Where to Eat in Memphis

 Make the most of Memphis with this guide to the city's must-try restaurants for barbecue, pizza, burgers and beyond.

By: Kat Robinson

Photo By: Kat Robinson

Photo By: Kat Robinson

Photo By: Grav Weldon

Photo By: Kat Robinson

Photo By: Kat Robinson

Photo By: Kat Robinson

Photo By: Kat Robinson

Photo By: Kat Robinson

Photo By: Kat Robinson

Photo By: Kat Robinson

Photo By: Grav Weldon

Photo By: Kat Robinson

Photo By: Kat Robinson

Photo By: Kat Robinson

Photo By: Kat Robinson

Photo By: Kat Robinson

Photo By: Kat Robinson

Photo By: Kat Robinson

Photo By: Kat Robinson

Photo By: Kat Robinson

Photo By: Kat Robinson

Photo By: Kat Robinson

Photo By: Kat Robinson

Photo By: Kat Robinson

Photo By: Kat Robinson

Photo By: Kat Robinson

Photo By: Kat Robinson

Music and Meals

Memphis, molded by music, spread out far and wide from its hub on the banks of the Mississippi River, brings in passersby and hangers-on from all over the world. Best known for Beale Street and the blues, it’s also the origination point for Memphis-style barbecue and barbecue spaghetti. Still, there’s far more on which to dine on in this city than just barbecue.

Cozy Corner BBQ

From the outside, this close-to-downtown barbecue joint could be confused with a laundromat or an old grocery store. Inside, the neat-as-a-pin eatery offers up a mass of smoked meats, including barbecue pork butt, ribs, Cornish hen, chicken wings and beef summer sausages. You can also delve into a Memphis specialty, barbecue spaghetti, as a small side or a bulk package to take home and share.

Blue Plate Cafe

The original yellow cottage along Poplar became so popular that two other locations were added for this longtime Memphis breakfast joint, where pancake stacks come fluffy and the biscuits are soft. The Huevos Rancheros are a standout in a newspaper-style menu that includes omelets, oatmeal and anything your breakfast-loving heart could ever want.

Arcade Restaurant

Though it’s billed as the oldest restaurant in Memphis, this oversize diner is refreshingly contemporary, with an updated décor that incorporates the great age of road-food culture and today’s nostalgic charm. This is the place to dine like Elvis on a peanut butter and banana sandwich, grab a milkshake, start the day with a breakfast of sweet potato pancakes and deep-fried French toast, or lunch on daily plate lunches like meatloaf. Ask for the Elvis booth.

Interstate BBQ

Once a grocery store, Interstate’s oversized dining rooms now lure thousands in for big fat plates of rib tips and elephantine beef ribs. Your plate of already sauced meat comes with your choice of sides – barbecue beans, coleslaw and/or potato salad. The smoked turkey plate — turkey marinated in a blend of spices and served with Interstate sauce — is a special treat.

Garibaldi's

A local hotspot which draws loyal University of Memphis alumni long after they’ve graduated, this old-school pizza joint delivers on hand-tossed pies served with a variety of toppings. Step back into the 1980s (or earlier) and experience a place where you can still bust a score on Ms. Pac-Man, share slices of good pie on paper plates and sing along to Purple Rain with everyone else in the restaurant.

Gibson's Donuts

Since 1968, this friendly local doughnut shop has offered its raised and cake pastries to a never-ending stream of customers. Of note: blueberry fills with both blueberry coulis and whipped cream — a local favorite. Best of all, Gibson’s is open 24 hours a day. Booths and tables are limited, so get yours to go.

Central BBQ

When it comes to Memphis barbecue wars, Central almost always ranks in the top three or four. Its magnificent dry-rubbed pork ribs are impossibly succulent, and the popular barbecue nachos (served with pork or chicken, cheese and jalapenos) are an excellent dish to share; the hot chicken wings are also a perennial favorite. The original location offers an oversized outdoor patio as well as an ample dining room.

Gus's Fried Chicken

If you go to Gus’s for anything but fried chicken, you’ll likely soon change your mind. Napoleon “Na” Vanderbilt’s fried chicken was well-known to the citizens of Mason, Tennessee: With local support, Na constructed and opened the first restaurant, Maggie’s Short Orders, in 1973. Na’s son, Vernon “Gus” Bonner, inherited the recipe and the restaurant. Family friend and Memphian Wendy McCrory brought the restaurant’s distinctive flavors to Memphis in 2001. Get your chicken with beans and greens and other things, but expect a line, especially when nearby Beale Street is hoppin’.

Payne's BBQ

Sweet and tangy barbecue sauce and an extraordinarily pungent sweet and sour yellow coleslaw differentiate the cheap, comforting sandwiches and plates you’ll get at this old cinderblock stop along Lamar Avenue. Smoked sausages and chopped and pulled pork star on the simple menu, though the best secret may be the sloppy smoked-barbecue sandwiches, served on white bread with a smile and a cheery greeting at the counter.

Dyer's

Since 1912, a single vat of grease (strained daily) has been utilized in the frying of countless millions of burger patties served at this Beale Street institution. In fact, when the restaurant was moved to Beale Street a short while back, a parade commenced in which the fat vat was carefully transported. Many claim this ancient cast iron edifice is the source of the world’s most unique burger flavor. Get a seat at the bar to watch the burger making in action. (Tip: Turn your burger over when you get it so the top bun gets the grease and the bottom bun doesn’t disintegrate).

Charlie Vergo's Rendezvous

A brotherly argument over a meat-and-three restaurant called Wimpy’s started this back-alley barbecue basement in 1948. Originally opened as a beer-and-ham-sandwich joint, the Rendezvous quickly gained renown for its dry-rub ribs. Mr. Charlie’s coal-chute smoker still flavors the air near the Peabody Hotel, and you’ll find the interior packed with individuals visiting from all over the world.

Uncle Lou's

Fried chicken is another thing Memphians argue over. Uncle Lou’s stands out thanks to its own version, which is dunked in a mild or spicy sauce similar to General Tso’s. The piquant and sweet flavor is singular, and is well paired with crinkle-cut fries. Not in the mood for chicken? Consider the Fat Boy, a hot ham-turkey-and-cheese sandwich that’s the perfect Memphis answer to a Monte Cristo.

Las Delicias

Memphis, like many other cities across the Mid-South, boasts a broad array of Mexican restaurants. The city’s best can be found at Las Delicias, a sprawling yet subdued fresh-flavored eatery with two locations. Chips, salsa and a fight-over-it chunked guacamole satisfy customers as they await for tortas, tacos and a vast selection of enchiladas. The humble Molletes, a torta roll split and topped with beans and Chihuahua cheese, avocado and pico de gallo, is an underrated delicacy.

Huey's

A specially ground beef blend and proprietary seasoning ensure the always-consistent, hearty and tasty World Famous Huey Burger, a flavor that’s just as Memphis as any barbecue rub. Originally opened as a single-location bar in 1970, Huey’s has launched nearly a dozen more locations across the greater Memphis metropolis. Look around and you’ll see the city well represented through posters, memorabilia and writing on the walls. Look up, and discover a forest of toothpicks in the ceiling tiles. Remember, sharp end out when you’re blowing yours in with a straw.

Paulette's

Quiet elegance and high-end service mark this Harbor Town favorite, which delivers on the promise of romantic, high-end dining for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Paulette’s serves Hungarian and French dishes alongside regional favorites. Prix-fixe breakfast features choices like Tennessee bacon and sausage, creamy grits and excellent potatoes.

The Lookout

The loftiest place to dine in the city, this restaurant and bar situated at the top of the Pyramid (accessed by the world’s tallest free-standing elevator, a 28-story ride) provides a 270-degree view of the city, the Mississippi River and Arkansas all the way back to Crowley’s Ridge. Two decks on the south and west sides of the restaurant give diners a chance to step out for a better look. The $10 elevator fare can be used as credit for food and drink – Southern and duck camp favorites such as catfish, blackened redfish and more.

Second Line

Chef Kelley English’s hip take on Cajun and Creole comfort food sits next to his esteemed Restaurant Iris. Here, true New Orleans-style po’boys and working-man sides should be familiar to those who have spent time in Crescent City. Get a fork with The Verno, a po’ boy stuffed with braised chicken thighs and Swiss cheese. The spinach Madeleine is worth the visit all on its own. As with most New Orleans spots, the cocktails and craft beers are ideal accompaniments.

Kooky Canuck

The largest burgers — and most-daring burger-eaters — in Memphis can be found in this wood-paneled space not far from the Peabody. The Kookamonga Burger — four pounds of beef, plus three pounds of bun, pickle, fries and fixings — has gained renown as a competition burger. But it’s topped by the even larger King Kookamonga Burger, meant for two – and the Humonga Kookamonga, which comes in at an outrageous 12 pounds. More reasonable fare includes a variety of normal-size burgers (try the pimento cheese and fried green tomato version), a six-ounce maple syrup-marinated steak and tableside make-your-own S’mores.

Casablanca

Casablanca conjures the best of Northern Africa with Moroccan and Mediterranean dishes such as pasticcio, falafel, hummus, kabab and shawarma under intricate lamps, gorgeously designed tapestries and delicate lighting. The moussaka, with an expertly turned béchamel and soft chickpeas over seasoned beef, is a favorite. Some come only for desserts, which include a dainty chocolate mousse and a well composed baklava.

Felicia Suzanne's

Part of a budding new culinary corridor in downtown Memphis, Chef Felicia Suzanne Willett reinterprets traditional dishes of the Mid-South as haute cuisine. Duck quesadillas, salmon deviled eggs and a sublime version of shrimp and grits, capture local tradition in gorgeous presentations with familiar flavors at her eponymous Felicia Suzanne’s. The caramelized onion tart, an overlooked item which requires almost 30 minutes of preparation, is a sweet and savory joy you should experience at least once.

Alcenia's

Expect a hug on your visit to this brightly colored shop near the Pyramid, where the Kool-Aid is extraordinarily sweet and the dishes are day-glow and plastic. Fried chicken, meatloaf and fried green tomatoes star on a menu packed with soul food delights such as yams, greens and black-eyed peas. A Saturday brunch with salmon croquettes is not to be missed.

Terrace at the River Inn

The absolute best place to encounter a sunset in the city, this fourth-floor bar and restaurant offers an open-air encounter with an unparalleled view of the Mississippi River and the Hernando DeSoto Bridge from the escape of Harbor Town. The blue cheese soufflé, served with crostini as an appetizer-style dip, is a nice way to start date night.

Highland Super Submarine Sandwich Shop

One of the area’s best-kept secrets, this super-cheap sub shop also offers Asian fare, including a super-sized eggroll. The house-made bread is extraordinarily soft, sweet and addictive, especially paired with the eatery’s popular Italian dressing, making for the best under-$10 dining you’ll find in the city.

Belly Acres

Specializing in local food served in amusing ways, this this farm-to-fork burger barn can startle on entry with its cropduster in the wall and an entire wall as a bright row-crop scene. The locally sourced, all-organic, cleanly raised meat and produce is the star, though. The Early Riser — a beef patty topped with bacon and a fried egg served on a waffle — is a deliciously funky way to combine two favorite meals into one.

Mardi Gras

Louisiana transplant Penny Henderson opened this café across from Crosstown Concourse in 2008, after co-workers went nuts over her gumbo. The Lake Charles lady and her extended family now lure adoring fans of their recreated flavors of southern Louisiana, including po’boys, seafood, pasta and crawfish Etouffee – which can be served over rice or stuffed into a bread bowl. Try the red velvet cheesecake to finish.

Celtic Crossing

Cooper-Young’s native Irish pub, Celtic Crossing offers beer, food and live music to a casual crowd. Irish food is the specialty, including the authentic steamer-style burger. Weekend mornings mean sausage-laden brunches, but fish and chips, soda bread and Galway Bay mussels are all-day favorites. Dance if you please, but don’t get in the way of the wait staff.

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