The same is true downtown, at Bistro 157, another upscale option. Chef and owner Nicole Bissonnette was trained in France, and tries to keep things simple. Whether it's blue crab cakes on a celery root-caper remoulade, duck confit with peach chutney and a five-potato hash or plump shrimp tossed with linguini, chilies and tomatoes.
"It's approachable. It's fun. We don't want it to be stuffy, but we feel that you can have a full meal by having three or four appetizers, just as affordable as you could going to one of the chain restaurants," said Bissonnette.
For a taste of Spain, a must-stop is the casual Don Quijote, which bills itself as the only Spanish restaurant in the state. Chef and owner Carlos Rivero makes tremendous paella--either flecked with saffron and jammed with seafood, or colored black with squid ink, containing delicious creatures from the sea. The garlicky gazpacho is also refreshing, especially with a glass of sangria.
Sweet tooth satisfaction is just up the street, at Designer Desserts: a whimsical, frosting-laced ode to all kinds of baked goods, especially cupcakes. Cherry, strawberry, coconut, you name it they have it, including, watermelon and cotton candy flavors, plus a few tongue-in-cheek presentations.
A few doors down, Pikk's Tavern has been open for nearly a year, and is the kind of place you can drop in anytime of the week. Steaks are dry-aged for two to three weeks, and salads are huge. Oysters Rockefeller arrive topped with spinach, bacon and hollandaise.
"We wanted to try to come with a menu that would appeal to a family, so we welcome kids here. We have a kids menu, we have a gluten-free menu, and we wanted to have a different variety of foods on the menu so we could kind of appeal to everybody," said Hasan Beytas, of Pikk's Tavern.
Now the town may be an hour and a half from the big city, but there is no denying the culinary ambitions of this tight-knit food community.
There are also some good places to grab a bite in Miller Beach, Munster and Merrillville.
3907 Calumet Ave., Valparaiso, IN
157 Lincolnway, Valpo
56 W. Lincolnway, Valpo
62 W. Lincolnway, Valpo
119 E. Lincolnway, Valpo
Other good places in NW Indiana:
Miller Bakery Café
555 S. Lake St., Gary
66 W. Lincolnway, Valparaiso
Stop 50 Pizza
500 S. El Portal Dr., Michigan City
455 E. 84th Dr., Merrillville
10010 Calumet Ave., Munster
275 Joliet St., Dyer
1872 Indianapolis Blvd., Whiting