The Grape Leaf
When The Grape Leaf opened 25 years ago, Middle Eastern food was a frontier that hadn’t been much explored in Louisville. A generation later, The Grape Leaf is firmly entrenched as a beloved local restaurant.
It has an always welcoming neighborhood vibe that eschews fussy décor and any trace of haughtiness. Chef/owner Nabil Al-Saba’s menu of more than 75 dishes is a bonanza of fresh, explicit flavors that have a lively conversation with each other. The mezza sampler rocks with hummus, grape leaves, avocado dip, fava bean dip and spanakopita. There are plenty of moxie-filled meat dishes such as beef moussaka, pomegranate balsamic chicken and afeek stew. But, The Grape Leaf is also where fish and seafood are bestowed celebrity status.
Children won’t feel left out. A special menu for them includes chicken kabobs, a gyro and a pita pizza. It’s a delicious change of pace from the usual chicken nuggets.
2217 Frankfort Avenue
Tea Station Asian Bistro
Tea Station Asian Bistro pays homage to the regional cuisines of China as well as dishes from Taiwan, Singapore and Thailand. The menu is a perfect reflection of Executive Chef Roland Wong’s confidence to venture away from the tried-and-true to introduce fare that sings out with high octave surprises. But he doesn’t forget his fans who rely on him to deliver outstanding classics.
The Asian-inspired atmosphere is unpretentious and quietly tasteful. A few tables outside are prime seating for people-watching in the center of Norton Commons.
Miso soup and lettuce wraps are healthy starters that jumpstart a meal with delicious delicacy. Jalapeno fish, Mongolian beef and Kung Pao scallops are a party for the palate. Drop in Wednesday through Sunday nights for Chef Bill Nguyen’s sushi, some of the best in the city. The Churchill Downs roll is a racy combo of spicy crab and seared scallops. One bite of the Fire Dragon roll with spicy tuna, eel and avocado and you’ll be hooked for life.
Bubble tea is a goody that will appeal to the kids and the inner kid of anyone who likes tasty fun in a glass. Wine, spirits and some snazzy cocktails let the adults sip and savor their own fun.
9422 Norton Commons Blvd.
Roots/Heart & Soy
The Zen-like atmosphere captures the essence of Roots, an upscale vegetarian restaurant owned by Chef Huong “CoCo” Tran. A sister restaurant, the adjoining Heart & Soy, is a casual spot that offers sit-down or carry-out service. Anything on Roots’ menu also may be ordered for take-out.
Both restaurants are a vegetarian’s paradise created by Tran to evidence her compassion for animals and respect for the environment. Her restaurants have engendered a sorority and fraternity of vegetarian gourmands. For those who relegate vegetables to side dishes only, Tran dispels that notion.Choose your adventure as you mix and match green curry or butternut squash soup with salads such as ginger and poached pear, green papaya and the miracle of vegetable construction, the bouquet salad.
“Savories” include Japanese eggplant, wild mushroom and sundried tomato pâté, Vietnamese crêpe and crispy avocado and tomato rolls.
Many dishes may be made vegan or gluten-free. A selection of more than 50 teas can be an education to the novice tea drinker or a treasure to the aficionado.
If you arrive on a day it’s in operation, you can watch the fascinating tofu machine in Heart & Soy at work.
1216 Bardstown Road
Heart & Soy: 452-6678
Pho Ba Luu
Jessica Mach, chef and owner, brings her native Saigon street food to an adoring crowd at Pho Ba Luu. Summer is a great time to get down to the seriously fun business of exploring Pho Ba Luu’s while sitting on the pooch pal-friendly patio. But if you’re in more of an inside than outside mood, you’ll find the interior’s casual savviness to be a sharp mingling of warm wood and modish industrial.
Just so you don’t need to ask what Pho Ba Luu means, TOPS is on your side with a translation. Pho refers to the traditional Vietnamese noodle soup, an absolutely, positively must-have on one of your visits. Ba Luu? That’s Mrs. Lu, a nod to Mach’s mother whose cooking inspired much of her daughter’s menu.
Out of Mach’s kitchen parade tastes that are nothing short of vibrant and vivacious. Three varieties of pho schmooze with banh mi (pork, egg, tofu or chicken sandwich with pickled veggies and pâté.) The chicken curry rice bowl packs a punch of deliciousness you won’t forget.
Pho Ba Luu’s kitchen accommodates food sensitivities and special requests with a friendliness you’ll want to reward with a hug.
1019 E. Main Street
Half Peach Bakery & Café
Sue Zhao and her daughter, Tina Gao, are on a mission to change the world, one vegan at a time. Their Half Peach Bakery & Café’s salads, soups, sandwiches, bowls and desserts are so rich, flavorful and satisfying that it’s understandable if someone would question that they are totally vegan. They are. Blissfully so.
The ambience is refreshingly crisp and simple and the staff seems to perpetually smile, possibly because they’ve sampled everything on the menu.
If you haven’t heard, there’s a raw food movement going on. You may not be ready to convert to an all raw food diet, but give Half Peach’s raw taco salad a chance to make its point.
Love Italian sausage but don’t want the fat that comes with it? Half Peach’s Italian sausage sandwich will trick your taste buds with gluten-free bean sausage, arugula, red peppers banana peppers and cashew sour cream on a wheat tortilla.
Other favorites are tomato olive pizza, falafel, black-eyed pea burger and Nashville hot chikn (a soy patty with hot chili sauce.)
Don’t forget the cakes and pies (especially the blueberry cheesecake). While you’re not forgetting anything, check out the mango mint or the coffee date smoothies.
4121 Oechsli Avenue