Restaurant Fame May Falter, But We’ll Always Have Our Go-Tos

Jun 14, 2023 at 12:41 pm
Three hefty tacos at El Mariachi, one of our critic's favorite taquerias.
Three hefty tacos at El Mariachi, one of our critic's favorite taquerias. Photo by Robin Garr.

Things are changing, and this makes us nervous. We’ve already mourned the loss of Harvest, Decca and Rye during the pandemic, and their replacement in place — if not in spirit — by a branch of Cafe Lou Lou and a squadron of Latin-accented Olé Group eateries.

And now James Beard House reveals its annual restaurant award winners for 2023, and once again Louisville strikes out without a sniff of glory.  

I just recently lamented about the way Louisville dining lately isn’t like it used to be, and I know I’m not alone in singing this chorus. Is it time for us to accept that our dreams of world recognition as a top-tier restaurant city aren’t to be?

Maybe. Maybe not. As a long-time observer of the scene, I’ve always felt that we’re a damn good place to get a meal and a drink or three, including more than a few eateries that punch above our weight. But New York or Chicago we’re not, and maybe not even Atlanta or Nashville. 

On the bright side, some top spots have survived the pandemic and its economic gyrations. Anoosh Bistro, Seviche, Volare, 610 Magnolia, and a few others remain at the top of their game. And we do have some exciting places opening — I’m looking at you, Decade and Nami, Nostalgic and House of Marigold, and I’m sure there will be more. But there’s no use in pretending that the local scene hasn’t shed some of its excitement since COVID-19 came calling in 2020.

For more than 200 years now we’ve remained a relatively wide-open river city surrounded by miles of country, so we’ve always been a place to go for a little fun if you live someplace nearby that isn’t known for fun. This simple reality just about guarantees a town a reputation for good things to eat and drink. 

The specifics may change, even drastically. Similar things happened after 9/11 and again after George W.’s Great Recession, when dining interests seemed to turn from fine and fancy to comfort food. But good things to eat and drink? We’ve got that, and it’s not going away. 

My friend Carla summed up the situation in a recent HotBytes Forum post:

Now that things have eased up, people are pretty much vaccinated and folks are dining out with a bit more frequency, are you going back to your go to restaurant, the one that offers you your comfort zone and a familiar menu? Or … did it close? It seems that diners are wandering around wondering “Where do I eat now?” Or maybe that’s just me. What’s your go-to place?

What’s your go-to place, indeed? Mining the many responses to Carla’s post and following up with similar posts of my own on social media, I’ve assembled a list of go-to places, both old and new, that should keep anyone happy, with or without a national award hanging on the wall.

Let’s spend the rest of today’s essay talking about some of my own go-tos and those shared by friends. You’re welcome to add your own in the comments.

For me, this won’t be the first time I’ve told you that Seviche. Anoosh Bistro, and Volare were among my high-end favorites before, and it’s good news that they remain on point as we come out the other end of the pandemic. Ditto for places like Fat Lamb, 210 Clover Lane, 610 Magnolia, Wiltshire on Market and a squadron of new spots that dot my to-do list: Nami, Decade, Nostalgia and many, many more. Watch this space, at least on special occasions that justify a budget-blowout meal.

Porcini's capellini pomodoro e basilico, angel-hair pasta with tomatoes and basil.
Porcini's capellini pomodoro e basilico, angel-hair pasta with tomatoes and basil.

I don’t have to wait for a special occasion to dine happily at all the taquerias and Indian and Asian places that I loved before, and some new ones too. Maybe these great cheap eats are even more go-to than ever for me, eager to save a buck as we navigate a post-COVID economy. 

Indeed, a lot of friends’ comments centered on relatively affordable go-to eateries as well, often with the added attraction of offering down-home comfort food. Quite a few people mentioned Goose Creek Diner, a nomination shadowed by speculation about how its pending move to the former Sal’s in Lyndon, a popular sports bar, might (or might not) change its old-school country-style warmth.

Old-school warmth inspired plenty of love for Check’s Cafe in Germantown (with honorable mention for its warming chili), the recently reopened Cottage Inn, The Cafe on Brent Street off East Broadway and Corner Cafe in Lyndon.

Pizza is a go-to for lots of people, myself included, with plenty of favorites mentioned among the city’s vast selection: MozzaPi, Pizza Lupo, The Post, Coals, Garage Bar, Old School NY Pizza and many, many more rank among my favorites, and garnered nominations from others as well.

Listening to the enthusiasm as people talked of their favorites was frankly reassuring: If we are in fact losing some fancy, high-end spots in the current economy, the love for good food and dining out that makes Louisville special doesn’t seem to have faltered. There’s still plenty of love for old favorites like Mayan Cafe, El Mundo, Red Hog, Blue Dog, Oskar’s, Irish Rover, Holy Grale, Monnik and a long list of other microbreweries to explore. 

We’ve got our river-view eateries like Captain’s Quarters and River House. We can relax and enjoy relatively upscale spots such as Porcini, Varanese, Bar Vetti, Bourbons Bistro, Grassa Gramma, Ciao, Sarino, North of Bourbon and so it goes. Or we can enjoy affordable fare at Burger Boy, Burger Girl, Hillcrest Tavern, Con Huevos, Lonnie’s, Wagner's, Shirley Mae’s, D. Nalley’s, Twig & Leaf and, well, you name it.

What’s your go-to? Just about any restaurant you love for its food and mood, it seems, and this town still has more than its share. Tell us your favorites! Contact me at [email protected] and let’s talk.

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