Walking down Davis Street in Evanston, past the downtown area and the L Station, students from Northwestern can be seen pacing past Evanston restaurants and congregating toward two establishments: Evanston 1st Liquor, and the BYOB Thai restaurant conveniently located across the street.

Bottles of cheap white wine make their way from one side of Davis Street to the other, only to be consumed alongside average pad Thai and gossip-filled conversations. Directly past this hotbed of activity, however, sit three new and stylish Evanston restaurants waiting to be discovered in full force by the Northwestern student body. 

Five and Dime, Lulu's and Taco Diablo are three restaurants located relatively close to one another. These guys are a true triple crown of Evanston restaurants and are all owned by Dan Kelch, the founder of Core & Rind Hospitality, which is co-operated by his wife Laura VanDorf and their business partner Marty Cless.

Lulu's: The First Step

Working with food continuously throughout high school, Kelch admits he always knew that he wanted to work in the restaurant industry. When asked what attracted him to food, he replied, "I didn't find anything I liked as much as restaurants."

For Kelch, the multifaceted challenge of owning a restaurant gives the industry its appeal. The combination of tasty food, an appealing space and enthusiastic community outreach makes the business an enjoyable obstacle to tackle.

Looking for a place to open his first restaurant, Kelch says he was was attracted to Evanston's lack of quality food downtown and the presence of Northwestern University. 

"We felt the community was highly underserved," Kelch said.

While evaluating what Evanston needed in terms of dining options, Kelch observed one thing Evanston was missing: an authentic Japanese noodle shop. 

Inspired by restaurants in Japan and frustrated with a lack of ramen knowledge on the North Shore, Kelch opened Lulu's in 1992. Lulu's was his first restaurant and an adapted version of a traditional ramen shop that serves noodle and stir fry bowls, and "big bop rice bowls." Lulu's serves delicious ramen and dumplings, modified to be less rich and fatty. Rooted in "Asian flavors" and "an American consciousness," Lulu's aims to be "respectful of tradition but not bound by it."

Taco Diablo: Round Two

Successful in his first step into the restaurant industry, and satisfied with its outcome, Kelch decided to bring another idea to reality and turn his focus toward a new flavor palate. Looking at Evanston's lack of Mexican restaurants, Kelch decided the city needed an authentic taste of Mexico.

Nevertheless, Kelch did not expect his second restaurant to stem from food already being made in his kitchen at Lulu's. "It was kind of a fluke," he said. 

Inspired by the Mexican dishes his staff would make in Lulu's after work, Kelch took the opportunity to open Taco Diablo.

Shortly after, Taco Diablo was born across the street from Lulu's, serving traditional mole, tacos and homemade margaritas. When a fire in an adjacent building destroyed Taco Diablo, however, Kelch moved it across the street to sit next to Lulu's.

In a brand new location today, Taco Diablo is a beautiful restaurant with an elegant bar, large, colorful paintings and bright chandeliers. Taco Diablo diners enjoy Mexican cuisine accompanied by Taco Diablo's perfected margaritas in the restaurant's bright window booths. 

In fact, Taco Diablo's margaritas have become so popular with its customers that the restaurant has become the top seller of their choice of tequila in the Midwest: an impressive feat for a small restaurant in Evanston, Illinois. 

Five and Dime: The Triple Crown

Looking to complete his triple crown of Evanston restaurants, Kelch opened Five and Dime, a modern and simplistic restaurant with a "little bit of everything" and a stunning rooftop patio.

Once again, Core & Rind, which noticed a complete absence of outdoor rooftop restaurants on the North Shore, sought to give the Evanston community a dining experience they couldn't find anywhere nearby.

Specializing in handcrafted cocktails and upscale but affordable bar food, diners at Five and Dime can enjoy an urban rooftop terrace while enjoying a burger, a cocktail, or a local beer. Furthermore, Five and Dime has become the perfect place for Taco Diablo and Lulu's diners to have a drink in the sunshine and play a game of giant jenga while waiting on a table downstairs. 

A Community Philosophy

In addition to providing the Evanston community with fresh, quality food and pleasant dining experiences, Kelch knows the value of engaging with the community itself. "We're definitely a very community-involved restaurant. I'm interested in broader pictures in my own business," Kelch said.

Kelch has seen the community give back to him in the past years, especially after the fire that burned down the original Taco Diablo. Furthermore, he is proud of the chefs, managers and busboys, many of whom have been with him for decades.

After opening three restaurants in six months, Kelch is looking forward to a great summer and future for Lulu's, Taco Diablo and Five and Dime. He is especially eager to welcome more Northwestern students into his broad range of customers. Kelch, who describes himself as very "pro-NU," knows that welcoming the Northwestern community will only foster a more thriving community in general.

To cultivate this culinary relationship, Kelch has created a few promotions for Northwestern students, including BYOF (bring your own family for 20% off), Taco and Tequila Tuesdays (20% off drinks and $2.50 tacos after 9 pm), and Five and Dime punch cards for drinks. On May 21, Taco Diablo will also host Queso Dillo Day for recovering festival-goers, where students will get a free quesadilla with any purchase to cure their dreaded hangovers. Kelch is also looking to have a pre-game event on Thursday nights, where customers will get a free snack if they purchase a couple of drinks.

Kelch hopes that in the future his restaurants will become a place for Northwestern Wildcats to enjoy a drink, go on a date or recover for lunch after a long night of partying. Furthermore, Kelch looks forward to expanding Core & Rind in the years to come and says he just waiting for another opportunity to present itself.

Very soon, Dan Kelch's Triple Crown may become a Fantastic Four for the hungry residents of Evanston.