Food & Drink

50 Things to Eat in Louisville Before You Die

Published On 08/31/2015 Published On 08/31/2015
Bristol Bar & Grill
Courtesy of Kriech-Higdon Photography
Courtesy of The Brown Hotel
Lindsey McClave/Thrillist
Lindsey McClave/Thrillist
Shelby Lattis/Thrillist
Courtesy of Jessica Fey
Courtesy of Jolea Brown Andersen
Courtesy of Jesse Hendrix-Inman
Courtesy of Wiltshire Pantry
Flickr/Edsel Little
Please & Thank You
Courtesy of Kate Lyons with Cellar Door Chocolates
Josh Johnson/Thrillist
Courtesy of Corbett's
Muth's Candies
Courtesy of Michelle Eigenheer
Lindsey McClave/Thrillist
Courtesy of Dan Davidsaver
Courtesy of Mickie Winters
Courtesy of Garage Bar
Courtesy of Charim
Courtesy of Jolea Brown @ Creative Photography
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1. Proof on Main 702 W Main St, Louisville, KY 40202

Located in The 21c Museum Hotel Louisville, a boutique hotel and art museum, Proof on Main serves up gourmet meals from Chef Levon Wallace, including a unique and scrumptious burger made out of bison and topped with a Jezebel sauce that gives it a fruity, earthy flavor, plus Tillamook cheddar and applewood-smoked bacon. You'll want to throw in a side of the crispy cauliflower, and top it all off with the s'mores dessert. This trendy spot houses the Proof Bar, too, which offers an enormous bourbon list (we're talking upwards of 50 varieties).

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2. Mayan Café 813 E Market St, Louisville, KY 40206

Chef Bruce Ucán heads up Mayan Cafe, a beloved veteran restaurant in NuLu, infusing the traditional flavors of his Yucatan heritage into every beautiful plate on the menu -- from the signature tok-sel lima beans to the Mayan Burger, a grass-fed beef patty topped with chili aioli, greens, pickled onions, mozzarella cheese, and tomatoes, and (best of all) served on a warm pretzel bun.

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3. Feast BBQ 909 E Market St, Louisville, KY 40206

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.

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4. The Brown Hotel 335 W Broadway, Louisville, KY 40202

Louisville’s iconic sandwich, the Hot Brown, had its cheesy, glorious birth back in the ‘20s at The Brown Hotel, when Chef Fred K. Schmidt created the turkey-bacon-Mornay sandwich as a midnight snack for hotel patrons. Check out the glamorous Lobby Bar, which has a wide variety of bourbon and serves up excellent cocktails. Sip on the bar’s classic Mint Julep as you make yourself at home on one of the brocade silk couches, all while the hotel pianist performs for you.

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5. Eiderdown 983 Goss Ave, Louisville, KY 40217

Located in Germantown, this American resto and sandwich spot features a number of non-traditional treats, from its duck fat popcorn to its beer cheese that's served warm like a fondue with Blue Dog bread.

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6. El Camino 1314 Bardstown Rd, Louisville, KY 40204

Tequila might never be the most popular spirit in The 'Ville, but El Camino is certainly making it a runner-up. The drink menu here is “artisan Tiki” offering both twists on traditional options like a Mai Tai or a daiquiri, and more traditional libations like bowls of punch that you should definitely not try to drink by yourself. And whoever said honky-tonks don't deliver on food hasn't checked out El Camino's list of Mexican eats, which includes savory creations like grilled petite filete with cotija, and a pan roasted salmon with grilled pear.

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7. Toast on Market 620 East Market St, Louisville, IN 47130

Wedged into Market Street, Toast is a casual breakfast-and-lunch eatery that's become a crowd-favorite brunch spot in NuLu thanks to its famous lemon soufflé pancakes, which come served with vanilla custard and berry compote, and taste even better with a side of hash brown casserole. Not to mention, there's a solid list of mimosas that should not be overlooked, including mint julep, passionfruit, and mango variations. This friendly spot has plenty of sandwiches, grilled cheeses (go for the spicy chipotle to give your favorite comfort food some heat), and salads for lunch, too.

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8. Vietnam Kitchen 5339 Mitscher Ave, Louisville, KY 40214

Tucked in between a laundromat and a dive bar in Louisville's Iroquois neighborhood lies Vietnam Kitchen, a true hidden gem. Within its four bright, baby-blue walls, you'll find ample seating that's constantly full of diners looking to try authentic Vietnamese cuisine like the ever-popular Hủ tiếu Saté, a spicy rice noodle with sate sauce, bean sprouts, broccoli, peanuts, and lemon grass, with your choice of beef, chicken, or pork.

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9. ZÄD 1616 Grinstead Dr, Louisville, KY 40204

This casual Mediterranean spot is an all around crowd pleaser. Favorites like the Greek salad, baba ghanoush, and gyros are in ample supply along with Mediterranean tacos and our favorite, the avocado wrap.

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10. El Mundo 2345 Frankfort Ave, Louisville, KY 40206

Known for the strength of their margaritas and their addictive Mexican cuisine, this Crescent Hill resto features a quirky ambience and a back patio for dining in pleasant weather.

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11. MilkWood 316 W Main St, Louisville, KY 40202

MilkWood, Downtown’s Actors Theater restaurant, is Top Chef alum Edward Lee's ode to Southern fare and the Asian spice pantry in a flavor-forward dining experience. With hybrid ingredients like gochujang butter and green apple-ginger zest, and dishes like Korean Griddle Buns, Mushroom and Grits, Collards and Kimchi, and Togarashi Cheesecake, the cuisine is elegant, elevated, and rooted in culture. The down-home favorites have prevalent Asian influence, but neither is compromised in their marriage. To reiterate the importance of flavor to guests, the cocktail menu is laid out by beverage type, and how it will play on the palate -- wine, beer, and cocktails alike.

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12. Queen of Sheba 2804 Taylorsville Rd, Louisville, KY 40205

Two things are certain at Kingsley's Queen of Sheba -- you're probably going to share, and you're probably going to get your hands a little dirty. Sticking to it's traditional Ethiopian roots, this restaurant serves its specializes in large stews and thick soups, all eaten by an entire table of diners armed with flaps of flatbread they'll hungrily dip into the pot like a kid scooping jelly beans in a candy store. The long marination process makes for hearty and bold flavor that culminates in house staples like beef-based Gored-Gored and Lega Sega with other meat and veggie offerings.

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13. Against The Grain Brewery 401 E Main St, Louisville, KY 40202

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.

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14. Roots 1216 Bardstown Rd, Louisville, KY 40204

This vegetarian menu is comprised of small plates designed for sharing and sampling. We're fond of the forbidden rice risotto, cooked slowly with baby spinach, black cherries, goat cheese, and candied walnuts. Don't forget to check out the impressive tea menu as well.

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15. Grind Burger Kitchen 829 E Market St, Louisville, KY

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.

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16. Dairy Kastle 575 Eastern Pkwy, Louisville, KY 40217

The small outdoor seating area at Dairy Kastle is always overflowing with people enjoying sweet treats like Orange Cows (orange sherbet with vanilla ice cream and sprite). They also serve hot dogs, brats, nachos, and BBQ pork.

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17. Bistro Le Relais 2817 Taylorsville Rd, Louisville, KY 40205

Once a fancier French, high-ticket spot with a view, the current Le Relais maintains steak even at a more affordable, oh-so-bistro level: you can get steak tartare as a starter, or spend three times as much on some prime beef. It’s a date spot, the food’s tasty, and the view is unique.

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18. Doc Crow's Southern Smokehouse & Raw Bar 127 W Main St, Louisville, KY 40202

Located on the famous Whiskey Row, Doc Crow’s serves down-home Southern fare that celebrates both coastal and barbecue cuisines and focuses on bourbon in its beverage program. Starters include fried oysters, smokehouse mussels, and beef brisket tacos, while mains include baby-back ribs, blackened tilapia, and fried pork chops. Choose your poison from the drink menu’s anthology of whiskeys or imbibe a classic, like an old fashioned or mint julep lemonade.

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19. 211 Clover Lane Restaurant 211 Clover Ln, Louisville, KY 40207-2754

This refined restaurant encourages reservations, and discourages the use of cellphones in their dining room. The menu combines French and Italian techniques and flavors to create a continental menu with dishes for anyone.

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20. Wiltshire On Market 636 E Market St, Louisville, KY 40202

The menu at Wiltshire On Market changes by the week, and has an emphasis on fresh, local ingredients. Plus, the cheese and charcuterie board may be THE BEST in the city.

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21. Wiltshire Pantry Bakery and Cafe 901 Barret Ave, Louisville, KY 40204

After they found success selling their goods at farmers markets, Wiltshire Pantry decided to open this retail bakery in Highlands. They serve a full range of breakfast pastry, lunch sandwiches, and breads -- including one of the best croissants this side of the Atlantic.

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22. Mojito Tapas Restaurant 2231 Holiday Manor Ctr, Louisville, KY 40222

This tapas bar and restaurant is a local (and not so local) favorite, with unique and well made dishes. They offer cheese & cured meat plates, Catalan flatbreads, cold & hot tapas, tacos, and their own take on queso dip.

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23. Harvest 624 E Market St, Louisville, KY 40202

You know you're in for a fresh meal at Harvest, because the walls are adorned with large photos of the various Kentucky farmers who grow and raise the ingredients you’ll find on your plate. The team here knows a thing or two about fried chicken, crafting a buttermilk-soaked, battered, and fried breast and thigh served over a savory hoecake, drizzled with creamy gravy and topped with spicy greens. It’s heaven on a plate. And if you're not in the mood for chicken, they also have one of the best burgers in Louisville: a local beef patty topped with tomato jam, triple-cream brie, and lettuce on an addictive pretzel bun.

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24. Sapporo Sushi & Sake 1706 Bardstown Rd, Louisville, KY 40205

This Japanese hot spot has crowds willing to wait for handrolled sushi or for a spot at one of their hibachi tables. We're partial to the the Crunch Munch roll in which crispy panko takes shrimp and crab up a notch.

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25. Blue Dog Bakery & Cafe 2868 Frankfort Ave, Louisville, KY 40206

Most restaurants in Louisville are serving Blue Dog bread, and this is the original spot. But why go somewhere else when they have their own cafe in house? Stop in for brunch or lunch, it won't disappoint.

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26. Please & Thank You 800 E Market St, Louisville, KY 40206

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.

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27. Hammerheads 921 Swan St, Louisville, KY 40204

This uber-casual Paristown restaurant set inside a residence is classic American comfort food delivered in a relaxed and friendly neighborhood venue. Think Southern barbeque meets American burger joint and you've grasped Hammerheads, where racks of ribs sit right next to sliders and crab cakes. Seating is first come, first served at this corner eatery, but there's room enough for the whole crowd. Don't go to this Louisville spot if you're looking for a cocktail night, though—they only serve beer and wine.

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28. Shirley Mae’s Café 802 S Clay St, Louisville, KY 40203

Located in Smoketown, Shirley Mae's is down home cooking at its finest. Everything is made by hand daily and if you want some of the best fried chicken in town, you gotta order it here.

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29. Corbett's 5050 Norton Healthcare Blvd, Louisville, KY 40241

At this fine dining establishment, you will find the best nachos in the city. Named for the Head Chef and owner, they are worthy their name, Dean's Perfect Nachos, with everything else on the menu on par as well.

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30. Seviche Restaurant 1538 Bardstown Rd, Louisville, KY 40205

The distinct latin menu at this restaurant changes seasonally, but the high-quality is maintained thanks to James Beard: Southeast finalist chef Anthony Lamas. His famous "avocado" dessert is made with avocado ice cream, dulce de leche chocolate, a bourbon pit, and coffee pine nut soil.

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31. The Joy Luck 1285 Bardstown Rd, Louisville, KY 40204

This Taiwanese resto in the Highlands quietly opened in 2013, but really gained steam a year after once people caught word of their delectable soup dumplings and other fantastic noodle and meat dishes.

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32. Muth's Candies 630 E Market St, Louisville, KY 40202

While you will find an ample supply of Kentucky's famous homemade bourbon balls at this candy shop, it is the Modjescas that we covet: created by dipping a plump marshmallow into warm and silky caramel, it has a scrumptious and chewy shell.

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33. Nord's Bakery 2118 S Preston St, Louisville, KY 40217

Do yourself and everyone else in your social circles a favor and opt for the maple bacon long john and a pretzel donut, which is a midwest specialty that tastes nothing like those things that make the cast of Seinfeld thirsty.

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34. Mike Linnig's Restaurant 9308 Cane Run Rd, Louisville, KY 40258

Located just off the river, Mike Linnig’s has been frying up fresh fish, shrimp, frog legs and oysters for over 90 years. Keep it classic and order Mike’s Famous Fish Plate, with two hand-breaded fried filets, french fries, cole slaw, and plenty of the house-made tartar sauce.

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35. The Cafe 712 Brent St, Louisville, KY 40204

The Southern flavors at this Downtown spot extends across breakfast and lunch, where they're serving dishes like The Southern Grits Scramble, tomato soup, melts & sandwiches, and salads.

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36. Cafe Mimosa 1543 Bardstown Rd, Louisville, KY 40205

This cafe's menu is a blend of Chinese, Japanese, and Vietnamese cooking styles and dishes, which is part of why it is so insanely long. And the wonder doesn't stop there: they also deliver.

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37. Coals Artisan Pizza 3730 Frankfort Ave, Louisville, KY 40207

Coals is a casual Italian eatery with a long menu of specialty pizzas, aptly named for Louisville neighborhoods and each topped with a union of fresh ingredients, thoughtfully depicting the character of each part of the city. Its 900-degree oven turns the incredibly fickle, painstakingly crafted, high-moisture dough into thick, crisp, charred bases. It was the first to deliver coal-fired pizza to Kentucky, and in addition to this St. Matthews location, there’s a second brick-and-mortar in East Louisville.

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38. Garage Bar 700 E Market St, Louisville, KY 40202

Especially in the warmer months, this renovated garage in the trendy NuLu area is a must-visit. Glowing ping pong tables, Astroturf-covered places to perch, and a consistently ultra-hip crowd make this bar the go-to destination for sticky, hot nights in The ‘Ville. Garage Bar uses local veggies and cured meats to top its pizzas, which bake in a blistering wood-fired brick oven. Be sure to order a tasting platter from the ham bar (yes, it has a bar dedicated to ham) to pair with your pie. It’s got a pretty extensive beer list, too.

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39. Irish Rover 2319 Frankfort Ave, Louisville, KY 40206

True Guinness is imported straight from Dublin to the bar at the Irish Rover, where County Clare born owner Michael Reidy aims to recreate the experience of Ireland's pubs. For over 20 years he has run the spot, and serves authentic dishes like lamb stuffed cabbage, bangers & mash, Guinness beef stew, cottage pie, and killer fish & chips.

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40. Charim Korean Restaurant 4123 Oechsli Ave, Louisville, KY 40207

Three words: Hot stone Bibimbap. It's the signature dish at Charim, Louisville's favorite Korean joint hidden away in a Richlawn strip mall. Its contents (one choice of meat with rice, vegetables, and sauce in a hot stone bowl) are self-explanatory, but that doesn't make it any less flavorful. Veterans of this spot will at times opt to venture out into the bulgogi bowls, colorful creations of noodles, veggies, meats, and a fried egg, all separated to satiate the organizational freak in all of us.

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41. Jack Fry's 1007 Bardstown Rd, Louisville, KY 40204

Established in 1933, Jack Fry's has been a long-standing staple of the Louisville fine-dining scene. This Highlands resto features Southern flavors that are showcased using classical French techniques and the atmosphere is always buzzy.

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42. Basa Modern Vietnamese 2244 Frankfort Ave, Louisville, KY 40206

In 2007 chef Michael Ton and his brother Steven opened Basa to serve Vietnamese dishes with modern updates. The menu includes dishes like Vietnamese Tenderloin "Salad, Crispy Imperial Rolls, Deep Fried Jumbo Oysters, Japanese Eggplant, and Ahi Tuna.

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43. The Village Anchor Pub & Roost 11507 Park Rd, Anchorage, KY 40223

Village Anchor Pub & Roost is well worth the drive out to historic Anchorage, where this handsome bistro is serving Southern comfort favorites, plus an extensive selection of craft beer and bourbon. The best seats in the house are around the lavish, banquette-lined bar and, particularly on chillier nights, on the covered terrace that sports a double-sided fireplace. The menu focuses on Southern classics, including a hot brown, shrimp & grits, fried chicken, and pork shoulder with cornbread, and truly shines at brunch, when you can indulge in the Village's fan-favorite red velvet pancakes topped with sweet Kahlua cream cheese, plus several twists on a Bloody Mary.