Whether they’re helping their state to produce more than 95% of the world’s bourbon or muddling 100,000 mint juleps on Derby Days, Louisville denizens knows how to have a good time. With an exciting list of culinary newcomers, including an upscale cocktail bar and a neighborhood taqueria, Louisville is rounding out its foodie reputation as well. Here are five great new places to fuel up in Derby City.
Drinking and dancing takes a grown-up turn at Meta Bar, the effortlessly cool, soulfully scored debutante to the SoFo scene. Bartenders and co-owners Jeremy Johnson and Hannah Kandle called upon their extensive industry backgrounds (he at Blind Pig and Meat; she at Barbette, Basa, and Relish) for inventive riffs on classics that are strained into antique stemware sourced from shops around the Midwest. The attention to detail extends to the décor: Gold and sea foam hand-printed wallpaper and a Carrara marble bar reminds revelers of their gussied-up environs, while a meticulously crafted penny tile floor supports even the rowdiest of two-steppers. Check out the website pre-visit for offbeat happenings (think Wu-Tang Wednesdays and jazz happy hour on Thursdays), along with the latest on the lineup of food trucks you can expect to see parked right outside.
What to Order: The High Pant (bourbon, bitters, Fernet, ginger, orange) or the Opening Salvo (rye, Chartreuse, lime, grapefruit syrup).
Atlantic No. 5
Downtown dwellers have been revving up their daytime dining routine since October with Atlantic No. 5, a breakfast and lunch fix from the folks behind nearby supper spot Rye. Ham baguettes and double-decker grilled cheese sandwiches encourage quick visits from those on the go, but beware of the brightly inviting interior. Together with the lunchbox-lined wall, it could charm even the most hurried professional into newspaper-leafing mode. If you find yourself falling victim to its stay-a-while spell, embrace it with a coffee or two—they get theirs from local roasters Sunergos.
What to Order: Thai carrot soup (heirloom carrots, homemade curry, cilantro relish, coriander, yogurt) or the Kentucky sorghum salad (mixed kale, roasted assorted squash, feta cheese, pepitas, and wheat berries, and sorghum vinaigrette).
El Taco Luchador
The team behind Havana Rumba and Mojito Tapas restaurants decided to give Highlands crowds something to look forward to on New Year’s Day (besides a hangover) with the opening of the neighborhood’s very first taqueria, El Taco Luchador (938 Baxter Avenue, Louisville, 502/583-0440). The menu doesn’t stray far from a traditional track (al pastor and carnitas round out its taco selection), but when it does, you should, too. Pork rinds and tomatillo sauce complete a chicharron taco, and a desayuno torta fills locally sourced bolillo bread with bacon, smoked ham, and a fried egg. A patio caters to Sriracha-slinging sun-seekers, while the interior, with walls vibrantly outfitted by quirky luchador imagery and splashes of tangerine and lime, feels just as warm.
What to Order: The torta ahogada (refried black beans, Oaxaca cheese, pickled red onions, avocado, and tomato guajillo sauce).
Great Flood Brewing Co.
An out-the-door line of college crowds and craft beer enthusiasts came ready to sample the professional suds from the former home brewing trio that opened Great Flood Brewing Co. (2120 Bardstown Road, Louisville, 502/457-7711) earlier this month. For an across-the-board $4, patrons can choose from a selection of the brewery’s rotating—and growing—lineup of 15 recipes, or opt for a pint of one of the featured neighboring breweries on tap. The local love doesn’t stop there; artwork from local artists depicting brewing, the Great Flood of 1937, and the history of the city adorn the wall.
What to Order: First-timers best have it all with the flight—a $4 sampling that brings with it four tastes of what’s on tap.
The Joy Luck
Diners are surrounded by good greetings immediately upon entering The Joy Luck, whose bright red walls are etched with fortune cookie-worthy sayings (“stay humble” and “when was the last time you did something for the first time?”). This modern day display of a Chinese restaurant’s traditional feel-good elements was exactly what owner Alvin Lin was going for when he opened the venue—right down to the menu he created with his father. Expect the reliable sweet and sour shrimp and General Tso’s chicken, but opt for the Lin family favorites: short ribs in black bean sauce and the Cantonese roast duck. Drinks are well traveled, too; Lin teamed up with bartender Gary Dubord to create an Asian-inspired imbibing list.
What to Order: The pork dumplings and the Theodore (Yamazaki single malt, Chartreuse, Carpano Antica, ‘Elemakule Tiki Bitters, grapefruit twist).
Nicole Schnitzler is a freelance writer who covers travel, food, drink, lifestyle, and culture. When she is not planning her next adventure, she can be found exploring bakeries, record shops, and drink lists in her Brooklyn neighborhood. She is most comfortable with a pen in one hand and a fork in the other.
Photo Credit: Jeremy Johnson (Meta Bar); Original Makers Club (Atlantic No. 5); El Taco Luchador; Great Flood Brewing; Tim Valentino (The Joy Luck)
More by Nicole Schnitzler, Fodor’s Contributor