Lexington, Kentucky, is perhaps best known for two things: horses and the University of Kentucky. But before you write this off as a college town and move along, take a closer look: Lexington is full of top-notch restaurants, bars, bourbon (of course), and beer.
For a morning jump-start, head to North Lime Coffee & Donuts. This quirky coffee shop — complete with a variety of cozy chairs and bright, colorful paintings hanging on the walls — serves fantastic doughnuts, as its name suggests. This is the kind of place where you could spend all afternoon working or curled up with a great book. Enjoy classic doughnuts like vanilla glazed with chocolate icing, or opt for one of the specialty picks that rotate daily, like the cookies and cream or “funk”-fetti. Java here is smooth and served however you like it. The barista on staff made me a blueberry muffin latte (all served without a side of attitude) that I fell in love with; it tasted as sweet as a blueberry muffin, and I couldn’t think of a more perfect way to complement the exceptional doughnuts.
While Kentuckians are proud of their state’s best-known drink, bourbon, another beverage is slowly making its mark on the state: craft beer. Lexington is home to the Brewgrass Trail, a collection of six craft breweries. I recently met with a representative from Lexington’s tourism board at West Sixth Brewing Company, and I quickly saw the appeal of the place. The light-filled, industrial-style taproom featured indoor and outdoor seating in addition to charming details like a chalkboard outlining the latest food and drink offerings. I’d recommend the tasty Lemongrass American Wheat — a lighter beer with just a hint of citrus — and pair it with beer cheese (a sharp Cheddar spread) and a soft pretzel. Another highlight here is the Pay it Forward Cocoa Porter. This dark beer has coffee and dark chocolate notes. I personally found it a little too heavy, but I could see how a beer drinker would enjoy this.
After you’ve had your fill of craft brews, head downtown. If you’re there during the warm months, you can take in live music and local food at Thursday Night Live. This series starts up again in April. But even if you’re in Lexington during the winter, you’re in for a true treat. You’ll want to go restaurant hopping here, as the city is packed with plenty of options.
Head to gastropub The Village Idiot for upscale drinks and hearty fare. The atmosphere is romantic and quaint; think exposed brick walls, low lights, and plush furniture. You’re as likely to spot couples swooning over one other as entire groups of friends chatting at this laid-back spot. The Village Idiot is not without its Kentucky-specific charms — you’ll find horseshoe bar taps, bourbon lining the walls and a statute of UK mascot, the wildcat, behind the bar. I loved the thick and creamy lobster mac and cheese here. It was good, but heavy. I had maybe three or four bites before I called it a night. Other upscale bar food highlights include pomme frites, rosemary-roasted peanuts, and ale-steamed mussels.Lexington is full of top-notch restaurants, bars, bourbon (of course), and beer.
Not in the mood for hearty cuisine? Head across the street to wine bar and tapas joint Enoteca. Dine alfresco when the weather’s nice and feast on traditional Spanish small plates like the jamón Serrano, Manchego cheese, or chorizo. Look forward to local flair on the menu too. Enjoy country ham, cauliflower gratin, and the only-in-Kentucky chocolate bourbon almond-stuffed figs. Pair your food with a choice of wine, beer, or whiskey. As you might expect from a wine bar, diners will find a six-page wine list that features an impressive range of vino from all over the globe. No matter what you like, chances are Enoteca has it.
If you want to keep it really low-key, a trip Goodfellas Pizzeria should suffice. Enjoy New York-style slices at this local chain and take it home in a signature take-out box outfitted with The Godfather puppet image, as this shop doesn’t have indoor seating.
After you’ve properly digested your culinary delights, you and your taste buds will understand why Lexington is a town worth your time.
Teresa Tobat is a travel writer and editor. View her website at teresaktobat.com. Follow her tweets at @ttobat88.