Memphis may be the home of barbecue and Elvis, but there’s so much more to this Tennessee town than rhinestones and ribs. From high-end eats to fried chicken joints, the home of rock and roll is also the ideal weekend getaway for food lovers looking for a taste of the south. Come hungry, pack your comfiest — and most expandable clothes — and get ready for some serious eating at our top (non-BBQ) picks for a weekend in Memphis.
Your first stop: Kelly English’s The Second Line in Overton Square neighborhood. Not because you can’t get into the swankier sister restaurant Iris, but because this New Orleans favorite with zero pretension is the best welcome-to-town you can imagine. The patio’s the best spot in the house, under fairy lights, where you can tap your toes to local music. You’re here for a po-boy, preferable piled with fried shrimp or roast beef, and served on proper Leidenheimer bread from New Orleans. We suggest skipping the apps, and get right down to business on the sandwich; if you have room for sides, choose “groceries” like the ‘fancy ass cole slaw’ or the super decadent, creamy spinach Madeleine.
It’s go big or go home at Alcenia’s, an impossibly charming soul food joint downtown. When some places get famous they change and lose the magic that made them special. Not this funky, colorful spot, which has been featured on most every outlet you can imagine. From the clunky old jukebox to the guestbook overflowing with adoring fans’ praise, this sweet diner is exactly what you want it to be. Expect to greeted with a kiss and hug from the proprietor as you peruse the slightly sticky menu, but there’s no need to linger — you’re getting Saturday brunch. Think: chicken and waffles, fried green tomatoes, hash browns, grits, tomato gravy (don’t ask, just eat), and your choice of the usual breakfast beverages — or Kool-Aid (they call this super-sweet drink Ghetto-Aid). Plug as many quarters as you can round up into the jukebox because you’re going to be here a while.
This hotspot, from Andrew Ticer and Michael Hudman, childhood friends who bonded over their love of food, now draws rave reviews from pretty much anybody who has anything to say about the culinary state of the union these days. Inspired by their passion for Italy but infused with the decadence of the South, the duo have reached cult status for dishes like their beef and cheddar dog. You might be ready for something on the lighter side by now, and couldn’t go wrong by ordering a salad to start dinner. The deceptively simple Buttercrunch is dressed with radish, toasted almond, and the most perfect housemade Green Goddess dressing. Bonus: you’ll have room for one of the wood-fired pizzas.
Here’s the deal: Everyone will tell you to eat at Gus’s Fried Chicken in Memphis. And you may wonder why anyone would go to a chain restaurant on vacation, especially one that’s self-proclaimed world famous. But once you’ve endured the painstakingly long wait and tear into a plate of the crackling chicken with fire-laced crust and textbook-perfect meat — you’ll know what all the fuss is about. The sides are good, too, especially the mac and cheese or cole slaw. Pro-tip: Line up before church lets out on Sunday; the restaurant opens at 11 a.m.