Food & Drink

The Absolute Best Spots for Cheap Eats in Memphis

Updated On 01/10/2017 at 12:29PM EST Updated On 01/10/2017 at 12:29PM EST

Memphis is an easy town to live in. Our housing's affordable, traffic's not bad, and the food is amazing... and sometimes amazingly cheap. Here you can skip the drive-thru when hunting for cheap eats, as many restaurants -- even fine-dining spots -- have you covered for around 10 bucks or less. Save money by stopping at any of these 25 cheap places in town and put that extra cash towards beer and Grizz tickets.

Stacey Greenberg/Thrillist

Porcellino’s

East Memphis

If you don't know about Dutch baby pancakes, you haven't truly lived. They're a cross between a pancake and a popover -- eggy and sweet, with a hint of lemon. It feels like eating dessert for breakfast, and what's better than that? It's so cheap ($5), you can get a super fancy coffee and still not break a Hamilton.

Sushi Jimmi

Sushi Jimmi

Midtown

It’s hard to get a sushi fix for less than $15, but the Red Dragon Sushi Burrito is a $10 handheld monster featuring spicy tuna, cucumber, lettuce, avocado, purple cabbage, and masago. And it absolutely delivers.

Blue Nile

Midtown

For $12, you'll be rewarded with a vegetarian platter. It's technically made for one person, but will easily feed two. The platter features spicy and mild mesir wat served with a combination of veggies and salads... PLUS a basket of injera (an East African flatbread).

Courtesy of Hog & Hominy

Hog & Hominy

East Memphis

Do not miss out on the Golden Hour of Pizza! All (yes, all) of the delicious, wood-fired pizzas are $10 from 2-5pm Tuesday through Saturday. The margherita is second to none, but you really can't go wrong at H&H. You'll want to bring friends as well… and they'll want to join you.

Zaka Bowl

East Memphis

Load up your BYO-bowl with whatever vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free, meat-free, fresh and yummy grains, veggies, and (vegan) proteins you want. Then douse them in your choice of house-made sauces... all for $10.

Stacey Greenberg/Thrillist

Soul Fish

Midtown

Three fresh vegetables (or sides) with cornbread is a major steal at $7.75. Keep in mind the wide definition we're applying to “vegetable” in this town. Choices include hush puppies, French fries, coleslaw, mashed potatoes, pickled green tomatoes, cucumber salad, Cajun cabbage, sweet potato fries, broccoli, black beans, fried okra, black eyed peas, green beans, mac & cheese, corn, zucchini, collard greens, and white beans.

Lucky Cat Ramen

Midtown

The customers are always the lucky ones when Lucky Cat does a pop-up. It's single-handedly changing everyone’s idea of what ramen is with its taste bud blowing bowls. The half size is plenty for one person ($7), but be warned, the cravings will start once you get a taste of their exquisite broth, so you might wanna plan for leftovers with the full version ($12).

Stacey Greenberg/Thrillist

Cozy Corner BBQ

Downtown

There’s only one place in town to get an entire Cornish hen barbecued to perfection... and that’s at Cozy Corner. Now back in their original building, the hen, two sides (beans, spaghetti slaw, corn, potato salad, chips), and bread is a deal and a half clocking in at $12. Plus, you can’t really call yourself a Memphian if you haven’t tried it at least once.

Stacey Greenberg/Thrillist

Casablanca

Midtown and East Memphis

Transport yourself to the Middle East with the best falafel and hummus in the city. Listed as an appetizer, this dish makes a perfectly respectable lunch or dinner thanks to the big basket of accompanying pita bread. Best of all you can add a cup of their delicious tea and still get out under $10.

Bari Ristorante

Overton Square

Bari’s doors open at 5pm daily. Be there at 4:59, saddle up to the bar, and treat yourself to the most delicious dish this side of the Atlantic -- the frutti di mare fritti. Frutti di mare fritti is fried fruit of the sea -- fresh calamari, smelt filets, and sardines, all lightly breaded, fried, and served with salt and lemon. The lemon, which is also lightly breaded and fried, should be consumed in its entirety. All for $11.

Courtesy of Catherine & Mary’s

Catherine & Mary’s

Downtown

Catherine & Mary’s has a ton of can't-miss options in the $12-$15 range, but every day during Happy Hour (4-6pm), the spuntini menu has a handful of $5 snacks. The major stand out is the fried chicken skins, seasoned up with maple syrup and mixed with pickled red onions.

Char

University District

Char has many delightful menu options, but for those on a budget, the $7 gumbo bowl (with crab, shrimp, and andouille) is easily the best in the city. Brunch is an especially opportunistic time to visit Char, and sitting near the bar will put you in close proximity to some mighty fine music to soothe your savage hangover.

Stacey Greenberg/Thrillist

Kwik Chek

Overton Square

Ah, the bi bim bop. Come for a $10.99 sizzling-hot bowl of rice, veggies, bean sprouts, spicy sauce, and the meat of your choice all topped with a sunny egg that's almost too pretty to eat. Grab some chopsticks and mix it all together while the sizzle evenly distributes the yoke. It's hearty, satisfying, and seemingly pretty healthy. To pinch a few more pennies, order the Bi Bim Bap burger for $6.99 instead and get all of the same flavors, no chopsticks necessary.

Stacey Greenberg/Thrillist

Mosa Asian Bistro

East Memphis

Memphis has a lot of affordable hot wing options, no doubt, but there's only one place for Rainbow Wings. They feature a panang curry, fresh lime, and lemongrass dipping sauce, which is a total game changer. The curry is sweet, spicy, and tangy all at once, and the wings are perfectly crispy. It's $5 for four and $6.50 for six.

Stacey Greenberg/Thrillist

Dino’s Grill

VECA

We all know Dino’s has great ravioli and a pretty amazing plate lunch special, but did you know they have the best breakfast deal in town? First off, no line, no waiting. From 7:00am-11:00am Tuesday through Sunday you can get all of your favorite breakfast items including pancakes and waffles. The best deal on the menu is the two eggs any style which comes with your choice of biscuits or toast (but biscuits, duh!) and your choice of hashbrowns or grits for a mere $4.00.

Stacey Greenberg/Thrillist

Slider Inn

Midtown

With everything from brown rice, beet, and black bean to jerk pork, the $10 mix & match sliders are both crowd and wallet pleasers. The Original Memphis and Chick-N-Fill-Ay buffalo style are favorites. An order of three (any three!) comes with Slider's famous salt and sugar sprinkled skinny fries and bourbon-mayo dipping sauce.

Stacey Greenberg/Thrillist

Pho Saigon

Chickasaw Gardens

A small, crunchy baguette is the foundation of this sandwich, which includes house-made liver pâté, flavorful crispy-barbecued pork, cucumber, pickled carrots, daikon radish, sliced jalapeños, and fresh cilantro. The crispy pork makes it a standout from every other banh mi in town. At $3.99 a pop, you can even afford to feed a friend.

Courtesy of Central BBQ

Central BBQ

Summer/Midtown/Downtown

You have to feel sorry for people who don't live in Memphis and can't simultaneously get their BBQ- and-nacho fix. Now standard on many menus, Central's are the best and biggest. The nachos are simple, but delicious. There's processed cheese topped with tangy BBQ sauce, perfectly smoked barbecue, and pickled jalapeños if you so choose. Opt for the $5.75 half order, it'll be enough. Pro tip: Central's house-made BBQ chips can be substituted for the standard-issue tortilla chips.

Courtesy of Fino's

Fino’s

Midtown

All of the sandwiches at Fino's are a deal, and a half of one is usually more than enough. The best is the prosciutto cotto, however, which is a sweet boiled ham topped with provolone and roasted red pepper marinade. The whole sandwich will set you back $8, but you can snag a ½ of one for $5.25.

Brother Juniper’s

University District

By the time you get a seat for a top-tier brunch at Brother Juniper's, you are sure to be extra hungry. The black bean breakfast burrito will fill you up and then some, all for $8.95. The large flour tortilla is filled with black bean vegetarian chili, egg, and cheddar cheese, then topped with salsa and sour cream. You also get home fries or grits, and biscuits or toast.

COURTESY OF FUEL CAFE & FOOD TRUCK

Fuel Café/ Food Truck

Midtown

We've got taco trucks and authentic Mexican restaurants up and down Summer Ave, so finding a cheap taco is not hard. However, should you want vegetarian tacos so good non-vegetarians line up to order them, check Facebook or Twitter and find the Fuel Truck's current location or go straight to the restaurant, which finally added them to the menu (at two for $7). Made with fresh tortillas gently glued together with cheese, Fuel's signature veggie burger patties, and a load of fresh toppings, an order of two is a meal in itself. Add the fresh avocado for an additional buck (vegan, chicken, and bison tacos also available).

Stacey Greenberg/Thrillist

Lee’s Fresh Sushi

East Memphis

The $5.99 shrimp tempura is the top seller at our beloved gas-station sushi spot, but all of the 12-piece rolls are worth a try. Instead of avocado, which tends to brown, Lee's uses cucumbers for a nice crunch. It also has a special rice formula that keeps the sushi from getting hard. It makes sushi fresh all day, and is mindful of the fact that the rolls can be refrigerated for several hours.

Courtesy of Bianca Phillips 

Pho Binh

Midtown

The Pho Binh lunch buffet (M-F 11am-3pm, $7.49 dine-in and $8.99 to go) immediately comes to mind for local cheap eats. It's where vegetarians and meat eaters alike gather to worship perfectly fried tofu. Lemongrass tofu, black bean tofu, and coconut curry tofu are just a few of the options available among more traditional buffet fare.

Courtesy of Trolley Stop Market 

Trolley Stop Market

Medical District

There's no better or bigger slice of pie in town than at Trolley Stop Market. One is quite filling, but two is still in the budget. Go at lunch and get the Slice Combo Special: one slice of pizza, side salad, and fountain drink for $8.99. Slices vary by day and are displayed up front.

Courtesy of Andrew Michael

Andrew Michael

East Memphis

Breakfast-for-dinner lovers, unite! Have a seat at Andrew Michael's bar and treat yourself to the best breakfast (for dinner) in town. The meal includes a perfectly poached egg, pork belly, polenta, and house-made pork rinds all together on one plate! It's the total package of crispy, creamy, salty, and fatty... and you can have all that for just $11.

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Stacey Greenberg lives in Cooper Young with her two sons. She is the author of the award winning Dining with Monkeys blog.

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1. Porcellino's 711 W. Brookhaven Cr., Memphis, TN 38117 (East Memphis)

From Andy Ticer & Michael Hudman, Porcellino's manages to impress at every meal. Breakfast is marked by nitro coffee, meaty breakfast sandwiches, fresh pastries, and delights like the Dutch baby pancakes. Lunch has great sandwiches and salads, plus the entire breakfast menu. The real standout, however, is dinner. In addition to a menu full of one of a kind dishes, there are dim sum style carts that come around with mini daily specials. Not in the mood to sit and stay? Grab a cocktail and pick up a dinner to go from the butcher.

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2. Kwik Check 2013 Madison Ave, Memphis, TN 38104 (Overton Square)

Come for a sizzling-hot bowl of rice, veggies, bean sprouts, spicy sauce, and the meat of your choice all topped with a sunny egg that's almost too pretty to eat. Grab some chopsticks and mix it all together while the sizzle evenly distributes the yoke. It's hearty, satisfying, and seemingly pretty healthy. To pinch a few more pennies, order the Bi Bim Bap burger instead and get all of the same flavors, no chopsticks necessary.

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3. Mosa Asian Bistro 850 S White Station Rd, Memphis, TN (East Memphis)

Most Asian Bistro is an East Memphis mainstay for high-quality Chinese, Thai, Korean, and Japanese cuisine in a casual atmosphere, with affordable prices. Don’t let the dollar signs fool you — everything is made to order, from family recipes, and using fresh ingredients. Enjoy dumplings and spring rolls, noodle dishes and rice bowls, curries (get the signature Rainbow Panang Curry), and whatever daily specials the restaurant has listed on the whiteboard over the counter. At lunch, take a number and order at the counter, but be prepared to wait in line at the bustling counter bistro on White Station Road.

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4. Dino's Grill 645 N McLean Blvd, Memphis, TN 38107

Located in a Midtown-based building built in 1927, Dino’s Grill has been serving up traditional Italian and Southern cuisines to the Memphis masses since the 70s. The family run restaurant features home cooked specialties from the owners’ family recipes. While Dino's is famous for its ravioli (made fresh daily and offered by the half or whole dozen) you’ll find a slew of other specialties, from New Orleans-style muffalettas to chicken parmesan sandwiches, fried jumbo shrimp and French fries to homemade lasagna. Dino’s is a neighborhood mainstay, serving down-home, affordable dishes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

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5. Pho Saigon 2946 Poplar Ave, Memphis, TN 38111

A local favorite, Pho Saigon in Chickasaw Gardens is serving up hearty helpings of Vietnamese dishes at low prices. While you really can’t go wrong with a piping hot bowl of pho, the full page, laminated diagram of the pork-heavy banh mi makes it clear that the sandwich is the menu item that reigns supreme. It’s served on a buttery, crunchy French baguette and topped with house-made liver pâté, crispy barbecue pork, cucumber, pickled carrots and daikon radishes, jalapeños, and freshly picked cilantro. Ringing in at just a few dollars, this sandwich will sate you for at least a few meals.

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6. Brother Juniper's College Inn 3519 Walker Ave, Memphis, TN 38111 (University District)

By the time you get a seat for a top-tier brunch at Brother Juniper's, you are sure to be extra hungry. Juniper's black bean breakfast burrito will fill you up and then some. The large flour tortilla is filled with black bean vegetarian chili, egg, and cheddar cheese, then topped with salsa and sour cream. You also get home fries or grits, and biscuits or toast.

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7. Fuel Cafe 1761 Madison Ave, Memphis, TN 38104

We've got taco trucks and authentic Mexican restaurants up and down Summer Ave, so finding a cheap taco is not hard. However, should you want veggie tacos that are so good non vegetarians line up to order them, then track down Fuel Truck's current location. Made with fresh tortillas gently glued together with cheese, its signature veggie burger patties, and a load of toppings, an order of two is a meal in itself. Go ahead, add the fresh avocado for an additional buck (chicken and bison tacos are also available).

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8. Lee's Fresh Sushi and Deli 6121 Poplar Ave, Memphis, TN 38119 (East Memphis)

The shrimp tempura is the top seller at our beloved gas-station sushi spot, but all of the 12-piece rolls are worth a try. Instead of avocado, which tends to brown, Lee's uses cucumbers for a nice crunch. It also has a special rice formula that keeps the sushi from getting hard. It makes sushi fresh all day, and is mindful of the fact that the rolls can be refrigerated for several hours.

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9. Pho Binh 1615 Madison Ave, Memphis, TN 38104 (Midtown)

You had us at “all-you-can-eat tofu buffet.” This bare-bones Midtown spot serves up affordable Vietnamese eats, and while the usual suspects like shrimp spring rolls à la peanut sauce and pork glass noodles remain staples on the menu, Pho Binh is especially popular amongst local vegetarians: whether you opt for the lemongrass tofu or vegetable pho, the vast meatless offerings are entirely satisfactory. It’s a beloved hole-in-the-wall that won’t burn a hole in your pocket, so swing through during weekday lunches to get your fix.

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10. Trolley Stop Market 704 Madison Ave, Memphis, TN 38103 (Downtown)

Trolley Stop Market -- which sits adjacent to the Orleans trolley stop on Madison Ave., hence the name -- is part market, part restaurant, and part bar with a penchant for pies. Farmers-turned-restaurant owners Keith and Jill Forrester make pizza crusts from scratch, and source ingredients for toppings from nearby Whitton Farms, among other farms, where they grow their own produce and herbs. Go for the Margherita pie, topped with just-plucked tomatoes, chunks of Mozzarella, and freshly picked basil, and stay for the various artisanal goods on offer: crafts, sauces, breads, jams, eggs, and the like.

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11. Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen 712 W Brookhaven Cir, Memphis, TN 38117 (East Memphis)

When childhood friends Andrew Ticer and Michael Hudman opened their first restaurant -- Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen -- in 2008, they combined Memphis' reverence for meat with their own Italian culinary training. The chefs' strength is apparent through consistent execution of an ambitious, seasonally-rotating menu, featuring innovative dishes like the signature "Maw Maw's Ravioli" in a meat gravy, spiny lobster tortellini, and pork belly served with a poached egg, polenta, and house pork rinds. For the adventurous diners, stop by on the monthly "No-Menu Monday" for an omakase-style Italian meal you'll likely never forget.

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12. Sushi Jimmi Restaurant 2895 Poplar Ave, Memphis, TN 38111 (East Memphis)

Sushi Jimmi, the popular food truck-cum-brick-and-mortar, is a self-proclaimed “Asian Fusion” restaurant in the old Wendy’s building on Poplar Avenue. Beyond just Sushi Jimmi’s innovative sushi rolls and other food truck favorites, you can expect to find creative fusion dishes like Japanese tacos, deep-fried sushi, crawfish nachos, sushi burritos, and kimchi fries. The restaurant is also home to a sake bar, which also features beer from local brewers, and a drive through window, for those who prefer to eat on the go.

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13. Blue Nile 1798 Madison Ave, Memphis, TN 38104 (Midtown)

Blue Nile in Midtown is home to some of the city’s most authentic Ethiopian cuisine, and is a solid stop for a satisfying, savory meal at a low price. While the vegetarian platter is a decided standout -- for just $12, you'll get spicy and mild mesir wat served with a combination of vegetables and salads, and a basket of injera, East African flatbread -- the assorted myriad of menu items features a spicy lentil salad, beets, cabbage, and potatoes, among others. Order extra injera for the table, though, you're going to need it.

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14. Hog & Hominy 707 W Brookhaven Cir, Memphis, TN 38117 (East Memphis)

Hometown boys Andy Ticer and Michael Hudman's restaurant has a homey feel thanks to a bright & airy atmosphere, a wood-burning pizza oven in plain sight, and waiters dressed in plaid. They not only serve incredible pizzas, like the Fontina, boudin, and scrambled egg-topped Prewitt pie, and cocktails, but also have outdoor seating and bocce ball. Looking for late night dining and brunch? Stop searching, they have that here too.

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15. Zaka Bowl 575 Erin Dr, Memphis, TN 38117 (East Memphis)

In a city whose dining scene is anchored by the fried, butter-heavy nature of Southern cuisine, Zaka Bowl is a ray of vegetable-focused light for the health-conscious. The build-your-own-style counter in East Memphis is vegetarian and vegan friendly (read: no meat). Create your own bowl -- choose one base (quinoa, brown rice, vegetable noodles, or spinach), three high-protein vegetables, hot garnish (cooked and seasoned vegetables), and cold garnish (raw vegetables) -- and finish it with a generous drizzle of any of their sauces at the self-serve table (but they’re healthy, so feel free to douse). Or, order one of their featured bowls, should indecision bog you down.

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16. Soul Fish Cafe 862 S Cooper St, Memphis, TN 38104 (Cooper Young)

From multiple outposts across Memphis and into Arkansas, Soul Fish Cafe is a soul food mini-chain serving up Southern classics. The newly-renovated Midtown location, situated in the heart of Cooper Young, is home to an expansive, covered patio for those warm Memphis nights that require your whole-roasted catfish to be enjoyed outdoors. Expect to start your decidedly Southern inflected meal with hushpuppies or fried okra, move on to a crawfish po-boy, blackened shrimp taco, or a battered catfish basket with a side of collard greens and Cajun cabbage, and round it out with dessert: a slice of caramel pecan pie, a la mode of course.

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17. Cozy Corner BBQ 745 N. Parkway, Memphis, TN 38112 (Downtown)

Maybe you recognize Cozy Corner BBQ because you’re an avid barbecue connoisseur, or maybe you recognize it from its cameo on Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. No matter how you know it, you know it’s one of Memphis’ prime spots for barbecue, drawing carnivores from across city lines for a taste of the smokey, saucy meat. Cozy Corner serves up slabs of ribs, smoked sausage, barbecued bologna, pork, and beef from its front-and-center barbecue pit. While all of the familiar barbecue traditions are intact, the real draw here is the whole cornish hen. Load up on your protein of choice, order a few sides — beans, spaghetti, cole slaw, and the like — and grab extra napkins; there’s no clean way to devour Cozy Corner’s barbecue.

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18. Casablanca 5030 Poplar Ave #7, Memphis, TN 38117 (Midtown)

Owned and operated by Jerusalem native, Aimer Shtaya, Casablanca’s newest Midtown location is laidback and features great outdoor seating. The Middle Eastern menu is spot on and they literally serve the best falafel ever. Ordered with hummus as a starter or in a pita, it’s a must try along with the iced tea, homemade with fresh herbs and Wolf River Honey.

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19. Bari Ristorante e Enoteca 22 S Cooper St, Memphis, TN 38104

The Bari experience is much like joining someone else's family for the evening: the space is intimate and warm, though never stuffy, and the staff is attentive and informed, taking special care to recommend wines and cheeses from the changing menu based on your preferences. Starting -- or ending -- the night there with a specialty cocktail or aperitif, a cheese plate, and the fruiti di mare fritti is a quick way to sample the experience, while enjoying a luxurious multi-course meal in the lovely (and quiet!) dining room isn't half bad either.

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20. CHAR Restaurant , Memphis, TN 38111

Much of Char’s Highland Row neighborhood caters to University of Memphis students, making this southern steakhouse and piano bar combo, owned by Amerigo alum Ben Brock, stand out as a sophisticated culinary destination. You’ll likely spend most of your visits to Char in either the main dining room or piano bar, but there are two private dining rooms – the Woodland Room and the Bluff Room – for when you’ve really earned it. The charcoal-and-chocolate color scheme, whose sultry mood is echoed in black-and-white photo of Memphis personalities throughout, will seduce you into ordering a few more cocktails than you’d planned for, and you’ll indulge in the seemingly endless bourbon program or limited cocktail selection, perhaps with a whiskey concoction, with Rittenhouse Rye, Meletti Amaro, Cynar, honey syrup, lemon twist, and lemon juice. The dinner menu is organized into “Beginnings,” “Steaks & Chops,” “Seafood, Poultry & Veal,” “Salads,” “Sides to Share,” and “Desserts.” Southern specialties, like crab, shrimp, and andouille gumbo is available by the cup or by the bowl, to be paired with gulf shrimp and Delta Grind garlic cheddar grits, with mushrooms and spicy Creole butter. It would be sacrilege to leave Char without devouring a signature steak; the standout is the Original Cowboy Prime Ribeye, fit for the irreverent rancher in you.

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21. Catherine & Mary's , Memphis, TN (Downtown)

Catherine & Mary’s is an Italian concept from James Beard-nominated chefs Andy Ticer and Michael Hudman. Named after Ticer and Hudman's Sicilian- and Tuscan-born grandmothers, the restaurant features regional Italian food with a Tennessee bent, like rigatoni with gravy and meatballs. The cocktail menu is no different, with a number of aperitivos and spritzes, as well as (unsurprisingly) an Italian-leaning wine list.

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22. Slider Inn 2117 Peabody Ave, Memphis, TN 38104 (Midtown)

Memphians love patios almost as much as the beer they drink on them, and lucky for the Slider Inn in Midtown, it has both amenities in abundance. In addition to its daily specials, this neighborhood bar specializing in tiny burgers has a three-buck pint night on Tuesdays. With a kitchen open until 2am and a bar until 3am, it's the perfect end to a perfect evening. Bonus: it is apparently home to the "only Lobster Roll in the midsouth."

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23. Central BBQ 147 E Butler Ave, Memphis, TN 38103 (South Main)

For good barbecue it's best to avoid the tourist-centered places Downtown. But if you go a little south of Beale St to the South Main district, to the Downtown location of Central BBQ, you'll be rewarded with a menu that frequently tops local polls for best barbecue. And since the sauces are self-serve, it's a great place to sample a variety to see what you prefer among the four options: mild, hot, vinegar, and mustard.

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24. Fino's from the Hill 1853 Madison Ave, Memphis, TN 38104 (Midtown)

This Midtown mainstay has the feel of a classic New York or Chicago deli, offering hard-to-find pantry goods and Italian-style sandwiches that are as gratuitous in portion as they are easy on the wallet. The menu includes old favorites like Philly cheesesteaks and turkey clubs, but it's the Italian options -- the mortadella- and salami-obsessed "Acquisto" and warm, provolone-laden "Agosti" -- that prove flavorsome standouts. Combined with the solid pizza slices and antipasta sides, Fino's is a no-brainer if you're looking for lunch on a budget. Just be sure to save room for dessert, because the homemade cannolis are not to miss.

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