The 25 Essential Eats Of Indy


Those of us who chase down new restaurants like culinary huntsmen have had, shall we say, a little downtime recently. It’s given us a moment to reflect on the foods that made us food people in the first place, the quintessential classics that should be required eating for all Hoosiers. This is your eat sheet:

① Glazed Yeast Doughnuts

Long’s Bakery

In 2020, Indianapolis rapper Tevin Studdard recorded a YouTube anthem to the sugar-sheathed Long’s doughnut that went viral. “I ain’t done yet. Eat them things from sunrise to the sunset,” he crooned in a video partially shot in front of the original 67-year-old Haughville bakery that added a Southport outpost in 1987. Fans of the feather-light sugar rings joined the chorus. Pillowy and collapsible with deep vanilla notes and a slight umami of fryer oil, Long’s yeasts are best when picked up hot and fresh at 5:30 a.m. when the doors open, and eaten straight from the white box propped open on the passenger seat. They are surprisingly delicate, pliable enough to eat one in a single bite, we’ve heard. One thing is certain: Since the day this iconic bakery opened, its top seller has remained one of Indy’s proudest achievements, unfazed by fancier bakeries (ones that take credit cards, for example), the gourmet doughnut trend, and anyone who has made the mistake of asking, “Aren’t they basically Krispy Kremes?” 1453 N. Tremont St., 317-632-3741

② Cheeseburger


Workingman’s Friend

At this palace of cinderblock and Formica where blue collar meets white, they do not serve smashburgers, but instead burgers that are smashed—hold the pretense. The crispy-edged double with cheese (skip the middle bun) is best enjoyed alongside a pile of onion rings and a frosted schooner (the big one) of beer, and serves as the foundation for a communal lunch-hour experience that makes you glad to be alive. But if you need a reminder of what it’s like to cheat death, the dining room still features an old-school cigarette machine. 234 N. Belmont Ave., 317-636-2067

③ Shrimp Cocktail

shrimp cocktail

St. Elmo Steak House

There’s only one appetizer on the St. Elmo menu, but it’s the only one the legendary steakhouse needs. Pretty much every pro athlete, sports announcer, celebrity, or politician who’s passed through town has eaten (or at least tried to) a St. Elmo shrimp cocktail, and gone on to sing its incendiary praises. The dish consists of four jumbo shrimp and a dollop of “signature” cocktail sauce—basically a heap of freshly ground horseradish bound together with ketchup. To keep up with demand, St. Elmo buys about four tons of horseradish a year from several suppliers. Not surprisingly, the potency of the sauce varies from batch to batch, perhaps causing only a mild scorch on one visit, but inflicting sinus-searing agony on the next. For maximum enjoyment, order the cocktail for an out-of-towner who doesn’t know what awaits. Watch their face go through the various stages of pleasure and pain, from shock to misery to “Give me another one.” 127 S. Illinois St., 317-635-0636,

④ Corned Beef Sandwich

Shapiro’s Delicatessen

Ball your hands into fists. Put them together. This is the size of  the corned beef sandwich at Shapiro’s. The fat-flecked meat is so unctuous, if you are not wearing Eau de Shapiro’s after housing this flavor bomb with notes of mustard seed and clove, you walked into the wrong place. If you are so perfumed, put your hands together again and give thanks. 808 S. Meridian St., 317-631-4041,

⑤ Cinnamon Toast

cinnamon toast stacked

Cafe Patachou

Toast is a breakfast given. It sits on the edge of your plate, buttered or topped with jam. Sometimes you take it, and sometimes you leave it. Leaving it is never an option when you’re at Cafe Patachou, where the cinnamon toast is divine every time. A staple since the self-proclaimed “student union for adults” opened in 1989, this simple accompaniment has never failed or wavered. The bread is thick-sliced and toasted just right, but it’s merely the vehicle for this butter-drenched, cinnamon-sugared ride that pairs well with any order here, from the cafe’s famous plate-spanning omelets to a pitcher of mimosas. Multiple locations,

⑥ Fried Chicken

fired chicken platter

Gray Bros.

Gray Bros. Cafeteria is famous for several things, including its lines, which can snake outdoors and around the building. Its scratchmade pies, from strawberry to coconut to pecan, also get national attention. But perhaps the fondest accolades are reserved for its always hot, always crispy, always moist fried chicken. The reason for its perfection has less to do with the recipe than the circumstances of its preparation. While cafeteria food traditionally languishes under heat lamps, Gray’s relentless press of clientele (roughly 3,000 per day) and the high demand for fried chicken (about 1,400 portions served daily) means the stuff doesn’t sit around very long. During business hours, the Gray’s deep fryers are in constant use, crisping up batches of chicken that are dumped, still steaming, onto the serving line and instantly snapped up by the never-ending procession of customers. Getting a rubbery wing or a lukewarm breast just isn’t in the cards. 555 S. Indiana St., Mooresville, 317-831-7234,

⑦ The Hoosier Tenderloin

a tenderloin sandwich

Plump’s Last Shot

Though the origins of the breaded pork tenderloin are lost to history, it’s generally understood to be a German-style schnitzel that some clever immigrant made portable. The recipe is straightforward: Pound a piece of pork tenderloin until it’s as big as a dinner plate and thinner than the magazine in your hands, immerse it in some sort of milk/egg mixture, dredge with breading, then deep fry and serve (mostly for laughs) on the smallest available hamburger roll. We like to claim it as our own, and Plump’s, a Hoosiers-themed hangout on a Broad Ripple back street provides the proper setting for chomping down on a hot and crispy version that is, by design, not quite as thin and wide as many of its peers. While it’s only roughly twice the circumference of the bun that houses it, the thicker cut makes it markedly juicier than the traditional offering. 6416 Cornell Ave., 317-257-5867,

⑧ The Batali

a batali sandwich

Goose the Market

Without Armandino Batali, there would be no sandwich and perhaps no Goose the Market. Batali helped revive the art of crafting Italian cured meats in this country (with a modern twist) through his Seattle shop, Salumi, and inspired people like Goose owner Chris Eley to do the same. The namesake sandwich—built with coppa, soppressata, capocollo, provolone, giardiniera, a bit of mayo, and tomato preserves—achieved national acclaim in 2008 when it was named as one of the country’s best by some magazine called Bon Appétit. We think it’s pretty great, too. 2503 N. Delaware St., 317-924-4944,

⑨ Sticky Toffee Pudding

sticky toffee pudding in a dish

Late Harvest Kitchen

It might look a bit stodgy in its chunky glass chalice, a square cut of earthy-brown, date-studded cake submerged in dark toffee sauce and garnished with little more than a dollop of fresh whipped cream. But looks deceive when it comes to this staple that chef Ryan Nelson added years ago, inspired by a version he ate on his honeymoon. All of its parts work together—the gooey sponge cake, the buttery hot caramel, and the cream’s cooling properties—in one heaping forkful. And another, and another. 8605 River Crossing Blvd., 317-663-8063,

⑩ Dutch Baby Pancakes

dutch baby pancakes


Milktooth is as much an experience as a restaurant. Surely, there will likely be a little bit of a wait when you arrive, so grab a coffee or cocktail and a menu to peruse while you listen for your name to be called. While the dishes change often, Dutch babies are a staple, and Milktooth offers both sweet and savory versions of the puffy vessels rich with baked egg. In-season fruits, pastry chunks, and freshly whipped cream adorn the sweet option. The savories typically feature fresh-cut herbs and locally sourced protein. You can’t go wrong with either one, although sharing one of each with a dining companion is even better. 534 Virginia Ave., 317-986-5131,

⑪ Hermananki Wings

wings with celery and carrots

Ale Emporium

It’s hard to place the scent that wafts up from a pile of Ale Emporium’s signature flaps and drumettes, so potent that you can practically see the smell in cartoon squiggles. Hints of wood smoke mingle with garlic and ginger, suggesting something teriyaki-based. But who knows what goes into this secret recipe created by former co-owner Herman Perryman? The wings remain tender and juicy under their brilliant lacquer, heat-blasted to a frizzle in spots and sticky-sweet in others. Multiple locations,

⑫ Ribs


King Ribs

Go with the namesake protein at this barbecue institution, a barn-red, smoke-ringed beacon for fans of big servings and extra sauce. Sticky-sweet bones are stacked like meaty timber inside clamshell containers, sometimes pushing at the Styrofoam seams. Half a slab is plenty for a messy date night, or a solo session of tugging and chewing at the tender spares, and wiping tangy brown sugar–laced sauce off your cheeks. Don’t let the line trailing out of the parking lot and creating its own dedicated turn lane out front scare you off. The excruciating wait is just part of the King Ribs carryout tradition, as you creep toward the pick-up window and the regiment of smokers perfuming the air with delicious particulates. Multiple locations,

⑬ Garlic Knuckles

garlic knots

Brozinni Pizzeria

Whether they be sticks, knots, or bread, all carb-based appetizers pale in comparison to the garlic knuckles featured at this always-packed pizzeria on Indy’s south side with a recently opened Speedway location. The fermented housemade dough proofed for the knuckles is the same Brozinni’s uses for its New York–style pies (with slices you can actually fold like a real New Yorker) and makes for garlic butter–drenched bites that are crisp, chewy, and dangerously addictive. You’ll definitely need to make yourself hold back for pizza—and when was the last time you had to be told that? 8810 S. Emerson Ave., Ste. 240, 317-865-0911; 1067 N. Main St., Ste. B, Speedway, 317-744-2826;

⑭ Braunschweiger Sandwich

braunschweiger sandwich

Red Key Tavern

The Red Key braunschweiger sandwich is an embodiment of the iconic tavern itself—nostalgic and straightforward. The bar has been in the Settle family for 71 years and not much has changed in that time. The only form of payment accepted is cash, the jukebox plays 45s, and the floor tile is worn into a pathway that leads to the kitchen. The braunschweiger sandwich has been on the menu as long as anyone can remember. While the term “braunschweiger” is a catch-all for several types of German-style sausages, Red Key’s version is spreadable, like pate, and sliced right off the log. It comes standard  on wheat bread (toasted if you ask nicely). And you can ask the server to add onion, pickle, lettuce, tomato, or mayo. Most regulars opt for onions and mustard straight from the tabletop squeeze bottle. 5170 N. College Ave., 317-283-4601,

⑮ Bloody Mary

bloody mary

Tick Tock Lounge

The hangover remedy at this no-frills spot places a bouquet of garnishes atop its time-honored slurry of spicy tomato juice and infused vodka. A stalk of celery serves as the backbone for the structure, presenting each component in order of importance. The top layer is a single slice of bacon, mercifully thick and chewy. It is draped horizontally over a tidy formation of tater tots—five hot, crispy soldiers ready for action. Next comes a skewer of alternating charcuterie and green olives that might have been plucked off a passed hors d’oeuvres tray at a catered wedding. And finally, the lime wedge, providing a finishing squirt of acidity and proving that every morsel of this edible drink has a job to do. Oh wait … you were expecting a sprig of cheeseburger sliders or a spatchcocked chicken or some other nonsense? Not on Tick Tock’s watch. 2602 E. 10th St., 317-634-8625

⑯ Chili Cheese Étouffée

chili cheese etouffee


You won’t find this fusion dish on the menus at the gumbo houses of New Orleans. That’s because it’s a one-of-a-kind original that only the likes of Louisiana transplant Joe Vuskovich could have dreamed up when he opened his first Yats in 2001. Somewhere between traditional roux-thickened seafood stew and the melted cheese dip you’d serve on game day, this indulgent menu mainstay has long been a top seller—and guilty pleasure of Yats fans. Maybe that’s why it didn’t translate when Vuskovich tried to expand to Chicago, inspiring one Windy City food writer to call it the “Worst Dining Experience” of his career. Fine. More for us. Multiple locations,

⑰ Mussels


Mama Carolla’s

Few dishes can offer more satisfaction than this shallow bowl of black-shelled bivalves swimming in a tomato-garlic broth. Eating them in Mama’s comfy dining room is a ritualistic experience as you pinch out the chewy-soft nubs of meat one bite at a time. The real treat comes after you’ve emptied the shells and are left with a briny soup that begs to be sopped up with bread, or sipped directly from the dish. 1031 E. 54th St.,

⑱ Mile High Club

club sandwich

Rock Cola ’50s Cafe

A good club sandwich, however you measure it, is no slouch. Tier upon tier of cold cuts and bacon, with that signature extra slice of bread, means you’re in for a mouthful. It almost begs a dare, which customers have long been up to at this retro diner on Indy’s southeast side. A crowning layer of bacon protrudes from the side of Rock Cola’s monstrous Dagwood-style sandwich, with more than the usual allotment of smoked turkey and ham piled not on dainty bread slices but thick slabs of Texas toast. Fully assembled, this triple-decker rises high enough to need a steak knife to keep it from toppling onto the plate. You can stage your own Man v. Food–style competition with a friend. Or, you could split one and still go home feeling like you really accomplished something. 5730 S. Brookville Rd., 317-357-2233

⑲ Oatmeal Maple Pecan Cookies

oatmeal maple pecan cookies

4 Birds Bakery

Jenna Unrue’s by-appointment bakery describes its marquee Grandma snack as “the cookie that started it all.” Indeed, this salty-sweet hunk of oats, nuts, Indiana maple syrup, and butter has a history that predates the bakery itself. Indy’s OG foodies might recall the first time they tasted the cookie at Broad Ripple’s now-shuttered H2O Sushi. Two of them arrived on a white plate beside a wee wooden box of whipped espresso cream to be slathered on bite by bite. Even without the fancy presentation, the cookie remains, as noted YA author and oatmeal-cookie fan John Green puts it, “just fundamentally better than all the other cookies.” It’s fat and texturally complex, with a hint of crystalized goo at its core. If you ever see one in the wild, probably stacked next to the register at a local market (since 4 Birds doesn’t have a storefront), grab it.

⑳ Brisket


Hank’s Smoked Brisket

If anyone but a Texan boasted that his carryout smokehouse was the “Barbecue Mecca of the Midwest,” you’d be well within your rights to assume that fella was all hat and no cattle. But the strip-mall spot across from Crown Hill Cemetery started by Henderson, Texas, native Hank Fields in 2004 has both the pedigree and the goods in the form of its signature item, brisket. The fat slabs are kissed with mesquite from Texas and—in a Lone Star State–sized departure—brushed with a liberal amount of Hank’s signature mild-and-tangy barbecue sauce. Save room for the desserts: The cobblers and pies are out of sight. 3736 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St., 317-925-1689,

㉑ Big Bowl Combination Pho


Egg Roll #1

This Asian fave has papered its walls with an encyclopedic menu of descriptions and photos. Options range from Thai curries to Kung Pao shrimp to bun thit xao cha gio, each heaping plate tracked by category and number. It’s a journey, but once you arrive at No. 11 in the Vietnamese Pho section, you might never leave. This order requires the biggest vessel in the house—a serving bowl brimming with rice noodles tangled around slivers of rare flank steak, tender beef balls, tendon long-simmered into rich, restorative wisps, and islands of lacy beef tripe. The broth has warm kitchen-spice overtones and meaty undertones—all salt and umami. Don’t leave a drop behind. 4540 S. Emerson Ave., 317-787-2225,

㉒ Quattro Formaggio



Gourmet pizza had barely entered the Hoosier cognizance 36 years ago, when Broad Ripple’s funky pie shop introduced a multi-cheesed, bacon-dotted curiosity as an option. What was this strange specimen with its skinny crust; gooey Romano, mozzarella, and provolone; and hills of faintly sweet ricotta playing against the salty richness of cured pork and mushrooms—everything congealed under a layer of sunny-yellow cheddar? Even by today’s standards, it still holds up. But for pizza-lovers of a certain age, this luscious dairy bomb tastes as over-the-top as it once did between sips of Bartles & Jaymes on a rickety deck in the Village. Multiple locations,

㉓ French Fries


Fat Dans

Fresh-cut and fried with their skins on, the spuds at this big-shouldered house of beef arrive hot, salty, and proud of their potato lineage. Order for the table, and the server will dump them hot from the fryer into sharable piles atop paper sheets that bear witness to their deep-fat preparation. Multiple locations,

㉔ Earl’s Court Cake

chocolate cake

Cake Bake Shop

Chocolate cake is so ubiquitous these days as to be humdrum, an afterthought on a dessert cart or a dry slice you slide onto your tray at the cafeteria. Sink your fork into Gwendolyn Rogers’s Earl’s Court Cake, the best-seller at her two Cake Bake Shops and a confection she’s served to everyone from Steve Martin to Oprah, and you’ll curse every other slice of devil’s food you’ve wasted the calories on. The deeply moist crumb of the Valrhona cake layers themselves would impress on their own. But when they’re lavished with malted chocolate cream—at once airy, earthy, and luxurious—and sealed with a ganache that is the definition of smooth, you’ll think you’re eating chocolate cake for the first time. A spray of fleur de sel makes this knockout sparkle and gives it a wee salty undertone that keeps you going back. Multiple locations,

㉕ California Roll

california sushi roll


Once, not too long ago, Hoosiers considered sushi to be the height of foreign exotica. Credit Sakura Japanese Restaurant with changing that. In January 1987, it opened in the same building on Keystone Avenue that it occupies today. The full-service sushi bar offered a masterful version of what could be called the cuisine’s gateway drug, the California roll. Made of avocado, cucumber, and “krab,” it tasted refreshing and vaguely unfamiliar. Sakura visitors tried it, discovered that they didn’t die, and worked up the courage to sample, say, a soft-shell crab roll on their next visit. It’s been years since anyone referred to anything on Sakura’s menu as “challenging,” but the roll that introduced sushi to Everyman’s palate is still available for $4.95. 7201 N. Keystone Ave., 317-259-4171,