Though perhaps best known for its sprawling horse farms and world class bourbons, Lexington, Kentucky is also home to a burgeoning farm-to-table food scene that is notable in its own right.
Taking advantage of the incredible produce grown in the region, local chefs often look to what’s in season to provide inspiration for their menus. From an acclaimed bourbon distillery that has been around for more than 200 years to a hip Latin American kitchen in a vibrant downtown area, check out our guide below for a taste of the food, drink and activities this city has to offer.
What to Eat
Egg in a nest at Magee’s Bakery
A longtime local favorite (since 1956), Magee’s makes breads, doughnuts and pastries fresh every day and serves breakfast (all day) and lunch. On the breakfast menu, we recommend egg in a nest: hash browns topped with wilted spring greens, an egg and sriracha mayo. Its glazed doughnut is also a winner, with a subtle yeasty flavor and fluffy, slightly chewy texture.
Glazed doughnuts at Spalding’s Bakery
This tiny grab-and-go spot draws early morning lines even after 88 years in business. Its signature is a hand-formed yeast doughnut that’s served fresh off the glazer, resulting in a wonderfully indulgent treat that’s warm, resoundingly sweet and dripping in oil. For those that prefer their fried doughy treats in more creative flavor combinations, try North Lime Coffee & Donuts, where you’ll find them in flavors like French toast and bourbon caramel.
The Wallace Cubano at Wallace Station
When you inevitably find yourself amid the many horse farms in Lexington, head over to this historic hub which previously served as a post office, a general store and more. It’s run by Ouita Michel, a popular local restaurateur who’s received national acclaim for her dedication to sourcing local ingredients and sustainability. At Wallace Station, sandwiches are made on freshly baked bread, with a gluten-free option.
Bacon beignets at Dudley’s on Short
Across the street from the Saturday farmer’s market in Lexington’s downtown area is Dudley’s, an elegant eatery and local go-to for celebrating special occasions. Stop by for brunch and take in the light-filled surroundings with high ceilings – the building used to be a bank – or head to the rooftop and dine al fresco, surrounded by a specially designed garden. Look for updated takes on Southern classics like local bacon beignets with smoked maple syrup and bacon powder and chef Mark Richardson’s deconstructed Kentucky burgoo.
What to Drink
Cocoa Porter at West Sixth Brewing
Though a trip to Lexington (and Kentucky in general) isn’t complete without tasting some local bourbons, the city is also home to a number of notable craft beer brewers, some of which are represented on the Brewgrass Trail. On the list is West Sixth Brewing, located in a unique mixed-use development known as The Bread Box. Formerly serving as a bakery for more than 100 years, The Bread Box is now home to an eclectic assortment of local establishments including an urban garden (which offers educational tours of its aquaponic farm), a community bike shop and a roller derby practice rink.
West Sixth Brewing offers free hourlong tours of its brewery and production system, where you get to taste generous samples of its flagship beers in a branded glass that you get to take home. Flagship, experimental and cask conditioned brews flow from the taps at the on-site tasting room.
Nitro Cold Brew at Daily Offerings Coffee Roastery
Find a moment of peace at this hip, laid-back coffee shop that focuses on artisanal, ethically sourced brews. It’s a family owned business that was started by a husband-and-wife team after an influential trip to South Africa. On the menu, look for pour overs, drip coffee and select baked goods, like gluten-free scones.
Prickly pear margarita at Corto Lima
On the corner of West Short and North Limestone sits this vibrant Latin American eatery with a dynamic food and drink menu to match. Pair a few small plates – we recommend the guacamole served with fried-to-order chips and cauliflower “al pastor” street tacos featuring housemade corn tortillas – with some handcrafted cocktails. The margarita is a house specialty, and adding prickly pear gives the drink a bright pink hue.
What to Do
Tour a horse farm
Though you’ll inevitably drive by a few horse farms as you make your way around town, you won’t want to miss out on the opportunity to get up close and personal with some champion steeds. Visitor information on horse farms and tours can be found here. At WinStar Farm, guests get to walk through the stallion barn and meet famous horses like 2-time Breeders’ Cup Classic winner and Horse of the Year (2000) Tiznow.
Visit a distillery
There’s nothing quite like going to the source and learning the story behind the drink in your hand. Of the many distilleries in the area, we recommend Buffalo Trace Distillery, one of the oldest distilleries in America; it even operated through Prohibition as one of the few distilleries permitted to bottle medicinal whiskey and produce new whiskey. On “The Trace Tour,” visitors learn about the history of the distillery and walk through one of the aging warehouses, where the delicious scent of bourbon wafting through the air is even more concentrated. A “Hard Hat Tour” brings guests behind the scenes and offers a firsthand look at the process of creating the bourbons from start to finish.
Shop at The Summit at Fritz Farm
A mixed-use development that’s just a few months old, The Summit at Fritz Farm offers shopping options (from national brands to local boutiques), dining (including Ouita Michel’s newest and largest restaurant venture, Honeywood), and even a hotel. The Summit will be home to Kentucky’s first food hall, The Barn, opening later this month.
Where to Stay
Gratz Park Inn
Centrally located in Lexington’s Historic District and a short walk to restaurants, bars and historic stops downtown, the Gratz Park Inn is endearingly old-fashioned – issuing actual keys, not plastic cards, for each room – with modern amenities and staff brimming with Southern hospitality.