Food & Drink

The Essential Lexington Restaurants

Published On 09/14/2015 Published On 09/14/2015
Blue Door Smokehouse
BBQ from Blue Door Smokehouse | Shelley Dawn Images

Best vegetarian


Address and Info

141 East Main St

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


Address and Info

167 West Main St

The 21c Museum Hotel penguins waddled east from Louisville to Lexington earlier this year, turning in their red hue for a UK-appropriate blue, 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 grilled hog chop and house-made Toulouse sausages.


Best Latin


Address and Info

841 Lane Allen Rd

With Cuban flair, Brasabana's carnitas take pork in a sweet and savory direction. Don't miss the black beans and plantain chips.

Best farm-to-table

Stella's Kentucky Deli

Address and Info

143 Jefferson St

As one of the first outposts in the burgeoning Jefferson St dining district, Stella's has seasonal food from the region's best producers, making for great burgers and sandwiches, like the fried green tomato BLT.

middle fork kitchen bar

Best place to splurge

middle fork kitchen bar

Address and Info

1224 Manchester St

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.

Dudley's on Short

Best patio

Dudley's on Short

Address and Info

259 West Short St

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 35th year.

Best fish

Smithtown Seafood

Address and Info

501 West Sixth St

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. Try the catfish in cornmeal or shrimp & grits, both featuring products from nearby Weisenberger Mill.

Best Mexican

Maria's Kitchen

Address and Info

805 North Broadway

Until recently, Maria's was a bit of an underground hit, an authentic taqueria with homemade hot sauce and a positively addictive tres leches cake (get there early, the cake doesn’t last long). A recent move to a larger space on Broadway has raised Maria’s profile, drawing adventurous Lexington foodies to the new digs, where you can try the beef tongue and fried chitlins.

OBC Kitchen

Best bourbon bar

Bluegrass Tavern

Address and Info

115 Cheapside

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.

Best African

Sav's Grill

Address and Info

304 S. Limestone

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.

Shelly Dawn Images

Best BBQ

Blue Door Smokehouse

Address and Info

226 Walton Ave

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


Address and Info

348 Southland Dr

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.

Tolly-Ho Restaurants, Inc.

Best college hangout

Tolly-Ho Restaurant

Address and Info

395 South Limestone

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.

Best sushi


Address and Info

848 East High St

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).

Courtesy of The Beer Trappe

Best beer bar

The Beer Trappe

Address and Info

811 Euclid Ave

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.

Best wine bar


Address and Info

191 Jefferson St

This tapas-style restaurant and wine bar set up shop on Jefferson St in 2013, offering an eclectic list of wines by the glass in addition to sharable Spanish classics like patatas bravas and serrano ham wrapped Medjool dates. Consider yourself lucky if you’re able to score a seat on the patio.

Best coffee house

A Cup of Common Wealth

Address and Info

105 Eastern Ave

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.