Going to college out of state has many ups and downs. Surprisingly, one of the hardest things that I had to adjust to leaving behind was the copious amount of delicious restaurants throughout Kentucky. Born and raised in Louisville, which was named one of the Top 10 Food Cities in the World by National Geographic, I had the opportunity to try out the extraordinary and diverse restaurants that gave it that title. This is a list of the top 30 places you can't miss.
Mojito is the shorthand name that this restaurant goes by, but the second part of the full name, tapas, is the key. Mojito is one of Louisville’s premier restaurants because of their broad selection of delicious tapas. Some of the more notable examples are the stuffed date and fish tacos. While the Heirloom salad and the egg sandwich aren't tapas, they're just as exceptional.
Claudia Sanders Dinner House in Shelbyville, Kentucky, offers a dining experience as rich as its history suggests. In 1959, Colonel Harlan Sanders (KFC) moved to this location and opened a restaurant named after his wife. Claudia’s has the original atmosphere of the traditional full-menu restaurant, and the persnickety culinary perfectionism of her world-famous husband, Colonel Sanders. For visitors, there are few meals more memorable (or delicious) than Claudia’s Sunday buffet.
Village Anchor is located in Anchorage, Kentucky, and is one of the state’s premier upscale restaurants, featuring hearty and flavorful southern-inspired food. One of my favorites is the sweet potato fries with marshmallow cream dipping sauce. The green chili wontons with a zesty cream dipping sauce is a close runner-up. On the healthier side is the Brussels sprout salad with egg and macadamia nuts.
Asahi Japanese Restaurant is one of Louisville’s best kept secrets, offering perhaps the finest Japanese cuisine in the Bluegrass state. The Firecracker Roll and Spicy Tuna hand rolls are must try’s. Allergic to shellfish? This will help you figure out what sushi to order.
Bardstown Road in Louisville was recently named one of the “coolest” areas in the country. Any cool area needs to have a place that offers spectacular Indian cuisine, and Kashmir fills that bill for Bardstown road. The coconut soup and vegetable korma with sweet naan is insanely good.
Every major city needs at least one elegant restaurant featuring French cuisine. Les Relais is that restaurant for Louisville, Kentucky. Situated in the historic Bowman Field airport terminal, Les Relais continues to offer some of the finest French cuisine you could hope to find anywhere in this region of the US. The Truite Meuniere and truffle fries are popular favorites, and if you still have room, top it off with a crème brûlée for dessert.
Jack Fry’s is tucked away on Bardstown road in an old clubby historic building and is perhaps one of Louisville’s top “see and be seen” restaurants. Jack Fry’s manages to meld elegance with swank and consistently delivers one of Louisville’s finest menus. The pork sliders, sweet corn pastries, and cinnamon monkey bread are just a sampling of Jack Fry’s signature and beloved dishes.
Mussel & Burger Bar offers a unique rustic atmosphere with inventive burgers and other gourmet twists on ordinary grill fare. The dates in a blanket and Mediterranean burger are two prime examples.
Vietnam Kitchen is located in the south end of Louisville between a rough-and-tumble bar and a self-service laundromat. It is also home to some of the most extraordinary dishes in the entire state. The menu features Vietnamese cuisine prepared carefully and deliciously at this family-run restaurant, which is an iconic stop that always seems to exceed expectations.
The green shrimp curry and chicken satay with peanut sauce are worth the drive (for regulars from across town) and the avocado milkshake is the perfect unique dessert and a favorite of regulars.
Shiraz Mediterranean Grill opened over a decade ago offering fast Mediterranean dishes. Now, this local chain has multiple locations and and devoted customers who love the steak kabobs with rice, hummus and, of course, tzatziki sauce.
Zeggz Amazing Eggs is one of Kentucky’s top breakfast and brunch restaurants, featuring satisfying entrees like picoso omelettes and spectacular side items like sunshine muffins. This fast-casual diner is the place to go when you are hungry and it’s early.
La Rosita is a Mexican bodega with a restaurant inside that is always buzzing with locals who know how special this place is. One of Louisville’s top chefs calls La Rosita his “happy place” where he goes for great food. The carne tacos and nina pobre torta sandwich are as good as it gets if you are in the mood for truly extraordinary Mexican food.
Beaumont Inn is a historic bed and breakfast located in history-rich Harrodsburg, Kentucky, and features some of the finest traditional fare in the Bluegrass region and served buffet-style in a comfortable, homey setting. Don’t miss out on the stewed tomatoes.
Tom + Chee is a new chain popping up throughout the Louisville area that does simple extraordinarily well. The restaurant’s goal is simple: make the best grilled cheese sandwiches and soups better than anywhere else. And they seem to be succeeding. The classic grilled cheese stuffed with BBQ chips and side of creamy tomato soup is the best place to start on the menu. As you get more adventurous, you may want to try the choco bacon bliss on a donut.
Plehn's (pronounced “Plains”) Bakery is one of Louisville’s oldest and finest full-service bakeries. Serving the city for over 90 years, Plehn's is famous for creating delectable desserts. Their most popular item on their menu is their iced sugar cookies.
Comfy Cow states that their ice cream is “crazy good,” and locals will attest to that. The owners made a goal of creating the “best ice cream on the planet.” That was in 2007, and with each passing year new Comfy Cow stores open and the ever-growing creation of new ice creams would suggest they are closing in on their goal. Maple walnut, salted caramel, and cake batter are the standbys, but get adventurous and try one of their latest concoctions too.
Noosh Nosh is a hip, casual offshoot of the more elegant dinner restaurant Anoosh. It has a fun atmosphere with an incredibly flavorful menu that includes baked brie, skillet Brussels sprouts, and delectable mushroom soup, among many more exceptional entrees and sides.
Ramsey's Cafe on the World is a hidden gem located on Bardstown Road in Louisville, KY. I have found that for optimal enjoyment, it is best to order multiple appetizers and share them among the table. You can't go wrong with anything on the menu.
Thai Smile, located in a strip mall in Frankfort, Kentucky, is a favorite of those on lunch and dinner breaks who work for the state. It’s hard to find but easy to find your way back to over and over again, especially if you like truly remarkable Thai food. Their Pad Thai, pot stickers, and Thai iced tea never disappoint.
Mike Linnig’s Restaurant claims they’ve been serving “The best seafood since 1925,” and few would dispute that. Their fish sandwich with tartar sauce and hush puppies are a staple at this historic Kentucky diner.
Seviche in Louisville features unique Latin cuisine. The Guacamole A La Mesa and Mahi Mahi Tacos are two of the more memorable items on one of Louisville’s most exceptional menus.
Mesh is a sleek meeting place, featuring sophisticated New American food and cocktails in one of Louisville’s sleekest venues. The goat cheese and beet salad is a favorite, and the halibut gnocchi is a delicious option for the more adventurous.
211 Clover Lane is located in a secluded area and offers some of Louisville’s most elegant dining featuring a French Countryside atmosphere and French-inspired menu that never disappoints. Each meal is preceded with homemade scones and marmalade. The menu changes frequently, but the quality is unchanging and as high as any place in the area.
Cheddar Box Cafe became popular in the '90s for catering business lunches. They recently opened The Cheddar Box Too, one of Louisville’s more sophisticated lunchtime eateries, featuring fare like oatmeal brulee, honey chicken salad, and tuna melt sandwiches.
Red Barn Kitchen BBQ has a theme of upscale Southern fried food, and it's as good as its predecessor. RBK Fritters are a great starter, and the biscuits and jam (or cornbread) can’t be beat. For an entree, I recommend the pulled berkshire pork and a side of baked beans.
26. The Local Taco
The Local Taco in Lexington, Kentucky, offers creative tacos and fajitas, and is a local favorite of college students. The BBQ and fish tacos stand out among the rest.
27. Street Craves
Street Craves in Lexington features “street foods.” This restaurant was inspired by the sites, sounds, and smells of local taco carts and trucks and it has stayed faithful to their vision. The corn salsa and queso and mermaid taco are just two examples.
Gibby's in Frankfort, Kentucky, features the world-famous hot brown sandwich and hickory smoked BBQ platter. These are both extraordinary, but Gibby’s is probably best known for delivering some of the most tasty and wholesome sandwiches in the city of Frankfort. Everything is good everyday.
29. Ramsey's Diner
Ramsey’s Diner is a Lexington icon known for such entrees as the hot brown and for such desserts as their peanut butter pie. Ramsey’s offers some of the heartiest country cookin’ in the Bluegrass region.
30. Gumbo Ya Ya
Gumbo Ya Ya in Lexington offers fast-casual Cajun and Creole and is a favorite among college students. If you like Cajun, you’ll love Gumbo Ya Ya’s jambalaya and gumbo. Never leave without trying the homemade pralines.
Kentucky's food industry is growing rapidly, but there are some classics that just can't be competed with. These are the 30 places that you absolutely cannot miss during your next trip to Kentucky.