Corto Lima

Buckle up. Get your stretchy waistbands ready. Corto Lima is one of our favorite restaurants in Lexington and a go-to place to take out-of-town guests. There are SO many great dishes and drinks at Corto Lima that it took me three times visiting to hit all the dishes I wanted to highlight! It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it…

Corto Lima is a modern Latin-inspired restaurant with influences all over Mexico, South America, the Caribbean and even the Southwest US. It is a small, lively, well-decorated venue that always seems to be popping with energy. The head chef is Jonathan Lundy, who previously was at Jonathan at Gratz Park and Coba Cocina, both of which are now closed.

Corto (y) Lima literally translates to “Short and Lime” – aptly named because it is on the corner of Short Street and Limestone Street. As a somewhat Spanish speaker, I appreciated that. It’s the little things.

Restaurant atmosphere

As with anywhere downtown, parking can be challenging, but is doable. There are parking garages on Barr between MLK and Limestone and on Main, also between MLK and Limestone. You can also park on Barr Street near the garage – I usually am able to find spots here and they’re usually free since you are likely going after 5 pm.

 

Reservations

Corto Lima doesn’t take reservations for small parties. You can get priority seating for parties 5 or larger by calling ahead (haven’t tried this, but it is on the website).

My recommendation is to go and put your name in and do one of two things:

  1. Take a quick walk to West Main Crafting Co for a fancy craft cocktail
  2. Walk up to the usually crowded bar at Corto Lima for some guacamole and a Prickly Pear Margarita (more about these later)– I’ll leave the choice of frozen or on the rocks up to you.
Guacamole and Prickly Pear Margarita while you wait

Corto Lima will call you when the table is ready. Usually seems to be around 30-45 minutes most nights.

 

Appetizers

If you didn’t already order the guacamole above, I’d definitely order it here. It’s very fresh and authentic. Or you can order a second guacamole. No judgment.

The salsa trio is really tasty and unique. Goes well as another “chip” appetizer if you’re also ordering the guacamole. Their chips are fried to order, so they come out warm and crispy. The three salsas are pineapple-serrano, roasted tomato, and salsa verde, which are very different from one another and equally delicious.

Salsa Trio

 

Drinks

The drink selection at Corto Lima is outstanding. There is even a specialty rum and cachaça menu.

Cachaça (pronounced ka-SHAH-suh) is a spirit made from fermented sugar cane juice, very popular in Brazil, and used to make the famous Caipirinha (pronounced kai-pee-REEN-yuh)  cocktail. A caipirinha is cachaça, lime juice, sugar, ice, and finished with a sugar cane garnish.

The caipirinha was very good. I’d definitely order one of these just because there aren’t a lot of places that serve them, and Corto Lima seems to use quality ingredients.

Caipirinha

The star drink is the Prickly Pear Margarita. It’s bright pink color makes for a very manly drink. I prefer mine frozen, but on the rocks is equally delicious. Prickly pear is a cactus with bright pink fruit. I also learned in school that the prickly pear discharges glochids (spines), which adhere to the skin, causing extreme itching and irritation. Leave the prickly pear picking to the experts. Nerd tangent over. Get the Prickly Pear Margarita, it’s great!

Prickly Pear Margarita – frozen
Aerial view of Prickly Pear Margarita on the rocks

The mojito was also excellent. I always appreciate a good mojito.

Mojito

Small Plates

This is one of the aspects that makes Corto Lima somewhat tough to order. They have chip appetizers, small plates, tacos, and main dishes. I recommend going with a group of 4 (or more) so you can try many different dishes, almost tapas-style. I prefer going with several different small plates in waves, then seeing how hungry you are after each before deciding to order more. One tip is that you can ask the waiter how many items each small plate comes with, then ask for more, depending on the number of people eating it. For example, arepas and tamales are easier to eat if each person has one.

I’ve tried a lot of the small plates, all of which are great.

The tamales are one of my favorites. Simple, but well-executed and a nice smoky flavor. The masa (corn dough) used is freshly ground. Reminder: don’t eat the husk. This version is with barrel smoked pork carnitas and comes with a salsa verde. They do sometimes run out of these so order early in the meal.

Tamales

The Papas en la Latta (literally, fries/potatoes in a can) were fantastic. We didn’t find out about these until we had been to Corto Lima a few times, and for our waistlines, it was probably a good thing we didn’t. Of course you have to add the pork carnitas to them. That’s always a good idea. When they bring the fries out, the can is inverted and you are left with a mountain of fries, queso, jalapeno, pico, and pork. I know, it sounds just awful. These are so good, definitely get the Papas en la Latta.

Papas en la Latta – photo taken after the mountain had collapsed!

The Blue Corn Empanadas were unique and delicious, almost like a Latin crab rangoon. Blue Corn is most commonly seen in the Southwest US, with anthocyanins giving the corn its blue-purple pigment. The Blue Corn exterior makes for a neat-looking dish, but it’s the stuffing that will keep you ordering this dish: Chilean rock crab, green chiles, cream cheese, and a pineapple-banana pepper hot sauce. Unique is an adjective that will be overused in this post, but Corto Lima has a lot of…. unique… dishes.

Blue Corn Empanadas

Arepas are a Venezuelan/Colombian dish made from ground maize or maize flour into a patty. The patty is grilled and stuffed with a variety of items. The arepas are referred to at Corto Lima as “South American grilled cheese,” stuffed with guacamole, pico de gallo, and queso fresco. They are refreshingly simple and tasty.

Arepas

I’ve always enjoyed a good ceviche. Ceviche is a seafood dish (types vary) that is composed of fresh raw fish. The fish isn’t “cooked” in the typical manner (no heat), but is rather cured with the acidity of lime juice, which is an interesting concept. The marinating in citric acid denatures the proteins in the seafood, giving it a “cooked” appearance. My roommate and I tried to make ceviche in school (many moons ago) and it was a royal pain, but turned out OK. I think I’ll stick with Corto Lima’s version (shrimp, onion, sweet potato). Ceviche is really good in summer months as a light, refreshing, citrusey plate.

Ceviche

The mussels are steamed in Tecate beer and in a broth with arbol chiles, chorizo, and pico de gallo, with grilled bread for dipping. These are really good, just make sure there are multiple people eating the mussels because there are a lot of them.

Mussels

I’ve also had the green chile mac ‘n’ cheese, which was great. The poblano peppers give it a nice kick.

Is that enough small plates for you? If not, I can always go back to review more.

 

Tacos

I’ve tried all the tacos and they are all good. The options are adobo chicken, steak with poblanos, pork, and spicy shrimp. One tip is to ask for no onions if you don’t LOVE onions, because several of these seem to be covered with onions.

Chicken Adobo and Poblano Steak tacos

Main Course

If you made it to this point of the meal and are still wanting more, all I can say is that I’m impressed. I think of the main course as optional here (after all, you’ve read the Small Plates section), but the below three are great if you’re looking for more.

Feiojada is a Brazilian pork and black bean “stew” that is really good. It didn’t seem that soupy to me, more just a delicious plate of food.

Feijoada

The Quinoa Chaufa is a dish that I would’ve never ordered if not hearing it from the bartender while we were waiting for a table. It was described to me as a “Peruvian stir fry with quinoa.” It comes with wok-fried vegetables, quinoa, egg, and soy sauce. Nice and salty, but very good. You can also add a meat if so inclined – we added chicken. 

Quinoa Chaufa

In case you’re keeping track, we’ve now traveled to the American Southwest, Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, and now Argentina and Uruguay with the steak chimichurri.

Chimichurri is a green (what they have at Corto Lima) or red sauce made from parsley, garlic, olive oil, red wine vinegar, and oregano. It is uncooked and is often placed on top of a grilled meat, in this case, steak.  The steak chimichurri is very good, but it is a large steak, so make sure you’re either splitting or have saved enough room.

Steak Chimichurri

 

Dessert

Yeah, right.

 

Brunch

Corto Lima started a weekend brunch a few months ago and, shocker, it is amazing.

The breakfast burrito is probably the best that I’ve ever had. It is enormous and absolutely stuffed with scrambled eggs, guacamole, chorizo, potatoes, poblano chiles, queso blanco, and pico de gallo. It really is unbelievable.

Breakfast Burrito

The rest of the brunch menu is here, but it would be hard to stray from the breakfast burrito in my opinion. Brunch is Saturday and Sunday from 11:30 am to 2 pm.

 

Take-Home

Corto Lima is one of my favorite and most unique restaurants in Lexington, and it is a great place to go with another couple or group of friends. Corto Lima is a lively location and has amazing food. Try as many dishes as you can, then go back another time to try more.

Hope you enjoyed your geography and food lesson! I know I did!

 

Hours: M,W,Th,Su: 11:30a-10p, Fr-Sa: 11:30a-11p, Tu: CLOSED

Address: 101 West Short Street, Lexington, KY 40507

Phone: (859) 317-8796

 

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