A tour of the city’s best dining
Ixca Mexican Kitchen
This eatery, whose name means “kitchen” in one of the country’s native languages, discards the tropes of Latin joints (sombreros, Tex-Mex fajitas). Instead, it pares the experience down to a tight list of authentic everyday south-of-the-border food served in a modern, casual dining room. The menu is a sampler of regional cuisine, mainly from the Yucatán, Oaxaca, and Guerrero, and the flavors are milder than you might expect. Some lack flavor altogether, but not the light, limey wagon-wheel chicharrones. Other favorites include textural fried taquitos filled with mashed potatoes, slightly sweet corn tortillas drenched simply in refried beans, marinated-pork arabe tacos, chicken-and-red-sauce tamales, and tres leches cake with peaches and chocolate. The standout entrée is the poblano mole over a bone-in chicken thigh and leg. Its complex sauce of chiles and chocolate is a family recipe, complete with a secret ingredient: animal crackers. Lunch and dinner daily. 5537 E. Washington St., 317-986-4154.
Chao Vietnamese Street Food
Sourcing the beef and pork for its noodle bowls, tacos, and pho from Indiana’s own Fischer Farms, this strip-mall eatery delivers surprisingly fresh and flavorful dishes that stand out among Indy’s growing Vietnamese options. A smaller-than-usual menu also makes negotiating the offerings much easier than at your typical Asian takeout. Fresh shrimp spring rolls come with a rich and complex dipping sauce, and a bracing green papaya salad is refreshing and satisfying. Street food options such as a solid bánh mì sandwich and delectable pork belly tacos are highlights among the lighter choices, while the Bun Cha Gio with chargrilled, lemongrass-scented beef, noodles, crisp veggies, and a tangy vinegar sauce vies for one of the best Vietnamese dishes in the city. A full list of coffees, bubble teas, and unusual bubble waffles with purple yam or mango make this a great place to bring the family for a fun introduction to one of the world’s great cuisines. Lunch Mon.–Sat., late lunch Sun. 7854 E. 96th St., Fishers, 317-622-8820.
The Lemon Bar
Ladies who lunch—or anyone who relishes a sweet treat—will fall in love with this adorable new cafe in downtown Zionsville. Walls of windows let sunlight stream in, splashing across retro oilcloth-covered tables and artfully mismatched chairs. The menu of luncheon classics includes a champagne chicken-salad sandwich spiced up with roasted pecans; a grilled cheese made with goods from Fair Oaks Farm; and a rotating daily quiche special. Heartier dinner options are a little more experimental, like the Cuban shepherd’s pie, and browned-butter scallops served over butternut risotto. Sip from bottomless cups of locally made Tinker Coffee, or order something from the full bar. And leave room for dessert—since the place is run by The Flying Cupcake owner Kate Bova, plenty of those treats are on hand, along with towering slices of cake and, of course, old-fashioned lemon bars. Brunch Sun., lunch and dinner Tues.–Sat. 95 E. Pine St., Zionsville, 317-344-0472.
If recent overindulgences have you Googling “kale recipes” and “how to cook quinoa,” you’ll find a kindred spirit in CoreLife, whose first Indiana outpost recently opened near Keystone at the Crossing. At this fast-casual joint with exposed ductwork, dangling bulbs, and wood-grain flooring, buzzwords like “organic,” “grass-fed,” and “antibiotic-free” populate the menu of gluten-free green, grain, and broth bowls. Order as-is or build your own, choosing a base of mixed greens or grains and mix-ins such as hummus, tuna poké, chickpeas, hard-boiled eggs, black beans, beets, and other meats and veggies. Drink options are flavored lemonades, such as the kicky cranberry cayenne, and teas, like a green variety punched up with apple cider. And if for some reason your healthy meal didn’t put a pep in your step, cold-brew coffee is offered, too. Lunch and dinner daily. 4335 E. 82nd St., 317-537-9815.