Everyone knows Memphis is famous for 3 things: Blues, Barbecue, and most importantly the Grizzlies—Grit and Grind, baby. But Memphis is also home to a killer food scene. From classic Italian food to upscale Southern, the Bluff City has a little bit of everything to offer.
Each neighborhood has its own weekday staple, and when the weekend roles around Midtown is the place to be. New restaurants are popping up everywhere, and my list of places to try is becoming unmanageable. So thanks to a few close friends and some serious foodies from my alma mater, here’s a list of the 50 dishes in Memphis you must try before you die.
1. Beacon Salad – Pete & Sam’s
Pete & Sam’s has been a Memphis staple for over 60 years, and if you ever grace this place you’ll know why. Ask any Memphian, and they’ll tell you that no matter what you order for your entree (I vote the shrimp and mushroom spaghetti with cheese sauce) you have to start your meal with a Beacon salad. Topped with bacon, cheese, and a tomato dressing you can’t pass it up.
2. Sweet and Sour Cauliflower – Bounty On Broad
I realize that to most people this sounds a bit strange, but trust me when I say this is truly amazing. The cauliflower is tender and has the perfect combination of just enough sweet and just enough sour to make it tangy and perfect for summer. True farm to table.
3. Stealhead Trout Taco – Elmwood Shack
Elmwood Shack is quite literally that—a shack. Located in the Lowe’s parking lot, it’s easy to miss this treasure. But I promise you that once you find it you will keep coming back. From the killer breakfast to the BBQ quesadillas, this tiny place has it down to a fine art. The buzz around town is that for a fish taco this is the place to go, and I can’t say that I disagree. With tacos like these and that fresh pico you could add any meat and it would be top notch.
4. Meatball Sub – Garibaldi’s Pizza
Now, to be fair I’m a fan of the Vesuvian steak sandwich here; however, I have heard that the meatball sub is a fan favorite. In the attempt to be as unbiased as possible I gave in to the meatball hype. So now I leave it up to y’all to decide your personal favorite.
5. Cheeseburger – Top’s Bar-B-Q
Plenty of people will tell you that at Tops it’s only right to get BBQ, but I would disagree. Tops is for burgers and Central is for BBQ. Tops boasts a world famous burger because it’s ground fresh, cooked to order, and has that smoked taste I just can’t resist. But honestly, where else can you get a burger at 8:30 AM?
6. Banana Pancakes – Blue Plate Cafe
If you’ve never heard of Blue Plate then you’re not a true Memphian. This adorable place is a big yellow house located just at the end of my neighborhood so maybe I’m a little biased, but for breakfast this is the best. If you’re feeling a bit like Jack Johnson, give the banana pancakes a try. Maybe even order them with a side of bacon and biscuits and gravy. You’ll not regret it.
7. BBQ Nachos – Central BBQ
Like I said earlier, Central is for BBQ and the best way to serve it up is on a big ole pile of chips with nacho cheese. Get it dolled up with shredded cheese and jalapeños for a true classic. But don’t blame me when you just can’t resist finishing the whole basket.
8. Bacon Wrapped Shrimp – Cafe Olé
For someone who doesn’t like shrimp, these are the perfect appetizers. The shrimp is cut paper thin, stuffed with cheese, and wrapped in bacon. So even if you’re a picky eater, order up a few and dive right in. It also doesn’t hurt to order one of their margaritas to wash it all down.
9. Cheese Fries with Buttermilk Ranch – Huey’s
Any time one of my friends comes home with me from Arkansas, this is the first stop we make. Nothing says home sweet home more than a plate of these beauties split between old and new friends. What is special about these fries in particular is that they are thick-cut and able to hold ample amounts of cheese and bacon. But just make sure you order up a side of the homemade buttermilk ranch. Cheese fries are not the same without it.
10. Reuben – Belmont Grill
Belmont is a tiny green building on the corner of the busiest street in Memphis, and there are only about 6 parking spots even close to the restaurant. And yet on any given night this place is packed. Orders of burgers, chicken sandwiches, and fries come whirling out of the kitchen, but there is a soft spot in my heart for a Reuben done well. One with the perfect meat-to-sauerkraut ratio and layered between that fabulous toasted bread. Belmont has this mastered and that is all that needs to be said.
11. Glazed Donut – Gibson’s Donut
All I am saying is that if these donuts are good enough for Alton Brown to say they are his favorite, then they are good enough for you. Go for the classic glazed and you will taste fluffy clouds of sweet heaven. The owner, Mr. Gibson, is there every Saturday and Sunday morning serving the customers with a smile on his face and a flying pig hanging from the ceiling. Mr. Gibson is the man, and his donuts are just phenomenal.
12. Sweet Potato Fries with Honey Mustard – Young Avenue Deli
Young Ave, as the locals call it, is that casual lunch spot everyone loves. The deli boasts the largest selection of beer in the area along with some pretty righteous sandwiches and quesadillas the size of a pizza. But no matter what you get, the sweet potato fries are a must. It’s very important to ask for their homemade honey mustard, not that packaged kind they will bring you at first.
13. Spinach and Artichoke Dip – Houston’s
Houston’s is a chain, and I know that may defeat the purpose of the whole “Memphis” thing, but this is worth being on the list. Do not question me on this. Just make sure to dip the chip in sour cream before you dive into the spinach and artichoke dip. If you’re feeling spicy, add some salsa too. It’s a great combo.
14. Any Cupcake – Muddy’s Bake Shop
Muddy’s is the only cupcake place in town worth visiting in Memphis. It was opened by a St. Mary’s grad, and Kat really knows how to make a killer cupcake. I’ve never tasted one that I did not like and I am sure you will feel the same. However, if you are a vanilla kind of person, the Plain Jane is worth your time; or if you love a Reese’s I would recommend a Tom Boy. My personal favorite is the mint and chocolate Grasshopper.
15. Chicken Tender Salad with Honey Mustard and Hot Bacon Dressing – Houston’s
Shhh, this is one of those secret menu type things. And yes, they will give you a dirty look at first, but they know exactly what this salad is and they will happily appease you. Something about the light and crispy chicken tenders shown above with the hot bacon dressing and honey mustard just really brings this salad to an uncommon level. So risk the glances and order it up the next time you visit a Houston’s.
16.Wedding Cake Supreme – Jerry’s Sno Cones
No other place have I had a sno cone quite like this. Jerry’s is special. It’s a hot pink building with a giant ice cream cone on the roof. The ice is shaved so thin and really anything with ice cream in the middle is just better. So order up a wedding cake supreme and write on the wall what you would like to do before you die.
17.Steak and Fried Pickles – Folk’s Folly
Folk’s Folly is the classic Memphis Steakhouse. It is where everyone takes their significant other for a celebration or an anniversary dinner. While it boasts an elegant air and excellent service, the food is also top notch. So go ahead and order that steak cooked how you like it and top it off with an order of their crispy fried pickles—slices, not spears.
18. Gouda Mac n’ Cheese – South of Beale
Even Guy Fieri knows that SOB has it going on. He featured SOB’s popcorn, duck-fried rice, and their bread pudding on his show Diner’s, Drive-ins and Dives. He did, however, seem to forget about their insanely creamy and rich Mac n Cheese. Seemingly plain looking, it may not make the best Instagram photo, but it will delight your tastebuds any day.
19. Ocean Pyramid – Sekisui Pacific Rim
For those of us who feel like we can’t shove enough seafood into our diet, this is the meal for you. Topping a pile of rice, the ocean pyramid boasts yellowtail tuna, bluefin tuna, and salmon, along with two different kinds of caviar. The beautiful pyramid is then topped off with avocado and ponzu sauce.
20. Chicken Tenders – Bosses
Bosses is a favorite among the high school crowd because it’s where all of them gather during their school lunch break. But if you’re brave enough to face the crowd, the classic chicken tenders and fries basket is worth it. Something about the breading on their tenders and the sweet and spicy seasoning on their fries keeps me begging for more. Add in some of their sweet tea, and I am down for the count.
21. Guacamole – Babalu Tacos & Tapas
Babalu Memphis is one of those restaurants that has to be on everyone’s list. The atmosphere is energetic and the food is done tapas style. So it’s only fitting that they would have tableside guacamole. The servers that come back with the cart are always a blast, and the guacamole is as fresh and as creamy as they come.
22. Hamburger – Dyer’s
What makes this burger different than others is that it’s fried in 100-year-old grease. Legend has it that the grease is ageless. It gets strained daily and reused—or so they say. Regardless, these burgers are exactly what a hangover calls for.
23. Bar-B-Q Spaghetti – Bar-B-Q Shop
A Memphis classic will always be Bar-B-Q Spaghetti. The spaghetti noodles are perfect for sopping up The Bar-B-Q Shop’s famous Dancing Pigs sauce. Add chucks of meat and what could go wrong?
24. Egg and Cheese Biscuit – Bryant’s Breakfast
This hole-in-the-wall joint serves up simple and cheap food to the long line of customers bursting out the door. I would recommend not trying to brave the crowd on Saturday if you are a first timer. But regardless of when you go, prepare yourself to wait. The food is worth it though and the kitchen staff is speedy.
This is not a sit down place; this is the kind of place you order up front and pour your own coffee. With a biscuit, egg, and cheese costing about $2.00, Bryant’s is also a great deal. You can even call in to pick it up if you’re on your way to work.
25. BBQ Plate – Germantown Commissary
One of Memphis’ suburbs, Germantown, is home to this fine establishment, and on any given Sunday you will see what my mother calls “the church crowd” swarming this barbecue institution. For a place this good you just need to order up the classic BBQ Plate to really experience what this restaurant has to offer. Don’t leave out the beans and slaw sides, they are part of the deal too.
26. Pasta Salad – Bogies Delicatessen
Bogie’s is one of the first Memphis restaurants I have a memory of, and along with that memory comes the taste of this famous pasta salad. Creamy and tangy, this pasta salad is all you need to add that extra something to any Bogie’s sandwich. But if we’re being honest, I usually run up there to get my very own pint of just this pasta salad. No shame.
27. Fudge Pie – Corky’s Bar-B-Q
This Corky’s pie is so good they box it up and sell it in the freezer section of our grocery stores—that’s how much we Memphians love the fudgey denseness of this epic pie. Just a little tip from me to you: heat up a slice, smear on some peanut butter, and add some vanilla ice cream. This is the perfect dessert or snack for any time of the year.
28. Cheese and Sausage Platter – Charlie Vergos Rendezvous
This has to be the simplest dish on this list, and yet I would argue it may be the best. There is just something about the Rendezvous spice that is sprinkled over the cheese and sausage that makes this so worth the title of “Memphis Staple.” Whether you go to Rendezvous for the dry-rub ribs or just to get this platter, you will leave satisfied.
29. Fried Chicken – Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken
This restaurant was named in Yelp’s top 100 places to eat in 2016. And it sure does a great job at holding up the title. This fried chicken is better than your mama’s, I promise you. The seasoning used on the chicken has a slight kick that will only just get you as you gulp down some of their sweet tea. Served up with toast, this is the best place I know for a classic Southern Sunday lunch.
30. Peanut Butter ‘N’ Banana Sandwich – The Arcade
The Arcade has been named “Memphis’ Oldest Cafe.” It’s also on the national register of historical places. So if that isn’t a little cool, then you are hard to impress. Reminiscent of the peanut butter and banana sandwich your maw maw made you as a kid, this simple sandwich just melts in your mouth. They call it the Elvis because it was his favorite. So stop by and get a little history while you munch like “The King” himself.
31. The Original Barbeque Pizza – Coletta’s Restaurant
Coletta’s claims to be the originators of the BBQ pizza, and they have it down to a fine art. The crust is just thick enough to hold all of the BBQ goodness, but thin enough to not get in your way. For a truly authentic taste of Memphis you have to go to Coletta’s, where you can have Italian food with your BBQ.
32. Ching’s Honey Gold Chicken Wings – Ching’s Hot Wings
Some may say that Ching’s is a diamond in the rough, and I can’t say that they’re wrong about this. But the wings are worth the adventure. Soaked in just the right amount of sauce and served with the classic celery and carrots, this is the place to go for wings in Memphis. If you’re lucky, you may run into one of the Grizz players or Justin Timberlake on a good day.
33. Pimento cheese – Holiday Deli & Ham Co.
Certainly not your mama’s delta pimento cheese, but it has a kick that is sure to satisfy any taste bud. My personal favorite use is on a grilled cheese with just a touch of mayo on both sides.
34. Breakfast Burrito – Fuel Food Truck
Fuel Food Truck offers all-natural, grass-fed meat and upon biting into any of their top notch dishes you can really taste the quality that sets them apart. Any breakfast taco that is served with egg, cheese, and avocado is sure to be a quality one. But really you can’t go wrong with anything from this food truck so just order up and dive on in.
35. Red Eye Pizza – Hog & Hominy
Hog and Hominy is a family-style restaurant with a great atmosphere and even better food. I am fond of their pizzas because they always have flavors you would not necessarily think go together, but they always work. My favorite is the Red Eye Pizza. This pizza is topped with pork belly, fontina, celery leaf, sugo, and an egg cracked in the middle. Really, what’s not to love?
36. The Fat Boy – The Half Shell
This po-boy comes with blackened shrimp, fried crawfish tails, and fried oysters. As you can tell, the po-boy is accurately named. A favorite at this local seafood joint, and a sandwich that should be on anyone’s list.
37. A Cup of Jo – Cafe Eclectic
Café Eclectic is Memphis’ go-to brunch spot. Anything and everything on the menu is exceptionally done. But my favorite thing about Café Eclectic is their coffee. This is also the place to grab the newest seasonal drink or even just black coffee and sit reading a book or finishing the paper that’s due that night.
38. House Salad – Cheffie’s Cafe
Cheffie’s is the spot to be in the High Point neighborhood. They serve up sandwiches, salads, and gelato. Not to mention that after a bike ride along the Greenline their air conditioning feels pretty great. Their house salad is topped with red onions, dried cranberries, candied pecans, and feta. What more could you want out of a salad?
39. Popsicle – Mempops
These all-natural handmade pops are the perfect way to beat the Memphis heat. Mempops started out as a cart, and now they have their own brick and mortar storefront. If you love the thought of an avocado lime pop or you prefer a classic like strawberries and cream, then you should stop by this up-and-coming spot.
40. A Tortuga – Las Tortugas Deli Mexicana
Ladies and Gents, this isn’t Taco Bell, it’s the real deal. Ask for sour cream, and they will likely turn you down, but the tortugas are bursting with flavor and always on the freshest of bread
41. The Wurst Platter – Schweinehaus
With a name like Schweinehaus, you can tell this is Memphis’ go-to German beer hall. So of course when in Germany, do like the locals do and order a bit of everything. The wurst platter comes with “Choice of 4 Sausages, 3 Potato Pancakes, Kraut, Pickled Red Cabbage, Grilled Bread, Schweinehaus Mustard, Molasses Mustard, and Apple Jezebel.” Yes, I realize that is quite the serving of food, so may I recommend taking a friend to share?
42. Elfo’s Special – Frank Grisanti’s
Elfo’s special is just one of those long-time Memphis standards. My grandmother and her gals go every Sunday to order this classic. A simple spaghetti with mushrooms and shrimp in a garlic butter sauce is what makes this dish Elfo’s special.
43. Quiche – Porcellino’s Craft Butcher
Quiche has always been that fancy brunch special that very few people ever actually order. Well, Porcellino’s is changing the game. Their quiche changes daily, and regardless of what day it is the flavors always pack a punch. I have never been disappointed with my selection, and hopefully we can make this brunch staple even more popular.
44. Lobster Pronto Pup – Rizzo’s
Like an upscale corn dog from a football stadium, this lobster pronto puff has just the slightest hint of sweetness as you crunch down on the perfectly crisp exterior. The creole mustard aioli is just what you want drizzled on the top. This meal is particularly Insta-worthy.
45. Box of Chocolates – Dinstuhl’s
When you walk in, all you smell is chocolate and all you can see is chocolate. Needless to say, this place is marvelous. With so many options flooding your senses I say stick with the classics. You can make your own chocolate box with the chocolate displayed in the cases or pick up a pre-done box by the door. Bring this gift back home and everyone will be pleased.
46. Dim Sum – Asian Palace
I truly believe that this is as close to the actual thing as you will ever get in Memphis. As you walk in, you’re seated at one of probably 45 round tables adorning this dining room. Carts of dim sum and other creations start swirling around you as you chose a few from each.
I wish I could tell you exactly what to order but all I can say is eat them all. I have been here many times and I still could not tell you every different type they offer. But I can assure you that each one is happiness in a dumpling. So sit back, relax, and watch the chaos as you dine on dim sum.
47. The Pasta Special – Ciao Bella Italian Grill and Bar
With this hometown Italian restaurant you really can not go wrong. From the braised meatballs to a classic fettuccine, Ciao Bella knows what they are doing. I recommend putting your trust in their hands and ordering the pasta special of the day. They always have something new and different to try, and this has quickly become my favorite.
48. The Triple Decker and Tomato Soup – Say Cheese Food Truck
This food truck is new to Memphis, but it’s making a grand entrance. Serving up a twist on the classic grilled cheese sandwich, this truck defiantly makes the list. The Triple Decker combines Colby, Provolone, and Pepperjack together with a garlic aioli to really make this stand out. If you’re really feeling it, add the tomato soup. Even during the summer, this soup is creamy yet light enough to eat in the heat.
49. Maw Maw’s Ravioli – Andrew Micheal Italian Kitchen
Andrew Michael is homestyle but with a flare. This particular ravioli stands out because of the “gravy” it’s topped with. Meaty and thick, this is the perfected combination. Maybe this is why Andrew Ticer and Michael Hudman were named a 2015 James Beard Award finalist for Best Chef: Southeast.
50. Chocolate Soufflé with Milk Chocolate Maker’s Mark Crème Anglaise – Erling Jensen
The way the pillowy top of the soufflé sinks in as you pour the milk chocolate Maker’s Mark crème anglaise over the top is truly a sensual experience. Nothing quite beats the richness of this dessert. It’s the perfect way to end the night and this article.
Happy eating and bon appétit y’all.