Naptown Noshing: 25 Great Restaurants in Indianapolis
Indianapolis has long since shed its flyover status, thanks in no small part to its expansive food scene. Once a hotbed of chains, now it attracts independent ventures, and each neighborhood boasts a wealth of dining options. You’ll find authentic Yemeni food and carefully curated menus of omakase featuring locally grown ingredients, among other spots for food, beer, cocktails and more.
Photo By: Audra Sternberg
Photo By: DAVE PLUIMER
Photo By: Mary McCormick
Photo By: Haley Neale
Photo By: Annie Hostetter
At Chef Carlos Salazar’s Rook, Asian street food is elevated into an unforgettable dining experience. His unique style and vision is directly drawn from his family, combining the characteristic flavors of Korean, China, Japan and Southeast Asia with his Filipino upbringing. Although the menu changes with the seasons, there are some items that never drop off, including the Rook Burger, with soft sesame pancakes, marinated Brussels sprouts and the playfulness of Big Mac–like ingredients like pickles and “special sauce.”
In an impressively diverse Mexican and Latino food scene, La Parada stands out for consistently rocking the tacos. Beginning as a small local neighborhood taqueria in a tiny little building squeezing in only about 20 people, the restaurant drew large enough crowds to quickly expand into a nearby building. The margaritas and food are outstanding, but it’s the friendliness and family-like appeal that draws thousands of folks through their doors every week. The technicolor furniture, weekly mariachi band and loud music-bumping televisions filled with soccer and soaps are a fixture, as is the queue on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday night. Get there early and grab your drink, and try out something new each time, from well-known items to more regional and traditional Latino fare.
Public Greens Urban Kitchen
Part of Martha Hoover’s Patachou empire, Public Greens sits on the busy Monon trail in Broad Ripple, where walkers and bike riders buzz up and down all day. This contemporary cafeteria-style restaurant serves fresh American-inspired fare, with profits going to fighting food insecurity for city residents. Most of the dishes are created with produce grown in their onsite microfarm. And like all of Hoover’s Patachou family of restaurants, Public Greens supports local farms and maintains an extensive sustainability program. Executive Chef Tyler Herald has designed an approachable menu, with snacks, salads and full plates filled with healthy ingredients. Eating right and for a good cause never tasted so good.
One of the best-known restaurants in Indianapolis, Milktooth ladles out the goodness with every new menu change. This little datyime-only establishment, a brainchild of chefs Jonathan Brooks and Ashley Brooks, has evolved into a hip little comfort food hangout. Each menu dares you into waiting in line for a table, and lays the flavor on thick with serious goodness. The mixture of Midwest and Southern flavors is a match made in Dutch Baby heaven, one dish that is a staple on the menu, though toppings change seasonally. The kitschy-cool decor and one-off cocktail night DJ seshes add to its appeal.
A series of concept dinners created and curated by Chef Alan Sternberg and his wife, Audra, Common House is a food destination. Each meal is held in a different small and intimate setting around the city. Each dinner is unique, pushing the flavor and food-experience envelope with thought-provoking combinations using local ingredients. Their website keeps events up-to-date, and it’s a smart cookie who gets reservations in early.
St. Elmo's Steak House
Steak lovers flock to this historic restaurant, where reservations fill up weeks in advance, and you’ll often spot visiting celebrities. The dark, masculine ambience and polished white-tablecloth service — wait staff replete with white gloves and crumb scrapers — gives the feel of an old-school men’s club. The walls are adorned with vintage Indy 500 memorabilia, and the app menu is short and sweet: shrimp cocktail. There’s no denying the mouthwatering steaks are why you go, but the shrimp cocktail is something special. Made fresh and loaded with shaved horseradish, this famous St. Elmo’s appetizer is a rite of passage and a literal hair raising experience.
As Neal Brown prepared to open Ukiyo, he shared recipe testing live on social media, exploring the delicate flavors of a Kappo-style Japanese bistro. Beautifully curated menus with numerous small-plate offerings for those eager to try lots of flavors. Moon Rabbit, the small ramen room attached to Ukiyo, completes the package, offering bowls of warm, hearty ramen to hungry lunch goers. Put yourself in the chefs’ hands with the stellar reservations-only Omakase experience at the Sushi Bar, offered Wednesday through Saturday.
Ally and Chris Benedyk can’t be stopped when it comes to innovative meat-and-treat combos. Check Instagram for daily specials and goofin’ off as they create food combos that just blow minds. Fried skate wing and pickled eggs, pork cheek tasso and shrimp, and seasonal seafood and produce creations line their chalkboard menu every day. Ally’s accomplished baking and dessert skills pair with Chris’ background in all things meat for a nice blend of flavors, a love story of two creative souls dipped in lard, wrapped in pork belly and fried to create something that will hold you close and give your belly a big ol’ greasy hug.
If you are a “Get Off My Lawn” type diner, then Kuma’s heavy metal, no-holds-barred style ain’t for you. A tap menu of local and regional beers greets diners along with a soundtrack of heavy metal music. The onslaught doesn’t stop with the food: Gargantuan burgers, topped with well-crafted condiments and add-on combinations, are named for metal bands. And as much as their hamburger menu is evilly delicious, their famous mac and cheese is the demon mistress, made daily and topped with any number of unique ingredients. It’s fun, loud and family friendly.
Housed in a converted mid-century gas station, this open and airy little market serves stellar sandwiches. Their Sandwich of the Day, never fails to sell out. Carefully crafted and kept secret, the daily menu is released only a few minutes before lunch via their Instagram account. With a bevy of local ingredients, their sandwiches range from decadent to dainty, loaded with local cheeses, homemade ingredients and artisan breads. Toppings such as sweet potato pancakes or pimento cheese, spicy slaw or pepper jam mayo — all enhancing top-notch locally cured or smoked meats — create a meal that just cannot be denied.
Shoefly Public House
Shoefly’s modern twist on classic pub food was an instant hit with diners near and not so near. They offer a wide, rotating selection of local brews, and have a selection of home-brewed sodas that really show off the creativity that makes their seasonal menus so popular. Pair that with a fun, outdoor area featuring occasional live music and Shoefly might become you next little go-to spot for a laidback night out.
Mama Ines Bakery
One of the fixtures in the International Marketplace, Mama Ines is one of the most-successful Latino businesses in Indiana, serving consistently tasty baked breads and treats. This Mexican bakery is a kaleidoscope of brightly colored sweet and savory nibbles and extravagantly decorated cakes. The iconic giant conchas, swirled with pink and yellow, the slabs of sweet fruit-filled dough and the cases with freshly baked buns draw you in. Before you know it, your silver self-serve pastry pan is full and you’ve got a bag full of goodies under your arm.
The Gallery Pastry Shop
Tucked neatly into a back-alley shopping area on Broad Ripple’s 54th Street, The Gallery Pastry Shop boasts the largest game of chess in the city. But that’s not the real reason to dip into this hidden sweet shop. Allison Keefer and Ben Hardy take the saying “treat yo’self,” to an entirely new level. The cozy inside is perfect for brunching, and the pastry cases are filled with Hardy’s delicate and delicious opera cakes, cream-filled pastries and macarons. The duo combines talents, making this indulgent destination a dream for dessert lovers.
Often the best little places are tucked neatly into unsuspecting strip malls. Such is the case with Mississippi Belle, an ideal spot to get your down home cookin’ on in Indianapolis. Light, crispy fried catfish and chicken, vinegary greens, fried this and fried that with a side of biscuits, please, all in separate little bowls and plates, the tell-tale sign of a quality soul food place. Homey art hangs on the walls and friendly faces greet you and serve you what you’ve been missing — a real, goodness-gracious meal, Southern-style.
If the carefully crafted coffee bar offerings don’t grab you, then the hearty, South American flavors of the menu will lock it in. Filled with natural light and homemade pastries, Open Society has a knack for distilling flavors into their foods in ways that might seem impossible. This SoBro establishment boasts a knockout brunch, lunch and dinner service all worthy of your time and money.
In a city rife with good Vietnamese food, Saigon stands out for its seemingly endless and family friendly menu offerings. From the go-to phó and spring rolls to delicately seasoned Chim Cut Chien Bo (Roasted Quail in Butter,) the west side restaurant strives to elevate its dishes from the typical selection. Unless you’re accustomed to the exotic flavor, don’t fall for the free durian candy on the way out the door.
General American Donut
Yes, there is a flourishing craft doughnut scene in Indy, and the well-lauded Long’s. For a breakfast really on a roll, food truck General American Donut is sweet and sugary, and hits the spot on a Saturday morning at one of its farmers market visits or stops elsewhere around town. Flavors like Raspberry Key Lime and French Toast with Maple Syrup never fail to please, and the kids – young and old – can’t get enough of the Sprankle. Those who prefer to dunk their rounds can grab fresh coffee, too.
Talented chef Abbi Merriss never fails to surprise diners with her carefully curated tasting menus and cocktails, all changing with the seasons or even day to day. Her craft is top-notch and the line waiting outside on weekend nights proves it. No reservations are taken, so plan on a first-come, first-served experience for this aptly named restaurant — a nod to Indy's own Kurt Vonnegut. With one of the best patios in the city, this inspired food haven is not one to miss.
OCA + Sun King Brewing
This little meat shop inside one of Indy’s most-popular breweries has given beer lovers great pairings. Sausages, charcuterie and other cured meat confections are made in the little outpost’s parent operation, Smoking Goose to serve at the downtown destination tasting room. Sip any of Sun King’s brews with locally sourced and cured meats and cheeses, or their most-popular item, the Salame Can, an empty Sun King beer can filled with Smoking Goose cured meat, good cheese and pickles. It gives double-fisting drinks an entirely new — and tasty — meaning.
Rebecca Hostetter has cooked in Indianapolis for many moons, and Duos is where you can catch her time-tested fare, cafeteria-style. The Duos food truck sometimes makes an appearance, but to really get a healthy, real-deal meal, head to the brick and mortar on southeast corner of Illinois and 30th Street, where daily dishes line up behind the glass shields, ready for picking. Duos’ approachable vegetarian selections are just as delicious and tasty as any other, so there’s something appealing for everyone. Make room on your tray to try as many dishes as you can.
A chic in-town chain, featuring fresh-pressed juices, Garden Table offers what its name suggests. Using peak season, local ingredients, the airy, modern bistro is notable at brunch. Order eggs with fresh veggies and locally-sourced meats, but don’t overlook their craft cocktails with house-pressed juices. Have everyone try something different so you can take sips of every delectable drink they serve.
This bright, welcoming spot on Indianapolis’ west side serves traditional Middle Eastern cuisine with a distinct Yemeni flavor. The naan is baked in-house daily, and great with the top-notch hummus. Tables and booths line the dining area, but it’s the privacy of the family-style eating nooks that make the place truly authentic, with pillows lining the floor around large, low tables to share food, and privacy curtains for large families or groups.
The International Marketplace on Indianapolis’ west side is a thriving cultural destination chock full of global cuisines and markets. Immigrants from cultures across the world have created an experience unique to Indianapolis and even within the borders of the Midwest. The area is home to more than 80 different languages, 60 ethnic restaurants and more than 40 ethnic markets and specialty stores. Travel to Cuba, Peru, Japan, Ethiopia or Pakistan, eat Indian street food. Find the best Mexican sopa, all within a quick 10-minute drive from downtown.
Tina's Traditional Tea Room
Nestled in the far north region of Indy, in Carmel, Tina Jesson’s tea room has the ambience of an English garden and a quaint little old ladies’ tea party. With delicate china cups placed expertly on each table, complete with lace doilies, the setting feels like another world. It’s a world where you’ve got to decide urgent matters: Devonshire cream or Cornwall cream? Jesson immigrated from England many moons ago, but missed the art of tea time. She serves a High Tea that includes tea sandwiches, fairy cakes, scones, clotted cream and homemade preserves. Even though the scones are unforgettable, it’s the tea that will keep you coming back. Jesson creates her very own delicate tea blends, full of flavor and tones of flowers, honey, oak and more. The tea room’s themed tea services — Downton Abby and Harry Potter, to name a few — are fun experiences in themselves. Come for the tea, stay for the scones.
Finally a storefront for the bliss that is Turchetti’s cured meats. Once only available at farmers’ markets and the like, meat monger George Turkette is in the process of opening his dream butcher shop to the public. Trained at Goose the Market, Turkette has a masterful touch, using locally sourced meats to create lamb merguez, smoked turkey, ham and chicken. Of note is his use of heritage-breed hogs, known for their extreme marbled meat that creates a tender, tastier end product.