You wouldn’t expect the state known for its fried chicken to be vegan-friendly, but Kentucky has surprises up its sleeve. While the streets of Louisville run with bourbon, which makes its way into all sorts of meat preparation, the state’s largest city, Louisville, is also home to a growing plant-based community. The restaurants that formed to serve them run the gamut from sweet treats to good ole Southern comfort food. Here are eight of the hottest vegan and vegan-friendly eateries that you won’t want to miss.

1. Naive

Plant Yourself: Part of Naive’s ironic charm is its location in the up-and-coming Butchertown neighborhood - famous for exactly what it sounds like. But this plant-focused eatery is changing the landscape of the neighborhood by promoting thoughtful, local consumption of food.

Calling All: People! Naive focuses on promoting a vegetarian lifestyle, with almost every dish having options for omnivores and vegans. It’s especially great for those who take a holistic approach towards eating sustainably. Aside from being low on meat, Naive’s menu features produce sourced locally from small farmers. Their business thrives on cooperation and entrepreneurship.

Don’t Miss: Checking the menu out before you go. Naive’s commitment to seasonal eating means the menu changes with the availability of produce to prevent relying on flavorless, out-of-season vegetables. For cold weather months, dive into a butternut squash risotto or an endive salad decorated with pumpkin citronette and pomegranate arils. Seasonal versions of soba bowls are usually on hand to fortify you or cool you down, whichever the case may be. Visit during brunch hours on the weekend to take advantage of the fully stocked bar and a DJ who will turn your party of four into a good old-fashioned party.

Address1001 E Washington St.

2. Shahar Café

Plant Yourself: Located along the hip and touristy Bardstown Road in the heart of the Highlands neighborhood, Shahar gives off the vibe of the coolest retro café you were never lucky enough to grow up near. Pop art lines the walls, travel stickers litter the back bar, and tulip tables covered in graffiti complete the picture.

Calling All: Vegans who know eating vegan does not necessarily mean eating healthy. This is for those of us who need to be reminded to eat a vegetable. Shahar provides veganized versions of all the greasy, comfort-heavy junk foods your heart both desires and fears. From popcorn “shrimp” to Nashville hot chik’n sandwiches, you’re sure to find something to satisfy your cravings.

Save Room For: A pastry or ice cream cone for dessert! Pastries are made and delivered fresh daily from Sugar High Lou, and the soft-serve ice cream can be made into a shake or encased in a flavored waffle cone. Everything is vegan so if you’re used to denying yourself dessert, get ready to splurge! Another thing to look out for is occasional special order boxes that mimic meaty fast-food favorites. Recent offerings include the Big Smack box, with a sauce that leaves the original triple layered sandwich in the dust. Catch them while you can, as they are one day only and require preorders! Stay tuned to their Instagram for box announcements.

Address1511 Bardstown Rd.

3. V-Grits, 1025 Barret Ave.

When V-Grits opened in 2018 at the intersection of two of Louisville’s most hip neighborhoods, locals wondered if it could live up to the reputation of the live music bar that preceded it. But this vegan comfort food restaurant with a passion for racial justice and strong community ties couldn’t be a better neighbor. The combination restaurant and brewery donates a portion of beer sales to local nonprofits that work towards racial and environmental justice and equity. Their taglines “Soul food with a soul” and “Southern Fried Compassion” encapsulate their business model, and the food is just as upstanding as their morals.

Calling all: Consumers who want the comfort of a good Southern meal with none of the cruelty. Many meat substitutes are made in-house, meaning the big lab “meat” brand names take a backseat here. Chef and owner Kristina Addington has done a stellar job of recreating many dishes that Southerners grew up with, like chicken fried steak and sloppy joes.

Order for the Table: Dishes meant to share, like loaded mac or loaded nachos. Vegan chili tops most of the loaded options, but you won’t want to miss the Thai fries tossed in curry powder and topped with basil mayo, peanut sauce, and lime. Other dishes you should keep to yourself, like the chopped chicken cheesesteak or the Caribbean jerk platter. You won’t want to share these once you’ve got them!

Don’t Miss: Their community events! Whether it is a vegan Thanksgiving spread or a plant-based Oktoberfest platter, V-Grits loves a limited-time special. Keep an eye on their social media for announcements so you’re always in the know.

4. Half Peach Bakery and Café

Through a global pandemic and an extensive building renovation and relocation, Half Peach continues to handle whatever challenges are thrown their way. Located in the St. Matthews neighborhood, this combination Bakery-Café-Deli is your one-stop-shop for any of your plant-based needs.

Calling all: Vegan eaters with other dietary restrictions! Half Peach is inclusive of many diets, and every menu item denotes whether it contains nuts. They also let you know when a dish is gluten-free, soy-free, or contains no oil. If you have ever had to dance around dangerous menu items because of your diet, you can breathe a sigh of relief here.

Don’t Miss: Any of their dessert items produced fresh daily. From custom-made cakes to cookies lush with matcha and macadamia flavor, Half Peach excels at baked goods. I personally find their cakes inspiring as a home baker who struggles to make the perfect vegan cake. You don’t have to stop in-store to get your sugar fix, either; Half Peach baked goods are available at other plant-based or health-conscious outlets such as V-Grits or Rainbow Blossom Natural Food Markets.

Address170 Sears Ave.

5. Sugar High Lou, various locations

Sugar High Lou is a special treat because you have to seek them out to enjoy their cruelty-free snacks. Whether it’s at a pop-up, a local business like Shahar, or via custom order and pickup, you will remember where you were when you first took a bite.

Must-have: You can’t go without reliving your childhood with a variety of flavored Pop Tartz. From my personal favorite brown sugar cinnamon to the vividly colored wildberry, a bite of the flaky vegan pastry will blow the store-bought version out of the water. You can even get a supersized one to share, with the Popheart Pie (but if your sharing sweetheart is yourself, I won’t tell).

Don’t Miss: Seasonal popups and flavors! Pumpkin, carrot, matcha, s’mores… you name it, and owner/baker Ashley has tried it. She often does special orders of flavors for different businesses, so follow her on Instagram to keep up with the latest news and snag your favorites around the city. Different flavors can always be discussed for custom orders, so if you have a craving shoot her an email and see if it’s doable.

5. Flora Kitchenette

Calling all: Breakfast and brunch lovers! If that’s your jam, then Flora Kitchenette is on your menu. Featuring a wide variety of pastries, toasts, soups, salads, and scrambles, Flora will set your day up for success.

Order for the Table: An assortment of breakfast pastries (and dessert pastries, let’s be real. Brunch has no rules). There are too many cake donuts, chocolate chip cookies, toaster pastries, and CBD muffins for one person to eat alone, so grab some friends and get munching.

Don’t Miss: Weekly specials created by team members. Vegan pozole and taco salad? Yes, please. Mediterranean hummus salad? Sign me up. Carrot lox with a vegan schmear? Say. Less. Their routine offerings also pack a punch, including breakfast tacos loaded with black beans and vegan queso, and an omelet plate that comes with a citrus salad that will brighten up any morning.

Address: 1004 Barret Ave.

6. Red Top Gourmet Hot Dogs

From Wednesday to Sunday, Red Top serves up hot dogs with gourmet toppings that make you rethink this American classic. But what makes them special is that they are embracing the plant-based possibilities of food that holds a special place in meat-eaters' hearts.

Plant yourself: Red Top is located in Louisville’s Shelby Park neighborhood, just down the street from the bustling Logan Street Market. The neighborhood boasts several local businesses including breweries and art galleries and is considered one of the faster-developing areas of the city. Red Top itself has a cozy local bar atmosphere, with a patio in the back and a large side room that can be rented out for events.

Order for the Table: A combination of the plant-based offerings to see which strikes your fancy. Vegans and vegetarians can choose between a vegan kielbasa, a Beyond Italian sausage, or a whole roasted carrot. Toppings are mostly vegetarian-friendly if you ask for the meat components to be removed (they even offer a vegan chili made with lentils if you like your dogs messy), and the popular Veg Out style is already vegan with roasted garlic hummus and bourbon grilled onions. You can even create your own style by choosing from their lists of premium and free toppings. Mix and match sausages and toppings with your friends to find your favorite!

Take Note: Red Top does not offer a vegan cheese option, so if a topping list mentions cheese, ask them to omit it to keep it 100 percent plant-based.

Address1127 Logan St.

7. In Season

Calling All: Locavores! As the name suggests, everything at this downtown eatery is perfectly in season. Vegetables are sourced from local farms, so you will never eat anything flavorless that has been shipped long distances. You can even bring your meat-eating friends; In Season features meat that was produced on small local farms. (Though, I expect once they taste a grain bowl with fresh in-season produce, they won’t even look back).

Order for the Table: Your own mix and match bowls that you and your friends can all sample. Many of the premade menu items contain meat, and while you can ask them to be modified, the real fun is in creating your own green or grain bowl. Starting with a base of farm greens, kale, rice, and/or quinoa, you can add up to three seasonal produce items. Autumn offerings include chili maple Brussels sprouts, roasted delicata squash, and roasted heirloom beets or carrots. Finish it off with a number of vegan vinaigrettes including carrot chili, balsamic, or ginger maple.

Take Note: Seasonal availability means that your favorites will change throughout the year, so keep coming back at different times to discover what’s new! Also of note is that this is primarily a lunch spot, open from Monday to Friday from 11-3. You may need to take some time out to make it there while supplies last.

Address324 W Main St.

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