Readers' Choice Awards 2016: DINING

Oct 5, 2016 at 12:48 pm
Best Burger: Mussel & Burger Bar
Best Burger: Mussel & Burger Bar Photo Ron Jasin

Best Bakery Nord’s Bakery I didn’t know how good doughnuts could be until I went to Nords. It’s embarrassing to admit now, but until I was in my 20s, my only doughnut experience was with a certain chain store that has two Ks and sounds like “crispy creme.” Then one day I went to Nords, tasted what a doughnut should taste like, with fresh dough and chocolate, and I’ll never eat sub-par doughnuts again. My taste buds have been awakened. —Ethan Smith #2. Plehn’s Bakery #3. Blue Dog Bakery and Cafe

Best BBQ Feast BBQ The competition is tough, but the meat is not, and the readers have spoken. Feast has won. It is a cool spot with TVs and a bar, and also that true BBQ feel, with family-style tables, as well as all the sauces and silverware on the table. It may get a lot of attention for its bourbon slushy … because that’s really good. But it has also got some ridiculous sides and snacks, from the fried pickles and loaded (tater) tots, to collards greens, two slaw options and the most ridiculously-good baked beans. They are sweet, spicy and unlike any beans I’ve had. Definitely a must try, either for lunch, dinner or catering a BBQ cookout (if you’re likely to screw-up the cooking part of the cookout, like me). —Aaron Yarmuth #2. Momma’s Mustard, Pickles & BBQ #3. Mark’s Feed Store

Best Breakfast Wild Eggs Regardless of the location, day or time, what you order or how busy they are, you are guaranteed to get a great breakfast with great service from delightful people. In addition to the basic breakfasts, it offers an assortment of amazing, large omelets, or you can build your own. Need a sweet to go with those eggs? They’ve got crepes, a cinnamon roll the size of Gov. Matt Bevin’s ego, waffles, French toast and a variety of pancakes that are all excellent. (Not just in the you-can’t-mess-up-waffles excellent, but actually excellent.) And honestly, if you’re looking for a little something light, the house-made granola is awesome. Oh, and so is the coffee. —Aaron Yarmuth #2. Highland Morning #3. Toast On Market

Best Boozy Brunch Wild Eggs Louisville is certainly not devoid of stellar brunch options, and libation-filled brunches aren’t few and far between, either. Wild Eggs takes the cake this year as Louisville’s favorite boozy brunch, and rightfully so, with its endless breakfast cocktail options and delectable eats.  My suggestion? The Kalamity Katie’s Border Benedict and one of their specialty cappuccinos (with, of course, a variety of spirits available to add), or a pitcher of mimosas. I’ve got time for that. —Kelsey Westbrook #2. LouVino #3. The Silver Dollar

Best Burger Mussel & Burger Bar Yeah, I thought the same thing: What kind of place is going to serve mussels and burgers? The answer must be: If they are as good as the mussels and burgers at Mussels and Burgers, it doesn’t matter what it sounds like … it’s amazing. —Aaron Yarmuth #2. Grind Burger Kitchen #3. Holy Grale

Best Chef Edward Lee Perhaps the most certain sign of Chef Edward Lee’s success may not even be the national publicity he has earned as a frequent guest on television’s “Top Chef” and other programs, his colorful cookbooks and carefully-curated image as a Korean-American guy from Brooklyn who has embraced “Southern” cuisine in a town that’s not very Southern. It may be, in fact, that hardly anybody still thinks of him as “the guy who took over 610 from Ed Garber” any more. Lee’s careful stewardship over what was already recognized as Louisville’s finest restaurant, after 25 years under Garber’s watch, has maintained that reputation with 13 years of Lee in the wheelhouse. It is Lee’s own, now, and has been for years, and yet the restaurant’s reputation for quiet elegance, spectacular chef-driven fare that sweats the details, and the kind of premium price that such quality earns has stayed untarnished, and is now entirely associated with Chef Lee. —Robin Garr #2. John Varanese #3. Anoosh Shariat

Best Chinese Restaurant August Moon Chinese Bistro Some people like their Chinese food plain and simple, the familiar Chinese-American fare that has been a part of our culture since Gold Rush days. Some — call them food geeks — like their Chinese food as authentic as can be, even if some of the dishes are challenging, and the menu has to be translated for us. And then there’s August Moon, which fits neatly in the middle, offering delicious, chef-driven Chinese fare with a touch of Malaysia added from the native home of Chef Peng Looi, who also wins applause as host of the more upscale Asiatique. Excellent food, a stylish venue with one of the city’s best al-fresco dining decks out back and a bar that’s memorable in its own right: What’s not to like? —Robin Garr #2. Oriental House #3. Cafe Mimosa

Best Coffee Shop Heine Brothers’ Coincidentally, a lot of LEO readers enjoy coffee. Not coincidentally, LEO readers love to drink Heine Brothers’ coffee while reading LEO. For over 20 years Heine Bros has developed the coffeehouse culture in Louisville, and now spreads over 13 locations. They also are a great corporate citizen, operating sustainably, partnering with, and donating to, numerous community groups, recycling and offering some quality wifi free to the public … so good, rumors are that people desperate for some wifi will camp out in the parking lot during off hours. If you’re a coffee sommelier, or just desperate for caffeine, you have to try Heine Brothers. —Aaron Yarmuth #2. Sunergos Coffee #3. Quills Coffee

Best Deli/Sandwich Shop

Stevens & Stevens deli Stevens & Stevens has been a Louisville favorite for over 25 years. Located behind Ditto’s, it offers authentic New York City-style deli. It makes phenomenal hot and cold sandwiches, packed with plenty of your meat of choice — corned beef, turkey, pastrami, ham, chicken, roast beef or fish, or veggies and cheeses, if you’re cutting down on the meats — with locally sourced products whenever possible. Side note: I’m a creature of habit, and always find myself in a decision crisis when looking at the assortment of options. —Aaron Yarmuth #2. Morris’ Deli #3. Frank’s Meat & Produce

Best Delivery New Wave Burritos It still may only deliver in Germantown and Old Louisville, but with a new storefront at 3311 Preston St., New Wave has become more accessible than ever this year. Which is good news for everyone, because how could you not like its combination of a few classic-leaning favorites and then a revolving door of interesting twists — recent ones include Nashville Hot Shrimp Tacos and Korean Fried Rice Burritos. —Scott Recker #2. Cafe Mimosa #3. BoomBozz Craft Pizza and Taphouse

Best Fine Dining Jeff Ruby’s steakhouse Whether downtown for a concert, show or ballgame, or celebrating a special occasion, Jeff Ruby’s will bring the best food and drinks in town. It’s always lively — even nightly live music with phenomenal a piano player and singers doing classics, mostly from the Motown era. It pours quality, classic cocktails and has an incredible wine list. There is never a night where you leave thinking: “They were off tonight.” And Ruby’s isn’t just a steakhouse but also offers a sushi and raw bar with consistently excellent fresh seafood. The staff is professional, knowledgeable and makes sure that — whatever the occasion — you have a great experience. And don’t let the fine-dining sobriquet fool you: You’ll see suits dining next to jeans and a cowboy hat. —Aaron Yarmuth #2. Le Moo #3. Varanese

Best Fish Sandwich The Fish House What makes The Fish House a favorite for LEO Weekly readers? We’re certain that its convenient location, where The Highlands meet Germantown at the busy intersection of Winter and Barrett avenues, doesn’t hurt, but unlike in real estate, “location, location, location” isn’t everything when it comes to restaurant popularity. Let’s give credit where it’s due: Friendly, caring service from longtime owner David Hilsenrad and his family is a draw, but it’s the Kentucky Green River-style fried fish sandwiches that make The Fish House’s engine purr. What’s Green River style? Mild white fish cloaked in a crunchy, golden-brown cloak of cornmeal with plenty of fragrant black pepper, that’s what. Try it. You’ll like it! —Robin Garr #2. Cunningham’s Creekside #3. The Fishery

Best Food Truck/Cart 502 Cafe Food Truck My wife prides herself on her love of barbecued meats and is a bit of a connoisseur. So when she hipped me to the 502 Food Truck, I knew I was in for a treat. Pretty much everything is smoked. Their ribs are a little spicy (a lot, if you’re a baby like me) and delicious. Their brisket sliders are as awesome as they sound, a tiny taste-bomb that’s super easy to eat. The staff is super friendly, which might not have much to do with the taste, but boy it makes it easy to go back. Their truffle mac and cheese — and, well, everything — is the kind of amazing that makes you remember why you go to the gym. —Syd Bishop #2. Hi-Five Doughnuts #3. Momma’s Mustard, Pickles & BBQ

Best Hot Dog Lonnie’s Best Taste of Chicago If you haven’t been, you just don’t understand … these hot dogs are the real deal. A family-operated joint in St. Matthews, Lonnie’s specializes in authentic, Chicago-style hot dogs. It also serves burgers, beef sandwiches and other specialty items, including gyros, po’boys and wings. But seriously, it’s all about the dogs. I always go for the Clark St. Hot Dog, which is the staple, Chicago-style with all the accouterments, and on rare, really hungry occasions, I will double-up with a State St. Dog. Truly can’t go wrong though, and a must-try place. —Aaron Yarmuth #2. Red Top Gourmet Hotdogs #3. Skyline Chili

Best Ice Cream/Frozen Yogurt The Comfy Cow Wow, Comfy Cow sure jumped onto the scene fast. Maybe it’s because its ice cream is amazing (I can’t get over the bourbon ball …). Maybe it’s the convenient locations (now four across Louisville and two in Southern Indiana). Maybe it’s the greatest logo of all time … if you don’t get it, don’t worry — it’s just a happy cow enjoying its delicious ice cream. For creature’s of habit, like myself, you’re truly in a bind, because everything looks amazing, and they’re always introducing new and seasonal flavors. Family-friendly, as a creamery should be. If you like ice cream, cookies, smoothies or other sweet treats, gotta try Comfy Cow. Oh, and don’t leave the dog at home … they’ve got pooch pops for the family fur as well. —Aaron Yarmuth #2. Graeter’s Ice Cream #3. Homemade Ice Cream & Pie Kitchen

Best Indian Restaurant Shalimar What’s your favorite Indian restaurant? This question is sure to start a debate among Louisville foodies, and the ensuing argument is pretty likely to end up in a trip to one of the city’s half-dozen fine Indian eateries. We didn’t used to have this tasty option, as it took a long time for Indian food to stick here. A few pioneering Indian families would start restaurants, but none lasted long. We hadn’t yet been introduced to the joys of Indian food, and it was hard for a new place to build a sufficient fan base for success. It was Shalimar that broke that sad situation, and it has proven its worth over more than 20 years, serving a happy public with a very broad menu of mostly Punjabi and Northern Indian delights. —Robin Garr #2. Kashmir Indian Restaurant #3. Clay Oven Indian Restaurant

Best Italian restaurant Volare Italian Ristorante Sometimes you attend a play, or a ballet, and don’t have time to eat beforehand. After you’ve paid good money for a fine cultural event, you’d like to follow it with a meal befitting the occasion. Certainly, options grow limited when the event ends at 9 p.m., with most restaurants closing at 10 p.m.  And yet, there is Volare. On a cozy corner of Frankfort Avenue, Volare is open until 11 p.m. for dinner Friday and Saturday. Score! Please prep the Blueberry & Basil Gimlet, a starter of Bruschetta, and have my table waiting. If I’m taking longer to arrive than expected, please get the Filetti Di Manzo (medium) ready. The Filetti is the perfect cut of beef covered in brie, prosciutto and a cherry white balsamic reduction. Reductions are the happy place of diners. Please, Volare, hit me with all the reductions; and next time I come, Imma’ need to match the Osso Bucco Milanese with your Barrel-Aged Volare Manhattan at a seat by the window. I’ve got dreaming to do. —Erica Rucker #2. Come Back Inn #3. Vincenzo’s Italian Restaurant

Best Late-Night Bite The Back Door The Back Door is my favorite place to go for a late night-bite because 1) It’s on Bardstown Road, which is close to some of my favorite bars 2) they always pour stiff drinks and 3) their chicken wings are amazing. And if you didn’t already know that, make sure and catch the next late-night football game there, and you will see what I mean. —Ethan Smith #2. Burger Boy Diner #3. White Castle

Best Latin restaurant Havana Rumba Mama like-y. There isn’t much that I could eat while pregnant; but craving meat (yes, that’s what she said) and having Havana Rumba nearby was a match made in prenatal heaven. The steak chimichurri, a grilled skirt steak with chimichurri sauce for dipping (or drinking) on the side set my cravings right and kept me happy. Before the steak, though, be sure to try inserting your whole face into a dish of Camarones Al Ajillo. This celebration of shrimp sautéed in garlic and lime juice far exceeds what one might expect of these snappy little creatures. Word to the wise: I have found this isn’t a dish for the dainty. Put on a bib and plan to get garlic and oil on your whole face; and hopefully share a little with the face of your friend who will try to eat some with you. Don’t be nice. Don’t share. —Erica Rucker #2. Seviche, A Latin Restaurant #3. Mojito Tapas Restaurant

Best Mexican Restaurant El Nopal El Nopal may have won on the familiarity vote, since it seems there is an El Nopal on every corner in Louisville. But the appeal here is cheap, good Mexican food with a long menu and free chips and salsa. Seriously, you can go to an El Nopal and eat like a king for under $10 if you put your mind to it. The lunch specials are always consistent (who doesn’t love a Speedy Gonzalez?), the micheladas are spicy and the fajitas come to your table sizzling like a bomb. Don’t sleep on the crabmeat quesadilla, either. —Kevin Gibson #2. El Mundo #3. Guaca Mole

Best Middle Eastern Restaurant The Grape Leaf My husband is indecisive. When we decide to go out to eat, he never has an opinion, unless it is something that he definitely doesn’t want, despite not knowing (ever) what he actually wants. However, if I say, “Let’s go to the Grape Leaf,” there is never a protest — never a scowl. But often, I’m rewarded with the satisfied agreement of a man who knows that he will get a proper shawarma or the right beef and lamb gyro, which both include salads and lentil or cauliflower rice. The kid chimes in cheerfully, understanding that the Grape Leaf means he’s getting a plate of fresh warm pita and creamy, perfect hummus with a vegetable garnish that’s actually worth eating. I get to smile knowing my family will eat a meal with joy, and I will have the extended quiet of a woman who calmed two hungry bears with excellent Mediterranean vittles. Certainly, makes my shawarma all the more enjoyable. —Erica Rucker #2. Safier Mediterranean Deli #3. Shiraz Mediterranean Grill

Best New Restaurant River House With new restaurants popping up all the time across Louisville’s thriving dining scene, this was a hotly contested race. But John Varanese’s pet seafood project, located firmly on the banks of the Ohio River, stands out not just for its fine dining atmosphere, its al fresco dining, and its companion bar, The Levee, but it’s also the only raw bar on the river. Seriously, the mix-and-match options of a variety of oysters, colossal lump crab and more are tantalizing, to say the least. And just check out the River Tower. Holy cow … er, fish. Yes, fresh seafood is River House’s business, and business is good. —Kevin Gibson #2. Butchertown Grocery #3. Finn’s Southern Kitchen

Best Outdoor Dining Captain’s Quarters Captain’s Quarters Riverside Grille continues to provide the best riverfront drink and dining experience in town. Overlooking the Ohio River, you can drink and eat while watching barges and boaters, and parties on boats pull up to dock just feet away from the CQ patio. It is a wonderful combination of serenity and activity … although on some nights, the party on the patio tips that balance. And new this year, a view of the spectacular East End bridge. If the weather is too nice to be inside, there’s no question Captain’s Quarters is too nice to pass. —Aaron Yarmuth #2. River House #3. Mike Linnig’s Restaurant

Best Pizza BoomBozz Craft Pizza & Taphouse A Louisville original, Boombozz should be proud for outlasting Papa John’s in this category. Let’s just say Boombozz doesn’t have quite the same marketing budget and leave it there, shall we? Boombozz also has far better pizza, which prompted Readers’ Choice voters to crown Tony Palombino’s baby the 2016 champion. From specialty pizzas to calzones, small plates (try the Meatbozz!) and sandwiches, there’s a little something for everybody, and with an Italian flare. Oh yeah, and there’s a pretty fair beer selection as well. Beer is good. —Kevin Gibson #2. The Original Impellizzeri’s Pizza #3. Coals Artisan Pizza

Best Place for a Romantic Dinner Jack Fry’s Historic Jack Fry’s is beyond a Louisville favorite … it’s a Louisville landmark. While it was originally established in the 1930s — as a different sort of establishment — for decades it has been the restaurant we all know and love. But it’s the full, lively atmosphere, dim lighting and live piano music that surround the always-great food that make this place the place to take your special someone. The food may not be complicated and inventive, but it is classic and focused on preparation and execution. The staff is always tremendous — professional, knowledgeable and accommodating. —Aaron Yarmuth #2. Buck’s Restaurant and Bar #3. Varanese

Best Restaurant Jack Fry’s See above. Not much else to say, other than: go! —Aaron Yarmuth #2. Seviche, A Latin Restaurant #3. Butchertown Grocery

Best Salad Ghyslain While it took customers a long time to get the pronunciation right (Gee-sleigh), it’s only because they kept coming back that it mattered! “I’ll meet you at Gee- yeah that place.” The expert chocolatier and pastry chef-artist continues to produce eye-catching, mouthwatering sweet treats that are as beautiful as they are delicious. Owner/founder Ghyslain Maurals has more tricks up his sleeve. With great food up-and-down the menu, however, if you are looking for a full, fresh salad (to eat while reading your LEO), Ghyslain is the place to go. —Aaron Yarmuth #2. Texas Roadhouse #3. Ramsi’s Café on the World

Best Steakhouse Jeff Ruby’s steakhouse While Jeff Ruby’s won Readers’ Choice for fine dining for all of the aforementioned reasons, it’s truly the steaks that make Ruby’s so good. On the special occasions that take you out for a steak or fine-dining night, there is nowhere better. The steaks are always prepared absolutely perfect, to your request. The staff is beyond polite and professional, but absolutely make every effort to make your experience special. —Aaron Yarmuth #2. Pat’s Steakhouse #3. Morton’s The Steakhouse

Best Sushi Sapporo Japanese Restaurant Sushi hasn’t been a thing in Louisville much longer than Indian food has, but it caught on a heck of a lot more quickly after a brief audition as a Thursday-only lunch feature at a downtown diner. Before long we had plenty of options, but it was Sapporo that took sushi to the next level, marking the millennium as the first fancy, sit-down sushi emporium on Bardstown Road’s restaurant row, and the first that gave it to us in a Tokyo-style industrial-techno-pop setting. Its long, colorful sushi bar is staffed by teams of chefs who can fashion just about any kind of sushi your heart desires, plus an extensive menu of other Japanese dishes, and even tappanyaki slice-and-dice Japanese steakhouse tables for those who insist. —Robin Garr #2. Oishii Sushi #3. Sake Blue

Best Taco el Taco Luchador This is sort of a trick category. Why? Because we have no idea exactly which taco Readers’ Choice voters were voting for. Was it the tasty al pastor, a tradition made with pork marinated with pineapple? Perhaps the tinga, made with guajillo braised chicken, queso fresca and crema? Or the barbacoa, which are braised short ribs with pico, crema and guacamole? It really doesn’t matter, though, does it? Because, hey, they’re all delicious, so why couldn’t our readers simply be voting for all of them? (Confidentially, the mole’s pretty darn good too.) —Kevin Gibson #2. Citizen 7 #3. Migo

Best Take Out Yang Kee Noodle So I feel as though most (most-to-many) people still think this is some sort of chain restaurant. Perhaps because the first location was in Oxmoor Mall (still there). On the contrary! This is a Louisville-born establishment. Partner and menu developer John Castro also is executive chef at Sullivan University and Winston’s Restaurant. The only reason it is now a “chain restaurant” of three locations is because it’s so good and so popular. If you haven’t tried it, you should; It’s fresh, made-to-order asian stir-fry. It is quick, delicious and not expensive (unless you build-your-own and get carried away, like I do every time). Oh, and since it won best takeout, I feel like I should mention that, even at Oxmoor, you can pull up to the curb, staff will spot you on their camera, and run your takeout order to you in the car. —Aaron Yarmuth #2. Simply Thai #3. Clay Oven Indian Restaurant

Best Thai Restaurant Simply Thai Simply Thai is simply … amazing. While the original location in St. Matthews continues to grow and outgrow itself, another has opened in Middletown (good for all of you out that way). It is locally-owned and offers phenomenal, authentic Thai food, made and spiced-to-order. It offers a pineapple fried rice plate that comes inside half a pineapple. And with any of the fried rice, noodle or curries on its menu, you can choose chicken, beef, shrimp, tofu or keep it veggie … as well as choose your spice level, one through five. One is spiciest … or wait, is it the other way …? —Aaron Yarmuth #2. Thai Cafe #3. La Que

Best Vegetarian Food Heart & Soy/Roots Roots and its conjoined eatery, Heart & Soy, is one of my absolute favorite places in Louisville. It’s so good, you won’t even remember it’s vegetarian. While both are open every day for lunch and dinner, and you can even order from either menu, I always think of Roots as more of the sit-down, refined meal, and Heart & Soy as the quick, casual lunch meal. That is not to say that either is better than the other … they are both fantastic. They offer a wide-range of vegetarian options — even some sweet snacks and desserts — that are mostly Asian-influenced, like the pad thai, pho and Korean rice bowl … but definitely try the jicama and spring rolls … and egg rolls. OK, done. —Aaron Yarmuth #2. Zen Garden #3. Ramsi’s Cafe on the World

Best Vietnamese Restaurant Vietnam Kitchen Another year, another Readers’ Choice award for VK. Why? Because it is consistently good, true. But also because it is familiar. How many conversations have you had there through the years over a steaming bowl of pho? Now, I am a man of routine, so I know what I am ordering before I even pull into the parking lot (J7: “char-broiled pork or chicken with egg roll, lemon grass, cucumber, lettuce, bean sprouts, mint, and peanuts”). Still, the menu offers plenty of opportunity to experiment. And I just found VK has a fabulous website with the full menu and photos of almost every dish. —Keith Stone #2. Nam Nam Cafe #3. Basa Modern Vietnamese

Best Wings

Momma’s Mustard, Pickles & BBQ I don’t know about you, but, growing up, my momma never made wings like Momma’s Mustard, Pickles & Barbecue. This place already has amazing homemade mustard and pickles — but now, for the second year in a row, they have the best damned wings in town, too? Momma’s has two locations in town (119 S. Hurstbourne Parkway and 102 Bauer Ave.) and their recipe for wings is unflappable. These wings are rubbed down with Momma’s super-secret mouthwatering dry rub that adorns almost all of the meat on the menu. So no sauce needed here. Then they are slow cooked on a smoker giving them a nice external char that allows the meat to retain its natural juices. —Brent Owen #2. The Back Door #3. Buffalo Wild Wings