IT COMES as no surprise when Hoosiers see Bluebeard, the small, farm-to-table eatery with the Kurt Vonnegut theme, appear on yet another best-restaurant list and featured on national media. The restaurant, alongside its James Beard Award–nominated chef Abbi Merriss, is celebrating its 10th year in 2022. After a decade on Virginia Avenue, even out-of-town diners know this is where you go for a good meal in Indy, whether that involves a delightful lunch of scratchmade chips and dip and perfectly calibrated chop salad on the patio, or a dinner table covered in plates of salmon ceviche with compressed strawberries, mussels in a complex green curry broth with (among many things) pickled papaya, and the essential butcher-shop Bolognese. Regardless of the occasion or the season, Merriss and team quietly and consistently create thoughtful menus, working with sommelier Jan Bugher’s wine program. But the real magic is that for 10 years, Bluebeard has consistently made the ordinary extraordinary, welcoming diners with an open mind and a seat at the table. 653 Virginia Ave., 317-686-1580, bluebeardindy.com
St. Elmo Steak House
IF YOU’VE BEEN filling up seats since 1902, you’re doing something right. If you’re getting nods from Forbes and the James Beard Foundation, you’re definitely doing something right. And if the mention of your steakhouse name evokes all that’s legendary and iconic about a particular Midwestern city, you’re St. Elmo. The swanky downtown meat mecca—once known as a “dining bastion for men”—is now a destination for date nights as much as for business deals. Elegant without being overly stuffy, it achieved something long ago many restaurants struggle with: nailing their niche.
Not a lot has changed here menu-wise over the years, and why should it? Hungry crowds still want what they want, and can always find it waiting here: a whiskey and Coke, fiery shrimp cocktail, and, of course, the crown jewel of any plate—generous cuts of majestically marbled, melt-in-your-mouth meat. 127 S. Illinois St., 317-635-0636, stelmos.com
EVERY MEAL feels like a special occasion when Vida’s crisp Lockerbie Square team is whisking out mini plates of Skuna Bay salmon in a bouquet of bitter greens, beef tartare topped with a raw quail egg, a puck of vanilla-flecked panna cotta jiggling under spiced cherries, and other dishes that would not look out of place in a museum of modern art. Under the watch of executive chef Thomas Melvin, a James Beard Award semifinalist this year, this is the polished showpiece of Cunningham Restaurant Group’s local empire. It offers a full menu as well as two prix fixe formats: a four-course seasonal menu and a six-course chef’s tasting menu with optional wine pairings. Past stunners have included slivers of fluke tiradito with a pour of sunflower leche de tigre, bright roasted carrots with pistachio honeycomb, and the essential indulgence of ricotta doughnuts drenched in bourbon maple glaze with candied bacon and sea salt caramel ice cream. Are you drooling yet? 601 E. New York St., 317-420-2323, vida-restaurant.com
Late Harvest Kitchen
AFTER 11 YEARS, chef Ryan Nelson’s scratch-kitchen stronghold still ranks among Indy’s most important restaurants. Regulars have their favorites, gravitating toward the shaved Brussels sprout salad with sieved egg and smoked almonds that was an early adapter to the cruciferous trend, or the fried deviled eggs, a study in deconstructed decadence. One of Indy’s most consistently detail-oriented restaurateurs, Nelson begins with a solid menu of recurring entrees, including a succulent 16-ounce pork chop plated with baked beans, bacon jam, and a pop of house kraut, along with an equally classic chicken schnitzel and a nightly whole fish. Then, he reminds us every so often of his deep well of talent by adding seasonal highlights (a tomato tart with stuffed squash blossoms, for example) as ingredients become available. 8605 River Crossing Blvd., 317-663-8063, lateharvestkitchen.com
THERE WERE NO Instagram stars or celebrity food bloggers hustling for content when Steven Oakley, a veteran of Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago, set up shop in an unassuming Greenbriar strip mall 20 years ago. Back then, there were barely even camera phones. But Oakley didn’t exactly send his bacon-wrapped apricots and shrimp corndogs out into obscurity. Diners from as far back as the George W administration have always paused reverently before devouring their Duck & Duck, tomato tarts, and sweet corn ravioli that all rise impressively off of their plates in architectural layers of sauces and textures—a hashtag of nasturtium leaves, for instance, or a scattering of puffed quinoa. This was not to let their cameras eat first but to admire the beauty of a legendary chef’s handiwork. Some things never change. 1464 W. 86th St., 317-824-1231, oakleysbistro.com