Fort Wayne, Indiana, in the northeast part of the state, is a fantastic vacation spot, especially for foodies. Since the 1800s it has been known as “The Summit City” because it was the highest point of the Wabash and Erie Canal run. Fort Wayne is a 20-minute drive west of the Ohio border and a 3-hour drive from Chicago. It’s the second largest city in Indiana and it keeps growing. According to Wane.com, “It is growing faster than any other state in the region due to the high quality of life and low cost of living.”
This exciting city is a must-visit destination, especially if dining is high on your to-do list. The restaurant scene has taken off in recent years due to all the new conveniences to be discovered in the city. There are redeveloped historic sites, 8 miles of riverfront for paddling and beautiful green space for biking, especially at Promenade Park. And there’s a brand new Public Arts trail with a self-guided tour accessible from your smartphone. Just reading about all there is to see and do is sure to whet your appetite. Here are seven must-see stops on your visit to fabulous Fort Wayne.
1. Explore D-Day and taste the cuisines of the world
Once a pioneer depot, the Landing was a dock in the mid-1800s for Erie and Wabash Canal boats. It’s a hangout less than two blocks from Promenade Park. In the Landing, you’ll find a stretch of 15 locally owned restaurants, shops, and residences along Columbia Street. The one-block area is on Fodor’s Go 2022 list due to inventive cuisine, craft beer, craft coffee, block parties and pop-up shops.
A tempting stop along the landing stage is Nawa. The restaurant is owned by longtime local Indiana residents who seek excellence in presentation and authentic ingredients. (They’ll also source local ingredients whenever possible.) If you’re craving the flavors of Asia, you’ll love Nawa. The fusion restaurant drew inspiration from Thai, Japanese, Vietnamese, and Indonesian dishes (among others). In small and large plates, you can also sip bespoke craft cocktails that combine the flavors of herbs and fruits from the Far East. The menu is extensive. There are 15 different entrees, including my favorite, the shumai, a Japanese-style dumpling with chicken and shrimp wrapped in wonton wrap. Entrees include various curries, wok-style dishes, Ramen, and Pho (a Thai soup with broth, rice noodles, bok-choy, and protein).
Pro tip: If you still have room, savor the Chef’s signature dishes, including the delicious “Boxing Chicken”. It’s a half roast chicken seasoned with garlic, lemongrass and Thai tamarind sauce, served with sticky rice and papaya salad. Sip on a creative cocktail like the Hokkaido Mule with Takara Shōchū, ginger beer, lime and bitters to round out your meal.
2. Try another delicious choice upon landing
Mercado showcases Cali-Mex flavors along with a superb selection of agave liquors. The restaurant started out as a food truck and now owns both the truck and its physical location. The menu features Chicano flavors with a modern twist. You can stop for lunch and enjoy carne asada tacos with house-marinated steak, onions, cilantro, guacamole, and salsa. Or for dinner, enjoy Plato Fuertesor “main courses”, such as shepherd peach, a marinated red snapper topped with a Tepache pineapple chutney, Mexican rice and salsa verde. Don’t forget to try the “best margarita in town”. My choice would be the Cholo, a mix of Mezcal, Lime, Citrus Agave and Sal de Gusano.
Pro tip: Brunch is also fabulous here. Try my favorite Chilaquiles, two fried eggs, salsa roja, salsa verde, cream, cotija cheese, onion and cilantro. You will not be disappointed.
3. Bite into a piece of nostalgia on the main street
Fort Wayne’s famous Coney Island Wiener stand celebrated its 100and anniversary in 2014. It remains Fort Wayne’s oldest operating restaurant, selling approximately 2,000 hot dogs topped with 70 pounds of hand-chopped onions daily. The menu is small but classic, including the signature item – a steamed bun, grilled hot dog, mustard, Coney sauce and hand-chopped onions. There are burgers, homemade chili, baked beans, fries, and slices of fresh pie. They still sell glass bottles of Coke like they did in 1914, and not much has changed inside the beloved hot dog stand either. The same counter stools and tables provide seating inside the historic shop, and they continue to honor their traditions. They are the proud guardians of this Fort Wayne institution, run by the same family since 1916 (descendants of Macedonians). Orders are never written (just like the good old days), but most servers already know what the local crowd wants anyway; it’s that kind of place.
Pro tip: If you’re from the area, you know that burgers are one of the city’s best kept secrets. But no matter what you choose, a stop here is a must.
4. Taste next-level Latin cuisine
Near means “next” in Spanish. This downtown Fort Wayne restaurant was designed by the group that launched The Hoppy Gnome and Baker Street Steakhouse. At Próximo, in addition to the flavors of Spain, you will enjoy the flavors of Cuba, Colombia and Latin America. And if you love cocktails, the list here is sure to pique your interest.
This Latin fusion restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner with traditional dishes like mixed berry pancakes or a more indulgent French toast with pickled berries and toasted pecans. Try the carnita-braised pork on homemade cornbread with poached eggs, Hollandaise sauce and cilantro. If you prefer eggs, Proximo’s Benedict includes these exciting Latin flavors.
The lunch items are phenomenal. Try the Ecuadorian ceviche or the Colombian version with shrimp, tomatoes, cucumber, serrano peppers and a coconut-lime marinade. There are several types of tortas (sandwiches), soups, salads and vegetarian options. Dinner choices include a mix of beef, pork and fish dishes, including seafood paella. Próximo’s version combines saffron rice mixed with bay scallops, clams, sautéed shrimp, grilled chicken, half a lobster tail and Spanish chorizo.
Pro tip: There are too many items to list, so you’ll have to see for yourself, but save room for the Spanish churros served with dulce de leche and Mexican-spiced chocolate sauce.
5. Savor freshly picked farm-to-table flavors
Tolon equals a loud and vibrant fine dining experience in Fort Wayne. This 20-table establishment prides itself on treating customers like family in an intimate setting that is neither quiet nor reserved. The restaurant serves locally sourced seasonal ingredients, a sustainable practice that supports local farmers and provides the freshest seasonal produce in the kitchen and behind the bar. Chef Matthew Nolot is a culinary magician in the family kitchen. Still, he takes great pride in everything they do in Tolon, especially mixing cocktails in their first-come, first-served bar. Come dine to savor Tolon’s signature dish of scallops with pancetta, delicata squash and Brussels sprouts in soubise sauce and brown butter.
Pro tip: Don’t skip any drinks or desserts here. They are all creative and memorable.
6. Sip craft beer in a former paper warehouse
The old Korte Paper Company is home to the Junk Ditch Brewery, a new venture from the folks at Affine Food Truck and GK Baked Goods. This brewery and kitchen sources its ingredients locally and brings a make-from-scratch philosophy when preparing menu items. You can devour their pizza or burgers, or snack on small bites like wings and pretzels with pub cheese. There are also vegan and world cuisine dishes. If you stop for a beer, you’ll find craft beers like cream beer, Czech Pilsner, Pale Ale, Bitter, and IPAs. For non-beer drinkers, there are ciders, wines, and soft drinks.
7. Taste the best chocolate in the world
DeBrand Fine Chocolates is recognized as one of the world’s elite chocolatiers, committed to excellence. You can buy delicious truffles and exclusive chocolates in the shop or relax in the elegant cafe. Treat yourself to one of their specialty chocolate drinks, sundaes or the chocolate dessert of your dreams. The company has four locations in Fort Wayne.
Founder and owner Cathy Brand has been active at DeBrand and has had a passion for chocolate since she was 8 years old. DeBrand Chocolates uses only the highest quality ingredients in their delicious treats, from Belgian and Swiss chocolate to fresh local and internationally sourced ingredients. Many products are handcrafted, ensuring that every detail is perfect for their customers, from locals to chocolate lovers around the world.
Pro tip: Tours of the DeBrand facility are available at the Auburn Road location.
Stay at the Vera Bradley Boutique Hotel
If you’re a fan of Vera Bradley handbags and products, you’ll love staying at The Bradley, the newly opened boutique hotel. Co-founder Barbara Bradley Baekgaard has teamed up with hotel developer Provenance to create a one-of-a-kind experience that embodies Vera Bradley’s beautiful fabrics and attention to detail. Its downtown Fort Wayne location is close to everything. It offers two sensational restaurants – Birdies on the roof terrace overlooking the city center and Arbor in the central area of the hotel. This is a gem in the heart of Fort Wayne.
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