Mini Review: 10th Street Diner

10th Street Diner dishes up plant-based riffs on short-order standards.

With its funky modernized facades, updated corner pubs, and new public art, once-neglected East 10th Street is showing signs of an urban renaissance. The culinary options in this relative food desert are also looking up, though there’s still not much your cardiologist would recommend. Stop into the latest newcomer, opened in May in an impressive rehab of a former brick pawn shop, and you might think it’s more of the same: burgers, burritos, and subs. But while it’s easy to fall for the trompe l’oeil on your lunch plate, there’s some tasty deception going on. At 10th Street Diner, the “chicken” in your pot pie never once saw the inside of a cage, and the “corned beef” on your gooey grilled Reuben comes mostly from a wheat field, not a feedlot.

It’s a testament to how far vegan cuisine has come in the last decade, and to the ingenuity of longtime mother-son catering duo Karen and Will Holmes, that a restaurant serving a menu of entirely plant-based dishes can seem so normal in a neighborhood used to its carnivorous satisfactions. Don’t expect lentil loaf or wild-rice surprise. The dishes here look and taste like the food you have always known. It doesn’t hurt that the spot is as dressed up as it is, the prep area framed in gleaming stainless steel and the dining room a virtual show floor of reproduction bar stools and midcentury metal chairs.

But it’s the food you’ll remember long after you stop here. The Holmeses work some serious alchemy with tofu and cashews to get the right richness in the “cheese” for their lasagna, which they fortify with lush layers of summer veggies. The seitan-and-black-bean 10th Street burger, if a bit soft, has the crispy edge and umami of locally famous smashed burgers, and a griddle-marked “chorizo” chimichanga with textured vegetable protein is spiced to rival those at nearby taquerias.

The counter service can back up at times, with newcomers pondering what each dish will taste like without the meat. Next time, they’ll probably have a favorite.

10th Street Diner
3301 E. 10th St., 463-221-1255

A graduate of IU’s Master of Fine Arts program in creative writing, Terry Kirts hails from a town in Illinois so small it didn’t have a restaurant until he was in the 8th grade. Since 2000, he’s more than made up for the dearth of eateries in his childhood, logging hundreds of meals as the dining critic for WHERE Indianapolis, Indianapolis Woman, and NUVO before joining Indianapolis Monthly as a contributing editor in 2007. A senior lecturer in creative writing at IUPUI, Terry has published his poetry and creative nonfiction in a number of literary journals and anthologies, including Gastronomica, Alimentum, and Home Again: Essays and Memoirs from Indiana, and he’s the author of the poetry collection To the Refrigerator Gods, published by Seven Kitchens Press in 2011.