Our local restaurant scene isn’t all bourbon and fried chicken. In honor of our diversity issue, Food Network star and local chef Damaris Phillips shares her favorite go-to places for authentic international cuisine.
Written by Damaris Phillips | Main Photo by Kylene White | Inset Photos Provided by Damaris Phillips
Louisville has a fantastic restaurant scene — we all know that. It’s a source of pride for me when people visit and are blown away by our restaurants, bakeries, and cafes. My heart swells when people praise the amazing meals they enjoyed in our fair city, but nothing makes me more proud than when someone notices the culinary diversity of our restaurants.
We are lucky to have an incredible array of outstanding international food and flavors in Louisville. (I need to come back to this topic, because even as I’m typing, I’m thinking of all the dishes I still want to recommend and there are just too many to fit into one column.) Today, I will share a few favorites — in no particular order. Some are fancier than others. Many are modest. But they all serve consistently tasty food packed with flavor and a story.
814 East Market Street
5-10 pm, Monday-Saturday
It’s not uncommon to see Chef Bruce Ucan at a farmers market on Saturday picking out produce he will transform by dinner service that evening. For more than 20 years, Louisville has been the lucky recipient of Bruce’s culinary talents, whipping up traditional food of the Yucatán with our regional products. His restaurant is intimate, comfortable, and filled with helpful staff. Gluten free, vegetarian and vegan options are also available. Make sure to try the Salbutes and the Tok-sel lima beans.
Queen of Sheba
2804 Taylorsville Road
5-10 pm, every day except Wednesday
This is where Darrick and I went to dinner on our first date, 10 years ago. Both already fans, we were delighted to discover we shared a love of this place. The food is simply delicious. The restaurant serves authentic Ethiopian food, so let them know if it’s your first time and the staff will help guide your choices. Consistent, affordable, and fun, Queen of Sheba has options for gluten free, vegetarian and vegan diets. I always order a combination platter. It gives you a little sampling of multiple dishes.
1941 Bishop Lane
Lunch: 11 am – 2 pm; Mon, Wed, and Friday.
Dinner: 5-10 pm, Monday through Saturday
Nestled on the first floor of an office complex, you might never find this place unless you went looking for it. But Lee’s Korean has been open for 35 years in this same unassuming location. If you’re a meat eater, you must try the casseroles, which are served tableside on burners and are more of a soup than what we would call a casserole in Kentucky. The waitstaff is kind and patient and the food — especially the Banchan, tiny bowls filled with side dishes and served with rice, are a surprise and delight. Gluten-free and vegetarian options are available. The portions are so large that we really don’t need an appetizer, but we can never resist ordering the kimchi pancake as a starter.
5614 Preston Highway
11:30 am – 8 pm, 7 days a week
My sister and I were shopping and forgot to stop the bargain hunting before we were both ravenous. Across the street, there was a colorful sign in a little strip mall that read “Cuban Food and Bakery.” We thankfully gave it a try and now we are both hooked. This unassuming spot serves cafeteria-style Cuban food in enormous portions for a great price. There are many gluten-free options, but this isn’t a great spot for vegetarian. Always say “yes” to sauce over the rice and make sure to get the sweet plantains on the side.
1987 South Hurstbourne Parkway
11am- 9pm, 7 days a week
Louisville has a number of fantastic Indian restaurants, but Shreeji stands out for their focus on Indian street food. This fast casual eatery serves up giant portions of classic “fast” foods, like fried bread called Bhature served with saucy chickpeas. Everything is wonderful and it’s so much fun to experiment and be bold with your order. The entire menu is vegetarian, and many dishes are gluten-free. My favorite dish is the Butter Marsala Dosa, which is literally as big as my arm.
Want more delicious recipes? Check out Damaris’s “Garden-to-Table Favorites”.