most famous appetizer is chicken with sherry. Many of my fish I use wine as well.” ¡Salud!
Don Quijote is located at 119 E. Lincolnway in downtown Valparaiso. For more information, including their menu, you can visit their website at donquijotevalpo.com. You can also like them on Facebook. If you are driving on some of the interstates around The Region, look up and you just may see Carlos on a billboard!
Ricochet Tacos takes everything you know about the traditional taco and puts a spin on it that has kept people returning for more. For example, if you were to order the Gin-Jitsu, it would come with seared ahi tuna, napa pico, avocado, spicy mayonnaise, radish, cilantro, Japanese barbeque and sriracha. That is just one of the many unique dishes for which Ricochet is known.
Before opening Ricochet in February of 2017, its predecessor restaurant, Valley, was very popular in its own right. Valley was well-known for its farm-to-table style, but concerns about future growth within the concept prompted a shift in culinary direction. “We wanted to go out on the highest note that we could before being hit with an industry-wide saturation. We went back to a concept that had been derived about five or six years ago,” said Daryn Frank- head chef at Ricochet.
Once the decision was made to make the concept of Ricochet a reality, Frank’s culinary background allowed him to create the unique dishes that set Ricochet apart from other restaurants that serve tacos. “What sets us apart is my background in fine dining and world cuisine. I have spent 12 years studying food and working at high-end restaurants. The idea was to take Ricochet, to take contemporary American ideals and put it into a taco shell. We went back to the basic root of what a taco is by definition- it is food encapsulated in a tortilla. I have studied tacos, and I came up with what I would want to eat on a taco. I then put it out there for others to enjoy.”
Along with Ricochet’s regular menu, you will also find a Taco of the Month, along with some very unique and unusual tacos. “I had a one day only taco that I named the Keith Richards- a tribute to a man who is too tough to die. It was a smoked pork country rib taco with ticking Pop Rocks, fried onions, jardinière. It was a real punch you in the face kind of taco.” Many of the special tacos are also created to pair well with certain alcoholic beverages. “On Black Friday, we did a special taco with the Devil’s Trumpet Brewery to go with their Chocolate Taco, their special beer release. It was a chicken mole taco that people are still asking me about months later.”
Being such a unique restaurant, Frank finds satisfaction in making the ordinary extraordinary. “We reach out to clientele that come through our doors and they see the eclectic food that we have, and they are taken aback by it, and they do not know what to think. Once they try it, they realize that they have just eaten the best taco they have ever had. Expanding your palate, giving you something exciting, giving you something that is more of an experience than just eating. People come in here and they want to try something new. You are going to get something new here.”
Ricochet Tacos is located on the east side of the courthouse square at 55 Franklin Street. You can find their website, along with their hours of operation and menu at ricochettacos.com. You can also find them on Facebook at facebook.com/ricochettacos/.