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Lafayette Sq restaurant owners tell their tales 

click to enlarge Abyssinia is Indy's longest-standing Ethiopian restaurant. - KERRY JESSUP
  • Abyssinia is Indy's longest-standing Ethiopian restaurant.
  • Kerry Jessup

On June 15 restaurant owners from the Lafayette Square area will share their firsthand stories and delicious international cuisine at Big Car Service Center. The event, Tasting Success, will feature restaurants such as Abyssinia, Guatelinda, Saigon, India Palace, and Spice Nation, among others. Interviews with restaurant entrepreneurs will be featured throughout the event, as will samples of each restaurant's food.

The event is hosted by Big Car, Welcoming Indianapolis and Exodus Refugee Immigration.

Megan Hart of Big Car Service Center is helping to plan. "I'm looking forward to showcasing the stories of local immigrant restaurant owners, not only to let the community know about the incredible food options we have in the Lafayette Square area, but also to give a glimpse into the lives of some really incredible people," she says.

"Tasting Success is an opportunity to share with Lafayette Square residents, as well as neighboring communities, who the foreign-born living and working in their neighborhood are," says Sarah Johnson, coordinator for Welcoming Indianapolis.

"These restaurant owners have purchased vacant buildings, started successful businesses, and are doing so right down the street from people who have lived there from birth," she says.

David, the founder of Beautiful Shades, a Nigerian influenced restaurant in Lafayette Square, came to the United States from Nigeria in 2001. "The first time I came to the U.S. I came to Indianapolis," he explains. "So Indianapolis is home for me now. I do love it. I do absolutely."

He says he's not a fan of large cities, and that Indianapolis is just the right size. "I just got back from Houston this morning," he says. "That city is too big! I couldn't do it. It is family oriented [here in Indianapolis]. A lot of Nigerian communities grew up together and we're still here."

David enjoys cooking Nigerian dishes, including the ever popular jollof rice. When a hair salon with a primarily African American clientele moved in next door to his restaurant, he decided to try his hand at soul food - now a popular addition to his repertoire.

"Rather than just driving by or eating at one of these ethnic restaurants, this exhibit gives the community an occasion to actually meet the owners and learn about when they came to Indianapolis and how they arrived here," Sarah explains of Saturday's event.

Tina, founder of Siagon, says that her cuisine hasn't changed much since the days her grandmother sold food as a street vendor in Vietnam.

"At the time [of our restaurant opening] there weren't that many Vietnamese restaurants in the area and there was a big need for it, so we decided to open one up," she explains. "We are a family business, so we are a lot closer together and work well together."

Tina loves finding new experiences in Indianapolis, and she hopes that guests will enjoy the opportunity to explore the ethnic foods provided on Saturday. "I think it's good to experience things I've never had," she says "if I go to a Japanese steakhouse where I've never experienced it before... I think it's good to branch out."

Stories from foreign-born new Hoosiers seem to resonate closely with those of native-born Hoosiers, Sarah Johnston points out. "Meeting your neighbors is the first step to becoming friends - what better way to kick that relationship off than by sharing stories and eating food together?"

click to enlarge A sort of community gathering place, La Guatalinda stays open late on the weekends. - KERRY JESSUP
  • A sort of community gathering place, La Guatalinda stays open late on the weekends.
  • Kerry Jessup


Lafayette Square picks:

Abyssinia
Located in a strip mall on W. 38th Street, Indy's longest-standing Ethiopian restaurant may not be much to look at, but inside you'll find a menu offering a satisfying selection of dishes from one of the world's most distinctive cuisines. Served on injera, the absorbent bread that's used to sop up flavorful meat and vegetarian dishes that are eaten with the fingers, Abyssinia provides what amounts to some of the world's most exotic comfort food.
5352 W. 38th St., 317-299-0608, abyssiniarestaurant.com

Cairo Cafe
The Cairo Café is part of the international mosaic of dining options that have mushroomed in recent years on the city's west side. You get a particularly happy sense that by simply crossing a threshold, you've managed to change the shape of everyday Indianapolis a little bit. Cairo Café signals its origins in its entryway by offering a range of goods like handmade sandals, melon seeds and hookahs for sale. The Café features hummus, baba ghanoush and a rich raita made from cucumbers and yogurt. Heavily cooked vegetable dishes, grilled chicken and gyros are complemented by a selection of fresh vegetables ready to be turned into salad.
3407 Lafayette Road, 317-926-2233

La Guanaquita
Open until midnight on Friday and Saturday nights, La Guanaquita feels like a community gathering place. Soups have pride of place on the weekends. Try the Hen Soup ($8.50) on Fridays - a robust chicken soup served with a breast quarter on the side and made with chayote, a kind of squash that looks like a pear but tastes like potato. Beef soup is served on Saturdays and Hoff soup on Sundays. The chorizo Torta, a sausage sandwich, is spicy, creamy and slightly tart. A grocery with all the ingredients on offer here shares half of La Guanaquita's space.
5435 W. 38th St., 317-283-2011

click to enlarge Saigon serves Vietnamese and 'oriental' cuisine — including several varieties of pho. - KERRY JESSUP
  • Saigon serves Vietnamese and 'oriental' cuisine — including several varieties of pho.
  • Kerry Jessup

Saigon
This spot is a must-try, whether it be for the rustic pork or catfish cooked in a clay pot with garlic, or the classic soup, Pho, replete with tripe and crisp vegetables, or just a couple of delightfully crunchy shrimp and lettuce spring rolls. Many of our favorite dishes are suffused with a complex savory umami character and often a pungent mouthwatering note that derives from the ubiquitous fermented fish sauce, nuoc namn. Clean, well-lit and welcoming, the simple interior promises a no-frills approach to dining, delivering an early promise that your modest check will go in large part to what arrives on your plate and delights your senses.
3103 Lafayette Road, 317-927-7270, saigonrestaurant-indy.com

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