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    Eat & Swig

    The Louisville Fantasy Restaurant Draft [Food & Dining]
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    13 Seviche

    Blood and entrails don’t diminish my appetite for raw seafood; when fishing, that chum looks mighty tasty. Yet raw fish marinated in citrus juice — the standard preparation of seviche — was always too harsh for me, the citrus overwhelming the fish’s natural flavor with a sharp after-bite I felt in the back of my jaw. (I have a similar rationale for swilling sparkling whites but abhorring mimosas.) But chef Anthony Lamas’ innovative approach to this traditional Latin American fare, using ingredients like wasabi mustard, watermelon and vodka — everything goes better with vodka — had me repudiating my previous stance on seviche. It’s one thing for a restaurant to dazzle with a dish you already like; it’s even more impressive when it gets you craving one you didn’t. (1538 Bardstown Road)

    — ZE

    14 Mayan Cafe

    Before East Market Street was hip, before anyone had even dreamed up the name NuLu, before Louisvillians understood there was a difference between Mayan and Mexican food, there was the Mayan Cafe. First called the Mayan Gypsy, the place once shared its east-of-downtown block with Wayside Christian Mission. And even then, people who otherwise prefer not to be reminded that homelessness exists would brave the mean streets to eat Bruce Ucan’s salbutes, jicama salad and incomparable chiles relleno. Now those same people brave Hipster Central. And the Mayan is still, by a longshot, the best place to eat on Market Street. I’ll even up the ante: It’s the best place to eat downtown. (813 E. Market St.)

    — MW

    15 El Mundo

    Two things: 1. This is actually my favorite restaurant, from the cramped everything to blunt owner Bea Chamberlain — aka my trash-talking wideout — who once got frustrated with my line of questioning about a dish and said, “I’m not telling you what’s in it!” I took a chance and hoped it would fall to me in the third round. 2. The spicy chipotle aioli that comes with the fish-of-the-day tacos? Drug dealers should sell it. (2345 Frankfort Ave.)


    16 Hillbilly Tea 

    There’s a White Castle across the street. The odd downtown location of this sleeper (Hillbilly Tea is at least worthy of a second-round pick) makes me feel like I’m in on some secret every time I enter, which is at least two Saturdays a month for breakfast: poached eggs on a buttermilk biscuit, all drowning in a mushroom-gravy flood. I don’t have a gourmet chef aunt who lives in Appalachia, but I’m assuming this is what eating would be like if I did. Smoked chicken salad, corn pone, succotash, “stale” bread. One of the most memorable burgers I’ve eaten — in this or any other city — was at Hillbilly Tea. It came on one of those biscuits. (120 S. First St.)


    17 Queen of Sheba

    Yowza! Bring a crowd! Plates here are literally as big as the table itself. And no forks! You have to eat with your hands! Fussbudgets not allowed. Here’s what you do: Get together six adventuresome eaters who are afraid neither of bold flavor nor of the phrase “Ethiopian food,” head out toward Bowman Field, park at the place that looks like an old used-car dealership, step inside and tell the friendly owner that you want her to bring you three of Sheba’s best dishes. These will likely include doro wot, gomen wot and sega tips. If you don’t know what these words mean, you’ll soon discover why you should. Share! (2804 Taylorsville Road)

    — MW

    18 610 Magnolia 

    Seventeen picks in and the restaurant of a James Beard finalist, Top Chef contestant and Louisville media darling is still available. Am I the only person drafting not to get a text alert that chef Edward Lee just severed a ligament in his knife-wielding hand? (610 W. Magnolia Ave.)


    19 Roots 

    Quiet, calm, focused and fiercely committed, Roots is the place to go for truly fresh tofu, made mere steps away from your table every day in a gleaming machine. The fried tofu squares or the wonton soup are excellent. (1216 Bardstown Road)


    20 211 Clover Lane

    Lurking in the jungles of St. Matthews, this spot tends to fly under the radar. Sure it is tucked away in a suburbia shopping center, but once inside, the French cottage atmosphere lends a tranquil respite. Chef Troy Schuster’s deft hand in the kitchen effortlessly pulls off a seasonal menu (look for anything from rabbit to trout) that is both European and a little Kentucky. (211 Clover Lane)


    21 Decca

    This new player on the scene has a vibe that would be right at home on the West Coast — perhaps because both chefs hail from San Francisco. The basement and patio are haunt-worthy. And the food: On my first visit I had the spaghettini with sea urchin, spring peas and toasted garlic, and thought Decca should change its name to Mecca because I wanted to worship at the foot of my plate. (812 E. Market St.)


    22 NamNam Cafe

    This phenom gets overlooked in field reports, possibly due to its cramped cinderblock storefront stuffed next to a St. Matthews convenience store. But behind the humble exterior lies a solid performer, a kitchen that turns out the best Asian food in town. Don’t miss the Vietnamese tacos. (318 Wallace Ave.)


    23 Palermo Viejo

    This selection earns the Sleeper Pick of the Draft Award, an honor I both invented and bestowed. That this Argentinean restaurant — with its free-range beef prepared on charcoal grills and affordable, smart wine list — was still available isn’t a surprise, though: Its media buzz pales compared to its diners’ roar (seriously, it’s loud inside). I’m normally a pesce vegetarian. For my wife’s birthday and last night out before giving birth, she craved carnes a la parrilla (grilled meats). See the last line of my Seviche entry. (1359 Bardstown Road)


    24 Mojito 

    Mojito is one of those big ol’ dining troughs where you’d think a customer would just figure out a couple of things to order and stick with them. But guess what? You can’t! Not only because the menu is constantly evolving but also because the chef does everything well and you pretty much want to try it all. The restaurant is in a Super Kroger parking lot, folks. Take along as many friends as you can; Mojito is one of the few places on my team that easily accommodates a large group. Just make sure someone orders the Tabla de Chimichurri. And the paella. And, and, and…the guacamole that comes with hot and crispy fried plantain chips. Chase it all down with a pitcher of mojitos. (2231 Holiday Manor Center)

    — MW


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    About Lou

    Didn't I tell you? I run this place! Not much goes on here without me knowing...I'm always watching.

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