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Tasty, affordable Indianapolis food?

I moved to Indy in August 2009 and am still searching for good restaurants with tasty food to suit my tastes that's not too expensive. (Average entrees less than $20 pp). I'm a bit of a picky eater--I don't eat red meat or pork and avoid dairy-heavy food--so steakhouses and restaurants that put a bit of bacon into everything don't fit the bill.

In terms of types of restaurants, I'm pretty open. I like local/sustainably harvested, organic food and high quality "ethnic" food from every world region as well as interesting American cuisine. My taste in food has been shaped by my travels--I've lived in parts of the US with large international populations (SF Bay area, Washington, DC) and have spent time in Africa, Brazil, Europe, and India.

I've scanned board postings and seen a few places that might fit the bill but many postings date back to 2006.

I'd greatly appreciate board suggestions on places to check out! (Also places to avoid.)

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  1. MEXICAN: Guanajuato (30th & Shadeland). Best value for authentic tacos, tortas and more. Taqueria is part of the grocery store and the meat counter is the best. $

    CHARCUTERIE: Goose the Market (25th & Delaware). Not cheap but great value for 'big city' fare with great imported items, housemade bacon, terrines and other nose to tail vittles. Swine is King here. Sandwich board changes daily and is a good lunch for $10 plus drink. $$$

    THAI: Siam Square (Virginia Avenue--fountain Square). Tasty, very reasonably price Thai food. Lunch specials are a huge value. Siam Roll, Noodles and Curries very decent. $$

    BURGER: WORKING MAN'S FRIEND (West side) Best no non-sense burger in Indy, hands down. $

    VIETNAMESE: Saigon (30th & Lafayette Rd). Just get the PHO. $$

    PIZZA: Pizzology. Never been but hear good things. $$

    CAFE: Taste, Cafe Patachu, Zest. These all have their moments but also downfalls. $$

    SOUL FOOD: Kountry Kitchen (19th & College). Fried corn and Collard Greens is great any time of day. $$

    MUCH ANTICIPATED--UPDATED: Recess. Soups, Refined Casual dining, multiple inflences. This could be what Indy has been begging for...for a long time. $$$

    What I don't like or find Pretentious: Scholars Inn; A lot of Mexican joints serving Mexiana cuisine; Pizza joints serving soft, 'blond' pizza; a lack of fresh ingredients in most bars; paying for bad service as part of your 'meal'; Indiana BBQ; lack of 24 hr. joints; 50 page menus.

    There are other options that I'm probably forgetting. For Vegetarian food, I would stick with the ethnic eateries. Good luck!

    1 Reply
    1. I agree with most of napolean's recommendations, but would add the following.

      City Cafe - lovely lunch and gorgeous breakfasts (get the eggs benedict, subbing tomato for the ham) Michigan and Penn, downtown

      Jockamo's in Irvington - good toppings, many locally sourced

      Passage to India - all vegetarian Indian restaurant, on Lafayette Road, one block south of Georgetown (NOT India Palace!) - I recommend the Sunday night buffet, to sample their dishes.

      R Bistro - on Mass Ave, just south of 10th street, can be pricey for dinner (though it has the best non-red-meat entrees in town), but their lunch is much more budget-friendly.

      Naked Tchopstix on College - get their Korean dishes, unless you like mega-roll sushi

      Maxine's - downtown on East street, just south of Ohio - chicken and waffles and great service!

      2 Replies
      1. re: keeeksy

        >> R Bistro - on Mass Ave, just south of 10th street, can be pricey for dinner (though it has the best non-red-meat entrees in town), but their lunch is much more budget-friendly.

        I noticed that the new winter lunch menu at R Bistro is the lead story in the new Dish, the column put out by Indianapolis Monthly. The column went out by e-mail, but they have not yet updated their Dish website for the new column; when they do, you'll find it at www.indianapolismonthly.com/dish/defa...

        1. re: nsxtasy

          The Dish column about lunch at R Bistro is now available at the link in my previous post above.

      2. Yats (multiple locations, but I'm partial to the one on College) is always a tasty, cheap choice.

        Jiallo's is interesting ... zero atmosphere, but the best jerk chicken and plantains I've had in the US.

        1. I would suggest Some Guys for pizza as well - I think it's better than Bazbeaux and on par with Jockamo's.

          I'll second Yats - it may be overrated but that doesn't mean it's not good. :D

          Siam Square is probably the best Thai in town, but check out Jasmine Thai at 96th and Gray Rd - it's pretty good, and you can get dessert next door at Yogokiss (a locally-owned Red Mango/Pinkberry-style froyo place).

          Abyssinia on the west side is good Ethiopian food, I'm told; it wasn't my fave, but I don't typically care for most north African cuisine, so my opinion shouldn't sway you. Machu Picchu is two doors down from Abyssinia and very good, although I recall it being pretty meat-heavy and you may want to check the menu first.

          Saffron Cafe on Ft Wayne is near downtown and very, very good, although it's creeping closer to the upper end of your price range.

          Santorini's is the best Greek food I've had in town, although I haven't experimented with Greek very much.

          If you want to slum it and just go to a decent bar with good bar-style food and a respectable beer list, I'd check out the Ale Emporium. They also have pretty good pizza, I might add.

          There are plenty more places out there, too. Indy gets a bad rap but the biggest issue is just how spread out things are; there's no one area to go for good food, and a lot of it is hidden in strip malls so that you don't even know it's there unless you're looking.

          1. In addition to the previous places, I recommend Taste, which is at 52nd and College. It is open 7 days a week for breakfast and lunch with a very casual menu and ambiance, and is open Wednesdays and Thursdays with a more formal (just saying not totally casual salads and sandwiches) menu for dinner. All the food is outstanding, but dinner really shines. Nice wine list as well, that is not too expensive.

            Also, I recommend Oakley's Bistro, which is at West 86th Street and Ditch Road. Open for lunch and dinner, and is a real treat. Steve Oakley is one of the best chefs in town and does great bistro food.

            Other places you might like are:

            Canal Bistro (middle eastern)
            Jasmine Thai
            Wasabi (sushi)
            Ruth's Cafe
            Istanbul (turkish)
            Pucinni's Smiling Teeth (pizza, salads, and pasta)
            Hall's Castleton Grill (great burgers, sandwiches, pasta, salads. They make everything themselves, not a chain)

            Hope that helps!

            2 Replies
            1. re: ParisKat

              Did Ruth's reopen? I thought it closed last year.

            2. Jenxie's Earth House Cafe is one of my favorite overlooked places in town! They are in the basement of Lockerbie Central UMC, at East and New York Streets downtown. It's a 100% organic and fair trade coffee coffeeshop with a side cafe that serves amazing vegetarian food. Menu changes daily. http://www.earthhousecollective.org/

              1. In addition to all the places mentioned above, some others not yet mentioned for cheap but tasty (or tasty-enough) eats off the top of my head:
                ("Higher-end"/$$$ & borderline places omitted per your original query)

                Vietnamese: King Wok
                Japanese: Ichiban Noodles, Asaka, Sakura
                "Chinese": King Chef, On Time, Taiwan Tea House (also omitting buffet-style places)
                Thai: Thai Taste, Sawasdee
                Fried chicken/Southern: Mississippi Belle (real down-home)

                1. To update things a bit:

                  Pizzology is easily the best pizza in town. I don't think you can get a better-quality meal for less money anywhere else in Indy - two people can have a filling meal and a couple beers for under $30.

                  Flapjacks (multiple locations) is fairly standard breakfast fare, but they do what they do pretty well. The bacon is always crispy without being burned; the hash browns are crisp on the outside and fluffy in the middle; the pancakes are as good as any other diner-type place; and it's cheap. There's nothing organic here, but it's a worthy place to splurge on good food that may not be so good for you. :D

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: nickblesch

                    Where is Flapjack's? If you enjoy Brisket done well, HANKS BRISKET on Michigan Rd. just south of 38th is great. Pulled pork is even good. A simple sandwhich of brisket and your choice of toppings is $5...filling enough for average lunch. Have you compared Pizzology with Napolese yet? Havn't been to either but hear great things about both.

                    1. re: napolean

                      >> Where is Flapjack's?

                      There are six locations all over the Indy area. For addresses, see their website at www.flap-jacks.com

                      1. re: napolean

                        I haven't been to Napolese yet, although I hear good things. I like Patachou and its variants - yes, they're overrated a bit, but that doesn't mean they're not good! - and I look forward to giving it a shot. But it's got big shoes to fill compared to Pizzology, heh.

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                        Patachou
                        6206 Evanston Ave, Indianapolis, IN 46220

                        1. re: napolean

                          Went to Napolese last night - review here: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/716841

                          Short version is that Napolese is fine but Pizzology is divine. :D

                          1. re: nickblesch

                            Thanks everyone for the suggestions! I've made it to some but definitely not all of the places listed above. Sawasdee was the only real disappointment of the places people have mentioned that I tried; my friend and I were both very disappointed with our selections and the seafood in my dish tasted not fresh.

                            I also learned recently about the http://www.indyethnicfood.com/ site which has been helpful so far; much more activity about "ethnic" food than this board.

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                            Sawasdee Restaurant
                            1222 W 86th St, Indianapolis, IN 46260