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The 16 Essential Restaurants of Memphis

From baskets of fried catfish and pork-stuffed tortas to Elvis -themed cocktails and, yes, barbecue, these are the must-try eats in Tennessee’s music city.

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To understand the food community in Memphis, you really have to take a step back and appreciate the city’s entrepreneurial streak, which has affected its fortunes more than an outsider might realize. Memphis gave rise to corporations with national and global impact, including familiar names like FedEx and Holiday Inn, and so while this is a city that’s synonymous with Elvis, blues, and barbecue to most of the world, it’s pretty well understood here that Memphis is as good a place as any for a someone with a big idea to take some chances. So much so that you don’t see too much of an ebb and flow in people starting companies, opening mom-and-pop shops — or launching restaurants of their own. It’s a way of life here; even during the pandemic there were restaurateurs, incredibly, still introducing new concepts to the Memphis food scene.

Stepping inside a restaurant here is like seeing all of Memphis in microcosm. At Muddy’s Bake Shop, owner-baker and colorfully coiffed Kat Gordon makes adorably named cupcakes and other desserts; a quick flavor tour in Midtown offers kabob-focused cuisine at Stickem as well as the eclectic dishes inside restaurateur Karen Carrier’s Beauty Shop (housed in a former salon, of course), to name just two examples. Such places form the connective tissue linking communities here and make up the bulk of this list, which spotlights some of the city’s must-visit restaurants, deliciously essential parts of the fabric of the city.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

Café Eclectic

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Cafe Eclectic is a family owned and operated coffee shop that’s been “serving the 901” (a localism inspired by the city’s 901 area code) since 2008. The coffee bar brews up the Italian Illy brand, and an all-day breakfast menu offers vegan pancakes, stuffed French toast, homemade waffles, and bread and pastries made fresh each day. The coffee selection includes cold brew, French press, Americano, and specialty drinks, Try the Star & Micey, named after a local music group: two shots of espresso, Monin white and dark chocolate sauce, and whipped cream. Choose from two locations, Midtown and Harbor Town.

Felicia Suzanne's

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Memphis chief Felicia Willett has owned and operated her eponymous fine dining establishment in Downtown for almost 20 years now. The menu showcases her own creative riffs on classics from across the South, along with dishes inspired by her childhood. That translates to a unique mashup of Gulf Coast seafood cooking, Creole cuisine, and Charleston low country traditions. Willett is also a familiar face at the Memphis Farmers Market, a result of her insistence on a farm-to-fork tradition in as much of her menu as possible  — a menu, by the way, that serves up such treats as crispy Gulf oysters with New Orleans BBQ sauce, chicken crepes, fried Carolina quail, shrimp and grits, roasted salmon, and duck and mushroom lasagna, to name a few favorites.

The Four Way Soul Food Restaurant

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Even if people don’t realize it, the Four Way is exactly the kind of cozy diner they have in mind when they get a craving for the kind of soul food cuisine that Memphis does best. It’s a South Memphis institution at this point, having served staples like vegetable plates, hamburgers, and turkey and dressing to the community from the corner of Walker and Mississippi boulevard for more than 70 years. Civil rights luminaries of the ’60s frequented the restaurant, including Martin Luther King Jr. When A-listers passed through town — people like Al Green, Elvis Presley, Ike and Tina Turner, and so many others over the years, more often than not they made a beeline here. Celebrities still hit the Four Way, which should tell you something about why this venerable Memphis eatery is a can’t-miss on your next visit to the Bluff City. 

Fried chicken legs share a plate with spaghetti and potato salad.
Fried chicken and fixings from the Four Way.
The Four Way / Facebook

Cozy Corner Restaurant

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Memphis is a barbecue town, and there are at least a few different answers you might get from a Memphian if you ask about spots to hit up while you’re visiting. My vote is definitely Cozy Corner, a family-run and Black-owned favorite established in 1977 and serving such well-regarded barbecue that in 2020 owner Desiree Robinson was inducted into the American Royal Barbecue Hall of Fame. The menu is standard Memphis barbecue, with sandwich plates, meat-only plates (a slab of ribs or whole barbecue chicken, for example), dinner plates that include bread and two sides (beans, say, or coleslaw), and a variety of sauces that range from dry to mild, medium, hot, and superhot.

Muggin Coffeehouse

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Muggin Coffee House offers all the delights you’d expect from a coffee house, including espresso drinks, nitro coffee, and excellent baked goods. One of the Memphis-themed standouts worth trying is the Zippin Pippin (the name of Elvis’s favorite roller coaster at the now-closed Libertyland amusement park). A blend of steamed milk, espresso, and white mocha is topped with whipped cream and caramel drizzle. Speaking of Elvis, this coffee shop is just as noteworthy for its location — off Elvis Presley Boulevard, in Whitehaven, making this the first locally owned coffee shop in one of Memphis’s majority Black neighborhoods (a neighborhood where you’ll also find Graceland). While you’re checking out the coffee shop, you can also order pound bags of coffee, including roasts with names like “Hard Out Here for a Drip,” which is, of course, a nod to the Oscar-winning song “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” from the Memphis hip hop group Three 6 Mafia.

Stickem

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With his Stickem food truck as well as his restaurant of the same name in Midtown, Ermyias Shiberou has brought a taste of his birthplace in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to Memphis. His truck has been a staple of the Memphis scene for years, offering kebabs that are perfect to enjoy on the go. His menu includes steak, shrimp, and marinated chicken kebabs seasoned with turmeric and garlic and served with a pile of fresh fries. At the restaurant, you’ll find an expanded selection of entrees, such as braised leg of lamb and roasted whole red snapper, with sides like salads and mixed vegetables. 

17 Berkshire

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Owner Nuha Abuduhair’s patisserie in Midtown’s Overton Square serves pastel-colored pastries along with coffees and tea in a storefront that’s bathed in white inside. She named the business after the address of her childhood home and also in tribute to her late father, who came to Memphis from Palestine. The business grew out of Abuduhair’s home baking, which she found herself doing for fun after she’d left her job as a nurse following the birth of her two children. From the cakes, macarons, petits fours and other sweet treats she created in her suburban home, she grew a retail business where among the standout items are the authentic French macarons in such flavors as wedding cake, orange blossom, lavender, double salted caramel, and red velvet. (There’s also vanilla and chocolate for traditionalists.) Indoor seating is socially distanced, and you can also find plenty of benches, nooks, and crannies outside within the larger Overton Square entertainment complex to enjoy your desserts.

The Beauty Shop

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Housed in a space that was once an actual beauty shop frequented by Priscilla Presley, this eatery from celebrated Memphis restaurateur Karen Carrier is suffused with aesthetic details you just won’t find at another Memphis restaurant. Booths are tucked into former salon stations, with seating beneath hooded Belvedere hair dryers. But the best part is, of course, the food. “Watermelon and wings” is a good example of the type of eclectic dish you’ll find here: chicken wings dipped in white Sichuan pepper and sweet chile lime juice, dusted with sugar, and then deep-fried, served with a side of fresh watermelon and sprinkled with toasted cashews.

Soul Fish Cafe

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If you’re looking for a place that offers the right mix of a decent price point, comfort food, and a pleasant atmosphere, Soul Fish is definitely worth putting on your list. You’ve got three locations spread out across the metro area to choose from. The original Soul Fish stands in the Midtown neighborhood of Cooper-Young, and two more are in the eastern part of the metro area — one near the sprawling Wolfchase Galleria mall and another in the suburb of Germantown. As the name implies, fish is the signature offering here, including fried and baked versions; a catfish basket is one of the more popular items. But there are plenty of additional tasty choices if you’re after something other than fish, including po’ boys, tacos, salads, vegetable plates, and more.

Muddy's Bake Shop

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If you have a sweet tooth and pass up the opportunity to visit this mainstay of the Broad Avenue Arts District, you’re doing it wrong. Ten out of 10 Memphians you meet will swear to you that this is a must-visit if you’re passing through the city, and that’s thanks to the treats with memorable names (like the chocolate “Prozac” cupcakes and the Strawberry Fields Forever cake). Muddy’s is a bakery with a commercial kitchen in the Broad Avenue neighborhood with an attached retail storefront component, and the vibe inside is that of a neighborhood bake sale — with an assortment of cupcakes, cookies, pies, and other sweet treats on offer.

The Liquor Store

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For some, there’s only one selling point needed to trigger a trip to the Liquor Store, the diner with the South Beach spirit in the heart of the city’s Broad Avenue Arts District: all-day breakfast. Not too many other places in Memphis can claim the same, aside from a few forgettable chain restaurants. The Liquor Store’s menu is stacked with classic diner staples, like pancakes, biscuits, bacon, and sausage, along with non-breakfast fare like Cuban sandwiches, burgers, clubs, and street tacos. There are also cocktails and desserts, like banana pudding, an assortment of daily cakes, and other sweet treats. Patio seating is available outside. And as you might expect, the diner occupies the space of a bygone liquor store; the owners thought it would be funny to keep that as the name when they opened. 

Hen House

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Michaela Hugoboom-Dockery was inspired by her native California to open Hen House in East Memphis last year. Her vision was of an unpretentious wine and cocktail bar that’s also the kind of sophisticated watering hole not found much in Memphis. The vibe here is meant to be a kind of extension of the owner’s living room — which applies not only to the bar’s homey aesthetic in the physical space itself, but also the approachable, playful drink selection. In addition to menu choices like duck, rainbow trout, and shrimp and grits, check out the creative cocktails: The Memphis-themed Hound Dog (a nod to Elvis, it should go without saying) is made with amaro Nonino, dry Curacao, bitters, and Blue Note Juke Joint (a Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey crafted in Memphis).

Magnolia & May

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Magnolia & May is the Memphis version of a country brasserie, as the owners like to describe it. Diners here are served dishes from around the world prepared with a French technique and using seasonal and local ingredients where possible — all in a casual, small setting around a 17-seat bar, a dining room that seats less than 50, and a large brick outdoor patio. In addition to the wine, beer, and cocktail offerings, the dinner menu at Magnolia & May includes dishes like a smoked half chicken, low country shrimp and grits, grilled rib-eye, and mushroom potato gnocchi.

As of the time of this writing, Dory in East Memphis offers the first and only tasting menu experience in Memphis, with primarily locally sourced options for a menu that leans seasonal New American. Chef Dave Krog prepares a six-course tasting menu Thursday through Saturday, and then a four-course menu on Mondays, with optional wine pairings for both. In terms of the cuisine, you can expect dishes like redfish served on a braised leek with a flurry of dusts, emulsions, and dressings that highlight the taste of spring onions; or a port-braised short rib with steamed long turnip and garlic scapes. The menu changes each month, or more frequently depending on what’s in season at the market. 

Las Tortugas

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Many restaurateurs find ways both subtle and overt to imbue their establishments with their spirit and personality. At Las Tortugas, Jose “Pepe” Magallanes accomplishes exactly that. The charm here is big, while the tacos are small, nearly bite-size affairs of the sort you’d enjoy at a street stall in Pepe’s native Mexico, with a slice of avocado on top. The carne asada is a specialty, as is Pepe’s adherence to traditional recipes like salsa Mexicana and the torta sandwich stuffed with braised pork shoulder. Jonathan Magallanes, Pepe’s son, is usually behind the counter at the Germantown Road Las Tortugas, while Pepe holds down the fort at its second location in East Memphis (6300 Poplar Avenue #115).

Las Tortugas Deli Mexicana [Official]

Da Guilty Vegan

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There’s a law-and-order theme to Da Guilty Vegan, one of Memphis’s newest food trucks, that extends from the logo to the menu — and it makes perfect sense for this particular food truck. The truck’s logo is blind lady justice herself, and the menu is organized into two categories: “innocent” and “guilty.” The innocent side includes lighter fare like wraps, a club salad, and buffalo tempeh salad. For guilty pleasures, there are even more veganized twists on classic Southern cooking. The truck’s speciality, from chef and owner Derek Richardson, is the Jail Bird, a Southern-style fried crispy chicken sandwich. Other specialties include the Memphis BBQ chicken and Nashville hot chicken sandwiches. The truck stays generally in East Memphis neighborhoods, in and around the likes of Collierville, Germantown, and Cordova.

Café Eclectic

Cafe Eclectic is a family owned and operated coffee shop that’s been “serving the 901” (a localism inspired by the city’s 901 area code) since 2008. The coffee bar brews up the Italian Illy brand, and an all-day breakfast menu offers vegan pancakes, stuffed French toast, homemade waffles, and bread and pastries made fresh each day. The coffee selection includes cold brew, French press, Americano, and specialty drinks, Try the Star & Micey, named after a local music group: two shots of espresso, Monin white and dark chocolate sauce, and whipped cream. Choose from two locations, Midtown and Harbor Town.

Felicia Suzanne's

Memphis chief Felicia Willett has owned and operated her eponymous fine dining establishment in Downtown for almost 20 years now. The menu showcases her own creative riffs on classics from across the South, along with dishes inspired by her childhood. That translates to a unique mashup of Gulf Coast seafood cooking, Creole cuisine, and Charleston low country traditions. Willett is also a familiar face at the Memphis Farmers Market, a result of her insistence on a farm-to-fork tradition in as much of her menu as possible  — a menu, by the way, that serves up such treats as crispy Gulf oysters with New Orleans BBQ sauce, chicken crepes, fried Carolina quail, shrimp and grits, roasted salmon, and duck and mushroom lasagna, to name a few favorites.

The Four Way Soul Food Restaurant

Fried chicken legs share a plate with spaghetti and potato salad.
Fried chicken and fixings from the Four Way.
The Four Way / Facebook

Even if people don’t realize it, the Four Way is exactly the kind of cozy diner they have in mind when they get a craving for the kind of soul food cuisine that Memphis does best. It’s a South Memphis institution at this point, having served staples like vegetable plates, hamburgers, and turkey and dressing to the community from the corner of Walker and Mississippi boulevard for more than 70 years. Civil rights luminaries of the ’60s frequented the restaurant, including Martin Luther King Jr. When A-listers passed through town — people like Al Green, Elvis Presley, Ike and Tina Turner, and so many others over the years, more often than not they made a beeline here. Celebrities still hit the Four Way, which should tell you something about why this venerable Memphis eatery is a can’t-miss on your next visit to the Bluff City. 

Fried chicken legs share a plate with spaghetti and potato salad.
Fried chicken and fixings from the Four Way.
The Four Way / Facebook

Cozy Corner Restaurant

Memphis is a barbecue town, and there are at least a few different answers you might get from a Memphian if you ask about spots to hit up while you’re visiting. My vote is definitely Cozy Corner, a family-run and Black-owned favorite established in 1977 and serving such well-regarded barbecue that in 2020 owner Desiree Robinson was inducted into the American Royal Barbecue Hall of Fame. The menu is standard Memphis barbecue, with sandwich plates, meat-only plates (a slab of ribs or whole barbecue chicken, for example), dinner plates that include bread and two sides (beans, say, or coleslaw), and a variety of sauces that range from dry to mild, medium, hot, and superhot.

Muggin Coffeehouse

Muggin Coffee House offers all the delights you’d expect from a coffee house, including espresso drinks, nitro coffee, and excellent baked goods. One of the Memphis-themed standouts worth trying is the Zippin Pippin (the name of Elvis’s favorite roller coaster at the now-closed Libertyland amusement park). A blend of steamed milk, espresso, and white mocha is topped with whipped cream and caramel drizzle. Speaking of Elvis, this coffee shop is just as noteworthy for its location — off Elvis Presley Boulevard, in Whitehaven, making this the first locally owned coffee shop in one of Memphis’s majority Black neighborhoods (a neighborhood where you’ll also find Graceland). While you’re checking out the coffee shop, you can also order pound bags of coffee, including roasts with names like “Hard Out Here for a Drip,” which is, of course, a nod to the Oscar-winning song “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” from the Memphis hip hop group Three 6 Mafia.

Stickem

With his Stickem food truck as well as his restaurant of the same name in Midtown, Ermyias Shiberou has brought a taste of his birthplace in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to Memphis. His truck has been a staple of the Memphis scene for years, offering kebabs that are perfect to enjoy on the go. His menu includes steak, shrimp, and marinated chicken kebabs seasoned with turmeric and garlic and served with a pile of fresh fries. At the restaurant, you’ll find an expanded selection of entrees, such as braised leg of lamb and roasted whole red snapper, with sides like salads and mixed vegetables. 

17 Berkshire

Owner Nuha Abuduhair’s patisserie in Midtown’s Overton Square serves pastel-colored pastries along with coffees and tea in a storefront that’s bathed in white inside. She named the business after the address of her childhood home and also in tribute to her late father, who came to Memphis from Palestine. The business grew out of Abuduhair’s home baking, which she found herself doing for fun after she’d left her job as a nurse following the birth of her two children. From the cakes, macarons, petits fours and other sweet treats she created in her suburban home, she grew a retail business where among the standout items are the authentic French macarons in such flavors as wedding cake, orange blossom, lavender, double salted caramel, and red velvet. (There’s also vanilla and chocolate for traditionalists.) Indoor seating is socially distanced, and you can also find plenty of benches, nooks, and crannies outside within the larger Overton Square entertainment complex to enjoy your desserts.

The Beauty Shop

Housed in a space that was once an actual beauty shop frequented by Priscilla Presley, this eatery from celebrated Memphis restaurateur Karen Carrier is suffused with aesthetic details you just won’t find at another Memphis restaurant. Booths are tucked into former salon stations, with seating beneath hooded Belvedere hair dryers. But the best part is, of course, the food. “Watermelon and wings” is a good example of the type of eclectic dish you’ll find here: chicken wings dipped in white Sichuan pepper and sweet chile lime juice, dusted with sugar, and then deep-fried, served with a side of fresh watermelon and sprinkled with toasted cashews.

Soul Fish Cafe

If you’re looking for a place that offers the right mix of a decent price point, comfort food, and a pleasant atmosphere, Soul Fish is definitely worth putting on your list. You’ve got three locations spread out across the metro area to choose from. The original Soul Fish stands in the Midtown neighborhood of Cooper-Young, and two more are in the eastern part of the metro area — one near the sprawling Wolfchase Galleria mall and another in the suburb of Germantown. As the name implies, fish is the signature offering here, including fried and baked versions; a catfish basket is one of the more popular items. But there are plenty of additional tasty choices if you’re after something other than fish, including po’ boys, tacos, salads, vegetable plates, and more.

Muddy's Bake Shop

If you have a sweet tooth and pass up the opportunity to visit this mainstay of the Broad Avenue Arts District, you’re doing it wrong. Ten out of 10 Memphians you meet will swear to you that this is a must-visit if you’re passing through the city, and that’s thanks to the treats with memorable names (like the chocolate “Prozac” cupcakes and the Strawberry Fields Forever cake). Muddy’s is a bakery with a commercial kitchen in the Broad Avenue neighborhood with an attached retail storefront component, and the vibe inside is that of a neighborhood bake sale — with an assortment of cupcakes, cookies, pies, and other sweet treats on offer.

The Liquor Store

For some, there’s only one selling point needed to trigger a trip to the Liquor Store, the diner with the South Beach spirit in the heart of the city’s Broad Avenue Arts District: all-day breakfast. Not too many other places in Memphis can claim the same, aside from a few forgettable chain restaurants. The Liquor Store’s menu is stacked with classic diner staples, like pancakes, biscuits, bacon, and sausage, along with non-breakfast fare like Cuban sandwiches, burgers, clubs, and street tacos. There are also cocktails and desserts, like banana pudding, an assortment of daily cakes, and other sweet treats. Patio seating is available outside. And as you might expect, the diner occupies the space of a bygone liquor store; the owners thought it would be funny to keep that as the name when they opened. 

Hen House

Michaela Hugoboom-Dockery was inspired by her native California to open Hen House in East Memphis last year. Her vision was of an unpretentious wine and cocktail bar that’s also the kind of sophisticated watering hole not found much in Memphis. The vibe here is meant to be a kind of extension of the owner’s living room — which applies not only to the bar’s homey aesthetic in the physical space itself, but also the approachable, playful drink selection. In addition to menu choices like duck, rainbow trout, and shrimp and grits, check out the creative cocktails: The Memphis-themed Hound Dog (a nod to Elvis, it should go without saying) is made with amaro Nonino, dry Curacao, bitters, and Blue Note Juke Joint (a Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey crafted in Memphis).

Magnolia & May

Magnolia & May is the Memphis version of a country brasserie, as the owners like to describe it. Diners here are served dishes from around the world prepared with a French technique and using seasonal and local ingredients where possible — all in a casual, small setting around a 17-seat bar, a dining room that seats less than 50, and a large brick outdoor patio. In addition to the wine, beer, and cocktail offerings, the dinner menu at Magnolia & May includes dishes like a smoked half chicken, low country shrimp and grits, grilled rib-eye, and mushroom potato gnocchi.

Dory

As of the time of this writing, Dory in East Memphis offers the first and only tasting menu experience in Memphis, with primarily locally sourced options for a menu that leans seasonal New American. Chef Dave Krog prepares a six-course tasting menu Thursday through Saturday, and then a four-course menu on Mondays, with optional wine pairings for both. In terms of the cuisine, you can expect dishes like redfish served on a braised leek with a flurry of dusts, emulsions, and dressings that highlight the taste of spring onions; or a port-braised short rib with steamed long turnip and garlic scapes. The menu changes each month, or more frequently depending on what’s in season at the market. 

Las Tortugas

Las Tortugas Deli Mexicana [Official]

Many restaurateurs find ways both subtle and overt to imbue their establishments with their spirit and personality. At Las Tortugas, Jose “Pepe” Magallanes accomplishes exactly that. The charm here is big, while the tacos are small, nearly bite-size affairs of the sort you’d enjoy at a street stall in Pepe’s native Mexico, with a slice of avocado on top. The carne asada is a specialty, as is Pepe’s adherence to traditional recipes like salsa Mexicana and the torta sandwich stuffed with braised pork shoulder. Jonathan Magallanes, Pepe’s son, is usually behind the counter at the Germantown Road Las Tortugas, while Pepe holds down the fort at its second location in East Memphis (6300 Poplar Avenue #115).

Las Tortugas Deli Mexicana [Official]

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Da Guilty Vegan

There’s a law-and-order theme to Da Guilty Vegan, one of Memphis’s newest food trucks, that extends from the logo to the menu — and it makes perfect sense for this particular food truck. The truck’s logo is blind lady justice herself, and the menu is organized into two categories: “innocent” and “guilty.” The innocent side includes lighter fare like wraps, a club salad, and buffalo tempeh salad. For guilty pleasures, there are even more veganized twists on classic Southern cooking. The truck’s speciality, from chef and owner Derek Richardson, is the Jail Bird, a Southern-style fried crispy chicken sandwich. Other specialties include the Memphis BBQ chicken and Nashville hot chicken sandwiches. The truck stays generally in East Memphis neighborhoods, in and around the likes of Collierville, Germantown, and Cordova.

Related Maps