Spanish restaurant in Valparaiso over 25 years

Written by ryan. Posted in Uncategorized


Published on January 11, 2011 with No Comments

By Carl Kurek

The area that makes up Valparaiso was established in 1836, but it was not until a year later that the city would officially be named Valparaiso, which means “Valley of Paradise” in Spanish. Although it was named after ValparaÌso, Chile because David Porter ñ the man Porter County is named after ñ battled near the region during the War of 1812, the city still has at least one special, long-standing connection to the Spanish heritage.

Last fall, Don Quijote Restaurant and Imports celebrated the fact it has been anchored in its original location in Valparaiso for 25 years. Carlos Rivero was born in Pontevedra, Spain and inherited his fascination for cooking from his father who worked as a chef on an ocean liner.

ìIf I woke up one day and someone told me ëYou canít cook anymore,í it would be a dramatic way to end my life,î Rivero said. ìI canít even start to think about not doing what Iím doing.”

In 1975, Rivero opened his first restaurant in Madrid, Spain and three years later, after meeting his American wife in Spain, Rivero came to the U.S. He spent several months looking for the perfect location to begin building his business before he discovered the building located at 119 E. Lincolnway in Valparaiso.

ìWhen I first came here, this place was basically just four walls. I had potential to do whatever I wanted,î Rivero said.

There are a few restaurants that Rivero recalled being in the area when he opened Don Quijote, such as the China House and the Court Restaurant, and together he says they all are part of what makes Valparaiso one of the most fantastic downtowns around.

Shortly after the Spanish-themed establishment opened, Joel Henderson, a member of the two-man guitar group AcoustiCats began playing on the stage inside Don Quijote. Henderson and fellow guitarist Mike Cannon provide finger-style guitar dinner music at Riveroís restaurant as well as weddings and parties.

ìTheyíve been playing here so long I should give the restaurant to them and stay in the kitchen,î Rivero said.

Rivero would later find his assistant chef and business partner in Elena Jambrina, also a native of Spain who came to the U.S. in 1980 and met Rivero through a mutual friend.

ìItís amazing how long weíve been here and all of the businesses weíve seen come and go,î Jambrina said.

Rivero and Jambrina both agreed that after 25 years of being in business, they do not only have customers, they have friends. Anyone enjoying something to eat at Don Quijote would realize how true this is when they see Rivero and Jambrina frequently come out of the kitchen to essentially go table to table and chat with their friends who joined them for an authentic Spanish meal.

ìPeople who used to come in as kids with their parents are now grown up and come with kids of their own. They grew up here with us,î Jambrina said.

Rivero admitted that there are people who come to Don Quijote expecting Mexican food, but he makes it clear that the only thing the two have in common is the Spanish language. He says that Spanish food, in the way it is prepared, is closer to Greek or even Italian cuisine than it is to Mexican.

ìIíd say 99 percent of the time, they become regulars,î Rivero said. ìI have customers from all over the county who come here to eat every chance they get.î

In celebration of their 25th year in Valparaiso, Rivero and Jambrina planned a series of special events at Don Quijote throughout the year. They have already had a wine tasting and ribbon cutting event and plan to close out the year with a Spanish Flamenco dance show on Oct. 17 and a big New Years Eve Extravaganza.

ìWe have an end of the year celebration every year, but this one will be special,î Rivero said.

For both Rivero and Jambrina, cooking is more than a skill or a career, it is a passion. Rivero said that he cooks everywhere he goes, whether it be at his home or the home of family members or friends. He summed up his future with a comparison to an old saying.

ìI think itís like how they say ëold fishermen never die, they just fade away,íî Rivero said. ìI will never stop cooking, I will just fade away.î

For more information about Don Quijote, call 219-462-7976 or visit

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