The Best Restaurants in Memphis Right Now
There are a TON of exciting restaurant and bar concepts in the works as our city continues to grow and find ways to bring in new Memphians and visitors alike. In 2019 we’ve seen a welcome addition to the third wave coffee scene in the nearly forgotten Pinch District, our favorite temporary restaurant finally find its forever home on Broad Avenue, a popular food truck move to a food court in the Medical District, and one hell of an inspiring cafe open its doors in Binghampton. In addition to the best new, keep scrolling to see our tried and true best of the best picks for fine dining, more casual fare, soul food, and naturally, barbecue.
Eat, drink, and stay awhile
While the name might not give it away, the latest addition to the third wave coffee scene comes to us with a full menu crafted by chef Cole Jeanes. The simple and elegant offerings -- pastries, toasts, bowls, sandwiches, soups, and salads -- are satisfying without being overly filling. It’s surely becoming the norm that one comes for a coffee soda, has breakfast and then finds oneself still hanging around for lunch.
Broad Avenue Arts District
High quality ramen finds a permanent residence on Broad Avenue
We’ve seen Lucky Cat come full circle -- from a pop up to a temporary space to a full-blown restaurant and bar with a deck (and they'll have an entire upstairs to play with when the time comes). The ramen is still unbeatable, and now there are daily specials, rice bowls, bao buns, and an assortment of skewers, and dumplings to boot. The lunch special is unrivaled. For $13 you can get a bao bun, a lunch ramen or rice bowl, and a delicious sesame ginger salad. If that weren’t enough, they have a full bar with inventive Japanese inspired cocktails.
Inspiring the community with their food and business model
Inspire Community Cafe is a welcoming oasis in the new strip mall along Tillman and Sam Cooper. Its vibe isn’t just for show, either. This is a business that prioritizes people over profits by providing a living wage, full-time positions, profit sharing, etc. The menu of coffees, fresh smoothies, breakfast, lunch and dinner items is healthy and delicious and includes gluten-free, paleo, vegetarian, and vegan options. Most things are also made from organic and locally-grown goods when possible. But wait, there’s more! Ten percent of net profits are put back into the local community.
Thai street food that caters to students
The super popular Soi Number 9 food truck also opted for a permanent spot from which to sell its take on Thai street food. Although located in the UT Health Sciences building, it is open to the public. Soi’s recipes have been shared across multiple generations. Rice bowls, noodle bowls, pot stickers, spring rolls, and iced coffee and tea are always prepared fresh with quality ingredients.
Delicious seafood and cocktails… what more could you ask for?
James Beard darlings Andrew Ticer and Michael Hudman have done it again. Their latest restaurant, The Gray Canary, located inside the Old Dominick Distillery has its very own view of the Mighty Mississippi. The expansive front room features a raw bar with sustainable oysters and sashimi-style fish as well as a traditional bar with top notch cocktails and curated wines. The menu leans towards veggies and seafood-based dishes, which are all prepared in a wood-fired oven.
Madison Heights (1329 Madison)
Wings. Twenty of 'em for $20.
Wing places are beginning to outnumber BBQ places in this town, so you know the competition is steep. Riko’s, which started out as a wildly popular food truck, opened its flagship restaurant in Madison Heights in late 2017 and has quickly taken the chicken wing game up a notch. With their standard 20 wings for $20 there’s no reason not to sample every one of their mouth-watering sauces and “get kicked” as they say.
A new addition to the Crosstown Concourse making waves in the food scene
This international food hall has been one of the most exciting additions to the Crosstown Concourse. Currently featuring female chefs from Sudan, Nepal, and Syria, it is a great place to try a variety of dishes you don't see a lot of in Memphis (i.e., dumplings, sambusas, shawarma, and bamia) all at once. The manager, who hails from Mexico, makes a special Hibiscus tea and tends the full bar.
Broad Avenue Arts District
All-day breakfast, a crafty Cuban, and an Impossible Burger are what's up here
Lisa and Luis Toro, who own City & State, decided to turn an old liquor store a few doors down into a Latin-inspired diner in order to bring more lunch and dinner traffic to the Broad Avenue Arts District. All day breakfast, the Cuban sandwich, the Impossible Burger, the cocktail program, the house-made pastries, the patio and the photogenic décor has made the Liquor Store a dream come true.
Cooper Young (2299 Young)
Hearty southern/Cajun cuisine piled high
Chef Tamra Eddy may not hail from Memphis, but when you walk into her Underground Café it sure feels like home. Her cooking is a cross between Cajun and soul, with a little fusion thrown in for fun. Muddy mac-n-cheese, donut burgers, ribs, fried green tomatoes, fish tacos -- she has it all, and often creates daily specials that will blow your mind. Please note that the peach cobbler nachos are sure to do that trick any ol’ day.
Germantown (1215 S. Germantown Road)
A taste of Mexico City in the heart of Memphis
Even if you are a regular at Las Tortugas, I find it best to simply walk to the register and ask owner Jonathan Magallanes what to order. Using only the freshest handpicked ingredients, Las Tortugas’ tacos and sandwiches are simply unmatched -- quality, taste, presentation, everything.
East Memphis (850 White Station)
Refreshing Asian-fusion from the godfather of Chinese food in Memphis
Eddie Pao, who has been in the restaurant business for 40 years and is known as the “Godfather of Chinese Food” can be found in the kitchen of Mosa, which he owns with his daughter, Michelle Pao-Levine. Eddie’s first restaurant, Formosa, opened in 1978 on Summer Avenue (and is now closed). Mosa is like its more sophisticated sister, and has a more elegant atmosphere and refined menu. Eddie’s Rainbow Panang Curry is definitely bucket list material.
South Memphis (685 S Danny Thomas Blvd.)
The place for a soul food buffet. You read that right.
Terica Bobo is carrying on the family business of feeding the soul at the Gay Hawk six days a week. Known for their soul food buffet, you can get your fill of baked and fried chicken, fried catfish, greens, black eyed peas, sweet potatoes, cornbread, peach cobbler and the like all for just $10. The Gay Hawk is only open for lunch Sunday-Friday, 11:30am-3:00pm (though Terica won’t kick anyone out on Sunday). The buffet changes daily and there is live music on Wednesdays.
Midtown (1707 Madison)
Middle Eastern eats like shawarma, hummus, falafel, and kababs
Owned and operated by Jerusalem native, Aimer Shtaya, Casablanca’s 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, which is homemade with fresh herbs and Wolf River Honey.
Uptown (520 N. Third)
A grocery store serving up some of the best burgers in Memphis
Yes, Roxie’s is actually a grocery store... well, more like a corner store that sells the necessities. There’s a grill in the back and they are busy making some the best burgers in the city. If you’ve ever seen Eddie Murphy’s “Raw” they are what I imagine he meant by a “house burger.” They’re big, juicy, and the toppings from the cheese to the onions are generous to say the least. Don’t even consider a double or a triple unless you are being paid to compete in some sort of food challenge. There are no tables, so you will need to make plans to eat your burger elsewhere, or stand outside.
Cooper Young (928 S. Cooper)
A Memphis institution for ridiculously delicious seafood
Tsunami’s Pacific Rim inspired menu has been a favorite of Memphians for twenty years, because of its ever changing small plates designed to maximize the freshest seafood available year round. Chef Ben Smith is constantly coming up with new and creative ways to get us all to happily expand our palates, while keeping us hooked on his glorious sea bass and black Thai rice signature mainstay.
South Memphis (1762 Lamar Ave.)
A Memphis staple serving up mouthwatering BBQ
It’s pretty dang hard to go wrong with BBQ in this town, but there are a handful of places that must be tried and Payne’s is at the top of that list. The pork shoulders are cooked over hickory coals in a recessed pit set into the restaurant’s wall. Open since 1972 and passed down through the family, Payne’s distinguishes itself from all others with its mustard based slaw. And you’d be remiss to leave without eating a little barbecue bologna.
Exquisite meals in Collierville’s historic town square
Chef Jimmy Gentry has succeeded in making the drive to Collierville well worth it. His menu changes with availability -- meaning he’s committed to using the freshest ingredients he can source locally -- while allowing his final product to be inspired by a world of flavors. The chef tasting menu is highly recommended. The cocktail program and wine list are also expansive and suited to quell any thirst you have coming in.
Serving excellent food to everyone, regardless of their ability to pay
Caritas Village is a non-profit that seeks to break barriers between the rich and “those made poor.” One of the primary ways of doing so is by breaking bread. The restaurant has taken many forms over the years, but now with Mac Edwards at the helm, Spencer McMillan in the kitchen, and monthly fundraising wine dinners with guest chefs the last Thursday of every month, Caritas is making food that's attracting a wider audience and allowing the restaurant to serve around 600 meals a month free of charge. Diners are encouraged to “pay it forward” when dining or by becoming monthly donors.
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