• Jenny

A Local Guide to Memphis: Best Eats

Updated: May 4, 2021

Sunset over the Mississippi River, Downtown Memphis

Memphis, Tennessee. A big city with a small town feel, and a whole lotta heart. Memphis has a beautifully diverse mix of cultures that is a divine cross-section of America. The perfect balance of urban grit and southern soul that just feels like home. A place I’ve called my home for the past 26 years. I raised two amazing daughters here, where they have thrived beyond my wildest dreams. I worked as a teacher here for 20 years; in the suburbs, the inner city, and everywhere in between. During which time I’ve learned more from my students than they could ever learn from me. And a place where I met the man of my dreams, with whom I am about to embark on an adventure that will lead me away from here, and half way around the world.

As I prepare to leave the city that has become so much a part of me, I find myself thinking about all the things I’ll miss about it. Mouth-watering food that awakens your taste buds and feeds your soul, artistic talent that captures the heartbeat of its people, and music that speaks to your spirit. A city that celebrates its diversity and embraces a history that is far from perfect, but nonetheless ours. As a celebration of my time here, and in an attempt to share my love for Memphis with the universe, I’ve decided to write a series of articles to share all of my favorite things about Memphis. Because food is a way we connect with each other, and also somehow becomes embedded in our memories of a place, I thought it a fitting place to begin.

My favorite thing about the food scene in Memphis is that it’s always changing. Just when you think you’ve been to every restaurant and cafe in town, up pops something new! Don’t get me wrong. It’s the tried and true, hometown favorites that have put the Memphis food scene on the map. Places that have been featured on the Food Network, the Travel Channel, and Southern Living are The Rendezvous, Central Barbecue, Gus’s Fried Chicken, Uncle Lou's Fried Chicken, the Cozy Corner, and Dyer's Burgers, to name a few. There's a reason they come here; the restaurants that abound in Memphis have food that, as we say in the south, is good enough to make you smack your momma.

Ribs & Bar-B-Q

Best Ribs in Town!

We can’t talk about the best food in Memphis without starting off with barbecue. Everyone around here has their local neighborhood favorite, and honestly, some of the best barbecue is cooked in our own backyards. I mean, in the town that holds the World Championship Barbecue cooking contest every year, you really can’t go wrong.

Even as a local, my favorites are still the names that are synonymous with Memphis barbecue. Go to the Rendezvous for a fun atmosphere mixed with a little bit of playful banter, and some of the most scrumptious ribs you may ever taste. Don't be put off by the alley you have to walk through to to find it. It's part of the charm.

Central BBQ, Downtown Location

Central BBQ is my go-to for their pulled pork plates and barbecue nachos. They have a location right next to the Civil Rights Museum, one in East Memphis, and another in Midtown.

The Cozy Corner is a must-go for no frills, damn good food. It's not fancy, but it doesn't have to be with food this good. The barbecued ribs and chicken here rival the best you’ll find anywhere. If you happen to be out east, Wolf River Brisket in Germantown is one of my favorite lunch places when I want to treat myself.

Oh, and about that Barbecue Cooking Contest I mentioned earlier. If you happen to be in town during Memphis in May and are able to score tickets to BBQ Fest, you’ll want to come back every year!

Fried Chicken

World Famous and Delicious!

Gus’s Fried Chicken is popularly known as Memphis’ most famous fried chicken. Founded in the small town of Mason, Tennessee, Gus’s deliciously crunchy and spicy chicken has been featured on several Food Channel shows, and for good reason.

For me, the real gem in Memphis is Uncle Lou’s. Boasting its own features on the Food Network and Southern Living, Uncle Lou’s Fried Chicken is a little off the beaten path from downtown, but it will be SO worth your drive.

Sweet Spicy Love!
I dare you to try to eat just one!

Homestyle, mild, or spiced up with their famous “Sweet Spicy Love” sauce, each piece of fried chicken here is like a piece of crispy, juicy paradise. And the honey butter biscuits? Shut the front door. I don’t know how they do it, but it must be some sort of biscuit making magic. If you’re lucky enough to meet Uncle Lou while you’re there, maybe he’ll share his secret with you!

Barbecue and fried chicken may be what Memphis is known for, but they aren’t the only eats you’ll find in this food-lover’s paradise. Here are a few of my other favorites!

Greasy spoons

Front Street Deli, Downtown Memphis

Hometown diners? We've got that covered. How about the oldest Deli in Memphis? Front Street Deli has been around since 1976, but the building dates back to 1853. Its claim to fame is being one of the filming locations for the Tom Cruise movie The Firm, and appropriately enough, all of the sandwiches here are named after Tom Cruise films. The names are catchy and fun, but what makes this one of my favorites is the mouthwatering sandwiches themselves!

Blues City Cafe is a Memphis institution. In the heart of Beale Street, this historic diner/juke joint perfectly combines the blues music and soul food that was born in the Mississip