When someone mentions the city of Memphis, the first thought is likely either Elvis, blues, or barbeque. All are correct, but there is so much more to Memphis. I would encourage you to explore not only the most well-known areas of the city but also some of its hidden gems.
I naturally had to visit Graceland on a recent visit and experience authentic Memphis BBQ. But I also enjoyed some of the city’s other treasures. I must say, I am looking forward to returning to delve more into this friendly, reemerging city.
Visiting other destinations in Tennessee? Check out our other delicious guide:
The 7 Best Memphis Restaurants
197 Beale Street at Third // 901-525-3711
I discovered Alfred’s as it was the place to get tickets for Backbeat Tours. Arriving early, my companion and I decided to head inside for a drink and a bite to eat. Little did I know I was entering the first club on the infamous Beale Street, which showcased rock and roll in the mid-80s. It is an excellent restaurant with a great atmosphere.
Great music was playing, and it was just slightly after noon. Music is an essential part of Alfred’s – Memphis is synonymous with music. Here you can frequently find live music with various performers and even some celebrities dropping in from time to time. Alfred’s has the most extensive collection of gold records in the US. I did see some of those, along with many Elvis photos.
The menu has some great items to offer. There are dishes such as fried green tomatoes, salads, and gumbo for starters, a catfish fillet, a pulled pork platter, or their award-winning baby back ribs. Sandwiches, sides, and dessert fill out the menu. You can also experience some of their featured cocktails, like the Pink Flamingo or Alfred’s Funky Monkey. This drink was too intriguing, so I had to ask – it’s a cocktail that features Stoli Razberi, Malibu, 99 Bananas, Pineapple Juice, and Sprite.
I can personally attest that the BBQ Nachos are exceptional. Layered on top of a generous portion of tortilla chips, you find pulled pork, Rotel, cheese, barbeque sauce, jalapenos, and an extra splash of their famous seasoning. Other patrons indulged in the chicken Caesar salad and the chicken and sausage gumbo. It looked and smelled fabulous.
The wait staff at Alfred’s was wonderfully accommodating, knowing that you will naturally see lots of different people as a place for gathering for Backbeat Tours. I would recommend both Alfred’s and taking the tour. It gives you an excellent overview of Memphis and is genuinely quite fun.
52 S. Second Street // 901-523-2746
At the Rendezvous, you will experience great food and an education in how a generations-old restaurant continues to thrive after decades of churning out simply spectacular food. I was fascinated watching this smooth, continuous flow of diners in and out of this restaurant.
Located in a downtown alley, you enter and head downstairs into a fantastic array of aromas and a sea of people. The restaurant building itself is efficient and uses every space in the restaurant. The décor is lovely. A variety of people are here. You will witness business meetings, families with kids out to enjoy a great meal, locals wanting a drink and a bite to eat, and tourists who have heard this is a must-stop while in Memphis.
Rendezvous hasn’t gained its outstanding reputation by chance. Some of the best food I’ve found was here in this bustling down-to-earth place. Starting with the cheese and sausage appetizer, I found that something as simple as this could be turned into a great meal starter when served with flair and smiles from a wait staff where most have been employed here for years.
The main event was a whole slab of pork ribs, enough to feed two people. These and all the other items are grilled over charcoal in the pit at the front of the restaurant. Hence, the enticing scents you discover as you walk down the steps. If ribs are not to your liking, you can also get chicken, beef brisket, or lamb. With a 24-hour notice, they will also make five pounds of shrimp for you! The meal comes with sides of beans and slaw, just like you would imagine.
In speaking with the manager after my meal, I complimented him on his staff and their efficiency. For as truly busy as the restaurant is, the team is remarkable. All work together in a seamless flow. I found out my server was the longest employee on staff – he had been with the restaurant for 38 years. I also asked how many ribs they utilize in a week – the number was upward toward 10,000 lbs! Trust me; you’ll want to visit Charles Vergo’s Rendezvous.
670 Jefferson Ave. // 901-552-3168
Sunrise is a delightful restaurant serving breakfast and lunch in a comfortable, happy place. The décor alone lifts your mood. Bright colors, friendly staff, and good food make for a wonderful start to the day.
When you arrive, you place your order at the counter, grab a table number, and head into the dining room. Here, you grab your coffee from the self-serve area. Plates, cups, and utensils are all charmingly mismatched and make you feel like you are sitting in your own home or that of friends and family. You’ll find families here having a meal or the executive working on his laptop as he enjoys his coffee and breakfast sandwich before heading to the office.
I enjoyed breakfast from the Sunrise consisting of a biscuit Sammie, a great cup of coffee, and a Yogi bowl which I returned home to try and duplicate! You can get all the classic breakfast dishes here, all house prepared. They also serve lunch in the form of sandwiches and salads. Sunrise uses artisan meats and serves sandwiches like turkey, BLTs, grilled chicken, or a burger. I didn’t get a chance to try it, but the Berry Good salad sounds incredible. Next time!
The Yogi Bowl I mentioned earlier was so fresh and fabulous. It was a large bowl of Greek yogurt, enough for two people, smothered with the freshest strawberries and blueberries, house-made granola, and a drizzle of honey. A simple dish but very tasty, as was everything at the Sunrise. Stop by and see for yourself!
600 Monroe Ave. // 901-425-2605
Edge Alley is in the Edge neighborhood, an area amid renovation and renewal. Different parts of Memphis are experiencing a similar revival, and the Edge is a cool, funky restaurant right next door to High Cotton Brewing Co. It is located inside an old building, with exposed walls so you can see the new life they have brought – not only to the building but the neighborhood as well.
Inside, you find a mixture of patrons. Many live in and around the area, and many are visitors who’ve heard it’s a great little restaurant. Operated by husband-and-wife team Tim and Lena, the Edge Alley has an innovative menu with dishes made from scratch. They use seasonal ingredients, so menu items tend to change.
I enjoyed lunch here, and while there are many different items on the menu, I opted for the chicken club. While it did indeed have the standard ingredients of chicken and bacon on a brioche roll, it also included an added touch of raspberry preserves, citrus and rosemary seasonings, and Aioli-dressed arugula as well as heirloom tomatoes and red onion. It was not your everyday fare of a “normal” chicken club – it was truly superb.
Other menu offerings include Cinnamon Sticky Bread, which consists of monkey bread, cinnamon butter, and glaze, topped off with powdered sugar. One can also order plates of shrimp and grits or steak and eggs. Another interesting sandwich I saw on the menu was that of house-cured salmon lox, served on a lavender and thyme biscuit, along with mascarpone, capers, heirloom tomatoes, cucumbers, and red onions. Salads, desserts, and an espresso bar are also available.
Don’t forget dinner is available too. Perhaps try a chicken confit or a double-cut lamb chop dish. Maybe try a seasonal cocktail! One that stood out to me was Don’t Tell the Government, made with house fermented pineapple hooch, white rum, coconut water, ginger, and mint. The Will You Accept this Rose also consisted of Helix Vodka, ginger, rose petals, cardamom, lemon, and champagne. I would imagine they are as good as they sound!
164 Union Ave. // 901-467-0308
Located inside the Canopy by Hilton downtown, celebrity chef Fabio Viviani oversees this trendy restaurant. With him comes Spanish, American, and Italian influences to the restaurant, and he puts together some fantastic authentic dishes. They have an extensive wine list, serve local brews and IPAs, and offer some excellent handcrafted cocktails to their patrons.
Curfew appeals to a very diverse crowd. When I visited, patrons in shorts and T-shirts stopped in after a day roaming the city. Professional people were having a business dinner, some locals were at the bar, and younger people were on their way to Prom.
Breakfast, lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch are all served. The restaurant has a varied menu consisting of fried chicken livers, crispy Boudin balls, pork porterhouse, redfish, and the Curfew stew, which consists of varied seafood, some brisket thrown in for good measure, along with herbs and veggies. The dessert menu offers up things like butterscotch panna cotta, gelato, sorbet, and latte.
My choice was a romaine heart Caesar salad and a Roman-style pizza. The pizza was like a flatbread smothered with pepperoni, onions, parmesan, and fresh herbs.
My companion decided on the Memphis smoked brisket macaroni and cheese, along with a side of Brussels sprouts covered with goat cheese and a balsamic saba glaze. The portions are generous, and the food is fabulous.
I would be remiss not to mention the onsite coffee shop and café onsite at the Canopy by Hilton. On my way out of town, I grabbed a cup of coffee and a tremendous apple-cinnamon muffin that was divine. In doing so, I had a great conversation with the barista serving me named PJ. She was happy, friendly, and loved her job. She was engaging and inquisitive and a tribute to customer service.
540 South Main Street // 901-506-5757
When in Memphis, one cannot miss the opportunity to dine at a famous, historical restaurant. The Arcade is just such a place! Listed on the Historic Registry, the Arcade is the oldest diner in Memphis, having started in 1919 when the owner immigrated from Greece. Fast forward four generations, and you have a thriving, quintessential restaurant located in the historic South Main Arts District.
Located on one of the busiest intersections in Memphis, the Arcade takes you back to the 50s and 60s and drips with charm. The Arcade was the filming spot for many films, including The Firm and Walk the Line. Consequently, many celebrities have dined here. Even Elvis was a regular.
They serve breakfast all day, and there are always lunch and dinner specials—items such as liver and onions, turnip greens, chicken and dumplings, and peach cobbler. There are pizzas in many varieties and sandwiches like A Memphis Thang (smoked turkey, brie, onions, roasted red peppers, and Creole mustard). You can also get a grilled chicken sandwich, a salad, or Elvis’ favorite, peanut butter and banana sandwich.
Since I was there in the morning, I chose the Breakfast Sampler to get a taste of a little of everything. It consisted of eggs, bacon, sausage, a pancake – either regular or sweet potato and hashbrowns or grits. Another part of the sampler was the French toast, deep-fried and covered in powdered sugar. That was a new take on French toast that I had never tried, and it was terrific.
Other menu items for breakfast were the biscuits and gravy, omelets, and hashbrown bowls, to name a few.
The Arcade is an experience everyone should have, and the food is definitely worth your time.
7 W. Caroline Avenue // 901-290-1140
When given the breadth of available dining options in Memphis, I was a bit skeptical when I first read about Loflin Yard. However, I decided to try it and was so very pleasantly surprised. Here is a unique restaurant, bar, and event space in Memphis. It is a beautiful outdoor space, wide open and animal friendly. On the gorgeous day I visited, it was comfortable and a great spot to enjoy a casual meal.
Loflin Yard was once a warehouse by the tracks, housing a lock and safe building. Rejuvenated into a great outdoor space, it now consists of the Coach House, Safe House, and the Front and Back Yards. These different areas can be rented for your event (think wedding, reunion, meeting) or enjoyed by various people from the city and neighborhood or simply visitors to the area.
The Coach House is an event space with a great porch and rocking chairs. The Safe House is where the bar and kitchen are and offers inside areas during inclement weather. The yards are the outdoor community space where you can hang out, enjoy the day, and maybe even the evening to enjoy a fire around one of several fire pits.
Loflin Yard offers live music and different community events. You arrive, find a spot to sit, and head outside. The servers will take your order and return with surprisingly tasty food. There are such items on the menu as sharing plates of wings and nachos, and sandwiches like a smoked turkey po’boy or burger. They offer smokehouse plates, tacos, salads, and chicken tenders, served with your choice of domestic or craft beers, wines, or one of the famous rum, gin, or tequila cocktails.
Enjoy the beauty of a small waterfall, aptly named Loflin Falls. Don’t be afraid to check it out. People watch, pet the family dogs, enjoy some good food and music, and relax the day away. It’s a wonderfully laid-back way to spend time outdoors in a large city.
Memphis is a city in the midst of a renaissance. Enjoy the fabulous food you find here, often steeped in Southern tradition. However, there are many new and innovative restaurants as well. Enjoy them all, and don’t be afraid to try something new.
Which of these Memphis restaurants will you try first? Let us know in the comments section below!
Lisa Evans is a freelance travel writer and photographer. She has always enjoyed the outdoors and nature and often includes them in her writing and photography. History is another passion. Every place has a story to tell if only you find it.