Regulars to chef Edward Lee's tables know to expect the unexpected. Eating at 610 is an exercise in willing submission as Lee's six-course, prix fixe menus change nightly based on market-fresh ingredients. Wine-paired tasting menus range from amazingly affordable to budget-be-damned lavish, and the pace of dinner here is always relaxed. 610 West Magnolia Avenue; 610magnolia.com, 502/636-0783.
Since launching her venerable, upscale-casual spot a quarter century ago, chef-owner Kathy Cary is credited with spurring the farm-to-table movement in the city's dining rooms. Her diligent sourcing of local products creates menus with savory goodies such as Fried Oysters and Weisenberger Grits with chipotle butter and sautéed spinach, and the Kentucky Sirloin Strip with red-and-yellow pepper confit, truffled mashed potatoes, button mushrooms, veal jus, and lobster butter. 1147 Bardstown Road; lillyslapeche.com, 502/451-0447.
Seviche – A Latin Restaurant
Innovative Latin-fusion food is on the menu at chef-owner Anthony Lamas's cutting-edge restaurant in the city's Highlands neighborhood. Lamas marries liquor, citrus, and seafood in dazzling seviches such as his oyster-bloody Mary shooters (Miyagi oysters, tomato, horseradish, and vodka); and draws on his Latino lineage with his authentic Brazilian Feijoada of smoked meats, black beans, farofa, chorizo, and greens. 1538 Bardstown Road; sevicherestaurant.com, 502/473-8560.
Proof on Main
Chef Michael Paley shows no fear of bold textures and rustic flavors such as his Octopus Bagna Cauda and Roasted Bison Marrow Bones, but his gift of transforming simple foods into the sublime makes visiting seasonally a must. Visit the bar to sample dazzling libations created by the award-winning crew of craft-cocktail makers and take in the contemporary art displays at the 21c Museum Hotel, which houses Proof. 702 West Main Street; proofonmain.com, 502/217-6360.
Few chefs dress up down-home foods as well as Limestone owner Jim Gerhardt. Salmon is roasted over bourbon barrel staves, sweet corn-and-crawfish chowder gets bits of Kentucky country ham, and, in the summer, heirloom tomatoes are sliced and served tableside. The "Feed Me Chef" five-course, spontaneous tasting menu is a terrific bargain. 10001 Forest Green Blvd.; limestonerestaurant.net, 502/426-7477.
After Cleveland-born chef-owner John Varanese started cooking in famed kitchens throughout the South, he never returned home. Today his eclectic menu blends fried green tomato with bibb, goat cheese, and crispy prosciutto, and pairs pecan-encrusted mahimahi with whipped sweet potatoes and honey-butter sauce. During warmer weather, the glass-paneled front of the restaurant is retracted, opening the entire dining room to the outside. 2106 Frankfort Avenue; varanese.com, 502/899-9904.
Set within the historic Seelbach hotel, this AAA Five Diamond restaurant is a luxurious spot where tables are adorned with white tablecloths, lead crystal, and weighty silver. Chef Bobby Benjamin serves exotic treats such as Kobe Short Rib with grilled peach and red dandelion and Australian Ostrich Tartare with thyme pancake and mustard-seed marshmallow. The restaurant's bourbon selection is outstanding, and if you ask ahead of time, you can arrange for a tour of its century-old wine cellar. 500 South Fourth Avenue; theoakroomlouisville.com, 502/807-3463.
The name speaks volumes about the atmosphere at this buzzing hotspot located in the city's evolving "NuLu" district. Chef-owner Jayson Lewellyn creates seasonally appropriate and French-inspired comfort food. Many entrées are designed for sharing, such as the Braised Pork Butt with apple cabbage, rice, bibb lettuce, and oysters for four. Excellent cheese and charcuterie selections also reflect the menu's rustic simplicity. 732 East Market Street; 732social.com, 502/583-6882.
Since moving here from the Yucatán Peninsula more than 20 years ago, chef Bruce Ucan has wowed locals with the little-known but lush and complex flavors of his Mexican homeland. Ucan skillfully marries local foods with Mexican flourishes to yield flavors familiar to few Americans. Vegetable lovers won't want to miss such delicacies as tok-sel lima beans, yuca cake, grilled cactus, and "forbidden" black rice; and pork fans must stop at the Cochinita Pibil roasted in a deep-red achiote sauce and topped with pickled onions. 813 East Market Street; themayancafe.com, 502/566-0651.
The English Grill
While The English Grill's dining room is old-school luxurious like hotel dining was meant to be, executive chef Laurent Géroli's Kentucky-inspired menu delivers contemporary flourishes reflecting his years spent cooking in multiple countries. The Johnny Corn Cake Salad blends bibb with duck bacon and a smoked tomato vinaigrette, and lobster-and-artichoke risotto with white truffle oil is pure extravagance. And what meat lover won't be tempted by the Spiced Bourbon Pork Medallions with peas, country ham, kale risotto, and orange veal jus? 335 West Broadway, in the Brown Hotel; brownhotel.com/the-english-grill.htm, 502/736-2998.
Pacific Rim fusion is the theme here and dazzling flavors and presentations are guaranteed. Co-owner and executive chef Peng Looi, a native of Malaysia, wok-sears Pacific salmon with shallots and Sichuan hot oil and roasts a dry-rub duck before finishing it off with a mango-thyme reduction. For a more relaxed experience, try group seating in the downstairs lounge, where the full menu is still available. 1767 Bardstown Road; asiatiquerestaurant.com, 502/451-2749.
Mojito Tapas Restaurant
Lovers of grazing, take note: Mojito is the place to dine for fans of variety. The zesty, house-made margaritas build a terrific foundation for Latin-fusion dishes such as Tuna de Asia (sushi-grade tuna seared and served with soy ginger glaze, wasabi, pickled ginger, and oranges) and the Ceviche de Camarones (shrimp marinated in citrus juices with cilantro, tomatoes, red onions, and jalapeños). The sweet potato fries with smoked honey are addictive, and the Spanish charcuterie and cheese pairings are earthy delights. 2231 Holiday Manor Center; mojitotapas.com, 502/425-0949.
Drive-thrus made breakfast boring, but Wild Eggs returns the fun with whimsical creations like its Kalamity Katie’s Border Benedict with green chile-Cheddar corn cakes topped with chorizo, poached eggs, melted queso, pico de gallo, sour cream, green onions, and avocado; its An Ace of a BLT fortified with avocado, Cheddar, and a fried egg; and Crystal's Wild Berry Crepes filled with sweetened cream cheese, berry compote, blueberry sorghum, and whipped cream. Like the savory side? Get the Pop's Popping Egg Salad spiked with Habargerdill pickles. Three locations: 3985 Dutchmans Lane; crackinwildeggs.com, 502/893-8005, and 1311 Herr Lane, inside Westport Village; 502/618-2866. The third location is in Landis Lakes, 153 South English Station Road.
211 Clover Lane
Divided among multiple rooms, the dining room here is intimate and homey — a perfect place for a quiet, leisurely meal spent lingering over Kentucky cuisine with upscale attitude. Owner Andrew Smith's seasonal menus include a few standards recommended year-round, such as the Pike Valley chicken with wild mushroom risotto; Creekstone filet mignon with Cotswald potato gratin; and diver scallops with shrimp, balsamic brown butter, and a potato-and-pea shoot ragoût. 211 Clover Lane; 211cloverlane.com, 502/896-9570.
De La Torre's and La Bodega
Joined by an always-open pass-through, the food at this pair of Spanish restaurants is created by chef and co-owner Miguel de la Torre, a native of Spain. From the exquisite Paella de Langosta to its roasted Castillian lamb; De La Torre's serves simple and rustic cuisines of the chef's homeland. Next door at La Bodega the menu is an ever-changing array of tapas such as Boquerones en Vinagre (white anchovies), Embutidos (chorizo, serrano ham and olives) and Pisto Manchego topped with fried quail egg. The house-made sangría is especially good. 1606 Bardstown Road; delatorres.com, 502-496-5055.
There are few places in town with a richer vibe on a busy weekend night than Havana Rumba. Patrons often wait for hours for plates of Cuban tapas and large dishes of Vaca Frita (shredded beef grilled crispy with peppers, garlic, and lime juice) and Lechon Asado (citrus-marinated, slow-roasted pork). They don't take reservations, so arrive early. Two locations: 4115 Oechsli Avenue; havanarumbaonline.com, 502/897-1959; and 12003 Shelbyville Road; 502/244-5375.
Bistro Le Relais
Dinner here blends superb service, lovely French bistro food, and a trip back to the 1940s when the city's Bowman Field airport center was built. Anthony Dike's Art Deco dining room is breathtaking, yet seating outside offers equally captivating views of small aircraft traffic. Classic French dishes include Truite Meunière, a rainbow trout with lemon brown butter; and Steak au Poivre with peppercorn, brandy-and-raisin cream sauce. Blended in are some Southern standards with clever twists, such as shrimp-and-grits with peas, mushrooms, and garlic beurre blanc. 2817 Taylorsville Road; lerelaisrestaurant.com, 502/451-9020.