While Memphis has always been famous for its barbecue, in the past few years, it's become a destination for all types of food. There are fine dining establishments, restaurants on roofs, hole-in-the-wall spots, diners, and more. You can find mind-blowing pizza, tacos, sandwiches, ice cream, cocktails, pimento cheese sandwiches, and more. Whatever strikes your fancy, Memphis now has it. Here are the best restaurants in 15 different categories. Don't miss them when you're in town!
Best for Fine Dining: Restaurant Iris
In Overton Square, in the heart of midtown Memphis, is Restaurant Iris. This fine dining establishment is located in a house that is over 100 years old and offers a charming, sophisticated experience. The space was renovated in 2018 and offers a chic, modern look with black chairs fitted with green cushions, modern chandeliers, and dark-green walls. In the lounge, you can enjoy craft cocktails or bowls of punch. In the dining room, you will indulge in fresh baked molasses bread, wild cod, grilled veal chop, and more. It's the perfect place to mark special occasions.
Best for Live Music: Lafayette's Music Room
In the 1970s, Lafayette's Music Room was the restaurant where undiscovered stars made a name for themselves in Memphis. It closed for a few days, but now it's back open and as busy as ever. Locals love going for Sunday brunch where they eat biscuits and gravy and gumbo in between live music sets. After work, patrons drink pints of beer before getting the dance floor going. There is live music seven days a week, so every day is a good day to be there.
Best for BBQ: Charlie Vergos Rendezvous
Rendezvous can be hard to find; it's located in a basement in a dark alley in downtown Memphis. But once you're there, it's easy to see why this is a time-honored Memphis establishment. The same family has been making and serving their famous dry rub ribs (their secret lies in a smoker and a sprinkling of paprika) here for the last 70 years. Many people credit them for inventing Memphis-style barbecue. The atmosphere is fun and unpretentious. You'll eat on checkered tablecloth and toast with beer mugs. Still, visiting dignitaries from President George W. Bush to Prince William have dined here. It's a famous spot that still manages to feel like a secret.
Best for Pizza: Hog & Hominy
The tagline of this buzzy restaurant sums it up: Italian Cooking. Southern Roots. The chefs aim to blend old-school Italian cooking with the ingredients and traditions Memphis residents love the most. You'll find pizzas topped with pork belly, spicy honey, and scrambled eggs. Hog & Hominy, located in East Memphis, is famous for its smoky concoctions like wood-fired oysters and smoked catfish dip. Don't miss Pizza Happy Hour held Tuesday through Friday from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Any pie, no matter how elaborate, costs only $10.
Best for Views: Hu. Roof
Hu. Roof is located on the top floor of downtown boutique hotel, The Hu. Sure, you'll get delicious snacks there like deviled eggs and fish tacos, but one of the best parts about this establishment is the view. Whether you're sitting inside or outside, you'll get unrestricted views of the mighty Mississippi River as well as the Hernando de Soto Bridge that connects Tennessee and Arkansas. At night, a light show airs on two brides every hour adding even more entertainment to your dinner. Don't skip the cocktails. The mint tea punch, made with tequila, dry curacao, lemon, mint, and seltzer, is a crowd favorite. The bar also serves Old Dominick, a whiskey made down the street.
Best for Late Night Sweets: Gibson's Donuts
Locals know there is only one spot for sweets in town: Gibson's Donuts. This casual eatery has been serving sweets 24-hours-a-day for as long as most residents can remember. On Sunday mornings you'll see families with small children. In the wee hours of the night it's packed with young professionals on their way home from parties. There will most likely be a line, but it moves quickly. The donuts are light and fluffy, and there are flavors for everyone. Red velvet, glazed, sprinkle, and New Orleans buttermilk are some of the few. Seasonal offerings appear frequently. Take fritters and donut holes home to enjoy the next day.
Best for Fried Chicken: Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken
Nothing screams the south like fried chicken. And there is one brand that makes the best in town: Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken. This no-frills establishment gets down to business with a menu that consists of only chicken (you can order plate, snack, or individual piece size.) The sides are where things get varied with baked beans, potato salad, cole slaw, fries, mac & cheese, and more as options. There are four locations in Memphis so you'll never be far away from this mouth-watering snack.
Best for Burgers: Huey's
Huey's was founded in 1970 by a local who wanted a fun place to hang with his friends. He opened a bar with live music and great beer and served his secret burger recipe: a six-ounce angus beef patty topped with seasoning and served on a toasted sesame bun. He let his patrons write on the walls and shoot tooth picks into the ceiling. Now that Huey's is an established Memphis chain with nine locations across the city, the same traditions continue. It's a great place to bring the entire family or a large group of friends.
Best for Ice Cream: Jerry's Sno Cones
In the 1920s and 1930s, Jerry's was a gas station. While parents got their cars fixed or pumped gas, Jerry would make the children snow cones. Word spread, and now Jerry's Sno Cones is a famous roadside shack that serves the city's best iced treats. You can choose from dozens of rotating flavors that range from cookie dough to Hurricane Elvis. The hut also serves ice cream and juicy burgers. People come from all over the mid-south for this treat—even in winter, there is a line.
Best for Brunch: Ghost River Taproom
Ghost River Taproom, one of Memphis' most popular breweries, usually relies on food trucks (delicious ones!) to feed its beer drinkers. But on Sunday, it hosts a lively in-house brunch. The all day experience includes $4 beer cocktails including Ghost Shandies, Bloody Beers, and Beermosas. In the evening there is always a guest artist who serenades guests with live music. The beer on tap is some of the best in the city, and it offers flights so you can taste them all. Kids love the lawn games outside.
Best for Vegetables: Bounty on Broad
Memphis has a trendy new neighborhood named Broad Avenue Artist District with cutting-edge restaurants, bars, art galleries, and social hotspots. One of the most popular establishments on the street is Bounty on Broad that serves family-style platters. All the food from the produce to the meat comes from nearby local farms. It's known for its tasty vegetables like broccolini side dishes and salad entrees. It's recommended to order one of each. After all, it's good for you.
Best for Happy Hour: Babalu
Babalu is a taco and tapas restaurant with two locations in Memphis. The Latin-food is incredibly satisfying from the guacamole made right at your table out of fresh avocados to the tacos that come in many varieties. Babalu has one of the best happy hour offerings in the city. Its "Flights and Bites" menu includes $4 draft beer, $5 hours wine, $4 sangria, and $5 margaritas. Tacos are $3, a slider trio is $10, and queso blanco fries are $6. The atmosphere is lively, and you'll have a great time without breaking your wallet.
Best for Children: Farm Burger
Farm Burger is a simple burger joint that takes pride in its ingredients. All the meat is antibiotic and growth hormones-free and always humanely handled. The burger trimmings change every day, reflecting what the farmer brought in that afternoon. The "Lil Farmer" menu is perfect for kids; they can get creative concoctions like fried chicken lollipops or fruit to dip in delicious sunflower butter. The Memphis location is inside Crosstown Concourse, a gigantic facility that used to be a Sears Distribution Warehouse.
Best for Outdoor Dining: Loflin Yard
In the heart of downtown Memphis is an oasis of fun named Loflin Yard. Set on an acre of land, that used to be the stables for horses that drew the carriages, it has something for everybody: ping pong tables, lawn games, a diner, a concert venue, and more. Loflin Yard serves platters of brisket and smoked turkey for the entire family as well as individual sandwiches and po boys. You pick up your food at an outdoor window and then take it to one of the many picnic tables or bonfires on site. On a beautiful day, it's the place to be.
Best for an Unusual Dining Experience: Carolina Watershed
Carolina Watershed is one of Memphis' quirkiest dining attractions. The restaurant is located in four converted steel grain bins so you feel like you are dining on a space shuttle. On a nice day you can head outside to roam around the restaurant's half acre property that has wild flowers, rock formations, and a waterfall. The menu is simple Southern. Think pimento cheese sandwiches, pork rinds, and fried catfish. Carolina Watershed is also known for its craft cocktails and extensive craft beer list.