The 10 Best Restaurants in Lexington

brightly lit room in a restairant with 6 set tables in view. The room is decorated with barrels and potted plants

Courtesy of Carson's Food & Drink

Lexington is home to a surprising number of impressive restaurants, which creates a conundrum: Should you repeat a favorite, as many Lexingtonians do, or take a chance on someplace new? With such tight competition, establishments have to consistently perform to be considered among the best restaurants in Lexington—choosing a favorite certainly isn’t easy!

To narrow the list, we focused only on local businesses located right within the city. From Mexican food and Southern cuisine to delis and fine dining, these quality places to eat in Lexington all possess something unique that makes them stand out. Whether you've been hiking in the Gorge or exploring historic sites near Lexington, these eateries won't disappoint.

01 of 10

Best for Dinner: Carson's Food & Drink

four entrees on a restaurant table with a bottle of wine. Two of the plates are garnished with a purple flower

Courtesy of Carson's Food & Drink

362 E Main St, Lexington, KY 40507, USA
Phone +1 859-309-3039

Even with so many great restaurants in Lexington, we would be remiss to exclude Carson’s. Food quality and presentation feel like fine dining but the portion sizes certainly don’t—they’re enormous! The menu covers a broad range of tasty choices for whatever mood or diet. Dining families will also be happy to learn that a children’s menu is available.

The atmosphere at Carson’s is open, airy, and casual with a touch of class. Prohibition-style craft cocktails, a solid bourbon selection, and one of the few patios right on Main Street make Carson’s ideal for a downtown happy hour. After dinner, cross the street for a stroll around Thoroughbred Park.

02 of 10

Best for Lunch: Bourbon n’ Toulouse

Cajun food at Bourbon n Toulouse in Lexington, Kentucky

Bourbon n' Toulouse

829 Euclid Ave, Lexington, KY 40502-1741, USA
Phone +1 859-335-0300

Finding a restaurant in Lexington with a fiercer following than that of Bourbon n' Toulouse wouldn’t be easy. Fans have good reason to love the little Cajun restaurant on Euclid Avenue. The atmosphere is colorful and the kitchen spoons out delicious comfort food quicker than you can choose a seat and hot sauce. Along with some twists on Cajun classics, the menu is just big enough to include some gluten-free and vegetarian options. The spicy choices pair especially well with a local craft beer or an Ale-8-One, a Kentucky soft drink made with ginger. Adding to the appeal, the personable owner has been known to host festivals and frequently gives back to the community.

03 of 10

Best for Southern Food: Ramsey’s Diners

Southern cuisine on a table at Ramsey's Diner in Lexington

Ramsey's Diners

151 W Zandale Dr, Lexington, KY 40503, USA
Phone +1 859-259-2708

Rob Ramsey opened the original Ramsey’s Diner at the corner of Woodland and High Street in 1989. Sadly, that diner was forced to close; however, the four remaining locations scattered around Lexington stay busy with loyal patrons—and a fifth location is in the works. The menu is priced just right and loaded with Southern classics such as the Kentucky Hot Brown, chicken n’ dumplings, catfish, fried green tomatoes, and more. The no-frills décor and old tables at Ramsey’s Diners are a reminder that the restaurants focus on what’s most important: the food.

04 of 10

Best Deli: Stella’s Kentucky Deli

Outside of Stella's Kentucky Deli in Lexington

Courtesy of Stella's Kentucky Deli

143 Jefferson St, Lexington, KY 40508-1755, USA
Phone +1 859-255-3354

Located in a small house on Jefferson Street, Stella’s sources ingredients for their delicious offerings from local farms and bakeries whenever possible. The menu is refreshingly transparent about what came from where; even the cheese is produced locally. The menu boasts several vegetarian options including their popular lentil burger. Seating is indeed limited both inside and outside on the cute patio, but squeezing in is worth the effort!

With bottomless, locally-roasted, organic coffee for $2 and one of the best Kentucky Proud burgers in town for less than $9, Stella’s is a top choice for recovery brunch after a serious night out.

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05 of 10

Best for Pizza: Joe Bologna’s

Pizza and beer at Joe Bologna's in Lexington

Courtesy of Joe Bologna's

120 W Maxwell St, Lexington, KY 40508, USA
Phone +1 859-252-4933

Lexington has so many variations on pizza, we feel a shop needs to bring something new to stand out, or in the case of Joe Bologna's, something old. Joe Bologna’s has been serving Lexington since 1973, but in 1989 they moved into their current location, an iconic building that dates back to 1891. The original hardwood floor and stained-glass windows of the former Jewish temple were left in place, lending Joe Bologna’s a very unique “old” atmosphere. All soups, sauces, and pizza dough are made in-house. Customers rave about the homemade breadsticks and garlic butter.

Sicilian-style pan pizza is thick, but thin crust is available as an option. The menu is loaded with other Italian offerings, but locals go to Joe Bologna’s for the pizza and perhaps a chance to meet the legendary man himself.

06 of 10

Best for Small Plates: Corto Lima

Serve holding a tray of three small plate dishes from Corto Lima

Courtesy of Corto Lima

101 W Short St, Lexington, KY 40507, USA
Phone +1 859-317-8796

Chef Jonathan Lundy stays busy with his many successful ventures in Lexington, and Corto Lima is one of his most popular. Corto Lima opened in 2017 and focuses on Latin-inspired small plates. Corn tortillas are made on-site, and the selection of top-shelf tequila and mezcal is impressive. Whether you prefer tacos, tamales, or tiger-prawn ceviche, Corto Lima is an ideal place to nibble and socialize before heading out in downtown Lexington.

With seating for only 45 guests, Corto Lima isn’t very big, and reservations aren’t accepted. You’ll have to arrive early or opt to enjoy some people watching from a sidewalk table. Corto Lima is well situated at the busy corner of North Limestone and West Short Street.

07 of 10

Best for Seafood: Palmers Fresh Grill

Waterfront outdoor seating at Palmers Fresh Grill in Lexington

Courtesy of Palmers Fresh Grill

161 Lexington Green Cir C-8, Lexington, KY 40503, USA
Phone +1 859-273-0103

Finding affordable fresh seafood in landlocked Kentucky can challenging, but Palmers Fresh Grill delivers. Lakeside seating near an artificial lake in Lexington Green makes enjoying fresh fish and oysters on the half shell that much better. For a very filling Southern option celebrated by locals, try the shrimp and grits.

The atmosphere inside Palmers feels sophisticated but unpretentious. Inexpensive cocktails, small plates, and live music from 4 to 6:30 p.m. draw an early crowd to socialize on the “pier.” Pass through Joseph-Beth Booksellers on your way out to peruse the local art and souvenirs.

08 of 10

Best Mexican Food: Tortilleria Y Taqueria Ramirez

1429 Alexandria Dr, Lexington, KY 40504, USA
Phone +1 859-455-9237

For a truly wonderful, no-frills Mexican meal, Tortilleria Y Taqueria Ramirez offers one of the best. The shelves, fluorescent lighting, and utilitarian ambiance are reminders that Ramirez is a Mexican shop expanded reluctantly into one of the best restaurants in Lexington. As the tortilleria in the name suggests, corn tortillas are made in-house, as are the sauces. Tacos and burritos are simple, inexpensive, and delicious—what you would expect to experience in Guadalajara. A cool glass of agua fresca pairs perfectly with the pickled jalapeños.

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09 of 10

Best for Fine Dining: Merrick Inn Restaurant

Dining room at the Merrick Inn for fine dining in Lexington

Courtesy of Merrick Inn Restaurant

1074 Merrick Dr, Lexington, KY 40502, USA
Phone +1 859-269-5417

Expectations are high for fine dining in Lexington, but the Merrick Inn successfully owned and operated by the same family for over 43 years before changing hands. The menu at Merrick boasts Southern fare such as buttermilk fried chicken along with fish and steak good enough to lure people away from the many choices downtown. Even better, prices are comparatively fair for such an exquisite experience.

With the charming ambiance of an old house, dining at the Merrick Inn feels more like eating in a friend’s home. The gorgeous patio, extensive wine list, and bourbon selection seal the deal. Reservations are required.

10 of 10

Best for Date Night: Kentucky Native Café

Outside crowd at Kentucky Native Cafe in Michler's

Penina Goldstein / Kentucky Native Cafe / Michler's

417 E Maxwell St Unit B, Lexington, KY 40508-2703, USA
Phone +1 859-281-1718

Fine dining is nice, but what could be more romantic than getting to know someone while eating and drinking in a greenhouse garden? Kentucky Native Café enjoys a sort of “secret spot” vibe thanks to its cozy location behind Michler’s Greenhouse. Even when busy—as it often is—the restaurant rarely gets too loud. The lush, garden setting inspires people to speak in hushed voices. Kentucky Native Café's rotating menu is written on a blackboard and is very vegetarian friendly. The wine list may be limited, but the green setting and gelato from Sorella’s are on point. Kentucky Native Café is 100 percent outdoors—go when the weather is nice, and be sure to admire the impressive greenhouse on the way through.

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The 10 Best Restaurants in Lexington