Perhaps best known as the host of the Kentucky Derby, Louisville also boasts numerous restaurants along the banks of the Ohio River. From dining in an art gallery to sampling some hillbilly tea with your meal, the dining scene here is eclectic and vibrant. We explore ten must-try restaurants in Louisville.
Serving as the inspiration for the hotel in which Tom and Daisy Buchanan are married in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, the Seelbach Hilton is a Louisville landmark. The Seelbach brothers, recent immigrants from Germany, built the hotel in 1905 as an American homage to the great French Renaissance hotels of Europe. As Kentucky’s only AAA Five Diamond Award-winning restaurant, fine dining at The Oakroom offers impeccable American cuisine with a legendary ambiance. The chef is also dedicated to using sustainable ingredients for his seasonal menus, sourcing from local farmers in addition to the best of international specialties. On the menu, one can find strawberry-rhubarb baklava, burgoo featuring Kentucky-fried rabbit leg and Alaskan halibut.
Decca creates an intimate atmosphere inside a 19th-century historic building. Meals can be enjoyed in the casual dining room or in the outdoor courtyard. Decca also boasts a drinks lounge, located in the cellar for a Prohibition-era vibe. Works by local artists hang on the walls and musicians are on hand nearly every weekend to complete the atmosphere.
Bistro Le Relais can be found in the historic airport terminal of Bowman Field. Serving French cuisine, the restaurant offers a one-of-a-kind atmosphere with the interior reminiscent of the set of Casablanca and outdoor dining with a view of airplanes taking off and landing. Charles Lindbergh landed the ‘Spirit of St. Louis’ at Bowman Field in 1927, and Bistro Le Relais takes its diners back to this era. On Sunday evenings, the Bistro offers live jazz to complete the ambiance. Accompanied by an extensive wine list, highlights of the menu include bouillabaisse and steak au poivre. Additionally, guests can choose a four-course Chef’s choice prix fixe dinner
The Brown Hotel is where it all began for the Kentucky Hot Brown sandwich, introduced by chef Fred K. Schmidt in 1926. The dish consists of an open-faced turkey and bacon sandwich topped with Mornay sauce, which is then baked until the bread and sauce begin to brown. The Hot Brown quickly became popular with the hotel’s guests and is now a staple of Kentucky cuisine. Opening its doors three years before the birth of the Hot Brown to compete with the Seelbach Hilton downtown, The Brown Hotel is now on the National Register of Historic Places and houses two restaurants, the casual J. Graham’s Cafe and the more formal English Grill.
Also located downtown, Vincenzo’s is a fine dining restaurant specializing in Italian dishes. Gourmet pastas, veal, steak, and seafood are all served in a romantic setting that Vincenzo’s describes as ‘classic old world wining and dining’. Given this old world appeal, the restaurant is quite formal and perfect for a special occasion; celebrity guests have included the likes of Muhammad Ali, Sylvester Stallone, and Stephen Spielberg.
Proof on Main is housed inside the 21C Museum Hotel and is thus part contemporary art gallery and all upscale casual dining experience. Fusing the concept of a trendy, modern hotel and contemporary art museum, the regional 21C chain began in Louisville. Proof on Main hosts changing exhibitions, creating a chic ambiance more often found in a much bigger city. Much of the fresh produce and meat used to create the locally flavored cuisine is sourced from the owners’ own Woodland Farm; enjoy the bison burger or Skuna Bay salmon with farm braised greens or ‘sizzlin’ grits’, and top off the evening with one of the more than fifty bourbons on the menu.
Jack Fry’s offers modern Southern and American fare and a relaxed dining experience. Advertising ‘the best night in town’, Jack Fry’s has been a part of the Louisville establishment since 1933. Harking back to a time when Al Capone was a frequent guest in the city, the restaurant is a frequent winner of the local Best in Louisville awards. Jack Fry himself was a massive fan of sports, and the framed photos adorning the walls pay homage to his passion. Try the warm brie salad, shrimp, and grits or signature Jack’s burger.
Seviche serves ample vegetarian options and a gluten-free menu as well as delicious seafood. Try dishes such as fava bean succotash, lemon jalapeño butter, and house bacon complement the sea scallops, and wild Alaskan salmon is served with black lentils, jalapeño basil pesto, artichoke, capriole goat cheese and sweet peppers.
Marcos Lorenzo emigrated from Cuba and opened three locations of Havana Rumba to showcase the delicious fare of his native land. Authentic Cuban dishes include empanadas, pork tamales and papa rellenas, but guests can also enjoy Havana Rumba’s exquisite mojitos and tapas, or choose from the wide selection of entrees, including vegetarian options. The house specialty is the parrilla habanera: Palomilla steak, roasted chicken and grilled Spanish chorizo served with tostones, rice, black beans and sweet plantains. The dining room atmosphere is casual, but festive, perfect for a large group outing. Finish the meal with a Cuban coffee to kick-start post-dinner festivities.