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!