Sometimes, when one thinks of family-friendly restaurants, one wants to cringe. After all, family-friendly often translates into a mediocre menu designed for the kids, not the parents. In Memphis, however, family-friendly is a good combination of words, as many of the city's best locally owned eateries welcome families.
Our list of the 10 Best restaurants for families covers every cuisine and neighborhood - and includes some of the city's best-loved eateries. Perhaps the most obviously family-friendly of all our list is Huey's, the hamburger emporium with locations all over town. Yes, there's a kid's menu at Huey's, and it's loud and festive and fast - perfect for those with toddlers. But the real reason Huey's tops our list is that it's the only place where kids (and parents) can write on the walls with Sharpies and you can shoot toothpicks through straws - in the hopes of piercing the ceiling. Yes, do look out for the occasional toothpick dropping in your food.
Barbecue joints Central and the Rendezvous are also excellent choices for families; we in Memphis believe that kids should start their barbecue education as early as possible. Southern favorites at The Cupboard and Gus's are sure bets for families, as is the Asian bistro Mosa and local cupcake emporium Muddy's, for those who join the clean plate club.
High Point Pizza
The restaurant is tiny, the menu impressively expansive, and the pizza crust brushed with garlic sauce – and this neighborhood pizza joint tosses some seriously good pizza that way better than anything one can have delivered in town.
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 in (a corkage fee applies). ((901) 452-3339)
The Cupboard Restaurant
The Cupboard opened in 1943, and quickly became a Memphis favorite, serving up basic but scrumptious home-y meals, with loads of options, daily specials, and some killer side dishes.
There are no surprises when it comes to eating at The Cupboard; Monday's specials this week are the same as Monday's specials next week - and the same goes for the daily vegetable selections and the daily dessert. Breakfast is served all day, every day - which is a real draw for us - and portions are generous, fresh, and served up by gals who will probably call you darlin' or honey. ((901) 276-8015)
The Arcade Restaurant
Started in 1919, The Arcade claims to be Memphis' oldest restaurant. Everything about the place is classic Memphis from the historic photos lining the walls, to the 1950's diner decor, to the fried peanut butter and banana sandwich special.
Elvis used to come here quite often, sitting in the last booth on the left, with his back to the restaurant. He could be part of the crowd, however, thanks to the huge mirror on the back wall.
The menu is short and simple, divided into breakfast, salads, sandwiches, and pizza; but everything is made from scratch and served up quickly by the friendly staff. Maybe the biggest perk of all is that breakfast is served all day so no matter how late you sleep in, you can still enjoy a plate of fluffy pancakes. (901-526-5757)
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 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. (901-527-4877)
Central is one of our favorites, thanks to the huge patio that's open during fine weather (often with a band tucked into the corner), the homemade potato chips with bleu cheese dressing, which our table of six agreed recently were the work of the devil, they're so delicious, or maybe it's just the atmosphere - fun and funky, with that aroma of smoking meat wafting from the pit.
The magic numbers for Central are 250 (as in degrees) and 14 (the number of hours meat is cooked). The pork is always tender, the ribs have just the right balance of crust on top and moisture inside. Probably our favorite dish is the pork barbecue nachos, which feature a two cheeses - the melt-y nacho cheese down under, then a layer of pulled pork, then shredded cheese on top. Y-U-M.
Central's patio is always hopping, and many times there's a band on Friday nights, or Saturday and Sunday afternoons. The beer selection focuses on local brews like Ghost River, and the staff - from the counter help to the food runners - are super-friendly.
A second location is further east, at 4375 Summer Avenue. (901-272-9377)
Swanky's Taco Shop
During lunch, it's a walk-up and order spot, with the line moving quickly as customers build-their-own burritos, tacos and salads – with the help of the friendly and often teasing food builders.
One can get more complicated at lunch; there are grilled entrees including fish tacos, quesadillas and fajita plates. The star of the menu may just be the white queso; it is super creamy and rich, and practically a meal in itself. The fish tacos are another must-order with crispy yet lightly breaded white fish.
Two locations - both on Poplar Avenue and one nearly in Germantown - offer a mixed lunch crowd of business execs, young professionals, yard guys and moms with tots, and both locations offer patio dining when the weather is fine. (901-730-0763)
Charlie Vergos' Rendezvous
One local politico lovingly calls this Memphis favorite "ambrosia of pork" -but locals simply call it the 'Vous.
Charlie Vergos started this Memphis landmark in 1948 - selling pork sandwiches and coleslaw on the street, eventually opening this one and only location tucked into a downtown alley. The best bets on the menu are the sausage and cheese plates, barbeque nachos and full slabs of ribs; the waitstaff can be brusque but don't take it personally - they are simply trying to get everyone served in the cavernous basement that is the main dining area.
On any given night, the restaurant overflows with a combination of locals and tourists; upstairs, if there's not a private party, there's a simple bar and waiting area - and be prepared to wait. If there is a private party, don't be surprised if the waiting room is actually the alley; in either case, keep your ear out to hear your name called over the tinny microphone. (901-523-2746, 888-464-7359)
Muddy's Bake Shop
Muddy's is a Memphis institution - and that's saying something, given the fact it became one practically on the day it opened in 2008. The reason is the amazing, made-from-scratch, perfectly frosted, aptly named cupcakes it offers, including Prozac (chocolate), Plain Jane (vanilla with hued vanilla buttercream frosting), and Frankly, Scarlett (red velvet with cream cheese frosting). They come in mini and regular sizes, and every bite is delish.
But Muddy's is about more than just the cupcake craze - the bakery case is full of pies, cakes, cookies, muffins and puddings; they also make a killer pimento cheese sandwich. And for holidays, they make some of the cutest cookies we've eaten.
The bakery is owned by Kat Gordon, a baking genius who is usually seen in brightly-hued hair – like neon pink or bright blue. The bake shop is named after her grandmother, who was affectionately known as Muddy. ((901) 683-8844)
Mosa Asian Bistro
A fresh -and we mean fresh -take on Asian dining, 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.
The Pao family is ever-present at both the White Station and Kirby locations, always making time to say hello and catch up with customers -and after just two visits or so, you can consider yourself a regular. ((901) 683-8889)
Memphis has more than its fair share of neighborhood bar and grills, and Huey's happens to be one of the best. The atmosphere is no frills and all bar, and the menu features what many locals regard as the area's tastiest burger.
With locations from downtown to Collierville, the local chain really understands what it means to be a neighborhood favorite; each spot offers live music, some have patios, all offer the same excellent food - with burgers just being the start. Salads and seafood, soups and guilt-inducing snacks - there's something for everyone.
Huey's is a great place to swing by and catch the game on TV too � especially if you're inclined to down a few brews and sample something delicious, like sublime onion rings. (901-726-4372, 901-726-9767)
About Sally Walker Davies
Sally Walker Davies is enchanted by Memphis' music, history, and characters. From the artsy South Main Historic District to the grittiness of her favorite live music clubs to the sophisticated style of the eastern edge of the city, there’s a Memphis for every mood, and she loves every part of it.
Walker Davies is an experienced broadcast, print, and online journalist focusing on travel, and is the Memphis City Editor for StyleBlueprint, the South's fastest-growing digital lifestyle publication. Her work has appeared the Commercial Appeal, AOL Travel, BudgetTravel.com, and The Tennessean. She is the author of Tennessee: An Explorer’s Guide.
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