We're lucky to live in a city that is filled with first-rate restaurants for every walk of life and palate. We are even luckier that in the modern age, these restaurants are eschewing the idea that only a certain class of diners should have the privilege of dining in their establishments; they instead are promoting the belief that every hard-working person deserves to have a quality meal made with good, often-local ingredients.
With that in mind there are plenty of local meals that are both insanely inexpensive and must-eats in the city. We’ve compiled them all for you to go on one long, cost-effective food odyssey in Indy. Save up, and spend your money this summer on concerts, trips and fun in the sun.
(Editor’s Note: All of these dishes are under $15 prior to tip. Don’t forget to to tip, and to tip well when at a sit-down meal with a server. Like, a minimum of 20 percent. Anything less and you’re just being a cheap asshole. You don’t want to be that do you?)
It’s the king of affordable meals and has been for years — hell, before they took cards they used to accept IOUs, which made my college years much tastier. (Don’t worry, I paid them all back, with the juice.) I’m pretty sure their chili-cheese étouffée is certifiably an addictive drug, and when it’s under $10, it’s an even better investment than that snicklefritz. An added bonus: They have options for vegans too, like the vegan white chili, so you don’t have to eat meat to eat cheap.
Multiple Locations; yatscajuncreole.com Ripple Bagel & Deli
Jimmy John’s this is not (even though those are cheap eats as well). These sandwiches are lightyears ahead in flavor, ingredients, inventiveness and overall awesomeness. There are more options on this menu than you could eat in a lifetime — I’m personally testing out this theory — and every single steamed bagel sandwich is mouth-watering good. While you can choose from the classic menu or the hand-drawn creations, the most interesting experience is to order The Lottery. The Lottery is where you say, "I want a lottery" and then they just make you a sandwich. It may sound scary, but what’s life if you’re not living on the edge? You’re such a daredevil.
850 Broad Ripple Ave.; 317-257-8326; ripplebageldeli.com
You know it, you love it and it’s saved you from a raging hangover plenty of times. This Fountain Square 24-hour diner is known for breakfast all day every day and for pretty much no dollars. The pancakes are bigger than your head, the bacon is crispy, the coffee is hot and everything is kind of greasy and will help your stomach when it’s roiling from too many PBRs and Palomas. It’s so delicious Bernie Sanders ate here, and we know The Bern isn’t one for fiscal conservatism.
1004 Virginia Ave.; 317-637-1158
King David Dogs
Indy’s answer to the nationwide hot dog wars, King David’s came in and started dishing out dogs that rival the best of NYC, Chicago or LA. While you can get all three of those styles here or even an Indy Dog, branch out and try something interesting like dog-a-roni & cheese (it’s exactly what you’re thinking) or a Hula Dog — or get both. I mean, when every dog is under six bucks, why wouldn’t you?
135 N. Pennsylvania St.; 317-632-3647; kingdaviddogs.com
A $7.99 Indian buffet full of piquant offerings like Tandoori chicken, saag paneer, Punjabi bhaji and plenty of other sapid, vibrant dishes is the perfect way to spend your money and get your fill. Finish it off with some Indian masala tea or a Maharaja beer (it’s 5 o’clock somewhere) and you’ll feel like you’ve gotta get back to the Darjeeling Limited before you’re left at this stop.
1043 Broad Ripple Ave.; 317-465-1100; shalimarindianapolis.com
There is one thing we can all agree on and that is: free, unlimited sides is a thing of beauty. The po-boys all hover in the $10 area, and they’re all packed full of flavor that will fill you up all on their own. The fact that if you’re dining in, you can get unlimited sides — including the best bread pudding — makes this place far and away one of the best deals in the city.
8950 E. 10th St.; 317-603-9861; paparouxcajun.com
You’ll never eat more food (all of it amazing) for less money at a sit-down restaurant in this city. It’s $12.99 for maybe the best fried chicken in Indy, plus four homemade sides like gooey macaroni and cheese, creamy mashed potatoes, buttery corn and more. Oh yeah, we totally forgot to mention that you can get refills on anything, including the chicken. You just can’t take those second rounds to go, so don’t overdo it.
2170 E. 54th St.; 317-446-0522
A.K.A. Pact’s Tacos, this is a hole-in-the-wall taco shop and at under $2 a taco, it’s a place to get a lot of bang for your buck. If you’re not a taco person, no worries; they have gigantic burritos (like the biggest I’ve ever seen) quesadillas and arroz con pollo; no matter what you order, it’s all muy delicioso, especially when you top it with their hot sauces.
4390 N. Keystone Ave.; 317-377-4132
Egg Roll #1
You could probably guess that a place with a name like this would be inexpensive. What you may have not guessed is that it also happens to have damn good Asian cuisine — and we say Asian because they don’t stick to one specific region of Asia; their menu includes Thai, Chinese and Vietnamese dishes. If you’re going to do Egg Roll #1 justice, go for a huge, steaming bowl of soupy, noodley scrumtrulessence known as phở.
4540 S. Emerson Ave.; 317-767-2225; eggroll1.com
McGinley’s Golden Ace Inn
We’ll never know how they do it, but everything on this menu is under five dollars (besides the platter, which comes in at a whopping $5.25). Not only is the food crazily cheap, the burger is $3.75 and continually named one of the city’s best, but their beer is also some of the lowest prices you’ll find anywhere. If you happen to be friends or family with the McGinleys, you may just get the opportunity to come in for their annual anniversary celebration, where they kick the prices back to 1934. At 10 cents for a draft beer, I’ll buy a round for everyone!
2533 E. Washington St.; 317-632-0696, goldenaceinn.com
Harry & Izzy’s
I know, you probably are thinking this is a typo. It’s not. Despite being the sister restaurant to St. Elmo’s, it’s easy to get an affordable meal here and you’ll be surprised by your options. It’s all about those $5.50 sliders and $4 fried green tomatoes or fresh-cut fries. With slider choices like fried chicken, shrimp po-boys and (my personal favorite) filet, you truly can’t beat two of those with a side for under $15.
153 S. Illinois St., 317-635-9594; 4050 E. 82nd St., 317-915-8045; harryandizzys.com
Sometimes it’s hard to find healthy food that also is good for your wallet; Duos has taken this issue head-on and made it easy to eat a healthy, cost-effective lunch for every weekday. Their use of fresh ingredients to craft toothsome dishes and keeping the prices anywhere between five and ten dollars must be some sort of wizardry, but it’s a form of magic I can get behind. Plus: It’s absolutely the best salad bar in town.
2960 N. Meridian St.; 317-508-8614; duosindy.com
Your favorite food truck also has a brick and mortar spot in Fletcher Place, and you won’t find a better quick stop spot in the neighborhood. Have you ever dreamt about a dish? Just me? Well, their chicken tikki spice wraps, covered in spicy chutney and with a cold mango lassi live within the walls of my subconscious and may, or may not, play a role in my sleeping adventures.
719 Virginia Ave.; 317-220-8590; pxeve.com/spicebox
Jamaican Reggae Grill
Carmel may be one of the wealthiest and fastest growing cities in the country, but just because you live there doesn’t mean you don’t enjoy a tasty, wallet-friendly meal, and Jamaican Reggae Grill offers just that. You can go classic with options like jerk chicken, but if you want to try something surprising, there’s no better place to get some curried goat. It’s authentic enough to make you imagine how well Bob Marley would have fit in here.
622 S. Rangeline Road; 317-663-7630; jamaicanreggaegrill.com
You want authentic food on Indy’s Southside, an area known for its saturation of chains? Look no further than this little Mexican mart. The tacos here are unimaginably good, especially the lengua (beef tongue), and all you’ll need is a little squeeze of lime to compliment the onions and cilantro to make these tacos your favorite in town. Add to that the fresh agua de sandía (watermelon juice) and you have possibly the most authentic Mexican meal in the city. (A little hint: If you walk in and you’re the only person that speaks one language in the joint, you’ve come to the right place.)
4202 S. Meridian St.; 317-780-1550
Red Key Tavern
There’s no better way to end a day of work than to swing by the Red Key, order a beer (Bier Brewery’s Sixty-Five is my new go-to), a burger, some potato salad (if Dollie has some ready), put some tunes on the jukebox and spend less than $15 (cash only, of course). Even if I’m by myself, I know I’ll have good company with the people here — and there’s a chance I’ll get a history lesson from Dan Wakefield himself.
5170 N. College Ave.; 317-283-4601; redkeytavern.com
La Chinita Poblana
These tacos are anything but traditional Mexican, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that they’re damn good. It’s a blend of two of the best cuisines in the world: Chinese and Mexican. While some fusion restaurants have failed at this combination, this Broad Ripple mainstay pulls it off flawlessly in all of their dishes. Cool the heat from the taco with a honeydew boba tea for a near perfect meal.
927 Westfield Blvd.; 317-722-8108; lachinitapoblana.com
Checkered Flag Tavern
Chicken wings are expensive, mainly because we eat so many of them (because they're delicious). Somehow the people at Checkered Flag have managed to keep the prices low while keeping the quality of their wings high. For that reason the wings here are annually ranked in the top wings in the city. With 10 wing flavors to choose from, you’ll be back time and again to eat your way through each one.
5725 W. Morris St.; 317-247-6209
The daily sandwich here is the truth, no matter what it may be. Whether it uses Smoking Goose turkey, with a bacon and peach jam and some walnuts and brie, or it’s a Fischer Farms beef frank with coney sauce and topped with cheddar and black truffles, Wildwood’s sammie choices are always different and always amazing. Plus, they carry Uel Zing cold brew coffee and have fresh croissants every day to start your day right and on a budget.
1015 Virginia Ave.; 317-737-2653; wildwoodmarket.com