Our critic's Best Of alphabet Atmosphere

Some might prefer the ultra-hip stylings of Lotus, but for me it has to be the bar at Peter's Bistro 936 on Virginia Avenue. Not too smoky, dim but not dark, with a really good selection of reasonably-priced wines by the bottle and glass. More upscale, corporate types might prefer the bar at Ruth"s Chris downtown.

The bar at Peter"s Bistro 936

Bistros

Naturally the aforementioned 936 deserves a place at the top, especially with recent changes to the menu. R-Bistro on Mass. Avenue still continues to deliver excellent fresh fare with a local twist, and The Pidge in Zionsville is well worth the drive.

Chinese

There are only two players in town: the remarkable and consistent Yummy at 34th and Georgetown, where Dim Sum is offered for lunch seven days a week. It's still really the only restaurant of its kind in town, and rivals some of the best on the West Coast. You might also check out Sichuan at 116th and Westfield for fresh and spicy dishes at great prices.

Drinks

Where to start? Chalkies has the best selection of beers. The Rathskeller is the place for liters of fresh and foaming Oktoberfest. The Broad Ripple Brewpub is sans pareil. Lulu's, Snax and Olive's offer great martinis. Dunaway's has the best wine list in town, but no one has a really great selection by the glass. Maybe one day.

Elegance

The new Scholar's Inn on Massachusetts Avenue. An Alice-in-Wonderland setting, high-backed chairs and not a straight line in sight. The wine bar here is the coolest in town. Perennial favorites Dunaway's and Tavola di Tosa round out the top three.

Fastidious

This has to go to Adam Marker, server extraordinaire, whose impeccable and intelligent service gives the word anal a whole new meaning. Adam can currently be found working his magic at Tavola di Tosa.

Goulash There's little to beat John's Famous Stews just south of downtown on Kentucky Avenue. Mild, medium or hot, the generous portions at John's will satisfy most appetites for at least a day. An Indy classic.

Hispanic

Don Victor's, with its two locations on the Southside and in Castleton, is a new favorite. Tacqueria El Azabache on South East Street constantly expands and improves its menu, while Pancho's tacqueria at 71st and Michigan sets the pace for hordes of aficionados. If you live on the Eastside, you can't ignore the Tacqueria Los Tres Hermanos on East Michigan Street.

Indian

There are many contenders in this category, but my vote, hands down, goes to Shahi Dawat in Greenwood, which caters equally well to novices and old hands alike. The freshness and complexity of flavors leave most of the city's other Indian restaurants in the dust. When your friend from India reminds you to put the toilet roll in the deep-freeze, you know you're in for a fun time.

Jamaican

Sad to say, but the top scorer in this category is a chain. Although Caribbean Flava on East 46th Street offers some of the best value for money, Bahama Breeze excels at creating a faux-island atmosphere in "car-dealer" land on 96th Street. Yes, the place is cheesy, but the cocktails are great and the fish is fresh.

Kitchen Supplies

Although it's hard to top Williams-Sonoma for quality and selection, my vote still lies with a local favorite: Frasier's Gourmet on East 96th Street. The Corner Gourmet is a sound runner-up with two locations at Willow Lake and Clearwater.

Lunch

It's almost impossible to find a good lunch in this town you know, the kind where you can sit around for hours with a good bottle of RosÈ, three or four courses, then head off in search of a cup of tea at 4 p.m. If anyone knows of such an establishment, please send me an e-mail.

Meat

For the living thing, you can try Champps. If you prefer your meat cooked, Chops at 86th and Keystone is the best steakhouse in town. The eye candy there is pretty impressive, too. Just call me "Daddy."

Nouvelle-Pacific

With two locations, Five Spice CafÈ offers some of the most arresting and innovative East Asian cuisine in town. With an emphasis on low-fat, big-flavor, pan-cultural food of the highest order, this one is well worth checking out.

Over-the-Top

Club Lotus. A couple of places spring to mind, but I have to say that I find myself most amused by the camp posturing to such a lavish degree at this hippie-trip-hop downtown eatery. Seldom have I giggled and cried at the same time, but would happily make a repeat visit just for the experience. The sushi isn't bad, either.

Pool

Chalkies Billiards & Restaurant. With the food of Richard Cottance, an outstanding selection of beer, a smoke-free environment and more than a dozen first-class pool tables, this is the destination for the serious, or casual, player. The service varies between the inspired and the vapid - you take your chances.

Quaint

The Pidge in Zionsville offers the magical combination of an oh-so-cute setting, a discreet location and dÈcor that Laura Ashley would have been proud of. She would also probably have enjoyed the short, but intriguing menus, offering the freshest of local meats and poultry and wonderful seasonal ingredients. For a quiet and unhurried dinner, there are few places in the area to rival The Pidge for peace and tranquility.

Ribs

When it comes to the subject of ribs, there can be no dispute. The finest in the metro area, and possibly in the state, are to be found at Alexander's Southern Smokehouse, recently moved to new digs on the north side of Franklin. Slow-cooked over hickory, without basting or sticky sauces, these are the most authentic you are likely to find for several hundred miles. And on the subject of ribs, unless you want to waste $100 and stand for four hours in line listening to Hall & Oates, you might want to skip next year's Rib America festival. Save your money for Alexander's. Call 738-5225.

Sushi

The opening of Wasabi on 86th has provided the first serious challenge in quality to downtown's Mikado. The ingredients, service and range of sakes are quite exceptional. Try visiting on a Tuesday for the outstanding toro, cut from the belly of the tuna fish. These people know what they are doing and the prices are reasonable. Forget Sakura, whose infuriatingly slow service earns it a place in the "where are they now?" file.

Trattoria

Oh, gee, this is a tough choice. Not only is there one trattoria in town of which to speak, but if there were more, this would still be the best. Tavola di Tossa, now into its third year, commands a place not only as the finest Italian eatery in town, but as the best restaurant overall. The recent addition of a wine bar and an expansion of its already extensive list merely reinforces this restaurant"s dominant position.

Underrated

I'm sure everyone has a favorite restaurant they feel is ignored by the rest. Mine happens to be Capri, hidden away in a frankly lousy location on North Keystone Avenue. The menu, however, which is, in large part, shared by Capri's sister restaurant, Amalfi in Greenbriar, is borderline excellent. I wish more people knew about this fine establishment, which is why I"m mentioning it here. The wine list is set to improve soon.

Vietnamese

Anyone who has visited San Francisco's Slanted Door restaurant will know what I mean when I compare it with Saigon Restaurant at 32nd and Lafayette. If Saigon were in a better, downtown location, it could certainly compare with the prices and the critical acclaim of its West Coast counterpart. All it needs is a great wine list to set it apart. Also a perennial favorite in this category is the Sizzling Wok at 71st and Michigan.

Wanker

ME. For daring to suggest that an independent restaurant could be, in any way, inferior to its corporate counterparts by virtue of its delivering a substandard level of food, wine and service. Shame on me. I ought to know by now that independence alone should be enough to guarantee a restaurant's eternal greatness in the critical annals for all posterity. Never again will I mistake the occasional incompetence of independence for the perennial mediocrity of chains.

Xenophobia

The reason there are not lines outside our Afghani restaurants. Both Kabul Village and its sister restaurant, Shamira in Bloomington, offer a very sound selection of traditional Afghani cuisine. Both are well worth the visit. Just don't tell your Republican friends that you're going. Otherwise, you too might do 20 years hard time for consorting with the enemy.

Yucatan

I recently ate at a restaurant that offered a salad from this region, but I can't remember where. The Yucatan Peninsula is famous for dishes made from fish, chicken and pork. Savory and complex without being overly spicy, dishes such as poc chuc and chicken pibil are well worth searching out. This is not your typical Tex-Mex cuisine. You probably have to travel to La Frontera in Chicago to fully experience this cuisine, or just fly down to Mexico. There are plenty of cheap flights available right now.

Zydeco

New Orleans ain't just in Louisiana! Fortunately for us, because after the two recent hurricanes, who knows what"s going to be left of good ole Cajun cookin'. Zydeco's in Monrovia (and now in Mooresville) offers a vibrant, eclectic menu, heavy on shrimp, spice and gumbo filÈ.

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