It's Indy's time to shine. More people will be making their way into our city over this week than at any other point during the year. While everyone knows about the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the fun that can be had during the events there, especially when you're drinking the day away with friends, new and old; Indianapolis has much more to offer than just the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.
Condé Nast Traveler just named Indy the Most Underrated Food City in the U.S.
and we couldn't agree more. No matter which side of town you are on there are hip new joints, historical mainstays, and everything in between for you to eat some of the most unforgettable meals in the city.
Ale Emporium -
There is a continuous debate about the best wings in the city and the dry rub Herman-style wings at The Ale will always be on that list. While it's highly contested about the best wings, there is no debate that these wings are damn good and add to that an incredible draft beer selection offering some of the best brews from around the state and a contender for best deep dish pizza in the city and Ale is a must-stop.
8617 Allisonville Road, 317-842-1333, ale-emporium.com
Broad Ripple Brew Pub -
The Indianapolis craft beer scene is one of the best in the country and it all started with the Brew Pub. It's a comfortable English-style pub with a nice little outdoor seating area. The beer is the star here and their ESB is one of the best you'll ever taste. But they have the added bonus of incredibly good pub food including their burgers, chili, and the always tasty fish and chips. (Vegans and vegetarians can rejoice in the fact that they have plenty of veg-friendly options, including Vegan Fish and Chips)
842 E. 65th St., 317-253-2739, broadripplebrewpub.com
Delicia & La Mulita
- These two restaurants are housed in the same building and their food comes from the same kitchen. La Mulita is perfect for a quick lunch stop with high brow street tacos and great margaritas. But, it's all about the dinner and cocktails at Delicia. High end Latin American cuisine is prepared by one of the finest chefs in the city, Ricky Martinez. Pair that with top-notch mezcal and tequila based craft cocktails and you have a perfect evening ahead of you.
5215 N. College Ave., 317-925-0677, deliciaindy.com
Late Harvest Kitchen -
Tucked away in a strip mall next to an Old Navy, this is surprisingly one of the nicest restaurants on the Northside. One of the many farm-to-table restaurants around Indy, chef Ryan Nelson is all about locally-sourced from his rabbit biscuits and gravy to his pork cheeks with risotto. The knowledgeable staff will pair the perfect wine with your meal and the after-dinner cocktails are immaculate.
8605 River Crossing, 317-663-8063, lateharvestkitchen.com
North End BBQ & Moonshine -
A pretty simple concept, you eat barbecue, you drink moonshine, you leave happy. Another of Ryan Nelson's ventures the food here is more comfort food and the ambience is a little more relaxed than at Late Harvest. Besides the ribs (choose between Memphis or St. Louis style) the biggest draw to this place is the extensive whiskey list, you'll find some of the rarest bourbons in the city behind this bar.
1250 E. 86th St., 317-614-7427, thenorthendbbq.com
Northside Social & Village Cigar -
Enjoy dinner at Northside, their Shrimp & Grits are probably the best in the state and their Spicy Spanish Triggerfish melts in your mouth. The staff here knows their wine and while they may not have the largest selection, they have one of the best selections, and with half-price bottles on Wednesdays there is no reason to not get a bottle. Once you're finished with dinner saunter over to the Village Cigar and step into a Hemingway novel. Choose from their small selection of cigars, might I suggest a Short Story, and finish the evening off with a nice scotch, bourbon, or rum (NEAT) this isn't the place to be ordering cocktails. Well, they do make possibly the best Sazerac in the city, so maybe order one of those.
6525 N. College Ave., 317-253-0111, northsidesocial.com
Open Society -
It's in its first week of business and after over a year in the making its looking like a success. The concept is an all-day coffee and pastry bar, mixed with South American small and large plates and extensive wine, beer, and cocktail lists. The coffee and pastries are superb. Now you can let us know what you think of the food.
4850 N. College Ave., 317-999-8706, opensocietyindy.com
I once was told "there are Indianapolis restaurants and then there is Recess." Greg Hardesty is undoubtedly one of the greatest chefs in this city and a meal at Recess is a must do for any foodie. The menu is prix fix and changes weekly, but you won't find a more consistently good menu in the city. Splurge and get the wine pairing option, it's well worth it.
4907 N. College Ave., 317-925-7529, recessindy.com
Red Key Tavern -
Maybe the most famous neighborhood bar in the state, The Red Key is a part of Indy literary history (Google “Dan Wakefield”) and maintains late owner Russ Settle’s rules: no swearing, no moving of the tables, no coats draped on chairs or stools. NUVO contributor and all-around awesome human Nora Spitznogle might just be in the kitchen when you arrive, ready to cook you a burger, arguably the best classic burger in the city. Order that with a side of their homemade potato salad and a Manhattan. Sit back, relax, and enjoy. Oh, and the notes on the neon sign spell the tune of “How Dry I Am.” You won’t be dry when you leave the Red Key.
5170 N. College Ave., 317-283-4601, redkeytavern.com
Taste of Havana
This newer Cuban joint in the heart of Broad Ripple dishes out first-rate Cuban sandwiches, the bread crispy, the mojo delicious, the pork tender and juicy. George will most likely be behind the counter and he'll help you choose what you want to eat, I'd suggest some house-made plantain chips and you can't leave without a cortadito or one of the Cuban coffee drinks. Their coffee is fresh, sweet and possibly my favorite in the city.
815 Broad Ripple Ave., 317-559-4369, tasteofhavanaindy.com
Where to start, everything on this ever-changing menu is perfection. If you're willing to be adventurous in your dining choices, Chef Abbi Merris knows the way to your stomach's heart. If you only get one menu mainstay, get the cauliflower, I know it doesn't seem enticing, I promise you it is. During the warm summer months they serve the perfect light, floral cocktail the Sanctuary, its the perfect drink to end a surely perfect meal.
653 Virginia Ave., 317-686-1580, bluebeardindy.com
Hotel Tango -
It's Memorial Day weekend and while we all may see it as a chance to have some time off work and maybe drink too much, it actually is meant to memorialize our Veterans. Hotel Tango allows you to do that drinking while helping out Veterans. It is the first Veteran owned and operated distillery in the country and they have an amazing, ski lodge style tasting room for you to enjoy their spirits. Make sure and say hello to Fletcher, their pixie bobcat mascot while you lounge by the hand-built fireplace and sip on a glass of Romeo Rum.
702 Virginia Ave., 317-653-1806, hoteltangowhiskey.com
This little place opened rather quietly in Fountain Square, yet since they opened I’ve heard talk of how incredible their food and drinks are from dozens of people. They are serving up what they call “global soul food” and that is the perfect description, it’s comfort food from all over the world. Don’t be afraid to branch out here and try something maybe a bit out of your usual comfort zone, all of the dishes are superb. Add to that a phenomenal craft cocktail selection and it’s easy to see Marrow becoming one of the contenders for Indy’s best over the next few years.
1106 Prospect St., 317-986-6752, marrowindy.com
This is the joint, the place that’s getting the bulk of the ink that’s helping put Indy on the Modern Food Map. Chef Jonathan Brooks has been nominated for multiple James Beard Awards and the brunch here has been raved about by magazines across the country. It's the perfect place to start the morning before heading over to Carb Day, or The Snake Pit.
534 Virginia Ave., 317-986-5131, milktoothindy.com
Peppy Grill -
As Fountain Square’s nightlife scene explodes, there has been one constant: Peppy Grill. Long before the skinny jeans and beanies became the uniform about the neighborhood, Peppy’s was serving wallet-friendly homestyle fare 24 hours a day, just as they continue to now. It’s one of those last remaining glorious places where you can get a chicken fried steak at noon or a big stack of butter-smothered pancakes at 3 am. The lights never go off and the dining room’s hard-back booths rarely empty, and that’s what makes Peppy’s the institution that it is today.
1004 Virginia Ave, 317-637-1158
Taking most of its head staff from Bluebeard, Pioneer is serving up cocktails, craft beer and a menu full of “Alpine” food. You can get a lot of vegetarian variety here as well. If you’re not vegetarian you’re in luck, the sausages are made in-house and their sausage plate is mind-bendingly good, the boudin blanc and bratwurst flavors blend perfectly with the pommes (potato) puree and beer braised apples. If you’ve ever wondered why there is the classic idea of a hog with an apple in its mouth, this dish will show you. Make sure you stop by for a drink and a bite when there’s a performance on the live stage inside.
1110 Shelby St., 317-986-6761, pioneerindy.com
Repeal has proven itself to be the perfect extension of 12.05 Distillery, the restaurant’s sister business. With a formidable lineup of cocktails and some darn good food to boot, Repeal is a great first stop on a night of debauchery in Fountain Square.
630 Virginia Ave., 317-672-7514, repealrestaurant.com
Technically it’s not new, it just moved a few blocks up Virginia Avenue, but so much has changed from the original Bánh mì shop. The changes include a bigger kitchen, a much more chic spot, and a top notch menu. Everything on this Asian street food menu will blow your tastebuds minds. The crispy pigs ears are a crunchy, delicious treat. If you’ve never had skullhead prawns, they’re a must try and the karaage rice bowl with a 63º egg is superb. Mix that with the endless gin cocktail options and you’ve got maybe the best new restaurant in the city.
501 Virginia Ave. #101, 317-737-2293, rookindy.com
Former NUVO restaurant writer Neil Charles called Thunderbird a “near-perfect bar,” and I have to agree. Not only is this bar stocking one of the largest varieties of bourbon in the city, the cocktails vary from perfect takes on classics to a formidable lineup of new cocktails every season. Josh Gonzales, owner and head bartender just made it to the World Class National Finals, the most prestigious bartending competition in the world and his drinks and personality reflect that level of expertise. Not to mention, the Southern-style food is absolutely out of this world. Get the fried chicken. Get it.
1127 Shelby St., 317-974-9580; thunderbirdindy.com
Wildwood Market -
The quick and easy way to do this market is to order their daily sandwich and a cold brew coffee out of their fridge. But they also have some of the best local produce available and the incredible amount of options for groceries makes it the perfect place to stop in and shop local and eat local. Finally, the best part is the cheese selection, it’s not huge, but the owner used to work at Trader’s Point Creamery, and he knows his cheese.
1015 Virginia Ave., 317-737-2653, wildwoodmarket.com
Chef Dan's Southern Comfort -
For a long time you could only get Chef Dan's from their popular yellow food truck, now they have a brick and mortar establishment in the heart of Irvington. Chef Daniel Carter's mother hailed from Louisiana and then moved to Mississippi where she raised the chef and taught him how to cook. Chef Dan has brought this combination of soul food cultures to Indianapolis, and we now get the best of both worlds, comfort and creole. We're so damn lucky.
5539 E. Washington St., 317-737-1801, chefdansindy.com
Heidelberg Haus -
One of the most unique restaurants in the city. Plan to spend quite a bit of time here the first time you come, you’ll be looking through all of the weird and interesting German knick-knacks for the first hour or so before you sit down at one of the checked tables for a classic German meal. It’s all about the sausage here, whether you go with the Farmer’s Brats, or the more flavorful Currywurst make sure you get a homemade pretzel to sip in their spicy mustard, or even better a healthy bit of butter goes perfect on the pretzel. Don’t fill yourself up too much, the pastries here are to die for. You may think you know what you want, but I promise, you want the bienenstitch.
7625 Pendleton Pike, 317-547-1230, heidelberghaus.com
This Irvington staple has garnered the praise of the entire city, and then a little more from outside the city. In 2015, Food Network superstar Alton Brown gave it the two thumbs way up while he was in town. The crust is buttery and the toppings are plenty — and now they’ve added two more stores.
5646 E. Washington St., 317-356-6612, jockamopizza.com
The Legend -
The Legend opened in 2003 and has stuck around, a casual-dining joint that helped revitalize a neighborhood that’s seen its share of ups and downs. Now that Irvington’s on a definitive upswing, the Legend remains, offering classic Midwestern dishes such as pork tenderloins, meatloaf and fried walleye.
5614 E. Washington St., 317-536-2028, thelegendcafe.com
Love Handle -
Chris and Ally Benedyk relocated their Milwaukee sandwich shop back home to central Indiana, and we are so glad to have them. Chris is a wizard with meats, and Ally’s pastry chops could easily pass in a high-end restaurant. Promise that when you go, you’ll save some room for dessert. Hey, they call it Love Handle for a reason.
2829 10th St, 317-430-5004
McGinley's Golden Ace -
This little Irish pub looks like a hole-in-the-wall from the road, but once you step food inside it’s cozy and the bartenders are always happy to have you. Family owned and operated since 1933 (the end of Prohibition), this is a place to get a shot of whiskey, a bottle of beer, and one of their burgers with lettuce, tomato, onion, and pickle, and maybe some mayo or mustard. They’ve been cooking up those patties in the same cast iron since right around the time they opened and a good burger is all about a well-seasoned pan.
2533 E. Washington St., 317-632-0696, goldenaceinn.com
This East-side Louisiana-authentic stop offers the po’ boys that Yats ain’t got, plus Cajun stews and other options. Papa himself has become a pretty well-known figure in Indianapolis, generating headlines and controversy on numerous occasions — most recently for giving discounts to licensed handgun owners after a robbery.
8950 E. 10th St., 317-603-9861, paparouxcajun.com
Rock-Cola Cafe -
Step back in tie in this little gem straight out of the '50s. The food is classic and delicious, the tenderloin is massive and the item to go for. . Housed in a modest commercial building, Rock-Cola transports you back to a time and place that most of us only know from movies and music. Unlike your average greasy spoon, it’s spotlessly clean with friendly, efficient service. Orders are taken promptly, and food comes out when it's ready. Bring an appetite, you're definitely going to order a side of onion rings and a chocolate malt to go along with your meal.
5730 Brookville Road, 317-357-2233, rockcolacafe.com
Gargantuan menu filled with every homestyle favorite food you could dream of? Check. Decor that hasn’t been updated in at least 50 years? Check. A place where you can still get an ice cream float or malt, and a pizza that won “Best Pizza” in NUVO’s Best Of contest several years in a row? Check, check, check. Listen, you won’t find any cool, trendy articles about the Steer In in any local publication, and that’s exactly why you should check it out.
5130 10th St., 317-356-0996, steerin.net
Tick-Tock Lounge -
This little neighborhood bar is as classic as they come. Since its re-opening with new owners it has become a favorite for people around the city. The nachos are huge and covered in toppings, the massive tenderloin crunchy and perfectly prepared, but the crown jewel is the Bloody Mary, made with their house-infused jalapeño vodka and topped with bacon, pepperoni, cheese, olives, and a skewer of tater tots. It's the perfect hangover cure, or start to Race Day. Play some darts or just enjoy the jukebox and a couple shots of their dozen-or-so house infused vodkas.
2602 E. 10th St., 317-634-8625
Big Woods -
A huge hit in Nashville (IN) this pub and restaurant, expanded operations onto Nashville’s main drag with an all-ages pizza shop that’s become the pie of choice once you’re out of smelling distance of Mother Bear’s in B-town. (In fact, some fairly passionate discussions over the supremacy of Big Woods or Bear’s have erupted ‘round these parts.) In addition to the transcendent crust/sauce/toppings combos and award-winning brews, the smoked chicken wings are another reason to make Big Woods a destination. We’re certain that all those quality dishes will be just as spectacularly represented at BWP’s second location on Main in Speedway. The design of the new digs mimics the original brewpub in Nashville.
10th and Main Streets (Speedway), quaffon.com
Checkered Flag Tavern -
A place that celebrates the Indy 500 with its name, the Checkered Flag is a fan favorite for plenty of reasons. The crowd is always fun, the beer is reasonably priced and many Hoosiers would have you believe that they serve the best wings in the city here.
5725 W. Morris St., 317-247-6209
Dawson's on Main -
Dawson’s really appeals to the grownup set who still like their steaks and seafood. No surprise, given that this whole section of town smells vaguely like high-performance fuel, that this has become a favorite spot for those in search of a testosterone-friendly meal of meat, from the ocean to the smoker. You’ll often find drivers and owners noshing here as well.
1464 Main St. (Speedway), 317-247-7000, dawsonsonmain.com
Foyt Wine Vault -
Foyts. A slice of racing history, this a great place to relax with friends and it's proximity to the speedway is just an added bonus. They serve some of the best wines created in Northern California and offer a good selection of craft beers. During the race there is a good chance you will see quite a few of the racing industries top names making their way in here for a nice, quiet evening.
1182 Main St. (Speedway), 317-672-4246, foytwinevault.com
Judge's "Tip of the Rib" Bar-B-Que -
A BBQ joint, and a damn good one at that. This place has been voted best barbecue in the city numerous times and for good reason, from the ribs and brisket to the mac & cheese and greens, everything on this menu melts in your mouth. The only sad part is they are only open of Fridays, and one day a week is just not enough.
2104 W. Michigan St., 317-631-0340, judgesbbq.com
Long's Bakery -
There’s always a line — for a good reason. Bring cash for this one, because that’s all they take.
2300 W. 16th St., 317-632-3741
Mug 'N' Bun -
Burning rubber and frying corn dogs: the two smells that tell you you’re in the heart of racing country. Homemade root beer? Check. A “Super Burger” for under five bucks? Check. This drive-in — yep, still with carhop service — has been around long enough that your parents just might’ve come here on a date.
5211 W. 10th St., 317-244-5669, mug-n-bun.com
Rick's Cafe Boatyard -
This place is all about the location, it doesn’t get much better than watching the sun sink down over Eagle Creek reservoir, sail boats making their way across the smooth lake, while you’re eating some oyster’s Rockefeller, followed by a generous filet of blackened Mahi-Mahi and an ice-cold beer. Life is good.
4050 Dandy Trail, 317-290-9300, rickscafeboatyard.com
The Tamale Place -
Again, Speedway restaurant owners are all about truth in signage. You can get some really outstanding tamales here, as well as other items like tortas and your standard-issue tacos. These are the kind made with love and good ingredients, not garbage meat. This is about as authentic as it gets in Indianapolis and the steak tacos will have you thinking you're standing on a corner in Mexico D.F., but if you want something a little Americanized, go for the spicy chipotle chicken nachos. Prepare to meet one of your new favorite Mexican joints.
5226 Rockville Road, 317-248-9771, thetamaleplace.com
Working Man's Friend -
Sit at one of their tables that have been there for decades and order one of their famous, crispy-edged burgers. Cheese will drape over your simply-dressed patty in a glorious golden robe. The fries will be fried, salted, and plated—no frills, ever. And you don’t need even half a frill when your burgers are as good as they are at Working Man’s Friend. One of the most telling signs that this place is the burger truth? The lunch crowd is one of the most diverse groups of people you’ll ever encounter—from construction workers to judges and lawyers—because everyone loves an inexpensive, perfect cheeseburger and fries.
234 N. Belmont Ave., 317-636-2067
Ball & Biscuit
The Ball & Biscuit's name signifies some old time voice transmitting device; you'll see it as that diminutive artifact that sits atop the bar, like a vintage diving helmet, with a long black tube attached. An old-fashioned backlit sign — "on the air" — adds to the nostalgic charm. The drinks also harken to another time, in more ways than one. You can always count on top-shelf, small-batch alcohol at The Ball & Biscuit and a solid lineup of choice cheeses for noshing. As with any good speakeasy, there’s good contraband off the menu — if you know to ask.
331 Massachusetts Ave., 317-636-0539, ballandbiscuit.com
Black Market -
Making the most of locally-sourced ingredients, Black Market offers a concise and exciting menu at reasonable prices in a cool and contemporary setting. Choosing from a dozen or so dishes in all, diners can sit at one of a handful of booths, or join other gastronauts at a large communal table, bringing to mind feasting of old. The wine-and-beer list is as succinct as the menu and well chosen, with the emphasis on food-friendly wines at again very fair prices.
922 Massachusetts Ave., 317-822-6757, blackmarketindy.com
Cerulean is getting back to treating really high-quality ingredients like a lady. New head chef Alan Sternberg sources locally, and the restaurant is one that’s received the “snail of approval” from the Slow Food Indy organization. They oversee sustainable practices and award the coveted snail to restaurants who source mostly from local producers and name their farms on their menus. Cerulean is also known for being one of the top destinations for sophisticated, artfully-plated dishes. They’re turning out inventive high-end cuisine in our fair city, using sustainably-produced ingredients from farms they’d be happy to tell you all about. Even the plants growing outside the restaurant are as good to eat as they are pretty.
339 S. Delaware St., 317-870-1320, ceruleanrestaurant.com
Indianapolis City Market -
This is the
place to go for an indecisive group looking to appease everyone's meal wants. There are sandwiches, crêpes, burritos, coffee, fresh produce, an amazing little vegan spot and even a bar to be had at the city market. It's one of the most beautiful structures in the city and during the week will be bustling with workers on lunch breaks. Plus, it's in the center of the city so making the drive in allows you to take in the sights of Indianapolis.
222 E. Market St., 317-634-9266, indycm.com
Pizzology & Libertine -
House-made meat toppings, fresh pasta and other Italian goodies make this a great place to kick off a night on Mass Ave. You can also head right downstairs to Libertine to enjoy more cocktails and these are some of the finest craft cocktails you'll find in the Midwest. If you don't see a drink that tickles your fancy, let the bartender know your taste preference and they will whip up the perfect drink for you.
608 Massachusetts Ave., 317-685-2550, pizzologyindy.com
All the German food and all the beer. All of it. The beer hall here is legit, with a lifted-right-from-Bavaria, deer-head-on-the-wall vibe, and the dishes are as authentic as it gets. While I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you to get the Jagerschnitzel, another heart-stopping meal is the Mixed Wurst Platte, with four different sausages and multiple mustards to dip them in, this meal is quite the feast, so I would suggest splitting it with another meat-loving friend.
401 E. Michigan St., 317-636-0396, rathskeller.com
- In Indy, our pastrami has a first name and is S-H-A-P-I-R-O. Never been? You will. In fact, that’s pretty much the heart and soul of the Shapiro’s mission statement: Make great food, and people will come. NUVO readers have voted it the best Deli in town for over 20 years—or about a fifth of the deli’s lifetime. If you don’t have time to luxuriate in a trip through the fullness of their cafeteria-style service, at least grab one of their bakery items to complete your weekend menu, for which we must heartily suggest the cheesecake. My God, the cheesecake.
808 S. Meridian St., 317-631-4041, shapiros.com
St. Elmo's Steakhouse -
Peyton Manning had a steak and Bud Light here after every home game. Sportscasters mention the joint when they visit. The shrimp cocktail sauce is made with super-crazy-spicy fresh horseradish. The service is strong. The steaks are large. It’s a freakin’ Indy institution, folks.
127 S. Illinois St. Ste. 2, 317-635-0636, stelmos.com
The Slippery Noodle -
An Indy legend, the Noodle is Indianapolis' oldest bar and has stood the test of time (it even stayed standing after being shot by John Dillinger). Plus, it's a blues and jazz bar with live music almost every single night. What else do you need to know?
372 S. Meridian St., 317-631-6974, slipperynoodle.com
Tinker Street -
Andrew Luck likes it, and so do we. Not only is the menu creative, but this is where you’ll get some of the very best service in town. From the complimentary prosecco to start your meal, to the offering of shaws when the weather is a little chilly, Tinker Streets owner, an Indy restaurant legend, Peter George makes sure each and every customer feels at home. Make sure you peep the thoughtful wine list and get lots of recs from this highly-trained staff. The menu is packed full of locally-sourced vegan and gluten-free options and the kitchen is happy to accommodate most any food restriction. Even the heaviest meals here will leave you feeling satisfied and not overtly stuffed, and many times that’s all we need.
402 E. 16th St., 317-925-5000, tinkerstreetindy.com
One final note, Indianapolis has one of the best brewery scenes in the entire United States, I've decided not to mention any specific breweries because to add that in would take an immense amount of time and cutting it down to just ten would be a disservice to the many amazing breweries around town. It was hard enough cutting down the restaurants. But, if you want a comprehensive list, head to http://drinkin.beer/beerfinder/