So to give our readers a real feel for the place, I turned to my friend Ed Ronco, a former State News editor-in-chief who was until recently a reporter for the South Bend Tribune. I asked Ed to give me an idea of a few things people shouldn't miss in South Bend.
He kindly obliged and what follows is a local's guide to the best spots in South Bend. Enjoy!
IRISH/AMERICAN: Fiddler's Hearth, 127 N. Main St.: An Irish pub big on authentic atmosphere (everything on the wall has a reason for being there, for example; not just a decoration from "corporate") and very comfortable. Lots of beers on tap, food late, and all ages welcome at all hours. Live (generally acoustic) music every night. My favorite place in town.
ASIAN: Cambodia Thai, 229 S. Michigan St.: If you didn't know where it is already, you'd never find it, but it has the best Thai food in town. Small; could be hard to get a table, but robust and tasty -- the way Thai food would be if you picked it up from a street vendor. Siam Thai, 211 N. Michigan St., also has good food, but in a more delicate preparation and a fancier atmosphere. Thai food for a less adventurous palate, I think. Mandarin House, 2104 Edison Road, near campus (and five doors down from my old house): Traditional Chinese food in a white-tablecloth atmosphere. Reasonable prices. Walkable from campus.
PIZZA: Barnaby's Pizza, 713 E. Jefferson St.: Just across the river from downtown. GREAT pizza in a dark, cavernous Bavarian-style beerhaus. Family friendly. And seriously, the pizza is crazy good.
WHOLE FAMILY: The Emporium, 121 S. Niles Ave.: Standard fare, right on the St. Joseph River. Nice atmosphere, great view of downtown's "skyline," if you could call it that. Salads, burgers, steak, etc.
BEST KEPT SECRET: Chicago Taqueria, 2920 W. Western Ave.: Authentic, DELICIOUS Mexican food on the city's West Side. Breakfast all day, including huevos con chorizo, my favorite. The tacos al pastor are great as well.
FINE DINING: The Vine, 103 W. Colfax Ave.: AMAZING food and a lovely atmosphere. Reasonable prices for a fine dining establishment. LaSalle Grille, 115 W. Colfax Ave.: The most upscale restaurant in town. Go upstairs to its "Club LaSalle" bar for some classy music in a classy environment.
OTHER: Trio's Jazz Club, 129 N. Michigan St.: The jazz is great, the food is incredible, and the bar is a lot of fun, too. Great listening without the music being too loud to have a conversation. And if you can't get there for dinner, check out the Sunday brunch. One of South Bend's newest places, it's really taken off, and deserves to.
Bars and Hangout Spots
Simeri's Old Town Tap, 1505 W. Indiana Ave.: Simeri's Old Town Tap doesn't look like much from the outside, or from the inside, for that matter -- your run of the mill neighborhood bar. But take a few more steps out the side door just beyond the bar, and you end up in a huge courtyard/performance space. Simeri's bought the house next door, and installed a garage door in the side of it, then put up a stage outside the door. It's one-of-a-kind, and well-hidden from outsiders. 21+, but a varied crowd.
Corby's Irish Pub, 441 E. LaSalle Ave.: College bar. Depending on the time of day, it's either empty or jam-packed full. Thumping tunes, lots of dancing. More room to stand than sit. Pitchers o' beer. Pool tables and darts, too. You know the kind of place.
Club Noma, 119 N. Michigan St.: Put on the good shoes and iron the collar for this uberstylish "go clubbing" kind of place. Pricey.
Madison Oyster Bar, 129 N. Main St.: After Fiddler's Hearth closes at a relatively early 1 a.m., many people migrate here to keep the party going. This is more bar than restaurant, although you can get food late.
Things to Do
South Bend Civic Theatre, 403 N. Main St.: Catch a play here Friday nights, after an early game, or Sunday afternoon. With 15 shows a year, something's always playing. One of the country's best community theatres with numerous awards to its name, including a production named second place in the country this year. Beautiful old Scottish Rite temple converted to two performance spaces: a 200-seat traditional stage upstairs and a 90 seat black-box theatre downstairs. Some shows sell out quickly. Info at http://www.facebook.com/l/
Potawatomi Zoo. For directions/info, http://www.facebook.com/l/