In advance of my trip to Memphis for the BlogHouse conference, I asked my social media followers what I should do in the Southern city of soul. Overwhelmingly the choices were to experience the civil rights history, the music and the food. I had hoped to do all of these, but what really ended up happening was a focus on food as I ate my way through the city searching for where to eat in Memphis for the best in southern comfort food.
Being raised in the South, I know a few things about southern cooking. Just a few though. Since I was heading back to the South, with my new meat eating habits (after being vegetarian for 20+ years!), I set out to revisit some of my childhood favorites.
First up, iced tea. In my days prior to the Whole 30 I would have been all over the famous southern sweet tea, but these days it’s only unsweetened for me. Either way, freshly brewed iced tea is a must have while in the south. I love that you can even have it for breakfast without anyone batting an eye! For me, it’s a refreshing change from day old tea I typically get in Los Angeles.
Next up on my must have list – biscuits and gravy and BBQ of course. Besides these, there are some other southern favorites that should be on your Memphis to do list right along with the Civil Rights Museum and Sun Studio.
Without further ado, our top picks on where to eat in Memphis for some delicious southern comfort food.
Where to Eat in Memphis
Growing up in the South, biscuits and gravy was my main go to for Sunday breakfast. I have never quite mastered my Dad’s gravy making skills, so I rely on getting it out whenever I’m in the south (or see it on a menu!). So of course, the first thing on my agenda in Memphis was to find the best biscuits and gravy in this southern city of soul.
My search led me to Memphis’s oldest cafe, Arcade Restaurant. Arcade is famous for a lot more than just biscuits and gravy. This was a favorite of Memphis local Elvis Presley among others. Dignitaries big and small have graced this delicious diner throughout the years.
Due to its historical status, it is always packed. But I can attest that the biscuits were amazing and the gravy perfect. It was well worth the wait. I would recommend you go for it with the Eggs Redneck which is layered biscuits and sausage with gravy over the top. Yuum.
Arrive early as the crowds fill the place up by 9 a.m. Prior to that, you are with a few more locals than tourists. Bonus: Arcade is conveniently located just one block from the Civil Rights Museum which is a must do on any itinerary to Memphis.
Again, growing up in the South I was exposed to BBQ from day 1. Unfortunately for me, most of my life was spent as a vegetarian, so I never became the expert BBQ connoisseur my Dad tried to raise. However, some might say it’s in the genes!
Now that I eat meat again, I knew I had to check out some of the best BBQ options in Memphis. On everyone’s recommended list was Central BBQ. Again located less than a block from the Civil Rights Museum, this was the perfect remedy for a morning filled with intense emotions.
Central BBQ is known for it’s pork, so that’s what I got. Their pulled pork is the go too – you can get it on nachos (yum!), as a sandwich or piled on a plate. For a local speciality, try the pulled pork nachos. A little bit crazy, a whole lotta good. Make sure to try the Honey Gold BBQ sauce while you are here. It is amazing!
In a city with more than 115 BBQ joints it’s not easy to set yourself apart, but Central BBQ does just that.
Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken is a legendary bucket list destination in Memphis that should be on the top of your to do list. It’s popular because it’s delicious. Located in a small hole in the wall brick building amid the revitalized downtown district, it is easy to overlook. But don’t.
This is Southern fried chicken at it’s best: spicy, crunchy, and juicy. Save room for the sides and starters like fried pickles, mac and cheese (just so you know, this is considered a vegetable in the south!), potato salad, beans and slaw, and so much more. The struggle will be just which ones to choose.
Save room for dessert- the pecan pie is to die for. I wasn’t a fan of the local favorite, chess pie, but it is worth trying for it’s legendary status. There are a few locations around town if you aren’t staying downtown. Even so, expect a wait at all times of the day. Since Gus’s is a franchise they even have one in Los Angeles. I can’t wait to check it out and compare.
On the food side, Loflin Yard has all my favorite southern classics with a twist. Queso, pimento cheese po boy, hot wings and BBQ. Above all, it’s a haven in the heart of downtown that is a casual welcoming environment for families with kids and pets! I wish my son was with me because I know we would have whittled away an entire evening here.
If you want even more of a taste of what it’s like to live in Memphis, head over to their sister property, the Railgarten which is ahhmazing! Think sand volleyball court, hammocks, blocks, lawn chairs and big screens. The perfect spot for all day hanging with friends and kids. Not to mention the food is pretty darn good too! Can we open one in LA?
Charlie Vergos – Rendevoux
You really can’t leave Memphis without trying at least 2 different BBQ restaurants. There are over a hundred, which means there are probably a lot more that need to be on my recommended list, but I only had a few days and habits are hard to break.
Rendevoux is another highly recommended barbecue joint located in downtown Memphis. From what I was told, this is the place to come for ribs. I’m not a rib eater, so I’m not 100% on that assessment, but it is tasty tasty when it comes to pork!
This Memphis landmark began by selling pork sandwiches and coleslaw on the street in 1948 eventually leading to the highly acclaimed restaurant. As with all BBQ meals, you should start with a sausage and cheese plate before loading up on your meat of choice. The best bets on the menu are barbeque nachos and a full slabs of ribs.
Trying to decide where to eat in Memphis for my last southern meal was tough. Memphis sits right on the Mississippi and I hadn’t even had ANY fish. A favorite comfort food for our family was fried catfish with hush puppies and fries. When I saw a sign saying “Mud Bugs Here Now” across the street from the Peabody Hotel at the Flying Fish, I knew that was the place to get my fish on. If they have mud bugs (crayfish) they surely would have fried catfish as well.
I wish I visited this place on my first day; I would have been back several times. It felt just like being home as it closely resembled our favorite catfish spot I remembered from growing up. Lo and behold it’s actually a chain originating from Texas, but even so, this is a great stop in Memphis for some southern comfort food.
Loaded with options, even if you aren’t a fish eater, you will find something to munch on here. But I recommend getting the fried catfish plate that includes hush puppies (a little sweeter than I’m used to) and fries. I was in heaven. This was the perfect choice for my last southern meal. It’s also quite reasonably priced which is something I loved about eating out in Memphis.
Do you have any southern comfort food favorites in Memphis that I need to put on my list for my next visit?
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