Central Indiana's reputation as a foodie destination continues to grow, with countless independent eateries, many of them serving the innovative, sustainable cuisine that has become a signature of the Hoosier state.
Start your journey in Carmel’s Arts and Design District, a scenic old-town shopping area packed with boutiques and galleries. Nearby is Pizzology, where chef and restaurateur Neal Brown cooks up delicious wood-fired pizzas the Neapolitan way. Farther east in Fishers, railroad-themed Nickel Plate Bar and Grill serves a perfect version of breaded pork tenderloin, the quintessential Indiana dish, while Peterson’s pampers with sophisticated offerings including Maine lobster and Kobe-style pork tenderloin.
Head south to Indianapolis and the quirky Broad Ripple neighborhood, home to vintage shops, busy nightclubs and a variety of great eateries. The Belgian-inspired Brugge Brasserie and the French-inspired Petite Chou both offer a delicious taste of Europe. South of Broad Ripple near downtown, handcrafted meats are the focus at Goose the Market and Smoking Goose Meatery. In the downtown Massachusetts Avenue district, known simply as Mass Ave, The Best Chocolate in Town artisanal shop and top restaurants such as R Bistro and Black Market rub shoulders with fantastic boutiques. South of Monument Circle, the tour continues at Tastings wine bar and the century-old St. Elmo Steak House, where the signature dish is a memorably spicy shrimp cocktail. Duos Food Truck dishes up inventive seasonal cuisine at their mobile kitchen: Log on to check out their menu, then line up at one of their daily locations.
The trail winds west to Plainfield where a house ale from Three Pints Brewpub is sure to quench a thirst. Farther west in Danville, Bread Basket Café and Bakery’s mouth-watering offerings include fresh-baked breads, from-scratch soups and decadent desserts. Veer northeast to Traders Point Creamery in Zionsville, where a rural dining experience awaits just minutes from the hustle and bustle of the city. The creamery’s Loft restaurant serves up cheese fondue and steaks from its herd—the ultimate example of an all-local farm-to-fork experience.
Goose the Market
With its gourmet deli and wine cellar, this neighborhood gathering place—and regional foodie mecca—offers a little taste of Europe in the heart of Indianapolis.
For a quick bite, try the deli’s famous Batali sandwich, with lettuce, jalapeño peppers and Italian meats. Or head down narrow stairs to the popular (and usually packed) wine cellar restaurant Enoteca. Snag a seat at a communal table (built from 100-year-old reclaimed barn wood) and order one of the delicious cheese and charcuterie plates or house-made terrines. A chalkboard lists an ever-changing selection of wines, served by the glass, quartino (a quarter of a liter) or bottle, and a small selection of beers. Knowledgeable, friendly servers offer wine suggestions based on preferences and pairings–perhaps a bold, fruity French Elicio 2009 or a sweet, mild Austrian Biokult Gruner Veltliner 2008. It’s a perfect place to try something new.
Smoking Goose Meatery
This old-school butcher shop carries high-quality meats that are hard to find elsewhere in the city.
Handcrafted meat products from Smoking Goose Meatery can now be found on the menus of almost every high-end restaurant in Indianapolis. Tucked away in a primarily commercial district, this recent offshoot of Goose the Market is the hub of the company's commercial distribution. But it also welcomes walk-in customers who can choose from a chalkboard menu of nearly three dozen sausages, salumi, smoked meats and larder meats, such as hard-to-find duck leg confit. Favorites include applewood-smoked bacon, garlic sausage and black-truffle bologna, all perfectly seasoned, juicy and delicious. If tasting is an option but transporting raw meat home isn’t, head across the street to locally owned Flat 12 Bierwerks, where you can wash down Smoking Goose protein plates with ales.
James Beard nominee chef Regina Mehallick dishes contemporary American cuisine infused with international flavors at her industrial-chic restaurant.
Located in a former caster factory, the contemporary decor reflects the artsy neighborhood: corrugated metal bar, stainless-steel dining tables, blonde wood, exposed-brick walls, pendant lighting and funky paintings. But it’s the food that really makes this bistro stand out. Using primarily locally sourced ingredients and products, the eclectic lunch menu changes seasonally and the dinner menu changes weekly. Salads are fresh, mixing interesting ingredients such as bok choy, fruits and herbs. One of several tasty lunch options is a flavorful applewood-smoked bacon, watercress, avocado and sweet-tangy tomato chutney panini. Desserts include melt-in-your mouth buttermilk pie, oh-so-amazing sticky-toffee pudding and a steamed spice cake drizzled in caramel sauce and topped with fresh whipped cream—legendary!
St. Elmo Steak House
The signature steaks and incendiary shrimp cocktail pass the test of time with flying colors at this century-old Indianapolis landmark.
Since 1902, this has been the quintessential see-and-be-seen restaurant; visitors and locals keep the place packed every night of the week. The cavernous digs house a noisy, bustling bar scene; a series of dining rooms; the largest wine cellar in Indiana; and a tuxedoed waitstaff who deliver exemplary old-school service. The legendary shrimp cocktail—jumbo shrimp drenched in sinus-searing cocktail sauce—is literally breathtaking. (Diners who don't love horseradish should stick to salad.) A short menu of steaks, chops and seafood includes tender melting ribeye and outstanding filet mignon—juicy and perfectly cooked to medium-well. Be forewarned: At upwards of $50 per person for dinner, the dining experience at this historic destination is pricey.
Inside the wine bar at the luxurious Conrad hotel, swanky “vending machines” serve generous tasting portions of more than 100 wines.
Wine-savvy patrons wander among wine “vending machines,” organized by category or region, and use a prepaid debit card to dispense a tasting: a great way to try that mysterious Merlot, compare Rieslings, or refine your wine palate, all for just a few dollars a taste. Portions are generous, and the selection of over 100 wines is constantly changing. The restaurant offers a full menu, and its servers can suggest the perfect food pairing for a favorite wine. Try the roasted red pepper hummus served with warm pita triangles or the artichoke-caponata salad—a fantastic combination of romaine, arugula, finely chopped artichokes, tomatoes, capers and fresh mozzarella drizzled with a tangy balsamic reduction.
The Best Chocolate in Town
This artisanal chocolate shop offers mouthwatering sweets, many with unexpected flavor combinations.
Often featured on dessert menus at the city’s best restaurants, all of the scrumptious chocolates are made from scratch at this artisanal chocolate shop, which has been juried into the exclusive Indiana Artisan program. The truffles are simply divine, with innovative and unexpected flavors such as blackberry, port and fig, rosemary, wasabi ginger, honey lavender, Gorgonzola and Sun King Wee Mac (named for a local beer). The caramels are dense and smooth but not too chewy, covered in chocolate and topped with sea salt. Other favorites include the chocolate-covered toffee (melt-in-your-mouth delicious), turtles, bonbons and chocolate bars.
This gourmet eatery in the funky Mass Ave district features Midwestern comfort food with global twists.
Though one of the newest in the city, this high-end restaurant is already making its mark. The industrial-chic decor features exposed brick walls and heavy black pendant lights. An enormous, rustic communal table is the centerpiece with additional seating at several booths against the walls. The menu changes daily, but one constant is the appetizer pickle plate, including anything from pickled blueberries to pickled parsnips. Another appetizer favorite is the Asian-inspired duck buns. Feeling especially daring? Then choose bone marrow, often hard to find on Midwestern menus. Entree options vary from satisfying down-home shrimp and grits to a hearty platter of sauerkraut and sausage. Campfire shortbread, essentially a gourmet s'more, is delicious, as is the incredible bread pudding topped with passion fruit caramel sauce.
This Parisian-style bistro and Champagne bar offers upscale French classics in a friendly neighborhood atmosphere.
Plenty of seasonal, outdoor seating, both kid- and dog-friendly, welcomes at this busy French-inspired neighborhood bistro offering a wide range of appetizers, salads and soups. French classics—crepes, tartines (open-faced sandwiches on toasted country bread), and croque sandwiches (traditional French grilled ham and cheese sandwiches)—are highlights. The crepe with potato and goat cheese—stuffed with tangy goat cheese, perfectly roasted red potatoes and creamy wild mushrooms—delivers a savory blend of flavors in each bite. The croque monsieur, with Smoking Goose ham, béchamel sauce, Dijon mayo and Gruyère cheese on thick bread, bests its Parisian rivals. Chocolate pots de crème, a teacup of thick chocolate mousse topped with whipped cream, is a deliciously sweet ending. Tres bon!
This casual brewpub offers Belgian favorites like mitrailettes, steamed mussels and enormous paper cones of delicious fries.
Among the many microbreweries in Indianapolis, Brugge Brasserie is unique for its Belgian-inspired menu. Don't be put off by the warehouselike exterior. The interior is cozy and warm, and the bronze-topped tables have special cutouts to hold the paper cones of fries. Start by sampling beers, such as potent Tripel de Ripple and sweet-and-sour Harvey. Afterward, choose from a menu of favorites such as fries (with more than a dozen dipping sauces), steamed Prince Edward Island mussels (in a classic Belgian sauce), crepes and mitrailettes (Belgian version of submarine sandwiches). The real fun, though, is sampling the L'Enorme cone of fries, which stands more than a foot tall and comes with interesting sauces like fresh herb pesto, horseradish, hot curry and garlic aioli.
Duos Food Truck
Duos’ gourmet meals-on-wheels are driven by an evolving lineup of sandwiches, soups and salads to please both meat eaters and vegetarians.
With a motto of serving Slow Food Fast, this food truck is on a roll; customers log on and line up to check out the menu. Owners and chefs Becky Hostetter and John Garnier constantly create small, diverse selections of upscale sandwiches, salads, soups and desserts—often ethnically inspired—that suit meat eaters, vegetarians and vegans. The menu changes weekly and is noted online and via an on-site chalkboard. Soups, like hearty and delicious vegan lentil with Swiss chard, are tasty. So are the vegetarian broccoli-feta pie and a traditional lamb gyro entree. Save room for dessert: The carrot cake and triple-chocolate brownie are memorable enough to be served in any restaurant in town.
Three Pints Brewpub
A relative newcomer, this microbrewery offers a small selection of brews and casual American pub fare.
Competition continues to hop, as Three Pints Brewpub has joined the ever-increasing number of microbreweries in the region. Find this gathering spot set back from the road in a one-story, brick-frame building. The decor, understated and casual, is accented with a number of flat-screen TVs. Beer offerings include a small selection of house brews, such as Beatnik Blonde, McClearen's Scottish Ale and Yoshi’s Nectar, in addition to guest beers and domestic beers in bottles. The menu features classic American pub fare like nachos, mozzarella sticks, burgers and tenderloins. Try the Big One burger, topped with caramelized onions and cheddar cheese on a buttery brioche roll, or hickory-smoked pulled-pork sandwich, slow cooked and served on a brioche roll.
Bread Basket Cafe and Bakery
This small-town bakery and cafe serves up scrumptious meals while selling cakes, pies and unforgettable fresh-baked bread.
The small restaurant, in a renovated house on a quiet side street, is known for its chicken salad made from grilled chicken breast, dried cranberries, pecans and blue cheese. Go for breakfast, and it’s love at first bite with cinnamon-roll French toast: One giant cinnamon roll sliced horizontally into three pieces and given the French toast treatment. Slathered with cream cheese icing and syrup, it's a decadent treat. Enjoy hearty biscuits smothered in sausage gravy or a wonderful, creamy peanut butter pie. Carry-out baked goods, including pies, large and small cakes, and fresh-baked bread are available. Honey-oat bread, perfect for sandwiches, has just the right touch of sweetness.
Traders Point Creamery
Get a true farm-to-table experience with farm tours, dairy tastings and exceptional homegrown meals.
This family-owned dairy farm, operating since 2003, offers a full farm experience. Head for the dairy barn, the heart of the action. Housed in the loft is the appropriately named Loft Restaurant and Dairy Bar, serving a wide range of gourmet farm-to-table offerings, from artisanal cheese fondue to beef filets from the farm's organic, grass-fed herd. For dessert, try ice cream and fruit pies, such as a scrumptious black-cherry with streusel topping. The prices, though high, reflect the commitment to using only highest-quality, most-sustainable ingredients. The Dairy Bar also serves up rich creamy milkshakes, yogurt parfaits and smoothies. A creamery tour (self-guided or private with product tastings) takes visitors through the events barn to the milking parlor.
Pizzology Pizzeria and Pub
Pizza gets a gourmet makeover at this family-friendly Carmel eatery owned by one of Indy's top chefs.
Tucked in a strip mall, a classy small dining room, standard sports bar-pub area and casual screened porch provide settings to please all types of diners. The menu features starters, pastas, Neapolitan-style pizzas made with authentic high-quality Italian ingredients and a nice selection of Italian vinos. All pizzas get fired in an 800-degree wood-burning oven, are 13 inches, and cut into six thin-crusted wedges. Creations are available two ways—rossa (with tomato sauce) or bianca (no sauce)—or patrons can build their own with toppings like farm-fresh eggs and Roman artichoke (extra cost per topping). A generous three-scoop serving of vanilla gelato with whole blueberries or tangerine sorbet is easily shared for dessert.
Nickel Plate Bar and Grill
The star of this railroad-theme neighborhood restaurant is the breaded pork tenderloin sandwich, a Hoosier classic.
Located in downtown Fishers, the Nickel Plate Bar and Grill takes its name from the Nickel Plate Railroad that used to run through this area. It opened as a saloon in the 1880s, and the exposed brick walls and archways add a historical touch to this neighborhood gathering spot.
The motif continues on the menu, with burgers named after railroads. But, as one of several restaurants along Hamilton County’s Tenderloin Trail, it’s no surprise that the star here is the enormous breaded pork tenderloin sandwich, possibly one of the best incarnations of this classic Hoosier dish. The pork is pounded out flat, breaded with a secret spice blend and fried in canola oil, resulting in crispy edges and a juicy, tender interior. You won’t go wrong with this!
This upper-echelon, adults-only eatery offers great chops, steaks and seafood in a classy, relaxing atmosphere.
Locally owned and operated, Peterson’s has been garnering rave reviews since opening in 1999. Prepare to be pampered with friendly, attentive service and attention to detail. The menu includes exquisitely tender wet-aged steaks, succulent, fork-tender Kobe-style pork tenderloin, and fresh seafood flown in daily. An inch-thick corn cake and a sauce of roasted tomato and goat cheese tops slices of the Kurobuta pork tenderloin, skillfully plated around a mound of wilted arugula. Sides are a la carte and big enough to share: Don't miss the signature mashed potatoes—a creamy mélange of roasted wild mushrooms, shallots and garlic. An extensive wine list provides plenty of opportunities for perfect pairings. Dinner for two is pricey but guaranteed to impress.