Debatable: Is Shake Shack Really Fast Food?!?
Southern-inspired vegan dishes everyone will enjoy
Rising from a popular food truck to a package retail business, V-Grits opened its first-ever brick-and-mortar store to quite a buzz, and only partly because there’s an on-site beer making business called False Idol Independent Brewers. V-Grits opened in the old and beloved Monkey Wrench space and has expanded its southern-inspired, all-vegan menu to include dishes like lasagna, an unbeatable gyro, and a mushroom-based fried chicken dish called The Betty. The popular mac and cheese dishes are back too, along with an old favorite: the V-Grits version of a Kentucky Hot Brown. Enjoy a house-brewed Keller beer while you’re at it.
A historic homage to a lost classic
The Pine Room is a reimagining of an east Louisville classic that burned down many years ago but remained dear to the hearts of us locals. The new Pine Room is located on the same grounds as the original, and pays homage with the name (obviously), and the signature piano for impromptu entertainment. The menu focuses on upscale twists on American fare, from crispy chicken livers to a grass-fed steak with fries. Step things up with buttermilk fried chicken, go vegan with the sweet potato falafel and cucumber salad, or keep it simple with a Pine Room Burger.
Bourbon bar meets diner style
Every culinary nerd in Louisville knows chef Edward Lee (originator of popular restaurants like 610 Magnolia and MilkWood Restaurant). Well, he went in a bit of a different direction with Whiskey Dry, which opened in 2018 in the Fourth Street Live district: It’s a bourbon bar meets a classic diner. That means 250 different bourbons on a wall of spirits, a sizzling cocktail program and diner-style smash burgers and fries. The upscale feel is nevertheless casual enough to be welcoming, a place where you can get a milkshake (with bourbon!) and a basic burger (with bourbon too!), unless you want to step it up and go for a 30-day, dry-aged Koji beef burger. As you know, chef Lee doesn’t do anything halfway.
A hearty mix of European fare and expertly crafted beers
One of the more interesting places to open in the area, Pints & Union presents itself as a tribute to European-style public houses, a place for people to gather, imbibe, dine, and converse. The cozy space is dotted with all manner of oddities, from antique mirrors and architectural salvage to taxidermy. The ever-rotating menu offers up fare like Scotch eggs, shawarma, tikka, and a burger that comes off like a Big Mac on steroids. Every Thursday, customers can settle into a booth or belly up to the bar to enjoy a bowl of Guinness beef stew with a brew from the carefully curated beer list that focuses more on classic European styles and less on trendy American craft.
Tasty bowls of ramen that'll warm you up in cozy space
The little spot on Highland Avenue that houses Ramen Inochi once was the adored but short-lived Rumplings, which brought ramen noodles to Louisville to great fanfare. Now, the slurping returns to the space with Ramen Inochi, with its concise menu and cozy space. The service is on point, and seven different ramen dishes are all sure to warm your belly. Check out
the spicy garlic edamame appetizer, then slurp to your heart’s content with Shoyu (made with
locally-made soy), Miso or Tonkotsu, and if you like is spicy, Inochi has you covered.
Fast casual tacos upstairs, a tiki lounge down below
You had us at "tacos" and reeled us in with "tiki." Longboard’s is kind of a two-in-one concept, with a fast casual taco place upstairs and a full-blown tiki lounge downstairs. Employees don Hawaiian shirts and the whole blue-tinted place feels like being in an aquarium. Small plates like yucca tots, elote, and poke join tacos ranging from al pastor and Korean barbecue to ancho chili mahi mahi. One of the highlights of the joint, aside from the robust cocktails (try the house margarita) is the flatscreen TV that shows a perpetual beach scene. And you don’t even have to clean up the sand when you leave.
Mexican-style street tacos done right
Louisville may not be known as a taco town, but make no mistake -- the city does have a bubbling Mexican food scene, especially the farther south you go. Mexican street-style tacos made their way into a busy part of the city in the form of Taco City, a cozy little taqueria that focuses on the basics with a bit of extra flair. Try the tropical quesadilla, made with grilled chicken, ham, pineapple, and cheddar, or the sirloin steak taco, topped with sautéed poblano peppers and onions, queso cotija, radishes, crema and cilantro. Then walk away full and happy.
Cajun and Creole dishes dominate the menu here
Rising from the ashes of Finn’s Southern Kitchen, Couvillion shifts from Americana food to Cajun and Creole cooking with an upscale flare. Named for a classic tomato-based dish made with catfish, Couvillion serves up a lot of what you would expect: crawfish etouffee, New Orleans-style barbecue shrimp and grits, and gumbo. But there’s also a lot more, from braised brisket and ribs to an onion smashburger. While you’re there, try a cocktail or a local beer, and if you land early enough you’ll get in on some killer happy hour specials. Be sure to save room for some bourbon banana pudding for dessert.
Delicious southern, Caribbean, and Cajun food all in one place
Hip, modern dining gives way to a laid back patio and a chic downstairs lounge complete with illuminated bar at Flavour Restaurant & Lounge. Chef Charles Patterson prepares a menu of options, from classic bar bites to southern, Caribbean, and Cajun fare. If you want downhome, check out the southern fried chicken, with its perfectly seasoned, crunchy coating. If you long for the Bayou, there’s plenty to like as well, from crawfish etouffee to Cajun shrimp pasta. And if you want to take a trip to the islands but don’t have time for a plane ride, check out the jerk chicken or shrimp, and Trinidad-style oxtails. And, of course, this is also a lounge, so feel free to pair your meal with a signature cocktail.
Creative, seafood-heavy small plates
Named after the Spanish word for “oyster,” Ostra is the latest restaurant from Adam Burress of Hammerheads and Game, and it's going in a very different direction from those two Louisville staples. Small plates focus on seafood in a split venue -- one side is a small dining room and bar, the other a quirky lounge atmosphere. The menu is loaded with creative spins on poke and ceviche, along with soft shell crab sliders, avocado banh mi, mussels, and oysters on the halfshell marinated with smoked mignonette or truffle ponzu. Cocktails and craft beer abound as well. A tip: Many who go swear by the duck grilled cheese, a sweet and spicy treat topped with brie, miso butter, jalapenos and habanero honey.
The newest hot chicken joint on the block that you've gotta try
Louie’s replaces a Louisville classic, Lolita’s Tacos, which was a neighborhood mainstay for decades. But times change, and so does the cuisine. Many expected a hot chicken explosion after Joella’s Hot Chicken and Royals Hot Chicken opened a couple years back, but Louie’s is only the third to enter the fray. So far, the reviews have been overwhelmingly positive, with raves about the bone-in chicken, the tenders, and the brisket, all paired with classic sides like corn on the cob, potato salad and green beans. The space isn’t big, but there’s outside seating if you want to stick close by while you get lit up by the spices (watch out for the “extra hot”).
You want upscale Italian? You've found it.
A classic, upscale Italian restaurant that has been a dining destination for countless out-of-town celebrities, and Vincenzo’s continues to impress. The gorgeous restaurant screams fine dining, yet its approachable atmosphere welcomes everyone for a selection of some of the finest pasta and antipasti in the city. Of course, if it’s not noodles you’ve got a hankering for, Vincenzo’s serves a delicious filet mignon and a tempting scallops Rockefeller. Check out chef Agostino Gabriele’s special, five-course dinner, which includes a glass of Santa Margherita Prosecco and dessert.
Louisville's most elegant dining
And they don’t call it “Louisville’s most elegant dining” for nothing. The historic signature restaurant at the Brown Hotel, the English Grill may sound like it’s anglo-focused, but it’s classic American-style fine dining, with a southern twist in a setting that feels like a private club. Whether it’s a simple family dinner or one of the restaurant’s ballyhooed "Chef’s Table" experiences, the English Grill is going to fill you up with dishes like rack of lamb, verlasso salmon, and crispy skin duck, not to mention a Kentucky classic that was created at the hotel in 1926: the Hot Brown.
One of the oldest, jazziest, and most delicious restaurants in town
Originally opened in 1933, Jack Fry’s transformed from neighborhood tavern to culinary destination, evolving throughout the 1990s to win multiple awards for southern-inspired fare like the shrimp and grits, spicy oysters, and filet mignon. The restaurant remains true to its roots, with vintage photos of sports and the establishment’s original owners decorating every wall. Live jazz serenades you as you dine, and be sure to save time and room for a selection from the dessert menu. The extra calories will be worth it.
Latin flavors + southern inspired dishes = one hell of a success rate with diners
Esquire once said, “If you have time for one meal in Louisville, make it Seviche." And although that was around 8 years ago, chef Anthony Lamas is still killin' it. He marries Latin flavors with southern-inspired dishes to create a unique fusion experience that focuses on seafood but veers into many categories. From the popular crab “cigars” (you'll have to trust us) to the Tuna Old Fashioned -- made with local soy sauce, Kentucky bourbon, and pineapple -- the menu is a wonderland for the taste buds. And don’t leave without getting the legendary Avocado for dessert, with avocado ice cream, chocolate shell, and a bourbon truffle “pit.”
The best Mexican food in Louisville
Chef Bruce Ucán grew up in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, and the food at his restaurant showcases the traditions and flavors of the region. Ucán manages to make magic out of lima beans and turns traditional dishes on their heads with creations like the delicious vegetarian burrito and chilaquiles topped with ingredients ranging from eggplant to cactus. The atmosphere is upscale yet approachable, and when it’s all said and done, it’s safe to say you’ve never experienced Latin cuisine quite like this.
If you can only eat at one Louisville restaurant, go here
Set in an old building that actually began its life as a grocery store, Butchertown Grocery is upscale restaurant downstairs with attached cocktail lounge upstairs. In the dining room, settle in at a table or booth, or reserve your spot at the chef’s table to enjoy the culinary stylings of owner/chef Bobby Benjamin, from basil-fed escargot to bouillabaisse or rack of lamb. Choose from small plates and sides for sharing or entrees for a full meal, or arrange a seven-course, family-style dinner with bourbon tastings.