Just east of Memphis, Germantown is the kind of town that's pictured next to words like 'idyllic' and 'pastoral' in the dictionary. Will leafy lanes and rolling horse pastures, upscale shopping, plentiful parks and ginormous homes, Germantown has long been a nice escape from the bigger city of Memphis, whether for an afternoon or as a place to call home.
Until recently, you could count Germantown's locally-owned restaurants on just a few fingers and toes - but now, it is full of options for diners. The list we've compiled is made up of those restaurants that are locally owned and operated; we cover the most casual bagel shop and deli to the town's only white-tablecloth restaurant.
Barbecue is a given in this part of Tennessee, and the Germantown Commissary is a deliciously old-time spot to indulge at the altar of pork. With crowded dining areas, delectable pulled pork and pork ribs, and huge slices of cakes and pies to finish your meal, the Commissary is the best-loved of all this town's eateries. Other long-time favorites include the West St. Diner and City East Bagel & Deli - one of the best kosher delis in the whole region. And the venerable Grisanti family's Elfo's is where you go to see, be seen, and to partake in some of the best traditional and trendy Italian fare.
Whatever your taste buds are telling you they crave, you can eat local in Germantown.
Known to many as the "only real saloon" in the Memphis's Germantown area, the Belmont Grill is a great gathering spot for comfort food among family and friends. This pub-style venue serves daily lunch specials from their award winning burgers and steaks to fried chicken and turkey pot roast. If you can handle it, try the Belmont Burger, which was named the city's "Best Burger" by Memphis Magazine.
Just like its sister restaurant in East Memphis, the Germantown version of the Belmont is filled with character - and characters; on any given night, it seems the bartenders have antennae, as they're pouring favorites as regulars shuffle in. (901 624-6001)
City East Bagel and Grille
This Kosher deli / bagel shop / restaurant has been a staple in Germantown and East Memphis, with a steady stream of patrons from breakfast through lunch.
The tables are crammed into the space, but few care, as most folks in this true neighborhood favorite know each other already; if you don't know your neighbors at the next table, trust us when we tell you that you will by the end of the meal.
Huge omelets and potato skillets are the breakfast specialty (of course bagels are, too) and the sandwiches and wraps at lunch come with pasta salad, potato salad, coleslaw or chips. We're especially fond of the turkey melt, which is stuffed full of mushrooms and green peppers on top of the turkey and cheese, with a tangy honey mustard giving it a bit of a sweet finish. (901-754-2660)
Fish served up just about every way a Southerner would like it is the focus of Soul Fish, originally a Cooper Young eatery that's branching out east with the Germantown location and a fall 2013 opening in East Memphis.
The restaurant boasts a homey atmosphere and truly the best fried catfish we've ever had; it also comes blackened, and is served in baskets or atop salads. Most entrees are served up with fries, hushpuppies and slaw, although vegetables are available as well. Chicken and pork also get their due here, and the smoked chicken salad has loads of shredded meat on it. ((901) 755-6988)
West St. Diner
This little diner in Germantown is a homey spot that's pretty basic in every way, from the decor to the menu offerings - and that's why we love it.
Tables are covered in colorful, vintage-y oilcloth and the wait staff friendly and moves fast. Breakfast platters overflow with food - and they cooks are always willing to tweak a dish just how you like it (said the girl who orders her hash browns extra crispy). West St. serves up cheese grits in a small bowl, so you never feel too guilty about tacking an order of the creamy concoction on.
Lunch and dinner are always about comfort food - a plate lunch, a perfectly toasted grilled cheese, chicken fried chicken with gravy and mashed potatoes. Turkey and dressing is often on the menu, even outside of Thanksgiving.
Dinner service is weekdays only. (901-757-2191)
Located in a century-old former country store in downtown Germantown, the Germantown Commissary serves some of the best barbecue around in the tiny building it calls home. At certain times, you may even have to yell your order to the waiter - literally; the restaurant is adjacent to the train tracks, which are busy night and day.
While the barbecue is the main attraction, veer off the usual path and try the smoked sausage or pork tamales; tamales are actually a staple in Mississippi and served quite frequently around Memphis. Be sure to save room for homemade desserts, which are reason enough to wait in line - including coconut cream pie and banana pudding. (901-754-5540)
Swanky's Taco Shop
A few local boys have hit the foodie scene hard in Memphis with Swanky's, turning a couple of cavernous strip mall spaces into some of the most popular eateries in town.
In the evenings, Swanky's is a hip spot - especially on weekend nights, when there's often live music or a live DJ. Check the website for the schedule and list of bands.
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.
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. (901-730-0763)
The original Germantown location of what is no a three-restaurant local chain is small and usually filled to capacity, especially on weekends.
The sushi bar allows patrons to sit right up at the sushi making area, with a U-shapred counter around the sushi chef's work area. Loads of fresh ingredients - exotic fish resting on ice, perfectly cut strips of seaweed, and bowls of fragrant rice - await the master sushi makers.
The menu - sushi and otherwise - is huge, as are the portions; one evening, yours truly ordered a chicken teriyaki and shrimp tempura combination that was embarrassingly large, and brought more than half of it home in to-go boxes. (901-758-8181)
Las Tortugas Deli Mexicana
The food at Las Tortugas is un-American - that is to say,it's made as if you were in Mexico City and hasn't been American-ized.
The focus is tortas (sandwiches) and tacos, with an emphasis on all-fresh ingredients - think lots of fresh avocado, cilantro, cotiga cheese, sweet onions, a spiced cucumber salad as a small side, and hand-cut (and thick) chips. Traditional aguas frescas – fruit drinks – are whipped up and are the perfect drink to cool the spice.
The food takes its time getting to you, and the prices are higher than most folks expect ($4.50 for an aquas frescas). The wait and the pricetag, however, are worth it, as there's no other taste of Mexico like it in Memphis. (901-751-1200)
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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