TUCKED INTO THE ROLLING HILLS OF BLUEGRASS COUNTRY, DERBY CITY IS RENOWNED for its thundering thoroughbreds and barrel-aged bourbon. But Louisville’s legacy is on the move. This mid-Southern city is experiencing a restaurant renaissance, surging past cities twice its size. Chefs all over Louisville (pronounced Lou-uh-vuhl by locals) are rewriting their city’s story, plate by plate. Here are a few favorites you must sample on your next visit.
New York trained with Korean roots, Chef Edward Lee fell in love with Louisville on a visit 13 years ago and never looked back. At 610 Magnolia, he blurs the line between art and food, creating impeccable dishes that are a riot of local flavor, color, and texture. I devoured every dish set before me, but none turned my head like his Pecan Pie. His deconstructed interpretation was a surrealist twist on tradition: a pecan financier (a springy French cake) served with a smear of sticky pecan pie filling, cocoa nib ice cream, and topped with coconut whipped cream.
610 Magnolia Ave.
If 610 Magnolia is Chef Edward Lee’s studio, then Milkwood is his playground. Located beneath the Actors Theatre downtown, this dark and cozy hideaway boasts a playful menu of global takes on hearty Southern fare. Don’t miss the Pork Belly Bánh Mì (think Vietnamese po-boy), Burgers on Pretzel Buns, and low- and-slow dishes like Braised Oxtail.
316 W. Main St.
Blue Dog Bakery
I could list a hundred, but here are just a few reasons why I fell in love with this quaint café and bakery in Louisville’s charming Crescent Hill neighborhood: the way the sun pours in through their bank of picture windows, dappling and drenching everything with warm buttery light; the way their skilled bakers give the European-style doughs the time they need to rest and rise; the way one taste of their pastries instantly transports you to a dreamy Parisan café. Do yourself a favor: grab a cup of coffee and a maple- pecan morning bun, find a seat by the window, and watch the trains rattle by. It’s how life used to be and ought to be.
2868 Frankfort Ave.
With several James Beard Award nominations, Chef Kathy Cary has no need to impress anyone, which is probably why her food is so grounded and good. Signature dishes like her Kentucky Bibb Salad never leave the menu and receive seasonal makeovers. And don’t miss her sought-after ice cream sandwiches; I challenge you to find a flavor you don’t like!
1147 bardstown Rd.
Rye on Market
Everything about this cozy bistro simmers with authenticity, from the cookbook collection perched over the kitchen to the heritage hog farmer who moonlights as a server. Dinner began with an impeccably crafted bourbon cocktail topped with a gorgeous charred lemon and culminated with comforting Milk- Braised Pork.
900 E. Market St.
Proof on Main
Just like the collections of contemporary art that adorn their walls, the carefully crafted cocktails
at this chic Louisville hotspot are intriguing and inspiring. The barkeepers at Proof on Main measure, muddle, swirl, and shake together local liquors, small-batch mixers, and rare tinctures to create cocktails that are meant to be savored. And while they do beautiful things with bourbon, their nibbles like Smoked Catfish Dip, house-made charcuterie, and Roasted Brussels Sprouts are not to be missed.
702 W. Main St.
Anchoring the city’s Whiskey Row entertainment district, this hotspot is a culinary Grand Central Station. We came hungry and treated ourselves to the Smokehouse Sampler (a bonanza of barbecue favorites) and a Bubba Burger topped with pretty much everything on the menu. And we couldn’t help but finish with the Wilber Sundae: brown butter praline ice cream with a bourbon- caramel ribbon served over cinnamon-infused pork rinds and sprinkled with candied bacon.
127 W. Main St.
WHERE TO STAY:
When the 1920s roared through Louisville, they left behind the opulent Brown Hotel, a Georgian Revival marvel famous for its elegant trappings, grand ballrooms, and the iconic Hot Brown sandwich—roast turkey topped with tomatoes, bacon, and a cheesy Mornay sauce—which you can still order, any time of day.
335 W. Broadway
The Urban Bourbon Trail
Stop by the Visitor’s Center and pick up your Urban Bourbon Passport, a handy booklet
that highlights the city’s best bourbon-serving bars and restaurants and their signature cocktails and dishes.
301 S. Fourth St.