My husband and I made a visit recently to our second hometown—Bloomington, Indiana—to do a whirlwind tour of some of the best restaurants Bloomington has to offer. We had a great time thanks to the nice folks at Visit Bloomington, and I wanted to guide you through the top Bloomington restaurants and share some of our favorite insider tricks and tips!
Where is Bloomington, Indiana located?
First up, let’s cover the obvious. For those of you not in the Midwest, you might not know where Btown is located. It’s centrally located in Monroe County, Indiana, which makes it an easy drive for almost any major region in the Midwest—45 minutes from Indianapolis, two hours from Louisville, and just four hours from Chicago. In fact, Bloomington is within a day’s drive of over half of the U.S. population! With Bloomington’s amazing restaurants, hotels, and attractions, it’s a wonderful weekend getaway.
What makes Bloomington special?
Ask anyone who has spent any time in Bloomington, and they’ll tell you something is decidedly special about the town. Why? Well, it’s been the home to Indiana University since 1820—and having a major university in the city limits brings an incredible amount of diversity and culture to Bloomington. You get the warm and welcoming feel of a small Midwestern town, with all the high-end amenities of a larger city.
But let’s talk about why we’re really here: how is the food and restaurant scene in Bloomington?
There are over 100 restaurants in just the downtown area of Bloomington, Indiana. The vast majority of those restaurants are independent, locally-owned operations. Because of the diversity of Indiana University, the international food scene is unmatched in Btown. Name a country, and chances are, Bloomington has a restaurant that serves its cuisine. Turkish, Tibetan, Venezuelan, Burmese, Italian, Mexican, Thai, Chinese, French, Japanese—if you can find it on a globe, you can find it in Bloomington.
If international food isn’t your style, you can also hit up one of Bloomington’s dozens of highly-rated pizza places, grab a pint and a burger at an independent brewery, or visit a local bakery for the best bagels in the Midwest. If you crave it, you can find it in Btown.
Our Bloomington, Indiana Food Travel Guide
Recently, my husband and I were able to drive the 90 minutes north to Bloomington, Indiana to spend a weekend exploring a small portion of the wonderful restaurants in Bloomington. I lived in Bloomington for 10 years before moving away a few years back, and I jump at any chance I get to head back to Btown and explore the vibrant and ever-changing restaurant scene. Obviously, there is no way that just the two of us could visit every single restaurant in Bloomington in 48 hours—but we did our best! And here are our favorites of all the ones we’ve tried.
Our Favorite Pizza Places
The very best way to start off a restaurant guide about a college town—the pizza places! I really have never had a bad pizza from a place in Bloomington (and I’ve had them all), but here are my favorites:
- Mother Bear’s: The pizza that all other pizzas look up to. The pizza that we drive three hours round trip to have for my dad’s birthday each year. The pizza I have dreams about. Mother Bear’s has been voted the best pizza in Bloomington for 10 straight years and was named “Best Pizza in Indiana” by USA Today. Protip: Get there between 4-6pm for an amazing Early Bird Special that saves you a boatload on an early dinner.
- Aver’s: While Mother Bear’s is where I recommend going for dine-in, I actually much prefer Aver’s for delivery. Protip: The Crazy Aver’s deal is the only way to go—$14 for a pizza, breadsticks, and drinks. I highly recommend the Cream and Amber or Lambda Gyro Pi.
- Rockit’s: Getting a slice from Rockit’s after you come out of a show at the Bluebird is a rite of passage in Bloomington. This tiny pizza restaurant right in the heart of Bloomington’s bars and nightclubs does do delivery, but it’s really best enjoyed while basking in the afterglow of some live music (and some cocktails). Protip: Grab the window booth if you can for some great after-hours people watching!
Our Favorite International Food Restaurants
It could take months to get through every single international food restaurant in Bloomington—and what ends up being your favorite depends entirely on which country’s cuisine you prefer! Here are our favorites, but don’t let this list limit you. Let Bloomington’s food scene take you on a tour around the globe!
- Dat’s: Is Cajun/Creole cuisine considered international? Probably not, but I’m putting it here anyway. This is a low-frills, order-at-the-counter kinda place that is a must-hit for me every time I’m in Bloomington. Protip: The Chili-Cheese Etoufee with Crawfish is so good, it’ll make you cry. Add an extra order or two of garlic bread to soak up all the deliciousness.
- Anyetsang’s Little Tibet: You’d never expect it, but through Bloomington, Indiana runs a strong thread of Tibetan Culture. Until his death in 2008, the eldest brother of the Dalai Lama was a long-time Bloomington resident—he was the founder of the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center on the south side of town—and his influence is still felt throughout town. Anyetsang’s Little Tibet is owned by Tibetan refugee Pema Wangchen, and the food is based on the classic dishes he learned to cook while living as a monk at the Sera Jey monastery in southern India. Protip: Everything is delicious, but the traditional Tibetan dumplings, momos, are not to be missed.
- The Irish Lion: This Irish pub and restaurant is a cornerstone of Bloomington’s restaurant scene. Pop in for a yard of Guinness or to test out some of their incredible selection of whiskey. Protip: If you go to the Irish Lion and don’t get Blarney Puffballs—deep-fried balls of potato and cheese—you’re doing it wrong. Their Coddle is the inspiration behind my own Dublin Coddle recipe! Perfect for a cold, gray, winter Indiana day.
Our Favorite Places to Get a Burger
Sometimes you just want to bite into a really great burger! Bloomington has no shortage of great burger joints, but here are the two I always come back to.
- Opie Taylor’s: Right on the square in Bloomington, Opie Taylor’s is a small sports bar that boasts a collection of over 20 different creative burger combinations. Protip: All the burgers are great, but make sure you get a starter of their hand-rolled mozzarella sticks. Sit outside on the sidewalk if the weather is nice!
- Hinkle’s: Bloomington townies know that Hinkle’s—located on the west side of town—is worth the drive. This burger joint with weird hours and a limited menu has been serving the best burgers in town since 1930. Protip: Hinkle’s gets swamped during lunch every day, so be prepared to wait. It’s worth it for the best greasy burger of your life.
Our Favorite Breakfast
There are a lot of extremely excellent places in Bloomington, Indiana to get a good breakfast! Two of my favorites are right near campus, and the other is in the heart of downtown.
- The Runcible Spoon: This eclectic cafe has been in a small house off of 6th street just off campus since the mid-70s. While the Spoon serves lunch and dinner, too, it really shines for its all-day breakfast. Protip: Make sure to visit the bathroom while you’re there. Just trust me.
- The Village Deli: In need of a big, hearty, filling breakfast after a long night out? You can’t beat the bustling scene at The Village Deli. Protip: The Power Breakfast is a well-loved hangover cure in Bloomington. Any breakfast that requires two plates to be served is a win! I like adding banana and peanut butter chips to my pancake.
- La Vie En Rose: This classic French patisserie serves the best light and leisurely continental breakfast you’ll ever have. Sit on the patio or by the big window and enjoy a perfect cappuccino and the best croissant you’ll ever eat. Protip: Don’t miss the homemade yogurt with chestnut cream on top. Also, hot drinks are for dine-in only, so make sure to stay and enjoy!
Our Favorite Breweries
When we lived in Btown, there were exactly two breweries, but in recent years, Bloomington’s craft beer, cider, and mead scene has grown exponentially. Quite honestly, ALL the breweries in Bloomington are worth a visit if you’re a beer fan, but if you have to limit your visit to two, here’s what I recommend.
- Upland Brewing Co.: One of the original independent breweries in Bloomington, Indiana, Upland is a staple on the Northwest side of town. While Upland has expanded to have locations all across Indiana and distributes its beers and sours across the country, Bloomington is its true home. The Brewpub boasts some of the best food in town—I highly recommend staying there for dinner and a drink. Protip: Upland’s Wood Shop right next door to the Brewpub is a tasting room for their incredibly diverse collection of award-winning sours. It’s worth the 2-minute walk up the street for any beer fan!
- Switchyard Brewing: This brewery took over an old nightclub on the north side of downtown, and in my opinion, it’s a much better use of the prime real estate! This is a true tasting room—with no kitchen or food service—which means dogs are welcome and the atmosphere is fun and social. And the beers are amazing as well! Protip: Switchyard’s large, comfortable taproom also doubles as a co-working space—pop in and have a pint while you answer some emails.
Our Favorite Culinary Excursions
More often than not, good food isn’t just about the food itself, it’s about the experience. Make sure to check these two must-dos off your list when in Bloomington.
- Bloomington Community Farmers’ Market: You haven’t seen a farmers’ market until you’ve seen Bloomington’s farmers’ market! This is the farmers’ market that ruined me for all other farmers’ markets. It’s the largest farmers’ market in the state (and the biggest one I’ve ever been to). Farmers and producers drive for hours to sell their products at the bustling market in Bloomington. The market runs each Saturday from April through November and has hundreds of booths. Pick up fresh fruits and veggies, local meats and cheeses, beautiful flowers, creative crafts, and handmade pastries and breads. Protip: The Farmers’ Market is quite the social event in Bloomington, so parking can be tricky. You’re better off parking further away from the market and biking, scootering, or walking in on the B-Line Trail (which runs directly through the market).
- Oliver Winery: About 10 minutes north of Bloomington, you’ll find the oldest and largest winery in Indiana, Oliver Winery. This beautiful winery is a great place to spend the day. Protip: Tastings at the wine bar are fun, but always busy. If you know what you’d like, I recommend skipping the tasting line and instead buying a bottle of your favorite wine or cider, cheese, and crackers, and heading out onto the grounds. There is a beautiful walking trail along the lake that has perfectly peaceful places to sit and sip.
Our Favorite Hidden Gems
These places might not seem like much from the outside, but once inside, you’ll be pleasantly surprised!
- Nick’s English Hut: For anyone who has spent any time in Bloomington, Indiana, Nick’s is NOT a hidden gem—it’s been cornerstone of the Bloomington bar and restaurant scene since 1927—but if you’re new to town, you might walk right past this unassuming spot on Kirkwood without knowing it’s a Bloomington tradition. Nick’s is the place to go if you want an authentic Indiana University experience. The walls are lined with memorabilia. You’re just as likely to run into basketball players, former coaches, and old-timers here as you are college students. If it’s gameday (football or basketball), it’s a raucous spot that is full of fun spirit—it’s a rite of passage to watch an IU basketball game at Nick’s. Basically, if you haven’t visited Nick’s, you haven’t visited Bloomington. Protip: If you’re in a group of four or more, make sure to play a round of Sink the Biz (you can play with fewer than four, but it’s just not as much fun). Just ask your server. While you’re playing, get a bucket of Biz Fries to munch on. These are the best fries in town!
- Orbit Room: It’s easy to walk right by this basement bar on the square, but make sure you keep an eye out for it, because it’s known for its funky, fun, and creative hot dogs (ginger cream cheese and calendula petals on a hot dog? YUP.), as well as an impressive collection of pinball machines. Protip: They have both vegan and local beef hot dogs, plus gluten-free buns available. The beer list isn’t huge, but it is wonderful!
Our Favorite Place for a Nice Dinner Out
Looking for a nice sit-down restaurant to celebrate a birthday or anniversary? There are quite a few higher-end restaurants in town, but these are my favorite classier joints. All three of these are still casual—no need to get out your ball gown—so you can enjoy higher-end fare and still be comfortable.
- Grazie: Walk through the doors of this classic Italian restaurant, and you’ll find parents taking their college students out to dinner, business people entertaining clients, couples celebrating anniversaries—it’s that kind of white-tablecloth place, but with affordable prices and good portions. Protip: Their classic Mama’s Meatballs was a favorite of mine when I was carb-loading during half marathon training.
- Sweet Grass: Southern food with a modern twist—this restaurant is located just outside of downtown Bloomington, but it’s totally worth the drive (or Uber ride). Protip: Promise me you’ll get the Fried Green Tomatoes!
- FARM Bloomington: If I had to pick my one single favorite restaurant in Bloomington (which is so hard to do), I’d pick this creative farm-to-table joint right on Kirkwood. The menu is ever-rotating with seasonal specialties, and the eclectic farmhouse decor makes my heart happy. Protip: If you’re adventurous, go to FARM for dinner on Sundays—that’s when they test out all of their latest creations.
Our Favorite Place to Grab a Drink
There is no shortage of watering holes in Bloomington—after all, it is a college town. There are bars that serve basically any kind of clientele, but we narrowed it down to two of our favorite spots.
- The Atlas Ballroom: What makes Atlas different from all the other bars in Btown? One word: SkeeBall. This small upscale dive bar has a great beer and cocktail list, plays amazing music from a jukebox, isn’t overrun by college kids, has no TVs, and did I mention the SkeeBall? It’s a great environment if you want to grab a good drink and have some fun with friends. Protip: To keep score on the SkeeBall machines, you need quarters, but you don’t have to pay to just play.
- Cardinal Spirits: This distillery right off the B-Line trail on the south side of town is a great place to pop in if you want to sample some of their award-winning spirits. Their creative cocktails are a fun and delicious way to try some new favorites! Protip: While Cardinal Spirits is known for its cocktails and spirits, the food there is also top-notch! Check out their rotating seasonal menu for snacks while sipping, as well as a full dinner menu. Sunday Brunch is also a win at Cardinal Spirits. A heads up: per Indiana law, seating inside the distillery is 21+ only (even during brunch and dinner service). They have a patio with full service that is open on nice days to all ages.
Our Favorite Sweet Treats
Sometimes you just have to satisfy a sweet tooth! There are a lot of great places to grab dessert in Btown, but here are the two I’d pick if I had to narrow it down.
- Hartzell’s Ice Cream: This ice cream shop shot onto the Bloomington, Indiana dessert scene in 2009 and quickly became a local favorite. It’s located right off of campus on Dunn Street, and offers tons of made-in-store ice cream flavors. There are the classics, but Hartzell’s is really known for its creative upscale ice cream creations that rotate regularly. Just some examples: Lemon Poppyseed Cake Batter, Lavender-Honey, and Chocolate Basil. Protip: They also sell a small selection of vegan ice creams!
- Rainbow Bakery: This exclusively vegan bakery has delicious treats that will satisfy even the non-vegans! They also have a great selection of gluten-free treats. Protip: The Oatmeal Cream Pie is not to be missed!
Our Favorite Healthy Hideaways
Bloomington is a haven for healthy food options! Whether you’re vegan, gluten-free, or just looking for something a little lighter, here are two of my favorite spots to stop for healthier fare:
- Laughing Planet Cafe: This burrito shop is on the top floor of a building right in the heart of Kirkwood. They specialize in burritos using fresh, local, and organic ingredients. Pick one of their specialty burritos or create your own. Protip: Laughing Planet has a huge selection of vegan and vegetarian burritos, and every burrito can be made gluten-free.
- The Owlery: I first visited this vegan and vegetarian restaurant the first week it opened in a little house outside of downtown in 2011. It has since expanded to a great space on the square. Everything on the menu is vegetarian or vegan—but it’s satisfying and hearty enough to please even the staunchest of meat-lovers. Protip: The rotating specials are always top-notch creations!
Our Favorite Coffee Shops
There are tons of chain and independent coffee shops in Bloomington—most of them sprinkled with studying students. Here are two of our favorites:
- Soma: This small, eclectic coffee shop is on the bottom floor of the same building as Laughing Planet Cafe (in fact, they have a stairwell that connects them) off of Kirkwood. Protip: It looks super small when you walk in, but if seating is full in the front, wind through the back hallways to find the back seating area—that’s where I basically planned my entire thesis senior year, fueled by their White Zombies!
- Hopscotch Coffee: Bloomington’s very own coffee roastery, Hopscotch, has two locations—one near downtown on Madison Street, and one right on the B-Line trail south of town. Protip: Grab a bag of locally-roasted coffee to bring a little Btown home with you.
Some Other Can’t-Miss Bloomington Restaurants and Bars
The Tap: This taproom not only boats 90 rotating taps and 400+ bottle beers, but they also brew their own beer in-house and have an amazing menu of upscale pub fare. Don’t skip this place if you’re a beer aficionado!
Social Cantina: Right on the square, this modern cantina is a great place to fill up on creative tacos (like Roasted Cauliflower Tacos) and top-shelf margaritas (I got the Watermelon Margarita, it was awesome!).
Darn Good Soup: This lunchtime favorite restaurant is exactly what it sounds like—darn good soup! It has a rotating selection of soups that are the perfect way to chase away a cold day. You can see the daily soup list on their website, plus vote for your favorite so it makes it into the regular rotation.
Le Petit Café: This small French Provincial cafe is open irregular hours and it can be hard to nail down when to show up, but your best bet is to hit up their window breakfast service right off the B-line trail during the farmers’ market on Saturday mornings. Order at the window and sit by the trail to enjoy your crepes and quiche.
Bloomington Bagel Company: A staple in Bloomington for decades, there is a reason no other bagel shop can seem to take root in Btown—BBC’s bagels are the big, chewy, delicious bagels you’d expect from an East Coast shop, right here in the Midwest. My favorite is the Asiago bagel smeared with Roasted Red Pepper Cream Cheese. Their bagel sandwiches (both breakfast and lunch) are legendary!
The Cade: This 21+ bar gets a special shout-out for both an impressive selection of video and arcade games (which are almost all free to play after a low cover charge) AND its video game-themed spiked slushies. This is a must-hit for any video game nerds!
Poindexter Coffee: This coffee shop is attached to the Graduate Hotel in Bloomington (where we stayed and absolutely loved), but it’s not your normal snoozer of a hotel coffee shop. The space is large, welcoming, and inviting, the decor is just as quirky and local as the rest of the hotel (the coffee shop is decorated with vintage cookie jars that are sourced from a small antique shop in Southern Indiana), and the food and coffee are both impressive. With a separate entrance right on Kirkwood, this is a great stop for both hotel guests and anyone who is interested in a good coffee and breakfast sandwich.
Like I said, this is just a tiny portion of the restaurants in town—there is no way I could cover them all! I highly recommend planning a foodie weekend trip to visit as many Bloomington, Indiana restaurants as you possibly can! Thank you so much to Visit Bloomington for showing us such a great time!