Where to Eat Lunch in Memphis: Find Comfort Food Beyond Just Southern
By Sally Walker Davies
Memphis Local Expert
Going out to eat isn't always about cravings. Often enough, mealtimes dictate our choices, limiting restaurant possibilities. When circumstances narrow the options, let 10Best help. We'll direct you to the best Lunch restaurants in Memphis and save you the hassle of calling around for business hours. 10Best readers will find everything from the little tea room where the big names in business lunch, a hard to beat Gus's World Famous Hot & Spicy Fried Chicken, which serves the perfect fried chicken, and a few of the city's best new restaurants featuring young, hip, and nationally-adored chefs.
Hog & Hominy is one of the country's hottest restaurants - and it's a long wait during dinner, But at lunch, there's rarely a wait; much of the menu is the same and you can even score their delicious polenta (not always on the menu) as a side if you ask kindly.
Our list covers every corner of town, a variety of cuisines, and a price point that fits every wallet. Many of the eateries on our list - including Mosa and Swanky's - offer take out if dining in isn't an option. So from downtown to east Memphis, from swanky to simple, you can find just what you're taste buds are asking for, at the right price.
10 Cheffie's Cafe
Cheffie's is where the guest is the chef - building salads and sandwiches from scratch - or for those who can't make a decision, you can choose from a broad menu of options. We love, love, love the salad-making; choose from a few lettuce bases, then add in grilled chicken, bacon, eggs, all manner of veggies, all of our favorite crunchies - and the result is the perfect salad. The same deal goes for sandwiches, and for those who are wavering between the two, never fear - you can go for the half-and-half option. A gelatto and wine bar offers homemade seasonal flavors of icy gelatto, with a nice selection of wines from which to choose. (901-343-0488)
9 Beauty Shop
This trendy, festive restaurant is just as the name implies. Set in a 1940s beauty shop, some guests dine in refurbished hairdryer chairs, and you can almost see the ghosts of the wash-and-set,set that used to come in for a curl. Nevertheless, the kitschy theme isn't what keeps the place packed. Its eclectic fare is intriguing yet delicious, and that's especially true when it comes to breakfast. Sunday brunch means French toast made with challah, big mimosas, a variety of egg dishes, and even a beef tenderloin sandwich for those really needing to splurge. It's all part of the attraction that is culinary genius of Karen Blockman Carrier, the mind behind this and a variety of other popular, funky Memphis restaurants. (901-272-7111)
8 The Little Tea Shop
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, everything is served with corn sticks on the side. (901-525-6000)
7 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)
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. 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)
5 Woman's Exchange
Ladies who lunch in Memphis often lunch at the Woman's Exchange; it's a cozy lunch spot where the food is so much more than chicken salad, although that's on the menu too. Opened in the early 60's in a Midtown house, it hasn't changed a lot in those years, whether we're talking the food or the clientele. The lunch crowd (and yes, men eat here, too!) dines on everything from beef tenderloin to fried catfish to the aforementioned chicken salad; the cost of the meal includes beverage, dessert, gratuity and tax and is one of the best lunch deals in town. (901-327-5681)
4 Hog & Hominy
The more casual brainchild of young chefs Andy Ticer and Michael Hudman, Hog & Hominy is a tribute to the pair's roots - both Southern and Italian. The result is a mix of vegetable dishes, pork-focused main dishes and wood-fired pizzas -- all set in a super-casual atmosphere yet with refined service. Located just across from their namesake Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen on Brookhaven Circle, H&H, like it's sister restaurant, is housed in a former ranch-style residence. Walls have been moved and opened up to create an active space - and a wall of windows infuses the dining room with light. The bricks from from old chimney found new life as the brick oven, and colorful metal chairs add pops of color to the open dining space. Outside, there's not only a nice patio for al fresco dining - there's a bocce court. My Italian ancestors are rejoicing. (901-207-7396)
3 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)
2 Las Delicias
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, now are they? 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. ((901) 458-9264)
1 Southward Fare & Libations
Southward is Chef Ryan Trimm's third Memphis eatery, and although located geographically in another world from his Midtown restaurants, it's like a country cousin to its city relatives. With a focus on food that's locally-sourced, seasonal, and Southern, Southward offers loads of seafood, unusual combinations of ingredients, and cornbread with every meal - albeit filled with a spicy hit of peppers. Dishes range from lamb meatloaf to grilled duck breast to all kinds of oysters prepared all kinds of ways; the pimento cheeseburger is a perpetual favorite, as is the monkey bread French toast on the brunch menus. Small plates are available in the bar, which offers an impressive list of Southern-infused cocktails (think lots of bourbon and St. Germain) and there's even a nice list of mocktails for those who don't care to imbibe. ((901) 761-4344)
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, writing for the Commercial Appeal, AOL Travel, BudgetTravel.com, and The Tennessean. She is the author of Tennessee: An Explorer’s Guide and the Elvis-themed travel app King Me: The Rock ‘n’ Roll Royalty Tour.
Read more about Sally Walker Davies here.