Four friends dine-in at Gus's Fried Chicken
David Meany

10 Memphis Must-Eats: BBQ, Soul Food & More

Memphis is full of tasty treats and delicious eats, and it might be hard to decide which of the best signature dishes in Memphis you've got time for. If you don't have much to spare, these are the top 10 specialties we think you have to try before you leave the Bluff City.

1. Barbecue PIT STOPS

There’s a reason Memphis is referred to as the Barbeque Capital of the World with 100+ barbeque joints across the city. Juicy pulled pork and a big ‘ole rack of ribs make up the signature bbq dishes but smokehouses don’t limit their menus to just that. Smoked beef, sausage, and bologna are also tasty delectables to try. You can’t go wrong with a visit to  Central BBQPayne’s,Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous, Cozy CornerBar-B-Que Shop, Corky's Ribs & BBQ, or Germantown Commissary to start.

Don't stop at just one! The Memphis BBQ Trail guides you to 15 local favorites. Get your free pass to start tasting around town.

2. The Best Wings are in Memphis

Did you know that Memphis is also the Wing Capital of the World? For as many barbeque restaurants Memphis has, there are double the amount of chicken wing establishments with 200+ spots! Memphis’ signature wing flavor, honey gold, tosses wings in sweet honey and a blend of tangy spices. Check out these 15+ must-try wing spots to add to your list.

3. Biscuits for Breakfast

In Memphis, we love a good homemade buttery and flaky biscuit whether it’s loaded with gravy or a fried chicken biscuit sammy. There are many restaurants to choose from for breakfast or lunch. For 50+ years, Bryant’s Breakfast has served up biscuits in a traditional diner setting. Sunrise Memphis is another renowned Memphis restaurant, now with two locations, that’s known for their biscuit sandwiches. Biscuit lovers also cannot go wrong with Biscuits and Jams, By The Brewery, and Kinfolk.

man smiles eating omelette with Bloody Mary at sunrise memphis
Sunrise Memphis

4. Home-Cooked Soul Food

Soul food and soul music are synonymous to Memphis. Southern cooking, meat-and-threes, are staples in the Memphis food scene with fried catfish or fried chicken paired with collard greens, okra, mac n cheese, yams, and more. Every meal isn’t complete without bread pudding or a slice of chess pie. The Four Way is Memphis’ most famous restaurant for good soul food. Don’t make it your only stop with so many more great establishments to visit such as Alcenia’s, Soul FishUncle Lou’s Fried Chicken, and Gus’s Fried Chicken.

There's more soul to discover: Explore more Memphis soul food traditions and restaurants when you're in town. 

5. First Class Fine Dining

With James Beard Nominated chefs, Memphis puts locally sourced ingredients and flavors on display with top-tier steakhouses and fine dining restaurants. For an elevated dining experience or a romantic night out, reserve a seat at the Peabody’s Chez Philippe, Flight Restaurant & Wine Bar, Itta Bena, or ACRE. For an elevated experience with southern flavors, head to Restaurant Iris, The Lobbyist, and Catherine & Mary’s. For premiere steakhouses, visit Porch & Parlor or Folk’s Folly,

6. Sip on a Crafted Drink

Memphis boasts some of the freshest water in the country thanks to our artesian wells that have been filtered for 2,000 years. That means the best craft beer and spirits can be found right here. Start exploring a dozen unique breweries starting with the OG’s like Wiseacre, Ghost River, and Memphis Made before grabbing a pint at one of the newer taprooms such as Soul & Spirits, Cooper House Project, or Hampline. Hop on one of the Memphis’ craft beer tour buses for a convenient taste of Memphis. Craft beered out? Sample spirits from Old Dominick Distillery in their large bar area or rooftop space or visit Blue Note Bourbon’s speakeasy-like tasting room. Both offer tasting tours.

Make your beertinerary now: The ultimate beer lover's weekend in Memphis.

overhead shot of multiple plates of fried chicken with sides and fried pickles from Gus'
Alex Shansky
man smiles while eating bbq nachos at table in central bbq
Alex Shansky
dining room of Catherine and Marys
Cara Greenstein
dining room of Restaurant Iris
Alex Shansky

7. Speaking of Drinks, Visit Memphis’ Iconic Bar Scenes for Drinks and Eats

Bars in Memphis come packed with history (and a few haunts too), thirst quenching concoctions, and good eats. Begin with two of the most historical bars in the city that can be found in the South Main Arts District with The Green Beetle, the city’s oldest bar, and Earnestine & Hazel’s--where a visit upstairs is a step back into time and a soul burger is a must-order. Off the beaten path: Alex’s Tavern is a local haunt that brings the dive-bar feel with legendary Greek burgers and Wild Bill’s offers an authentic Juke Joint experience.

Near Graceland, discover a true old-school honky tonk known as Hernando’s Hideaway where all the Memphis greats have been from Elvis, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and more. Give the world-famous Jameson Slushie a try at either Slider Inn location. There’s no wrong choice of bars and eats in the entertainment districts of Beale Street, Overton Square or Cooper-Young.

8. Treat Yourself with Something Sweet

Your sweet tooth will get the best of you here. With endless options, every visit to Memphis requires trying a donut, snow cone, or cupcake. In east Memphis, Gibson’s Donuts is famous for its fried doughy goodness where they have perfected a classic glazed donut. Be sure to also add on a fritter, maple bacon donut, or red velvet donut. Then cool down with a snow cone from Jerry’s Sno Cones. Don’t know where to start with dozens of flavor options? Order the popular Tiger’s Blood. No Memphis trip is complete without a prozac cupcake from Muddy’s Bake Shop. So good–you’ll understand how it earned its name! Still haven’t had enough sweets? Hit Beale Sweets Sugar Shack for fudge or make a stop at Wayne’s Candy Co. or Sweet Noshing’s candy store.

woman stands at window of little bettie food stand inside wiseacre -- walls are all teal
Little Bettie at Wiseacre Brewing Company

9. Sample Memphis’ Best at One of Many Food Festivals

Every year, the best barbeque is smoked in Memphis at the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest where more than 200 teams compete. While the competition food isn’t up for grabs, a number of official vendors will have food for sale on-site, and add-on experiences including BBQ Alley and the Kingsford Tour of Champions buy you tasting rights. Try some of the best food at festivals dedicated to soul-food food trucks, crawfish, chicken and beer, hot wings, and more. 

10. Try Something Uniquely Memphis

There is so much to eat and try in Memphis that’s unique to the city. Just let the last nine reasons speak for that but there are still a few food items deserving a line on any Memphis bucket list. BBQ Nachos are a Memphis must. Rendezvous BBQ made them famous so that’s a good starting point. At one of the many Memphis festivals? Keep an eye out for the Pronto Pup stand. It’s how Memphis does corndogs and locals love it. Memphis also popularized the bbq pizza. Try Coletta’s where the BBQ pizza was first introduced. The same goes with BBQ spaghetti. The Bar-B-Q Shop is where you can find some of the best offerings of it.