SCHERERVILLE | In what may be a first, an authentic Mexican restaurant is taking over a former Taco Bell, a heavy-on-the-nacho cheese fast-food joint that many say offers a lackluster imitation of Mexican food.
This September, the popular local restaurant chain, El Salto, plans to open its first El Salto Express at 820 W. Highway 30, at the intersection of U.S. 30 and Indianapolis Boulevard in Schererville. The new concept will be quick-serve and similar to Chipotle, with an emphasis on fresh ingredients. The hope eventually is to open several El Salto Expresses throughout the region, including potentially in Crown Point, Portage and Michigan City.
"It's going to be the same food with the same flavor but a more limited menu," El Salto owner Robert Mendoza said. "It'll be more like Chipotle, where you can go in and say you want a burrito and you want the steak."
El Salto currently has four sit-down restaurants in Valparaiso, Chesterton, Merrillville and Munster, and they're widely praised for their margaritas. The food gets rave reviews online, and it's a regular Times Best of the Region finalist.
The owners have long considered branching out into express restaurants that focus on carry-out business, Mendoza said. Sit-down restaurants face more competition and are saddled with more overhead.
"It's more simple," he said. "It's easier to run than the sit-down restaurants."
The menu in Schererville will feature tacos, burritos, taco salads, tortas and a lot of vegetarian options. Customers will get a choice of beef, chicken, pork or shrimp.
"It's going to be fresh Mexican food, fresh and fast," he said. "It's going to have more of the healthy options."
The new El Salto Express is about 2,300 square feet, or less than half as big as the existing El Saltos, and has a drive-through since it used to be a Taco Bell.
"We had been looking at locations and this came up," Mendoza said. "It can't be any better than the Crossroads of America."
The goal is get the restaurant opened after Labor Day.