There may be no better city in which to dine al fresco than in Memphis, thanks to moderate temperatures for much of the year. While spring - which we say starts in late February - and fall - which ends in mid-November are the perfect seasons for dining outdoors, our favorite Memphis restaurants know how to beat the summer heat and humidity. The city's best patios sport misters, fans, and river breezes to combat the heat and humidity summer throws at us, meaning that outdoor dining is close to a year-round option in Memphis.
Our list of favorites covers every neighborhood and atmosphere, from chic and airy spots including Twilight Sky Terrace at the Madison Hotel in Downtown's central business district to Celtic Crossing, an authentic Irish pub in the Cooper-Young neighborhood of Midtown. Overton Square - and entertainment and dining district that's currently the city's hippest, hottest spot, boasts a number of great outdoor dining options, including Bablu, a taco and tapas restaurant, and The Second Line, a New Orleans-themed restaurant inspired by Chef Kelly English's days of working in that city's most beloved eateries. In East Memphis, the sophisticated Acre offers a gorgeous slate-floored, rock-walled patio lit with tiny votive candles tucked into the recesses of the wall - a perfect spot for a romantic dinner under the stars.
Check out our ten favorite outdoor dining spots - they are just the start of exploring the city's rock-star dining scene.
Aldo's Pizza Pies
Aldo's Pizza Pies specializes in hand-tossed pizzas, a wide variety of beer - 30 different draughts and 30 bottled options - and is quickly becoming known as the patio dining spot downtown. Situated on scenic Main Street in a cavernous space that lends to its big city atmosphere, Aldo's offers a huge patio for outside dining and people-watching.
The New York-style pies served up in two sizes - small and large - as well as by the slice. A small is enough for two if ordering more than just pizza (see below). Options range from create your own to the Italian Popeye with vodka cream,chicken, spinach, and bacon or the Memphis Bird with barbecue chicken and red onions. Try the veggie dishes for something different; salads and sandwiches are also on the menu. (901-577-7743)
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)
The Second Line
The Second Line is chef Kelly English's more casual, New Orleans-influenced spot that's right next door to his Restaurant Iris. As with Iris, English took an old Midtown house with lots of character and a nice porch and space for outdoor dining.
English calls Second Line "casual, honest, delicious and true" - with the true being true New Orleans comfort food, not the blackened versions of fish and chicken that he considers tourist food.
So the menu is full of po'boys - catfish, shrimp, roast beef and other options - snack food including fried oyster salads, meat pies and more; and side dishes, or what is termed groceries on the menu - french fries, cheese grits, "fancy ass" coleslaw, and more.
Food is served up on baking sheet-style trays lined with waxed paper, or small cast-iron style ramekins which is novel. Local beer gets its due here, with loads of local craft offerings on tap. (901-590-2829)
Terrace at the River Inn
The Terrace at the River Inn has upgraded to become a year-round spot - and brings a casual yet upscale nightlife offering to Harbor Town.
Big glass windows are either thrown wide open to welcome the weather - or closed to ward it off - and the views over the Mississippi River change with the light and the season. Sunsets tend to be spectacular, and during the summer, quite long - which means you can linger with your handcrafted cocktail or glass of sophisticated yet not outrageously-priced glass of wine.
The food had a make-over as well, and now includes a variety of small plates with a southern touch; only in Memphis may one see a combination of scallops and hoecakes. Sliders (traditional and lamb), skewers, pizettas, and charcuterie plates are offered, as well as some simple snack items including truffle oil fries. (901-260-3366)
Babalu Tacos & Tapas
Babalus Tacos & Tapas is a Southern mini-chain, if you will; the original is in Jackson, MS, the Memphis location in Overton Square was restaurant dos, and Birmingham gets numero tres. The food is super-fresh, the ambiance rocking, and the crafty cocktails sure to please.
Located in a cavernous space in the Overton Square district of Midtown, Babalu is basically one giant room with a long, long bar – and the bar opens to the back, right to the outdoor patio where there are lounging couches and cocktail tables. The menu offers a variety of food made to share – from a killer bacon cheeseburger with white cheddar, roasted tomatoes and chipotle aioli on a sweet sourdough bun (our new favorite burger in town, bar none) to gourmet tacos and Spanish-style tapas (potatas bravas!). There's also the occasional dash of Southern cooking – garlic shrimp and grits, or tamales from the Mississippi Delta to name a couple.
The drink list is extensive and fabulous, with a huge list of tequilas and a bunch of fun cocktails – there are seasonal options, as well. ((901) 274-0100)
Acre is an example of a great restaurant that serves up an awesome signature steak - a grilled angus ribeye served with garlicky rosemary 'crushed' potatoes in a red wine reduction. Y-U-M.
The menu changes frequently based on what's available - both in terms of the locally produced foods and the fresh seafood, flown in daily. This is the restaurant where Memphians will find the most unusual combination of ingredients, bar none. For example, the braised short rib entree is paired with aligot potatoes, chanterelle mushrooms and a black garlic glaze. Foodies will delight in perusing the offerings, while those with less adventuresome or less experienced palates will be questioning the servers.
A bar menu offers simpler fare and smaller bites, plus fantastic people watching. ((901) 818-2273)
eighty3 is the Madison Hotel's chic bar and restaurant (on the ground - there's another up on top of the hotel - Twilight Sky Terrace).
eighty3 added outside dining in 2014, and it's been a hit. The space feels intimate, but actually seats a lot of folks under its canopy.
The patio overlooks Main Street, which is open only to pedestrian, horse-drawn carriage and trolley traffic for a number of blocks. The patio is open-air when weather permits, and it's warmed with heaters when there's a chill in the air.
The full restaurant menu is available, although some of the small plates continue to be our favorites, including the grilled Gulf oysters. Not to be missed is the chicken with mac-n-cheese waffles; the crispy fried chicken sits on a waffle made of mac-n-cheese – who would have ever thought to whip up that combo? – and is drizzled with a bourbon pecan sauce.
Other highlights include a crispy version of shrimp 'n' grits infused with rosemary, as well as the restaurant's signature skillet cornbread with a killer jalapeño-honey butter.
Much of the menu at eighty3 is meant to be shared, and the pricing is very wallet-friendly. Small plates are priced from $6, with entrees starting at $15. (9013331224)
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)
Everything about Celtic Crossing feels authentically Irish pub, and walking into the bar is like going through a wormhole into another dimension. Like any respectable pub, the decor offers a mix of tables and chairs, there's always a football match being beamed in from somewhere around the world (if you don't know what EPL stands for, this may not be your bar), and you can order just about any Irish whiskey every made. You can order corned beef, shepherd's pie bangers and mash and even Scotch eggs, or go for the more traditional American pub fare of a burger or salad. (901-274-5151)
Twilight Sky Terrace
The newest entry in the downtown hotel rooftop scene, Twilight is a super-chic space with commanding views of the Mississippi.
Perched atop the boutique Madison Hotel, the refurbished rooftop space now includes comfy seating for lounging, sweeps of canvas for shielding the sun, and a fire pit for chilly evenings (as well as some cozy throws under which to snuggle).
A short list of specialty cocktails, plus an extensive beer and wine list are the main attractions, and there's a small menu for evening bites, and on Saturdays and Sundays, breakfast will be served from 6:00 a.m. - 10:30 a.m. (901-333-1200)
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.
Read more about Sally Walker Davies here.
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