Trying Lexington cuisine from A to Z
From point A to point Z, this Lexington family has been through central Kentucky hunting down “alphabet restaurants.”
The Tyler family started their restaurant adventures in July 2018. In the last year, they have been to 26 different restaurants in the Lexington, Versailles and Bowling Green area that each begin with a different letter of the alphabet.
Chris Tyler, 43, said his children wanted to eat out more often. Chris decided to go each week to a new restaurant, trying new places and foods.
Chris said he and his wife Hui-Nee, 41, got the idea to start this from a friend, Brian Brockman, who had done similar alphabet dinners with friends years before.
In 2003, Brockman came across the idea by accident. He and his friend group had been going out to eat, and by the time they reached D, they realized they had been going to restaurants in alphabetical order. Brockman’s friend, Jessica Justen, was the one who pointed it out and suggested they keep going through the alphabet.
However, before they could finish the alphabet, Justen passed away. After she passed, her best friend suggested Brockman continue the tradition, to which he did, and later did it again with his wife for date nights after they had their daughter.
“I think Jessica would be pretty excited to see that 16 years later people are still doing it,” Brockman said.
Chris and Hui-Nee talked about it, and decided they were going to do alphabet dinners with their family like they had done with Brockman years ago, but try to change the rules a little bit to better fit their schedules.
“It would give us an opportunity where we were going to be intentional, that we are going to go out to eat as a family at least once a week,” Chris said. “And we’ve done that all except one week where we had some sickness in the family.”
While the Tylers went to a restaurant every week, only every other week was considered a “letter week.”
The members of the family took turns choosing the restaurant on letter weeks. On alternating weeks, they could go repeat a restaurant, and it didn’t matter what letter it started with.
After a year, the Tylers landed on Z on Friday, July 26. It was Syd-Nee Tyler’s turn to choose the last restaurant. Syd-Nee, 10, chose Zen Sushi & Sake, located in Beaumont off Harrodsburg Road.
“We don’t go there very often,” Syd-Nee said. “We’ve only been there once or twice, so I decided we should go there.”
The Tylers wanted to go to local restaurants that they hadn’t tried before or that they had only been to once or twice, and not recently. Chains were still allowed, but Chris said they ended up going to mainly local places.
Throughout their time looking for restaurants, there were some challenges, such as finding restaurants that begin with certain letters such as U and X. For these letters, they had to bend the rules a bit: The restaurant name had to have the letter in the name because they were unable to find one that began with the right letter. For U they ended up at Culver’s. For X, they ended up at Campestre Mexican Bar & Grill.
Hui-Nee was in charge of letters D, I, N, S and X; Chris was in charge of E, J, O, T and Y; Chris and Hui-Nee’s son Jonas, 15, was in charge of C, H, M, R and W; their son Zeke, 14, was in charge of B, G, L, Q and V; and Syd-Nee was in charge of A, F, K, P, U and Z.
Hui-Nee said one of the biggest challenges they faced when trying to stick to the letters was agreeing on where to eat. She saw this as an opportunity to show her family different types of food they may not have tried before.
“Sometimes the kids want to stick with the same type of cuisine,” Hui-Nee said. “We still have to try to be active in trying different types of cuisine and make the kids try it, instead of always sticking to the type they like.”
Chris also said it was hard trying to find time during the school year to go out to eat. Or even to eat together.
“We have three kids that play soccer, referee, swim and play piano,” Chris said. “Everyone has a busy schedule. With everyone’s schedule, we have had to be intentional some weeks to make sure we find time to go out to the restaurants together. But then it’s been really fun to talk about our experiences at the restaurants.”
If they didn’t have time to go to a dinner place, the Tylers would instead go to a breakfast place to ensure they had a family meal at least once that week.
After sharing their dining adventures on Facebook, Chris said some have told him they tried different restaurants the Tylers recommended.
“We have also had other friends let us know they were going to try to do some version of the alphabet dinners with their families as well,” Chris said. “So that’s one of the neat experiences I’ve seen come away with this. It’s neat to see that other families have taken on the same challenge.”
Out of all the restaurants they have been to, the Tylers decided El Tapatio in Versailles was a family favorite.
As for their future plans, Chris said they are now embarking on a year-long journey to try different ethnic foods around town. They have identified 22 ethnic cuisines in Lexington, one in Louisville and one in Frankfort. Just like the alphabet, the Tylers are going to try to go every other week to try these restaurants.
For the alphabet dinners, they went to:
A – Asian Wind
B – Bella Notte
F – Foliage
H - Honeywood
I – Indi’s Chicken
L – Local Taco
M – Mandarin Café and Sushi
N – NiceNPan
Q - Qdoba Mexican Eats
R – Red Lobster (Bowling Green)
S – Sav’s Grill & West African Cuisine
U – Culver’s
Z – Zen Sushi & Sake