Most people don't think of Indianapolis as a hotspot for foodies, but those who take the time will discover that there is actually a lot of exciting stuff going on inside Indy's kitchens. Far from the stereotype of endless chain restaurants, there are lots of interesting independent restaurants popping up around town. With a strong emphasis on local, seasonal food and farm-to-fork philosophy, your stomach, and taste buds, will definitely be pleased.
The city's downtown is crowded with nation-wide chain restaurants, but visitors who look a little harder will be richly rewarded. Head straight to the newly re-established City Market (first opened in 1886), for dozens of vendors selling everything from gourmet sandwiches to artisanal chocolates to tamales.
For a more serious fine dining experience, make a reservation at Cerulean in the Alexander Hotel. This award-winning restaurant with its massive wooden nest, gives diners the impression of eating inside an art installation. The menu is experimental and flirts with molecular gastronomy while still maintaining a strong farm-to-fork philosophy.
This commercial street is home to literally dozens of local restaurants along with cute bookstores and shops. Some of the buildings in this area date back to the 1800's, like Indy's Athenaeum, designed by famous Hoosier, Kurt Vonnegut's grandfather. The Rathskellar restaurant has been a resident of the building since 1898 and serves up German beer-house food. If you love horseradish and are feeling brave, try their pretzels with extra spicy mustard.
A more contemporary, but equally popular restaurant in the area is Black Market. This modern pub features big communal tables and serves modern spins on old classics using local ingredients. The chef, Micah Frank, concentrates on nose-to-tail cuisine that uses all parts of the animal and minimizes waste as much as possible.
The Broad Ripple Village is a cultural district about six miles north of downtown. The area is very popular with the younger set, and streets here are lined with unique boutiques, trendy bars, and small restaurants. One popular option here is the dual restaurants of Recess and Room 4, which share a building. Recess bills itself as a culinary playground, and three-time James Beard award semi-finalist Greg Hardesty features only the very best ingredients (think New Zealand venison and wild dover sole). Room 4 is a more casual establishment that focuses on burgers and other comfort foods.
Other local options include H20 Sushi (also opened by Hardesty), Cafe Patachou, and pizza place Napolese.
Fountain Square is another historical neighborhood in central Indianapolis. It used to be the city's main theater district, and has recently undergone a rapid transformation to become one of its trendiest and funkiest urban areas. There are quite a few new breweries, bars, and coffee shops in the area, as well as a few quality international restaurants. Try Greek at Santorini Greek Kitchen or Mexican at Tortas Quicho. Siam Square is not only the best Thai restaurant in Indianapolis; it's the only one.
Fountain Square is also home to one of Indy's most popular restaurants, Bluebeard. They boast a menu based on seasonal and local ingredients (they list their exact local sources on their website). Their menu changes literally daily and gives diners a fantastic representation of Indiana's amazing agricultural offerings.
Have you been to Indianapolis? What is your favorite restaurant?