(Note: The writer is a former resident [1988-98] of Indianapolis.)
While Indianapolis may be a Midwestern city (with all that entails), there is a surprising diversity of food choices. While some of my favorites from my time there are no longer with us (no more Dodd’s Town House or Russia House restaurants), there are still a number of outstanding eateries in Indianapolis and Marion County.
First of all, though: Is there one thing food-wise that Indianapolis is known for? Well, sort of – the breaded pork tenderloin sandwich. A variant on schnitzel, this is a piece of pork loin that’s been cubed, then pounded out even thinner (a typical one can be cut in half and used to make a second sandwich after it’s been prepared!), breaded, then fried and served on a burger bun, usually with plenty of dill pickle slices and mustard. (In part of neighboring Ohio, this is called a “Jackson County veal.”)
While opinions will vary as to who’s got the best, a pair of Indianapolis area eateries stake a fair claim. The first is Basey’s, which is in the shadow of Lucas Oil Stadium downtown (419 S. West St.); and the Nickel Plate Bar and Grill, on E. 116th St. in Fishers, a northern suburb just up I-69 and across into neighboring Hamilton County. (For the uninitiated, Indianapolis and Marion County are essentially one and the same, with a handful of exceptions.)
However, man cannot live on breaded pork tenderloins alone (sure, you can try, but it’s not recommended by any doctors), so there are a number of other options to consider. At the very top of the list is the St. Elmo Steak House, a downtown Indy landmark. For most of the rest of us, St. Elmo is a once in a lifetime destination; but, if you’re in town for the Super Bowl, the prices won’t faze you. If for nothing else, go to St. Elmo for some of their famous shrimp cocktail.
If you’re looking for something a little more down-homey, Hollyhock Hill restaurant (8110 N. College Ave.) is your place. With family style seating, and fried chicken considered by some to be the best in the state, if you leave this restaurant hungry, it’ll be your own fault. One note, however: This one is extremely popular, so reservations are highly recommended.
For ethnic eats, choices become a little less extensive; however, what there is, is pretty good. Two Italian restaurants, the Milano Inn (231 S. College Ave.) and Iaria’s (just down the street at 317 S. College) lead the way for those in search of a pasta feed. For Mexican comida, the places to consider include El Sol de Tala (2444 E. Washington St.) and La Hacienda (6825 Graham Rd., near 71st St. and Binford Blvd. going towards the Castleton neighborhood).
If you just gotta have a bowl of chicken matzo-ball soup and a corned beef sandwich, then you have to go to Shapiro’s Deli (808 S. Meridian St.). For Greek food, my favorite place was Hellas Café (8501 Westfield Blvd., just south of 86th St.) – get the combination platter, while I always favored the Hong Kong Inn on the Far Eastside (8079 E. 38th St., no website!) for Chinese takeout.
The Broad Ripple district brings to mind the best hand tossed pizza place in the city, Bazbeaux Pizza at 811 E. Westfield Blvd (there is also a downtown location at 334 Massachusetts Ave.). Also in Broad Ripple, you’ll find one of Indy’s better Indian restaurants, Shalimar (1043 Broad Ripple Ave.).
Finally, a pair of chains worth noting: MCL Cafeteria (multiple locations) offers decent food inexpensively in a cafeteria-style setting (no, this is definitely not your elementary-school cafeteria, or military chow hall!); and Cincinnati’s Skyline Chili has three locations around the Indianapolis area, so you can give this uniquely-flavored chili a try without having to make a trip down I-74.