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The 12 best restaurants in Memphis

The best restaurants in Memphis are heavy on the barbecue, but one-dimensional? Far from it. Delicious dinners await

Written by
Holly Whitfield

Barbecue is king in these parts, and we aren’t complaining. The best restaurants in Memphis predominantly focus on that magical marriage of meat and heat, with ribs, shoulders, dry-rub wings, smoked sausage, pork shoulders, and the rest everywhere in these parts. If you love barbecue food, you will love Memphis. We’re getting a little peckish just thinking about it, although by ‘a little peckish’, we mean ‘drooling over the keyboard here, watch out.’

That isn’t to say that Memphis is 100 percent BBQ. The city has become a magnet for talented chefs from across the country, and the Home of the Blues may be the home of the most exciting foodie scene in the US. The best things to do in Memphis focus on the city’s trailblazing musical history, but eating isn’t far behind.

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Best restaurants in Memphis

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Many have tried, but no one has yet created a scientific rubric to determine Memphis’ best barbecue restaurant. Still, the local consensus must count for something, and that’s why Central BBQ deserves your attention. The casual joint—at each location, walls are filled with employee photos and Memphis Tigers memorabilia—earns its popularity thanks to the smoked pulled pork, tender dry rub ribs, BBQ nachos, hot wings, and legendary mac and cheese that diners love.

Memphis chef Kelly English combines his New Orleans background with his appreciation for modern Southern cooking at this cozy-house-turned-fine-dining-spot near the bustling Overton Square. Impeccable service in comfortable quarters is paired with flavorful dishes like the lobster knuckle sandwich and a fried oyster and blue cheese stuffed New York strip. Yum.


A faded, hand-painted sign and cornflower-blue awning greet guests of this charmingly shabby-looking BBQ joint downtown. The Cozy Corner serves Memphis barbecue classics like ribs and pulled pork sandwiches, but the restaurant truly shines when focusing on other unique offerings. Go for the barbecue cornish game hen slathered in sauce, the barbecue spaghetti, and the delectable banana pudding—you won’t regret it.

Flight’s elegant two-level downtown dining room serves all dishes and beverages in flights, so you can try trios of soups, entrées, wines, desserts, and more. Choose from a carefully curated selection that includes the steak flight—with a Boursin-stuffed filet, Kahlúa-glazed elk tenderloin served with truffle macaroni and the bison rib-eye with wild mushroom risotto—or create your own meal with small portions of different dishes.


There is an addictive quality to the perfectly crispy, amazingly moist, and slightly spicy chicken that Gus's fries up daily for hordes of Memphians and visitors from all around the world. The batter recipe is a carefully guarded family secret, and the downtown Memphis location is a classic hole-in-the-wall boasting checkered tablecloths, neon beer signs, and world-famous fried chicken served with a slice of white bread and sides like greens and fried okra. What else could your palate ever wish for?

A converted East Memphis home featuring several cozy dining rooms and a rustic minimalist bar area, this eatery is the flagship restaurant of famed local chefs Andrew Ticer and Michael Hudman. The menu is a uniquely Southern-meets-Italian fine dining experience focused on fresh, handmade pasta, creative pork preparations, and seafood dishes paired with fine imported wines and craft cocktails.


With many excellent Latin cuisine options in Memphis, Maciel’s stands out with fresh, made-to-order authentic Mexican street food at the two area locations, one a casual cafe in the heart of downtown Memphis and the other, a large and colorful space with a bar and patio on the Highland Strip. Spicy shrimp tacos, enormous tortas, and chicken chipotle soup are just a few specialties.

The fifth Memphis eatery from James Beard Award-nominated chefs Andrew Ticer and Michael Hudman, The Gray Canary's mix of industrial modern and Old World decor is the perfect background to a menu focusing on small plates inspired by the chefs’ Italian roots and the use of local ingredients. A raw bar and classy cocktail program round out the stellar experience.

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Folk’s Folly is a beloved Memphis steakhouse boasting a traditional atmosphere and fresh prime cuts of succulent steak paired with sides and appetizers that shine, like the she-crab soup and au gratin potatoes. The skilled staff and their impeccable preparation techniques make this a spot for celebrations large and small.

This swanky Cooper-Young restaurant is located in the former beauty shop where Priscilla Presley styled her beehive. The 1950s-style hair dryers, washing sinks, mirrors, and mint-green mod features are still on display. The menu offers an eclectic mix of international and Southern cuisine, including watermelon and hot wings plates, daily crepe specials, grilled whole fish dinners, and a popular cosmopolitan brunch.


Those who know Memphis quirkiness won’t be surprised to find delicious eats in a humble building in a Lowe’s parking lot, nor will they bat an eye when sitting at picnic tables to enjoy the big flavors of Elwood’s huge menu. Think fish tacos made with steelhead trout, a 7-Up biscuit sandwich stuffed with bacon and pimento cheese, grilled beef franks slathered in BBQ sauce and blue cheese jalapeño slaw, and the must-try barbecue ribs and brisket.

This colorful soul food restaurant may remind you more of the family dining room than a popular downtown lunch destination, and that’s part of the charm. Look around while you wait for a table as owner BJ Chester-Tamayo personally greets diners with a hug before taking orders and cooking the meals herself. The menu is full of mouth-watering Southern comfort food like fried chicken, catfish, yams, spaghetti (as a side), and meatloaf.

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