If you haven’t fallen in love with the Bluegrass State of Kentucky, make plans to visit quickly. The state is filled with unique attractions, quaint towns, the friendliest people, and delicious food. Louisville is one of my favorite places to indulge in the culinary scene. Here are some delicious restaurants to try in Louisville that I’ve had and loved in the past. I also recommend a few items to try at each. And remember, calories don’t count on vacation or road trips, right?
1. Brown Hotel Lobby Bar & Grill
Kentucky is known for its luscious, creamy comfort food called Hot Brown, an iconic turkey and cheese dish created in Louisville over a hundred years ago by Chef Fred Schmidt at the Brown Hotel. The open-faced turkey sandwich is topped with crispy bacon, tomatoes, and a delicate mornay sauce. I’ve eaten the Hot Brown in many cities and states, but there is nothing like having it where it originated.
You can even have the Hot Brown served late at night in the Brown Hotel’s swanky Lobby Bar and Grill. You may even get lucky to time it when the pianist is entertaining. Kill two birds with one stone — eat a traditional Kentucky food item and see the historic hotel simultaneously. If you don’t think you would like this dish, there are plenty of others. My daughter swears by the lobster mac & cheese.
Fun Fact: The Brown Hotel is a member of the Historic Hotels of America group, dedicated to preserving properties with “maintained authenticity, sense of place, and architectural integrity.”
2. Mussel & Burger Bar
Do you find mussels and burgers on the same menu a bit odd? Surprisingly, they fit together well in this hip and trendy Louisville eatery. Mussel & Burger Bar is a fun place to grab an appetizer, have drinks, or eat a meal. I doubt you’ll find fresher mussels in Louisville than right here; let alone the creative recipes such as blue cheese beer pancetta and curry cream.
I’m a burger fan. I recommend the Southern Bell, with fried green tomatoes, pimento cheese, and remoulade sauce on a yummy pretzel bun. It’s served with the best sweet potato fries I’ve ever had with a pineapple dipping sauce. Are you drooling?
Another dish that screams deliciousness is the Dates in a Blanket appetizer. The dates are stuffed with goat cheese and roasted garlic then wrapped in Nueske’s bacon. And did I mention that Mussel & Burger Bar grinds their meat in-house daily? There are two locations to enjoy the food here: downtown Louisville and Taylorsville Road.
3. Wild Eggs
Wild Eggs, a Louisville favorite, is one of the best breakfast, lunch, or brunch places with a bright and cheery dining room and a killer menu. The palate-pleasing dishes at Wild Eggs will throw you for a loop with some of their original combinations.
I loved the potato casserole with a hash brown potato base. The dish is baked with sour cream, tomatoes, poblano peppers, mushrooms, sausage, cheese, spices, and onions, then topped with an egg made any way you like. I chose poached. Don’t miss the fresh-squeezed orange juice.
Pro Tip: Use the “join waitlist” on the website to get in line so you don’t have to wait for a table.
4. Toast On Market
Toast on Market is a busy café serving breakfast and lunch, plus boasting free Wi-Fi service. The menu is filled with things that will make your mouth water, but none so much as the sinfully delicious cinnamon rolls slathered with frosting. I’m a breakfast lover, picking that over lunch any day of the week, so I am recommending any item that has homemade biscuits. Though, the Monte Cristo is pretty darned tasty, too.
Vegetarian? Not to worry — the tofu scramble is a nice option, as is the grilled cheese and roasted tomato soup for lunch.
Don’t you love a restaurant that has brunch? Toast on Market also has several exciting brunch cocktails and boozy cold brews as an added bonus. My pick is the Nutty Irish cold brew with Frangelico and Bailey’s Irish Cream.
Pro Tip: Toast on Market is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.
5. Royal’s Hot Chicken
I love Louisville’s NuLu district, and one of the top reasons to visit is to enjoy a meal from Royals Hot Chicken. This stylish counter-serve restaurant is so cute that even if you don’t usually take pictures of your food at restaurants, you may be tempted here. Royal’s has terrific fried chicken tenders, which to me is both a starring meal choice and one that pairs well with nearly everything. They even have chicken tender tacos!
I’m also big on the side dishes served at this southern locale. The broccoli & bacon salad takes me back to one of the classic Betty Crocker recipes I’ve made for 30 years, while the creamy macaroni & cheese is another must.
Save room for an adult milkshake, which can also double as a dessert. Or, you can skip the alcohol add-in and just have a plain shake.
Pro Tip: I’m all about the dipping sauce, and you’ll have excellent selections at Royal’s Hot Chicken, like Mississippi Comeback and Alabama White BBQ. Can you tell I’m from the South?
6. The Old Spaghetti Factory
What appears to be a nostalgic establishment with an aroma of marinara sauce and garlic seeping out is the family-friendly Old Spaghetti Factory. This beloved chain, known in 13 states, is a fun place to bring a group or have a special occasion meal and feast on some tasty Italian eats.
When they were little, our kids loved it, and I recently went there with a friend and could have kicked myself for staying away for so long. Old Spaghetti Factory’s Famous Baked Lasagna is their best seller, and rightfully so, layered high with ground beef, pork, and four kinds of cheese. Entrées come with your choice of soup or salad, plus a yummy loaf of bread. I’m also a fan of the spicy Spaghetti Vesuvius, with sausage, meatballs, and chicken. This one packs the heat. Order the spumoni (cherry, chocolate, and pistachio ice cream) for dessert to calm down your taste buds.
Pro Tip: Need a family-sized meal on the go? The Old Spaghetti Factory has several options, including baked lasagna and chicken penne.
7. Proof On Main
Inside the 21C Museum Hotel Louisville is their signature restaurant, Proof on Main. The décor at this eatery makes me swoon, and the locally-sourced menu is exciting and current. Executive Chef Jeff Daily executes deliciousness in dishes like his farm egg frittata, brisket burnt end hash, and duck confit & dumpling.
Pro Tip: Proof on Main serves breakfast Monday through Friday, brunch on Saturday or Sunday, and dinner nightly.
8. Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse
If you ask the locals in Louisville where they go for a fancy date night or excellent steak dinner, they will immediately tell you at once, Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse. I ate at the Newport, Kentucky, location back in the 1990s for the first time, and the memory is still one of the best upscale meals I’ve had. There is no skimping or taking shortcuts at Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse; this place is legendary. The man himself is described as one of the “nation’s preeminent restaurateurs,” so to expect an exceptional dining experience is no exaggeration.
Choose USDA prime steaks, fresh seafood, or other steakhouse favorites for your meal, or experience the incredible raw bar offerings. It’s all quite a shock for this Atlantic Coast gal seeing that it’s Louisville, Kentucky. White tablecloths, an uber polished waitstaff, and thousands of twinkling crystals and lights take this night out to another level.
So many great dishes on the menu, but my favorites are the classic Caesar salad, Miyazaki filet (no sauce needed), and the fingerling potatoes. What a perfect meal. Be sure to save room for the three-layer carrot cake or the cinnamon roll bread pudding, writer Sara Broers’s all-time favorite dessert.
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