Best Restaurants 2020
Well, this is awkward.
The April issue of Indianapolis Monthly is here—maybe you have already received it in your mailbox. We put this magazine to bed just a few weeks before an awful little Koosh Ball called coronavirus landed in our city, a lifetime ago. My cover story is a tribute to Indy’s Best Restaurants. Go ahead and let that sink in: nineteen glossy pages of crave-inducing descriptions and information on an industry that is, at this moment, being forced to reinvent itself.
In that weird time-space travel thing that monthly publications do, Terry Kirts, Suzanne Krowiak, and I spent months dining our way around Indianapolis to build this list of the Top 40 restaurants in a city that loves its charcuterie and craft cocktails and James Beard nominees—a landscape that changed and moved so fast we could barely keep up. It hurts my heart to read back through this list today and know that these same chefs, cooks, servers, bartenders, and burger slingers are scrambling to keep their businesses afloat. It’s especially crushing in a town that has worked so hard to build a proud, robust dining scene.
As a food journalist, I understand the importance of keeping a professional distance from the people I write about. But it’s hard to maintain that air of impartiality right now, when so much more is at stake. Maybe a magazine feature praising the pillars and heroes of our local dining scene seems like bad timing right now. But then, maybe it’s perfect timing. To everyone who works so hard to keep Indianapolis well fed—thank you, thank you, thank you. And hang in there. Know that we support you and will be there for you when we can all sit around the table together again. In the meantime, our hearts are only growing fonder.
Without further ado, the Top 40 restaurants of Indianapolis, with notes about their current open status and menus.
922 Massachusetts Ave., 317-822-6757, blackmarketindy.net
It happened this past summer, seemingly in the blink of an eye. Or maybe you haven’t heard? Your favorite farm-to-table Mass Ave spot is now the ultra-authentic Mass Ave Mexican restaurant you never knew you needed. Ask Esteban Rosas, the 30-year-old chef who ushered in the changes after a trial-run summer menu, why Indy needs another Latin restaurant, and he won’t mince words: “Because we’re doing it right. We’re cooking the food of our mothers, but we logged hours with classic techniques, and now we’re pushing ourselves in a different direction.” That direction means sourcing single-origin dried corn that Rosas and staff transformed into tortillas with the distinct terroir of Oaxaca. It means mole prepared with upwards of 50 ingredients, a three-day process that makes a starter as simple as chicken taquitos sing. In early winter, it meant the return of lunch, where potato flautas with pickled onions and salsa verde are the most delicate thing you’ll eat all week. And while you may miss the hunky burgers and elegant pork chops of the Micah Frank days, come summer when you’re sipping a cerveza under the pergola with a plate of slow-braised lamb-shank barbacoa, you’ll understand why change can be a delicious and satisfying thing.
(Black Market has suspended operations until further notice. While this spells hard times for the company’s staff, the restaurant’s executive chef, Esteban Rosas, has started a Mightycause fundraiser to help support them during the crisis for staff who have lost their job.)
653 Virginia Ave., 317-686-1580, bluebeardindy.com
Dear Chef Abbi Merriss,
This probably isn’t your first piece of fan mail.
After all, Condé Nast Traveler, Food & Wine, USA Today, and Playboy have all sung your praises. The James Beard Foundation must have an entire Abbi Merriss file, having placed you among the semifinalists for its Best Chefs in America honor every year since 2016. Next month, we will know if 2020 is finally the year you make the leap from James Beard nominee to James Beard winner. But why stop there? Every one of Bluebeard’s chopped salads—perfect specimens of calibrated flavor—deserves a Nobel Prize. We would induct your Elvis Mini Pie (peanut-butter pastry, banana pudding, bourbon glaze, and bacon sprinkles) into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and that list of cocktails named after Bluebeard’s literary inspiration, Kurt Vonnegut, should get a Pulitzer Prize of its own.
Even The New York Times knows that Bluebeard is “one of the best in town,” and we couldn’t agree more. But lest you mistake us for fair-weather fans who hopped on your bandwagon after the fifth Beard nod, know that we have been Team Abbi since your sous-chef stint at Recess, where you trained under chef Greg Hardesty. Maybe that’s where you became such a team player. To this day, you hesitate to take full credit for Bluebeard’s success, mentioning your staff’s contributions in every acceptance speech. In a world where less-talented chefs act like rock stars, you are a breath of fresh (if faintly garlic-scented) air.
Look, we won’t take up any more of your time. You have a lot on your plate right now, opening your French-inspired Brasserie in the new Kan-Kan Cinema in Windsor Park while keeping your Bluebeard kitchen running as smoothly as ever. We just want to thank you for your food—your osso bucco, butcher shop Bolognese, and Sunday dollar oysters specifically. But you’ve already heard it from us. Every time we roll out a Best Restaurants issue, we have to come up with a new way to tell the world that Abbi Merriss is a quiet genius. This time, we wanted to deliver that message directly to you. Because, in case no one has told you lately, you’re kind of a big deal.
(Bluebeard is offering curbside and carryout meals through their sister company, Amelia’s Bakery. The downsizing to a skeleton crew has left many employees without work for the time being, and so the restaurant is doing a “Tip the Staff” initiative on Venmo, with all of the donations split evenly amongst the staff. Bluebeard’s Venmo is @bluebeardindy. )
1217 E. 16th St., 317-635-4444, festivaindy.com
Decorated like a fantastic backyard party, with sunny splashes of yellow and blue and a pass-through bar that opens onto an enclosed all-seasons patio, Festiva adds a pop of color and energy to its little patch of East 16th Street. In a space not much bigger than a two-car garage, owner George Muñoz, who got his restaurant start at Broad Ripple’s tiny taco stand La Chinita Poblana, delivers authentic Mexican flavors on a big scale. In addition to the requisite trays of tacos, Mexican street corn rolled in crushed spicy Takis, and a whole roasted poblano fundito that is required eating, the kitchen always has a few surprises up its sleeve. The daily masa creation might be topped with grilled flank steak and seared panela cheese, or smeared with fava-bean purée and Mexican ricotta. The nightly special could be slow-roasted pork wrapped in banana leaves, washed down with housemade horchata spiked with Buffalo Trace bourbon. If you are on a quest for the best pork ribs in town, look no further than Festiva’s tender, barky honey guajillo–braised version that easily rivals any smokehouse effort.
(Festiva is temporarily closed, and offers no takeout or delivery. However, you can help support their staff by donating to their Venmo, @FestivaIndy. All donations are split evenly amongst the staff.)
452 N. Highland Ave., 317-602-7960, kingdoughpizzas.com
Even if King Dough did nothing but make pizza, it would rank high on our list of the best restaurants of 2020. Because it does so much more than make pizza, this Holy Cross wood-fired wonder comes in very near the top. A pizzeria with range, Adam and Alicia Sweet’s Bloomington transplant perfects crispy chicken wings that are at their best when tossed in hot honey-sesame sauce, and it has a strong cheeseburger game—sizzling up a five-ounce smashburger gloppy with grilled onions and secret sauce. King Dough also hosts pop-up collaborations like the one it did with Indy Dough doughnuts in December that featured a fried-chicken prelude to the couple’s Natural State Provisions Southern-comfort food booth at Fishers Test Kitchen.
About the pizzas, though. They are all blistered to perfection inside a 1,000-degree gas oven. King Dough’s trick is to start with a naturally leavened dough that gives the crust a sour tinge and that coveted leopard-spotted surface of bubbles and char. The Destroyer drizzles Mike’s Hot Honey over sausage and aged mozzarella. The N Do Ya Punk incorporates Smoking Goose ’nduja with pecorino, breadcrumbs, and ranch. And the Grape & Gorgonzola is exactly what it sounds like, introducing a flavor combo that throws pizza purists off their game. Until they taste it, and nothing is ever the same again.
(King Dough is offering carryout and delivery through Total Takeout but asks that only credit cards are used. You can order online or call their store.)
1844 E. 10th St., 317-419-3471, beholderindy.com
Culinary wunderkind Jonathan Brooks hasn’t exactly made his mark as a man of reflection (witness some late-night social media posts that sparked spirited responses). Two years under his belt at wildly experimental Beholder, which he operates with sommelier and business partner Josh Mazanowski, Brooks waxes practically sentimental about all he and his team have imagined. “For most of the time, it’s been full speed ahead with creating new dishes,” Brooks says, “but it’s not just my ideas. That would be boring.” Staffers have left their mark on dishes like panko-fried octopus with a Japanese curry, dreamed up by line cooks Aaron Hansen (now in Detroit) and Ben Ogonek to enrich caramelized onions, roasted sweet potatoes, and sumptuous bone marrow. Brooks gives props to another cook, Michael Burgin (recently departed to Cincinnati), who thought up a Jamaican patty with warm spices and a turmeric-ginger pastry surrounding local Viking lamb. When he goes solo, Brooks loves to match bold flavor profiles, such as roasted beets with funky Spanish morcilla blood sausage (a favorite ingredient). All of this gets tied together with Mazanowski’s nerdy but practical approach to vino that earned the restaurant’s wine program a semifinalist James Beard Award nod this year.
(Beholder is offering carryout from 4:00 to 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday through Thursday and from 3:00 to 8:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.)
Root & Bone
4601 N. College Ave., 317-602-8672, rootnboneindy.com
We are still trying to figure out how Top Chef power couple Janine Booth and Jeff McInnis ended up in our neck of the woods. Their Southern charmer debuted in January in a 1927 limestone storefront at the corner of College Avenue and 46th Street, taking up residence in a former secondhand store. Following the format of its two other locations, in New York City and Miami, Indy’s outpost fries up chicken and dusts it with lemon-pepper powder, serves gooey corn spoonbread by the mini skillet full, brûlées its barbecue spare ribs, and bakes a fluffy square-cut biscuit that would make an Indiana grandma pack her knives and go.
(Root & Bone is open for carryout. They are open 4:00 to 10:00 p.m. on Tuesday through Thursday and from 4:00 to11:00 p.m. on Friday. They offer brunch on Saturday and Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. and supper from 4:00 to 11:00 p.m. on Saturday and 4:00 to 9:00 p.m. on Sunday.)
402 E. 16th St., 317-925-5000, tinkerstreetindy.com
Beyond all the plaudits from critics and splashy magazine spreads, the restaurant business is fraught with risks and challenges. For Herron-Morton standout Tinker Street, which lost one of its founders to scandal in 2018 and its longtime innovative chef Braedon Kellner to a career shift in late 2019, marking a fifth anniversary—the year when two-thirds of restaurant startups have already shuttered—is nothing short of a triumph. But the staying power of this cozy-but-always-buzzing neighborhood favorite comes from the support of its loyal regulars, who quickly returned after a brief hiatus two years ago, and from the consistent high quality and creativity of its small plates and globally inspired entrées, now as generous and satisfying as ever under the toque of chef Tyler Shortt. Take the knockout Sakura pork belly, succulent and decadent but cut with a tangy tamari-sorghum glaze and bright, not-too-spicy red cabbage kimchi. Or maybe it’s the shrimp and light-as-air grits, a bisque-like jus spiked with tasso and earthy tomato chow-chow. The restaurant takes reservations now, but sipping a glass of dry rosé on the all-season patio is no less enchanting than it was when you were waiting to elbow into a table. And the slight campfire whiff of smoke from the s’more pot de crème, one of Kellner’s mainstays from the beginning, is no less of a comforting memory that follows you home.
(Tinker Street has temporarily suspended all operations, including carryout, while it pivots its mission.)
601 E. New York St., 317-420-2323, vida-restaurant.com
How can such a teeny sliver of duck contain so much flavor? Who knew a piece of foie gras the size of a Hershey’s mini could deliver a punch of silken umami sweetened with the jammy familiarity of Concord grape? What is this tender morsel between pops of blueberry and bursts of serrano chile heat, under a sesame crisp? Yellowfin tuna? At Cunningham Restaurant Group’s fine-dining showpiece, the food is as much a performance as it is sustenance—if not magic, then at least up-close slight of hand. The six-course chef’s tasting menu, at $85 one of the most luxurious deals in town, showcases every swoop of purée, polka dot of mousse, and Rorschach blotch of gastrique in the nouvelle-cuisine playbook. And we can barely hold our applause.
(Vida is closed for the time being, ceasing all operations.)
1464 W. 86th St., 317-824-1231, oakleysbistro.com
Chef Steven Oakley has filled his restaurant with customers for 18 years—same location, same name, same handful of menu classics. This is practically unheard-of in the modern hospitality biz, where even celebrity chefs are served humble pie when they overestimate their fan base. This isn’t to say Oakley is boring or uninspired; he’s always tooling around with seasonal ingredients and technique. But a few dishes have been permanently etched into the menu, and we’re not mad. Here are the origin stories on three of our favorites.
Shrimp Corn Dogs
Oakley’s signature dish was born of a need to feed 1,000 people quickly at Zoobilation over a decade ago. He was driving by the Fairgrounds and saw a sign for corn dogs when a light bulb went off. “It’s a good ice breaker to start the meal and shows that it’s not an intimidating menu,” Oakley says. Even Bobby Flay tried and failed to defeat Oakley at the shrimp corn dog game in a 2017 episode of Beat Bobby Flay.
Stanley’s Meatloaf with Chile Jam
There’s no beef in Oakley’s version of this classic. Instead, he uses a combination of duck, pork, and chicken. The chile jam is a riff on a sauce his grandmother used to make and pour on bologna. “Grandma never threw out old coffee. She’d reheat it the next day or use it in a recipe,” Oakley says. He started with her recipe, including the coffee, and added a few of his own secret ingredients.
Butternut Squash Maple Soup
“That one was a mistake where some unexpected ingredients came in,” says Oakley, who was working at the restaurant Something Different when a farmer dropped off 20 Cinderella pumpkins for free. Starting with a potato soup recipe, he subbed in pumpkins and eventually squash for the soup that never went away.
(Oakleys Bistro is hosting carryout and curbside delivery, as well as delivering through UberEats and Door Dash. Their hours are 11:30-1:30 for lunch and 5:00-9:30 for dinner from Tuesday to Thursday. Their lunch hours are the same on Friday and Saturday, but they are open until 10:00 for dinner.)
4907 N. College Ave., 317-384-1048, ukiyoindy.com
Time was, kitchen legend Neal Brown lit up Best Restaurants lists with multiple ventures as he sought to extend his culinary reach. That this hyper-modern Japanese bistro in SoBro is his lone spot this year does little to diminish his influence. With its clean-lined tile-and-wood interior, sushi bar, and weekend Omakase experience, where diners put their palates in the hands of the staff, Ukiyo is the mid-career jewel that food lovers can savor. That applies whether they’re dropping in on a weeknight for a restorative bowl of pork tonkotsu (ramen run through the American South with pulled pork and collards) or filling the table with small-plate kappo dishes such as a bowl of knockout Brussels sprouts with horseradish or earthy mushroom-fried rice. Snagging talented chef and pasta prodigy Alan Sternberg between assignments this past year was a coup that added interest, but it’s the homier, hanging-around-the-neighborhood vibe of the place that makes you want to come back not just on special occasions but in your best sweatshirt for a crab roll with shoyu butter while you sip an Old Fashioned with Japanese whiskey and ginger. With age comes wisdom and skill but less tolerance for fuss, which is what we were hoping from Brown all along.
(Ukiyo has recently ceased all operations for the time being.)
1051 E. 54th St., aculinarystudio.com
Two years after Greg Hardesty closed Recess, his “culinary playground” that introduced Indy to the prix fixe model, he returned to the local food scene with something even more niche: a mixed-use space that’s part restaurant, part incubator, and part coffee-to-go. The doors are open six days a week from 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. for drip coffee and homemade cookies, and three to four nights a week for private dinners and public pop-ups. Those menus are usually casual, like a fish fry or a burger night, but Hardesty is also known to pull off something more upscale, like an homage to chirashi sushi, one of the chef’s favorites. If he has ingredients left over, he might come up with something on the fly in the kitchen, then sell it the next day as grab-and-go from his commercial refrigerator. He also has weekly carryout-only lunches and recently began opening his kitchen to food-biz startups. “I wanted to use this space as a creative outlet for people other than myself,” says Hardesty.
(Studio C is taking orders for curbside delivery. You can order by email, over the phone, or through Instagram direct messages, and they are open 6:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. on Monday through Saturday.)
Old Gold Barbecue
140 S. College Ave., 317-764-3443, oldgoldbarbecue.com
The slick rollout of this permanent food stall in the parking lot of Metazoa Brewing Company in early 2019 may have left die-hard barbecue fans a bit skeptical. But the news of pitmaster Alex George’s stint at Franklin Barbecue, Austin’s much-lauded culinary draw, brought hungry customers aplenty, and one taste of the perfectly seasoned brisket smoked for 16 hours over post oak had them hooked. Just as impressive is the juicy, ultra-tender turkey, a rare standout among slow-smoked classics, which proved a popular takeout item for the holidays. Sides are just as standup, especially mac and cheese fortified with green chiles, and Mexican street corn slathered with crema. The no-nonsense service with white bread and pickles, as well as an array of beguiling sauces, makes this newcomer a true contender for top ’cue in the city.
(Old Gold Barbecue is offering curbside delivery and carryout at their restaurant. In order to minimize all contact, they are discouraging the use of cash.)
5301 Winthrop Ave., 463-212-8180, halfliterbbq.com
Everything about Half Liter is fun. The picnic tables inside give the place a school-cafeteria-for-grown-ups vibe, the beer garden outside is all sunshine and fresh air on a warm spring day, and special events like Star Wars trivia night, comedy night, or the Rick and Morty bus tour stop give Half Liter fans plenty of reasons to keep checking the restaurant’s Instagram feed for news about what’s next. You know what’s also fun? Platters full of meat. And there’s plenty of that here, with brisket, pork butt, pork ribs, or smoked salmon arriving on one of those cafeteria trays with white bread, hot sauce, and pickles. Keep your eyes peeled for the weekly dessert special, or you might miss your chance for a Cap’n Crunch butterscotch rice crispy treat.
(Half Liter is doing curbside carryout from 1:00 to 7:00 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday. You can call in your order or email it to [email protected].)
303 E. Main St., Westfield, 317-804-9780, fieldbrewing.com
Field Brewing is a modern culinary campus on a busy two-lane street in Westfield, with two separate buildings, floor-to-ceiling windows, a garden out front, and green space for outdoor games while you wait. It’s a brewpub menu with a healthy spin, like chicken wings that are grilled instead of fried, and salads made largely from veggies grown on local farms. When opening chef (and James Beard nominee) Alan Sternberg left last year, the housemade pastas from the launch menu went with him, but new chef Josh Henson has made his own mark in the kitchen. Henson was a cofounder of the popular Fermenti Artisan line of fermented foods, and his influence can be seen on new dishes like the forage porridge with flax, sesame, hemp, chia, mushroom, cauliflower, and kimchi. Each menu item comes with a recommendation for one of the 10-plus beers brewed on site, like the house IPA, Shift Change, or a bohemian pilsner with its on-the-nose name, Our Lightest Beer.
(Field Brewing is remaining open for the time being, exclusively for takeout. Their hours are 12:00 to 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday through Sunday.)
The Bosphorus Istanbul Cafe
935 S. East St., 317-974-1770, thebosphoruscafe.com
With so many international cuisines crowding the local culinary scene, it should be hard for an old-guard Turkish joint to compete. Don’t tell that to Orhan Demirtas, who has been greeting customers at this vibrant Fletcher Place restaurant for nearly two decades now, not to mention serving them the rich and aromatic food of his homeland, whether to downtown day workers grabbing a lunch combo or foodies looking for a leisurely supper. And while Turkish cuisine may no longer be exotic, Demirtas’s dishes are as flavorful and exciting as they were at the start, from delectable hummus and baba ganoush to well-seasoned Adana and Beyti kebabs and the utterly comforting Sultan’s Delight, tender lamb cubes over smoky eggplant. Rice pudding, baklava, and a de rigueur cup of Turkish coffee continue to make this charming spot a jewel on Indy’s global food scene, no matter how many newcomers have followed in Demirtas’s footsteps.
(Bosphorus Istanbul Cafe is offering carryout and delivery options from 12:00 to 8:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from 4:00 to 8:00 p.m. on Sunday.)
534 Virginia Ave., 317-986-5131, milktoothindy.com
When your seating for brunch could be an elbow’s length from Academy Award nominee John C. Reilly or comedian Eric Wareheim, not to mention big-city magazine editors and some of the most celebrated chefs in the country, you can be assured you’re starting the day at a place that has commanded the attention of far more than just the locals. We locals, however, are not one bit surprised. We are so used to Dreamsicle mimosas and Dutch-baby pancakes dressed with feta, tzatziki, and lamb that it’s the rest of the Bloody Mary and eggs Benedict–loving world that needs to catch up with us. Even if the stars steal our tables now and then, we know that we can go outside and munch on a sourdough cake doughnut or a goat-cheese croissant while enjoying an espresso with miso caramel and ginger. If we’re lucky, we will land that coveted patio seat with snatches of the skyline reminding us of the city that minted one of the most original brunch places in the culinary world.
(To comply with government restrictions, Milktooth is closed until further notice.)
2147 N. Talbott St., 317-600-3559, babysindy.com
Kendall Lockwood and her partner Trevor Belden had a very specific niche audience in their crosshairs when they opened this neon burger-and-milkshake joint last August. Young urban families, especially ones with ties to the Herron-Morton swath of town and Herron High School down the street, would feel right at home in a place so pink and sparkly and fun, with a neo-diner menu to match. Lockwood, who made her mark on Indy years ago as the creative force behind the moody craft-cocktail bar Ball & Biscuit, smartly kept the food choices low-key at first, testing the waters with broasted chicken drizzled with hot honey and DIY burgers (the most outrageous being the double-stacked Strut Burger with the spot-on chemistry of smoked gouda, pickles, bacon, mango chutney, and a sort of spiked ranch dressing called “dazzle sauce”). Eventually, Baby’s mastered Buffalo chicken and ventured further into “Mommy needs a boozy milkshake” territory. When family-friendly drag brunch became a thing, Baby’s was ahead of the curve with a full court of queens ready to shine in the very room that once hosted the Talbott Street nightclub’s fabulous shows.
(Baby’s is currently offering carry out, either by calling or through their website. The full menu, including milkshakes and alcohol, is still available, and be sure to check social media for deals on large plates.)
Traders Point Creamery
9101 Moore Rd., Zionsville, 317-733-1700, traderspointcreamery.com
The setting is so visually striking, a massive moss-green barn from the 1860s rising from the rolling acreage of an organic dairy farm, that the mind orchestrates a crescendo on the approach. There’s a swell of strings as you clear the one-lane bridge, a cymbal crash when you turn off the road onto gravel, scattering free-range chickens and cats. The culinary showpiece on a working creamery dotted with grazing Brown Swiss and Jersey cows does not squander its beauty. Chef Jon Warner, who has worked his way around Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Chicago, applies his expertise to grass-fed filets and short ribs, pork chops gilded with sauerkraut and mustard cream, and a thick farmstead burger covered edge to edge in beer cheese and sweet onion jam. After devouring something as elaborate as duck carpaccio with horseradish flan (part of last season’s Winter in the Woods prix fixe menu), go back to the basics for dessert, when a scoop of whole-milk ice cream fresh from the source tastes like sweet perfection.
(Traders Point Creamery continues to offer carry out. Check social media for updated store hours.)
10th Street Diner
3301 E. 10th St., 463-221-1255
If it were simply serving more earth-conscious diner dishes in an underserved corner of the city, 10th Street Diner would still be one of 2019’s most noteworthy openings. But add in Karen Holmes’s decades of catering experience and her son Will Holmes’s mad-scientist approach to vegan ingredients, and you’ve got a culinary phenomenon on Indy’s near-east side that’s catching the attention of more than just the neighborhood vegans. Sit down to a hearty, rich, and flavorful “chicken” pot pie or a plate of creamy “beef” Stroganoff that, even without the meat, will remind you of your mother’s, and you’ll understand how the Holmeses have translated decades worth of plant-based cooking know-how into utterly approachable, recognizable comfort cuisine. That they plated up their homey vegan cafe in a onetime pawnshop they painstakingly renovated is the (dairy- and animal-free) icing on the cake.
(10th Street Diner is closed until further notice, though they are still active on social media, where they share recipes and food tutorials.)
The Lemon Bar
95 E. Pine St., Zionsville, 317-344-0472, thelemonbaronline.com
Kate Drury’s Zionsville bistro draws people in with its darling tchotchkes and shabby elegance as toothachingly sweet as the Red Velvet Elvis and Kookoo for Coconuts cupcakes on display just inside the door. It’s hard to make adult decisions with a towering Lemon Raspberry Prosecco Cheesecake Cake worthy of a Paul Hollywood handshake standing in your way, but chef Laney Glick’s fearless menu of savories runs interference with shrimp and grits, pork belly bành mí, and vibrant smoked-salmon avocado toasts—plus an entire spread of brunch goodies like country eggs Benedict and butternut-bourbon French toast.
(Kate Drury, owner of The Flying Cupcake, The Dancing Donut, and The Lemon Bar announced that all locations are closed until further notice. Gift cards are available for purchase through The Flying Cupcake’s Etsy website.)
The Delicatessen at Turchetti’s Salumeria
1106 Prospect St., 317-426-3048, turchettis.com
If you’ve followed the evolution of George Turkette’s whole-animal butchering operation and sandwich shop from its first Friday–Saturday retail hours to its presence at farmers markets to weekend brunch to a full-service meat counter and gourmet shop, you’d know it’s hardly just a deli. Yet it’s the platonic ideal of a big-city delicatessen that holds the funky enterprise together. The house pastrami on Amelia’s rye is already iconic, as newfangled in flavor as it is old-fangled in look. Lacy smashburgers with tallow fries threaten to unseat longstanding local favorites. And where can you get French toast that’s any more uptown than a lush slab of 4 Birds shokupan bread lavished with mascarpone, peanut granola, and jam? Only a dry-aged steak and eggs or a Benedict with breaded tenderloin and sage hollandaise could top that, and then you’re so far toward a steakhouse vibe or in the mindset of a tony brunch spot that “deli” seems just a delicious metaphor for all that Turkette and his team have thus far pulled off.
(Turchetti’s currently offers curbside and delivery, but the order must be placed ahead of time through their website. Save $10 on your first order by using the code “STOCKUP.” Check website for updated hours.)
Rail Restaurant and Bar
211 Park St., Westfield, 317-804-8555, railrestaurantandbar.com
When Toby and Melanie Miles rehabbed an old barn in Westfield in 2014, their corner of Park Street was, as small-town folk often say, quiet as a church mouse. Six years later, the street is so busy with restaurant crowds that a weekend shuttle service transports people from a gravel parking lot at the end of the block to the dining establishment of their choice. While explosive growth in Westfield is surely helpful, the chef couple proved there is a market for farm-to-table food in this suburb before the Grand Park sports complex brought a steady stream of out-of-town visitors. Melanie spent a year developing her recipe for chocolate cake, the undisputed MVP of the dessert menu. But the No. 1 seller is the 13-ounce pork chop that’s brined for 24 hours and cold-smoked to deliver a fork-tender cut of meat bearing no resemblance to the dry, disappointing “other white meat” often seen on menus. It’s based on one of Toby’s favorite childhood dishes called gammon (brined, smoked pork). “I knew I couldn’t call it ‘gammon,’ because that sounds weird and nobody would order it,” says Miles. “But you call it a pork chop and people go crazy.”
(Call to place an order for curbside service or delivery at Rail Restaurant and Bar. Check website frequently for updated menus and hours.)
His Place Eatery
6916 E. 30th St., 317-545-4890, hisplaceeatery.com
The menu reads like a treasury of soul-food classics at chef James “Mackie” Jones’s 11-year-old eastside establishment, beginning with the standard of Southern cooking: fried chicken encased in a crispy but delicate skin. Hand-rubbed hickory-smoked ribs headline the smokehouse menu, but a shared order of the tips—succulent little knuckles of pork and heat-bronzed fat on cartilage that might as well be meat candy—will satisfy that craving if you also want to dip into the turkey Manhattan or a plate of curly fried catfish. If you order before the day’s supply runs out, comfort bombs of chicken and dumplings are dropped onto tables set with a trio of squirt-bottle mother sauces: ketchup, tangy barbecue, and hot sauce. (Regulars know to ask for an extra serving of the fourth, brown gravy, for dousing and dunking.) Entrées come with a choice of two sides, which brings another round of difficult choices. Will it be the yams cooked to caramel-like submission in butter and sugar? The bourbon creamed corn? Or perhaps the collard greens slow-cooked with smoked turkey and washed down with a tumbler of “very” sweet tea that His Place also sells by the jug?
(His Place Eatery currently offers carry out only. Check social media for adjusted hours.)
339 S. Delaware St., 317-643-7400, nesso-italia.com
It has an almost ethereal beauty, a twinkling, glassed-in gem set into the street-level base of The Alexander hotel. Roughly a year and a half after Cunningham Restaurant Group transformed the former Cerulean into one of its top-tier ventures, and after some reconfiguring of the original, slightly full-of-itself menu, the luxe Italian restaurant has finally found the balance between posh and practical. CRG executive chef Layton Roberts is a master of the fresh-pasta medium, adding shrimp, octopus, and oil-cured tomatoes to tender linguini and making an Italian-sausage gnocchi softened with buttery Castelrosso cheese that tastes like what you would get if you made a fondue out of a Meat Lover’s pizza. Neatly aproned servers know the intimate details of that succulent pork loin drenched in marsala, as well as the distinct personality of the house Boulevardier (here it’s called On a Tree Lined Street … get it?) and when a person should just cut to the chase and order an equally gratifying Angel’s Envy Old Fashioned instead. By the time pastry chef Hattie McDaniel’s imaginative dessert course comes around, you might be convinced that life itself is beautiful, too.
(Closed until further notice.)
128 S. Audubon Rd., 765-277-2901
Much like the spotted towhee or the black-bellied whistling duck, the “neighborhood rum and oyster bar” that opened late last year in once-dry Irvington is the rarest of breeds. Located along the eastside neighborhood’s Audubon Road, its name references the work of the celebrated ornithologist John James Audubon, whose detailed illustrations fit perfectly into the cozy, exotic space framed in bamboo and a mod banana-leaf motif. Bartenders shake up tropical potions—husky, floral razor-blade soups to be admired and nursed, not guzzled—with names like Jungle Bird and Scorpion Reef, and the classic Jet Pilot that arrives in flames. But Strange Bird is more than just an on-trend watering hole. It’s a little island vacation, with a menu of snacks and small plates fit for a Hoosier luau: coconut-crusted tenderloin, poke-topped potato spirals, and a luscious grilled Spam sandwich with Havarti, macadamia butter, pineapple mostarda, and shredded iceberg stuffed into its Hawaiian-roll gut. Looking for a little bit of landlocked paradise? You’ve found it.
(Closed until further notice.)
877 Massachusetts Ave., 317-384-1102
Now that it’s had two years to settle into its somewhat more plush location on Mass Ave, Chris and Ally Benedyk’s funky, far-more-than-a-sandwich-shop spot is not just an Instagram photo of an egg oozing out of aspic or a waffle slumping under the heft of a fried schnitzel. Still, the photos don’t hurt, especially when they feature a slab of pork belly on a chocolate Gla-zee, their affectionate term for their knockout glazed doughnuts, or a fish sandwich so outsized and seductive it will make you pray that Lent never ends. Just be assured that whenever you drop in at Love Handle, which you can now do every day of the week for an ever-wider and always-changing menu, you’ll be able to try the pulled chicken Hot Brown or the lox home fries you didn’t know you’d be ordering going in. And with a staff as friendly and welcoming as Love Handle’s, it’s no surprise they recently picked up a James Beard semifinalist distinction, which the Benedyks deserve in spades.
(Curbside pickup is available at Love Handle. Check social media for adjusted hours and available menu.)
The Missing Brick
6404 Rucker Rd., 317-257-7557, themissingbrick.com
Que Wimberly’s northeastside pizza joint only opens four nights a week (Thursday through Sunday), and the small dining room is restricted to folks 21 and older. In spite of those limitations—or maybe because of them—the vibrant, 1,500-square-foot restaurant draws standing-room crowds and has a steady supply of customers hooked on its elaborate, casserole-style pizzas baked thick, cheesy, and generous with the toppings. Wimberly and her “Brick Squad” use the rectangular-ish crust as a canvas for ingredients like Buffalo chicken and cream cheese, pulled pork and pineapple, and lots of good stuff from other black-owned restaurants, including seafood from Chef Oya’s The Trap and sauce-drizzled meat from Hank’s Smoked Briskets. Most importantly, The Missing Brick has a bottomless supply of another magic ingredient: an upbeat vibe that keeps customers coming back for more.
(Call ahead or order online through the Missing Brick’s website for carry out.)
Chapati / Shani’s Secret Chicken
4930 Lafayette Rd., 317-405-9874, eatchapati.com
It’s not enough that the butter chicken melts in your mouth, the lamb kebab bursts with flavor, or a split plate of luscious paneer tikka masala and slow-cooked lentil daal is presented with warm slips of chapati bread for dunking and smearing up the last trace of sauce from the dish—or that those family recipes, passed from generation to generation, barely scratch the surface of a menu that goes deep into Pakistani, Indian, and Middle Eastern cuisine. This chill westside counter-service spot has a fried-chicken side hustle that in-the-know customers enter through a secret door disguised as a storage closet. Request entrance to Shani’s Secret Chicken to get a taste of the humanely prepared Halal fried chicken cooked three ways: tandoori-marinated and buttermilk-battered; fried and dipped in spicy-sweet sauce; and the batterless, dry-rubbed Faridi style that’s extra spicy. If we’re being honest, you can also just order fried chicken at the counter, along with your mango lassi and Kashmiri chai. But where’s the fun in that?
(Chapati is offering a 10% discount to frontline and essential workers on all carry out orders with the presentation of an ID. Currently offering carry out.)
Taste Restaurant @ Lucky Lou
3623 Commercial Dr., 317-293-8888, tasterestaurantluckylou.com
While a recent rebranding brought a few small updates, this darling of the International Marketplace didn’t lose its focus on authentic Cantonese cuisine. Weekend dim sum carts stacked with bamboo baskets of buns and dumplings, rice noodle rolls, and all the animal parts that make Americans giggle nervously have joined the feeding frenzy. If you need help navigating the picture menu of seafood, tofu, rice, pork, eggplant, greens, greens, and more greens, the sweetly efficient servers will narrate the pages of selections, pointing out some of the greatest hits. “This is good. This is good. This is good. This is really good.” Tip: Order as many dishes as your table can hold and share everything family-style.
(Taste Restaurant is offering a 15% discount on all take-out orders along with no delivery fees, for orders placed directly with the restaurant.)
St. Elmo Steak House
127 S. Illinois St., 317-635-0636, stelmos.com
No fancy restaurant can out-fancy the grandfather of special-occasion dining in Indianapolis, as solid and handsome as the day it opened in 1902.
(St. Elmo Steak House is offering a limited carryout menu, with food available for pickup only at the northside Harry & Izzy’s location, 3 p.m-6 p.m., Wednesdays and Fridays.)
201 W. Main St., Carmel, 317-740-0900, anthonyschophouse.com
… but one place comes close. A polished newcomer with a robber-baron vibe of its own is sizzling expense-account steaks—including plenty of bone-in beauties, an A-5 Miyazaki Wagyuan strip from Japan, and an 8-ounce spinalis that cooks under its own fat cap—along downtown Carmel’s leg of the Monon.
(Anthony’s Chophouse hosts a special 3-course menu, $42, available for pickup 4 p.m-8:30 p.m., Monday—Saturday.)
1103 Prospect St, 317-982-7676, maialina.com
Francesca Pizzi and Lawrence Green opened this red-sauce Italian establishment last summer, seemingly a gift to anyone who ever drove down Virginia Avenue to Fountain Square in the early 2000s (aka the Deano’s Vino era). The vintage corner space that houses Maialina, arguably the focal point of the entire southeast spoke out of downtown, has emerged from a decade-long identity crisis as Smokehouse on Shelby, a concept that always felt ill-fitted for such a naturally majestic locale. Rather than starting from scratch with a modern face lift, the new owners—part of Indy’s Pizzi restaurant family—just made a few cosmetic updates. They kept the high exposed ductwork, striking floor-to-ceiling windows, and gracefully aged black-and-white tile floor. You can admire how nicely it settled in while sipping an Aperol Spritz (so perfectly fizzy and bittersweet that you will finally understand what all the fuss is about). Servers swoop by with plates of molten baked spaghetti, silky cheese ravioli in brandy taleggio cream sauce, and gnocchi that dials up the richness with three-meat Bolognese.
(Maialina has a limited menu of appetizers, salads, and entrées, available for pickup 12 p.m.-8 p.m., Tuesday—Sunday.)
Moontown Brewing Company
345 S. Bowers St., Whitestown, 317-769-3880, moontownbeer.com
This rural microbrewery sank a game-winner when it converted the old Whitestown High School gym into a 10,000-square-foot barbecue restaurant and beer hall. It’s been decades since the hardwood saw any action, but the seating area still feels like a scene from Hoosiers, incorporating class photos and trophies from Whitestown students past, and using sections of the old bleachers, carved initials and all, as trim in this Indiana basketball cathedral. If the hysteria doesn’t bring a happy tear to your eye, chef Ian Tirmenstein’s smoked-meats platter will.
(Moontown Brewing offers a limited beer menu, including kegs, along with entrées, with temporary hours of operation. Visit their website for details.)
501 Virginia Ave., 317-737-2293, rookindy.com
Ed Rudisell’s industrial-sleek Asian restaurant provides refuge for those in need of a noodle fix, be that of the soothing miso-ramen variety that comes topped with a slice of pork loin and jammy egg at lunch, or the brow-mopping Dan Dan full of beef and bok choy and set ablaze with a sadistic amount of Szechuan chili oil. Steamed bun starters filled with fried Spam or avocado and a parfait glass of cooling halo halo topped with Fruity Pebbles make perfect bookends to the meal.
(Rook is closed until further notice.)
5210 W. Pike Plaza Rd., 317-490-5060
The brain needs a moment to adjust to the reality of a full-blown Mexican restaurant tucked into the back of a colossal Mexican grocery store. Not just a small grab-and-go cantina, mind you, but a grand ballroom of colorful tables, stately chandeliers, and high walls decorated with murals and faux balconies. Even the bar—inside the restaurant inside a grocery store—outsizes the average taqueria. The menu has the same proportions, its laminated pages representing all of the familiar branches of the cuisine, with extra attention to à la carte tacos folded around hot, chopped meats dressed street-style with onions and cilantro, lime wedges, and cucumber slices. Bring a few friends and tag-team the $29.99 Tablita de Carnes (translation: meat table) that serves four (very hungry) people. Piled with carne asada, grilled chicken, chorizo, carnitas, roasted onions, and cactus paddles, like a carnivore’s fever dream, it leaves barely enough room on the table for everyone’s bottled Cokes and Jarritos. Pluck a hunk of meat from the board with the supplied tongs, tuck it into the crook of a warm tortilla with a nub of charred jalapeño and a dribble of fiery salsa, and stuff it into your mouth. Repeat until you can walk out of Guanajuato—a place like no other in Indianapolis—with your head high and your belly full.
(Carniceria Guanajuato is offering to-go orders on most menu options.)
Late Harvest Kitchen
8605 River Crossing Blvd., 317-663-8063, lateharvestkitchen.com
Restaurateur Ryan Nelson has been quietly crushing fresh, local cuisine in the same neutrally elegant dining room for nearly a decade now, but his oeuvre—some of it the same upscale comfort food he was making on day one—is always relevant, if not next-level stuff. Whole roasted bronzini curls around the plate. You pluck the steaming meat right off the bone and run it through sweet Thai chili sauce. The 16-ounce pork chop is fortified with bacon jam and fancy baked beans. A shaved Brussels sprouts salad under a snow of sieved eggs is gloriously cruciferous. And you won’t find more satisfyingly thick and crunchy sour cream–topped Potatoes Minneapolis this side of the Minnehaha Falls. A flashier chef might be tempted to reinvent. This one wows us with a skill that is even more impressive—consistency.
(Late Harvest Kitchen is temporarily closed, though offering a gift card special: A free $25 gift card with a purchase of $100.)
Spoke & Steele
123 S. Illinois St., 317-737-1616, spokeandsteele.com
Chef Erin Gillum’s exacting dishes register as precise and sophisticated as the glimmering street-level dining room that fronts downtown’s Le Méridien boutique hotel. Seared scallops soak in a miso-ginger shiitake broth with sliced radishes and edamame, and cedar-plank salmon strikes a sexy pose over cauliflower rice. Scaled-down shareables include lamb-masala meatballs and the cutest pork-belly and chili-shrimp bao buns. Cocktails are both strong and stunning, mixed by proper bartenders who never got the memo that jaw-dropping craft mixology has gone out of fashion. Luckily, Spoke & Steele has an enviable style all its own.
(Spoke & Steele offers carryout of their weekly menu options. Additionally, those living within 2 miles of the restaurant can receive free daily delivery.)
Iozzo’s Garden of Italy
946 S. Meridian St., 317-974-1100, iozzos.com
On a busy Friday night, when wine glasses and red-sauced plates cover every table and the conversation rises to a dull roar, Iozzo’s is truly in its element. This white-tablecloth spot with aged brick walls and a speakeasy vibe feels like the prototype for the Old Southside’s Italian-American tradition—serving spaghetti, carbonara, and eggplant parmesan under a giant photo of patriarch Santora Iozzo, pouring glasses of limoncello, and taking no liberties with such a parochial food group. It does what it does well—and that’s what we love about it. (Oh, and the lasagna Bolognese, layered thick as a brick, half of it drenched in slow-simmered meat sauce and the other half in Alfredo sauce.)
(Iozzo’s Garden of Italy is temporarily closed.)
Fishers Test Kitchen
The Yard at Fishers District, Fishers, fisherstestkitchen.com
The Yard at Fishers District ushered in a host of sleek and on-trend restaurant concepts to fill out its brand-new multi-use development. This is the fun one. The culinary incubator attached to a busy Sun King tasting room debuted in February as an outlet for three counter-service restaurants to workshop their menus. Chef Carlos Salazar’s Lil Dumplings is a playful tribute to global street food, from little fried hunks of lobster corn dogs to a hearty smashburger stuffed between two savory okonomiyaki pancakes. Adam and Alicia Sweet (see also: King Dough) launched their Southern-inflected burger-and-chicken joint, Natural State Provisions, here, also proving that pickles and pimento cheese are national treasures. But the biggest surprise is brothers Jung Gyu Kim and Jung Min Kim slinging tender sweet Korean barbecue (especially addictive piled over fresh-cut fries in poutine form) at Korave. The food-court setup might require you to share a table with strangers, an awkwardness that is inversely proportional to the number of Cream Ales and Pachangarita slushies ordered from the roving servers.
(Takeout and delivery services are available through Fisher Test Kitchen, with individual menus of Korave, Lil’ Dumplings, and Natural State Provisions found online.)
4022 Shelby St., 317-602-2001
The menu at Joshua Gonzales and Joey McGuire’s tough-edged meta dive with a heart of gold may read like the ones at all the fast-food joints up and down this stretch of Shelby Street on the near-south side: burgers, dogs, curly fries. Yet from the first sip of a $6 Southside Fizz sprouting a tuft of bright green mint or an Old Fashioned that could command double the tab anywhere else in town, you understand that this joint is only the abstraction of a dive. The bar and the kitchen have far more ambition and skill. Burgers, whether straight-up or hipstered with peanut butter and jam, arrive so tidily dressed on toasted brioche buns they could star on a chophouse happy-hour menu. Fried bologna sandwiches and corn dogs, often turned out as specials by McGuire and his kitchen staff, aren’t just winks at lowbrow fare served in red plastic baskets, but expertly executed and elevated with chipotle ketchup or sweet Thai chili sauce. It all goes to show that Gonzales (whose other reimagined tavern, Thunderbird, also aims higher and has flashes of greatness) got all the elements right at Jailbird. Little notepads that come with the check are full of both profane slogans and, deservedly, adoring compliments from fans, including us.
(Jailbird offers a limited carryout menu from 3 p.m.-9 p.m.)