Why You Shouldn’t Overlook Indianapolis’ Food Scene

With a range of bars and restaurants offering incredible value and top-notch hospitality, Indiana's capital is rising fast in the Midwest's culinary scene.
Photo Courtesy of the Patachou Foundation

With nearly two million people in the metropolitan area, Indianapolis is the second-most populous city in the Midwest after Chicago, though it’s sometimes hard to convince outsiders of its status as a foodie destination.

However, Naptowners enjoy an unpretentious and varied food and drink scene that offers great prices and even better hospitality. Start your day at Milktooth or Love Handle, two of the most inventive and lovable brunch places in the country, and go from there.

Sandwich at Public Greens
Photo courtesy of Public Greens

Where To Eat in Indianapolis

Public Greens

Martha Hoover has been at forefront of Indy’s local food movement since she opened Cafe Patachou in 1989. She now has 11 restaurants and has formed The Patachou Foundation, a charity that feeds thousands of children impacted by homelessness and hunger every year. Public Greens offers creative salads and main courses inspired by the bounty from an onsite mini-farm. An “Urban Kitchen With a Mission,” Public Greens donates all profits and extra crops to The Patachou Foundation, which runs after-school meal programs aimed at promoting good nutrition among students.

Guacamole at Festiva
Photo courtesy of Festiva


An influx of Mexican immigrants to Indianapolis has resulted in a bevy of quality mercados and taquerías. At Festiva, Chef Rachel Hoover, a New England Culinary Institute graduate who was taught the finer points of Mexican cuisine by her mother-in-law, focuses on freshness and local ingredients. You’ll find veggie sopes with almond mole and tacos with Indiana goat on the menu, along with an extensive mezcal and Tequila list.

Photo Courtesy of Vida
Photo courtesy of Vida


Since it opened last year, Vida has become one of the hottest wine and food destinations in town. Layton Roberts works with local farmers year-round to create his menus. Seasonality reigns in dishes like scallops with fava beans and asparagus, or orecchiette with ramps and English peas. There’s also a hydroponic wall of edible greens that’s the basis for Vida’s “wall greens” salad. The global wine list is one of Indy’s deepest, with several bottles in the $30 range, and it peaks with a 2013 Hundred Acre “Kayli Morgan” priced close to retail at $675. Two in-house sommeliers, Roddy Kirschenman and Michael Miller, guide diners with infectious enthusiasm.

Indiana-Style Breaded Pork Tenderloin Sandwich
Photo Courtesy of Mallow Run Winery
Photo courtesy of Mallow Run Winery

Where to Drink in Indianapolis

Mallow Run Winery

Though the mid-1800s heyday of Indiana wine has been forgotten by many, many local bottlings can be found that feature interesting, lesser-known hybrid grapes and other fruits from the region. Mallow Run Winery, 20 minutes south of downtown Indy, offers a beautiful landscape in which to taste its range of dry wines. It utilizes grapes like Traminette (a Gewürztraminer offspring), Chambourcin (a teinturier, or red-fleshed grape that’s used here to make a crisp varietal rosé), Catawba (the most widely planted variety in the U.S. in the early 1800s), and Cayuga, which has some of the aromatic and acidic qualities of Riesling. Don’t miss the hard ciders, either.

Photo Courtesy of Rebar Indy
Photo courtesy of Mallow Run Winery

Rebar Indy

Rebar Indy’s not yet one year old, but it has established itself as an instant favorite. There’s a pour-your-own wall of 20 rotating beer taps and a staggering whiskey menu with 100 bottles to choose from, available in ½-ounce tastes as well as full-sized pours. A stellar bar menu includes the half-pound “signature burger” with whipped goat cheese, bacon jam, grilled onion and pickled yellow tomato.

Photo courtesy Bar at St. Elmo Steak House

Bar at St. Elmo Steak House

There’s no better place to enjoy a first bottle of wine in Indianapolis than the bar of this historic steakhouse, which dates to 1902. It’s a terrific pick for dinner, and the speakeasy-styled 1933 Lounge upstairs is a great place for a cocktail. The downstairs bar, however, shouldn’t be overlooked. Bartenders are keen to give insider’s tips for your time in the city and St. Elmo has one of the best wine lists in town, with a number of back-vintage bargains.

Published on May 3, 2017
Topics: Travel Tips
About the Author
Nils Bernstein
Contributing Editor, Food

A fan of sweet wines, sour beers, and old-school Rioja, Bernstein is an exhaustive traveler in search of new and unsung chefs and restaurants, innovative wine and food pairings, and eating and drinking at the source. In addition to Wine Enthusiast, Bernstein has written for Bon Appetit, Men’s Journal, New York Times, Men’s Fitness, Hemispheres, and Kinfolk, among others.

Email: nbernstein@wineenthusiast.net

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