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Southland Drive



Co Op Cafe   Critchfield's   El Toros   The Ketch LaRosa's Mai Thai Marikkas
Old Kentucky Chocolate Stein's Subway     Tazikis   Taco Tico Winchells Wong Wong
oleika Southland Drive is the core of the Lafayette High School neighborhood. The west end of Southland is the western boundary of the Lafayette campus. On Friday nights in the Fall, lights from the football stadium brighten the area. After basketball games in Winter, fans spill into these restaurants. Southland Drive includes the Oleika Temple, one of the largest Shriners temples in the nation and a landmark since 1951. Shriners are the elite level of the Free Masons. They raise money to support the local Shriners Children's Hospital. Along Southland are also the Southland Bowling Lanes, Don Wilson Music Store (which has suppled instruments, sheet music and supplies to Kentucky bands and orchestras for 60 years), and Good Foods (a regional center for organically raised groceries and health foods). Southland Drive includes 14 restaurants. El Toro's actually fronts on Nicholasville Road, but is only steps from Southland. All these restaurants have a neighborhood feel, with locals dropping by and being on first name terms. We include Critchfield's Meats and Old Kentucky Chocolates here because they are iconic foodie stops for Central Kentuckians.

The Co-Op Cafe is adjacent to the Good Foods Cooperative and has the same philosophy. Everything here is organic, and is accordingly over priced. But it's good and at least you know it's healthy. There's a soup and salad bar, a dozen sandwiches, a buffet of hot entrees, and a cooler of healthy drinks. The soups are always outstanding, and certain traditional items, like the Braised Kale, are favorites of frequent customers. Their Breads are delicious. On weekends there's a Breakfast Buffet with Jalape├▒o Grits, Hot Browns and Chorizo/Brussel Sprout Scramble. You fill your plate and pay by the pound. There's both inside and outside seating, but at mealtimes the place can get crowded.

Critchfield Meats is another Lexington culinary icon. At heart, it's a gourmet butcher shop. Critchfield selects the finest quality meats and expertly cuts them. Beef, Pork, Bacon, and Lamb are their specialties. But over the years since 1969, as they've moved three times to larger facilities, Critchfield's has expanded its offerings, adding Seafood, Chicken, Turkey and even Cheese. When it moved into the current location, a former Save A Lot, foodies protested that the famous Save A Lot Fried Chicken, considered the best in town, was being lost. So Critchfield obtained the recipe, hired two Save A Lot employees to make it, and now offers Gourmet Fried Chicken. A dedicated customer base orders Thanksgiving Turkeys and Christmas and Easter Hams from Critchfield's, and after customer urgings, the company now offers entire holiday dinners prepackaged : Corn Pudding, Cranberries, Fried Apples, Green Beans, Mashed Potatoes, Broccoli Casserole, Stuffing and Cornbread. Prices are higher than you'll find at Kroger's or other outlets but these are the finest meats you can find for home consumption.

El Toro has developed a loyal following by becoming a neighborhood Mexican restaurant. A large number of diners are on a first name basis with waitresses and management. People come for the Camerones Nortenos (jumbo shrimp stuffed with cheese, bacon wrapped, broiled and basted, served with avocado), Filete de Pescado (grilled catfish marinated in olive oil and garlic), and Fajitas. El Toro's takes great pride in its Fajitas. It serves them sizzling in a skillet with spices and vegetables. It serves 10 Fajita selections but the mix of chicken, steak, shrimp and Mexican sausage is hard to beat. For a different kind of steak, try Bistec Ala Mexicana. They cook it in tomato sauce, onions and peppers. Or settle for the Chiles Rellenos. Save room for the Chimi Cheese, another outrageous dessert. This is a rich and creamy cheesecake wrapped in a pastry tortilla, deep fried until flaky and golden, dusted with cinammon sugar, garnished with iced cream and drizzled with rich caramel. There's a shaded patio (behind the wagon wheels in the photo) for good weather. El Toro serves all flavors of Jarritos, the famous Mexican soft drink, but they also offer a good choice of wines and beers. El Toro's
ketch The Ketch is a classic beach shack. These ramshackle buildings with their shake shingles line Cape Cod and the New England Coast. They feature a bar and a dozen tables. The Ketch is an unpretentious building but this is the best Seafood in Central Kentucky. It begins with the Appetizers, such as Calamari, a Beer Cheese Platter, Cat Paws (bites of Catfish in a house dipping sauce), and Hushpuppies. Soups include Louisiana Seafood Gumbo and Clam Chowder. The menu is extensive, but our favorites are the Maryland Crab Cakes, Crab Stuffed Shrimp, Seafood Hot Brown, Broiled Seafood Platter and Fried Clam Strips. Regulars swear by the Southern Fried Catfish, Wood Grilled Shrimp Skewer and Lobster Tacos. There are lots of Platters, Buckets and Samplers if you like variety. A Sunday Brunch features Smoked Salmon Omelet, Shrimp & Grits and Crab Benedict. If you're coming with friends but personally don't want Seafood, there are Memphis Ribs, a Grilled Veggie Platter, Ribeye, and, at the Sunday Brunch, Huevos Rancheros, Breakfast Hot Brown, and some very good Banana Pecan Pancakes. It gets crowded so come early. Regency Road at Southland Drive.

LaRosa's opened in 1954 in Cincinnati, just as Pizza was first beginning to be commercially sold. Donald "Buddy" LaRosa emphasized carryout and delivery and advertised heavily. He had to give away a lot of pizza while he taught non Italians exactly what pizza was. Buddy used a family recipe created by his Aunt Dena. It features a distinctive thick, sweet sauce and a thick provolone cheese topping. Buddy, thinking way ahead of the competition, obtained exclusive rights to serve pizza at the old Coney Island and now Kings Island amusement parks, at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden, Riverbend Music Center, Perfect North Ski Resort, and Great American Ball Park (home of the Cincinnati Reds). LaRosa's opened locations in every Cincinnati neighborhood, then spread into the suburbs, northern Kentucky and eastern Indiana. Now, 65 years later, any pizza made by any other company doesn't taste authentic to Cincinnatians. Finally, LaRosa has come to Lexington. It's a full scale Italian restaurant. It sells the old classic style of Pizza, plus Calzones, Subs, Lasagna, Ravioli, Spaghetti and Meat Balls, Chicken Alfredo, Minestrone, Baked Onion Soup, and seven Salads. There are four kinds of Pizza, but you want the Original, which is Aunt Dena's. LaRosa's has almost a cult following and can get very busy, especially on weekends.

Mai Thai is a taste of Thailand heavy on seafood. Appetizers include the usual egg rolls, shrimp and squid items, but we prefer their 11 soups, particularly the Kao Lao (beef soup with meat balls and bean sprouts), Chicken Bamboo (which also includes mushrooms and onions), and Tom Yum (lime juice, shrimp, squid, mussels and scallops in lemon grass). They offer five salads, three with squid, shrimp and mixed seafood. Eight noodle entrees give you a choice of wide, narrow, clear, and fried, with peanuts, bean sprouts, broccoli, mushrooms, basil, and your choice of meats. Of seven curry entrees, we like the Red Sea (coconut milk, snow peas, basil, squid, shrimp and mussels). Eighteen stir fried items satisfy just about any taste, but the 15 specials are what the kitchen takes the most pride in. We like the Ginger Fish, Eggplant Squid, and Asparagus Shrimp. Mai Thai is in a remodelled house on Southland Drive next to the Oleika Temple.
Marikka's is Lexington's German restaurant, featuring a Bier Stube with 400 imports. Other German restaurants have come and gone in Lexington while Marikka's has survived because it serves outstanding food. Appetizers begin with an Uber Grosse Pretzel With Mustard & Beer Cheese, and include Potato Dumplings, Potato Pancakes, Hot Potato Salad, Red Cabbage and German Noodles. Entrees include Chicken and Seafood, but the greatness of German cuisine lies in its Veal, Sausage, Pork and Beef dishes, and Marikka's offers plenty of those. We particularly like the Sauerbraten (tender cut of beef marinated in red wine and vinegar with noodles and green beans) Jagerschnitzel (breaded pork in mushroom gravy with fried potatoes and red cabbage), Sauerkraut, Breads and Cheeses. The bar has its own cult of regulars. There are dartboards, pool tables and a Summer volleyball league. More importantly, Marikka's offers the best selection of Beers in Kentucky, imported from various countries. Local beer conneisseurs love being able to buy an exotic craft beer by the pitcher and take it to the patio. 411 Southland. 275-1925. In the photo, the entire strip is Marikka's. The restaurant is closest, the Bierstube in the middle.
Old Kentucky Chocolates may not be a restaurant, but it has its own cult following among foodies throughout Kentucky and across the nation. Since 1964 the Hurt family has studied the science and art of chocolate making and become one of the nation's premier small candy companies. Fans make pilgrimages to Southland Drive just to stock up on Bourbon Chocolates, Bourbon Cherries and Old Fashioned Pulled Creams. The "menu" now includes Gourmet Truffles, Sea Salt Caramels, and Chocolate-Covered Strawberries and Grapes. The ingredients --- milk, cream, honey, raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, grapes, and bourbon --- almost all come from farms, vineyards or distilleries within an hour of Lexington. They offer tours of the plant (although they were suspended during the COVID pandemic).
Stein's is a New York style delicatessen specializing in corned beef, salami, Reubens, chicken salad and soups. Everything is homemade, even the salad dressings. We like their soups: Chili, Vegetable, Chicken With Matzo Balls, and a soup of the day. The salami is worth ordering. It's made from Chicago Vienna beef. They offer Lasagna, Meatloaf, Blintzes, Sandwiches and a page of "Take n Bake" items. These are packages you take home, heat in your own oven, and eat.

Subway is the ultimate enterpreneurial story. College freshman Fred DeLuca explained to Physics Professor Peter Buck that he was going to have to drop out of school for lack of funding. Buck told him to open a sandwich shop. "People are tired of burgers and fried food. What they'd love is a good sandwich, made in front of them, with fresh ingredients that they choose themelves. Keep the shop small to avoid high overhead, and keep your prices low to draw customers." Buck offered an initial $1000 investment to help DeLuca get started. Thus was born Subway, a concept that would revolutionize the fast food industry.

Today's Subway is that concept carried to extremes. The sandwiches themselves can contain ham, chicken, tuna, steak, bacon, sausage or meatballs along with cheeses, lettuce, vegetables or mushrooms. You can order those ingredients as a Salad rather than a Sandwich. There are Wraps, Flatbread Breakfast Sandwiches and Protein Bowls. The Breads are excellent.

But lately, rivals have passed Subway at its own game. They've gone to local produce delivered daily, while Subway still relies on twice a week deliveries from regional warehouses. This especially impacts the lettuce, which by the third day is wilted and tasteless.

However, if you visit a Subway on the day of or the day after delivery, these are still the best sandwiches anywhere.

The Southland Taco Tico is part of a Back To The Future revival of the 60 year old Tex Mex fast food chain. Dan Foley opened the first one in Wichita in 1962 and 10 years later Taco Tico had developed its own cult following. Foley had created a unique meat filling, which included garlic and several spices. No other fast food chain, Mexican or otherwise, had anything tasting like it. In 1988 Foley sold the chain. The new company discarded Foley's meat formula. Their replacement might have been cheaper and easier to handle but customers didn't like it and quit coming. Franchises began closing. The state of Kansas shut down every Taco Tico for income tax evasion. By 2014, only 17 Taco Ticos remained in the nation, two in Kentucky. But then Lexington restauranteur Lee Greer bought the rights to open local franchises, and became a major investor in the company. He hopes to move the headquarters to Lexington and rebuild the chain.

In its new incarnation, Taco Tico offers the traditional Tacos, Burritos, Sanchos, Enchiladas and Quesadillas. Greer has obtained the original meat filling formula and long time Taco Tico cultists swear the various items taste just like they did Back In The Day. Now, however, there is an emphasis on locally sourced, fresh ingredients. Greer is an experienced and talented restauranter. It will be fun watching him try to rebuild this once beloved brand with this Southland location as its flagship.

Taziki's bills itself as "Mediterranean," but in fact it's mostly Greek and American. That, however, is not bad, because Taziki's does a great job with both halves of the menu. Signature items include Greek Lemon Chicken Soup, Tomato Basil Soup, Grilled Lamb & Skordalia Gyro, Gilled Tilapia w/ Caper Dill Sauce, Chargrilled Lamb and the Spanakopita Rollup. They serve a good Hummus, three good Salads, and seven Gyros. Their "feasts" include Grilled Chicken, Beef Tenderloin, Pork Loin, Salmon, Shrimp and Tilapia. There are two Vegetarian Plates : Grilled Veggies and Dolmades (grilled hand rolled grape leaves stuffed with rice). You can order Take Home Dinners For Four : Chicken Breast, Baked Chicken, Pork Loin and Lamb. There's Beer and Wine. For Dessert you can get Baklava from Hellas Bakery. Tasiki's is on Southland Drive, across the drive from the new hotel.
Winchell's is famous for Fried Green Tomatoes, the best version in town of this classic dish. But we also endorse the Pork Quesadillas. The Tomato Basil and Loaded Potato Soup are excellent. This is one of the last stands of Kentucky Hot Brown : roast turkey, country ham, toast, Mornay cheese sauce, cheddar and parmesan cheese, bacon and tomato. Their Catfish Dinner ranks up there with Hall's. It's a hand breaded catfish filet with jalapeno cheese grits, vinegar slaw and homemade tartar. For lunch try the Grilled Portabella Sandwich. Save room for Bourbon Pecan Pie. There's a heavy UK / sports ambience here, especially on game days. 348 Southland Drive. From downtown, use South Broadway / Harrodsburg Road to Rosemont Garden, turn left, then turn right onto Southland. Winchells's is on your right over in the shopping center just before the Oleika Temple building. winchells

Wong Wong is a carryout Chinese outlet using the exact same 120 item menu as 27 other Chinese outlets in Lexington. Given the tiny size of the kitchen here, we were a little skeptical. So we tried several items.


This is very good Chinese food. For starters, the Spring Roll appetizers are delicious. And, with Hunan, Wing's Tea House and Jade Garden all closed, Wong's Hot & Sour Soup is now the best in town. The Garlic Chicken is a little weak on garlic, but is tender and tasty nonetheless. We can highly recommend their Crab Rangoon, Ginger Scallops, and Garlic Eggplant.

The generic menu includes the same 14 Appetizers, eight Soups, eight kinds of Rice, 10 Lo Meins, 10 Pork dishes, 22 Poultry dishes, 13 Beef dishes, 14 Shrimp dishes, five Scallop dishes, and 15 Vegetables dishes as every restaurant in town using this same menu. There are five Egg Foo Young entrees, 24 Chef's Specialties, two kinds of Pad Thai and 12 Family Combinations.

This is carry out only. The interior is set up for pickup but not for dining in. When you call in, they reserve your order by your phone number.

458 Southland Drive. 859-276-0077.

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