Lexington Diner, on the corner of Short and Upper streets, is just the kind of place that a revitalized downtown Lexington needs. Those who work downtown can pop in for a hearty lunch and be reasonably assured that they will be back at their desks within the hour. If you live downtown, however, and crave an ersatz clubhouse where you can meet your friends for a leisurely breakfast, this is also the place to go.
Although open for just over a year, the 44-seat diner has gained a loyal following. The décor is charming, with lettuce-green walls, ceiling fans and lots of potted plants, plus picture windows that will offer great views of the old courthouse once construction on 21c Museum Hotel is completed.
The staff is friendly and helpful, and servers seem to know many customers by their first names.
As for the food, it can best be described as diner-style southern comfort. Chef and owner Ranada West-Riley is a big supporter of Kentucky Proud products, which means Weisenberger corn meal in the fried green tomatoes and local chorizo in breakfast dishes such as the breakfast burrito ($8.99) and the breakfast Brown, a concoction of chorizo, scrambled eggs, gravy, tomato, bacon and baked parmesan ($8.99.)
West-Riley even laces one of her lunch favorites, Nacho Mama's chili ($2.99 for a cup and $3.99 for a bowl) with Country Boy's Nacho Bait, a blonde ale laced with habaneros.
Lexington Diner is open for breakfast and lunch, and my first visit was during the lunch hour. I was told to try the fish and chips, a diner favorite ($10.99), and they were worthy of their star status (a star on the menu indicates an original favorite).
Three pieces of whitefish (two would have been sufficient) battered in Weisenberger flour was served with slaw and house-made kettle chips, making for a very satisfying meal.
Less satisfying was the Southern charm burger ($8.99) — a burger topped with pimento cheese, fried green tomato and chow chow. It's not that it wasn't good. It was, but I couldn't help thinking it would have been better if it had less going on; maybe leave the (very good) pimento off the burger and give it a sandwich of its own. The Mom's mustard potato salad I had with the burger, however, was spot-on.
One caveat about going during weekday peak lunch hours: It's loud. Tables are packed together in a small area and conversations tend to be heard three tables over. Add to that unnecessarily loud music and it makes for a fun but not particularly relaxing meal.
Breakfast, on the other hand, tends to be considerably more relaxing, at least it was on the day I was there, and the morning offerings are just as satisfying as those at lunch.
I tried two of the omelets, both priced at $8.99. The border omelet was stuffed with chorizo, cheddar cheese and tomato, giving it a slightly smoky taste. Topped with a dollop of pico de gallo and guacamole, it was just the ticket for a filling — but not overly so — breakfast.
The smoked gouda omelet ($8.99) with spring onions, Applewood bacon, smoked gouda and shiitake mushrooms, was another hit. The smoky flavor of the bacon and gouda was a perfect complement to the freshness of the mushrooms.
My breakfast companion opted for sweet rather than savory, and ordered the peaches and cream ($7.99), one of several French toast options on the menu. Its spiced peaches with schnapps, brown sugar and sweetened cream cheese make it more like a dessert than a breakfast item. Be forewarned: the peaches and cream is plenty large enough to split between two people.
For those looking for healthy options, the Lexington Diner offers several salads and wraps, as well as a few gluten-free options, but this popular spot is really for those who want large portions of Southern comfort food.