We, like the rest of the Indy eating community, are pretty jazzed that our scene has grown up into a diverse and experimental landscape of flavors. It seems like a new location is popping up every week, and your culinary To-Do list gets longer and longer. Well, allow me to continue horsing up your queue with eleven of Indy's essential dining experiences. We're going back to our deep, limestone-sunk roots on this one. Click through to see all the locations for each restaurant.
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.
2. Mug ‘N’ Bun
Yeah, we’re going here, too. Mug ‘N’ Bun has been a Speedway staple for decades, serving up ice-cold root beer with corn dogs, fries, and other things that leave grease stains on the red-checked paper cups they’re served in. This, like the smell of burning rubber and the roar of the engines carrying racers in death-defying loops, defines the Indianapolis experience.
Are you tired of hearing about Yats from the publication? Well, strap in, baby, because this staple isn’t going anywhere—from the city, or these (online) pages. It’s hot, tasty, rich creole for less than a five-spot! It always sounds good. It always tastes good. And now, because of a Naptown hunger for quality cajun of epic proportions, the business has franchised and probably a lot closer to you than you think, no matter where you are in the city. [College Ave-CASH ONLY]
4. Working Man’s Friend
Crispy-edged burgers for cheap and tables that haven’t been replaced in a few decades: this is the essential WMF experience. There 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. [CASH ONLY]
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.
6. St. Elmo
Fun fact about St. Elmo: when the NBC comedy Parks and Recreation filmed in the restaurant, Newt Gingrich happened to also be dining at the restaurant, so he was incorporated into the show as a guest cameo. If it’s good enough for one of the most resilient moles on the haggard public face of the Republican party and a fictional NBC bachelor party, you know the steaks and the cocktail sauce are really the truth.
7. Maxine’s Chicken and Waffles
Fried chicken, waffles, peach butter. Do we need to say anything else or did— Ah, nope you’re already in your car. Enjoy!
We know, we know: this town has a pretty great variety of pizza available. But while many different pizza establishments have come and gone, Bazbeaux remains steadfast, serving up everything from the simple pepperoni to the Tchoupitoulas, made of Cajun shrimp, house roasted red pepper, green pepper, red onion, andouille sausage, fresh garlic. And if you’re going to town, you might as well go in a Lincoln, so ask for a little bit of their creamy basil salad dressing to dip it in.
Martha Hoover’s flagship restaurant is one of the busiest places in town during breakfast and lunch. This is where you head if you just want something easy but sophisticated without a lot of pretension. Get a Broken Yolk sandwich and sit back in the refreshing lightness of the white interior. Patachou was also one of the first restaurants to usher in the era of hyper-local sourcing, which has come to define Indy’s incredible and ever-growing food scene.
10. Long’s Bakery
The simple, golden, glazed donuts are perfect. They’ve always been perfect. They’ll continue to be perfect. [CASH ONLY]
11. The Red Key
There’s a swearing jar, the burger is really good, and Vonnegut used to hang out here. These days, it’s undergoing an intense facelift, but the business remains open. It’s pretty much as Indianapolis as it gets: unassuming, steadfast, and oh yeah, a hangout for one of the most famous and talented writers of all time. If you’re a Red Key regular, you might have just called him Kurt.