Spring is in the air and in horse country that means big hats, bourbon and the Kentucky Derby. I joined Jo on the vlog today to talk about some of our first-hand experience as former Louisvillians and the insider scoop on Derby, how to dress, and all of the events throughout the two week festival. Check it out here.
But the number one rule for anyone visiting Louisville is you EAT WELL. There is way too much good food in the ‘Ville to consider visiting a chain.
You can obviously go to TripAdvisor and get some great tips, but here is a rundown on the direction I suggest you take when choosing your meals during any Derby-ing you may do.
If you’re up for a full scale eggs, bacon, pancakes—the works—breakfast to start your day, check out one of these locals. Most are located in great areas of town, so you can walk off that full stomach with some local shopping.
North End Cafe is a personal favorite of mine. There are two locations in Louisville, it has a great menu and prides itself on the wholesome options. (If you choose somewhere else for your breakfast needs, this is a great option for any other meal of the day.)
Toast on Market is a one-of-a-kind stop. The menu is less extravagant than some may want if really wanting to do breakfast big, but everything is made from scratch. It’s in the East Market downtown area and close to NuLu, a great place to head for some local shopping after breakfast.
Highland Morning is another local favorite, but I have never eaten there myself. It touts numerous awards and a full breakfast menu. It’s located in the heart of the Highlands, a Louisville-centric neighborhood full of some of the best shopping.
Wild Eggs is a favorite primarily found in the Ohio Valley region and several locations in the area. The service and atmosphere are top notch and the menu is full throttle and even includes a gluten free menu.
Coffee & Pastries
If getting up early enough to get a table for breakfast isn’t the way you want to start your day (or big breakfasts just aren’t your cup of tea), but you still need your java and a little something… Louisville’s coffee and donuts are not to be overlooked. If you’re a sucker for small, local coffee shops like me, these don’t disappoint.
Heine Brothers can be found in nearly any corner of the city–it’s just that well-loved! It’s a must-stop any time Mingus and I are in the area and we almost always keep their beans in our freezer for our Sunday morning coffee. It’s perfect for grabbing a cup and running (several have drive-thrus), or for starting your morning with some relaxation in the cafe.
There are numerous small coffee shops throughout the city. Quills Coffee is in the Highlands and the epitome of a cozy coffee shop–and not to mention good coffee. Please and Thank You has a downtown (East Market) and a Frankfort Avenue location. It even offers breakfast options beyond pastries.
If a sweet start of pastries is more your thing, DONUT worry… Nords Bakery is family owned–but we warned! The donuts can sell out fast in the morning. It’s a favorite by any donut lover in Lou. Plehn’s Bakery, has been around since 1924 and is still going strong and for good reason.
I’m not going to sit here and pretend I know all there is to know about dining in Louisville or that I’m some sort of restaurant reviewer. Honestly, there really are so many great places and it’s all dependent on what you’re in the mood for and what kind of price you are looking to pay.
My top tip for choosing a place is to use the LEO Weekly Reader’s Choice List. These are the top picks in every category imaginable by the REAL people of Louisville. Who better to trust? Want steak? Sushi? Pizza? Mediterranean? Check this list. (You can also find great ideas for other entertainment and shopping on this list.)
Ramis’s Cafe on the World is my personal favorite place to take anyone visiting the city. It’s in the Highlands–an area close to my heart– has a unique and great atmosphere and the menu is one-of-a-kind. I’ve never had a single thing that left me disappointed. Much of the menu is vegetarian-friendly and all of it is very affordable.
Proof on Main is where you’re going to pay top dollar, but it prides itself on both the food and the artistic culture. Part of the 21c Hotel and Museum, Proof will give you much to talk about–even its bathrooms. You definitely need a reservation if you plan to dine here during derby.
Lilly’s Bistro in the Highlands is another fine dining experience that does not disappoint no matter what you order. The menu changes frequently, so be up for anything. Mingus and I personally know the family who own this business. They don’t just cook incredibly for business, but it’s just in their nature. They can’t make bad food!
Brews, Burgers & Lunch
BBC (Bluegrass Brewing Company) is a favorite local distillery. If you want some all-American food options and a great brew, you can find BBC in two locations, both differing slightly in their offerings. And if you’re going for a burger, get a bison burger.
Cumberland Brews is where we would take someone who wants a small-shop brewery. Enjoy a meal and a brew–or just a brew–and even sit on the streets of Bardstown Road to take in what it feels like to be a local.
Hammerheads is not the easiest to find, but once there it’s affordable and hard to choose which direction to go with your order. The good news is, it’s all SO good. It’s small and doesn’t take reservations, so you may find getting a table a little tricky. The menu has a wide variety of unique options.
Frank’s Meat & Produce is not one you will simply stumble upon (or perhaps that’s the only way to find it?) Consider this my hidden gem I’m sharing you that you won’t find on other lists. It’s so off the radar, but the best bang for your buck. Seriously, you pay $5-$8 and get SO much food! (Also, it’s not far from Churchill.)
Ice Cream & Treats
Where are you most likely to find something unique and different to crush your sweet cravings? Given, a lot of the restaurants you are likely to dine at will have a fabulous dessert menu, if you’re just out for a treat, these all have numerous locations in the city.
Homemade Pie and Ice Cream Kitchen, is our favorite swing through stop for something sweet these days. Why? Not only is it homemade and delicious, but it will fill whatever craving you and anyone in your group has. They offer everything from ice cream and pies to cookies and cakes and more. Honestly, the hardest part is deciding what to get!
If you know you are in an ice cream mood, though, Graeter’s and Comfy Cow are both stellar options with a wide variety of unique flavors. I wouldn’t be surprised if they even added some specialty options during Derby festivities.
If you’re more of a frozen yogurt person, there are options for this throughout the city. And for those of you with food allergies–like my husband–check out Annie May’s Sweet Cafe. An amazing selection of allergy-friendly treats.
Be warned, even on a non-eventful weekend, some of the best breakfast spots will have a decent wait, so Derby weekend will only mean for that much more of a crowd. Get there early, plan for a wait, or try for a reservation if they take them.
Enjoy your Louisville experience, and make sure the food is part of it.
If you’re a Louisville native/local, leave your top choices or recommendations in the comments!