Skip navigation
Sign up to follow your favorites on all your devices.
Sign up

Hey Notre Dame fans, help out South Bend’s restaurants

South Bend pizza

Notre Dame fans have made this suggestion before. In fact, they have made it many times before. It is not that it was explicitly ignored; it is that honoring it would have unnecessarily risked offending some fine people via unintentional exclusion.

Now, though, they have bigger things to worry about than if a middling sports writer happened to acknowledge them on a website so obscure it requires two dots in its address. In fact, they would probably be happy to see any local South Bend establishments recognized at all.

“With respect to article ideas, how about a few travelogue pieces about visiting the South Bend/Mishawaka area? From Rocco’s and The Linebacker to beer at Evil Czech and scotch eggs at Fiddler’s Hearth, you could provide tips to people visiting Notre Dame for the first time and new ideas for those that have been to ND many times.” — irishdog80

Rather, let’s provide tips to those already in South Bend.

Closing restaurants and bars to curtail irresponsible behavior by the masses in the face of a pandemic has been the right choice, but that does not change the fact that doing so costs the staffs at those restaurants their jobs and incomes for the foreseeable future.

Even if this version of a shutdown is somehow only two weeks long, many restaurants will struggle with that gap in receipts, just like any small business. After they do hold on, their employees will still be light in the pocket well into football season.

I lived in South Bend for two separate four-year stints, and I still spend about a dozen weekends there a year. I have, it is safe to say, eaten my way around town once or twice. If you, Irish fans, remember to tip heavily in the fall and maybe even call some area restaurants this week to order gift cards, and thus boost their tills in this vacuum, then I am happy to deliver a few recommendations.

When I’m done, pile in with yours. Your suggestions will have more credibility if you believed in them so strongly you already ordered a gift certificate online.

— The longest-lasting debate in South Bend is not about the “fumble” in the 1988 Miami game or the “Bush Push” in 2005 or even the phantom whistle against Stanford in 2012. No, it’s about the only food to contain all the major food groups: Grain, vegetables, meat and dairy. That is, crust, tomato sauce, sausage or pepperoni or bacon or all of the above, and cheese.

Yes, we’re talking pizza. Most will tell you the debate is between Rocco’s or Bruno’s. They’re right, but that’s the debate for second-place. The true best pizza in South Bend is at Barnaby’s, and the atmosphere of the old-school family inn is tough to beat in nearly any occasion. The real proof Barnaby’s knows what it’s doing? You don’t even have to ask to have the pizza square cut.

Evil Czech Brewery gets left out of that conversation because, well, it’s a brewery, but the individual wood-fired pizzas are quite worthwhile. If wanting one for takeout, it is usually ready in the exact amount of time it takes to drink a pint at the bar. The menu on the whole is eclectic and intriguing and I have never heard of a regretted order. Oh, also, beer.

— The LaSalle Grille has been prominently located in downtown South Bend, and is well-regarded enough, everyone knows about it. For those of us who cannot quite afford it, however, there is the LaSalle Kitchen & Tavern, located on the third floor above the Grille. At the moment, it’s more affordable than ever, offering $100 gift cards for only $70.

Not to give some of you an idea how to find me in the real world, but I end up having dinner along the Kitchen & Tavern bar most Friday nights before Notre Dame home games. The food has been good there for years, but it took a step up last year after hiring a new chef. Hopefully he will have something particularly good ready Sept. 11, since I am being deprived of an April dish this spring.

— If parking on gamedays is one of the biggest hassles of attending an Irish game, a veteran’s secret to fixing it is to get a reservation at the Mandarin House. This works particularly well once into the latter half of October and into November, when a warm meal is desperately needed after four hours in 40-degree weather.

The walk from the Mandarin House to Notre Dame Stadium is just more than a mile, all perfectly safe. If they know you have a reservation after the game, you can park there beforehand. The quality, traditional Chinese food will do the trick from there.

— Or does the idea of Chinese food catch your attention but you want to get further from campus? Then head out to Ho Ping House. Essentially on your way to the interstate, you can wait out the lines at the tolls while enjoying some of the best Chinese food you’ve had.

Cambodian Thai might not fit on a gameday, and I have eaten there only once, but I know some smart men who swear by that menu downtown, and only in part because it might pack the best bang for your buck in the area.

— Just around the corner from Cambodian Thai, there is often low-key live music on weekend evenings at Chicory Cafe, a coffee shop also serving a wide array of gelato. Whatever comes next for former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttiegieg, I will forever remember Chicory as the spot I sat at one table playing chess and a future presidential candidate sat at the next table enjoying a cup of coffee with his then-boyfriend. I lost that game, if memory serves, after fumbling a rook’s gambit.

— One last specific note, perhaps the most under-appreciated restaurant in South Bend … Sunny Italy. It’s not big, and when it’s busy, you won’t be able to get in. But there’s a reason for that; it is a thickly-Italian-style restaurant, complete with homemade pasta and talkative servers. There were nights years ago where Fr. Ted Hesburgh would sit at one table with his party, and in the chair directly behind him would be Monk Malloy with his own party. And yet, Sunny Italy does not get its proper due.

— The best burger in South Bend is either at The View, the Backer or C.J.’s Pub. Yes, the Backer has outstanding grub.

— The best fish and chips I have had in the region were at Fiddler’s Hearth, but you assumed as much.

Clearly, this is just a sampling. The South Bend Tribune put together a much more thorough listing of restaurants and bars directly impacted by these attempts at coronavirus containment. They need your help right now. If you are going down to Notre Dame for a weekend this fall, you’re going to spend the money on dinner eventually, why not give it to a restaurant ahead of time?

If you end up at the Kitchen & Tavern on a Friday, you might even see 11th-hour notes being made for that Saturday’s game.

tweet to @d_farmer