WHERE TO EAT IN LEXINGTON, Kentucky
Visitors to Lexington, Kentucky arrive in the beautiful bluegrass region with one question: where do the Locals eat in Lexington. This is a ten-part dining series, based on the 20+ years Ace writers and readers have been eating out in Lexington, Kentucky. These are just of the few Old Reliables, where we eat.
This segment (one of ten, including downtown, the distillery district, Chevy Chase, campus, popular breakfasts and brunch spots, coffee, international markets, beer guide, patios, etc) focuses on a top-ten sampling of Lexington’s local-oriented food, drink, and dining options within walking distance of downtown (this includes the Rupp Arena neighborhood in west downtown, over to the courthouses in east downtown).
a la lucie 159 N. Limestone 859.252.5277. Though the kitsch may feel a little dated now, this tiny pink palace defined small, quirky, and pricey for Lexingtonians in search of shabby chic eclectic fine dining when it opened decades ago. The fried-green-tomato BLT is still a great lunch, and people-watching across the street from the Courthouse rarely disappoints. (Sidewalk tables in summer.)
Alfalfa is located across the street from the downtown public library at 141 E. Main Street. Opened in the 70s, Alfalfa relocated from its 30 year home on UK campus to downtown, next door to the Arts Center in 2004. And the Birkenstocks followed. Weekend brunch highlights include the buckwheat blueberry pancakes, but if you’re feeling more Lunch-y than Brunch-y, the Hoppin John and Alfalfa avocado grill will do nicely. Long a mainstay for hippies and vegetarians, there are just as many capitalist carnivores lined up for Sunday brunch with their SUVs idling outside.
Buddha Lounge offers fresh sushi at 109 N. Mill Street, right in downtown Lexington. Other options include sashimi and Korean tacos.
Columbia’s Steakhouse 201 N. Limestone. 859.253.3135. The downtown location is Lexington’s oldest continuously operating restaurant. Old school meat and potatoes, famous for the Nighthawk Special (tenderloin); ask about manager Flo Cowley’s homemade pies. Sidewalk tables in summer. Flo’s homemade chili in the winter.
Dudley’s 259 W. Short Street. 859.252.1010. Upscale Southern with a farm-to-table style that goes back decades. You can’t go wrong with the Pasta Dudley, or the Downtown Debbie Brown variation on Kentucky’s famous Hot Brown (though the bacon on the past few visits was a little flaccid, that was hopefully anomalous). Exquisite rooftop garden open in season, designed by Jon Carloftis.
Ellos is a taco joint at 406 South Broadway that rivals Lexington’s west side taquerias for authenticity (and it’s just a quick walk up the Broadway hill from Rupp Arena, leaving sports fans and Lexington visitors with no excuse for eating at the fast food chains that border the Arena). Tacos are available Latino (cilantro and onion); American (lettuce, cheese and tomato); or Wildcat (American plus Latino and sour cream). Expansions are underway, but for now, plan to carry out, or to eat on the sidewalk. Lunch for two will often run $10 bucks or less.
Jonathan at Gratz Park 120 W. Second Street. 859.252.4949. Located on the first floor of Lexington’s charming boutique Gratz Park Inn, expect inspired Southern fine dining from award-winning chef/proprietor, Jonathan Lundy that relies on fresh, seasonal, and local. Try the bar or patio if the dining room feels a little…conservative. Ace favorite menu items: country ham pot stickers and the fried green tomato salad (but the grilled Caesar is hard to top). Don’t even get us started on the Spalding’s Doughnut Bread Pudding (a recipe from his cookbook he was kind enough to share with Ace readers). Click here to purchase Jonathan’s Bluegrass Table: Redefining Kentucky Cuisine for a great overview of Lexington and Kentucky cuisine. Closed, Summer 2014. The Jax is at the corner of Limestone and Short at 101 W. Short Street Lexington KY. Pricey, but tasty craft cocktails, and pricey dinner fare (pasta with chicken for $23.99). Happy hour starters and prices are reasonable. Closed, 2014. Limestone Blue 133 N. Limestone Lexington KY 859.367.0133. Good salads and sandwiches. Open for weekend brunch also.
Nat’s is a (literal) hole in the wall at 111 S. Upper Street (if you blink you’ll miss it), primarily serving Lexington’s late night bar crowd with authentic Thai. Specials might include Rendang (Indonesia beef curry stew), green curry with pork belly, stir fried curry with Swai fish, or Som Tom. Place your order at the outside window and sit on the street or the Irish pub next door.
Pies & Pints Combining two of Lexington’s favorites: craft pizza and craft beer, it’s no wonder this spot has quickly become popular for locals. They offer 36 rotating craft beer taps and eclectic toppings for a pizza that is way more than average.
Saul Good 123 N. Broadway Lexington KY. 859.252.4663.
Shorty’s 163 West Short Street. 859.309.3813. Lexington had been in desperate need of a downtown grocery for decades, and this steps up as an in-between urban market, with deli fare and wine tastings. Sidewalk tables in summer.
Sidebar Grill 147 N. Limestone 859.225.8883. Good black bean burger and daily specials.
Spalding’s Bakery 760 Winchester Road. 859.252-3737. It is no longer located downtown, but no trip to Lexington would be complete without sampling their world-famous donuts. When they sell out for the day, the doors close, so go early, and hit the ATM first: cash-only.
Table 310 310 W. Short Street. 859.252.5277.
French-inspired small plates and attitude.Voted Best Decadent Desserts by the Ace readers, s ave room for the inspired sweets by award winning pastry chef, Stella Parks, named a best new pastry chef 2012, Food and Wine Magazine. (Parks has departed and is busy at work on a cookbook.) Now open for weekend brunch. Expect French-inspired service as well. Changed concept to Cantina as a part of their “travel series.” Their new menu is locally sourced but Latin inspired.
Tony’s Steak and Seafood 401 W Main St 859.243.0210. Located across from Rupp Arena at The Square, serves upscale cuisine of steak and seafood, along with a raw bar and many many bourbons.
Village Idiot 307 W. Short Street Lexington KY across Short from Table 310. Gastropub. (Stick with the beer.)
Also open downtown are
Cheapside Bar and Grill, Lexington Diner at the corner of Short and Upper, Shorty’s, Natasha’s on Esplanade and Portofino on Main, both near the Kentucky Theatre.
With the exception of Spalding’s, everything included here is within walking distance of Rupp Arena/downtown Hilton/Hyatt/or Gratz Park Inn, as long as you’re wearing comfortable shoes, and are in decent shape.
New to downtown in 2012
Henry Clay’s Public House 112 N. Upper 859.368.7754. Street Specializing in classic and contemporary cocktails, extensive craft beer and bourbon selection.
Lexington Beerworks 213 North Limestone. 859.359.6747. They don’t do food in-house, instead, they feature cuisine from Lexington Food Trucks, or from neighbors like Columbia’s (a couple doors down). The Flight and a Bite series is popular.
Parlay Social 257 West Short Street. Next door to Dudley’s. Upscale cocktails and bar food (gourmet grilled cheese, etc).
Shakespeare and Company 367 West Short Street. Dubai-based chain with a 28 page menu.
APPENDIX: Jefferson Street
Jefferson is a downtown-adjacent neighborhood (just a few-block walk from Rupp Arena), and has rapidly evolved to become one of Lexington’s most successful dining corridors.
County Club is one of the northernmost outposts of Jefferson Street, at 555 Jefferson Lexington KY 859.389.6555. Smoked meats are the star of this menu. There is a daily big salad (a “composed salad,”) and their poutine variations are always popular. Very few sides are offered, and portions are delicate, so don’t arrive expecting to consume half a cow and your weight in potato salad for $10 bucks. Think of it more as artisanal hipster barbecue.
Enoteca 191 Jefferson Street, (859) 687-0346. Owned by the proprietors of Wine + Market across Jefferson, the urban and urbane Enoteca features imaginative small plates and tapas, a great wine list, and double-decker patio.
Grey Goose 170 Jefferson. 859.233.1500. Voted best new restaurant by Ace readers in its first year, it was an early anchor to what is now the Jefferson Street dining corridor. Bar food. Not too pricey. The bacon-gorgonzola pizza is an Ace crew favorite. Great patio.
Nick Ryan’s Saloon 157 W. Jefferson. 859.233.7900. Expect upscale bar prices (shrimp and grits, truffle fries, etc). For better or worse, this Jefferson venue is the answer to the suburban drinking-dining typically offered everywhere from Merrick to the BHG Malone’s empire. Allow plenty of time to accommodate the service. It was voted Best New Restaurant by Ace readers the year it opened. “Veranda” open in season.
Smithtown Seafood is tucked into the elbow of Jefferson and West Sixth at 501 West Sixth Street, inside The Breadbox/West Sixth Brewing complex. This is the latest entry in Chef Ouita Michel’s imaginative bluegrass culinary empire, and features sustainably or responsibly raised seafood. Tilapia is farmed next door at the neighboring urban farm, Food Chain. Order at the counter for takeout, or have a seat inside West Sixth.
Stella’s Deli at 143 Jefferson Street was the first to blaze a culinary trail on Jefferson, decades ago. Locally-sourced deli fare (soups, sandwiches, etc). Delicate-size portions, but tasty. No seating until your entire party arrives, so coordinate accordingly. Side patio in summer nearly doubles the capacity.
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