Secret’s Out: 13 Amazing Louisville Restaurants Locals Love

Louisville Kentucky, Fourth Street Live

With undeniable energy and the coolest vibes, Louisville, Kentucky, is a foodie's dream city. Known as “bourbon city” because the area has the best bourbon distilleries in the country, it's also a city that matches its food to the spirits. Chef-driven restaurants are popping up because of the bourbon renaissance, and there's never been a better time for tourists to take advantage. Here are the Louisville restaurants locals love, representing the authenticity of this innovative southern city.

Whether you're looking for inspired Southern cuisine or a bourbon-pairing steak house dinner, prefer Asian flavors or an Indian restaurant…Louisville, Kentucky, has it all.

What Food Is Louisville, Kentucky Famous For?

Mint Julep
Image Credit: Shutterstock.

Regional dishes reign in Louisville, and modern twists on classics are all the rage. Most notable is the Kentucky Hot Brown, though. It's an open-faced turkey and bacon sandwich that the city is famous for (find out where to get your Hot Brown below).

Louisville restaurants aren't shy about their love of bourbon, too. Wash down your meal with a classic mint julep – the official drink of the Kentucky Derby. While it's famously served in a sterling silver cup at the Derby, we promise it tastes just as good in a regular glass.

Let's remember dessert, too. Walter Kern invented The Kentucky Derby Pie in 1954 at the Melrose Inn. It's a cookie-like pie served warm with walnuts baked into a chocolate base. There are so many yummy reasons to visit Louisville, and the eclectic variety of restaurants is why we'll keep coming back.

Iconic Louisville Restaurants We Can't Keep a Secret

1. Cultured Cheese Shop

Cultured Cheese Shop Louisville, Kentucky
Image Credit: Cultured Cheese Shop.

Cultured Cheese Shop is a dream! This Louisville restaurant is on the ‘Butcher Block' of the Butchertown neighborhood – a compact and walkable stretch of retail and eateries. They specialize in local and unique farmstead cheeses with signature boards. Sample finely crafted cheese, charcuterie, and locally sourced spiced nuts. Enjoy a refreshing beverage on their patio with all the cheese!

2. La Bodegeguita de Mima

La Bodegeguita de Mima Louisville, Kentucky
Image Credit: La Bodegeguita de Mima.

Are you looking for a built-in atmosphere that makes you feel far away from Kentucky's largest city? Look no further than La Bodeguita de Mima! It's a Cuban-owned eatery that will transport you back to 1950s Havana. Enjoy live music, al fresco patio dining, and traditional Cuban dishes. La Bodegeguita de Mima is on the Louisville Margarita Mile as well!

3. Grassa Gamma

Grassa Gamma Louisville, Kentucky
Image Credit: Grassa Gamma.

Locals love to crowd Louisville's premier Italian restaurant, Grassa Gamma, because it's so good. The main dining room resembles an Italian courtyard with a 4-tier fountain and cobblestone architecture. The savory pizzas and pastas will satisfy you, but save room for the tiramisu. 

4. Noche Mexican BBQ

Noche Mexican BBQ
Image Credit: Noche Mexican BBQ.

A former 1920s church transformed into one of Louisville's hottest restaurants today. Dine amongst stained glass windows while you sip on margaritas at Noche Mexican BBQ. A tribute to Dia de Los Muertos is highlighted with a large La Catrina-esque mural beneath an elaborate vaulted ceiling. At the same time, an open view of the kitchen replaces what was once a pastor's pulpit.

5. J Graham's Cafe

J Graham's Cafe Louisville, Kentucky
Image Credit: Joyful Cleveland/J Graham's Cafe.

Located inside the historic Brown Hotel, you can't visit Louisville without eating the world-famous Hot Brown. The Hot Brown was born in the 1920s when Chef Fred Schmidt invented the open-faced turkey sandwich with bacon and Mornay sauce. It kept hungry dancers satisfied then, and it's still a guest favorite at the hotel today! The Hot Brown is one of Kentucky's famous dishes and a must-eat when visiting Louisville.

6. Wagner's Pharmacy

Wagner's Pharmacy Louisville, Kentucky
Image Credit: Wagner's Pharmacy.

Founded in 1922, Wagner's Pharmacy is near Churchill Downs in the South Louisville Area. It's part of derby history and a must if you travel for the Kentucky Derby. For three generations, Wagner's has been a staple for equestrians, and now the walls tell their stories. Visit their nostalgic gift shop and take advantage of the weekend brunch.

7. Jack Fry's

Jack Fry's Louisville, Kentucky
Image Credit: Caddis Fly/Jack Fry's.

Celebrating over 90 years of service, Jack Fry's is one of the most legendary Louisville restaurants. Jack Fry, the founder, was a gambling man who loved horse racing and boxing. The restaurant was a sportsman's hangout, with his bookmaking and bootlegging affairs happening discreetly in the back room. His story lives on as the restaurant serves guest favorites nightly. Check out Jack's Burger, which features a dry-aged chuck with caramelized onions, lettuce, tomato, and pickle on a brioche bun.

8. Shirley Mae's Cafe

Shirley Mae's Cafe Louisville, Kentucky
Image Credit: Shelley Brook Wildstrom/Shirley Mae's Cafe.

Guests flock to Shirley Mae's Cafe for real soul food. This cash-only restaurant is in a humble clay-brick building in downtown Louisville. Shirley Mae prides herself on the restaurant's open kitchen and delectable southern cuisine. She says, “The way I cook takes some time, but cooking is a waste of time if you don't do it right.” If that doesn't make you plan a visit, I don't know what will.

9. Shack In The Back BBQ

Shack In The Back BBQ Louisville, Kentucky
Image Credit: Rachel Schmitz/Shack In The Back BBQ.

Sit in a log cabin and enjoy burgoo, a spicy stew often made with wild game at Shack In The Back BBQ. It's a true Kentucky classic. The dish combines chicken, andouille sausage, pulled pork, and brisket with 13 different vegetables for a one-of-a-kind flavor. Smoked meats and BBQ staples are a staple at Shack In The Back BBQ.

10. Captain's Quarters

Captain's Quarters Louisville, Kentucky
Image Credit: Captain's Quarters Riverside Grille.

If you want waterside dining in Louisville, check out Captain's Quarters, which sits on the Ohio River. The Captain's Quarters Riverside Grille offers delicious seafood dishes, international cuisine, and an array of refined American fare – all served in a picturesque atmosphere. Don't pass on the Derby Pie, a local specialty featuring chocolate, walnuts, and caramel. 

11. Wild Eggs

Wild Eggs Louisville, Kentucky
Image Credit: Layla Naja/Wild Eggs.

Cast-iron cinnamon rolls make Wild Eggs one of the top Louisville restaurants for breakfast. This award-winning brunch spot is a favorite amongst tourists. Wild Eggs is known for seasonal dishes available for a limited time. Try the Carolina Casserole for an all-in-one meal of home fries, ham, bacon, peppers, and cheese.

12. Louisville Cream

Louisville Cream Louisville, Kentucky
Image Credit: Louisville Cream.

When you have to satisfy your sweet tooth, head to Louisville Cream. It's a traditional ice cream parlor that serves classic flavors alongside gourmet inventions – like Bourbon Smoked Pecan and Lavender Vanilla Honey. Try the super thick and creamy shakes if you want to mix it up.

13. Bourbon Bistro

Bourbon Bistro Louisville, Kentucky
Image Credit: Bourbon Bistro.

If you want to sip like a local, check out Bourbon Bistro. It's a neighborhood bourbon bar and restaurant inside a historic 1870s building that offers over 130 different bourbons. It is THE bourbon bar to check out when traveling to Louisville. They serve their famous eggnog made in-house with Kentucky Bourbon during the holiday season.

Author: Kimberly Stroh

Bio:

Based in Atlanta, Kimberly Stroh is an established family travel writer. She owns Savvy Mama Lifestyle and contributes to Wealth of Geeks. She travels with her three children and enjoys exploring the SouthEast. Kimberly has been featured in People Magazine, Today Parents, Red Tricycle, and Baby Center. She's a firm believer that adventures in your own backyard can be just as exciting as extravagant trips. It's who you travel with that matters most.