The Times features department picked its favorite 20 restaurants in the Region last year, and we asked readers to vote on which one they thought was best. Here are the results. Think we got it wrong? Or did we leave out a more deserving restaurant? Email Times digital producer Matt Schubert at Matthew.Schubert@nwi.com and let us know.
20. La Carreta
Locations: 717 U.S. 41, Schererville; 269 W. 81st Ave., Merrillville
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays.
Contact: 219-322-0900 (Schererville), 219-791-0119 (Merrillville), facebook.com/pages/La-Carreta/152691138080579
When dining at a Mexican restaurant, those who are of age know that the best complement to their meal is an authentic margarita. At La Carreta in Schererville and Merrillville, the margaritas don’t disappoint.
First and foremost, are the five impressive drink sizes offered — from a basic 16 oz. serving to 60 oz. Then there is the wide selection of flavor options, with the most popular including strawberry, raspberry, mango, lime and peach. The fruity flavors appear on the menu on a regular basis and an additional flavor is rotated in on occasion.
The Merrillville location began operation 10 years ago and Schererville opened a few years later.
Traditional Mexican specialties are available daily for lunch and dinner. But you don't have to order any if you don't want to.
(tie) 18. Third Coast Spice Cafe
Location: 761 Indian Boundary Road, Chesterton
Hours: 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily
Contact: 219-926-5858, thirdcoastspice.com
Diners are offered a variety of options at Third Coast Spice Cafe.
The Chesterton restaurant features everything from breakfast specialties such as omelets and egg dishes to lunch selections, including soups, salads and more.
Third Coast Spice Cafe was established seven years ago by Lisa and David Wodrich. Through the years the couple have put the spotlight on whole, healthy foods, made without artificial ingredients. A great deal of items on the menu fit into a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle.
As stated on the restaurant's website, "There is something for Vegans, Vegetarians, Meat Lovers, Tree Huggers, Gluten sensitive people, people with allergies and hungry kids."
The owners also make it a point to promote organic and locally sourced food by using those healthy ingredients in their dishes. Also featured at the eatery are cage-free local eggs and gluten-free bread.
Diners visiting the cozy eatery will enjoy perusing the menu. Some of the menu items have clever names such as The Happy Scramble; It's Easy Over Easy; and Morning Glory.
Omelet fans can't go wrong with the Build Your Own Specialty Omelet.
Guests may pick as many ingredients as they'd like to stuff an omelet. Ingredients include La Mesa Mushrooms, Kalamata Olive Relish, Caramelized Onions, Artichoke Hearts, Poblano Pepper Sauce, Lemon Garlic Broccoli, Assorted Fresh Vegetables, Meat, Cheese and other items.
Among Third Coast Specials are Madras Coconut Curry, which is tofu and seasonal veggies in a smooth and savory curried coconut sauce over organic brown rice; and Fusion Burrito, which is Spanish spiced black beans, organic brown rice, roasted Poblano Pepper sauce and soy cheese wrapped in Lavash.
(tie) 18. Jack Binion’s Steakhouse
Location: 777 Casino Center Dr., Hammond
Contact: 219-473-7000, caesars.com/horseshoe-hammond
There's steak, then there's the kind of steak that's like a religious experience.
The USDA Certified Angus Beef at Jack Binion's Steakhouse at the Horseshoe Casino in Hammond is phenomenal, otherworldly. Jack Binion's offers the sort of upscale cuts of beef one would tear into to mark a special occasion, maybe a graduation or anniversary.
The luxuriously appointed steakhouse seems like it should be in the Loop, but has a panoramic view of Lake Michigan, including a spectacular view of the Chicago skyline.
The hand-cut meat is tender and expertly cooked: crisp on the outside, soft on the inside and seasoned to perfection. Every bite is an event, a juicy burst of pure meaty deliciousness.
You could add horseradish cream, blue cheese, or French sauces, but the steak really stands of its own and needs no distractions. But if you're a high roller who just won big in the casino, maybe you could add a lobster tail. Airy mashed potatoes, super-rich creamed spinach or any of the a la carte sides offer the perfect accompaniment.
(tie) 16. The Scrambled Diner
Location: 250 W. 81st St., Dyer
Hours: 6 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. daily
Contact: 219-865-3950 and scrambleddiner.com
Breakfast fans will surely be in a quandary over what to order at The Scrambled Diner in Dyer.
While the menu isn't vast, it's definitely filled with out-of-the-ordinary selections. It's a mini adventure perusing the menu, which includes dishes such as Banana's Foster Pancakes, The French Toast Club and Tangled Up in Blue Omelet.
The restaurant, established in 2010 by Ben and Jennifer Moore, features only breakfast and lunch and closes by 2:30 p.m.
Located in Dyer's Prairie Center strip mall, the small eatery features an open kitchen and photographs of cute kids decorating the walls. The Scrambled Diner seats 40 people on a first-come, first-served basis. Reservations aren't accepted.
"We wanted to bring a breakfast and lunch restaurant to the area where the focus was on everything homemade," said Ben Moore.
Moore stressed his "from scratch" concept is applied to many standout items, from their homemade sausage to the corned beef that they brine on the premises and cinnamon rolls, baked daily.
"The community has really embraced our concept," he said, adding he also wanted the diner to be a place that draws families.
(tie) 16. Jalapenos
Location: 200 U.S. 41, Schererville
Hours: Kitchen hours are 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays; 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays
Contact: 219-864-8862, eatatjalapenos.com
Diners will easily enjoy a taste of Mexico at Jalapenos, where there are assorted creative dishes to please the palate.
With its varied menu and colorful decor, Jalapenos always seems to have a party atmosphere.
Even visiting the restaurant between lunch and dinner will find it bustling at times. In warmer weather, the restaurant even offers outdoor seating.
It can take a bit of time to check out the menu if you're not familiar with it. There are many offerings, and it can be difficult to narrow down what you'd like.
The Taco Salad and Spicy Buffalo Wings are fantastic dishes for a late lunch/early dinner. The Taco Salad features braised chicken, beans, lettuce and tomato. The seasonings on the chicken are high in the flavor and not too very spicy. Diners who want more heat can add Jalapenos' salsa to the dish.
Jalapeno's menu also features Guanajuato Steak, Seafood Burrito, Lobster and Steak Platter, Spinach Enchiladas, Citrus Steak Tacos, Queso Fundido, Fajita Quesadilla, Mario's Garden Tacos and more. Breakfast items also are available for those who never tire of afternoon eggs.
Margarita fans will find plenty of flavors to try as well, like Very Berry, Cherry Pop, Green Iguana and Coco Loco.
The restaurant also celebrates special event nights at the eatery, including Trivia Night on Mondays, Karaoke Night on Tuesdays and occasional live entertainment.
(tie) 14. Shoreline Brewery
Location: 208 Wabash St., Michigan City
Hours: 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 11 a.m. to midnight Sundays through Thursdays
Contact: 219-879-4677, shorelinebrewery.com
A 12-year-old brewery known for its award-winning beers recently expanded to meet growing demand in Michigan City.
The family-owned business is run by its original founder, Sam Strupeck, and always features 12 beers on tap — more than a few of which have been recognized with a ribbon or two.
The craft brewery makes 50 different styles of beer, but it's more than just a place to pick up a pint.
An eclectic menu features items such as Veracruz Fish Tacos, Grecian Lamb Burger and Cavatappi Positano. And the Scotch eggs and poutine are definitely worth a try.
(tie) 14. Ciao Bella
Location: 1514 U.S. 41, Schererville
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays.
Contact: 219-322-6800, ciaobellaonline.com
Diners looking for interesting, flavorful Italian cuisine, will enjoy exploring the menu at Ciao Bella in Schererville.
Owner Giuseppe "Joe" Scalzo, who debuted the restaurant in 2009, continues to offer guests an authentic culinary experience starring the best of the flavors of Italy.
Scalzo's cozy ristorante/pizzeria/wine bar features a warm setting and servers who are attentive and personable.
When Scalzo opened his eatery, he told reporters that his focus was to warmly welcome his guests to a restaurant that sported an atmosphere where they'd feel like they were dining in the quaint cafes of Italy.
At Ciao Bella, which translated means "Hello Beautiful," a variety of pasta, pizza, meat dishes and seafood recipes are in the spotlight.
Tucked inside the menu is a sheet that allows diners to build their own pasta. All you have to do is fill out the form which features a choice of pasta, sauce and three ingredients, hand it to your server.
Ciao Bella's lunch menu also features a variety of dishes such as gourmet pizzas, including Pizza ai Fichi and Pizza Margherita. There is also Insalata di Melanzana, which has breaded eggplant, tomatoes and other ingredients, Bruschetta Burger, Pollo alle Romana, and Costolette di Agnello, which are baby lamb chops.
13. Glenwood Oaks
Location: 106 N. Main St., Glenwood
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays; 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sundays and Mondays and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays
Contact: 708-758-4400, glenwoodoaks.com
Anyone interested in classic supper club-like fare featuring hearty steaks, chops and rich seafood dishes, will delight in visiting Glenwood Oaks.
The restaurant in Glenwood long has been a family business and is operated by various members of the Jarosky/LeRose families.
For diners looking for an old-fashioned dinner setting akin to the old dining or supper clubs, Glenwood Oaks has that type of warm, convivial atmosphere. Through the years, though, the interior has been updated.
The menu at the restaurant still stars favorites such as popular steak cuts, hefty chops and chicken, fish and other dishes.
The restaurant has a history at the corner of Main Street in Glenwood. Originally, it began as Glenwood Gardens in 1925 and was owned by William and Hilda D'Amico. In 1974, Glenwood Oaks was born and was operated by members of the Jarosky family.
Its menu has something for most diners' tastes with everything from the specialty John's Famous Full Slab to Lemon Chicken and Roast Prime Rib of Beef.
The rib dish is named after late owner John Jarosky, who had a special patent on the pewter rib platter that the meat is served on. His design has an indentation for the sauce and another indentation for leftover bones.
12. Octave Grill
Location: 137 S. Calumet Road, Chesterton
Hours: 3 to 10 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays; noon to 11 p.. Fridays and Saturdays; noon to 9 p.m. Sundays
Contact: Call 219-395-8494 and octavegrill.com
Whether you'd like a hefty burger, creative sandwich or another interesting dish, Octave Grill is the restaurant for you.
The small eatery, established by Casey and Sylvia Petro, is located in Chesterton on quaint S. Calumet Road in the town's downtown.
Burger lovers will find that the menu bursting with an impressive selection of the all-American dish. And all burgers are made with Tallgrass Beef, which is a grass-fed, grass-finished beef company owned by newscaster Bill Kurtis.
Sandwiches, salads, desserts and creative appetizers also liven up the menu, with the latter including such tasty selections as Goat Cheese Fondue ($8.50), Blistered Edamame ( $4.50) and Taco Tots ($5). The collection of delicious main dishes is simply too long to list.
The eatery also has a lively atmosphere with conversation and piped-in music filling the air.
11. Cafe Borgia
Location: 10018 Calumet Ave., Munster
Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. seven days a week
Contact: 219-922-8889, cafeborgia.com
It's impossible to confuse the hill across the street from Cafe Borgia with the rolling countryside of Europe's boot.
But, the only view that matters is when the server clears the bread plate and sets a dish of hot Italian food in front of you.
Cafe Borgia is one of the best-known Italian eateries in the Region, and its homemade lasagna al forno is one of the reasons.
With alternating sheets of pasta, meat sauce and cheese that stretches without swallowing the portion whole, the $16 lasagna is a dish that will make other people at your table lean over and say, "I should've ordered that."
Served in a near-perfect square, it will look more like the Leaning Tower of Pisa after your dinner mates swipe forkfuls to get a taste.
If lasagna isn't your thing, the menu is loaded with other Italian options, from margherita pizza and fettuccine alfredo to grilled lamb chops and risotto roasted chicken.
(tie) 8. Mucho Mas
Location: 609 Lincolnway, in LaPorte; 727 Franklin St., in Michigan City
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.n. Fridays and Saturdays; 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays; 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays
Contact: 219-221-6639, muchoeats.com
In LaPorte County, people swear by Mucho Mas! Fresh Mex Grill, a hipstery California-style Tex-Mex place that specializes in burritos “as big as a man’s arm.”
The contemporary restaurant is praised for its many tasty vegetarian options — the Mucho Burrito has a tofu selection that is no joke.
Whether you have a taste for the picante, paprika-y chorizo, the savory steak or something a vegan Facebook friend would approve of, you can’t go wrong with the massive Mucho Burrito. The portion is generous, the presentation is immaculate, and the ring of fresh guacamole under the tortilla is gloriously creamy.
It comes with fresh chips, which can conveniently be used to scoop up any spillover. You’ll probably be bringing some home unless you’re really famished. There’s a reason why one Yelp reviewer proclaimed, “I would give this place 77 thumbs up if I could.”
(tie) 8. El Taco Real
Location: 935 Hoffman St., Hammond
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. all other days except Mondays, when it is closed
Contact: 219-932-8333, eltacorealrestaurant.com
For five decades El Taco Real, the iconic Mexican restaurant in north Hammond, has been serving up fresh, homemade food.
The restaurant was started in 1974 by Raymundo and Esther Garcia. “My dad was paying a compliment to my mother and her cooking, and commented that her food was good enough to open a restaurant,” says longtime busboy and son Raymundo Garcia. “Mom and Dad quit their jobs as a crane operator at Inland Steel, and a member of the NIPSCO steno pool, and opened El Taco Real."
Five major expansion projects later, the restaurant is still going strong.
When you enter, expect the staff to greet you like a member of an extended family.
“My staff knows our customers, and they know our customers’ parents and their children. The restaurant is like our home, my staff is like my family, and when people walk into El Taco Real, they are greeted and made to feel welcome like long-lost aunts or cousins. They’re our extended family,” says Raymundo.
“We make everything from the most basic rice and beans to our daily specials fresh every day. Nothing is frozen and everything is made from scratch,” Raymundo says. “It’s an old-school kitchen; you don’t see many like us anymore. We even have our own on-site butcher.”
Although the site location has remained the same over the years, El Taco Real has expanded five times. The Garcias added an apartment in the back (which ultimately became a production kitchen and office space), bought the house next door and the house to the north and built another dining room, added a bar, additional warehousing and doubled the size of the parking lot.
El Taco Real has a full-service bar, but Garcia stresses that “it’s not run like your typical corner tap. First and foremost, we are a family restaurant, and our bar is a ‘wet’ waiting room. Folks go there to wait for a table, to have a drink while they’re waiting for a take-out order, or just sometimes to hang out with our longtime bar goddess Cathy."
The menu is essentially the same as it was on Day 1 in 1974 (emphasizing traditional Northern Mexican cuisine), with the addition of chicken dishes, fajitas, chiles rellenos, Mole, Menudo and Pozole. Weekend specials occasionally offer seafood items as well.
“We concentrate on making our food taste exactly the same as it did when Dad was in the back of the house doing the heavy lifting, and Mom and I were in the front of the house serving,” he says. “It takes a lot of perseverance and hard work for things to be the same week after week, and year after year.”
(tie) 8. Bombers BBQ
Location: 439 Ridge Road, Munster
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays
Contact: 219-836-2662, bombersbbq.com
Two longtime friends, Chris Cole and Tony Petrocelli, who had a wealth of experience in the food industry, joined forces four years ago to introduce “high-quality, traditional barbecue” to the Region, opening Bombers BBQ in Munster.
The key to quality comes in not just using high-grade meats and ingredients, but in serving fresh barbecue daily.
“It’s all made fresh every day. We never serve day-old product and we use real hardwood for old-time smoking flavor. We use old traditions and stick to the basics,” Cole said.
While brisket and barbecue ribs are the biggest sellers, guests can order from a large menu where everything (except fries) is made in-house. Macaroni and cheese is a popular side dish as is the loaded baked potato that is topped with pork, cheese, sour cream and green onion.
Bombers has also received rave reviews for their chicken wings, which they smoke and then deep fry and toss in the customer’s choice of sauces, six of which are homemade—Bombers, sweet, vinegar, mustard, St. Louis and atomic.
Locations: 428 S. Calumet Road, Chesterton; 302 S. Main St., Crown Point
Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays
Contact: 219-926-5829 (Chesterton), 219-661-5829 (Crown Point), lucreziacafe.com
Nada and Michael Karas continue to grow their Lucrezia brand with the opening last year of Lucrezia Trattoria in Culver. It joins Lucrezia Café, which opened 18 years ago in Chesterton and Lucrezia Ristorante, which opened 13 years ago in Crown Point.
The couple also has a sister company, Good to Go by Lucrezia, a gourmet store in Chesterton carrying olive oils, balsamic vinegars and a wide array of wine, pastas, cheese and more.
Some of the secrets of the success, according to Nada Karas, are the staff, the fresh, from-scratch food and a passion for what they do.
“We have a great staff that has been with us for a long time. It’s a big part of our success. We consider our staff our family and many have worked here for numerous years,” says Karas. “Our historic homes and quaint alfresco dining set us apart, too.”
Everything, including desserts, is made on-site from scratch. “There are no frozen, vacuum-sealed entrée pouches coming in from a corporate location,” says Karas. “We don’t own a microwave or a deep fryer.”
Lucrezia’s signature dish is the roasted lamb shank, which is braised in red wine, onions and fresh rosemary for 4 to 5 hours and served with red cabbage and roasted potatoes.
(tie) 5. Tomato Bar
Location: 79 U.S. 41, Schererville; 2310 LaPorte Ave., Valparaiso
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week
Contact: 219-322-3885 (Schererville) and 219-462-7499 (Valparaiso)
It's often crowded at Tomato Bar, and there's good reason why: the unique specialty pizzas.
The one that stands out is The Reef, which is a tasty blend of pesto, provolone, mozzarella, cheddar, chicken, ham, hardwood-smoked bacon, pineapple, banana peppers and jerk sauce.
At first glance, the combination seems a bit odd, but one bite will prove the person who came up with this mixture is a pizza-making mastermind.
Other pies that top the list are the Magic Potion: red sauce, sun-dried tomatoes, spinach, mozzarella, provolone, feta, Italian sausage, Roma tomatoes and a pesto swirl; and the A.L.F. Tanner ... a nod to the funny and fiesty '80s TV character. The pizza does not contain ALF's favorite food, instead it's a delicious mix of spicy alfredo, mozzarella, provolone, bacon, mushrooms, chicken, shaved parmesan and Italian seasoning.
The eatery also offers an expansive menu of craft brews, appetizers and gluten-free items.
You also can build your own pizza pie using the vast amount of fresh ingredients.
And while there likely will be a wait for a table, it'll be well worth it.
(tie) 5. Asparagus Restaurant
Location: 7876 Broadway, Merrillville
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays; 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and noon to 9 p.m. Sundays
Contact: 219-794-0000 or visit asparagusrestaurant.com
Elegant and flavorful recipe preparations are in abundance at Asparagus Restaurant in Merrillville.
The restaurant, which stars Asian fusion cuisine, features chef/owner Tammy Pham at the helm of the creative kitchen. At Asparagus, guests will find a variety of dishes. A combination of Vietnamese, Thai and flavors of other cuisines come into play when Pham creates her culinary magic.
Pham, who co-owns Asparagus with her husband Sapion “Sam” Chung, is also at the helm of Siam Marina in downtown Tinley Park. As a chef, Pham regularly turns her focus on detail (derived from her past study of engineering) on the preparation and presentation of her food.
Asparagus’ menu stars a variety of dishes including noodle and rice recipes, curries, seafood, tofu-based dishes, special soups, salads and more.
Among other items on the restaurant menu are Shrimp Rolls, Green Mango Salad, Drunken Noodles, Mussaman Curry, Seafood Panang Curry, Ginger Chicken, Curry Fried Rice, Nutty Chicken, New Zealand Lamb Shank, Garlic Shrimp, Cilantro Lime Tilapia and Grilled Ahi Tuna.
Special cocktails, martinis and more star on Asparagus’ bar menu.
Location: 1775 US Hwy. 41, Schererville
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.n. Mondays through Thursdays
Contact: 219-865-2000, teibels.com
One of the oldest restaurants in the Region, Teibel’s a succulent lake perch is one of the signature dishes of Northwest Indiana.
Opened in 1929, the restaurant is still run by the Teibel family, and fourth-generation member Paul Teibel says that the lake perch has been a staple of the menu since the 1930s.
“It’s basically our most popular item,” he said.
The Canadian yellow lake perch is the house specialty, boned and battered with the same recipe that guests have enjoyed for decades.
“Also a local favorite is frog legs,” Teibel says. “You have to prepare them properly. They’re a touchy item.”
“We do a lot of specials with seafood and focus on trying to keep them fresh and with a good solid preparation,” says Teibel. “You can put out a piece of fish, but if you don’t take the time to treat it right and put some thought into it with the sauce and seasoning…well, we try to focus on sending out a good quality product that we’d be happy with ourselves in front of us.”
All seafood can also be ordered to-go, catered and delivered or served in Teibel’s banquet rooms.
“We’re very lucky with the customers that have been coming here for years and appreciate all of them,” says Teibel. “For them to vote us to have the best seafood is an honor.”
3. Lighthouse Restaurant
Location: 7501 Constitution Ave., Cedar Lake
Hours: 4 to 9 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays; 4 to 10 p.m. Fridays; 2 to 10 p.m. Saturdays and noon to 9 p.m. Sundays
Contact: 219-374-9283, cedarlakelighthouse.com
A beautiful view of Cedar Lake. A large selection of fresh seafood. Premium steaks served on a sizzling plate. A growing wine and cocktail menu. An elegant, but friendly venue. All of these factors help make Lighthouse a must visit in the Region.
Just this year it was voted the Region's best steakhouse, seafood restaurant and fine dining establishment by Times readers.
“It’s a great award to get,” general manager Shane Keeton said of the fine dining nod. “It has a lot do with our great food and great service. A lot of our staff has been here since we opened. They’re a great group. They’re professional, but fun and friendly, as well, and they make it feel relaxing, not stiff.”
Keeton said that for the “high volume steakhouse,” it is all about quality and value.
“Our value is what sets us apart,” he said.
2. Bartlett's Gourmet Grill
Location: 131 E. Dunes Highway 12, Beverly Shores
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays
Contact: 219-879-3081, EatAtBartletts.com
There's a rustic culinary hideaway situated along Dunes Highway 12 in Beverly Shores.
It's a splendid roadhouse-type eatery with a varied menu of creative appetizers, sandwiches, entrees and desserts.
Bartlett's, which is nearly 10 years old, is owned by husband-and-wife culinary team Nicole Bissonette and Gary Sanders. Both have a history on the Northwest Indiana food scene and have owned other popular restaurants prior to opening Bartlett's.
If visiting the restaurant, don't hesitate to try the out-of-the-ordinary Andouille Corndogs. They are featured on the appetizer menu and served on a bed of spring lettuce mix and covered with a buttermilk batter. You can't go wrong with the Mini Burgers or Croque Madame, either.
Other interesting items on the eatery's menu are Chicken Schnitzel, Pork Two Ways, Seared Indiana Duck Breast, Chicken Under A Brick and The Original Shrimp & Grits.
For a relaxing and different dining experience, head to this gastronomic getaway in the woods.
1. Gamba Ristorante
Location: 455 E. 84th Drive, Merrillville
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5 to 9 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays; 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m. Fridays; 5 to 10 p.m. Saturdays
Contact: 219-736-5000, gambaristorante.com
A journey in flavor awaits guests at Gamba Ristorante.
The Merrillville restaurant specializes in Northern Italian Cuisine, with touches of other regional Italian fare occasionally on the menu.
Benito Gamba, owner of the restaurant, operates his culinary haven with his wife and three daughters. The family believes in supreme hospitality, the use of exceptional ingredients and the offering of a welcoming atmosphere so guests always feel relaxed and comfortable.
Gamba and chef Mike Rueth regularly come up with special events, various dining programs and other interesting culinary events throughout the year.
One of the special features at Gamba's is that Rueth can offer a Chef's Tasting menu, which changes frequently.
"The Chef's Tasting is different for every experience," Rueth said.
The opportunity to do a special tasting or a Chef's Table is exciting and also an exercise in creativity for any chef, Rueth said.
"In doing a tasting menu, it gives the guest a chance to be more experimental as well. That is, I can work in some more exotic or unusual ingredients. If it's one of eight courses, the guest either discovers something new to work into their culinary repertoire or if they don't enjoy it, they simply move on to the next course," Rueth said.
Gamba's daughter Krystle often works with Rueth to pair perfect wines with his dishes on the Chef's Tasting menu.
During the course of any dinner, Benito or Benny, as he's known by friends and frequent diners, occasionally visits guests' tables to check in on how their culinary adventure is progressing.
Gamba stresses that he strives to help make diners happy as they're enjoying a gastronomic journey away from the hustle bustle of the everyday world.
Gamba and Rueth also stress they want to let people know that, though the restaurant looks impressive, with its elegant decor, that they never want anyone to feel intimidated to dine at Gamba. They want it to be the perfect place for a casual dinner as well as a place to celebrate an elegant occasion.