It almost goes without saying that if you are visiting Louisville, you should drink some bourbon. Of course you should have bourbon! Kentucky and bourbon go together like Juleps and the Derby. If you are a bourbon-lover, you will find no shortage of the brown spirit; if you are a novice, this may well be the best place to whet your thirst.
Read more: Where to Drink in Louisville, Kentucky
But there is life in Louisville beyond the bourbon bottle. From iconic to iconoclastic, classically Southern to just classically good, here are the 7 essential bites (including, perhaps, the best chocolate chip cookie we've ever had.)
1. Hot Brown at the Brown Hotel
The Brown Hotel is known as the birthplace of the Hot Brown, an open-faced sandwich with turkey, bacon, roasted tomatoes, and Mornay sauce. It's every bit as delicious as it sounds.
P.S.: If eating all your daily calories in one sitting doesn't appeal to you, it's still worth stopping by the Brown, which has one of the most gorgeous hotel lobbies we've ever seen. Go at night, when there's likely to be live piano music, and order a bourbon.
2. Fried Chicken Sandwich at Royal's Hot Chicken
While fried chicken might not be an official food of Louisville, there's nothing quite like it if you're suffering from one too many bourbons. Royal's Hot Chicken is a trendy newcomer just off downtown (and right across the street from one of my favorite places to drink the brown stuff, Haymarket Whiskey Bar). We highly recommend pairing their fried chicken sandwich with a boozy milkshake (hair of the dog, right?).
Local tip: For something a tad less hipster, Indi's Fast Food is a favorite of Top Chef Ed Lee. "I love this place," he says. They're open from 10 a.m. to 3 a.m. and there's nothing more perfect than fried chicken at the end of the night."
3. Grilled Kabayaki Eel at Milkwood
Speaking of Ed Lee, while you may know him from his appearance on Top Chef, locals know that he's one of the top chefs in town. His first, more classically Southern restaurant, 610 Magnolia, is definitely worth the splurge; more accessible is his more casual downtown spot, Milkwood, where you can pair shumai deviled eggs and bibimbap with experimental cocktails. The surprising crowd-favorite? The kabayaki eel with puffed rice, smoked coconut, and green apple ginger zest.
4. Pho at La Que
There's a significant Vietnamese population in Louisville, which, happily, means a slew of authentic Vietnamese restaurants. Everyone has their favorite, but this no-frills spot in the Highlands neighborhood (south of downtown) has the most flavorful pho broth in town.
5. Tok-Sel Beans at Mayan Cafe
Lima beans might not be the first thing you think of when you think of Louisville, but the tok-sel lima beans, toasted with a mixture of roasted, puréed pumpkin seeds, parsley, green onions, and lime juice, at Mayan Cafe have a legitimate (and deserved) following. (We also recommend the Mayan salad and the Yucatec salbutes, flash-fried tortillas topped with roasted pork.)
6. Chocolate Chip Cookies at Please & Thank You
Chocolate chip cookies, when done right, are basically the best thing ever. They should be soft, but with a little bit of crust; they should be sweet, but also salty; and they should have an appropriate proportion of chocolate chips (i.e., a lot but not so many that you can't taste the cookie). The cookies at Please & Thank You, a hip coffee shop off downtown, deliver on all counts.
7. Cornbread Pancakes at The Silver Dollar
Possibly the best thing we ate in Louisville. These pancakes are as big as your face, thick, fluffy, slightly savory, and just about perfect loaded up with butter, syrup, and strawberry-peppercorn compote.
Have you been to Louisville? Did we miss anything?