The Best Food and Drink in Indiana for 2019
December 20, 2018
Whether or not you’re an avid Indy 500 fan, you can enjoy the all-American classics from Indiana
The Best Food and Drink in Indiana
In Indiana, there’s never a shortage of sports events to watch. It’s the home of the Pacers and the Colts — two huge national sports teams based in Indianapolis. The state attracts racing fans, as well, home to the famous Indy 500. And that’s not to mention major college sports programs at Indiana University, Purdue University, and of course Notre Dame. Where there are sports, there’s beer and food — and in Indiana’s case, it’s some of the best. We’ve rounded up the best of the state’s eats as part of our second annual guide to the best food and drink in every state.
While Indiana does have some of the best sports bars in America, it has lots of non-sports-inspired fare, as well. Being a state in the heart of the Midwest, Indiana is spattered with the usual Midwestern restaurant favorites, like Applebee’s and Arby’s. But in the two metropolises of the otherwise farm-dominated state, there are many impressive and delectable dishes. Indianapolis and Fort Wayne are Indiana’s most populous urban areas, home to many of the items on this list.
Indianapolis has an emerging food scene and showcases some surprisingly good eats. In 2012, its best steakhouse was recognized by the James Beard Foundation as one of "America's Classics." Over the course of the past year we’ve honored everything from its best hot dogs and brunch spot to its best bar and craft beer in our comprehensive and wide-ranging lists and rankings, compiled through extensive research and with input from a wide network of site contributors, bloggers, journalists, and chefs. We’ve compiled these into individual slideshows celebrating the best food and drink in every state, and you can find our Indiana slideshow ahead.
Best Airport Restaurant: Harry & Izzy’s (Indianapolis International Airport)
Known for their St. Elmo’s shrimp cocktail and New York strip, Indianapolis’ popular Harry & Izzy’s steakhouse (an offshoot of the famed St. Elmo Steakhouse) has an outpost in the airport that’s worth a stop if you’re looking for a bite while waiting. Try their thin-crust pizzas, sliders, and sandwiches too, and if you’ve got an early flight, they have plenty of breakfast burgers and sandwiches on the menu as well.
Best All-You-Can-Eat Deal: The Journey (Indianapolis)
It’s not so often that the journey is the destination, but this Indianapolis favorite is in fact a huge destination for anyone looking for all-you-can-eat sushi, prime rib, seafood, and other freshly made Asian-inspired dishes in a modern and comfortable space. For a price ranging from $8.99 to $21.99, guests can enjoy nearly 100 types of maki, gunkanmaki, nigari, temaki, and sashimi; there’s also a massive assortment of hot and cold dishes including barbecue pork ribs, blue crab in oyster sauce, grilled swordfish teriyaki, pork loin with gravy, prime rib, roast lamb, stuffed shrimp, red snapper with masago sauce, beef tataki, sashimi salad, snow crab legs, and cold peanut noodles.
Best Bar: Red Key Tavern (Indianapolis)
The Red Key Tavern is an institution that has been in the Settle family since 1951, and it truly is a family establishment. The bar’s late proprietor, Russ Settle, was famous for his list of “the rules” that every patron had to follow. His wife Dollia has been the bartender for decades now, and along with her son Jim and granddaughter Leslie, continues to enforce them today: no feet on the furniture, no chairs in the aisle, cash only, hang up your coat and hat, use your indoor voice, don’t swear, and, most importantly, the bartender is always right! Frequented by locals, touring musicians, and writers, the bar is known for its ice-cold bottled beer and straightforward cocktails. The place itself is a throwback. From the neon sign over the door (four musical notes depict the old boozy song “How Dry I Am”) to the post-war selection of 45s on the jukebox to the original 1950s Formica tables and straight-back chairs, the bar’s décor has remained virtually untouched since the day Settle bought the place. The linoleum-tiled floor has a path worn between the jukebox and restrooms, and there’s plenty of kitsch here, too, like the stuffed antelope head behind the bar and the World War II-era model planes hanging from the ceiling. Don’t miss the cheeseburgers — cooked on a flattop grill — or Dollie’s potato salad.
Best Beer: Zombie Dust, Three Floyds (Munster)
Consider Zombie Dust from Three Floyds the juggernaut that powers you through the apocalypse, because this pale ale is anything but undead. The intensely hopped brew is floral on the nose and citrusy on the tongue with a slight bread-iness at the finish. As an added bonus, the comic-style bottle label is seriously dope — but not for the faint of heart.
Best Brunch: Milktooth (Indianapolis)
Milktooth, a no-reservations Indianapolis gem, is a must-visit for brunch. The menu is as delicious as it is creative, and it eschews convention every chance it gets. A Dutch baby pancake is filled with manchego and grapefruit, and topped with shaved Brussels sprouts with a shallot hazelnut sherry vinaigrette. The burger is made with lamb and topped with shiitake, Asiago, cream cheese chive aïoli, and pickled onions. The steak and eggs is topped with celeriac mash, Texas chili gravy, and fried shallots. And porridge is made with ancient grains and contains coconut milk, plum jam, hemp seeds, and pistachio. There’s also a huge variety of creative salads and other vegetable-forward dishes, as well as jaw-droppingly delicious sweet options like pearl sugar and sourdough lemon poppyseed waffle, spiced pear sugar fritter, and a banoffee pie twice baked croissant. It’s also one of the only places in Indianapolis where you’ll find a kouign amann (pronounced “queen ah-MON”), quite possibly the most delicious French pastry in existence.
Best Burger: Workingman's Friend (Indianapolis)
In business since 1918, Indianapolis old-timer Workingman's Friend reportedly got its name because owner Louis Stamatkin allowed regulars to run a tab until payday; the fact he supplied them with homemade whiskey probably didn’t hurt, either. Nowadays its run by Louis’ granddaughter Becky, and it’s turning out stellar burgers that haven’t changed since day one, still cooked on the original grill. Patties are hand-formed from fresh ground chuck and smashed down on the grill until they’re essentially all crust, deep and dark and salty and loaded with umami. Order a double and you’ll receive two cheese-topped patties stacked on top of each other, with a segment of bun in between to absorb some of the juice. It’s a beaut.
Best Chicken and Waffles: Maxine's Chicken & Waffles (Indianapolis)
The chicken and waffles at the lively Maxine’s are things of beauty — a waffle (which you can also order filled with blueberry or sweet potato) balances three huge savory fried chicken wings, and house-made peach butter ties it all together. If that’s not “a taste of love in every bite,” as the restaurant promises, we’re not sure what is.
Best Chinese Restaurant: Asian Snack (Indianapolis)
Photo by David B. via Yelp
One of Indianapolis’ biggest hidden culinary gems, Asian Snack is hiding in plain sight inside an international grocery store, Saraga Market. Just a small counter with a few seats, Asian Snack caters primarily to Chinese shoppers and serves home-style food that’s unadulterated for the American palate. Beef pancakes, mung bean cakes, Tianjin pork buns, sesame balls, braised duck wings, sautéed pig kidney, Geleshan-style spicy chicken, Xiangjiang-style fried chicken chop... If you’re looking for real Chinese food in Indianapolis, this is where to go.
Best Chocolate Shop: Schimpff’s Confectionery (Jeffersonville)
One of the oldest candy businesses in the country, Schimpff’s Confectionary is half chocolate shop, half museum, which makes it a great tourist destination on its own. Beyond the collection of candy-making history here, the chocolates are old-fashioned and scrumptious.
Best Coffee Shop: Calvin Fletcher's Coffee Company (Indianapolis)
Calvin Fletcher's Coffee Company is a not-for-profit, family-run business dedicated to being a community-building space as well as a coffee shop. It's a great place for artists and art-lovers; you'll find paintings, pottery, woodwork, and even greeting cards by local artists displayed here, and local poets and singers also share their music and poetry in this space as well. Their ethically-sourced coffee is from Rwanda, Guatemala, and Burundi, and they have a namesake blend — Fletcher Place Blend — that mixes Ugandan and Colombian coffee for a taste that includes caramel, citrus, fruit, and oak.
Best Craft Brewery: Three Floyds Brewing Company (Munster)
Three Floyds Brewing Company is well known not just for what’s in the bottle, but for the amazing label artwork as well. Two of their most famous brews, Zombie Dust and Dark Lord Imperial Stout, regularly land on best beer lists around the world. The super-hopped Zombie Dust, a pale ale, “will be the only respite after the zombie apocalypse.” Dark Lord Imperial Stout is available at the brewery only one day a year, Dark Lord Day (May 19 this year).
Best Cupcake: The Flying Cupcake (Indianapolis)
With a striking signature pastel color palette, The Flying Cupcake will fly away with your heart after just one nibble. The cupcakes are delectably labeled with creative names that will entice you to keep trying more. Try the It's Not a HoHo, a chocolate cupcake filled with vanilla cream and covered in chocolate ganache, or the Chocolate Snoball, a chocolate cupcake with coconut cream, topped with chocolate cream cheese and coconut. For the slightly less decadent, but equally delicious Coconut Snowball Cupcake recipe, click here.
Best Doughnut: Long’s Bakery (Indianapolis)
Best Food Truck: Gaucho’s Fire (Indianapolis)
It’s easy to see why Gaucho’s Fire is one of the premier food trucks in Indiana — almost everything on the menu involves chunks of meat and the deep fryer. This truck is serving Brazilian-style platters and sandwiches, loaded with yummy toppings and sauces. They also make a popular Brazilian street food called coxinhas, a savory, teardrop-shaped dough ball stuffed with a creamy chicken salad and fried. Their Brazilian sausage sandwich comes loaded with fries, grilled onion, mayonnaise, and a vinaigrette, and their skewered chicken and beef looks mouthwatering.
Best Fried Chicken: Hollyhock Hill (Indianapolis)
Since it opened in 1928, Hollyhock Hill has grown from a 30-guest restaurant to one that holds 70 patrons to, finally, its current 150-seat location in Indianapolis. But while the seating count has changed multiple times, the "Hoosier pan-fried chicken" recipe has stayed the same. This four-ingredient chicken is cut through the breast crosswise instead of lengthwise, leaving the wishbone intact.
Best Grocery Store: The Fresh Market
A national chain, yes, but the stores always seem to settle in with the local community at each location. This store is the consistent favorite throughout the state, but in Indianapolis, the local Fresh Market has been voted in the top five best grocery stores for eight years running. The stores that bested it were smaller, more expensive, specialty food markets.
Best Hot Dog: Fort Wayne’s Famous Coney Island (Fort Wayne)
Fort Wayne’s oldest operating restaurant has been going strong since 1914, has been run by the same family since 1916, hasn’t changed much since its early days, and serves more than a million hot dogs per year. It opens at 8 a.m. for shift workers on their way home, and regulars know to use the lingo: “Three and a bottle” means three dogs with everything and a Coke; “Three without” means three dogs with chili sauce, no onions. Order a few classic coneys (steamed bun, grilled hot dog, mustard, homemade chili, and hand-chopped onions), a side of house baked beans, and a slice of pie, and be a part of history.
Best Hotel Restaurant: Spoke & Steele (Indianapolis)
This sleek and stylish new spot is bringing locally-sourced American fare and top-notch cocktails to downtown Indianapolis, inside Le Méridien Hotel. Consulting chef Greg Hardesty’s menu relies on local farmers and artisans, and he’s serving house-made charcuterie, Southern-style biscuits, Fischer Farms flatiron steaks with Parmesan fries, a custom-blend burger, and sea scallops with edamame, radish, chile, and umami miso sauce to thankful locals and visitors alike.
Best Ice Cream Stand: Broad Ripple Ice Cream Station (Indianapolis)
Broad Ripple Ice Cream Station, usually shortened to BRICS, is an iconic Indiana ice cream spot located inside the historic Monon Railway Station and co-owned by a relative of Kurt Vonnegut. If either of those things aren’t major pulls for you, perhaps BRICS’ list of over 40 ice cream flavors will draw you in.
Best Jewish Deli: Shapiro’s (Indianapolis)
Shapiro’s Delicatessen and Cafeteria has been serving loyal customers in Indianapolis since 1905. Best known for its cured meats and sandwiches piled high on rye or egg buns, it’s also world famous for its smoked pickled tongue. Their corned beef is sourced from Vienna Beef in Chicago and the pastrami is shipped in from Brooklyn. Their most famous creation, however, is the peppered beef, which is made by salting, washing, curing, peppering, smoking, and seasoning lean beef, and it’s a must-order.
Most Expensive Restaurant: St. Elmo’s Steakhouse (Indianapolis)
This Indianapolis landmark has been going strong since 1902, but prices have gone up just a little bit since then. The least expensive steak on the menu, a 14-ounce rib-eye, costs $41, and the bone-in porterhouse tips the scales at $59. If you want to pair your filet with a lobster tail, be prepared to drop $79.
Most Outrageous Restaurant Dish: The Double All In, Best Bet Breakfast & Lunch (Noblesville)
At poker-themed Best Bet Breakfast & Lunch, there's a food challenge that has you pick a card from a deck in order to determine how long you have to finish their "Double Dog Dare You All In Challenge." You have anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour to finish their Double All In: a breakfast dish made with a double order of tater tots, six scrambled eggs, diced ham, sausage, onions, green peppers, jalapeños, and shredded cheddar cheese on top. You'll only get a T-shirt if you win, though, so if you find it's not worth it, you can always go for the simple All In, which is half the size.
Most Romantic Restaurant: The Eagle’s Nest (Indianapolis)
The Eagle’s Nest/Yelp
Located on top of Downtown Indianapolis’ Hyatt Regency, The Eagle’s Nest is a fine-dining destination that also happens to be the only revolving restaurant in the city. While taking in stunning views of Downtown, you can enjoy dishes like beef cheek and bone marrow with truffle cream, traditional French onion soup, herb-crusted prime rib, pan-seared scallops with Brazilian black rice, and Korean-spiced Colorado lamb chops.
Best Pancakes: Lincoln Square Pancake House (Various Locations)
An Indianapolis institution that now has 10 locations in the state, the family-run Lincoln Square Pancake House has been going strong since 1989. And as the name might imply, the pancakes here are just about perfect. Golden brown from end to end and based on a recipe that’s been perfected over decades, they come with a variety of toppings including fresh fruit, chocolate chips, candied pecans, granola, and honey. The corn cakes, topped with Cheddar cheese and country gravy, are also a must-order.
Best Restaurant for Breakfast: Good Morning Mama’s (Indianapolis)
Good Morning Mama’s was a gas station before the owners of next-door favorite Mama Carolla’s decided to turn it into a world-class breakfast spot with an old-school malt shop atmosphere, open at 8 a.m. daily. Along with spot-on versions of breakfast staples like breakfast sandwiches, biscuits and gravy, homemade corned beef and hash, pancakes, French toast, and omelettes, visitors will also notice lots of intriguing specialties, like fried biscuits rolled in cinnamon sugar; a surprisingly authentic Hawaiian loco moco; and whole-wheat spaghetti scrambled with eggs, Parmesan, toast, and pancetta. Make sure you get some cheesy grits on the side.
Best Pasta Dish: Spaghetti and Meatballs, Mama Carolla’s (Indianapolis)
If you’re looking for a big serving of hearty Italian fare in Indianapolis, look no further than the warm and inviting Mama Carolla’s. Built as a model home in the 1920s and still boasting plenty of original fixtures, the family-run restaurant is currently celebrating its 20th year turning out consistently delicious classic red-sauce fare. Start with the popular garlic cheese bread, and then try the spaghetti and meatballs, a twist of perfectly sauced spaghetti topped with two house-made meatballs and an extra ladle of chunky sauce.
Best Pizza: Diavola (Indianapolis)
Upscale pizzeria and wine bar Diavola has been keeping the locals happy with some spectacular wood-fired pizzas since 2015. Just like in Naples, the pizzas cook in an 800-degree oven and come out bubbling and blistered after 90 seconds. The oven is also turning out some excellent pita bread, as one of the owners is Egyptian. There are 20 different pizza styles on offer, but the best one to sample is the Margherita, with simple tomato sauce, high-quality mozzarella (make it burrata for an extra $2.75), and basil; two different crust styles (original and thin crust) are also available.
Best Soup: Soupremacy (Indianapolis)
Low-key Monument Circle storefront Soupremacy is a haven for in-the-know locals, who flock here on their lunch hour to see what soups will be on offer that week (more than 100 are served over the course of a year). Only fresh, all-natural ingredients go into their soups, and favorites include Italian kale parmesan with homemade Italian sausage, creamy chicken velvet, and sherry-kicked lobster bisque.
Best Sports Bar: Between the Buns (Osceola)
Between the Buns/Yelp
Be a part of the crowd or have your own party at Between the Buns, where a slew of screens ensure that everyone is watching what he or she wants. Drink specials like the $12 buckets of beer appeal to many customers, as does the fact that Between the Buns pays homage to area teams by displaying high school and college memorabilia alongside the pro stuff. The South Bend Tribune has named this the Best Sports Bar in Osceola, and it was selected as one of ESPN's Top 8 Sports Bars in North America. They’ll even cater your tailgate party.
Best Steakhouse: St. Elmo Steak House (Indianapolis)
Setting foot into St. Elmo is like stepping back in time — to 1902, to be exact. The saloon-style décor hasn’t changed save for a '90s-era expansion, and neither has the menu: There’s a wide selection of wet-aged steaks and chops, a classic shrimp cocktail with sinus-clearing cocktail sauce and saltines, a wedge salad, and a loaded baked potato, all served with the professionalism you’d expect from a place that’s been doing it for more than 100 years (one waiter has been on-staff since 1976). St. Elmo is steakhouse-meets-comfort food, an inviting place where time really stands still. However, that commitment to keeping the past alive doesn’t mean that quality suffers; the menu proudly displays the names of 17 local sources for the food served.
Best Taco: Indy Tacos (Indianapolis)
Photo by Allison F. via Yelp
Behind perhaps the most unassuming storefront in Indy hides Indy Tacos and the best tacos in the state, and the daily line out the door during the lunch rush proves it. The menu is simple and straightforward, but it changes often to allow for some creative spins like mango chicken, steak poblano, and fish tacos. But when the chicken mole taco is available, don’t miss it: The chicken is juicy and flavorful, and the homemade mole negro is top-notch. For more states, check out our ultimate guide to the best food and drink in every state for 2019.