Kiran Misra
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Best Mexican Restaurant on the Indiana Border

El Charro de San Francisco

Eight blocks west of Indiana’s northwest corner is El Charro de San Francisco, a Mexican restaurant with a family-friendly vibe decorated with neon-colored sombrereros and mariachi regalia. The food, fresh and lovingly prepared, will remind you of your abuela’s cooking. Don’t miss the locally famous horchata, which is always freshly made, rich, sweet, and creamy. (Ben Handy)

El Charro de San Francisco, 3655 E. 106th St. Monday–Thursday, 9am–11:30pm; Friday–Saturday, 9am–1:30am; Sunday, 8am–12:30am. (773) 734-3584.

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Best Vegetarian Pilgrimage Spot

Mark’s Produce

This place needs to be squarely on the radar of every vegan, vegetarian, or lover of fresh, healthy food. Located in a small brick cottage within view of the glitzy Horseshoe Casino, Mark’s Produce is packed to the rafters with fruit and vegetables. Mark and his team scour area fruit and vegetable markets finding incredible deals so that you don’t have to. Everything is fresh, but may be cosmetically blemished, and you never know quite what will be “on offer” making a trip to Mark’s a real adventure….in savings! The staff is always attentive and helpful, and they provide carry-out assistance to your car. You’ll need it: twenty dollars here goes a long way. (Ben Handy)

Mark’s Produce: Fruit & Vegetable Store, 1464 Indianapolis Blvd. Whiting, IN. 9am–5pm every day. (219) 659-2080

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Best Family-Friendly Dive Bar & Grill

Jovial Club

The Jovial Club is an improbable holdover from this region’s steel mill past; it reflects a time when many family-style banquet halls hopscotched their way along the steel coast between the Far South Side and Gary. Though each was unique, these establishments commonly served tasty, no-nonsense dinners to mill workers and their families. At Jovial, the proprietor Caroly Spelich maintains a homey atmosphere, just like her mom before her, while serving up baskets of perfectly fried catfish and artisanal beers with hip names like “Old Style” and “Miller.” (Ben Handy)

Jovial Club, 9615 S. Commercial Ave. Wednesday–Friday and Sunday, 11am2am; Saturday, 11am3am; Monday and Tuesday closed. (773) 375-1203

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Best Greasy Spoon

Thomas Restaurant

So deeply steeped in tradition that it has become the official “unofficial” diner of Calumet Heights, Thomas Restaurant is a favorite meeting spot for many a local politician or business figure. The venerable dive has been serving up solidly prepared American favorites, from cheeseburgers to turkey club sandwiches, since 1963. The best time to visit is for breakfast. The best side is the hand-carved ham. The lighter-than-air pancakes and waffles are legendary here, and so is the waitresses’ banter. (Ben Handy)

Thomas Restaurant, 1657 E. 87th St. Monday and Wednesday–Saturday, 6am–4pm; Sunday, 7am–1:45pm; Tuesday closed. (773) 731-8227

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