Food & Drink

A Southerner’s Guide to Eating in Indianapolis

Headed to watch Alabama and Georgia battle it out for the national championship? Here’s everything you need to know to dine (and drink) well while you’re there

Photo: Jason Lavengood/Visit Indy

The Indianapolis skyline from the downtown Canal Walk.

In the late 1970s, the city of Indianapolis declared itself “the Amateur Sports Capital of the World,” ambitious marketing for a compact metropolis trying to shed its previous “Indianoplace” image. But the rebrand stuck. Indy turned out to be a surprisingly accommodating host city, attracting major sporting events like the NCAA Final Four, the 2012 Super Bowl, and Monday’s College Football Playoff National Championship Game. Visitors in town to cheer on the Alabama Crimson Tide and Georgia Bulldogs can get a taste of Indy’s equally gracious restaurant scene—an under-the-radar foodie destination that the New York Times deemed “short on pretension and very affordable.” Here’s your day-to-night eating itinerary, with picks an easy walk or Uber ride from downtown’s Lucas Oil Stadium.

Breakfast (and Brunch) of Champions

photo: Mallory Talty/Visit Indy
Waffles at Milktooth.

Weekend mornings at busy boho diner Milktooth (534 Virginia Avenue) mean guava-curd Dutch babies and potato latkes dabbed with apple butter and sour cream, served on vintage grandma plates in a revamped auto-repair shop. Bedheads are just as welcome at Gallery Pastry Bar (110 S. Pennsylvania Street), a modern patisserie that greets you at the door with a glass case of glistening tarts and tiny opera cakes arranged like jewels—and then convinces you to stick around for foie gras croissants and pretty pear-lavender mimosas. Tiny European bakery and market Amelia’s (653 Virginia Avenue) takes a more rustic approach to laminated dough, specializing in two-handed savory and sweet pastries. The potato Gruyère croissant alone, wrapped around an intact fingerling potato, a dab of Dijon, and a lava flow of cheese, is a flaky masterpiece. Cafe Patachou (225 W. Washington Street) makes a meal of extravagant stuffed omelets with names like the Overachiever and Hippie with a Benz. Say yes to Patachou’s signature thick and buttery sourdough cinnamon toast. Or, you can simply claim some prime sofa space inside Parlor Public House (600 E. Ohio Street) and sip a latte amid the plants and mercifully soft lighting. Not a morning person? Grab a to-go cup at the barista counter in the street-level lobby of Hotel Indy (141 E. Washington Street), which pours locally roasted Tinker Coffee.

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Lunch-Hour Winners

photo: Cliff Ritchey/Visit Indy
The Amp food hall.

Every one of the butcher-shop sandwiches at Turchetti’s Delicatessen & Meat Market (1110 Prospect Street) is the best choice, especially when fortified with a pile of hot, crispy beef-tallow fries. Quirky Love Handle (877 Massachusetts Avenue) elevates full-flavored morsels like pork belly, chicken thighs, and fried catfish into imaginative sandos and burritos dripping with sauces and house pickles. Might as well grab a hand-dipped ice cream creation a few doors over at Gordon’s Milkshake Bar (865 Massachusetts Avenue). A tiny mom-and-pop joint on the edge of a downtown parking lot, Futuro (19 Cruse Street) goes hard on the red sauce and cheese in its hulking Detroit-style pies. The $15 “lunch box” pairs its thick, garlicky breadsticks with a downsized four-piece version, but you’ll still need a nap afterward. Just northwest of downtown, the Amp (1220 Waterway Boulevard) transformed a former Indianapolis Water Company service bay into an artisan food hall with its own resident coffee roaster and performance stage. Venders serve a range from chicken wings to poke bowls out of colorfully painted shipping containers. And neighborhood hangout Baby’s (2147 N. Talbott Street) sends out smash burgers and grownup milkshakes in a one-time drag-show nightclub refashioned as a bright, Barbie-pink diner that is both family- and Family-friendly. Beer lovers will want to sample Indy’s rich brewery scene; downtown gastropub Taxman Brewing Co. (310 S. Delaware Street) offers twenty house beers on tap in a renovated livery building from the 1850s with a pet-friendly beergarden.

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Dinner for Every Taste

photo: Courtesy of Bluebeard
The dining room at Bluebeard.

Last year, an abandoned but stunning Art Deco–themed Coca-Cola bottling plant reopened (after a $300 million extreme makeover) as the Bottleworks District (850 Massachusetts Avenue), featuring a luxury hotel, a buzzy food hall filled with local vendors, and a sexy anchor restaurant, Modita, serving modern interpretations of Asian cuisine, like Korean corn dogs zig-zagged with shiso mustard and kimchi aioli, and a crab roll glistening with strawberry-jalapeno glaze. Meanwhile, nigiri purists can linger over the artful multicourse kaiseki presentation at Hinata Japanese Fine Dining (130 E. Washington Street). Bluebeard (653 Virginia Avenue), placed prominently along Indy’s gourmet restaurant row in the Fletcher Place neighborhood, is a typewritten love letter to brasserie comfort food currently dishing up hamachi crudo anointed with smoked olive oil and butcher-shop Bolognese in the kind of curated-cluttered dining room that its inspiration, the Indianapolis author Kurt Vonnegut, might have patronized. 

photo: Cliff Ritchey/Visit Indy
Bottleworks District Hotel.
photo: Courtesy of Hinata
Hinata’s traditional Japanese kaiseki.

Late Night & Postgame Picks

photo: Courtesy of St. Elmo
The bar at St. Elmo.

With its stylish motorsports theme, the Cannon Ball Lounge (141 E. Washington Street) offers crafted cocktails and a skyline view from the rooftop of the brand-new Hotel Indy, a midcentury-modern stunner that just opened this winter. But the historic St. Elmo Steak House (127 S. Illinois Street), a downtown landmark since 1902, is where everyone, from visiting celebs to sports royalty, will want to post up with a shrimp cocktail and a frosty martini (the classic St. Elmo fire-and-ice combo). If you’re lucky, you’ve already made a reservation. If you’re even luckier, you’ll be able to find a prime people-watching spot either at the bar or in St. Elmo’s upper-level annex, 1933 Lounge, to take in the second-best play-by-play of the week. 

photo: Courtesy of the Cannon Ball Lounge
The Cannon Ball Lounge.

Julia Spalding is the dining editor of Indianapolis Monthly magazine.