When people think of Kentucky, two things usually come to mind: horses and bourbon. However, did you know that Kentucky is also well known for its amazing food scene?
Louisville in particular is the frequent recipient of awards for its innovative restaurants and cuisine. In fact, the city was awarded the grand prize in the World Food Travel Association’s 2016 Food Trekking Awards.
Whether you’re interested in the Kentucky classics—hot browns, fried chicken, Derby pie, and Benedictine—or you’re craving something unique and unforgettable, Kentucky’s restaurants have you covered. Here are the 15 best Kentucky restaurants that deserve a visit during a trip to the Bluegrass State.
The English Grill is a fine dining establishment located in the iconic Brown Hotel that's best known as the birthplace of the hot brown. Kentucky's famous dish was invented at the English Grill back in 1926. It's an open-faced turkey sandwich covered in Mornay sauce and topped with bacon. If you've never had one, make sure to stop by the English Grill on your trip to Kentucky to get your first taste from the source.
Claudia Sanders Dinner House is a family-style southern restaurant opened by Kentucky Fried Chicken's founder Colonel Sanders-along with his wife Claudia-in 1968 after selling his famous restaurant chain to a group of investors. Sometimes referred to as "The Colonel's Lady," the restaurant serves traditional southern dishes like fried chicken, chicken livers, trout, catfish, corn muffins, and creamed spinach.
Proof on Main serves contemporary southern fare in a unique setting. Housed inside the 21c Museum Hotel, Proof on Main is the perfect place for a date. Start off by taking a walk through the hotel's contemporary art museum-it's open 24/7. After viewing and discussing 21c's interesting-and sometimes disturbing-art collection, head to Proof on Main to experience one of their exotic preparations of traditional southern fare. Top off the night at the Proof Bar where you can pick your poison from a list of more than a hundred different bourbons.
Kentucky might be the last place in the world where you'd expect to find amazing Cuban food, but Havana Rumba will shatter those expectations. The owner, Marcos Lorenzo, immigrated from Cuba in 2000, bringing family recipes with him that had been passed down for many generations. He opened the first Havana Rumba in 2004-preparing his old family recipes with fresh ingredients-and was met with quick success. Louisville is now home to three Havana Rumba locations, and a trip to any of them will make you lament America's stringent regulations on travel to Cuba.
In 2015, the Beaumont Inn was awarded the prestigious America's Classics Awards from the James Beard Foundation. While other awards handed out by the James Beard Foundation are typically given to edgy and unique restaurants, the America's Classics Awards goes to restaurants that best represent the food and atmosphere of their communities. The Beaumont Inn does just that: serving deep-fried comfort food and covering most everything in gravy, a visit to the restaurant at Beaumont Inn is a great way to experience traditional Kentucky food and culture.
Visiting the south without indulging in some barbecue is a shameful thing to do. Even vegetarians can enjoy a good barbecue restaurant like the Moonlite Bar-B-Q Inn because it's not just about the barbecue-it's also about the sides. Moonlite offers the best of the best when it comes to southern barbecue cuisine: slow-roasted pulled beef, pork, and mutton sandwiches covered in tangy barbecue sauce, and tender ribs paired with baked beans, cornbread, and potato salad.
Covington, Kentucky, is a quaint town in Northern Kentucky-just across the river from Cincinnati-that's well-known for its MainStrasse Village. MainStrasse Village is a collection of streets lined with German restaurants, pubs, and stores that will make you feel like you're living in the late 1800s. A trip to MainStrasse Village is incomplete, however, if you don't make it to Wunderbar-a quaint neighborhood pub offering craft beer and traditional German fare like sausage, beer cheese, and corned beef hash. If you're brave, try the giant pretzel. The name doesn't lie.
The Village Idiot is a gastropub offering locally-sourced, uniquely-prepared pub fare and southern favorites. For example, while fried chicken and waffles is a pretty standard southern dish, The Village Idiot takes it to another level by pairing their waffles with duck confit. Dining on The Village Idiot's patio while pairing one of their many appetizers and snacks with craft beer or a signature cocktail might be one of the most pleasant experiences you can have in Lexington.
Wallace Station is home to one of Guy Fieri's five favorite burgers: The Famous Big Brown Burger. Fieri's choice is a play on Kentucky's famous hot brown-locally sourced beef is topped with ham, bacon, tomatoes, and a white cheddar Mornay. Other offerings at the restaurant include typical deli fare: sandwiches, salads, and soups. However, the best part of your meal may come after dinner at Wallace Station's pastry case that's always full of freshly baked homemade goodies.
Bill's Restaurant can be easily identified by its signature awning: Eat@Bill's. While the restaurant has a simple name, nothing about the food at Bill's Restaurant is simple. Bill's serves American classics as well as fusion cuisine with Spanish, Indian, and French flavors. If you're brave, try "Bill's Special"; it's where the chef randomly brings out things he thinks you might like to try.
The Holly Hill Inn in Midway, Kentucky, is a fine dining restaurant offering locally sourced, traditional Kentucky food that's artfully prepared and served in a gorgeous and serene setting. The restaurant has been featured in numerous national publications, including CBS's The Dish, Southern Living, the San Francisco Chronicle, and The New York Times.
The Old Spaghetti Factory in Louisville, Kentucky, offers classic Italian cuisine in a unique and gorgeous setting. While it may be a chain-the kind of place you could eat at in cities outside of Kentucky-Louisville's Old Spaghetti Factory is special. The restaurant is lined in rich wood, located in a historic old downtown building, and almost always has horse-drawn carriages lined up in front of it, waiting to take couples on a romantic ride through the city. These elements combine to make The Old Spaghetti Factory feel like a uniquely Louisville experience and the perfect place for a romantic evening.
From the outside, The Silver Dollar in Louisville, Kentucky, looks like a whiskey bar. Located in a small structure with an awning promising "Whiskey By The Drink," what you'll find inside may surprise you. While the silver dollar certainly has whiskey-and plenty of it-the restaurant also has a full menu of traditional southern dishes influenced by Southern California preparations. If you want the perfect meal, stop by on the weekend during brunch and order either the cornbread pancakes or the enfrijoladas.
Smoketown U.S.A. in Louisville, Kentucky, is a bizarre combination of a barbeque restaurant and thrift shop. The restaurant serves up amazing barbecue and ribs as well as all of the traditional sides, and while the food is enough to merit a recommendation, there's more. Everything in the dining room is for sale-tables, chairs, artwork, lamps. If you want it, you can take it home with you. The owner shops local yard sales for items to include in the dining room, and local artists display artwork on the walls.
Eiderdown in Louisville, Kentucky, is an integral part of the thriving Germantown neighborhood. Located in a shotgun house on Germantown's Goss Avenue, Eiderdown offers French cuisine created from locally sourced ingredients. Signature cocktails are meticulously prepared by the restaurant's bartenders, and plenty of craft beers are always available on a rotation. While the service at Eiderdown can be hit or miss, the food is always inspiring. If you're looking for an after-dinner cocktail or craving live music, the neighborhood surrounding Eiderdown is full of upscale lounges and hole-in-the wall bars worth visiting.