When looking for a foodie day trip, sometimes you don’t have to travel far. Valparaiso is a perfect example of a great foodie destination in our own backyard. Whether you want an upscale dinner, a casual bite, a beer flight or a sweet treat, you’ll find an array of options to satisfy your craving.
Downtown Valparaiso is a bustling place for shopping and dining. As the county seat of Porter County, there is a traditional square around an old courthouse, but the downtown is also centered around Central Park Plaza, a fantastic civic space that attracts all ages for various concerts, markets and other events and entices families with a splash pad in the summer and ice skating in the winter.
Rex Richards, president of the Valparaiso Chamber of Commerce, noted there have been numerous new restaurants in Valparaiso in the past eight years that have joined longtime eateries in the city.
“In downtown Valpo, we have a couple new restaurants. One of them is a Japanese sushi restaurant called Furin, which is relatively new. Another on Franklin Street across from the courthouse is a restaurant that changed its concept from a more traditional restaurant to one called Rochochet and they make special tacos.”
On the other end of the spectrum, he said Spanish restaurant Don Quijote has been operating in Valparaiso for more than 30 years.
“The owner, Carlos, has been a tremendous promoter of Valparaiso. I was just there and had a wonderful fish dish for lunch that was to die for,” he said.
Richards said a favorite dish of his is a waldorf salad served at Sage.
“It was really phenomenal. Sage is an Italian restaurant. ... I’ve also had some of the entrees there that are really good,” he said.
Food and lifestyle blogger Flo Lawnicki, of Chesterton, dines in Valparaiso often and loves sharing recommendations of her favorite spots.
“The thriving food scene in Valpo is exciting. There are great choices in every category from coffee bars and cafes to casual and fine dining. I love the cultural diversity. Diners have many options, such as Italian, Mediterranean, Spanish, Indian, Mexican, Chinese and Thai, to name a few,” she said.
“My favorite restaurant at the moment is Meditrina Market Cafe. I can’t get enough of that place. Everything is fresh, colorful and full of flavor. I highly recommend them. And across the street from Meditrina is Elements Wine Bar. They have 20 wines on tap and a large collection of bottles from vineyards all over the world that customers can request to be opened. The owner has a vast knowledge of wine and you can’t beat the vibe.”
Adam Wiltfang, owner of Designer Desserts Bakery, lauded the variety of eateries, both old and new, in the area. He enjoys meals at local favorites Stacks and Meditrina, as well as old school spots like Greek’s and Tony’s that he said are still as good as they were 25 years ago.
“The food community in Valpo has grown so much since I moved in with the bakery in 2004. There are many great, independently owned and operated restaurants with a variety of options,” Wiltfang said.
Foodie Field Trip Itinerary
Start out the morning with brunch at Fork and Cork for southern-inspired specialties like biscuits and gravy and fried chicken and waffles or a unique Goat Man's omelet with creamed goat cheese, avocado and spinach (with sausage or chicken optional) or make your way over to Suzie’s Cafe for some classic skillets, hash, pancakes or Eggs Benedict. Be sure to grab something from the bake shop to take home for that sweet tooth later in the day — choose from cupcakes, pies, cookies, toffee bars, eclairs and more. Additional breakfast options: Viking Chili Bowl, Phil B’s Cafe and Jimmy’s Cafe.
Walk off your breakfast with a stroll through downtown Valparaiso and visit Old World Market, where you’ll find some wonderful gourmet artisan products — imported cheeses, cured meats, boutique wines and craft beers. And speaking of beers, keep walking on over to Figure Eight Brewing and sample one of its seasonal brews or try one of its on-tap regulars, such as Where Lizards Dare (an India Pale Ale), the Ro Shampo Imperial Red Ale or the Raven Tor Oatmeal Stout.
If you need something to nosh on while you sip, get a sharable, like the Big Bad Wolf flatbread (made with deLight cream ale), the hummus plate or spinach artichoke dip. The brewpub has a full menu of sandwiches, burgers and more, but you’ll need to pace yourself and save a bit of room for lunch.
Continue your downtown walk over to South Bend Chocolate Cafe to pick up some treats to take on your way or get a gift for your favorite chocolate lover.
As lunchtime approaches, you’ve got some great options. Uptown Cafe and Blackbird Cafe are both places where you can enjoy a leisurely lunch and then linger with a nice beverage.
Choose from a number of tasty sandwiches at Uptown Cafe, like the Turkey Avocado, which is served on a pretzel roll, a Caprese Grilled Cheese or a California wrap or a salad and soup of the day. Wind down with a latte mocha, chai tea or one of its hand-crafted sodas.
At Blackbird, enjoy a hearty sandwich and its fun seasonal menu items — some recent ones have been a dreamsicle soda and the White Walker grilled cheese with goat cheese, blueberries, fresh thyme and a honey drizzle on sourdough. You’ll find some tasty vegetarian options, also, like the roasted veggie sandwich with roasted portobello zucchini, eggplant, red peppers and goat cheese on a toasted pretzel bun. Finish off with a specialty coffee or signature drink.
Take a breather for a bit and visit the Porter County Museum to learn about the fascinating history of the area. If you get a hankering for something sweet, drop on by Designer Desserts for an array of gourmet cupcakes with seasonal flavors like ginger lime, watermelon fizz, green tea and honey, blood orange pomegranate, peppermint mocha and root beer float. There's also specialty flavors like sea salt caramel, pink champagne, flying monkey, pineapple upside down cake and white chocolate mousse.
Another must in Valparaiso to satisfy your sweet tooth is Valpo Velvet Ice Cream, which has been operating for nearly a century serving up rich, creamy flavors like chocolate marshmallow, rum raisin, spumoni, burgundy cherry, licorice krisp.
Wander around downtown and get a little shopping in to work up an appetite for dinner at some of the gift shops and boutiques, including Temptations Gifts, Piper Boutiques and Lifestyles. If you’re up for a snack, grab fresh-rolled, warm, Amish-inspired gourmet soft pretzel at Ben’s Soft Pretzels or a unique pizza pie from the Rolling Stonebaker. The pizza place started out making pizzas in a stone oven set on the back of a vintage Studebaker and now has a brick-and-mortar location just off Central Park Plaza.
Gear up for dinner at several eateries. Pikk’s Tavern is designed with a 1940s Chicago steakhouse theme offering fine food options and swanky cocktails. Enjoy a meal of Greek specialties like Saganaki and hummus along with upscale contemporary American dishes at Parea. Snag an award-winning house burger with Swiss cheese, bacon, fried egg, peanut butter and mayo on a pretzel bun at Franklin House. Nosh on a weekly appetizer or dinner feature at Stacks Bar and Grill, which always includes mouthwatering, creative entrees and starters.
Finish the evening with a glass at Elements Wine Bar or a flight at Ironwood Brewing or Four Fathers Brewing before you make your way home full of good food and drink and good memories.