Indy Bites: What Food Is Indianapolis Known For?

Disclosure

Are you a foodie visiting Indianapolis? If so, you need to know what food is Indianapolis known for before your trip. As a proud local resident and seasoned food enthusiast, I’m thrilled to take you on a tantalizing trek through the heart of Hoosier country.

We’ll nibble on Indy’s iconic dishes, dig deep into their roots, and I’ll share insider tips on where to find these mouthwatering delights in my beloved city. From savoring the humble Hoosier Tenderloin to treating yourself to the heavenly Sugar Cream Pie, and from the sharp bite of St. Elmo’s Shrimp Cocktail to the sweet surprise of Long’s Bakery, Indianapolis offers a gastronomic adventure that’s sure to satisfy every palate.

So, buckle up, friends, because we’re about to take a delicious deep dive into the tastiest bites that the Crossroads of America has to offer, and discover what food Indianapolis is best known for.

Indy’s Iconic Dishes

1. The Hoosier tenderloin: a wholesome delight

The Breaded Pork Tenderloin (sometimes called a Hoosier tenderloin) is more than just a sandwich—it’s an embodiment of the Midwestern spirit and an iconic staple of Indianapolis’ food scene. This classic dish features a boneless pork loin, pounded flat until it’s significantly larger than the bun it’s served on, then breaded and deep-fried to a delicious, crispy golden brown.

Even though I don’t eat a lot of fried food, I do love a pork tenderloin – must be my Indiana roots! I always enjoy mine with yellow mustard, onions, and pickles. If it’s summer and tomatoes are fresh I’ll add that and some lettuce too! If you only pick one Indiana food to try, the pork tenderloin is the top of the Indianapolis food specialties.

Hoosier Pork Tenderloin Sandwich with tater tots

But where did this uniquely oversized sandwich come from? The tenderloin’s history is as rich and layered as the sandwich itself. While it’s believed to have German origins, with immigrants bringing the tradition of the schnitzel to the Midwest, the Hoosier Tenderloin has carved out its own distinct identity.

The breaded pork tenderloin sandwich as we know it today first started appearing in Hoosier kitchens and local restaurants in the early 1900s. It quickly gained popularity due to its comforting, homey appeal and the abundance of pork in the state. Indiana, after all, has a rich farming tradition, with pigs being one of its primary livestock products.

Today, the Hoosier Tenderloin has become a symbol of Indiana’s culinary culture, drawing both locals and tourists to Indianapolis’ diners, drive-ins, and restaurants in pursuit of the ultimate tenderloin experience. The satisfaction of biting into the perfectly breaded, crispy-on-the-outside, tender-on-the-inside pork, paired with the classic fixings, creates an experience that is, quintessentially, Indianapolis.

Pork Tenderloin on a plate

Where to find the best pork tenderloin in Indianapolis:

You’ll find pork tenderloin on almost every bar menu in Indiana, and I’ve tried dozens of them. Some people love it when the tenderloin is really thin, I prefer it a bit thicker.

A few of my favorites in Indianapolis include Upland Brewing in Fountain Square (along with a good sour beer), The Aristocrat Pub & Restaurant in SoBro (South of Broadripple), and although it’s technically not Indianapolis, Grindstone Public House in Noblesville has a tasty one and I can walk there!

But really, if you see a tenderloin on the menu in an Indianapolis bar, order it – I’ve yet to experience one in Indiana that wasn’t delicious!

🥪 While you are visiting Fountain Square for that tasty tenderloin, consider adding on this fun food tour. We’ve done them before when traveling and I have every intention of going on this one myself when I have a free afternoon! 🍻

2. Discover the mouthwatering sugar cream pie

After that hearty pork tenderloin, it’s time for something sweet! If you are looking for a classic Indiana dessert, it would have to be sugar cream pie. Also known as the Hoosier Pie (see the trend here?), Sugar Cream Pie is a true icon of Indianapolis dessert culture, loved for its simplicity and the sweet comfort it brings with every bite.

This traditional pie consists of a delectable filling made from sugar, cream, and a hint of vanilla, all nestled within a golden, flaky crust. The top is often caramelized to a glossy, toffee-colored finish that gives it an extra burst of sweetness and a pleasingly crunchy texture. And it is SWEET – perfect with a cup of strong coffee.

Slice of sugar cream pie on a plate

As for the pie’s history, it dates back to the early 1800s, when Indiana was still a frontier state. The Quakers, also known as the Society of Friends, who were among Indiana’s early settlers, are widely credited with creating this beloved dessert.

In a time when extravagant ingredients were hard to come by, the Sugar Cream Pie came to be out of the necessity for something simple and satisfying. Made with ingredients that were commonly available in any pioneer home—sugar, cream, flour, and a little vanilla or nutmeg for flavor—this pie was both practical and delicious, making it a hit with the hardworking settlers.

The pie was declared Indiana’s official state pie in 2009, but its status as a Hoosier dessert icon had been cemented long before that. Today, Sugar Cream Pie is a cherished part of any Hoosier holiday feast or family gathering. In Indianapolis, you’ll find it served up in diners, bakeries, and home kitchens alike. We always have one at Christmas – it’s a family tradition!

Where to find the BEST sugar cream pie in Indianapolis

I may prefer ending my meals with another glass of wine, but if I see sugar cream pie on the menu, there’s a good chance I’ll convince my dining partners to split a piece with me!

Technically not Indianapolis, My Sugar Pie is in the suburban town of Zionsville and I have to mention it as it’s well-known throughout the city as the top spot for sugar cream pies – in fact, several local restaurants (like Grindstone’s and St. Elmo’s) get their pies from them.

Mrs Wick's Pies sign

If you can’t make it to the shop, they do ship, so consider ordering one to try at home! The other best-known sugar cream pie in Indiana is located in Randolph County, Mrs. Wick’s Pie. They also ship, but order early before the holidays! My son and I enjoyed Mrs. Wick’s Pies on our day trip to the area.

3. Feel the burn with St. Elmo’s Shrimp Cocktail

Do you like things hot and spicy? Are you a fan of horseradish? Then you absolutely MUST try St. Elmo’s Shrimp Cocktail. St. Elmo’s Shrimp Cocktail is not just a dish, it’s a fiery, flavor-packed tradition that’s been a cornerstone of the Indianapolis dining scene for over a century.

If there is a #1 famous Indianapolis food, it’s this one. This beloved appetizer served at the historic St. Elmo Steak House, has achieved almost legendary status among locals and visitors alike, and is definitely among the best food in Indianapolis.

But what’s so special about a shrimp cocktail, you may ask? Well, it’s all in the sauce. The concoction, made from a blend of ketchup, fresh horseradish, a dash of Worcestershire sauce, and a splash of hot sauce, is known for its eye-watering intensity and sinuses-clearing kick. The sauce, served over four jumbo shrimp, has a heat level that surprises and delights in equal measure, making it an unforgettable eating experience.

shrimp cocktail

The St. Elmo’s Shrimp Cocktail originated in 1902 when the restaurant first opened its doors. It was introduced by Joe Stahr, the founder of St. Elmo Steak House. Joe wanted to offer a starter that was as bold and uncompromising as the steaks the restaurant has always been known for, and so the shrimp cocktail with its fiery sauce was born.

Over the years, the St. Elmo’s Shrimp Cocktail has become an integral part of Indianapolis’ culinary tradition. It’s not just a dish, but an initiation rite for many Indy newcomers, a challenge for spice enthusiasts, and a beloved classic for the regular patrons of St. Elmo’s. As a lover of fresh shrimp and horseradish, this dish is a must in my book, and when I think of food Indianapolis is known for, it’s gotta be St. Elmo’s Shrimp cocktail.

It has been featured on countless food shows and even made a star appearance at the NFL Combine held in Indianapolis each year. The legacy of this iconic dish is carried on, with each bite serving as a testament to the city’s vibrant dining culture and to the enduring appeal of St. Elmo’s Shrimp Cocktail.

Outside of Harry & Izzy's in downtown Indianapolis with Month of May mural

Where to get St. Elmo’s Shrimp Cocktail

Although you might assume the only place you can enjoy St. Elmo’s Shrimp Cocktail is at St. Elmo Steakhouse, that assumption is incorrect! Yes, you can (and should, it’s one of the best restaurants in Indy) experience St. Elmo Steakhouse as it is an Indy tradition, but you can also taste the famous dish at the other restaurants throughout the city owned by Huse Culinary.

Those other restaurants include Harry & Izzy’s (an upscale American Grill) and 1933 Lounge. Just down the street from St. Elmo’s is the first Harry & Izzy’s. There is also a Harry & Izzy’s location in Northeast Indianapolis. In addition to the 1933 Lounge within St. Elmo’s, there is a free-standing 1933 Lounge in Fishers. And finally, you can order Indy’s most famous dish at the Harry & Izzy’s location at the Indianapolis airport.

I’m a fan of having lunch at the Fishers 1933 Lounge location because not only is it a great place to get St. Elmo’s shrimp cocktail near me, but it’s also got a fantastic cocktail menu and a terrific lunch deal that includes the famous dish. (Note that you must be 21 to dine here – we found this out AFTER being seated once …).

Enjoy St. Elmo’s Shrimp Cocktail Sauce at home!

Not in Indy but want to give this delicious dish a try? You can order your own bottle of St. Elmo’s cocktail sauce to enjoy at home! We always have a jar in our fridge.

4. Hoosier hospitality: Indiana sweet corn

When you think of quintessential Midwestern crops, it’s hard not to picture fields of tall, verdant corn swaying in the Indiana breeze. Sweet corn is an absolute staple in Hoosier country, grown abundantly across the state, and celebrated for its incredibly juicy, sweet kernels that capture the essence of Indiana’s fertile lands.

In fact, for years, Indiana Beach used the slogan “There’s more than corn in Indiana” – which just goes to show how connected corn and Indiana are!

Why is sweet corn such an important Indiana food? The answer lies in the state’s agricultural roots. Indiana has a deep history of farming, with corn being one of its most significant crops. We rank among the top five in the nation for corn production. But it’s not just about quantity. Indiana sweet corn is renowned for its superior quality – plump, juicy, and bursting with sweetness.

Hoosiers enjoy their sweet corn in a variety of ways. Some prefer it simply boiled, slathered in butter, and seasoned with a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Others might grill it, letting the flames char the kernels slightly for a smoky, caramelized flavor. And lately, I’ve been making Mexican street corn weekly!

Two ears of Mexican Street Corn on the cob

But beyond the taste, sweet corn holds a deeper significance. It symbolizes Indiana’s agricultural heritage, the hard work of its farmers, and the simple, delicious pleasures that come from eating food grown close to home. When you take a bite of Indiana sweet corn, you’re not just enjoying a tasty treat – you’re savoring a bite of Hoosier history and tradition.

Where to get Indiana sweet corn

While corn can be found in many restaurants in Indianapolis, nothing quite celebrates this golden treasure like eating it fresh off the cob. From late July through September, roadside stands, farmers’ markets, and grocery stores are brimming with piles of fresh, locally-grown sweet corn. When it’s in season, corn is a regular purchase for us at either the farmer’s market or a nearby vegetable farm.

An ear of Indiana Sweet Corn

So, although you can enjoy Indiana sweet corn at many local home-cooking restaurants, your best bet is to visit one of the nearby county 4-H fairs (June – July) or the Indiana State Fair (early to mid-August) and indulge in an ear of corn fresh from the farmer!

If you can’t get to a fair, pick up a bag of sweet corn at one of the many farmer’s markets across town and prepare it at home!

5. A journey through Indy’s craft beer scene 

Indianapolis is a hidden gem when it comes to the craft beer scene, boasting an impressive roster of local breweries that have been making waves both regionally and nationally. From stouts and IPAs to lagers and ales, the variety and quality of beers that are brewed right here in the Circle City is a testament to the creativity, skill, and passion of Indy’s brewers.

The craft beer journey in Indianapolis started to gain momentum in the 1990s with the advent of breweries such as Broad Ripple Brewpub, Indiana’s first brewpub, and the esteemed Sun King Brewery, known for their innovative brews and commitment to local, high-quality ingredients.

The movement exploded in the 2000s, with many microbreweries and taprooms popping up across the city and surrounding suburbs. Today, Indianapolis is home to over 50 breweries, each with its unique style, atmosphere, and beer selection.

Inside of Sun KIng Fishers location

Sun King Brewery, one of the city’s oldest and most beloved breweries, has played a significant role in shaping Indy’s beer culture. Founded in 2009, it was one of the leaders in the city’s craft beer renaissance. Sun King’s flagship brews, like the Sunlight Cream Ale and the Wee Mac Scottish-Style Ale, have become staples among Hoosier beer enthusiasts.

But the beauty of the Indianapolis craft beer scene is in its diversity. For example, there’s Guggman Haus Brewing Co located on the grounds of the former Boyne Racing Headquarters and known for its fabulous beers (love their sours!) and fun atmosphere, Daredevil Brewing Co., on the other hand, has won the hearts of Indy locals with their Lift Off IPA and a lineup of daring, full-flavored beers. Metazoa Brewing Co. not only brews excellent craft beer but also donates a portion of its profits to animal and wildlife organizations. And that’s just the start.

Beyond the brews, Indianapolis breweries offer fantastic spaces to gather. Many breweries in Indy feature taprooms, outdoor patios, and sometimes even live music, creating a vibrant and welcoming atmosphere. We play trivia regularly at the brewery near our house, and often spend a lazy afternoon hanging out with friends listening to music or playing games at many of the Indianapolis breweries.

Where to enjoy craft beer in Indianapolis

Really, it’s more of a question as to where you can’t enjoy craft beer in Indianapolis as there are so many delicious choices. A few of my favorites include Triton Brewing Co. near Fort Harrison State Park with their amazing sour-style beers, Primeval Brewing in the suburb of Noblesville (where I play trivia often!), and Guggman Haus for its cozy atmosphere and delicious roster of food and beer.

Glass of beer at Guggman Haus Brewing Co.

However, wherever you are in the city you will be able to easily find a local brewery or brewpub serving local beers. And, if you want to taste the beers that were responsible for the start of the growth, there are several Sun King locations throughout the area. My favorite is the Sun King Spirits in Carmel, Indiana.

6. Satisfying your sweet tooth with long johns from Long’s Bakery

Long’s Bakery, an Indianapolis institution, is to donuts what the Colts are to football: a source of local pride and tradition, and for many, an essential part of the Indianapolis experience. Established in 1955, Long’s Bakery is renowned for its delectable donuts, each one a perfect mix of sweetness and indulgence that keeps customers coming back for more.

The star of the show at Long’s Bakery is undoubtedly the Long John, a yeast donut bar filled with cream or custard, and generously glazed with icing or chocolate. The Long John, with its pillowy soft dough and sweet, creamy filling, is the epitome of donut perfection. It’s not an exaggeration to say that a bite into a Long’s Long John donut can easily become one of your most cherished Indy memories.

Sign that says "You deserve a donut"

But why has Long’s Bakery become such an iconic part of the Indianapolis food scene? It’s a combination of many factors. Quality, for one, is paramount. The donuts at Long’s are made fresh daily, using time-honored techniques and recipes that have been handed down through the generations. Consistency is another key component of their success – ask anyone who’s been a regular for years, and they’ll tell you the donuts are as good now as they were decades ago.

The tradition of the Long’s donut run is one that cuts across generations. For many locals, a visit to Long’s Bakery is a cherished ritual – a treat after church, a Saturday morning family outing, or a stop after a night out. The often-long queue, extending well outside the door, is a testament to the enduring popularity of these donuts. It’s a line that Hoosiers happily join, knowing that the reward at the end is well worth the wait.

In a world that’s constantly changing, the steadfast deliciousness of a Long’s donut is a comforting constant for many in Indianapolis. Whether you’re an Indy native or a visitor to our city, a trip to Long’s Bakery is a sweet tradition you’ll definitely want to partake in.

🍩 Insider tip: Long’s Bakery is cash only, so make sure you have cash on hand before you visit.

A few more well-loved Indianapolis donut shops

If you can’t get to Long’s Bakery, no need to worry, there are several other amazing local bakeries in Indianapolis with fabulous donut options!

Another long-standing (and delicious) option is Taylor’s Bakery. Taylor’s has been around since 1913, and because its location is on the way to my dog’s groomer (and because it’s the bakery my parents grew up visiting), it’s always my choice for local donuts!

Donut case at PANA donuts in Indianapolis

A relative newcomer to the Indianapolis donut scene is PANA Donuts. I tried them for the first time a few weeks ago and was pleasantly surprised. The donuts were fresh and full of flavor, and with several new locations popping up around town, pretty easy to find.

7. Farm-to-Table delights in Indianapolis


The farm-to-table movement has been steadily gaining traction in cities across the U.S., and Indianapolis is no exception. As a city nestled within a state rich in agricultural heritage, Indy has a unique advantage when it comes to fresh, locally sourced food. The farm-to-table philosophy, which emphasizes using fresh, locally sourced ingredients, has taken root in Indy’s restaurant scene, cultivating a dining experience that’s as wholesome as it is delicious.

In Indianapolis, farm-to-table is more than just a culinary trend—it’s a celebration of Indiana’s farming traditions and a commitment to sustainability and community support. This approach not only results in fresher, tastier dishes, but also supports local farmers, promotes sustainable farming practices, and reduces the environmental impact of long-distance food transportation.

Local chefs championing the farm-to-table movement skillfully create menus that shift with the seasons, reflecting the bounty of local produce at its peak. Restaurants like Bluebeard, Tinker Street, and Traders Point Creamery, among others, have been leading the way, curating dishes that honor the freshness and quality of Hoosier-grown ingredients.

One example is the Traders Point Creamery, a family-owned organic dairy farm and farm-to-table restaurant. Their on-site eatery, The Loft, serves an array of dishes made from their own grass-fed dairy products, organic vegetables, and pasture-raised meats. It’s a dining experience that brings you closer to the source of your food, creating a direct connection between the farm and your fork. We enjoyed our Anniversary dinner at The Loft one year (with the kids who loved it!) and it was lovely to eat delicious food, outside on the farm.

The popularity of the farm-to-table approach in Indianapolis also extends to local farmers’ markets, such as the Broad Ripple Farmers Market and the Original Farmers Market at the Indianapolis City Market. We try to visit at least a few times a month to buy fresh, local produce, meats, dairy, and baked goods directly from the producers, fostering a strong sense of community and connection to the land.

Indianapolis restaurants with farm-to-table fresh food

My favorite pick for Indianapolis restaurants with farm-to-fresh food is The Loft at Trader’s Point Creamery. It’s technically in Zionsville (a suburb of Indy), but it’s right on the edge of where Zionsville and Indianapolis meet. Even if you choose not to dine there, you can always enjoy the farm and indulge in a scoop of tasty homemade ice cream!

A few other delicious choices include Goose the Market (they have fabulous sandwiches and fun charcuterie and spend time a the nearby Benjamin Harrison Presidential site when you visit), and Cafe Patachou.

Outside of Goose the Market in Indianapolis

We love Cafe Patachou for brunch, and there are several locations around town. The atmosphere and food are perfect for celebratory occasions like Mother’s Day, celebrating the last day of school, or sending my daughter off to college (all recent visits!).

8. Indulge in Indianapolis comfort food

If there’s one thing that defines Indianapolis’ comfort food scene, it’s hearty, homestyle dishes that feel like a warm hug to your taste buds. With a culinary heritage steeped in Midwest traditions and influenced by a diverse array of cultures, Indianapolis offers an enticing array of comfort foods that both locals and visitors relish.

Fried chicken is a dish that holds a special place in the pantheon of Indianapolis comfort foods. Places like The Eagle on Mass Ave serve up crispy, juicy fried chicken that will make you want to roll up your sleeves and dive right in. There’s something about the crunch of the batter, the tender meat, and the blend of spices that makes fried chicken an enduring favorite. And The Eagle serves theirs with a spicy, sweet honey sauce on the side. YUM!

Plate of fried chicken

Then there’s the iconic Hoosier classic: chicken and noodles, a heartwarming dish that’s as simple as it sounds. It’s often served over mashed potatoes, a starch-on-starch combo that’s just too good to resist. It’s a classic Indiana cuisine, perfect for our cold and grey winters.

And we can’t forget about Reuben sandwiches, fresh corned beef, and pastrami sandwiches. You might not think of Indy as a “deli town” but you’d be surprised at the cult-following of our local deli (over 100 years old)!

Indulging in Indianapolis’ comfort food is like getting a taste of the city’s soul. It’s an opportunity to savor the city’s culinary history, experience the warmth of Midwestern hospitality, and, of course, enjoy some downright delicious food. So when you’re in Indy, take the time to slow down and savor these comforting dishes. Trust us, your taste buds will thank you!

Dig into comfort food at these Indianapolis Restaurants

Fried chicken can be found all over town, from the upscale version at The Eagle to the down-home comfort of Hollyhock Hill. Visiting Hollyhock Hill is something I used to do with my grandparents, and honestly, the restaurant makes you feel like you are visiting your grandparents (but in the best way!). Imagine a Sunday dinner with fried chicken, mashed potatoes, biscuits, etc. and you’ve got an evening at Hollyhock Hill.

If it’s chicken and noodles you are craving, head over to the Historic Steer-In. The Steer-In has been a source of comfort food since 1960 and was even highlighted in Diners, Drive Ins and Dives Indiana locations. The inside is an unassuming diner, but if you are looking for home cooking like chicken and noodles, chicken liver, and PIE, then it’s a place you want to visit. I can vouch for their pie – if I’m on the east side of town, I’ve been known to pick up a piece or two to take home for later.

Sign and outside of Steer-In restaurant in Indianapolis

For Reuben’s, Pastrami, or other deli favorites, hit up the Indianapolis staple Shapiro’s Delicatessen. This Indianapolis institution has been serving up its famous corned beef and pastrami Reubens since 1905, and biting into the piled-high sandwich is a must-do Indy experience. Whenever I’m craving a Reuben Shapiro’s is where I head.

💥In addition to The Eagle on Mass Ave, there are DOZENS of delicious restaurants along that street, and a fun way to try a few is to book this highly-rated food tour!

How to get around Indianapolis

Indianapolis is a very spread-out city. If you planned on staying downtown, you could probably get away without a car (although you’d have to Uber downtown from the airport), but to really experience all the city has to offer, consider driving.

🚗 If you need a rental car, check rates for your dates at DiscoverCars.com

Map of Indianapolis restaurants mentioned

FAQs about famous Indianapolis foods

What famous food was invented in Indiana?

The Hoosier Breaded Pork Tenderloin sandwich was invented in Indiana in 1908. It’s now an iconic Indiana dish.

What desserts is Indiana known for?

Sugar cream pie!

Is Indianapolis a foodie city?

Indianapolis is definitely becoming a foodie city. We are getting attention from celebrity chefs, and more and more excellent restaurants are opening!

Where to stay in Indianapolis

The two areas of Indy that I’d suggest staying in are downtown and the Hamilton County suburbs. Both areas have excellent hotel options as well as plenty of wonderful dining!

My pick for downtown lodging is The Bottleworks on Mass Ave. This hotel is not only one of the best in Indianapolis but it’s rated as one of the best hotels in the Midwest! Plus, you’ll have walking access to lots of fantastic shops and restaurants.

If you prefer the suburbs, check out The Hyatt House in Fishers. It’s located in the Bougie Fishers District area, and you could walk to The 1933 Lounge for some of that amazing shrimp cocktail!

Conclusion: Indulge in the flavors of Indy

So now that you know what food is Indianapolis known for, you can easily plan your foodie adventure to the Circle City. With all of the cool places to eat in Indianapolis and plenty of great choices all over town, you definitely won’t go hungry!

From the succulent tenderness of a breaded pork tenderloin sandwich to the sweet allure of sugar cream pies, from the bracing zest of St. Elmo’s Shrimp Cocktail to the community cheers over local craft beers, Indianapolis serves up a feast for all senses.

Add in the homey embrace of comfort foods and our dedication to the farm-to-table ethos, and you have a food lover’s paradise in the heart of the Midwest. So, whether you’re an Indy native or a first-time visitor, there’s always a new flavor to explore, a new dish to dive into, and a new memory to be made.

PIN FOR LATER:

What food is Indianapolis known for? If you are visiting the Circle City, be sure to check out these famous foods and the BEST places to enjoy them! #foodies #indy #restaurants
What food is Indianapolis known for? If you are visiting the Circle City, be sure to check out these famous foods and the BEST places to enjoy them! #foodies #indy #restaurants