If asked to describe The Bend’s foodie scene as a kitchen item, we’d call it a slow cooker.
Think about all the great things a slow cooker brings to the table. It’s familiar. It’s approachable. It’ll warm you up on cold day. Perhaps most importantly, you can throw a whole bunch of ingredients into it and come up with something delightful.
Some have said the local food scene has too much. Is there any one thing we can hang our hat on? Is it pizza? Is it the craft breweries? Fine dining? What if it’s none of those?
What if it’s ALL of those?
Keep reading as we offer a look at some of our must-visit restaurants, tastemakers and quirky, only-in-The-Bend experiences that make us, well, us. Let’s dive into 20 people, places and things essential to dining here.
Leading Vote Getters
We started this project last year with a simple question: What places do locals and visitors consider their favorite restaurants?
We took used social media to find answers, asking our followers to pick the restaurant they’d take friends and relatives if they could only choose one. Here are the leading vote getters (in alphabetical order):
Unassuming, family-owned and authentic. Cambodian Thai has been the go-to spot for Asian cuisine in downtown South Bend since 2005.
Crooked Ewe Brewery + Ale House
Considered one of the most bold and delicious menus in the area, with fantastic beer to boot.
RELATED CONTENT: Craft Beer Brewery Guide
Evil Czech Brewery + Public House
Another brewery that pairs beer with fantastic food. The Lightning Lunch and brunch are major hits.
Spirited offers variety but leans in to having a vegan-friendly menu. Also keeps extended hours for those seeking healthy options late.
An elevated tapas-style experience. Lobster mac and cheese is a favorite and should be part of any tour of the menu.
Instagram users were the most active. They listed 37 (!) different restaurants with 11 garnering multiple mentions. We’ll touch on many more of them throughout this section.
One of the great things about The Bend’s foodie scene is it’s big enough to offer variety while tight knit enough to foster a sense of community. Put it this way: Some of our best-known restaurateurs are local institutions.
Peg Dalton leads the way in visibility. Peggs, her breakfast and lunch spot, is one of downtown South Bend’s most popular restaurants and was another leading vote getter when we asked for opinions. And Peg is always waiting to greet guests. She’s essentially a local ambassador.
RELATED CONTENT: The Bend’s Best Breakfast Spots
Kurt Janowsky, one of our area’s biggest movers and shakers, opened Café Navarre in 2012. It remains the flagship in a portfolio that includes The Exchange Whiskey Bar, Rocky River Tap & Table and O’Rourke’s Public House.
RELATED CONTENT: The Bend’s Best Cocktail Bars
Nearby Mishawaka is a collection of known brands and neighborhood hangouts with a dash of local culinary excellence, thanks in part to the vision of George and Tammy Pesek. The Peseks are behind some of Mishawaka’s best restaurants – Corndance, Jesús Latin Grill and Evil Czech Brewery.
Want a taste of New Orleans while you’re in The Bend? You can get one thanks to Phil Schreiber at Chicory Café. Schreiber established Chicory (you have to try the beignets!)in downtown South Bend and now operates another location in Mishawaka. He’s also one of the restaurateurs behind Taphouse on the Edge, a local favorite sports bar near Notre Dame.
All About the Fighting Irish
If you’re looking for a place steeped in Notre Dame, be sure to dine at Legends. There’s wall-to-wall Notre Dame memorabilia, plus a great menu to boot, right in the shadow of Notre Dame Stadium.
In the Heart of Downtown
Home to the Fighting Irish and all, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention a decidedly authentic Irish pub in downtown South Bend – Fiddler’s Hearth. It’s cozy in a way you can only understand if you’ve ordered a stout and snagged a seat next to the fireplace in the dead of winter. Order the fish and chips, you’ll notice they come wrapped in some local newsprint.
RELATED CONTENT: Irish Eats Around The Bend
Gems Around the County
When it comes to dining, most people zero in on our bigger cities as their points of interest. We’re here to offer some can’t-miss eateries that might take you a little extra effort to find.
Moser’s Austrian Café: Authentic Austrian cuisine situated in New Carlisle’s quaint downtown. Grab a pint of Stiegl, order a weinerschnitzel and bask in the small-town goodness.
Hilltop Restaurant: Open for breakfast and lunch, Hilltop is one of Lakeville’s social hubs. We consider this a compliment of the highest order: It’s like bellying up for a meal at your grandma’s house.
Bob’s 19th Hole: Residents that live just west of South Bend already know – Bob’s is one of the best places for a meal in The Bend, period. Choose the Chicken Philly over rice to order like a local.
Yesterday’s Food and Spirits: Do you have an uncontrollable sweet tooth? Then go to this Granger hot spot and skip right to dessert. Seriously. The options will be rich in the best way.
Tortilla Chips and…Ranch?
Yep. It doesn’t get more local than this quirky combination, which had something of a viral moment during the summer of 2019.
Former South Bend mayor turned presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg commented to national media about how it’s a local tradition to pair chips and ranch, even mixing the latter with salsa for a unique dip. This is only done at one place: Hacienda Mexican Restaurants.
Several ethnic groups have deep historic roots to The Bend. One of the most prevalent are locals of Polish descent. Perhaps the best place to get a feel for this is at The Skillet, which every Saturday serves up a Polish buffet. Go get your fill of sausage, sauerkraut and noodles.
We’ve already mentioned a few places suitable for a meal to pair with a special occasion (LaSalle Grill, Corndance, Café Navarre) but we’d like to add one more: Render Kitchen + Bar. It gives South Bend’s East Bank Village neighborhood a fine dining option.
Pizza Per Capita
We know there are other, larger cities that claim to be the kings of pizza. But there probably aren’t many places where you can get as much bang for your buck as The Bend. Barnaby’s is arguably the most well-known. But this is a niche within our foodie scene with quality and quantity across the board.
RELATED CONTENT: Top Pizza Places in The Bend