Well, the end of the year is here again, and with it come dozens of “Top Lists,” hustled upon us by media of every flavor. Most of these lists are forgettable and disposable — including the ubiquitous “Top Restaurants of the Year,” written by someone who may know something about the industry, but who may not share your palate, your wallet or your geographical location. So, what if you built your own personalized list of favorite and potential eateries? Then you might never again have to have that dreadful, circular conversation that begins with “Where do you want to eat?”
You can put as many entries on the list as you’d like, but there will eventually be a Top 10, so let’s concentrate on those — after all, they will be your go-to establishments most of the time. Your Top 10 should be a mix of fine dining and casual.
No. 10: Let’s call this the “fantasy night out” choice. Maybe you’ve been there once or twice, or maybe you’ve never been there but have heard glowing reviews and have always wanted to try it. This will be a glamorous restaurant that will require wardrobe planning and a reservation a good deal in advance.
No. 9: Your favorite restaurant/bar combo. Where you and your friends like to drink, and the food is good enough that you don’t have to compromise when you’re hungry.
No. 8: Your choice for a meal with the whole family. Your children, parents or spouse may not be adventurous eaters, but that doesn’t mean you have to end up at T.G.I. McApplebee’s every time you venture out as a group. Do menu research, and search your memory for great times you’ve had as a group dining out.
No. 7: Best place for a business lunch. Casual or upscale? It depends what business you’re in; however, your choice should say to potential clients and business associates that you have discerning tastes and also care about their comfort (and convenience — don’t forget to consider the parking situation).
No. 6: Top restaurant with ethnic cuisine. This can be a fantastic taqueria or your favorite sushi joint. If you’re not in the habit of eating ethnic food, expand your horizons this year!
No. 5: Quick, cheap and satisfying. You love the food at this restaurant, and you’re consistently surprised at how affordable it is when the check comes. Snappy service is a definite plus.
No. 4: Pre-show dining. Whether you’re going to a play, the opera or a sporting event, you need a plan if you’re dining downtown beforehand. Many restaurants have prix fixe three-course menus they are prepared to serve so you’ll be in and out the door in an hour or less. Take advantage of them — the window between the end of the work day and the first curtain or initial buzzer is narrow, and there’s nothing worse than waiting in a panic for your check when you know you’re going to be late for an event.
No. 3: Comfort food. The place where you don’t count calories. You shouldn’t indulge too often so, when you do, make it count. Maybe this place makes its own bacon, or has the most luxurious mac and cheese on the planet. Fried chicken, meatloaf, mashed potatoes … but I digress.
No. 2: Healthful food. Yes, you can enjoy food that’s not bad for you, so go ahead and resolve to put this restaurant in heavy rotation this year. This establishment features vegetarian entrees, lean proteins, small portions, fabulous salads and fresh, vibrant food.
No. 1: Your personal favorite. The criteria for this one is wide open. It’s the place where the bartender knows your drink, and you have a favorite table, a favorite server and a favorite dish. You know the one.
When writing your list, go as many deep in each category as you wish. You’ll end up with a great resource for deciding where to dine, so when someone says “Where do you want to eat?,” you’re already armed with choices. So get busy now and save yourself a lot of time in the future. Have a great year, everyone. And please: Eat well.
Marsha Lynch has worked at many Louisville independent restaurants including Limestone, Jack Fry’s, Jarfi’s, L&N Wine Bar and Bistro and Café Lou Lou. She now works for her alma mater, Sullivan University, as sous chef of Juleps Catering.