America’s greatest music city also has delicious dim sum, ceviche, and Mexican ice cream
There’s more to Memphis than barbecue — Photo courtesy of Brian Cicioni
Memphis is famous for its rock, soul, blues, and civil rights history. And when it comes to food, barbecue is what most tend to think of. But while there’s no disputing the necessity of a visit to Central BBQ, A&R, or Elwood’s Shack, Memphis restaurants have so much more to offer. Nowadays, you can find Asian, Latin American, or Italian food just as easily as you can find smoked meat.
Here are 10 Memphis restaurants that show the variety of the local food scene.
Check out the Elvis Presley booth at Arcade — Photo courtesy of Brian Cicioni
The King himself used to frequent this classic diner. You can even sit in his old booth, which is conveniently located next to an exit. There’s always the chance you’ll see someone posing in or at least snapping pics of the Elvis Presley booth, but Arcade Restaurant predates its most famous patron by 16 years (it’s Memphis’ oldest cafe). Eggs Redneck has been featured on the Travel Channel, and the sweet potato pancakes are a local favorite.
Try the mixed kabob and hummus with lamb shawarma at Casablanca — Photo courtesy of Brian Cicioni
With so many Memphis restaurants dedicated to barbecue, it’s easy to forget that the city was named after the ancient capital of Egypt. And that some of the best restaurants here have nothing to do with smoked meat. Casablanca is a perfect example. While not an Egyptian restaurant per se, there is hawawshi (an Egyptian meat-stuffed pita) on the menu. You also have to try the falafel, which the menu refers to as the “Big Mac of the Middle East.” If you’re dining earlier in the day, the (strong!) Turkish coffee is a must-try.
Catherine & Mary’s
The quail is typical of the presentation you’ll experience at Catherine & Mary’s — Photo courtesy of Brian Cicioni
Dimly lit with high ceilings and unfinished-looking inner walls, Catherine & Mary’s feels like a former industrial space — though the food is presented with the elegance of a fancy hotel restaurant. Opened in 2016, Catherine & Mary’s is the first of chefs Andy Ticer and Michael Hudman’s downtown Memphis restaurants. The pasta dishes are a must-try, with bucatini and rigatoni being two of the stand-outs. For an additional $2, you can get gluten-free pasta.
Cevicheria and Grill Chilemon
Chilemon’s lomo saltado is a local favorite — Photo courtesy of Brian Cicioni
Another of the newer Memphis restaurants, Cevicheria and Grill Chilemon is one of those spots where you’ll get a lot for what you spend. There’s no pretense here. Expect festive music, friendly staff, and some to-go snacks near the main counter.
The owners are from Colombia, but you’ll see Peruvian classics like ceviche and lomo saltado on every other table.
The Four Way Soul Food Restaurant
The Four Way is one of the most historic restaurants in Memphis — Photo courtesy of Brian Cicioni
Even if hearty Southern cooking isn’t your thing, you owe it to yourself to try this landmark Memphis restaurant. Four Way Soul Food has been serving South Memphis for over 70 years and is the last surviving business in the area from the original Negro Motorist Green Book.
Order at the counter, then take your seat in this super casual spot. Martin Luther King Jr. enjoyed the Cajun-spiced catfish, while Andrew Zimmern (pictured near the cash register) came for the neckbone. Elvis was also a patron. The cornmeal-coated fried green tomatoes are also a must-try.
Good Fortune Co.
Coco curry noodles from Good Fortune Co. are a must-try — Photo courtesy of Brian Cicioni
One of the newer Downtown Memphis restaurants, Good Fortune feels like a party you want to be invited to. The pan-Asian menu integrates local ingredients like crawfish, which you can enjoy in the crawfish dumplings. They are lightly fried and similar to crab rangoon. Wings seem to be the most popular dish here, but the coco curry noodles are also delicious (and less messy). Taiyaki, a Japanese fish-shaped cake, is the only dessert, and the flavors change monthly.
Good Fortune does not take reservations, and on busier nights bar seating could be the only option. But that’s not a bad thing, as the drink menu is just as creative as the food menu. There are also three zero-proof cocktails.
At La Michoacana, you get get paletas and Mexican ice cream flavors like mamey — Photo courtesy of Brian Cicioni
Not a restaurant per se, but La Michoacana is larger than many smaller cafes and just screams fun the minute you enter. If you’re going to go the Mexican ice cream route, try mamey (the taste is somewhere between sweet potato and pumpkin pie) or one of the other flavors you won’t find elsewhere. There are plenty of toppings on offer. For something lighter, there are more than a dozen different paletas (ice pops), which you can decorate as you wish. There’s also a churros station.
Shuffleboard meets Modern American fare at Longshot Memphis — Photo courtesy of Brian Cicioni
Longshot is one of those downtown Memphis restaurants where some come for the food, some to drink, and others for the entertainment. Basically, it’s a bar with shuffleboard and great food. The entrance is hidden off Main Street, around the corner from ARRIVE Memphis. Longshot’s cuisine is global and highlights include birria tacos, Morrocan short ribs, and fries loaded with seaweed, mayo, and other ingredients you can also find on takoyaki (a ball-shaped, wheat flour-based Japanese snack).
Panta Memphis by Chef Kelly English has incredible desserts — Photo courtesy of Brian Cicioni
Panta Memphis is Kelly English’s Catalan-inspired tapas restaurant. Desserts — like the traditional Catalan cheesecake or the cinnamon and lemon infused custard — are just as much of a reason to try this place as the small plates (like patatas bravas, garlic shrimp, tortilla Espanola, and beef skewers). In fact, if you’re in the area, it’s worth stopping here at the end of your evening for a dessert and a drink.
The Second Line
Crawfish etoufee is one of the Cajun-Creole dishes at The Second Line — Photo courtesy of Brian Cicioni
The Second Line is where New Orleans meets Midtown Memphis. The food at Kelly English’s second restaurant is heavier, with lots of fish and seafood. Crawfish étoufée and red fish atchafalaya are a good appetizer/entrée combo. The former is a bit spicy, while the latter is topped with gulf shrimp, more crawfish, and a rich crab cream sauce. Sunday is steak night.