Big Taste, Small Prices: The Best Values in Memphis Dining

By Sally Walker Davies, Memphis Local Expert

Value can be a dangerous word when it comes to dining; after all, just because an entree or appetizer is well-priced doesn't mean it's a good value.

Memphis is a foodie heaven these days, thanks to young chefs with creative flair, the best part being that creative flair doesn't equate to expensive. Finding a meal that's worth the money and tempting to the taste buds is easy; picking the top of those experiences is a bit more difficult - but we've got you covered.

We picked these 10 best options for their high quality of food and their diversity in terms of offerings, locations, and pricing, and then decided that we define value as an overall experience, not just a bottom-line mind-set.

Our 'best value' picks range include a fine French restaurant where atmosphere and service - plus well-priced breakfasts - create a memorable and affordable experience; a funky old grocery store turned market / restaurant that serves up filling breakfasts and pizzas; and a neighborhood pizza parlor where they brush a butter garlic sauce on their crust. We've chosen our favorite Asian bistro for its fine food and super-friendly staff, a Midtown gastropub for its creative Southern cooking, and a tiny tea shop for it's 'just like grandma's cooking', no-nonsense food.

Get ready for value-dining, Memphis style.

10. Ciao Bella
Photo courtesy of Ciao Bella

This casual Italian restaurant is a family staple in east Memphis, and sets the perfect mood with an appealing atmosphere, heady aromas and the smooth stylings of Sinatra or Como coming from the speakers. But you're as likely to see canoodling couples in the booths as you are full-out family gatherings. The menu offers a range of pastas and pizzas, along with fresh seafood, rack of lamb, veal scaloppini, and grilled pork tenderloin. Prices are reasonable, portions are large, and the food's always tasty. When the weather's fine, there's an outdoor patio, and the bar is often a lively spot, even when the restaurant may not be packed.

9. Gus's World Famous Hot & Spicy Fried Chicken

The basic brick building on South Front might scare some folks away – but trust us, walk in and load up. Gus's is a franchise of the original in Mason, about an hour from Memphis; that eatery opened in 1953 and the chicken was served up in a paper sack. This is the real deal spicy, crunchy, and juicy, served with white bread. And be patient - your particular order doesn't hit the oil until you've ordered. Cold beer (served up in 40-ounce cans) is a nice contrast to the hot (as in, spicy!) chicken. Sides and starters include fried pickles and green tomatoes, beans and slaw, and strangely enough – fried rice. Assuming you have any room left, chess pie is the way to go for dessert.

8. The Cheesecake Corner
Photo courtesy of Santana Singleton

HUGE - and we mean HUGE slices of thick, stick-to-your-ribs cheesecake are served up in this unassuming little bakery / restaurant in South Main, with flavors changing daily – a total of something like 80 options in all (although just a dozen or so of those are served daily). Simply get in line, review the options in the bakery case and order - be prepared to wait about 10-20 minutes for your selection to arrive. The presentation is gorgeous, and the dessert worth the wait, with each slice arriving table-side with little fanfare but on plates drizzled with chocolate, raspberry, something simply yummy that goes along with the cheesecake flavor.

7. The Little Tea Shop
Photo courtesy of Kerry Crawford

The Little Tea Shop is a family-owned downtown home-cooking restaurant. The Old Cotton Row eatery is like stepping back in time, with its vintage lunchroom atmosphere and old-fashioned menu. It's very common to see local business bigwigs chatting up the friendly waitresses, many of whom have worked here for decades; these gals know their regulars well and can even name their children. The food is simple Southern fare, chosen via ballot-style menu � simply grab a pencil, pickup a menu, and start marking off your choices; turnip greens and other lushly prepared veggies are always on the menu, as is chicken salad, and daily specials include catfish or fried chicken. No matter what day of the week, every lunch is served with corn sticks on the side.

6. Las Delicias
Photo courtesy of UrbanSpoon..com

The space is uninspiring, in the corner of a strip mall, with little decor on the walls and basic furnishings. But no one's coming to Las Delicias for the decor. No, they come for the freshly-made guacamole, chunky and perfectly blended with garlic, cilantro and lime; they come for the huge, home-made chips, the queso, the tortas and and small, authentic tacos of steak or chicken, served up in warm corn tortillas. (Be warned – those come with loads of cilantro and onions). The family-run Las Delicias is a beehive of activity at any hour, but the lunch crowd moves quickly – the dinner crowd, not so much. Parking is at a premium- be mindful of the driveways if you're forced to find a spot on the street.

5. Paulette's
Photo courtesy of Paulette's

Since its move to the River Inn of Harbor Town, Paulette's is now open for breakfast daily, and that's a real treat as its breakfast offerings are lush - from eggs Benedict with creamy Hollandaise to hands-down the best French toast in town. Weekday breakfast is complimentary for hotel guests. Every breakfast or brunch begins with Paulette's signature popovers and strawberry butter - and don't be shy about indulging, as the wait staff will gladly bring seconds. Excellent service is the hallmark of Paulette's, and that's no different at breakfast, when egg dishes and many entrees offered for under $10 - a true treat for the palate and the pocketbook.

4. Brother Juniper's

This funky little breakfast nook, once owned by an Eastern Orthodox priest, stands apart from other breakfast places thanks to its fresh, healthy options. Practically located on the University of Memphis campus, one would expect that college students would be the majority of the clientele but there are loads of families and folks from all over town who come for the fully-loaded plates. The homemade, fluffy rolls are offered in white or wheat and the open-faced omelets can be topped with anything from spinach to feta cheese to black beans or sausage. They're also widely known for their homemade biscuits with sorghum. Those visiting solo or as a couple should ask for a counter seat – your wait will be minimal, and the people watching is great from this vantage point.

3. High Point Pizza
Photo courtesy of High Point Pizza

The restaurant is tiny, the menu impressively expansive, and the pizza crust brushed with garlic sauce - what could be better? Probably the fact that High Point Pizza is nicely priced for family and date-night dining. With fried macaroni and cheese, a small variety of sandwiches, a full complement of traditional - and a few not-so-traditional - toppings, HPP is a favorite across the city, with folks driving miles to pick up. A few tables in the small dining room are actually vintage video game consoles - Ms. Pac Man included. When the weather's fine, a few outdoor tables are set up, and with the nearby greenline and a few more local businesses in the same strip mall, the people watching is always good. Beer is served, but you can bring your own wine, too - and there's no corkage fee.

2. Trolley Stop Market
Photo courtesy of Trolley Stop Market

One of the most unique spots in town, the Trolley Stop is part restaurant, part bar, part market and part gift store - and we adore each and every part that exists here. The cavernous space located across from the Orleans trolley stop on Madison Avenue offers diners some of the best breakfast in town; the food is super-fresh, with locally-sourced everything on the menu: Eggs, bacon, grits and cheeses come from 'round these parts, and the result is fabulous. When the plate hits the table, you truly feel like you're eating at a friend's house, or at Grandma's - it's that good, and that home-cooked.

1. Mosa Asian Bistro
Photo courtesy of Mosa Asian Bistro

Mosa is a bistro that combines the best of Chinese, Thai and Japanese dishes - noodle and rice bowls, curries and a host of small plates - in a casual atmosphere that rocks with the business crowd at lunch. Dishes are made to order, truly some of the freshest Asian cuisine we've experienced. They come out as they are ready, so appetizers can be quickly followed by one diner's entree - the flow depends on how packed the restaurant is. If time is critical, call ahead and order to go. During lunch hours, you order at the counter and take a number, and one of the runners will bring your food. There's table service at night. The Pao family is ever-present in the restaurant,always making time to say hello and catch up with customers - and after just two visits or so, you can consider yourself a regular.