Carlos and Debbie Nieto Café Central, The Happ Inn and Nieto’s Highland Park

Beloved, long-time North Shore restaurateurs Carlos and Debbie Nieto drew on their Happ Inn and Café Central expertise in quality, casual dining to convert Carlos’ Restaurant, the 30-year-old, iconic Highland Park fine dining destination, into Nieto’s.

The change was not easy. “It was so hard to close Carlos’,” Debbie explains while her husband fights back tears. “Our Carlos’ customers and staff are like family!”

But the couple had fun in the process too, including a trip to Florida to look for culinary inspiration for Nieto’s. They laugh as they describe their adventure in the sunshine state. “Two lunches and two dinners with drinks and wine each day!” Carlos explains. “We treated the waiters and chefs at each restaurant too.”

“We are not normal!” Debbie declares gleefully.

The outcome of their research is an extensive, fun menu intended to entice customers to return frequently. When asked what they like best about Nieto’s, each responds quickly.

“The guacamole,” Debbie declares enthusiastically. “It’s made at your table.”

“That our customers will find the same staff and quality as Carlos’.” her husband says with pride. “Ramiro Velasquez is still the chef, and customers can special order from the old Carlos’ menu.”

Guests can dine at the bar, which features two HD TVs and a refrigerated wine bar system that allows a view of the bottles and tubes.

The first floor dining room is still wood paneled, but the furnishings and faster pace of the meals make dinner a shorter, more vibrant experience than the hushed Carlos’ of old.  The library upstairs is unchanged —still featuring photos and ribbons from Debbie’s days as a champion equestrian.

The Nietos combined new, fresh and fabulous with the best of the old in the restaurant that is now named after both of them.

“Please tell all of our old Carlos’ customers to come see us,” Carlos asks.

“Again and again,” Debbie concludes with a smile.