El Arado Mexican Grill

Fountain Square is finally starting to redeem itself to the dining duo. After a rough start with disappointing outings to the Diner and Shelbi Street Bistro, we rebounded with the fantastic Santorini’s and a promising lead to the El Arado Mexican Grill

Quickly greeted and directed to a table (are you listening, Greek Islands?) our perusal of the menu was cut short when we both spotted chimichangas – a craving for their crispy fried deliciousness had to be satisfied. Even more boringly, we both got the same type of chimi – steak please! It was somewhat tempting to ask for additional plates and tell the server that we were going to split our meals, but we decided not to try and confuse them or make them wonder about our sanity.

Chips and salsa were delivered promptly, and just as promptly we began to devour them. The salsa was good – not too onion-y – but Sheila would have preferred more heat.

The chimis were a good size, not overstuffed monstrosities but a nice lunch-sized portion. The rice and beans on the side were tasty, and the guacamole was delicious, and this by two people who are new to guacamole appreciation.

Our only (minor) complaint was the lack of drink refills. What is the deal with this in Indianapolis? Do they not want diners to be well hydrated?

A definite plus is the prices – a very affordable lunch spot with a huge menu of choices. Maybe on a return visit we can branch out from the delicious chimichangas.

Food ***1/2
Service **1/2 Minus a half a point for the no refills
Atmosphere ** *
Overall ***

El Arado Mexican Grill
1065 Virginia Ave

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Greek Islands Restaurant

With its welcoming web site and some great word-of-mouth, the dining duo were looking forward to lunch at the Greek Islands Restaurant. We should have just skipped it and gone to Santorini’s if we wanted Greek, and Shapiro’s if we wanted to stay in the same area.

It didn’t immediately begin as a poor visit- we found the restaurant with little trouble (a location on South Meridian helps), and parking is ample and convenient. No tricky street parking necessary here!

Once inside the building however, things turned sour. The lunch shift was in full swing, and apparently that meant that all servers and other staff were incapable of even a brief greeting along the lines of “hi, we’ll be right with you!” Nothing. Absolutely nothing for over ten minutes (yes, we looked at our watch). The line behind us grew and grew and grew and still no acknowledgement that anyone was there. We were wondering if it was a seat-yourself kind of place (there were open tables and no sign saying what to do). Finally, as we seriously debated walking out, someone came to get us to a table. Or, more accurately, someone waved us to a table and several minutes later wandered by with menus.

A less-than-stellar opening.

We’d settled on our lunch choices by the time anyone arrived to take a drink order, but all they wanted to do was take the drink order. We had to wait until they returned to order our meals.

Sheila decided on the Greek spaghetti since it combined two of her great loves; pasta and gyro meat. Yummm! Unwisely, she ordered this on a day when she was wearing a stark white shirt. Could she manage to eat her lunch without wearing any of the tomato sauce?

Jennifer debated between the spanakotiropita, tilapia, and pasticchio, before finally settling on the moussaka. I think it was the bechamel sauce that swayed her.

Both entrees were good, although nothing earth-shatteringly spectacular. Dessert might have tempted but we’d already been gone so long we had to hustle to get back to work.

Overall, it was a huge disappointment. We loved Santorini’s and Istanbul Cafe so much more that if we’re in the mood for that sort of food we’ll just go back to one or the other of them. Unless someone tells us we absolutely hit them on a bad day and they’re good enough to get another shot, we won’t be back; there are just too many other places to go and not enough days we eat out to enjoy them.

Greek Islands Restaurant
906 South Meridian St.

Food **
Service *
Atmosphere **
Overall *1/2

Oh, and Sheila’s shirt by the end of the meal? Pristine. Apparently years of spaghetti-eating practice pay off. That or she’s used up all of her neat-eating luck for the next decade.

Shapiro’s Delicatessen

We’re not completely sure if Shapiro’s qualifies as an Indianapolis institution, but if it doesn’t, it’s awfully close. Any establishment that gets mentioned in a book such as Roadfood counts as a local institution in our book.

Jennifer has been to Shapiro’s a time or two with her family, including her tongue-sandwich-eating father. Yes, we said tongue. Sheila went to the Carmel location several years ago and mostly remembered that the sandwich she got was much too big to eat responsibly. So of course she was un-responsible and polished it off solo.

Today however, we decided to behave ourselves, perhaps not entirely by choice. When we first walked in the setting is almost overwhelming – the takeout counters, the crowded seating area, the busy menu board. Yeah, we had no idea what we were doing and kept trying to get other people to pass us so we didn’t hold up the line. Desserts (mostly cheesecake) started the line, which didn’t really give us time to consider what we wanted, and by the time Sheila realized she would have liked a piece of plain cheesecake we were much too far along in the line. Fortunately the the line’s progress, we’d already decided on our lunch – we were going to split a Reuben.

But then they threw in other options like sides and did we want something? Who knows what some of those things were, although the mac & cheese looked delicious and there were some very healthy-looking greens. The line just moved too fast! Confusingly, when Sheila gave the Reuben order she was presented with an empty blue plate and a mumbled “… this” ? Huh ? After asking, yes, we were to take the (empty) plate with us.

And then we were at the drink station (what, no chips anywhere to grab a bag?) and were getting pressured to go to the other checkout on the other side of the line – but we still needed a drink so we were slow to react. Finally getting to the checkout, Sheila asked for clarification on the empty plate and how exactly we would get our Reuben.

Turns out the Reuben is the only sandwich that gets delivered to you, so the blue plate is just so they know who’s waiting for a sandwich.

So we find the glasses of ice / water spout, and find an empty table, and before we get settled they bring the Reuben. And all the issues we had with not knowing what we’re doing go out the window once we taste the sandwich.

We’ve had a Reuben or two in our past, and this one is up there with the best ever. Sheila feels it’s the best rye bread she’s ever had, and Jennifer thought the meat was exquisite. The sauerkraut was appropriately tangy and if we were to look for something to complain about, it would only be the slight excess of Thousand Island dressing. But really, that’s quibbling and you know we hate to quibble. (No comments from the spousal unit, please).

One sandwich, no sides, no dessert and it still was enough for two. They pile the meat on with a very VERY generous hand so it’s really the perfect place to spit a meal. As long as you’re not with Jennifer’s dad and he’s ordering tongue.

Oh, and the chips? They’re in a rack as you first enter the line. So plan ahead.

Food ***1/2
Service ** Friendly enough but very basic. It’s a cafeteria line after all.
Atmosphere ** 1/2. You’re not going there for the atmosphere.
Overall ***

Shapiro’s Delicatessen
808 S Meridian St
Indianapolis, IN 46225

Or, if you’re north of town:
918 S Rangeline Rd
Carmel, IN 46032

Oh Yumm Bistro

New to the dining duo, this cute establishment is tucked away on Illinois Street and somehow Sheila has managed to drive past it who knows how many times without spotting it. No longer! And for those not in the know, there is a small parking lot behind the building. Thanks to T for letting us know and avoid the more crowded street parking scene.

Our outing included the dining duo + two – our regular companions Jennifer2 and T. Who wants to bet that one of them will order a BLT if one is offered (especially if there is shrimp involved)? No one? Obviously you know those two.

Jennifer fairly quickly decided on the Pescato Tacos, in her quest to see who’s got the best in town. Jennifer2, after considering the Quesadilla (shrimp, naturally), settled on the ‘Shroom Sandwich. She does love her mushrooms. T couldn’t stand to not order the same thing as someone so she also ordered the Pescato Tacos. Sheila was the problem – she went back and forth between the Reuben Sandwich, needing a good one to make up for the disappointment that was her last, or the Bistro Burger, mostly for the waffle fries (mmmm, waffle fries), or the Steak & Potato salad, because, hello, steak, potatoes, asparagus, and gorgonzola, what’s not to like? Finally, to the relief of her dining companions, she settled on…. the Santa Fe Salad. In the words of Jennifer “where did that come from?” It was probably the pico de gallo chipotle buttermilk dressing that did it – very interesting sounding, isn’t it?

The verdict? Both Jennifer and T loved their fish tacos, Jennifer calling them the best she’s ever had. The fish was wonderfully flavorful and everything else with it was just spot-on. Jennifer2 was absolutely in rapture over her mushroom sandwich and grudgingly allowed the rest of us to taste the deliciousness. The artichoke filling was fantastic, and made for a heartier sandwich than mushrooms sometimes make.

Unfortunatly the raves were not completely unanimous. Sheila’s salad was a huge disappointment. No jicama batons that she could find, which honestly is fine, jicama isn’t her favorite thing but she was curious to see how it would be with the other salad ingredients. But the chicken. The chicken. Extremely salty it was just about inedible and finally she did push it aside and eat around it. And it wasn’t just her thoughts – she convinced Jennifer2 and T to try it and they both agreed that it was just bad. The original Jennifer had seen Sheila’s face when she first tried it and wisely declined the offer to taste it. The rest of the salad was very nice though, and the other entrees were so good that we’re convinced something just went wrong with that one.

So what to do when lunch isn’t completely satisfying for at least one of the diners? Eat dessert of course! Crème brulees for both Jennifers, bread pudding for T and the sauteed strawberries for Sheila. T’s dessert was the least favorite – she prefers her bread puddings a little warmer than the cold dish she was served. Crème brulee was fine, but the star of the table absolutely was the strawberries. Our server didn’t know how they were prepared, but the website reveals that Sheila correctly identified that there was wine involved (disclaimer; she was not good enough to identify it as Merlot. tsk tsk.) The presentation was beautiful – berries and vanilla ice cream in a pretty glass – but even more impressive than the presentation was the flavor. The berries had a deep rich flavor and it was all Sheila could do not to rip it out of her friend’s hands when they tried a bite.

So, 7 out of the 8 dishes ordered were good if not great, and at least two were outstanding. We definitely think something went wrong with the one salad and are ready to go back and see what other tasty treats can be found. But it might be difficult to not stick with the strawberries for dessert. That was just amazing.

Food *** 1/2 (would have been 4 except…)
Service ** New server was uncertain about some menu items and had trouble with pacing.
Atmosphere **1/2 Noisy interior – we heard all the details of surrounding diners conversations, especially one boisterous group.
Overall ***

Oh Yumm Bistro
5615 North Illinois Street

Khoury’s Mediterranean Island

Halfway new to the dining duo (Sheila had been once long ago), Khoury’s Mediterranean Island is conveniently located for a semi-quick lunch. Especially since it turned out that they offered a lunch buffet – no waiting on a meal, just step up to the buffet line.

While we both have a deep-seated aversion to Chinese or Indian buffets, we really appreciate them in other ethnic places where most of the food is unfamiliar – it’s nice to be able to try many things and see what we like. The disadvantage of them is that most places don’t have signs next to the dishes so we end up having no idea what we’re eating, so there tends to be a lot of comments like “you’ve got to try that chicken stuff.” Our food ignorance is glaring.

But! Khoury’s was tasty enough to make us want to see if we can’t become a little more Greek-food-savvy, if only to know what we want more of for next time.

Our absolute favorite was, um, chicken stuff. Very very tasty chunks of chicken that were flavorful and tender and all around fantastic. They tasted somewhat grilled to Sheila, who might have been imagining it. She certainly wouldn’t want to make any significant bets on that claim.

The gyro meat was very good, and there was plenty of yummy garlicky sauce to go along with it. The rice was fine, as was the pita bread. There were little pastries set out for dessert, although neither of us tried them. We’re not huge fans of baklava & that’s what it looked like. Now if they’d been chocolate that would have been a different matter.

The atmosphere is fine, nothing too special or exciting but we weren’t really looking for either for a workday lunch. Service was quick although apparently you only get one drink refill because our water glasses sat empty for the last 20 minutes we were there. Boo to that. And for once Jennifer is the one with the quibble – her booth seat had apparently seen better days and had a sprung spring that (uhhh, how shall we say this delicately) let her know it was there. If you know what we’re saying.

The price was very reasonable for the assortment of food. We’d love to go back, preferably with dining companions who actually know something about Greek food and can tell us what we’re eating, so we can identify it more than as “stuff.” Like that fantastically wonderful chicken stuff.

Food ***
Atmosphere **
Service **
Overall **1/2

Khoury’s Mediterranean Island
1850 E 62nd St (a.k.a. Broad Ripple Ave)

40 West Coffee Café

New to the dining duo, 40 West Coffee Café is located in the Omni Hotel downtown. Jennifer had an errand to run nearby so 40 West was quick and convenient.

The small cafe advertises that it serves Boars Head meats, so we assumed that we’d find tasty sandwiches. What we hadn’t expected was the tempting ice cream displayed in a side case. Unfortunately our tight time-constraints meant we had to pass on the ice cream, but it really looked delicious.

A menu board on the back wall lists lunch options, which included basic sandwiches and soups. We both quickly settled on our sandwich choices, but had some real confusion over where exactly to order. Finally that was settled and we then had even more confusion over payment – there was some language difficulty with the one employee and Sheila had a real challenge with ever getting someone to add a drink to her sandwich order.

Jennifer ordered the Reuben, and while she wanted the New York version (with cole slaw instead of sauerkraut), she had to settle for the traditional version when they ended up being out of cole slaw. Sheila ordered a beef and pastrami on a kaiser roll. All sandwiches are served with a pickle spear and chips.

Jennifer really enjoyed her Reuben, although she wished that her sandwich would have been wamer–either go cold or go hot with this sandwich, but don’t go with the in-between. The marble was spot on and the meat was tasty. However, just as Sheila had had a challenge getting a drink added to her order, Jennifer had to remind them to make the mocha that she ordered–the service was really lackadaisical.

Sheila thought the meat on her sandwich was excellent, although the roll itself was somewhat stale. A side bar of condiments allowed her to add plenty of mustard and even some mayo in order to made the bread easier to handle.

The atmosphere is nothing that special – a small dining area along the street and hotel lobby – but the lobby itself is very pretty and it’s doubtful anyone goes to this cafe for the atmosphere.

Service was friendly enough but the language difficulties slowed everything down excessively since the one lady had to juggle her own customers and most of the other lady’s as well. It’s questionable how they would have managed if they’d had any sort of lunch rush, since just managing with the 2 other customers who were in there with us proved to be beyond them.

It’s highly doubtful we would ever go back – there are just too many other places to try and places we really enjoy to bother with such an “eh” place.

Food **
Atmosphere * 1/2
Service * 1/2
Overall * 1/2

Istanbul Café

After a drought with no lunch outings, the Duo finally escaped from work to dine at the Istanbul Cafe on Indy’s northside. Truth be told, it was not our original destination. We had planned to dine at another ethnic restaurant, but lo and behold, the place was closed on Monday. No worries, as this area of Indy has plenty of independent and ethnic food options. We were very glad that we chose the Istanbul Cafe as it was wonderful!

The restaurant’s interior is very relaxing–one of understated elegance with a quiet ambience. We were seated immediately (given the choice of a booth, yay!) and ordered up our waters. As soon as Jennifer saw the stuffed cabbage rolls on the menu, it was pretty much a done deal. She momentarily thought about the seafood casserole–a tempting dish of scallops, shrimp, salmon and tilapia cooked in a clay pot with tomatoes, mushroom, onions, green peppers and garlic topped with mozzarella cheese– but the inclusion of calamari veered her away from it. Sheila ordered the döner kebab, and both of us chose the lunch special for one dollar more which includes a choice of soup, salad or humus.

A plate of warm and fluffy pita arrived immediately accompanied by olive oil that was accented with a nice dash of crushed red pepper. The spring salad mix that we both ordered had a nice mix of greens and tomato slices with a light vinaigrette. When our food arrived, it looked beautiful and simple. Nothing that special or fancy, just great food beautifully arranged on plate.

Jennifer’s stuffed cabbage rolls were delicious. The cabbage was soft but not gooey and the beef had a tasty kick to it. There was just the right amount of the yummy tomato sauce and it accented the cabbage rolls nicely. Sheila and Jennifer were in agreement that the cucumber, carrot and green bean side dish was great! We have been disappointed in other restaurant’s treatment of the veggie medley side dish–ranging from flavorless to downright awful–but this side was crunchy and nicely seasoned. Sheila loved the tasty seasoned beef and lamb slices and thought the delicate rice pilaf complimented the dish very well.

What about dessert, you may ask? The offerings included a pistachio chocoloate cake, rice pudding, two custard-like desserts and the künefe. Sheila wasn’t tempted by any of the treats, but Jennifer was intrigued by the künefe–layers of pastry with unsalted goat cheese and topped with shredded pastry, shaved nuts and a syrup. Thankfully our server brought two plates and silverware, because the dessert was about 4 inches in diameter. It was very light and intriguing– the pastry dough seemed toasted almost like shaved coconut strips held together with syrup and accented with whipped cream and a split strawberry. It definitely was different but a sweet end to our satisfying meals!

Our favorable impressions of the place were only strengthened after we visited the small bathroom – it was immaculate, beautifully decorated and even had a nice aroma thanks to the incense sticks on the counter. We definitely feel that a clean bathroom is always a sign of a well run establishment.

We were very happy with our dining experience at Istanbul Café and we look forward to taking our coworkers with us for our next visit!

Food ***
Atmosphere ***
Service **1/2 (they would have gotten another half, but dang it, another server succumbs to the “must clear table” routine when one person is done and the other isn’t. Stop it!!!!)
Overall ***

Istanbul Café