Known as the Heart of the Bluegrass and the Horse Capital of the World, Lexington, Kentucky is also the home of many distinctive art galleries and dining establishments that showcase local culture and cuisine. Historic venues offer extras such as live music or panoramic views of the city that keep patrons coming back for more. Enjoy the signature Kentucky Hot Brown, USDA Prime Cuts of steak, or locally sourced vegan fare across the city, from the banks of the Kentucky River to the center of downtown.
Bar, Restaurant, American, Salad Bar, Gluten-free, Steakhouse, $$$
For the best USDA Prime Cuts of steak in Central Kentucky, locals know to go to Malone’s. This king of the Lexington steakhouses is locally owned and operated by the Bluegrass Hospitality Group, who also manage Sal’s, a more casual steakhouse, and Harry’s, a high-class sports bar. Started up by local entrepreneur Brian McCarty after he tasted prime cut steak in Chicago, Malone’s has hosted a number of celebrities, whose portraits in the restaurant line the walls, and consistently offers top-quality food and even better service in a fine, yet relaxed atmosphere.
Located on the banks of the Kentucky River, Hall’s is a scenic drive from the heart of Lexington and well worth the effort. Patrons can enjoy local specialties – such as the Kentucky Hot Brown or fried catfish – whilst dining on the screened patio overlooking the river or in the spacious dining room indoors. One should not leave without sampling the signature dish, Hall’s beer cheese. This cheese spread is a local legend, and has made sure the restaurant remains a stop on the Beer Cheese Trail through Winchester and the surrounding area. Hiking enthusiasts can also enjoy a small trail that begins behind the restaurant and leads to some stunning views of the river below.
Lexington’s Shakespeare and Co. was opened by Dubai businessman Edward Saad, who earned a doctorate in Chemical Engineering from the University of Kentucky, a stone’s throw from the venue’s location. Housed in a historic building on Short Street, the restaurant quickly became known for its over-the-top Victorian decor. Ideal for a weekend brunch, Shakespeare and Co. serves cafe-style food for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The restaurant also houses a patisserie with a selection of melt-in-the-mouth gourmet chocolates.
Located directly across the street from Shakespeare & Co., Saul Good is another excellent choice for downtown dining. The restaurant is locally owned and operated, with two other locations in Lexington. The menu features salads, sandwiches, pizzas as well as dinner entrees in an upscale pub atmosphere. Original dishes include the Kentucky Hot Brown Pizza, decorated with creamy mornay sauce, ham, turkey, bacon, cheddar-jack cheese, and fresh tomatoes. Saul Good also offers a generous drinks menu and a relaxing cozy atmosphere to unwind over lunch, dinner, or cocktails.
Touting the motto ‘comfort food with a conscience’, Doodles offers breakfast and lunch, serving local organic food whenever possible. The menu is simple, and with fresh ingredients, always delicious. For breakfast, try the Pigs and Puffs – four pieces of crisp bacon resting on top of four fluffy beignets, surrounded by fresh fruit. For lunch, go for the Kentucky po’ boy sandwich – tender and crispy fried shrimp on local bread with lettuce, tomato and a Creole sauce. The intimate cafe setting is a great place to start the day in close proximity to local boutiques and art galleries.
Jonathan at Gratz Park is the Lexington destination for fine dining. Chef Jonathan Lundy, originally from Central Kentucky, returned to the area and opened the restaurant in 1998 after studying under Emeril Lagasse in New Orleans. The cuisine is largely inspired by traditional Kentucky dishes, to which Lundy adds a signature twist, such as chicken liver pate fritters or pulled pork BBQ pot stickers. The restaurant itself is located in the heart of the historic district of downtown, among 19th century buildings that recall a bygone era. Chef Lundy is also a sculptor, whose art has been featured in an exhibition at the Lexington Art League nearby.
For the best views of Lexington, look no further than Skybar. Located on the penthouse level of one of the tallest buildings downtown, Skybar is a casual upscale restaurant by day and a vibrant dance club by night. Fresh sushi and tapas are the highlights of the menu, and the view is breathtaking at all times of day. Skybar is perfect for a late dinner that transitions smoothly into a great night out with the bar’s signature bourbon cocktails.
Natasha’s dances a fine line between being a café, live music and theatre venue, boutique and bar. The bistro has the balance of being all of these mastered. Located across the street from the historic Kentucky Theatre, Natasha’s is an excellent choice to begin a night out. With an eclectic culinary variety, enjoy anything from vegan Thai curry to an ole’ fashioned chicken pot pie while listening to local jazz or folk music. The adjoining boutique is an equally eclectic blend of jewellery, art and clothing, which can also be purchased online.
The Brontë Bistro is a full service restaurant nestled within the magnificent Joseph-Beth Booksellers, a local gem in itself. The Bistro serves cafe-style food and coffee for breakfast, lunch and dinner. William Shatner has been known to frequent the Bistro while visiting his horse farm in nearby Versailles, KY. The Alpine baked pasta puts a delightful twist on local favorite macaroni and cheese. Charmingly, the cocktails are named after books, such as the Catcher in the ‘Rye’ and Clockwork Orange Creamsicle.
Lexington is a college town and this list would not be complete without mention of a favorite of University of Kentucky students since 1971, Tolly-Ho. Although the restaurant has since moved from its original location just off campus on South Limestone, the Ho Burger and Cheddar Tots remain just as popular. Renowned for being open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with the sole exception of Christmas Day, Tolly-Ho is a staple of campus life. The walls are lined with university, sorority and fraternity paraphernalia, arcade games and pinball machines. For authenticity and the best burger in town, go no further than Tolly-Ho.