The Ultimate 'Top Chef' Tour of Kentucky

What food is Kentucky known for? Follow in the footsteps of the Season 16 chefs through Louisville, Lexington, and beyond to find out.

Photo: Michael Hickey/Bravo

Nearly every season of Top Chef serves as both a cooking competition and culinary travelogue. With host locations ranging from Colorado to Texas and the finales being filmed in international locales like Mexico and Macau, viewers are transported around the world through dishes and ingredients.

Season 16 in Kentucky was no exception, as Top Chef served to highlight the state's unique and storied cuisine and pastimes. From bourbon and burgoo to horse racing and houseboats, almost all of the challenges the cheftestants faced were distinctly native to the Bluegrass State.

If you're asking yourself, "What food is Kentucky known for?" or planning a trip to experience Louisville and Lexington's best restaurants, Top Chef's trail through the state is a satisfyingly robust itinerary to follow. Here's a list of some of the spots Top Chef contestants and judges visited in Kentucky.


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Louisville Restaurants

The Brown Hotel

As featured in the seventh episode, The Brown Hotel has been a staple of downtown Louisville since 1923. One of its claims to fame is being the birthplace of the hot brown sandwich, an open-faced masterpiece invented by the hotel's chef in 1926. The late-night snack features toasted bread topped with roasted turkey, sliced tomatoes, and a generous dousing of mornay sauce, before being broiled and crowned with strips of bacon.

The Brown Hotel
Courtesy of The Brown Hotel


Top Chef Season 14 contestant Annie Pettry, who appeared in the seventh episode of Season 16, is the chef-owner of Decca, a New American restaurant with live music, patio dining, and a rustic basement bar. If the number of appetizing dishes on her seasonal menu is overwhelming, try the pork chops.

Sara Babcock

Edward Lee's Restaurants

Season 9 contestant Edward Lee has been busy since making that Texas-based season. Lee has two restaurants in Louisville: 610 Magnolia, which serves classic Southern food, and Whiskey Dry, a downtown gastropub with burgers and bourbon.

Wagyu beef tongue
Sarandipity Photography

Fox Hollow Farm

Part of the focus of the Kentucky season was on the state's quality, homegrown ingredients. That includes beef, with Kentucky raising more cattle than any other state east of the Mississippi. Continuing a family legacy, Maggie Keith is the fourth-generation steward of Fox Hollow Farm, supplying grass-fed beef locally and around the country (and to the Top Chef contestants in the seventh episode), as well as hosting tenant growers on the property. Walk the grounds, pop into the on-site shop, or take in one of the summertime music festivals on the lawn.

The Henry Clay

Once a historic hotel, The Henry Clay hosted Season 16's first Elimination Challenge and is now an elegant event space. Stroll by as you explore downtown Louisville's many sights, museums, and shopping destinations.

The Seelbach Hilton and Rathskeller

Opened in 1905, the grand Seelbach (now a Hilton hotel) is home to its own namesake cocktail. The property's in-house restaurant, Rathskeller, is often used for private events (including the filming of the sixth episode).

Of course, that only scratches the surface of Louisville's edible offerings. While in town, the judges and crew of Top Chef explored many hotspots, from barbecue and bourbon slushes at Feast BBQ to coffee and cookies at Please & Thank You. Walk down East Market Street and you'll find vintage candy shop Muth's Candies serving Bourbon Balls, hot chicken at Royals, pub food served in a converted gas station at Garage Bar, and more distillery tours than you can shake a stick at all over town. Don't forget to check out the city's many speakeasies, including the expansive Hell or High Water that hides behind a nondescript storefront on Washington Street.


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Churchill Downs

Season 16 was off to the races in the most appropriate way when the cheftestants first met and competed in a Quickfire at Churchill Downs racetrack, home of the Kentucky Derby.

Colonel Sanders Museum

The contestants and chef Art Smith, a former KFC employee, paid tribute to Colonel Sanders in the 11th episode's Quickfire. Learn everything you might want to know about the chicken chain entrepreneur at the museum in KFC's Louisville headquarters on Gardiner Lane. If you're in the mood for a road trip, try the vintage Harland Sanders Cafe and Museum in Corbin, KY.

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Muhammad Ali Center

Experience the life and legacy of Louisville native and "The Greatest" himself, boxer Muhammad Ali, at the Muhammad Ali Center, where the chefs were inspired by his most famous bouts in the 11th episode.


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Lexington, Kentucky Restaurants

Ouita Michel's Restaurants

Chef and restaurateur Ouita Michel was on hand for Restaurant Wars and a judge in the last Elimination Challenge in Kentucky, which determined the top five chefs headed to Macau for the finals. Michel's restaurant group has several outposts around the Lexington area including Smithtown Seafood, which offers creative takes on Southern classics, and Holly Hill Inn, an upscale dining concept tucked into a rural inn from the 1800s.

Obviously, Michel isn't the only chef in town. Explore Lexington's diverse array of eateries including Tuk Tuk, a Sri Lankan restaurant that Padma Lakshmi put on her itinerary.


David Moir/Bravo


Home of the world's leading thoroughbred horse auction house (featured in the 12th episode), stop by Keeneland to watch races and auctions, or just stroll the grounds and stables.

Rupp Arena

Rupp Arena, home of the University of Kentucky Wildcats basketball team, is also the site of the most contentious Top Chef battle of Season 16.

Side trips

by Jonathan D. Goforth/Getty Images

Lake Cumberland

As the chefs did in the eighth episode, the proper way to enjoy a day on Lake Cumberland is in your very own houseboat. This Southern Kentucky region has dubbed itself the "Houseboating Capital of the World" due to its vast array of floating homes — many of which have been converted into vacation rentals.

Photo credit: John Lair

Maker's Mark Distillery

Located amid rolling green hills about an hour's drive south of Louisville, Marker's Mark Distillery offers a picturesque backdrop as you immerse yourself in bourbon-making and tasting. Step out of the car, and you're immediately hit with the sweet smell of malting cereal grains. Tour the original stills, the limestone cellars where part of Top Chef was filmed, or follow your nose through a guided tasting session. The on-site restaurant Star Hill Provisions (which was featured in the second episode) serves farm-to-table Kentucky classics like Benedictine sandwiches and bourbon cocktails in a casual atmosphere that complements the rural landscape.

freight house
Courtesy of Innovations Branding House

Freight House

The only cheftestant of Season 16 to represent the host state, Sara Bradley opened Freight House in 2015 after stints at restaurants in New York City and Chicago. Housed in a historic railroad depot, her restaurant brings a modern twist to Southern flavors and celebrates seasonal ingredients — most of which are sourced from farms within a day's drive. You'll still find most of the Kentucky classics on the menu. Be sure to try Bradley's take on the hot brown sandwich (her version uses sweet-tea-brined chicken) for a taste of the ingenuity that sent her to the finale.

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