I hope to start posting restaurant reviews on a more regular basis starting next week. In the meantime I thought I’d do a post on places that are too obvious for a full review but should be experienced by locals and tourists alike. These are honestly some of the best restaurants in Memphis.
If you’re coming to Memphis these places need to be in your plans. If you live in Memphis and haven’t been, then shame on you and correct the issue immediately. Again, there are tons of other great places but this list is for restaurants that combine local popularity with great food.
The restaurants are ranked according to how critical it is that you try them. The ranking is achieved through a combination of quality of food and uniqueness of experience. I’m sure there are some I’m forgetting so feel free to make suggestions in the comment section or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
* You will notice the list is absent any BBQ joints. This is intentional, as that topic deserves much greater attention. Look for the BBQ power rankings series later this year.
** Trust me, I’m sympathetic to dieters but if you’re counting calories this list might be rough. This list is all about awesome food and awesome food is often bad for you.
***Click on the name of the restaurant to open their website or Facebook page.
Gibson’s Donuts is Memphis in a lot of ways. It is an iconic hotspot to many Memphians but the reasons for that are as different as the people you’ll find there. On a Sunday morning you’re likely to find people grabbing donuts by the dozen on their way to church. During the week a Gibson’s serves as a meeting place for, shall we say “well seasoned” Memphians to chew the fat (both figuratively and literally). A Friday night at Gibson’s means a throng of high schoolers who have made their way over from the Paradiso movie theater.
As for me, Gibson’s will always be about the hours between 11 P.M. and 5 A.M. In case you haven’t guessed, one of the donut shop’s unique features is that it is open 24 hours, seven days a week. Beginning at 11 P.M. each night customers can choose six donuts (assuming they haven’t sold out) for $1.25.
When I was a student at the University of Memphis, Gibson’s was between downtown and my apartment. As a result, a weekend was not complete without a late night (early morning) donut stop on the way home.
As for the donuts themselves, there is a wide variety and they are delicious. Although, I must admit, since college I’ve come to learn that the fresh donuts you pay full price for at seven in the morning are tastier than the six for $1.25 ones you get at three in the morning.
We aren’t traveling far from Gibson’s in distance or genre for the next pick. I know I probably don’t need to have a donut shop and a cupcake store on the same list but people need to know about Muddy’s Bake Shop.
I appreciate Muddy’s focus on high quality, natural ingredients as well as their advocacy for eating local. However, the reason they make the list is the cupcakes. Eating local only works if the local option is better than the alternative. In this case it isn’t even close.
If you are in on the cupcake craze and have been getting your fix at Gigi’s then you are cheating yourself. The frosting is more flavorful at Muddy’s and the cake is infinitely more moist. I also appreciate that Muddy’s posts their weekly menu on their website. Personally I recommend the coffee cupcake. As is the case with all their cupcakes, it has a creative name but I can’t remember it at the moment. Just ask, they’re friendly.
I’ll keep this short and sweet, if you like good hot wings this is your spot. Located near the University of Memphis, Ching’s has been the unofficially official hot wing of the Memphis Tiger basketball team for years. This is evidenced by the pictures of former and current tiger players that cover the walls.
Located in a strip-mall, there isn’t a ton of dine-in space but there are several TVs to watch the game on while you eat. I like the hot but there is something for everyone. Come prepared to get messy.
Memphis Pizza Cafe, or MPC to many, doesn’t necessarily fit in with the rest of the list. They have five locations throughout Memphis and it’s suburbs. If you took a poll of how often suburbanites eat at the places on this list, MPC would likely be the most common answer.
Despite that, it is a Memphis establishment and if you stick with the East Memphis or Overton Square location there is still a good local vibe. The reason to go is simple: BBQ Chicken Pizza. They have other solid options, including a very good calzone but MPC stands on the strength of one pie.
Naming my favorite pizza place would take time and reflection but naming my favorite slice of pizza is a no-brainer. It sounds simple. The super-thin crust is topped with BBQ sauce, cheddar, mozzarella and chicken. Somehow they combine to form greatness. If you are a cheese lover, have them add some feta.
The only problem with the BBQ chicken pizza from MPC is that due to the thin crust and unrivaled deliciousness, you find yourself capable of devouring an absurd number of slices. Actually, that sounds like an awesome problem.
If you’ve never heard of Jerry’s Sno Cones you’re either living under a rock or somewhere other than Memphis. In the event you haven’t been you might be wondering why a sno cone place would be worth the time .
I hesitate to evoke the term “whimsy” but I think Jerry’s is in some measure whimsical. The first time you drive to Jerry’s you’ll probably think you’re lost but don’t worry you’re almost there. Once you arrive, and overcome potential parking confusion (no lines or designated parking spots) head to the front window and prepare for some decision making.
The flavors are many and I’ve never had a bad one. I would venture to say the most popular is “wedding cake” which is blood red in color and beyond delicious. However, I’m recommending you drive out of the way to get a sno cone so there must be something else, right?
Correct. In terms of the sno cones themselves, two things separate Jerry’s. The first is the consistency of the ice. It is literally the texture of fresh, powdery snow. You need not worry about being left with a chunk of plain ice at the bottom of your cup. The unique texture allows the syrup to evenly distribute throughout the sno cone.
The second differentiating factor comes down to one word: Supreme. When ordering, just say you would like it “supreme” and you will receive a cup of soft serve ice cream layered with your chosen sno cone flavor. It’s as good as it sounds.
Jerry’s also serves a small menu of hot food including a sneaky good Philly cheesesteak.
The battle between one and two was truly a two horse race. It came down to the number one pick holding the edge in the “WHAT! How have you not been there!” category.
Brother Juniper’s might have my single favorite dish on the list but we’ll get to that. The award winning breakfast joint is within walking distance of the University of Memphis. The atmosphere is relaxed as patrons sip coffee while they endure what can be a substantial wait on the weekends.
The wait is more than worth it. Brother Juniper’s menu covers all the breakfast basics including several health conscious options. However, the star is the omelets and specifically the open faced omelets. There are over 20 omelets to choose from but one holds a special place in my heart and stomach.
That brings us back to one of my favorite menu items in the entire city, the Hungry Tiger open faced omelet. This is the type of meal you have to mentally prepare yourself for. It consists of bacon, ham, sausage, tomatoes and green onions topped with feta, cheddar, mozzarella, and swiss cheese. Underneath all of that is a layer of egg and a helping of home fries. Home fries are crunchy breakfast potatoes seasoned to perfection. It’s even better than it sounds.
Before we move on I want to reiterate that while I opt for the hungry tiger, Brother Juniper’s is not built on huge portion sizes and high calorie offerings. The menu features oatmeal, yogurt and fresh fruit as well as tofu and veggie omelets just to name a few. Of course, if you’re in from out of town or don’t go very often…
The name says it all doesn’t it? When people come to Memphis they always want to know where to go to get barbecue. It’s a fair question and one I’m happy to answer. However, after I give them my list of the best cue, I make sure to tell them to hit Gus’s at some point.
Simply put, it is the best fried chicken you’ll ever eat. Don’t just take my word for it, I’m obviously biased. Gus’s has won awards in numerous local and national publications but one of its more recent honors caught my attention.
The Food Network airs a show called Crave. The premise is that each week the host goes on a nationwide search to find the perfect version of an iconic dish. He travels around trying highly touted versions and lists the best attributes from each dish. Once, he has compiled his list he searches for the dish that best incorporates all of the necessary criteria.
I don’t think I have to tell you where he found the perfect fried chicken. The chicken is crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside. What puts it over the top is the perfect amount of spice. If you don’t love Gus’s then you don’t love fried chicken.
The menu varies depending on location but most of the time the options are limited to type of meat, number of pieces and a couple standard southern side dishes. While I love choices, the simplicity is refreshing. The chicken is the star and they know it.