The Louisville Fantasy Restaurant Draft [Food & Dining]

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The Louisville Fantasy Restaurant Draft [Food & Dining]

25 Holy Grale

My roster would’ve been a bust without this beer haven (heaven?) occupying a former church. It is my in-town European escape. Joshua Lehman has been the chef for about nine months, and his goals go beyond pommes frites and pretzel loaves with beer cheese. “We’re still figuring things out,” Lehman says. “I tell my staff, ‘We’re gonna be just as good as Jack Fry’s across the street.’” I believe him. My favorite Louisville meal of all time was Easter Sunday at the Holy Grale. (That counts as going to church.) My wife and I split maple syrup-lacquered fried chicken confit and waffles, plus a duck hash with russet potatoes, pickled ramps, apples, fried duck egg. (1034 Bardstown Road) —JM
 
26 Havana Rumba

 

My sentimental choice. Usually once a month, my parents in Cincinnati come down to take me to dinner. “Want to try Rye?” I ask. My dad nods politely. It’s inevitable: “What about Havana Rumba?” he says. I’m basically an expert on Cuban food now because this is the only place we go. Plantains and yuca. If you want a sandwich, get the one with Spanish chorizo, roasted pork and Serrano ham. The shredded beef in the ropa vieja stew is the best thing on the menu. And just wait until you hear my dad pronounce “fricase de pollo.” Sounds like he’s rapping. (4115 Oechsli Ave., 12003 Shelbyville Road) —JM
 
27 Vietnam Kitchen 
Finally, finally, finally, Louisville has enough Viet-ish dining spots that I don’t have to drive all the way to Iroquois Manor every single time I need a fix of bún tôm thit nuóng chá giò (that’s the “J5” vermicelli noodle bowl to you, mister), but none of the wannabes is anywhere nearly as smack-upside-the-head authentically delicious as the real deal. Since the first time I stepped inside this unassuming dive in the 1980s, it has been — and remains — my favorite restaurant in the city. The only debate, really, is whether to abide with your craving for the tried-and-true or to order something new. Fortunately, you can do both and take the remainder home for the next day. Nothing makes me happier in the morning than to remember that I have a carryout box from VK in the fridge. If you’ve never tried a Vietnamese iced coffee, this is the place to take the plunge. So much sweeter than amphetamines! (5339 Mitscher Ave.) — MW
 
28 De La Torre’s 
With its emphasis on simple meats, seafood and cheeses — to say nothing of sangria — Spanish cuisine is my favorite. But despite living three minutes away, I was yet to visit this upscale restaurant, instead repeatedly looking in the window, then opting for the same owners’ livelier, more casual tapas bar next door, La Bodega (both will be closing in the near-ish future). But I had room under the salary cap for an upscale meal. The cheese plate, grilled calamari and juicy Castilian-style roasted lamb had me regretting not visiting earlier, even if it had been at my own expense — the true mark of a food writer’s endorsement. (1606 Bardstown Road) —ZE
 
29 Anchorage Cafe 
Barely inside the metro boundary, Anchorage Cafe is an island of local eating in the middle of an industrial pizza mogul’s empire. (This is literally Papa John’s land.) There are many hits — for breakfast, lunch and even small plates — including a delightful egg sandwich with house-made pork sausage. (11505 Park Road in Anchorage) —SH
 
30 Dragon King’s Daughter 
I have eaten heroic amounts of sushi here. Both cooked and uncooked rolls are prominently featured, but there is more than sushi. I know it is cliché, but really, there is something for everyone. Even my grandmother, who likes to go to Frisch’s Big Boy, happily ventures outside her box ordering from a menu that includes sashimi flatbread, kimchee beef tacos and even a selection of quesadillas. (1126 Bardstown Road) —MD
 
31 Lilly’s
Chef and owner Kathy Cary is the original purveyor of farm-to-table cuisine in this city. And almost 25 years later, she is still turning out inventive, perfectly executed dishes with nods to local farms. On a recent visit (the menu changes quite often) I ordered a Bibb salad that involved a honey-bourbon vinaigrette I wanted to drink with a straw. The crowd is usually made up of regulars, who have probably been eating at Lilly’s for that quarter-century. But don’t be deterred by an atmosphere that seems less-hip when compared with some newcomers. Fine food trumps all here. (1147 Bardstown Road) —MD
 
32 Coals Artisan Pizza
Every team needs a specialist, and Coals fits that bill nicely, delivering a variety of Italian treats such as arancini. But the real reason to go is a great selection of crisp-crusted pizzas, including The Waverly, with prosciutto, fig jam, Asiago, fresh mozzarella and Gorgonzola. (3730 Frankfort Ave.) —SH
 
33 Garage Bar
In Louisville Magazine’s ranking of top pizzas (“Pizzas That Deliver!,” December 2011), this NuLu service-station-turned-pizza-restaurant placed only ninth. I picked Garage Bar to proclaim in front of millions of readers what I’ve been ranting about privately since I first ate here: You naysayers don’t know a damn thing about pizza. Do fresh, seasonal and local ingredients bother you? Do you not like a salty and chewy crust with a crispy outside, baked to perfection in a wood-fired, Italian-made brick oven? (700 E. Market St.) —ZE
 
34 Majid’s
Yes, yes, Majid’s decor remains a bit trapped in the 1980s, when disco was queen and the whole Western world looked like one big cruise ship, possibly headed for Las Vegas. But get past the lavender-colored walls that match the servers’ ties and you will discover an eclectic menu unlike any other in the area. Majid Ghavami has always known his way around classic Persian approaches to lamb, grilled vegetables and fish, so in many ways the menu here is a carryover and upgrade of the menu at Saffron’s, which he used to own. One of the best-kept secrets of this St. Matthews hideaway is the lounge menu, where almost all of the 15 small plates cost $8 or less, and you’ll always find deals on unusual wine bottles from unexpected regions of viniculture. Standout plates are the lamb pops, the stuffed quail and the kashke bademjon (roasted eggplant with homemade yogurt). That last one: so fun to say, so delectable to swallow. (3911 Chenoweth Square) — MW
 
35 Maido
Sushi on a patio that would fit right in on a California beach. (1758 Frankfort Ave.) —JM
 
36 Le Gallo Rosso
I’ve described the mozzarella-stuffed meatballs here as softballs, bocce balls, meaty orbs and “as big as Magic 8 Balls.” I’m all for the handmade pasta at Mozz and for Vincenzo’s being, well, Vincenzo’s. But sometimes I just want a mound of spaghetti from a box, some unpretentious tomato sauce and spheres of meat I could shot-put. (1325 Bardstown Road) —JM
 
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