Top Small-Town Food Getaways in Every Kentucky Region
Restaurants in bigger cities like Louisville and Lexington get lots of food-critic love. And deservedly so. Even mid-size Kentucky destinations like Bardstown, Bowling Green, Berea, Paducah and Pikeville are known for offering a nice selection of diverse restaurants to please your palates. But Kentucky’s small towns also deliver big flavors you won’t want to miss. Even better, these charming spots combine great food and warm hospitality with locally owned shops along tree-lined streets and pretty town squares to provide the ultimate weekend (or weeklong) getaway. In fact, a great small-town food getaway awaits in every region of the state. Murray (Western Waterlands) A cool little college town that packs a big culinary punch, Murray is home to Murray State University and restaurants ranging from down-home Southern cooking and award-winning barbecue to romantic dinner spots and ethnic eats, too. Enjoy a hearty homestyle breakfast (or the chicken pot pie for lunch) at Rudy’s on the Square, a local staple in the heart of downtown since the 1930s. Enjoy margaritas and fresh Mexican on the patio at La Cocina, or indulge in the Golden Curry Chicken or Three Little Pigs sandwich (featuring three kinds of pork!) at Artisan Kitchen. Relax with live jazz piano and fine dining at The Alley Steakhouse. Or just work through this bucket list of signature Murray must-haves: a fresh roll from H.R.H. Dumplins, a slice from Matt B’s Main Street Pizza, a Murray Roll from Jasmine Thai and Sushi, pineapple salsa from the Burrito Shack or a maple bacon donut from Murray Donuts. That’s a tasty way to spend the day right there! Henderson (Bluegrass, Blues & Barbecue) The vibrant town of Henderson is surrounded by nature everywhere you turn: the river, wilderness areas, John James Audubon State Park. Its location in the heart of Kentucky barbecue country means it’s surrounded by lip-smacking restaurants as well. From cafés, diners and country stores to taverns, wineries and riverfront restaurants, there are plenty of flavors to try. Tacoholics Kitchen offers a large menu of street tacos, enchiladas, fajitas, burritos and signature Mexican specialties like carnitas, chilaquiles and mole. You can create your own pizzas and strombolis at Rockhouse on the River or enjoy Southern comfort specials like the famous Kentucky Hot Brown, hot chicken and waffles, spicy catfish, and shrimp and grits at Hometown Roots. Go casual at J&B Barbecue, On Deck Riverside Bar & Grill or Brown Bag Burgers – or splurge at country swank Farmer & Frenchman Winery, where the menu showcases a blended heritage of European-style recipes based on Kentucky ingredients, including artisanal pizzas made with local ingredients. Savor tapenade or sundried tomato spread with crostini; duck confit with roasted vegetables; assorted cheeses, breads and charcuterie; and a host of French and Italian-inspired pastas and entrees. Glasgow (Caves, Lakes & Corvettes) Offering a bit of Scotland in Western Kentucky, Glasgow is home to the popular Highland Games, along with a bounty of arts and culture, fun festivals, outdoor recreation and history. There are a bounty of restaurants as well, running the gamut from casual to fine and from local to ethnic. Grab a biscuit breakfast at George J’s on the Square. Settle in for lip-smacking good favorites like meatloaf, fried chicken and homemade pies at Annie’s Country Cooking or Gale ‘n’ Dale’s. Try the hamburgers, country ham, tenderloin and more at Bully’s on Main. Combine great food and art at the unique Fine Arts Bistro restaurant and art gallery, which serves healthy breakfast and lunch items made from local cheeses, meats, produce and breads, with specialty coffees to wash them down. Mammoth Railway Café at the Grand Victorian Inn adds delicious soups, salad, sandwiches and dinner plates, while The Ritter House serves home-cooked favorites including barbecue on Friday and Saturday nights. In the mood for something more exotic? Kanha Kafe and Yamato Japanese Steak House offer great sushi, hibachi and Asian favorites. Hodgenville (Bourbon, Horses & History) Sitting along the North Fork of the Nolin River, Hodgenville is most famously known as the birthplace of America’s 16th president, Abraham Lincoln, whose two statues watch over the center of town. It’s also home to a unique mix of historic sites, fun shops, a museum and locally owned restaurants. Dig into a hearty breakfast at Paula’s Hot Biscuit, then grab an old-fashioned burger, chili dog, fries or onion rings from Laha’s Red Castle, where the grilled buns draw rave reviews. Or go old-school homestyle cooking with country-fried steak, beans and cornbread, and other hearty plates at the cheery Hodgenville Grill. (Just be sure to save room for housemade desserts like coconut cream pie, strawberry shortcake or a melt-in-your-mouth fried PB&J.) Blending faith and family, some say eating the fall-off-the-bone ribs from Arrowhead BBQ is a religious experience, and the restaurant’s signature Thunder Tops and Fat Potato (both topped with meat, sauce, cheese, sour cream and bacon) will surely have you shouting, “amen!” Feel like a local at the appropriately named Hometown Pizza and Awesome Café, then get your dessert on at The Sweet Shoppe and Dessert Café (best banana split ever!) or the Four Score Deli & Bakery, named with a nod to hometown boy Abe Lincoln. Danville (Bluegrass, Horses, Bourbon & Boone) Blending history, culture, bourbon and seriously good food, Danville is full of culinary options from casual to refined. Start your day with a piping hot coffee and fresh-baked treat from Burke’s Bakery, then enjoy an organic salad or smoothie at Plank on Main, afternoon tea at Elmwood Inn Tea Shop or a farm-to-table lunch at volunteer-staffed Grace Café, supporting the local community. Later in the day, go casual with craft beer and po’boys at Harvey’s, specialty hot dogs and milkshakes at Captain Frank’s Hotdog Emporium, or a brick-oven pie topped with ingredients from the owners’ own garden at Bluegrass Pizza Pub. Or go decidedly upscale by splurging on a wide selection of bourbons, wines, beers and cocktails paired with hot apps, gourmet cheeses, specialty cured meats and gourmet chocolates at Jane Barleycorn’s. Burkesville (Southern Kentucky Vacations) Nestled in an area renowned for beautiful landscapes, countless outdoor adventures and incredible fishing, you’ll definitely find fresh seafood on menus throughout Burkesville. But a culinary getaway here offers more tastes to explore as well, with many restaurants right around the town’s pretty courthouse square. Annie Ruby's Café at Historic Smith Pharmacy serves up classic breakfast platters and lunch sandwiches on the square, with nearby Burkesville Pool Room also serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. Kim’s Tastee Foods is an old-school roadside stand offering dozens of sandwiches, salads and ice cream treats. Dig into chicken, pork, catfish plates, savory sides and more at Garmons BBQ or Hamilton’s BBQ, try special weekend dinners at Mike’s Landing at Sulphur Creek Resort or spend the night at Dale Hollow Lake State Resort Park for a full menu of traditional Kentucky favorites. Corbin (Daniel Boone Country) Situated on the shores of Laurel Lake amid the stunning Daniel Boone National Forest, Corbin is home to abundant outdoor recreation, natural beauty and the “Niagara of the South” at Cumberland Falls State Resort Park. A variety of restaurants to satisfy any appetite include everything from specialty burgers, old-fashioned chili dogs and home-cookin’ to steaks, seafood and authentic Italian cuisine. As the city’s top-rated gastropub, The Wrigley Taproom & Eatery specializes in elevated dishes like smoked meatloaf with peppery sautéed spinach and fisherman’s stew studded with mussels, shrimp and cod in a bright lemon-kissed stock. Classic Italian favorites fill the menu at Brooklyn Brothers Pizzeria, and the same goes with traditional Southern favorites at Seasons Restaurant. Try the barbecue specials at Smokey Bears or Bubby’s BBQ; good pub grub at Austin City Saloon, The Caboose Sports Tavern or Shep’s Place; and the best frosty floats around at the Root Beer Stand. And, of course, no visit to Corbin is complete without a stop at the Harland Sanders Cafe and Museum, named after the man who created KFC – and its legendary blend of herbs and spices – many years ago. (Pro tip: Get the chicken!) Ashland (Kentucky Appalachians) Ashland blends urban amenities, rural charm and a healthy side of outdoor recreation along the Ohio River on the eastern tip of the state, Once you work up an appetite from all that play, slay your hunger at local favorite Fat Patty’s, a casual joint frying up a large menu of creative hamburgers featuring every combination under the sun. Carb-load even more with handmade pizzas and pastas at Bella Fonte Italian Restaurant, get your Mexican fix at Tres Hermanos Nunez or Suplex Tacos, or grab a chili dog and soft-serve ice cream at Crisp’s Dairy Treat. Dine on pub-style fare surrounded by Kentucky sports memorabilia at the Kentucky Hall of Fame Café, or get dressed up for fine bourbon, steaks and seafood at the elegant Winchester steakhouse. Augusta (Northern Kentucky River) Steeped in history and full of beautiful views, the northern Kentucky riverfront town of Augusta welcomes visitors to charming B&Bs, locally owned shops, pretty parks and great food. Wake up with a specialty coffee at Abloom Barista on Main Street, then stroll the Augusta General Store and Restaurant for lots of antiques, furniture, collectibles and legendary pies. Meet up at the Corner Café for short-order grill items, homemade soups and fresh-beef burgers, or stop in family-owned Needmore Grocery offering a deli, daily lunch specials and a bar area, in addition to groceries to go. End the day with a slice of Carota’s Pizza or the restaurant’s sought-after fish sandwich, meatball hoagie or famous “Baked Carota” featuring ham, lettuce, tomato, onion and mozzarella with Italian dressing.