The Petoskey area is known for pristine water resources and year-round outdoor recreation. But did you know we’re also home to fantastic restaurants? We dug into the lives of the chefs who elevate your northern Michigan dining experience with high-quality menus and ingredients. Read on about their culinary inspirations and why they make the Petoskey area their home. Restaurant hours vary seasonally, so check online before you plan your visit.
Tucked away inside Gypsy Distillery is Libe Lula, owned by chef Florencio Beltran and his wife, Olivia. It’s the second iteration of this popular Mexican eatery, the first of which opened inside the High Five Spirits storefront in downtown Petoskey in 2022. Beltran also caters large parties with homemade dishes like lasagna and beef tenderloin.
Training and influences: Beltran grew up in Harbor Springs and learned to cook as an apprentice under caterer Carol Costello. He also worked at various Lansing restaurants—including Meat BBQ, featured on Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives—before moving back to northern Michigan with his family to open Libe Lula
Why Northern Michigan? “I guess when you get a little older, you realize what you have,” said Beltran on his return to the area. “The people up here are exceptional, all the way down to opening up a door if they see you struggling to carry something. You don’t get that in a big city.”
North country culinary inspirations: Beltran’s style originates in family recipes—he remembers learning how to make mole and dishes inspired by his mother’s Norwegian ancestry as a kid. He sources spicy microgreens from Bear Creek Organic Farm, bread from Johan’s Pastry Shop, and meat from Meat Monkeys.
Restaurant atmosphere: Gypsy Distillery space offers a selection of adult beverages, games, and space for large parties. Beltran can be found behind the counter, taking orders and prepping flavorful food with an enormous smile.
**Photos of Libe Lula courtesy of DeJuan Jordan**
Barrel Back Restaurant
4069 N M-75
Walloon Lake, MI
More About Barrel Back
“A chef is only as good as their crew—I take care of them, they take care of me.” This is the philosophy of Josh Caudle, Barrel Back’s executive chef. Since starting in July 2022, he’s streamlined the restaurant’s operations and added some favorites to the menu, making it easier for staff to get made-from-scratch food out to hungry diners.
Training and influences: Caudle’s passion for cooking emerged during his service in the U.S. Navy. “Every country your ship stops at, you get food from those places: Morocco, Singapore, Kenya, Australia. I got to educate myself and cook all different types of food,” said Caudle.
Why Northern Michigan? Caudle moved to the area from North Carolina to nourish family ties. “You couldn’t ask for a better kind of community to move to and put roots down,” he said. “And I get to spend quality time with my daughter.”
North country culinary inspirations: According to Caudle, this area is as “Pure Michigan” as you can get, which influenced his Michigan style ribs, featuring a marinade of Vernor’s ginger ale. After introducing the dish to the Barrel Back crowd, he sold five cases of ribs in an hour and a half and had customers clamoring for more.
The atmosphere: “We’re not fancy fine dining. We do great, affordable, made-from-scratch food.” Having a gorgeous view of Walloon Lake while you dine doesn’t hurt either.
1 Water St.
Boyne City, MI
More About Cafe Santé
On his way to Alaska over two decades ago, Cafe Santé chef Kyle Marshall made a pit stop in northern Michigan. He was helping his father renovate a property in Elk Rapids before heading northwest. Today, he’s still in northern Michigan, serving up European cuisine like chicken marsala and duck French onion soup.
“I just fell in love with the area and never left,” explained Marshall.
Training and influences: A native Michigander, Marshall has been in the restaurant industry since age 17. After graduating from a restaurant institutional management program at Northern Michigan University, he kept on cooking until he ended up at Cafe Santé.
Why Northern Michigan? As an avid hunter and angler, the area has access to everything Marshall needs. “I made it my goal to never live more than five minutes away from a boat launch, and so far I have succeeded.” His career makes it possible to go fishing in the morning and still make it to work by noon.
North country culinary inspirations: “I love cooking wild game, and it inspires me all the time to try something new,” he said. The restaurant regularly features duck dishes and locally foraged ingredients.
The atmosphere: “We want people to feels as though they were at home and comfortable,” said Marshall. “I like to call it ‘European affordable.’”
NOMAD Bay Harbor
795 Front St.
Bay Harbor, MI
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Small plates are delivered to your table as soon they’re prepared and then shared among friends and family—that’s the theme of NOMAD. Executive chef Eric Basta and executive sous chef Hans Jessen love that the restaurant’s concept allows them to serve up food at its freshest.
Training and influences: While Basta trained under Michelin Star-rated chefs, Jessen received an associate’s degree in culinary arts from Johnson & Wales University and spent three years as a pastry chef in Europe at a 3 Michelin star hotel.
Why Northern Michigan? For Basta, “Summer can’t be beat in northern Michigan. That’s why people all over the country and the world come here.” “It’s laid back,” said Jessen. “There’s not the hustle and bustle of a big city here.”
North country culinary inspirations: “I love everything about this area,” said Jessen. “There are so many items to source, like great cherries and apples.” Jessen and Basta use microgreens and other products from Higher Love Farms in Gaylord in their cuisine, as well as farm-to-freezer Michigan produce.
The atmosphere: The pair strive to produce a menu that people can relate to while getting them out of their comfort zone with unique dishes. Expect food to arrive family-style as soon as it’s ready and enjoy the luxuriant atmosphere. The bao buns and wagyu cheeseburger are sure to be a hit.
Northwood Family Restaurant
4769 Oden Rd.
More About Northwood Family Restaurant
“There’s nothing like seeing someone try to take 10 cheeseburgers out to a sandbar on a jet ski,” said Justin Mann. Mann has worked at Northwood Family Restaurant, located near the Crooked Lake shoreline, for 24 years and has creative control of its expansive menu. “We had to make him a flotation device out of bags,” continued Mann. “He got them out there safely!”
Training and influence: Mann started at Northwood at age 16 and has learned from multiple chefs over the years. “You find inspiration from everybody you work with,” he said. “I’ve come up with menu items from podcasts, YouTube, even TikTok videos.”
Why Northern Michigan? Mann grew up in the area and attended high school in Pellston. He’s loved being a part of his local community over the years and welcoming newcomers to the region, whether they’re short-term visitors or staying for the long haul.
North country culinary inspirations: “A huge part of northern Michigan is that you can get a fish that you caught from the lake next door and serve it that day,” said Mann. Northwood is known for whitefish dinners and pan-fried perch. “People come up here to fish, and if they didn’t catch it, they’ll be looking for it on your menu.”
The atmosphere: Mann called Northwood a destination restaurant where locals bring their families again and again. Bring an appetite for their plentiful seafood, fish, and steak dishes!
More About Aamchi Mumbai
In 2020, Bhim Lal Basel opened Aamchi Mumbai five weeks before the pandemic forced him to temporarily halt business. Thankfully, the restaurant survived through a steady stream of loyal takeout customers, and folks can still try his made-from-scratch Indian cuisine.
Training and influence: Basel said that there were no culinary arts schools in India when he was training for his career. Many chefs learned on the job in restaurants and hotels. “I’ve been cooking in India since I was 16,” he said. “I can cook Thai, Indochinese, and continental cuisine after working at a hotel with five different kitchens.”
Why Northern Michigan? “It’s so beautiful and the weather is great. The natural scenery—the lake and the environment—are big draws. And the community feels safe.”
North country culinary inspirations: Basel makes what the people want, and that turns out to be a lot of butter chicken. “They also order a lot of korma and chicken tikka masala. We’re increasing our vegan offerings since a lot of people are requesting them as well.”
The atmosphere: Basel has worked hard to create a bright, clean, welcoming dining space. And, since he and other kitchen staff make the dishes fresh, he’s happy to take requests.
The New York Restaurant
101 State St.
Harbor Springs, MI
More About The New York
Matt Bugera got his start in the restaurant business at a Petoskey Big Boy. “It was a summer job when I was 14 or 15, and I just kept hounding the owner that I wanted to be a cook.” Luckily for us he got his wish, and now he’s the owner and head chef at The New York Restaurant in Harbor Springs, which features dishes like slow-roasted lamb shank and char-grilled NY strip steak.
Training and influence: Before starting The New York Restaurant 32 years ago, Bugera attended The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY. He moved back to the Detroit area to continue honing his craft before setting course for northern Michigan.
Why Northern Michigan? Bugera spent many formative summers in the area as a youth and loves outdoor activities: winter skiing, Lake Michigan summers, and the general lifestyle. “This is where I liked to call home even when I was living downstate,” he said.
North country culinary inspirations: Bugera started a whitefish ravioli appetizer 20 years ago that pops up in the menu regularly. He’s been doing farm-to-table dishes for over 30 years, buying lamb, goat, chickens, and eggs sourced from the area. “I think that I and a few other buyers put our egg vendor through college,” he joked.
The atmosphere: “There’s no dress code, and it’s a comfortable, almost homey feeling.” The historical photos lining the entrance wall offer some fascinating Harbor Springs history. If you become a restaurant regular, there’s a good chance you’ll be greeted by name when you walk through the door.
About the Author: Jen DeMoss is a newcomer to the Petoskey area, and she loves all things northern Michigan. You can catch her paddling a canoe, hiking a trail, or swimming in Lake Michigan as often as the weather cooperates. She’d love to help you make the most of your time in this paradise she now calls home.