In recent years, Louisville has gone from having the reputation as a “hidden gem” on the dining and entertainment scene to being duly recognized as one of the best cities in the U.S. for unique restaurants and bars. Early summer is a great time to visit Churchill Downs, as the iconic racetrack concludes its spring/summer meet by holding two more night racing events – for the Stephen Foster Handicap card on June 17 and on closing night June 30. June is also optimal for sampling some of the Derby City's many fine dining and drinking establishments, many of which have expansive outdoor seating areas to take advantage of the good weather.
Here’s a shortlist of dining and drinking spots to consider if you’re planning a trip to Louisville as Churchill Downs' summer meet wraps up:
In 2010, restaurateur Kevin Grangier opened the Village Anchor in a renovated train station in the tony eastern Louisville suburb of Anchorage. Since then, it has attracted a loyal following who enjoy signature dishes such as the Hotter Brown, Myra’s Fried Chicken, and the Fried Brussels Sprouts Salad. Downstairs, the Village Anchor’s offshoot The Sea Hag offers a $10-buck Tuesday deal that includes one draft beer or glass of wine. Saturday and Sunday brunch is also very popular here, and pictured is a highlight of that menu – Red Velvet Pancakes. (Last year, Grangier opened another restaurant near the Village Anchor called Picnic, which offers Kentucky Derby and Oaks box lunches; he’s also the proprietor of the high-end Louisville steakhouse Le Moo.)
The Olé Restaurant Group has made local waves in recent years with an expanding roster of original and flavorful joints, including Guaca Mole (see below), Mussel & Burger Bar, and Artesano Tapas. Recently, they’ve opened a new addition to Louisville’s burgeoning barbecue scene – Red Barn Kitchen. This place has all of the staples necessary for any self-respecting barbecue joint but with extra attention paid to both the smoking (daily) and the sides. There’s also ample outdoor dining space for good weather. Pictured: beef brisket.
3. Guaca Mole
This place stands out from the usual Americanized Mexican restaurants that populate the Midwest, offering unique takes on many of the traditional dishes as well as their own specialties, such as their original salsas and sauces (pictured) as well as three different guacamole dips. Braised short rib enchiladas are a personal favorite. Service takes a bit longer, as everything is cooked fresh, but it’s worth the wait.
Grind is one of several good restaurants in Louisville’s revitalized NuLu district just east of downtown, and it does the traditional burger and fries oh so right. The menu options are kept fairly basic, but there is a veggie burger and a Cuban sandwich in addition to the popular Grind (build-your-own) burger. The grass-fed beef is ground fresh daily. This place was recently profiled on Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.”
Derby-goers who are staying downtown have a lot of places to choose from when looking for a place to have a drink after a day at Churchill Downs. These two spots are located about two blocks south of the Fourth Street Live! entertainment hub that has become largely overrun by chain restaurants and general rowdiness in recent years, and are close to two of Louisville’s best concert halls – the Louisville Palace and Mercury Ballroom. 8UP is on the rooftop of the Hilton Garden Inn and opened about two years ago. It has a nice indoor bar and dining area, but 8UP’s draw is its spacious outdoor rooftop section with a good view of Louisville’s downtown skyline. A block west is Meta, a trendy lounge which recently started offering a small bites menu but is best experienced as a place to have a specialty cocktail while local DJ Matt Anthony spins rare R&B and soul.