Though the chefs at Mandarin revere classically prepared Chinese dishes, they aren’t afraid to add a dash of inventive flair with internationally inspired twists. Hawaiian-style preparations of sweet-and-sour chicken join other Chinese comfort food, such as Chinese- or Singapore-style me fen, a mix of thin rice noodles with vegetables and meats such as pork and beef. Rice and noodle bowls from the Tour of Asia menu cull flavors from Osaka, Seoul, and Hong Kong, and traditional Chinese dishes such as chicken with snow peas and sesame beef round out the menu. Staffers pour martinis into curvy-stemmed glasses or help guests pair wines amid the dining room's mandarin-orange walls, bamboo placemats, and geisha statuettes.
Chefs at Happy Panda use crunchy vegetables, sweet pineapple, and lots of Asian herbs and spices (but never MSG) to create flavorful Szechuan and Hunan dishes. They fry egg rolls, wontons, and origami swans to a crisp in 100% vegetable oils and offer a number of vegetarian dishes in addition to the roast pork, chicken, beef, and seafood options. The restaurant runs a bustling dine-in and carry-out trade, particularly during the lunch rush, when diners can choose from 30 specials served with fried rice and an egg roll or soup.
The Tan brothers grew up in the restaurant industry, as their father was a renowned chef of China. At Rong Tan's, this trio of siblings brings its family traditions to the states with a menu honed overseas. Diners can savor sichuan-spiced lobster stewed with veggies or order the Empress chicken, lightly fried and served on a throne of pure gold. Rice and noodle dishes, house specialties—including the orange-flavored beef—and vegetable options round out a menu with dozens of entrees.
The carved bodies of fierce dragons, their eyes aglow with neon red lights, corkscrew about Magic Wok’s foyer as if awakened by the aromas of Sichuan, Hunan, Mandarin, and Cantonese dishes. In the dining room, lime-green walls come alive with red tapestries, accented by canary-hued Chinese pictograms. After polishing off a Thai-style fish fillet, guests retreat to the bar to sip plum wine, elixirs wrung from apples and pineapple, or champagne with all the bubbles picked out.
For more than 60 years, KingFish Restaurants have been grilling, broiling, and frying a bounty of sea-dwelling edibles. Lobster tails, tilapia fillets, and freshly shucked oysters punctuate a menu of more than 25 seafood selections that adorn plates breaded in a golden crust or blackened in Cajun seasonings. More terrestrial morsels arrive in the form of fried frog legs and 10-ounce rib-eye steaks, which are grilled to order and taught to swim before arriving to tables.
The flavors aren't the only things inspired by the majesty of the water, though; two of the restaurant's locations are perched directly on the banks of the Ohio River. Diners can gaze through expansive windows or breathe fresh air on a covered patio as they savor their meals amid sparkling waters framed by the Louisville skyline. The understated sound of rushing water is periodically interrupted on select nights, when live bands entertain dinner guests and provide a soundtrack for the underwater ecosystem's endless Disney auditions.
The owners of North End Café don't just purchase local produce: they also grow vegetables and herbs in their own garden in Simpsonville. Since April, 2003, their chefs have championed this focus on local, seasonal ingredients with a healthy approach to cooking. North End Café's menu features traditional meals from around the world, ranging from grass-fed beef burgers and flatiron steaks to grilled fish and scallops to vegetarian lasagnas, stir-fry, and cakes. For sharing, chefs build eclectic small plates such as crab cakes, fried goat-cheese ravioli, and almond-crusted brie. They also prepare a range of vegan and gluten-free dishes, taking care to avoid the pyrotechnics that result when steak and tofu touch.
To accompany these meals, bartenders pour American and international wines, and blend cocktails from fruit and old-fashioned ingredients. At the Highlands location, a brand-new tap system spouts 23 craft beers, including imperial IPAs and peppery black porters. In warmer months, the aromas of cooking and laughter of clientele also fill the Highlands location's new outdoor patio, an expansive wooden deck surrounded by leafy plants and tall, wispy trees.