David Flora requested restaurant recommendations of me for a nice, sit-down, dress-up dinner with his family. Lisa had already plugged the Mayan Gypsy, which I could only second, but I tagged in a few of the other places Maria and I have come to regard with naked hunger in the past couple years. I’ve never done a broad-spectrum restaurant writeup before, so I’m stealing my letter back; if you are in Louisville looking for great food, these places will not do you wrong.
The Gypsy has my highest recommendation, especially the dish which is either called the “Tierra y Mar” or the “Beef and Shrimp Diablo,” depending on the day, with the beef cooked medium rare. It is god-food. Be sure to order the fried plantains, and Maria recommends the sangria if you’re drinking.
I also had some fantastic food (baked provolone, fresh bread and a steak) at Palermo on Bardstown, which is one of Evan’s favorite restaurants–you may want to ask him about it, since I’ve only been there once. Lilly’s, also on Bardstown, is fantastic, but dinner there will cost you a shit ton (lunch is more affordable). Palermo is Argentinian, I think, with a lot of spicy pasta; Lilly’s is a kind of combination of French and Kentuckian (eg duck spring rolls and chicken pot pie).
If you want something simple like really good barbecue, the best onion rings in the world and microbrewed beer, there’s the Bluegrass Brewing Company (BBC) on Fourth Street–did you go with us last time you were in town? I can also recommend Third Avenue Cafe in Old Louisville, which has imaginative sandwiches and sweet potato french fries, Trivial Pursuit cards on the tables, and Elvis.
My personal favorite restaurant in Louisville is North End Cafe on Frankfort, which has a little of everything; its specialty is tapas (Spanish-style appetizers), of which you can get three or four and make a meal for three people–the baby back ribs are amazing. They also have salmon, half a roast chicken, cheeseburgers, etc.
Oh, and you know about Lynn’s Paradise Cafe on Barret, right? It’s… different. Breakfast is their specialty, as is being very brightly colored. Maybe not the place for a nice dinner, but atmospheric and fun.
You’ll definitely want to make a reservation ahead of time at any of these except maybe BBC and Third Avenue, and maybe there too, for a Friday. Also, next time you’re in town alone and want to try something farther afield, remind me and Maria to take you to Saffron’s, Safier, Maido, Le Relais or Ramsi’s Cafe on the World (have you been to Ramsi’s? Everybody’s been to Ramsi’s…).