Indianapolis is still best-known as the home of the Indy 500, but there’s another side to the city that’s kind of the dead opposite of its down-home racing side. It’s actually got a foodie scene that’s not just on the up-and-up… it’s fully booming. Whether you’re in search of tiny, delectable plates of something unexpected, crave a classic steakhouse worthy of Ron Swanson, or just wanna throwback a pint of awesome beer, Indy’s the perfect foodie destination. Come with an empty stomach and get ready to have your tastebuds blown!
Here are the highlights
You’ll know the minute you pull up to Milktooth that it’s a special place. Partially because of the aesthetic (it’s a former garage re-done to hipster perfection) and partially because there’s probably gonna be a line. This place is worth the wait. It’s received plenty of accolades, and the whimsical fine diner fare speaks for itself. They’re known for their Dutch babies (these are the love children of pancakes and crepes), but we went for the sourdough carrot cake waffle and the chicken and foie Bolognese with house-made pasta. The baked goods were tempting, too; think donuts, biscuits, and homemade “pop tarts.” No matter what you do, order the sorghum-glazed bacon. It will seriously change everything you thought you knew about bacon. It’s actual meat candy.
Must order: Sorghum-glazed bacon
Bluebeard is a lot of things. It’s elegant, it’s a little exotic, it’s a tribute to Indy’s favorite author, and it’s a favorite of Colts player Andrew Luck. Oh, and it’s a bakery too. But everything, from the atmosphere to the food works perfectly. It’s kind of working with a subtle library theme (the name ‘Bluebeard’ is a reference to Indy native Kurt Vonnegut’s novel) that blends in with the historic building. Expect to see a lot of small plates and seafood on the menu (you’ll want to bring a group of friends along so you can enjoy as much variety as possible), and a lot of it has a fresh, Asian twist. The cocktail program here is solid, as is the wine selection, and you won’t want to miss out on the house-made bread, which they sell to the public and other restaurants out of the attached storefront bakery, Amelia’s. They also made a mean frogs' legs dish. It’s like chicken wings — but even better. We promise.
Must order: Baby octopus on avocado toast
Let’s be real. Who doesn’t like a big bowl of pasta? Of course, that’s not all that Vida does well, but they’re pretty good at it. Check out the lush herb wall as you enter, then settle in for a delicious meal. Once you glance at the menu, you might be tempted to go for the four-course prix fixe. That’s a good option, but we recommend saving room for dessert. Their pastry chef is award-winning, and everything she makes is pure decadence, especially the ricotta donuts. Drool.
Must order: Ricotta donuts drizzled with bourbon maple glaze and candied bacon
If Ron Swanson is your spirit animal, then you absolutely need to make a reservation at St. Elmo’s. This steakhouse is as old school as they come. Order a stiff drink from the gorgeous wooden bar, then sit back and relax as your suit-clad waiter takes care of you. This place is all about the classic steakhouse experience, and they get the details right. From the tiny glass bottle of Coke for the Elmo Cola cocktail to shrimp cocktail loaded with horseradish and jumbo shrimp to the appetizer choices (you get either a glass or tomato juice or navy bean soup) to the menu (basically all meat and a few sides), you’ll leave incredibly stuffed and feeling like a million bucks.
Must order: The surf & turf (as Tom Haverford would say, ‘Treat yo’ self!’)
... Now let's segue to the liquid libations
Flat 12 Bierwerks is a smaller brewery tucked away in a quieter part of town, but it’s definitely worth checking out, especially for the patio (which is dog-friendly!) As for the beer, it’s excellent. Dry stouts, light cucumber kolches, amber saisons, hoppy wheats… no matter what you order, you’ll likely have never tried anything quite like it before.
Must order: Hinchtown Hammerdown (named for an Indy 500 driver)
Sun King is a bigger brewery, and one of the more popular places around town. Seriously, we dare you to find a bar or restaurant that doesn’t have at least one Sun King brew on tap. All of their stuff is super drinkable. Think cream ales, pales, and IPAs, and the spacious taproom has games, which make this a nice place to spend an afternoon — or, a whole evening.
Must order: Osiris Pale Ale
If you’re looking to try something totally different, Indy’s Fountain Square neighborhood is home to a craft meadery, which makes for an even more hipster alternative to a craft brewery. If you’ve never had mead (and you’ve never read Beowulf), it’s made of fermented honey (rather than grain for beer or grape juice for wine). The mead at New Day is carbonated and well balanced, so it drinks a lot like a fruity beer. They also have cider on tap as well. This is the kind of place where you’ll definitely want a flight to get a good sense of what they do. Plus, the sleek, modern white interior is worlds away from your average craft brewery scene.
Must order: Gold Rush Dry Cider
We didn’t get to visit craft distillery Hotel Tango, but we did get to sample their wares, and they are absolutely delicious. This is the first distillery to open in Indy since Prohibition, and it’s owned by service-disabled combat vets, hence the military theme. The location is in an old carriage house, and the menu features their gin, vodka, rum, moonshine, whiskey, and limon- and orange-cello mixed up into super creative cocktails. At the bar, they add spices, fruits, hot peppers, or even things like beets to their base liquors, and mix it all up with purees, shrubs, or even teas and coffee beans. No matter your taste, they’ve got a drink for you.
Must order: Anything with the limoncello