Best Family Restaurants in Memphis: Gather 'round These Dining Spots

By Sally Walker Davies, Memphis Local Expert

How you view family-friendly restaurants pretty much depends on your phase of life. If you're toting the toddlers around, you know you need a spot where the kids can be kids and you can indulge in an adult beverage. In some cities, 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 the atmosphere is loud and festive and fast - perfect for those with toddlers to teens. 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. DO look out for the occasional toothpick dropping onto your table (hopefully not 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, a place to head for a treat for those who cleaned their plates.

10. 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 – 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).

9. The Cupboard Restaurant
Photo courtesy of 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. It's kind of like eating at grandma's, if your grandma was from the South. 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 - what kid doesn't love breakfast for dinner? Portions are generous, fresh, and served up by gals who will probably call you, and your kids, darlin', sweetie or honey.

8. Central BBQ
Photo courtesy of upload.wikimedia.org

Central is one of our family's 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. There are two other locations in town, on Summer Avenue and in Downtown Memphis, but our fave for dining with the kids is the original Central Avenue location.

7. Swanky's Taco Shop
Photo courtesy of Memphis CVB

Kids can build-their-own burritos, quesadillas, tacos and salads using a check-the-box order form, meaning picky little ones can customize their food if they're old enough to order on their own. Kids will also love the white queso; it is super creamy and rich, and practically a meal in itself. The fish tacos are another kid favorite, with crispy yet lightly breaded white fish and fresh fixings. 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.

6. 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, which both absorbed the grease and kept the bird crispy. This is the real deal of Southern fried chicken: spicy, crunchy, and juicy, served with white bread. And be patient - your chicken and fried pickles or french fries don'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. Gus's also has locations in East Memphis and Collierville for those who can't make it downtown.

5. Charlie Vergos' Rendezvous
Photo courtesy of Lisa Buser

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.

4. Mosa Asian Bistro
Photo courtesy of Mosa Asian Bistro

Mosa offers a truly fresh take on Asian dining, combining the best of Chinese, Thai and Japanese dishes into one menu. There are noodle bowls and rice plates, curries, some really inventive entrees (3-seasoned shrimp is our current fave) and plenty of family-friendly things to share, including edamame,crab cheese wontons, and dumplings. The casual atmosphere is a hit with families looking for fresh and healthy food served quickly. Mrs. Pao, the matriarch of the family, bakes a variety of cupcakes that can be used to encourage the kids to clean their plates. 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. The Pao family is ever-present at the restaurant, always making time to say hello and catch up with customers, and the staff is equally attentive. After just two visits or so, you'll feel like a regular.

3. The Arcade Restaurant
Photo courtesy of Arcade Restaurant

Started in 1919, The Arcade is Memphis' oldest continuously operating restaurant. Kids love it for its old-school diner look - pinkish walls, a counter with swivel stools, the soda fountain. And the equally love the menu, with burgers and fries, shakes and malts, grilled cheese sandwiches and more. 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.

2. Muddy's Bake Shop
Photo courtesy of 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 - think neon pink or bright blue. The bake shop is named after her grandmother, who was affectionately known as Muddy.

1. Huey's
Photo courtesy of Huey's

Memphis has more than its fair share of neighborhood bar and grills, and Huey's happens to be one of the best. It's also the family-friendliest joint in town. The atmosphere is no frills and the menu features a long list of tasty burger options and all sorts of options for the kids, from burgers to chicken and steak-on-a-stick. 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.