Welcome to Bloomington, Indiana. If you’re looking for the undisputed All-American college town experience, you’ve arrived. Indiana is home to storied sports programs, a beautiful campus, and one of the largest alumni networks in the country. Speaking of sports, ever hear of the Hoosiers? The football team may be a never-ending work in progress, but five championship basketball banners proudly hang in Assembly Hall. And if football and basketball aren’t your thing, then surely you can get into the time-honored tradition of Little 500.
Take a walk down Bloomington’s 4th Street and you’ll come across food from all over the world. But like any college town, there are some classics to hit if you’re here for a short period of time. These are the best restaurants in Bloomington courtesy of a couple former Hoosiers who know their way around the city.
Come for the fresh bagels which span from the expected cinnamon raisin to the unlikely kalamata olive, but stay for a slice of Midwestern charm, because the friendly staff is only trumped by the endless photographs on the wall of people posing with their bagels all over the world. It’s also a great place to sit with friends and figure out what happened last night at Sports. And all of these things together epitomize the spirit of Bloomington.
Most people haven’t been inside Rockit’s Pizza while the sun is still up. And while we’re sure it’s great at any hour, there are a few things we can tell you. One, Bloomington’s nightlife runs late. Two, many pizza spots have come and gone, but one has stood the test of time. Three, Rockit’s is that place, and it has kept students smiling one slice at a time since what seems like forever. It’s a hole-in-the-wall spot that resembles a rock and roll diner of yesteryear, but none of that matters once you get past the late-night line and it’s just you and your slice.
It’s breakfast time and you need a hearty meal in a familiar atmosphere. Well you won’t find a more inviting spot than the Runcible Spoon, which has been doing it since 1976. Runcible Spoon is a house that’s been converted to a restaurant, down to the bathroom with a bathtub filled with fish and all. It’s what makes eating here feel like you’re making a trek to Grandma’s for pancakes and eggs, if grandma had face tats and a nose ring. The menu is extensive and everything from the oversized chocolate chip pancakes to the oversized omelets are great.
Bear’s Place isn’t a regular stop in the rotation. Instead, it’s destination dive bar dining when you want to gather a big group to kickoff the night. It’s a dive bar, so expect dive bar food, but what keeps us coming back is the drinks and entertainment. Bear’s is known for their Hairy Bear – a night’s worth of drinking in one cup. Say what you want about the sound of that, but after drinking the Hairy Bear with friends you leave as one big drunk family. Stick around for a steady stream of comedians, musicians, and all kinds of other acts passing through the doors.
Mother Bear’s serves Bloomington’s version of deep-dish pizza, and it’s something every student should experience their first week of being here. We may or may not have lived off their chicken tenders freshman year – both drunk and sober. It’s even a good date spot if you’re trying to be low-key during the week.
Pizza X has shaped the lives of many young Hoosiers. We can’t confirm if this place actually exists or not because we’ve never been inside, but we do know if you dial their alleged delivery number a pizza arrives. The Big X Bargain, which includes a two topping large pizza, breadsticks, dipping sauce, and two drinks, is too big for one person and the perfect delivery order to make a new friend. That friendship may come and go, but the relationship between this pizza and ranch dressing will last forever.
The name says it all. In Bloomington? Want a sandwich? This is your spot. The restaurant is as simple and delightful as the sandwiches it serves. Walk up to the counter, greet the incredibly friendly staff, place your order (we recommend the Reuben), and enjoy a great lunch. The owner often offers out cool Italian ice’s as a complimentary dessert for the hot sandwiches. Midwestern hospitality at its finest.
Nick’s is known for hanging out and playing drinking games, well one game, Sink the Biz. But this isn’t amateur hour, so make sure any game of Sink the Biz is accompanied by Nick’s awesomely seasoned fries dipped in their fancy garlic and mayo sauce.
You’re a freshman, you just got your housing assignment and it isn’t McNutt. Life is over. Or is it? Sure, you’ve never heard of Wright, but take it from a couple people in the real world – you struck food court gold. Freshman year can be tough, but having unlimited great food at your disposal? Priceless. Minus that whole tuition thing.
BuffaLouie’s = things in ranch, mainly wings and chicken tenders, which you might have noticed is a common theme around here. BuffaLouie’s is a quintessential cool college spot with a lot of sports memorabilia and goofy sh*t on the walls.
You might think it crazy for Bloomington to have quality sushi, but don’t forget Chicago restaurants are flying it in from somewhere too. Yes, Japonee is perfect for large group dinners full of sake bombs and fried cream cheese stuffed rolls, but you can also come in for quality fish in its purest sashimi form.
Ethnic food is surprisingly some of the premier eats in Bloomington, and My Thai Cafe is the spot for all things Thai food related. The tom yum and pad see ew give any city a run for their money, and the outdoor seating on 4th Street is quite nice.
Upland is a local brewery making their own excellent beers, and there’s a great patio to go along with it on warm Indiana nights. The menu is a bit ambitious, with everything from a muffaletta, to a Cuban sandwich, to something with seitan because Bloomington is super hip and vegan friendly. You can also get a bison burger because being a vegan sucks. Either way, the locally made beer makes all the food taste great.
Alright so it’s not a restaurant but THE DONUTS ARE SQUARE. And Square donuts translate to delicious donuts. They also have a walk-thru, because if you’re in Bloomington there’s a good chance a drive-thru is a bad idea.
This is the deal-closer. Whether you’re a typical high school senior weighing your options or a 5-star (2-star) football recruit thinking about game day at The Rock, Little Zagreb will be your last stop in Bloomington before accepting your admittance to IU. The best steak in town in a classic Midwest steakhouse. Don’t get anxious if the bread and salad leave you a tad underwhelmed, they are only meant to distract you before the perfectly prepared filet arrives. Be sure to make reservations on big weekends like homecoming or graduation.
Young and in love? Take notes. This is your anniversary/Valentine’s Day/please forgive me restaurant. It’s one of the classiest establishments in town and a must for when parents are visiting. A brief drive from campus perched atop of a small hill, Scholars always feels like an elevated haven outside of daily Bloomington life. Everything on the menu – NY Strip, Burger, and Salmon – is solid, the décor is cozy, and it’s a breath of fresh air for any special occasion.
You might realize Senior year that the last three years of eating fried stuff dipped in ranch was a bad idea. At that point, or if you’re a visitor, graduate to more refined food, like a croque-madame at Feast. Getting to Feast is a bit more complicated than a walk down Kirkwood, but a mile down the road isn’t so bad. You’ll probably have to wait, so order a latte and quiche to eat/Instagram while you wait. And then get ready for brunch #2 because the kick*ss seasonal menu never disappoints.
Eating at Sweet Grass will make any student or alumni feel like an actual member of the community, and it will give any actual member of the community a chance to escape college life. It’s a bit off campus, but this adorable Southern restaurant has all the favorites like fried green tomatoes and shrimp and grits.