By Gian Prabhudas, Building Kentucky
Louisville was recently named the ‘best foodie city in America for renters’ by Apartment Advisor. Though this may surprise some, it’s no secret to anyone who has had a chance to visit and learn about its numerous dining options.
Apartment Advisor editors compared hundreds of cities, focusing on metros with the most restaurants per capita, diversity of cuisine, access to food halls and proximity of dining to rental neighborhoods. They specifically looked at great culinary capitals with rent prices that wouldn’t force you to blow your whole paycheck, using affordability based on the median rent to income ratio. See the complete list here.
From tacos to BBQ, here are a few of Louisville’s staple restaurants and the stories behind their success.
El Taco Luchador
Fernando Martinez opened his first restaurant in the early 2000s and has become such a successful businessman and chef that he is now the owner of the restaurant group Olé (which stands for ‘Oh Let’s Eat’). As head of the group, he has opened six original concepts, including El Taco Luchador. the fast-casual taqueria has expanded with multiple locations throughout Louisville.
Known for its tacos and tortas, El Taco Luchador’s menu includes a little something for everybody — from house-made salsas and dips, to margaritas and mole fries. They also offer the Certified Angus Beef brand, showing their dedication to quality ingredients.
At Cottage Café, nobody can judge you if you want to start with dessert. The restaurant has been serving delicious baked goods to customers for over 30 years in a beautiful building that is over a century old.
The owner, Susan Stivers, and her staff are known for interacting with customers and making anyone and everyone feel at home. If you’re looking for a Louisville classic, go on a Thursday or a Saturday and order a hot brown — an open face sandwich that combines toast points with sliced turkey, bacon, and tomato, all served under a delicious layer of cheese sauce.
Momma’s Mustard, Pickles & BBQ
Though its specialty is Kansas City barbecue, few restaurants have a more Louisville origin story than Momma’s Mustard, Pickles and Barbecue. Chad Cooley, the owner, used winnings from a horse race to start his own food truck in the city, and his success has made Momma’s a permanent staple.
The sauces all come from Chad’s hometown of Ponca City, Oklahoma, and the recipes are based on his time spent training with Chef Paul Kirk — a seven-time world barbecue champion. There are several different sauces original to the restaurant to go with whatever menu item you choose, and the macaroni and cheese comes highly recommended as well.
The Seafood Lady
The Seafood Lady was borne out of necessity — Nichelle Thurston could not find Florida-style seafood, and though she had moved to Kentucky, she missed the dining of her home state. So, she began creating her own dishes of crab, lobster, crawfish and veggies, and started promoting the plates on social media.
The popularity of Nichelle’s seafood allowed her business to expand — first into a food truck, then to a small shop on Oak Street, then finally to a larger place in Old Louisville, where people from all over the Midwest come to try the famous seafood.
Grind Burger Kitchen
When they began as a food truck in the spring of 2012, co-owners Liz and Jesse Huot didn’t know just how quickly Grind Burger Kitchen would become a success. They were in a permanent location in NuLu by 2014 and have been thriving ever since. They are committed to using local and regional ingredients and are famous for fostering a great work environment as well.
A popular item on their menu is their Chain Burger, which is described as “all your favorite things you grew up loving at those chain restaurants without all the things you don’t like as an adult.”
Chik’n & Mi
Chik’n & Mi defied the odds when they moved into a location on Brownsboro Road that was considered by many to be cursed. Every previous restaurant that had opened in that location had quickly shut down — even nationally famous fast-food chains.
However, husband and wife Jason McCollum and Aenith Sananikone-McCollum, had different ideas and chose to open their restaurant there anyway. And so far, they are showing no signs of slowing down. Much of this can be credited to their unique culinary style, which focuses on fried food with an Asian twist. The fried cauliflower is a famous item worth trying, as are the chicken nuggets, which come hand tossed in your choice of sauce: sweet soy, jaew bong, or X-tra Hot.
Lorenzo, a Cuban civil engineer, immigrated to the United States in 2000 in search of greater opportunities and the American dream. He discovered a passion for cooking, finding that its technical and scientific side appealed to him.
Marcos now runs four separate restaurants — Havana Rumba in Middletwon, Mojito Tapas, Havana Rumba and Tapas Bar, and Havana Restaurant and Bar — that set the standard for Cuban cuisine in the region.
One can’t-miss menu item is the Cuban sandwich — a ham and cheese sandwich that also includes roasted pork, pickles and mustard. After your meal, don’t forget to try the unique Cuban coffee.
Of course, Louisville isn’t the only Kentucky city with culinary gems. From Bowling Green to Lexington and everywhere in between, there are places to try. Tell us your favorite foodie city in this month’s poll by voting here.