An independently owned restaurant that has been building its open-establishment reputation for nearly four decades, The Carriage House Dining Room & Gardens has cemented its status as Indiana's destination restaurant. For 24 years, it has received the AAA Four Diamond Award (one of only four Midwestern restaurants to accomplish this). And for the past 28 years, Wine Spectator has praised its cellar, most recently with a Best of Award of Excellence in 2013.
These achievements would be impressive on the strength of a single menu, but The Carriage House changes up its board of fare every season. Prepared in traditional French style?in accordance with the vision of the restaurant's founder, Indiana Restaurant Association Hall-of-Famer Evelyn C. George?each dish is made fresh from gourmet ingredients. These selections infuse the dishes and cocktails, which might include caramelized apple crepe with creme fraiche, grilled sirloin steak with horseradish-cream sauce or eggs benedict with pancetta, asparagus, and basil hollandaise. The restaurant also hosts a gourmet selection of breakfast, lunch, and delectable European-style pastries.
The impeccable presentation doesn't stop at the dinner plate's edge. It encompasses the main dining room's hand-hewn walnut beams (unchanged since The Carriage House was first built as a church in 1851) where live classical guitar can be heard ruminating in the air and its showcase of Indiana Hoosier Salon paintings dating from the early 20th century. No matter the season, sommelier Judith Cot? (Evelyn's daughter) can recommend a wine for any occasion thanks to her years of study with the Court of Master Sommeliers.
Originally opened as the Top Hat Drive-In in 1953, Sonic has grown into a burger-franchise mecca that today operates out of 3,500 locations across the country, making it the nation’s largest chain of drive-in restaurants. Sonic specializes in made-to-order American classics—including burgers, hot dogs, milk shakes, and marshmallow Ford Thunderbolts—which customers order and receive without ever having to leave their cars. Unique menu items include toaster sandwiches stacked on thick slices of texas toast, as well as the brand’s signature tots and fresh limeades.
Sonic’s numerous awards include a 2011 Zagat survey ranking it among the top five fast-food restaurants in three categories: Best Value Menu, Best Milk Shake, and Best Drive-Thru. The benevolent eatery has also donated more than $2 million to public schools throughout the country through their program Limeades for Learning, which helps to fund educational projects and retirement plans for classroom guinea pigs.
Kilwins' 80 locations make more than 75 kinds of handmade confections from Mackinac Island fudge to saltwater taffy and caramel apples working from recipes written by owner Don Kilwin in the 1940s. The sweets makers also use old-school equipment dating back to the '40s, '50s, and '60s inside shops decorated with nostalgic Americana similar to the interior of the original store, which opened in 1947. The smell of homemade waffle cones and fresh chocolate escapes from the kitchen as pastry artists craft batches of handmade brittle, caramel, and fudge in large copper kettles. Kilwins also handcrafts more than 32 ice-cream flavors from original recipes created in 1985, the year cow's milk was invented. They employ classic double-barrel freezers to ensure the sweet stuff is crafted the original way and transportation trucks stay at a chilly ?10 degrees to keep batches fresh until they arrive at their destinations.
Even pancake fanatics could get overwhelmed at American Pancake House. Twenty varieties of the expertly flipped discs fill the menu, their numbers bolstered by a lengthy list of crepes, blintzes, waffles, and french toast. Fresh pecans are swirled into the diner's special pancake batter, emerging from the oven slathered in a cinnamon-sugar glaze, whereas chocolate pancakes blur the lines between breakfast, dessert, and feeding frenzy. Not to be outdone, the diner's menu of savory breakfast dishes and lunch plates dazzle in syrup-free glory, from the mediterranean frittata that pairs smoked sausage with onions and feta to the a classic diner reuben stacked on perfectly toasted rye.
In a restaurant decorated with festively warm colors and grainy wooden tables, La Rivera aims to summon the cuisine and atmosphere of a Mexican street fair. Each day, the eatery's kitchen dishes out their specialty—sizzling fajitas made with steak, shrimp, or chicken, accompanied by rice, beans, sautéed onions, and peppers. Plates of carne asada arrive fresh from the grill coated in sauce, with tortillas for sopping up every last morsel. Chiles rellenos harbor beef or cheese, and huge burritos hide treasure troves of rice, beans, veggies, and a slightly tinier burrito.
Samuel Mancino's Italianate empire extends throughout the Midwest, with each outpost flaunting a full menu of fresh-baked grinders and pizzas loaded with hearty ingredients. A brain trust of ham, capicola, salami, and pepperoni powers the Godfather grinder ($6.49 for an 8"), spurred on to its belly-filling task by green peppers, onion, and melted mozzarella. Samuel Mancino's chefs toss dough by hand to give it a fluffy texture before it meets its fate as a foundation for gourmet pizzas laden with fresh topping combinations such as seasoned chicken and barbecue glaze or ham, oranges, and pineapple ($13.39+). Piping-hot breadsticks return in sugary eveningwear as sweet Cinna-Stix ($5.99), perfect for dessert or as lick-and-stick nest-building materials. Prices may vary by location, though each eatery's managers are absolutely identical.