Middle Eastern
Special Occasion
Fast Food

Lexington Ky Restaurants


Your Guide To Fine Dining

TGI Friday's
Cracker Barrel
Max & Irma's
Ruby Tuesday's
Most food and restaurant critics refuse to review chains. They consider them not only inferior, but somehow artificial, in a whole different category than "regular" restaurants. We disagree. First, we're not sure what a chain restaurant is. If Columbia Steakhouse or Joe Bologna's is successful enough to open a second location, is it now a chain? How many locations does it have to open to become a chain? If we review a locally owned restaurant when it first opens, why do we no longer review it as it opens other locations? And what is it about the cooking in chain restaurants that somehow renders it inferior? We've read critics accusing chains of not baking their own bread or pies or soups. But we know of several gourmet restaurants who contract out for their bread, pies, soups and other items. If a local restauranteur wants to open a restuarant and buys a franchise so a regional office can handle advertising, accounting and purchasing so he can concentrate on the kitchen and greeting customers, why does that suggest his food is inferior? Just because a local restaurant is a chain franchisee does not mean they buy frozen food and microwave it, serve "fast food," or serve more high cholesterol high sodium items than any other restaurant. So, yes, we here review chain restaurants. We like them. We think they offer creative menus with good quality and reasonable prices. It is true that if you eat at a dozen Ruby Tuesdays or Applebees, you will see the same menu. But each location offers its own daily soups, desserts, breads or whatever, and they are usually very good. There are probably chains out there which are badly run and serve greasy food and should be avoided. But we're lucky in Lexington to have chains which are among the best in the nation and are very much worth a visit. Our definition of chain is six or more restaurants out of town owned. If it's just a couple of outlets locally owned and headquartered, we list it under the proper food type.
Applebees has three Lexington locations. Pictured here is the one on Richmond Road in the Lexington Mall parking lot. They have one page of items with less than 550 calories, and a "2 for 20" deal where you pick one appetizer and two entrees for $20. Yes, there are fried items. However, there are plenty of soups, salads, pastas and fajitas, under the seafood menu you can get your tilapia and shrimp grilled., and five of the six chicken entrees are grilled. One of their best entrees is a Fajita Combo : grilled steak and chicken fajitas on a cast iron skillet with Southwest rice, guacamole, pico de gallo, caramelized onions, and green peppers and Jack Cheddar Cheese. The steak menu offers six entrees priced from $10 - 15. Among their appetizers we like the Queso Blanco : white queso blended with fresh tomatoes, red onion, cilantro, roast pablanos, jalapenos and chips. There are also Wonton Tacos : pulled pork stuffed in crispy wonton shells and topped with crunchy Asian slaw. The dessert menu features strawberry cheesecake, chocolate mousse and a hot fudge sundae. Beverages include the usual beers, margaritas and mixed drinks. Kendall Jacksons are probably their best wines and they offer several good sangrias.

If you're hungry and not worried about a diet, O'Charley's is where you come. They make great use of cheese, bacon and other hearty ingredients, beginning with their outstanding soup rotation. Best are probably the Three Cheese Broccoli, Chicken Harvest, and Overloaded Potato Soup (two cheeses, potatoes, and hickory smoked bacon). Our favorite appetizer is the Three Cheese Shrimp Dip (shrimp, Asiago cheese, sun dried tomatoes, Monterrey Jack and Cheddar served with warm, freshly made tortilla chips). They offer six flashy salads, such as the Black and Bleu Caesar (blackened grilled sirloin cubes with bleu cheese on romaine lettuce and tomatoes) and Pecan Chicken. There are Southern Grilled Chicken Tacos, Baby Back Ribs, seven kinds of steak, five pastas, Caramel Pie and a solid beverage list including Beringer and Ecco Domani wines, Killian Irish Red Beer and Belgian Blue Moon Ale. OCharley's very best entree may be the Cedar Planked Fish. They fire grill 9 oz. filets of either Tilapia or Salmon on a cedar plank with lemon seasoning.


Lexington has two Chili's locations : Richmond Road (shown) and off Man o War by Nicholasville Road. The appetizers are mostly fried but we really like the Southwestern Egg Rolls (six flour tortillas filled with smoked chicken, black beans, corn, jalapeno, Jack cheese, red peppers and spinach, served with avocado ranch dressing), and there's a hot spinach artichoke dip served in a hot cast iron skillet with fresh warm tostado chips). One of Chile's claims to fame is its Chicken Green Chile Soup (rice, green chiles, lime, avocado, cilantro, and tomatoes), but there's also the Chicken Enchilada Soup and a very good Terlingua Chile (slow cooked with beef, onions, chiles and cheese). Eight salads include the Caribbean (pineapple, mandarin oranges, cherries, green onions, cilantro, grilled chicken or shrimp, and honey lime dressing) and Quesadilla Explosion (grilled chicken, cheese, corn relish, tortilla strips, cheese and citrus balsamic dressing). Chile's other claim to fame is its 11-entree Grill Menu : Chicken or Beef Fajitas, Buffalo Chicken Fajitas, Steak/chicken/garlic/lime/shrimp Fajitas, Southwestern Quesadillas, Salmon, Monterey Chicken, Margarita Chicken, Cajun Pasta, Classic Sirloin, and Flamed Ribeye. The menu includes very traditional sandwich, burger, taco, dessert and beverage pages.
Bob Evans uses a down home country America theme, giving old fashioned farm cooking a 21st Century twist. Breakfasts are so bounteous they have a cult following; in every town there is a group of people who begin every day at Bob Evans. Lunch is very traditional, but it's Dinner where Bob Evans really shines. Of appetizers, we like their Blue Ribbon Apple Pie Fries, Country Fair Cheese Bites and Loaded Baked Potato Bites (breaded and fried potatoes stuffed with cheddar cheese, sour cream, bacon, scallions and buttermilk ranch dressing). Deep Dish Dinners, Deep Dish Pastas and Slow Roasted Dinners put you in mind of big family Sundays out on the farm. Soups and salads are excellent, and the open face sandwiches are the best still being commercially served of what was once a staple in every small town restaurant in the country. The Meat Loaf (made with sausage and Angus beef) is outstanding. This may be the best of all chain restaurants.

Winger's is hard to categorize. At first glance it looks like a Kentucky Fried Chicken style carryout restaurant. It has 22 wide screen TVS and on game days could serve as a sports bar. But then there is a very extensive regular menu. They've got everything from ribs to grilled salmon, fajitas to eight salads, a $10 Mega Pot Pie, and five different kinds of shish kebab that they call Skewers. As the name implies, they make a Very Big Deal out of Wings, and offer their own Fire Sauce to liven them up. The menu is heavy on fried items, but you can easily work around that. There is a Soup of the Day and Soup and Salad or Soup and Sandwich combos. They serve four Big Bowls, mixes of grilled chicken, rice, pasta, peppers, cheese and vegetables. These are a meal in themselves. To find this neat little restaurant is tricky. The address says Canary Drive, which no one has ever heard of. Just south of New Circle Drive and east of Nicholasville Road is a small shopping mall. Winger's is in the far corner, tucked right against New Circle Road.