Welcome to EAT THIS CITY, your weekly tour of the best restaurants in one of our favorite cities, as chosen by top chefs.
This week, we travel to the heart of the Bluegrass region — Lexington, Kentucky — where we’ll be chasing down the favorite food discoveries of Executive Chef Jonathan Searle of Lockbox. Eight years ago, Chef Searle followed his passion for the culinary arts, rising quickly to the post of Executive Sous Chef at Louisville’s Proof on Main. He was instrumental in earning the restaurant a place on Bon Appetit‘s list of 10 Best Hotels for Food Lovers.
Now at Lockbox, which is nestled inside the 21c Museum Hotel Lexington, Chef Searle creates a menu of constantly rotating dishes, utilizing local ingredients, craft vendors, and a dedication to simple, quality food, prepared with care. Diners are invited to enjoy large communal tables or private dining in The Safe, while taking in regularly rotating modern art exhibitions.
The food is pretty artful too:
Feeling hungry yet? Let’s check out Chef Searle’s fifteen can’t miss food experiences in Lexington.
Favorite slice has to be Goodfellas. It’s the only place around with a great NY slice. You really need to make your way before the bars close or it’s going to be a block-long line. My go to is meatball and banana peppers.
Tortilleria y Taqueria Ramirez
Taqueria Ramirez hands down. The burrito is out of this world. The tortillas are made in house and are on point. I used to rotate on protein options, but now it’s an old school asada burrito every time. I seriously want one right now, just thinking about it.
Sugano. This little gem is on the outskirts of town in this sketchy little storefront, next to a shady bar and a laundromat. When you walk in the doors, you are transported to a place far from Lexington, Kentucky. It’s probably the best sushi I’ve had. So fresh! The ultra-traditional environment really adds to the appeal. I’m usually the only white guy in the place. Mr Sugano is approaching 80 and has more life than most young cooks I see in the kitchen.
Sugano is without a doubt one of the most special places in Lexington. Must have: several orders of toro and blowfish sake.
Explore Lexington’s Food Trucks!
I’m heading out to Alexandria Drive for any number of exceptional taco trucks. I like to find the shining star from each truck. At one place it’s the tamale, another it’s the carnitas, then the next is lengua. It’s a choose your own adventure scenario.
I’m an ice cream fiend. I get my fix at Crank & Boom.
There really isn’t any true fine dining in Lexington, but if I really wanted to be taken care of I would make a reservation at Dudley’s on Short. Their dining room has this pristine, comforting, old school southern restaurant feel. The new chef over there is killin’ it as well.
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#comfortablylatebreakfast – bird & batter w parmigiano-Rosemary waffle, roasted chicken wings, smoked ham, cheddar, & poached egg. Quiche – black & blue w/ grilled hanger steak, blue cheese, & sautéed onions. mfkb sammy- corn dogs & pickles w/ sorghum mustard. #goodtimes #eatlocal #goodfood #sharethelex #jamespepperdistillery #cheers
The team at Middle Fork is really doing a great job. The aesthetic is on point and the revitalization of the distillery district is really great to see.
Any veggie wrap at Oasis Mediterranean would do right by me.
It has to be County Club. Super tasty eats, great little patio and such great energy. Disclaimer: do watch out for the bottomless mimosas or it will be bedtime at 6 p.m.
ICONIC FOOD OF THE CITY
It sounds weird, but I think that with our large Hispanic population, our Mexican food scene is pretty iconic. There is such a deep, traditional Hispanic food culture embedded in what Lexington is.
ODD CULINARY EXPERIENCE
There was a place called the Macho Nacho. The logos were very masculine-super-hero inspired and they had a custom cowboy hat/sombrero hybrid decked out in USA colors that you could purchase for $75. Oh, and they served nachos. It lasted three months.
This is a coin toss between old school fish fry at Charlie’s Seafood and Sunday Nachos at County Club. The first is a ridiculous pile of fried catfish with white bread and slaw, and the latter is a gooey cheesy gut buster of a mess. I kind of want both right now.
I’m heading to Bourbon n’ Toulouse every time. I know it’s crazy to say this in Lexington, Kentucky, but it might be my favorite bowl of gumbo. When you’ve got gumbo, etouffee, jambalaya, an unhealthy amount of hot sauce and a cold beer, all your troubles are behind you.
For date night, I’m going to lay low at Cole’s bar. For being a fairly young restaurant, there is such a comforting and welcoming patina on that space. The bar only has 5 or 6 seats, but if you snag two and the fireplace is going, it creates some great vibes.
RESTAURANT RUN BY A FRIEND
I know this restaurant has made the list already, but I have to say County Club. It’s the place I want to go when I just want a drink on a Sunday afternoon or a restaurant I genuinely crave for their specials. I love Hunter (Guyon, owner), she is one of my favorite people and she has done a great job creating a fresh and fun establishment in Lexington.
Thank you, Chef Searle, for taking us on a culinary tour of Lexington!
Stay tuned for more EAT THIS CITY — where each week we’ll feature a premier chef in a different city sharing their insider eating tips! Missed a week? Check out Bentonville, San Antonio, Warsaw, Kansas City, NYC, Washington DC, New Orleans, Cleveland, Miami, Seattle, Las Vegas, San Francisco, Sydney, Portland, Chicago, Austin, Los Angeles, Brooklyn, New Orleans, Providence, Memphis, Orange County, Boston, and Detroit.
See you next week!