In the early 1900s, when no one smiled in pictures and duels were still an appropriate way to find a wife, Memphis was the second-most popular Southern city for Italian immigrants looking to re-settle (New Orleans came in at No. 1). As a result, the Bluff City has strong Italian roots, and nowhere is that more evident than the city’s rich selection of traditional and contemporary Italian restaurants.
Childhood friends Andrew Ticer and Michael Hudman, who both come from large Italian families, started planning their restaurant when they were kids. As they grew up, they got the proper culinary training to pursue that dream, and today, they serve fresh, gourmet Italian meals in this sophisticated East Memphis spot. Dishes like potato gnocchi with short ribs or mezza luna with pistachio and asparagus pesto show off the James Beard Award-winning duo’s culinary-school skills while retaining the home-cooked flavor that would make their Italian grandparents proud.
Situated in the heart of the South Main Arts District, Spindini offers an elegant and modern take on traditional Italian dishes. Menu items are prepared with local, organic produce from Woodland Farms (Spindini’s company farm) and honey from the restaurant’s dangerously delicious beehives. The wood-fired oven is positioned at the end of the bar, so patrons can watch as chefs fire up lobster & bacon pizza.
Italy meets Greece at the classed-out Bella. Avgolemono (a Greek soup with lemon and chicken) is served alongside Tuscan white bean and kale soup, for example. Much of the menu is heavy with Italian classics -- ravioli, spaghetti Bolognese, lasagna -- but there are a few Southern twists thrown in (like the smoked butt barbecue pizza). The ambiance is sophisticated enough for a date, and casual enough for a family dinner with the kids. Whole-wheat and gluten-free options are available.
Ticer and Hudman keep at it with this sister restaurant to Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen. While the latter tends toward traditional Italian fare, Hog & Hominy offers the chefs a chance to showcase their Southern upbringing. The menu here combines Southern soul with authentic Italian, resulting in dishes like collard greens with pork belly, biscuit gnocchi with field peas, and poutine with neckbone gravy.
Chef Jason Severs recreates the fare of Puglia (in Southern Italy) at this Overton Square institution. That means you’ll find dishes like spaghetti alla carbonara or roasted tiger prawns with basil and chiles. Bari also features a vast wine selection, with Italians from almost every region of the country. And the cheese menu boasts more than 40 styles of Italian cheese.
If you’re looking a casual space with vinyl tablecloths and wood paneling on the walls, Pete & Sam’s is it. This Memphis favorite has been family-owned and -operated for more than 60 years, and it certainly has the mom-and-pop feel. And because the venue’s been around for so long, the menu leans on predictable yet classic Americanized Italian favorites. There’s barbecue spaghetti (a Memphis specialty), as well as spaghetti marinara or spaghetti with meatballs. Pete & Sam’s also serves steaks in just about any cut imaginable, like the infamous spaghetti cut (only joking, Pete & Sam).
In Memphis, the Grisanti name is synonymous with Italian food. More than 100 years ago, Willie and Mary Grisanti opened an Italian restaurant in Memphis, and members of their family have kept the family business going at various Italian restaurants all over town. Many of those places have come and gone, but Frank Grisanti’s continues to serve the family classics. Among those is Elfo’s Special (named for one of the family’s patriarchs), which is spaghetti with garlic butter, shrimp, and mushrooms.
Located at the corner of Cooper and Young (probably the hippest corner in town, whatever), Strano! serves up Sicilian-inspired pasta dishes, pizzas, and meat-based entrees like oven-roasted quail or chicken Parm. Pizzas range from the classic pepperoni to the adventurous King Alaska -- salmon over tomato sauce with caramelized onion and chevre. Strano! also does brunch, where the menu ranges from Southern classics such as fried chicken biscuits to Italian fusion (read: honeydew and mint salad with prosciutto and buffalo mozzarella).
Hot and cold sandwiches on crusty baguettes as well as simple pastas and pizzas are offered at this casual deli. Some, like the Philly cheesesteak and the veggie sub, are prototypical American-style offerings, but others, like the Acquisto (ham, mortadella, salami, provel, green olive dressing) highlight the flavors of Italy. Pastas are limited to spaghetti with meatballs or with marinara, and pizzas don’t stray from the classics (three-cheese, sausage, pepperoni). Fino’s was originally opened as an Italian grocery, and while the majority of the interior is now dedicated to deli seating, there are still a few shelves of imported Italian goods.
Established in 1923, Coletta’s is one of Memphis’ oldest restaurants. This laid-back family diner lays claim to the invention of the Memphis-style barbecue pizza; a pizza piled high with pulled pork and tangy ’cue sauce. Barbecue spaghetti and barbecue salad are also offered. Traditionalists will find plenty on the menu for them as well, such as stalwarts like chicken Parm, lasagna, and ravioli. The wine selection -- Beringer and Turning Leaf -- only serve to complement the diner’s laid-back vibe and welcoming atmosphere.
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1. Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen712 W Brookhaven Cir, Memphis
2. Spindini383 S Main St, Memphis
3. Ciao Bella Italian Grill565 Erin Drive, Memphis
4. Hog & Hominy707 W Brookhaven Cir, Memphis
5. Bari Ristorante e Enoteca22 S Cooper St, Memphis
6. Pete and Sam's3886 Park Ave, Memphis
7. Frank Grisanti’s1022 S Shady Grove Rd, Memphis
8. Strano! Sicilian Kitchen & Bar948 S Cooper St, Memphis
9. Fino's from the Hill1853 Madison Ave, Memphis
10. Coletta's Restaurant1063 S Parkway E, 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.
Putting a refined twist on time-honored Italian fare like wood-fired pizzas, caprese salads, and house-made pastas, this sleek eatery is one of Downtown Memphis's most frequented dinner locales. It's a popular haunt for whiskey enthusiasts, as the bar boasts a robust selection of American varieties ranging from Buffalo Trace and Four Roses to rare bottles like the Elijah Craig Single Barrel 23-year and Macallan 18-year. For those who prefer wine, don't fret -- Spindini also features a well-stocked collection of Italian and Californian wines.
Ciao Bella is one of those rare restaurants that caters to the masses without forgoing quality -- here you'll find authentic Italian and Mediterranean fare like calamari friti, smoked salmon bruschetta, avgolemono soup, and flatbread pizzas, and a slew of vegan and gluten-free options. The white linen-laden bistro is a popular locale for romantic dinners, made all the more intimate on the outdoor patio (arguably one of the best in Memphis, boasting lush flora, strings of light, and a rustic-chic exterior that calls to mind cottages in the Tuscan countryside).
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.
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.
Pete and Sam’s in East Memphis is a family-run eatery with a real old-school decor (think dim yellow lighting, striped wallpaper, and argyle tablecloths). The menu is mostly Italian-influenced with favorites like lasagna, spaghetti and thin crust pizzas, but also offers American staples like chicken, steaks and seafood. The standout item is BBQ Pizza, lauded by everyone from Memphis locals to Food Network chefs.
Located inside the Hilton Embassy Suites, this old-school eatery serves authentic Northern Italian food like fettucine alfredo, eggplant parmesan, veal piccata, and oysters Rockefeller. It's the signature outpost of the Grisanti family, veterans of the Italian dining scene in Memphis, and regulars know to order the "Elfo Special" -- a heaping plate named for one of the family's patriarchs, consisting of spaghetti, shrimp, mushrooms, and decadent garlic butter. It might not be the fanciest spot in town, but you can't beat Italian hospitality; from the moment you enter to the second you ask for the check, the staff genuinely want you to have a good time.
Strano! in the Cooper Young district is a neighborhood joint serving gourmet Italian with an emphasis on simple Sicilian recipes. Its pizza brilliance comes from the crust: thin but not floppy, crispy but not crackly, and tastes like the dough’s recipe comes from someone’s Sicilian Grandmother (it does). Let the fresh, quality ingredients speak for themselves as you hang out in the casual, brick-lined dining room.
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.
Colette’s has been serving Memphis since the 1920s, and—like the delicious recipes— the place hasn’t changed much. Walk in and you’ll feel like you’ve gone back a few decades thanks to the picnic-table set up and decor (red and white checkered tablecloths, light-washed wood, and yellow tea lights. But don’t underestimate this South Memphis spot: Coletta’s invented the real, original BBQ pizza. It fires up a traditional cheese pizza in its burning-hot pizza oven, and then adds a generous layer of house-smoked pulled pork shoulder.