Not long ago, Downtown practically turned into a ghost town as soon as the Colgate Clock struck 5. Believe it or not, it’s been less than six years since the KFC Yum! Center opened, the east end was dubbed "NuLu," and Downtown began to truly get its groove back. After the recession had its way with the few restaurants brave enough to put down roots in Louisville’s central business district, it felt like all the plans to reestablish the neighborhood as a livable entertainment hub were DOA. Thankfully, they stayed the course, and despite what seemed like impossible odds, they've crafted a thriving cornerstone of our community that is only getting better. One of Downtown’s best assets, of course, is the dining. Alongside a handful of veteran establishments like Vincenzo's, hotel restaurants (we’re lookin’ at you, English Grill, Oakroom, and Proof on Main), and the Mayan Cafe, we have a range of uniquely Louisville bars and restaurants that have put down roots in the heart of Kentucky’s largest city. We’re happy to report that Downtown’s renaissance isn’t just a flash in the pan, and we're just as happy to present our official dining guide to Louisville’s dynamic riverfront neighborhood.
Best burger: Grind Burger Kitchen
If you find yourself on the east end of Downtown in the ever-so-hip NuLu district, you should probably try one of the best burgers in the city (we bow to the signature B&B burger, topped with brie, bacon, and habanero jam).
Best barbecue: Feast BBQ
The first dining establishment in chef/restaurateur Ryan Rogers’ ever-growing empire (have you heard about the just-announced plans for Bar Vetti?!) set the tone for the success he’s experienced, and also made evident that this man knows his food. Whether you select the brisket tacos or the baby back pork ribs, an order of loaded tots is non-negotiable.
Best brunch: Hillbilly Tea
If you’re looking to work Downtown’s weekend brunch circuit, you might want to loosen your belt a notch and take advantage of the locally sourced, Appalachian-inspired offerings of the recently re-opened Hillbilly Tea. This spot serves uniquely Kentucky items like bourbon cured trout salad with bacon candy (just read all those words again, it’s worth it), and skillet pancakes with tea butter.
Best place for both fettucine Alfredo and lamb kebab: Pesto's Restaurant
OK, the list of restaurants that could fill this category are slim, but we needed to talk about this relatively unknown spot. Pesto's is small and has all the trappings of a family joint, and regulars are treated like they are just that: family. The menu features traditional preparations of Italian and Persian cuisines, a unique combination that makes for a great change of pace for lunch Monday through Friday, or for dinner, which is only offered on the weekends.
Best fried chicken: Royals Hot Chicken
Chef and owner Ryan Rogers has also brought us Royals Hot Chicken, proving you don’t have to be in Nashville to indulge in a fiery fried chicken experience. Here you can order your bird spiced from mild to Gonzo (not for the faint of heart), and served with a side of pimento cheese grits, broccoli & bacon salad, or spicy potato wedges. As your mouth is sure to catch on fire, cool things off with a Royals’ house shake or float.
Best sushi: hiko-A-mon
Get your sushi fix with the artful offerings at hiko-A-mon, which offers an array of over 40 rolls, including everyday favorites like spicy tuna, and clever concepts like the Fire Scallop roll, which features spicy crab on the inside with mint leaves, seared scallops, and bonito flakes on top, and the Bluegrass roll, with crab, cucumber, and avocado rolled in a soy wrapper, then topped with spicy tuna and special sauce.
Best deli: The Main Eatery
And what kind of business district would Downtown be without its share of quality delis? For comforting lunchtime classics, head to The Main Eatery, where a daily "blue plate special" is on offer. If you want a serious treat, stop by on Fridays, when the famous tomato bisque makes an appearance. Pair it with a grilled cheese, because that’s simply a good call. Regulars know that there is a certain way to place your order… just let the cashier do the talking!
Best coffee: Please & Thank You
This very necessary spot has the east end/NuLu coffee lovers covered, and it happens to bake up the very best chocolate chip cookie you’ve ever tasted… seriously, they may have made a deal with the devil to get the chocolate chips to stay so melty and chewy.
Best craft brewery: Against the Grain
It took no time at all for the craft beer of Against the Grain to win the hearts and taste buds of Louisvillians... and folks throughout the US are starting to fall in love, too. It tastes best at the source, of course, preferably on the brewery's sunny patio, along with some delicious bar grub. This is easily the top can’t-miss dining stop Downtown.
Best steak: Jeff Ruby's Steakhouse
The people watching is almost as good as the dry-aged, bone-in rib-eye. A live band croons from atop the bar on most evenings, and the impulse to order a dry martini is real, so you may as well give in. Here’s to hoping you’re using the company credit card during your visit, as the prices are steep, but this is a restaurant where you are meant to splurge.
Best margarita: Galaxie
Galaxie’s funky and flavorful take on tacos -- aka wakatakas -- makes this NuLu favorite a delicious lunch or dinner stop, but it’s the signature margaritas that keep us coming back. Crafted with Lunazul Blanco, triple sec, and fresh citrus, each drink is made to order, and we highly recommend making yours spicy by adding freshly sliced jalapeño to the mix.
Best seafood: Brendon's Catch 23
Don’t let the fact that Brendon’s Catch 23 is located in an Embassy Suites fool you. The fish is as fresh as it gets, and the menu is chef-driven. The ambiance has a bit of a Vegas vibe, which makes sense, given its close proximity to Fourth Street Live!; however, the dining experience here is far superior to anything available on Louisville’s tourist strip.
Best drink with a view: 8UP
Fire pits decorate the sweeping rooftop patio of this 4th St hot spot, ensuring revelers stay warm as the temps begin to drop. A large bar and dining room make up the interior of the space, while floor-to-ceiling windows ensure that the view isn’t compromised, even if guests are dining indoors.
Best place to sample a new bourbon: Haymarket Whiskey Bar
Consistently ranked among the best bourbon bars in America, Haymarket has a personality all its own. Live music is on the docket several nights of the week, and the clientele is always a hodgepodge of locals and tourists. Take your pick of over 150 bourbons, and embrace the quirky atmosphere of this Downtown dive.
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1. Grind Burger Kitchen829 E Market St, Louisville
2. Feast BBQ909 E Market St, Louisville
3. Royals Hot Chicken736 E Market St, Louisville
4. Hillbilly Tea106 W Main St, Louisville
5. Pesto's Italian Restaurant566 S 5th St, Louisville
6. Hiko-a-mon1115 Herr Ln Suite 130, Louisville
7. Main Eatery643 W Main St, Louisville
8. Please & Thank You800 E Market St, Louisville
9. Against The Grain Brewery401 E Main St, Louisville
10. Jeff Ruby's Steakhouse325 W Main St, Louisville
11. Brendon's Catch 23501 S 4th St, Louisville
12. galaxie732 E Market St, Louisville
13. Haymarket Whiskey Bar331 E Market St, Louisville
14. 8UP Elevated Drinkery & Kitchen350 West Chestnut St, Louisville
It's no surprise that the best burger in town has a spacious and consistently packed spot in the trendy NuLu (or, "New Louisville") neighborhood. Thankfully, this location offers the usual favorites the restaurant became famous for: that brie bacon burger, the Southern burger, and the Asian pork sandwich, for example. If you’re looking to sit down, know that it’s first come, first served so you may have to wait. Though, the crowd waiting around are a pretty good indicator that it'll be worth it.
This is the first Feast actually in Louisville (the first is in New Albany) and it gets the job done just like the first, with 60+ craft beers and a menu loaded with tasty 'cue. The hearty, savory food and drink (loaded tots, fried pickles, and um, BOURBON SLUSHIES) will have you coming back for more. Feast's warm and friendly vibes are just an added bonus to otherwise great barbecue fare.
This NuLu restaurant has perfected the Nashville craft of dousing a perfectly crisped piece of chicken in a fiery house-made sauce, as the wait time here rivals that of a few other fine Louisville establishments. But of course, this place takes it up a notch, tailoring each brined order to the customer's spice preference, and complementing its carnivorous offerings with a generous menu of sides and desserts.
In the heart of Downtown Louisville is this cozy, rustic cafe serving Appalachian-inspired dishes and plenty of moonshine-infused cocktails, making it one of the most uniquely Kentucky spots in the city. The ingredients here are sourced locally and used to craft inventive, Southern plates like bourbon-cured trout salad with bacon candy and -- during Hillbilly Tea's heavenly brunch -- skillet pancakes with tea butter. You'll want to drop in for drinks with friends, too, and sip on concoctions like the Daisy Duke with Boundary Oak moonshine, orange, mint, and a dash of simple syrup.
A hidden gem right in Downtown, you'll want to make Pesto's your go-to lunch spot for its unique combination of traditional Italian dishes and tasty Persian cuisine. That's right -- the menu here has everything from spaghetti & meatballs to chelo kebabs with rice and lamb. This casual, friendly restaurant, which features original Persian artwork, is lunch-only Monday through Friday, but dinner makes a delicious appearance on weekends, when you should splurge on a glass or bottle from its featured wine list.
Upscale, modern accents and an ample menu of hand-rolled sushi, noodle bowls, and traditional bento boxes make hiko-A-mon the ‘Ville’s go-to for Japanese cuisine.
Located in Downtown Louisville, the Main Eatery is a friendly counter-serve deli with the always-comforting soup-salad-sandwich trio -- and a line that's usually out the door. There's a "blue plate special" too, which, depending on what day of the week you're here, includes everything from a char burger to a ham & cheese sandwich. On Fridays, the famous tomato bisque is the star and must be paired with a grilled cheese. Between the consistently tasty menu and the super-friendly staff, you'll quickly become a regular.
Please & Thank You is a hip small-batch bakery, coffee house, and record store in one, meaning you can stop by to sip a latte while listening to vinyl tunes and biting into its famously decadent chocolate chip cookies. Though it's not your typical brunch spot, Please & Thank You also offers some excellent breakfast fare at the counter, including a range of bagels (add some color to your morning with the Rebel, an every-seed bagel with cream cheese and rainbow sprinkles) and incredible egg sliders anointed with habanero on brioche buns.
Damn good beer and damn good barbeque are the hallmarks of downtown Louisville staple Against the Grain, located right at the famous Louisville Slugger field. Since opening their doors, the creative brewing team at Against the Grain have created over 100 unique beers that are so good they've evolved from local brewery to national beer distributor. With a full range of beer types, from light session ales to hop-full IPAs and smoky stouts, Against the Grain has a beer for every drinker. And if you don't drink, then chow down on their house-smoked barbeque, with favorites like brisket and pulled pork sitting alongside vegetarian options, like a signature chickpea sloppy joe, more adventuresome than just another salad.
At this sibling to a Cincinnati favorite, you can get a 65-day, dry-aged, bone-in strip steak, or enjoy a selection from the well-reviewed wine list. Although Ruby’s has a bougie steakhouse feel, and regularly hosts the post-work crowd, it never feels stuffy, and is a great setting for after-dinner drinks. Cocktail highlights include Ruby's Red Sangria and the orange cream Old Fashioned.
Brendon’s Catch 23 may be housed in an Embassy Suites, but this chef-driven restaurant has the best seafood you'll find Downtown, plus a posh atmosphere elevated by grand chandeliers and wood accents. From fresh Chesapeake Bay oysters to seared sea scallops to New Zealand rack of lamb, your meal will be prepared with expertise, and served with a smile -- not to be taken for granted at a swankier restaurant like Brendon's.
This interplanetary themed cocktail bar in NuLu is known for their herbaceous cocktails and "wakataka" flatbread tacos. Also worth checking out are Galaxie's signature spicy margaritas; garnished with Lunazul tequila, citrus and pepper flakes, they're a great bright and refreshing summer time drink. A small plates menu of Mexican street food options accents the hip space and neon decor.
Haymarket Whiskey Bar has more than 100 bourbons and almost 200 whiskeys, as well as live music four-plus nights a week. If the extensive liquor selection isn't enticing enough, visit for the décor alone: '80s memorabilia, Star Wars posters, old pinball machines, and a gorgeous green glass bar.
Whether you’re looking for breakfast, for a sleek dining experience, or craft cocktails at an open-air rooftop bar, 8UP Elevated Drinkery & Kitchen has got you covered. Located on the 8th floor of the Hilton Garden Inn Downtown, the rooftop restaurant and bar provides hotel guests and Louisville residents alike with progressive American fare, craft cocktails, and some seriously stunning views of the surrounding area. And with a bar program concentrated mainly on bourbon (the list is extensive) and bourbon-based cocktails, 8UP is a solid stop for elevated (literally) New American cuisine and quality drink.