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Japanese Mexican Occasion

Lately, downtown Bowling Green has experienced a renaissance, with a new professional baseball stadium, new performing arts center and new government buildings. The culinary scene has also been rejuvenated. No other American city of 60,000 can match Bowling Green's six fine downtown restaurants. All restaurants are within walking distance of each other, the baseball stadium (above), the professional playhouse, the performing arts center and the Square, and just down College Street from Western Kentucky University. The mural at right, depicting the Square in 1940, covered an inside wall at the original Mariah's. Bistro and Brickyard are two of the state's top 10 restaurants; 440 Main is in the state's top 25; and Thai Thai is one of the state's top Southeast Asian restaurants. Neither downtown Lexington nor Louisville has as many highly ranked restaurants. The new Steamer is an outstanding seafood outlet, already developing a loyal crowd.

Lunch Box
440 Main / Micki's
Patent Pending
Thai Thai El Rincon

The Bistro is on College Street two blocks up from the Square. It may be in an 1893 house but the menu is cutting edge, including the finest wine list in town. Among the appetizers the Crab Meat Beignets and Toasted Ravioli are our favorites. There are six salads plus a Soup Of The Day, which is usually a bisque of some sort. They offer three steaks but the Filet Pappato (8 oz. filet rolled in crushed peppercorns served in a Gorgonzola cognac cream sauce) is the best. The Salmon Stuffed With Crabmeat, Shrimp Scampi, and Mediterranean Tilapia are all really good, but the stars of the dinner menu are their Lobster Ravioli (one of two best versions of this entree in Kentucky) and Shrimp & Grits (one of the five best versions of this in the entire South). The Drunken Chicken is braised in red wine with pan roasted vegetables. We think their Gnocchi Bolognese (potato dumpling with a meat sauce) is the best version of this in the state. In all, they've got four types of Chicken and seven Pastas, of which we like the Tortellini Alla Pan. If you're just stopping by for Pizza, there are four, including Tomato Florentine and Rustic Potato and the only Diavolo Pizza in the state (it has angus beef tips, mushrooms and onions in a red wine sauce). Save room for dessert so you can savor the Baklava, Spumoni or Cannoli.

The Brickyard Cafe includes The Garden. a covered patio addition. It features Mediterranean and Italian cuisine. The Brickyard was created by Zeljko Simic and Robert Stupar, a restaurateur and baker in Bosnia and Croatia. They came here in 1995, bought the 1857 home in 1997, and spent a year renovating it. Of the appetizers, we like the Crab Cakes (served with chipotle aioli and topped with shrimp salsa) and Seafood au Gratin (shrimp, scallops, crabmeat, onions, peppers, celery, lobster cream sauce, monterey jack cheese and vegetable). Whatever their Soup of the Day, order a cup. It's always good. They offer four salads, of which we like the Greek and Mediterranean. The entrees present difficult choices. There are two steaks and Veal Marsala, Parmesan and Picatta. Chicken comes as Saltimbocca, Picatta and Blackened. They offer six pastas, of which we enjoyed the Prince Edward Island (steamed mussels over linguini in marinara), Voodoo (shrimp, scallops, mussels, peppers, onions and linguine with white wine cajun sauce), and Tortellini (four cheese tortellini with mush- rooms, prosciutto and sundried tomato sauce). There are also four pizzas.
If you're in a nostalgic mood, stop at The Lunch Box one block west of the Square at 824 Center Street. This is as pure 1940s as you can find. It was opened by Red Cox in 1941 and hasn't changed a bit even though it's now under different ownership. Don't let the outside appearance deter you; 10 years of construction on three municipal buildings and the pro baseball stadium have taken their toll. But the inside is spacious and clean and the extensive menu offers classic comfort food. Signature items are the Fried Catfish Sandwich, Potato Soup, Chicken Fingers, Wings and Barbeque. They make a very good Salad --- no wilted greens here --- and whichever dressing you request comes in a teacup so you'll have plenty. Sides are excellent. Somebody at your table must order the Mustard Cole Slaw. It's unique and delicious. Their Sweet Tea is the best in town and the desserts are very good, although entree and side portions are quite generous so you might not have room. Bring cash; they don't take credit cards. Prices are very reasonable, with $7 entrees. Staff at the surrounding government complex flood the place over lunch, so try to come at 11 or 1. On baseball evenings the dinner hour can be busy, but otherwise evenings are quiet.
Mariah's has moved from State Street to the HitCents Complex, its windows now looking out on right field of the the Hot Rod Baseball Field. The menu remains the same. Of the appetizers, we like the Baked Brie Wedge (brie wrapped in phyllo dough and baked, then served with an apple caramel sauce) and Quesadilla (wheat tortilla stuffed with grilled chicken, jalapenos, cheese and chiles, then toasted). The Baked Potato Soup (with cheddar, onions and bacon bits) is excellent. They offer five salads, of which we think the Santa Fe (greens, cheddar, jack, tomatoes, corn, grilled chicken squares, black bean salsa, ranch dressing) is best. The eight entrees include five steaks (filet mignon, New York strip, prime rib, Hawaiin ribeye and top sirloin), but we really like the Bourbon Glazed Salmon and Mahi (grilled mahi basted in jerk seasonings and served with a mango salsa). There are seven pastas, of which our favorite is the Tomato Basil. Six pizzas and a page of sandwiches, including Hot Brown and French Dip, offer alternatives. Desserts feature Cheesecake, Ice Cream Pie, and Bread Pudding. The Lemonade is great, but so are the teas and flavored fruit drinks.
Steamer is the downtown Carolina Seafood restaurant, a block below the Square. The menu features such Carolina favorites as Charleston She Crab Shrimp Gumbo, Chicken Sausage Shrimp & Crab Gumbo, Octopus Tentacles, and Seafood Parfait (shrimp, crab, avocado marinated with spicy tomato sauce). There are Kettles filled with Shrimp, Clams Mussels and Oysters. The seven Salads are large and well crafted, our favorite being the Island Salmon Salad (Seared Salmon, Mixed Greens, Grilled Pineapple, Cranberries, Feta Cheese and Pecans). The Dungeness Crab Legs, Snow Crab Legs, Flounder, Scallops, Shrimp & Grits, Crab Cakes and Catfish are all good. For the risk takers, there's a Frogmore Stew (known in Carolina as a Low Country Boil), Voodoo Skillet (Blackened mix of Shrimp, Scallops, Smoked Sausage, Peppers, Onions and Potatoes) and Shrimp Creole. For nonseafood lovers there's Chicken, Ribs, Pasta, Pulled Pork and Burgers. Of the Sides, be sure to try the Collards, Red Rice and White Cheddar Cheese Grits. Save room for dessert : Key Lime Pie, Lemon Ice Box Cake, White Chocolate Peach Cobbler and Cinammon Breasd Pudding.
We list this restaurant as 440 Main, but they advertise themselves as TWO restaurants at the same location, the other being Micki's. As seen in the photo at right, they occupy adjacent spaces, hang matching awnings and offer matching sidewalk furniture. Micki's is the bar and daytime grill; 440 Main opens at 5 and is the classy dinner restaurant. They both serve good Cajun food with excellennt mixed drinks and wine list. We like the two seafood appetizers : Carnivale (shrimp, scallops and crawfish baked in sun dried tomato sauce and jack cheese) and Cosmopolitan (tuna and shrimp served chilled with cusabi and cocktail sauce). Louisiana Gumbo is one of the best soups in town. Jambalaya, Blackened Salmon and Open Faced Crab Cakes are a powerful trio of entrees, all of which are delicious. Of the five salads, our favorite is the Bayou Chicken. If you're in at lunch and only want a sandwich, you'll go away happy with Grilled Cheese/Chili, Blackened Catfish, or Muffaletta. Over in the 440 for dinner, we especially like the Day Boat Scallops (in white wine bacon butter sauce with green apple slaw), Cajun Salmon (in crawfish butter sauce with jalapeno cheddar grits) , Trout Charleston (stuffed with crabmeat, artichoke hearts, mushrooms, meunierre sauce), and Southern Style Crab Cakes (with roast corn and black bean salsa).

On the Square ext to the theater, Patent Pending is an upscale lunch stop. Even though it's open from 11 am to 10 pm and midnight on weekends, it's still just a lunch stop. But it's a really good one. The Red Pepper Bisque, Lobster Bisque and whatever third soup they're offering each day are alone worth a visit. Among their Appetizers, the Crab Cakes are by far the best. The Crab Cakes plus a cup of soup would make a fine lunch or even dinner. There are four Salads, of which we prefer the Baron Rutherford (walnuts, apples, blue cheese, and a raspberry vinaigrette). The back page of the menu offers five overpriced Burgers, five sandwiches and three Spinach Tortilla Wraps. The sandwiches include a BLT, Ham & Turkey and Grilled Cheese. Then there's the Bourbon BBQ Pulled Pork and Two Meatball Special. Wraps feature Turkey, Avocado and Veggie. You need to stop here when you have plenty of time. Service is abyssmally slow. If you're on the way home from a Hot Rods baseball game, performing arts event, play, or WKU football or basketball game, this makes for a nice evening finale. If you're in a hurry to get somewhere, forget it.

Thai Thai at 712 Chestnut is an outstanding Southeast Asian restaurant, much better than you would find in any other city Bowling Green's size. It's in yet another of those great residence restorations that make restaurants here so special. Appetizers include Satay Chicken, Egg Rolls and Fried Sweet Potato. There are five Soups, of which we prefer the Shrimp/Chicken/Fish and Tom Kha Chicken (Coconut Milk, Chicken and herbs). Of their eight Salads the stars are the Waterfall (spice grilled beef, mint, scallions, lime and roast rice) and Som Tam (papaya, shrimp, peanut, garlic, chiles and lime). The usual Noodle/Rice dishes include the classics Pad Thai (fried noodles, chicken, shrimp, egg, bean sprouts, onions, chopped peanuts), Crab Fried Rice (jasmine rice, crabmeat, onion, peas, carrots, egg) and Pineapple Fried Rice (jasmine rice, pineapple, shrimp, chicken, onion, cashews). We think their signature Entrees are the Basil Eggplant (stir fried chicken/beef, onion, eggplant, broccoli, carrot, zucchini, chiles and basil), Sweet & Sour (spicy sweet and sour sauce, chicken/beef, pineapple, tomato, cucumber, scallion, zucchini and onion), and Thrice Ginger (sauteed chicken/beef, onion, pepper and fresh ginger in a delicate ginger sauce). However, if you're a hard core Thai lover, they also serve the Classics : Masaman Beef (braised USDA London Broil in masaman curry sauce, onion, potatoes), Hor Mok (red curry, mixed seafood, herbs, vegetables and egg) and Four Friends (pan seared chicken, beef, shrimp, vegetables, spicy sauce and cashews). They can adjust your spice level on a 1-10 scale. On a first visit start with a 1; anything above a 3 is blazing hot. Allow time for very slow service.
El Rincon is the city's newest Mexican restaurant. It's on Chestnut Street across from Thai Thai. The five page menu includes all the usual Mexican favorites. There are seven Salads, six Fajita, eight Shrimp, four Chicken, nine Burrito, five Enchilada, and seven Quesadilla entrees. Specialties include the famous Molcajete Stew, a hot Lava Bowl containing beef skirt steak chunks, chicken strips, shrimp, onions and peppers. The lava bowl spreads the heat more evenly, and then retains the heat during the entire dinner. Rincon is only the fourth Kentucky restaurant to serve this authentic village entree. There are two creative items : El Rincon Pasta (chicken & smoked sausage in a creamy Creole sauce over fettucini pasta with a Mexican sauce), and El Rincon Caribbean Jerk Chicken (glazed jerk chicken skewers with Caribbean mango sauce served over rice). The Huevos Con Chorizo (an omelette with Mexican sausage) is a nice touch even though El Rincon is not open for breakfast.
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