50 Things You Need to Eat in Memphis Before You Die
Eating all 50 of these could probably speed up your death, so please, take your time. Memphians do enjoy the occasional salad and vegetarian dish, but for the most part these are all major indulgences. Also, sorry/not sorry, there’s a lot of barbecue on this bucket list, that's just how we do here.
1. BLFGT Salad
Felicia Suzanne's (address and info)
This Southern take on the traditional BLT sandwich features fried green tomatoes rather than regular ol' tomatoes, which negates the need for bread and makes it one amazing salad. Thick, yet crispy Newman Farms bacon, two lightly fried tomatoes, and a layer of homemade pimento cheese is topped with a heap of baby mixed greens tossed in a delicious rémoulade dressing.
2. BBQ nachos
Central BBQ (address and info)
East Midtown (& Other Locations)
Kill those nacho and barbecue cravings in one bite. The BBQ nachos are built from the bottom up with your choice of house-made BBQ chips or tortilla chips, processed cheese, sprinkled cheese, tangy barbecue sauce, perfectly smoked barbecue, and pickled jalapeños.
3. BBQ spaghetti
Interstate Bar-B-Q (address and info)
When Jim Neely bought Interstate Grocery in 1978 and turned it into a barbecue restaurant in 1979, he put the Neely family firmly on the barbecue map. BBQ spaghetti is an Interstate original -- it's Interstates's signature pork in a mixture of its intoxicating barbecue sauce and spices served over spaghetti.
4. BBQ tofu nachos
RP Tracks (address and info)
That’s right, we even barbecue our tofu. Tossed atop tortilla chips, black beans, shredded lettuce, cheddar cheese, tomatoes, sour cream, and jalapeños, it satisfies vegetarians and meat eaters alike.
5. Taco salad
Raw Girls (address and info)
This taco salad is one of the things that made the Raw Girls famous. Fresh greens, fresh pico, and fresh guacamole all support the star of this dish -- the Raw Girls' signature walnut "meat."
6. Cornish game hen
Cozy Corner (address and info)
North Parkway & Manassas
Forget chicken wings; there’s only one place to get a whole, delicious, barbecued Cornish hen in town and that’s at Cozy Corner. A fire may have destroyed the original building, but the hens taste even better across the street.
7. Skillet of shrimp
Rendezvous (address and info)
Don’t tell, but with 24 hours’ notice you can get a big old iron skillet full of five mouth-watering pounds of barbecue shrimp right there at your table.
8. Chopped pork sandwich
Payne’s Bar-B-Que (address and info)
Payne’s is the type of place that’s so good, the locals like to keep it to themselves. The secret to its sandwich is the mustard-based coleslaw and a sweet barbecue sauce.
9. Lobster Pronto Pup
Rizzo's Diner (address and info)
This is a tribute to a Memphis original -- "The Pronto Pup." Chef Michael wanted to take something as succulent and high end as lobster and serve it in a simple, fair interpretation. Lightly battered and fried, it is served with a Creole mustard aioli.
10. Original barbecue pizza
Coletta’s (address and info)
Coletta’s is a triple threat -- it introduced pizza to Memphis in the 1950s, it created the barbecue pizza, and it counted Elvis among its regulars. Tangy and hearty, the barbecue pizza is not to be missed.
11. Pulled pork sandwich
Bar-B-Q Shop (address and info)
In Memphis we put the slaw on the sandwich. The Bar-B-Q Shop’s sandwich and sauce are among the best and you have the option of Texas toast to help with the heft.
12. Portobello sandwich
Central BBQ (address and info)
Central’s portobello sandwich with smoked Gouda is the perfect BBQ sandwich choice for vegetarians, but it’s so damn good, plenty of carnivores have it in their regular rotation.
Rendezvous (address and info)
Wet or dry is always the question when it comes to ribs. At Rendezvous, they come dry with a rub that is heavy on Greek seasonings and lands them at the top of nearly every “best ribs” list there is.
Tops Bar-B-Q (address and info)
Burger wars are second only to barbecue wars in Memphis so it only makes sense that a barbecue joint has one of the best greasy burgers in town. And yes, you can, and should, add an ounce of pulled pork, a little cole slaw, and barbecue sauce on top.
15. Soul Burger
Earnestine & Hazel’s (address and info)
E&H’s is a juke joint, not a restaurant, and you can have your Soul Burger exactly one way -- a bun, patty, onions, cheese, pickle, and “Soul Sauce.” Why mess with perfection?
16. Prozac Cupcake
Muddy's Bake Shop (address and info)
You don't need a prescription to enjoy one of these chocolatey treats. They look like regular ol’ cupcakes, but they’re crazy good.
17. Bibimbap Burger
Kwik Check (address and info)
The bibimbap-y flavors you love, on a burger. Get some napkins.
18. Spicy chicken
Gus's (address and info)
The secret of Gus's spicy fried chicken is out and franchises are popping up in several cities, but the first ever franchise is in Downtown Memphis. Order some fried pickles while you wait for yours to be cooked to order.
19. Fried chicken
Uncle Lou's (address and info)
There's only one Uncle Lou's and only one sweet & spicy love sauce. Don't forget the honey biscuits.
20. Red Eye Pizza
Hog & Hominy (address and info)
Italian cooking with Southern roots is what H&H does best and it is on perfect display with the Red Eye Pizza -- pork belly, egg, fontina, celery leaf, and sugo (classic Italian meat sauce).
21. Lemongrass tofu
Saigon Le (address and info)
Chicken isn't the only thing we fry in this town. This dish features fried tofu with spicy and tangy lemongrass seasoning served with thickly sliced cucumbers and rice.
22. Trolley Stop Pizza
Trolley Stop Market (address and info)
New York-style pizza with farm-fresh ingredients? Yes, please.
23. Ocean Pyramid
Sekisui (address and info)
This is literally a pyramid constructed from layers of tuna, salmon, whitefish, rice, avocado, and roe served with spicy ponzu sauce. It makes that other pyramid in town seem boring.
24. Besh BBQ shrimp
The Second Line (address and info)
Named after John Besh, this is Kelly English's Louisiana-inspired take on BBQ, which means the shrimp are grilled and the sauce is butterific. You think you won't eat the whole loaf of accompanying French bread meant for dipping, but you will.
Shanghai (address and info)
No. 12 on the Thai menu is tofu curry soup and it is nothing short of magic. The heat from the red curry is great for your sinuses if you’re sick or just plain good for your tummy if you are hungry.
26. Surf & turf
Restaurant Iris (address and info)
This massive New York strip generously stuffed with fried oysters and blue cheese is not for amateurs. I repeat, this is not for amateurs.
27. Dim sum
Asian Palace (address and info)
Crispy pork, taro balls, tripe soup, spare ribs, flat noodles with shrimp… the doors open at 11am on Sunday. Take a group and take your appetite for the absolute best dim sum in town.
28. Badass Nachos
Sweet Grass Next Door (address and info)
Beef brisket and grilled peppers elevate these nachos to badass status, but the fact that you can get a 2ft platter of them is pretty badass too.
29. A Tortuga
Las Tortugas Deli Mexicana (address and info)
A Tortuga, or "turtle," is a loaf of bread baked fresh, hollowed out, and grilled. It’s filled with pork, chicken, beef, or fish and garnished with fresh avocado, roma tomatoes, queso fresco farmer's cheese, shredded lettuce, poblano peppers, sliced sweet onion, and a spread of garlic pinto beans.
Arepa & Salsa (address and info)
The arepas are mighty fine, but this is the only place serving sammies on “buns” made from fried plantains. There are several varieties to choose from (pork, chicken, beef, or vegetarian) and you should absolutely try them all.
31. Kahlua Pie (aka K-Pie)
Paulette's (address and info)
Coffee ice cream sprinkled with toffee on a coconut and pecan crust with an ounce of Kahlua on the side to be ceremoniously poured on top. A slice is no joke -- each one weighs nearly a pound.
32. Spaghetti alla carbonara
Bari (address and info)
This pasta dish looks deceptively simple. Made with pancetta, fres- beaten egg, caramelized onion, parsley, red pepper flakes, and Parmigiano-Reggiano, it has literally brought people to tears it’s so good.
33. The full sampling of the Italian cheeses
Bari (address and info)
Bari has an amazing array of cheeses and you can try all 50 from robiola to Fiore Sardo in one sitting for $150. There's unlimited bread and you will need at least two friends.
34. Vodka pie
Aldo's (address and info)
Midtown & Downtown
Aldo has a knack for adding alcohol in all of the right places. The vodka cream sauce won't get you tipsy, but it will definitely liven up your pizza.
35. Steak sandwich
Jack Pirtle's (address and info)
Jack Pirtle's is another Memphis treasure, and not just because of its affordable chicken. The steak sandwich with everything (cheese, pickles, gravy) is one thing you need to try, stat.
36. French fries with bourbon mayo
Slider Inn (address and info)
Skinny fries reminiscent of McDonald's, but elevated with a special mix of salt & sugar. They're too good for plain ol' ketchup, which is why bourbon mayonnaise was created.
37. Glazed donut
Gibson's (address and info)
To truly appreciate the fancier, more innovative donuts offered at Gibson's, one must first study and appreciate the original, the glazed donut. Gibson's is open 24/7 so take your time with those studies.
38. Vegetarian walnut meatloaf
Fuel Café (address and info)
A hearty, familiar vegetarian dish/comfort food smothered in a leek & mushroom gravy that has a real meaty flavor from tamari, wine, mushrooms, and tomato paste. And of course it is even better as a sandwich on the lunch menu.
39. Black bean breakfast burrito
Brother Juniper's (address and info)
This sounds like something you can grab and eat on the go, but no no no. Sit down and just try to polish off this massive beast full of eggs and black bean chili, topped with salsa, cheese, and sour cream, flanked by home fries and a biscuit.
40. New York club
Fino's (address and info)
We could fight all day about which Fino’s sandwich is the best, as everyone has their favorites, but owner Jerry Wilson wants you to try his favorite. The New York club is turkey, corned beef, Russian dressing, Swiss cheese, lettuce, and marinated tomato and onion dressing.
41. The Ninja
Kwik Chek (address and info)
You've had the muffaletta and the bibimbap, now you gotta try the Ninja -- turkey, roast beef, Swiss cheese, bell pepper, onions, mushrooms, lettuce, sprouts, Oriental sauce & spice on a hoagie.
42. Cuban sandwich
Porcellino's Craft Butcher (address and info)
Cuban sandwiches are inexplicably popping up on menus all over town, and the best of the best is at Porcellino's, where they specialize in meatcraft.
Bryant's (address and info)
This is the South and it's only right that people line up day after day to get a taste of Bryant's fat, buttery & crumbly biscuits. Plain, topped with jelly, or smothered in hearty gravy, they'll get you nice and full.
44. Sweet potato pancakes
The Arcade (address and info)
If you are a fan of sweet potato pie, but you're embarrassed to order it for breakfast, these pancakes are for you. All the flavor, plus fluffiness!
45. A/M Breakfast
Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen (address and info)
Poached egg, pork belly, polenta, and house-made pork rinds all together on one plate! Crispy, creamy, salty, fatty -- am I missing anything?
46. Steelhead trout tacos
Elwood's Shack (address and info)
The fact that Elwood's is thriving in a shack off to the side of the Lowe's parking lot should give you an inkling of the quality food inside. Among the favorites is the steelhead trout tacos, which are massive and served on cheesy grilled tortillas.
47. Stoner Pie
The Cove (address and info)
Broad Avenue Arts District
You don't have to be a THC lover to appreciate tamales covered in Rotel and cream cheese and smartly served with Frito's Scoops. But being high might help you actually get to the bottom of this glorious gut bomb.
48. Sea bass
Tsunami (address and info)
Chef Ben Smith tried to take this off the menu once and his customers lost their minds. The buttery, flaky sea bass and the rich umami of the sauce are balanced by the dense, nuttiness of the black Thai rice.
49. Mango sticky rice
Jasmine (address and info)
Mango sticky rice, a popular Thai dessert, can only be found at Jasmine. Long grain rice is mixed with creamy coconut milk and simply paired with the most perfectly ripe mangos that only Mrs. Fong can find.
50. Sno Cone Supreme
Jerry's (address and info)
If you've never had an icy sno cone mixed with creamy ice cream, then you are seriously missing out. Wedding cake is the most popular flavor, but they all taste better with layers of soft serve.
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Stacey Greenberg is a freelance writer who lives in Memphis, TN, with her two sons. She is a regular contributor to the Memphis Flyer and Edible Memphis. She is also the author of the award-winning blog, Dining with Monkeys.