Here's Our Travel Guide to This Nation of Over 7,000 Islands
Known for its Hoppin' John and cabbage salad, Alfalfa comes by its hippie vibe honestly. In the 1970s, members of the Weather Underground hid out among the kitchen staff. Don't worry, carnivores, they have plenty of seasonal meat specials, too.
Best date spot
The suits from 21c Museum Hotel shuffled east from Louisville to Lexington over two years ago, turning in their red hue for a UK-appropriate blue (University of Kentucky, not England) and setting up shop in the old National Bank building on West Main St. This award-winning chain of boutique hotels and contemporary art museums is entirely unique, and the Lexington location’s Lockbox restaurant is no exception. Order a cocktail and wander the museum galleries before dining on chef Jonathan Searle’s cast iron hog chop and chicken-fried pork cheeks.
Chef Jonathan Lundy has long been a fixture of the Lexington dining scene, and Corto Lima is his most casual -- and dare we say most delicious -- venture yet. We challenge you to find a better pairing than the margarita de casa and papas en la latta, a tower of fries coated in queso blanco and spiked with jalapeno, smoked salt and pico de gallo. The menu is designed for sharing so grab a crew and order a variety of the reasonably priced small plates along with their simply perfect guacamole.
The Summit at Fritz Farm
With over five other farm-to-table driven restaurants already operating in Lexington and beyond, it is no wonder acclaimed chef Ouita Michel’s newest venture, Honeywood, has won the hearts of locals, who know the best day to visit is Wednesday, when a salad crafted with produce from that day’s farmers’ market is on the menu. But really, Honeywood is a good bet any day of the week, with a variety of daily features as well as a ‘Pick Three’ dinner special, where diners can choose between two entrees and a multitude of farm-fresh sides for just $20.
The Distillery District
Best Place to Impress Foodie Friends
Named for the creek beside this restaurant in the former James E. Pepper distillery, middle fork has an inventive menu: the “J” in chef Mark Jensen's PB & J is lime-orange jam dressed with cilantro, red onion, and chilies. Get a beer from Ethereal Brewing next door, and step over to Crank & Boom Ice Cream Lounge for a bourbon ball sundae for dessert.
Family owned and operated, El Rancho Tapatio has quickly become a go-to spot in Lex thanks to their treasure trove of authentic Mexican eats including spot on taqueria style tacos, gorditas and sopes. Specialty margaritas and live music on the weekends set this restaurant apart from the city’s other Mexican eateries.
Best bourbon bar
The list of "Best Bourbon Bar" accolades that have been bestowed upon Bluegrass Tavern includes nods from Garden & Gun, Southern Living, and the one and only Thrillist. With over 400 rare bourbons on the bar, it's earned its street cred, in our view.
Designed by acclaimed gardener Jon Carloftis, Dudley’s rooftop patio offers an idyllic setting for enjoying the highbrow fare turned out by this classic Lexington restaurant, currently celebrating its 37th year.
Sharing space in a former Rainbo bread factory with West Sixth Brewery, Smithtown serves tilapia raised on-site and fed on spent grain. This is one of chef Ouita Michel's restaurants, so it's way more than fried fish. We’re particularly fond of the buffalo catfish bites and shrimp po-boy.
Specializing in West African dishes, Sav's, near the University of Kentucky campus, has cheap and tasty fare like goat, chicken, beef, or potatoes in peanut sauce on rice. Or go native and have your choice on fufu, made of mashed plantains. Across the street, get ice cream at Sav's Chill.
Barbecue this good doesn't last all day -- get there early. You can't go wrong with the beef brisket, pulled pork, pulled chicken, smoked sausage, or ribs. Or get the Blue Door Special, which comes with EVERY meat.
Best sports bar
Don't let the TVs fool you: Winchell's is just as serious about food as Kentucky is about basketball. The menu goes way beyond pub grub. Try the Funny Farm: a fried pork chop sandwich topped with country ham, bacon, fried egg, and pepper jack cheese.
Best Late Night
Nothing has cured generations of UK students' hangovers like all-day breakfasts or great greasy burgers from the Ho. Want gravy on top? You got it. And get a banana pudding milkshake. Trust us.
Located in Lexington’s Chevy Chase neighborhood, Tomo serves sushi that is beautifully constructed and thoughtfully prepared. Standout rolls include the Tuna Tuna roll (raw tuna and raw salmon are married with fresh avocado) and the Wild Ride (asparagus and cooked white tuna are rolled together and topped with spicy crab).
Best beer bar
The walls of this craft beer shop are lined with over 500 rare by-the-bottle finds, curated by an owner whose passion for beer is unparalleled. The Beer Trappe also boasts eight rotating taps at its small bar, in case you’d prefer to sit and stay a spell.
105 Eastern Ave
Best coffee house
There’s no question that the coffee brewed at A Cup of Common Wealth is of the highest caliber, and the vibe at its shop is just the right amount of eclectic. However, the coolest thing about this coffee shop is its "Pay It Forward" board, which encourages customers to purchase a drink for a future patron, making note of who the drink is meant for on the coffee sleeve for them to discover at a later date.
Best Place to Splurge
Located in a quaint and historic building at the corner of Richmond Rd. and North Ashland Ave., the menu and service at Coles is fitting for the most special of occasions. Make sure not to skip their wine and cocktail list, both carefully curated and crafted, and their sommelier is always at the ready with a bottle recommendation. And don’t neglect the bar bites menu where you'll find favorites like the fried avocado stuffed with crabmeat and the charcuterie board, which features various meats cured in house.
Best college hangout
What do you get when you combine live music, Fireball Whiskey karaoke, trivia and daily drink specials? The ideal college hang, of course. Such is Tin Roof, located just steps from campus and forever drawing a crowd, albeit a raucous one. Should hunger strike there is plenty of classic and creative bar fare on hand to help you power through, like the fried pickles with gochujang ranch or the appropriately coined sloppy nachos.
Jefferson St Corridor
This favorite brewery of Lexingtonians is named for the street where its tap room and main brewery are located -- which just happens to be in a 100 year old building previously home to the Rainbo Bread Factory -- making for a unique setting in which to sip one of their over 30 original craft creations. Want to know more? Plan ahead and book a tour on Saturday or Sunday, when they offer an inside look at their brewery and production system.
Best Place to Take Your Parents
If the goal is to impress the ‘rents -- even better if they’re footing the dinner bill -- then get thee to Tony’s, a restaurant with all the classic steakhouse flair in an upscale setting across from Triangle Park. The menu doesn’t stop at prime ribeye either; there is plenty to choose from beyond the traditional beef cuts including blackened yellowfin tuna, New Zealand rack of lamb, or a variety of pasta dishes. Oh, and they’ve got a pretty stellar bourbon collection as well, this being Kentucky and all.
Best Place for a Group
The ideal blend of laid back and upscale, Carson’s can accommodate parties of up to 50 guests, making it the perfect place to blow out the candles on your birthday cake or to raise a glass in celebration of the fact that Bob is FINALLY getting married. The menu is varied and creative, meaning, yes, there actually is something for everyone and this is not hyperbole... though bourbon lovers have it best, as they'll appreciate how the state’s native spirit is used throughout the menu, like in the bourbon BBQ glazed pork belly sandwich and the grilled brie with bourbon pear chutney.
With live jazz every Saturday and a fully stocked Bloody mary and mimosa bar throughout the weekend, there is no place better to drink away the previous night’s hangover than Bear & The Butcher. Indulging in an order of the Nashville hot chicken & waffles helps as well. Looking for a place to fortify yourself for a day at Keeneland or to cheer on the CATS who are actually playing good football this season? Look no further.
Best Cheap Eats
A venerable Lexington institution with a 30+ year tenure in Chevy Chase, time has done little to change the prices at this beloved hole in the wall. The interior is dark, well worn and cozy, with fireplaces, shelves brimming with books, and '80s era sofas. Known for their buffalo drummies, among other classic bar fare, Charlie Brown's is, unquestionably, the Lexington version of Cheers.