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/.
“¡Felicitaciones!” This Spanish word translated in English means “congratulations”. With that, we say felicitaciones to Casa del Mar Mexican Bar & Grill on 5 years of serving delicious Mexican cuisine in downtown Valparaiso.
Casa del Mar opened in downtown Valparaiso in January of 2013 on the first floor of the building that was once the Porter County Sheriff’s Office. This re-purposed building, just south of the downtown square, has afforded Casa del Mar the unique opportunity to take advantage of a large space that features both a front and back outdoor patio, plenty of seating for both small and large groups, a large bar area with an extensive option of beverages and ample parking on the back side of the building that is exclusive to the restaurant.
Casa del Mar features many of the traditional dishes you will find at a Mexican restaurant such as tacos, burritos and fajitas. Though what sets Casa del Mar apart from the others is an open, friendly atmosphere where their family treats you like family. Along with the traditional favorites, their menu also features some dishes you may not be able to find elsewhere. One dish, in particular, is the red snapper taco. This unique taco is served with red snapper fish, cabbage, tomato and cheese. “They are very popular, along with our carnitas,” says Casa del Mar bartender and 3-year employee Patty Mireles. Not only will you find delicious food here, but delicious deserts as well. “Our top sellers are our chocolate cake and our fried ice cream. Our fried ice cream is vanilla ice cream topped with corn flakes, cinnamon and sugar that is lightly deep fried. We then top it with strawberry, chocolate and a little bit of whipped cream,” says Mireles. With a large bar area, you will find your traditional favorites such as margaritas and piña coladas. However, you will also find specialty drinks as well. One drink, in particular, is one that Mireles describes as a “skinny margarita”. “Every bartender here has their own drink that they offer to their customer,” says Mireles. If you are looking for live entertainment, Casa del Mar also features live entertainment every Friday and Saturday night beginning at 7:30.
Downtown Valparaiso has undergone great changes over the last few years. From the addition to so many new and unique restaurants to the addition of Central Park Plaza, downtown Valparaiso has become a destination for great food and entertainment. In her time at Casa del Mar, Mireles has definitely taken notice of that fact. “I love it here in Valparaiso, because it is just so cozy. Just to walk by the park area, to see the stores and to enjoy the lights during Christmas time. In the summertime, it’s great to walk around in downtown with your dog.”
Casa del Mar is located at 157 Franklin Street, at the intersection with Monroe Street. You can find a full food, drink and desert menu by going to their website at eatcasadelmar.com. Their website also features a list of upcoming live entertainment. You can follow them on Facebook at facebook.com/casadelmarvalpo/.
Who says you can’t go home again? After spending time in Chicago, Paris and New York City, George Djurovic returned home to his native Valparaiso… bringing back with him a world of culinary knowledge under some of the world’s most well-renowned chefs. That culinary knowledge led to the opening of downtown Valparaiso restaurant Main + Lincoln.
The journey for Djurovic began in Chicago. “I left Valparaiso and went to school in Chicago. While I was going to school, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to get a job at a really nice restaurant. That was it for me. I knew that was what I wanted to do,” Djurovic said. After making the decision to leave college, Djurovic devoted himself to the love of cooking. “I decided that if I really wanted to take this seriously, I should go to culinary school. That is what led me to France. I went to Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, where I did an externship at Lucas Carton.”
Once his visa expired, he returned to the United States for another stint in Chicago. While there, he decided he wanted to try something different, so he left for New York City. “I wanted to go to New York, so I went there with a stack of resumes and no job. I ended up getting a job at Union Pacific with Rocco DiSpirito. I worked there for over a year, and then I told the chef I wanted to try something new, and he got me my job at Le Bernardin. He was friends with the chef there and put in a call there for me. For me, Le Bernadin is where I associate my career the most.”
After his time in New York, he returned to Chicago and opened up a grocery store. “We did it for about three years. It didn’t work, so I had a career change. I came back to Valparaiso and started working for my dad. After about a year or two, this project presented itself.” That project was Main + Lincoln, which opened up in March of 2014. Described as a “New American Restaurant”, Main + Lincoln is a place where Djurovic brings his love and knowledge of cooking to the visitors of downtown Valparaiso. With an open kitchen concept attached to the bar area, one can often catch Djurovic prepare his exquisite dishes with an artistic touch.
With Main + Lincoln being part of the downtown landscape for the last three years, Djurovic described what makes Valparaiso such a unique place to visit. “The support we get from the community and the city is amazing to me. Having worked everywhere I have worked, I get to come back here and do what it is that I trained to do for 20 years. That, to me, is something I do not think you are going to find anywhere else.”
Main + Lincoln is located 210 East Lincolnway in downtown Valparaiso. They are open Monday through Saturday beginning at 5:00pm. Reservations are strongly encouraged by phone at 219-510-5548. For more information, including a full food and bar menu, visit their website at www.mainandlincoln.com. You also can follow them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/MainandLincoln/.