A Gluten-Free Primer to Memphis' Most-Popular Restaurants

Photo courtesy of Lisa Buser
Photo courtesy of Amerigo - Memphis
By Sally Walker Davies, Memphis Local Expert

The restaurant scene in Memphis is getting loads of national attention for its authenticity - both that of its food and of its chefs. 

And those young chefs who run some of the city's top eateries pay close attention to those who need to watch their wheat. With the local producer focus of these chefs,  finding alternatives for the GF crowd is becoming ever easier.

This list covers locally owned restaurants that offer a variety of gluten-free options, from entire gluten-free menus to simply being very accommodating for diners who need to avoid gluten. From the city's pork-centric staple of barbecue at the world famous Charlie Vegos's Rendezvous to pizzas with gluten-free crusts at hottest place in town - Hog & Hominy, or Ciao Bella, an East Memphis institution,  just about anything that you're craving can be found gluten free. Our aim with the choices listed here was to hit as many types of cuisines as possible, as well as price points, so gluten-free diners would understand that many Memphis restaurants are more than happy to offer gluten-free alternatives to their customers. Wherever you land for a meal, simply ask what those options are.

National chains restaurants are not included on this list, since you can enjoy gluten-free options at those any time.

10. Alchemy
Photo courtesy of Courtesy Young Avenue Deli

It's a bit ironic that such a huge space is dedicated to small plates - but after a signature cocktail or two from the mixologists at the wrap-around bar in this Cooper-Young eatery, who pays attention to irony, anyway? Alchemy works so well in this huge space because it buzzes with a hip, every-everything kind of crowd, from BoHo Midtowners to groups of suburban moms to urban hipsters. Our favorite tiny plates - and they are small, so take our advice and over-order, especially if you plan to imbibe - are shrimp and grits, the duck spring rolls and the Spanish Manchego cheese with roasted red peppers. . Monday � Saturday 4 pm � 1 am, Sunday 4 pm � 11 pm. Phone 901- 726-4444. 940 South Cooper Street, Memphis (Cooper Young area of midtown). http://www.alchemymemphis.com

9. 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. 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.

8. South of Beale
Photo courtesy of South of Beale

This South Main neighborhood gastropub is a bit of a secret spot, with its in-the-middle-of South Main location, in a block that needs some more gentrification. The good news is that this stretch of South Main is improving daily - thanks in part to S.O.B., as most folks call it. With a fantastic list of crafted beers including the locally-produced Ghost River, a robust wine list that the owner's totally willing to take suggestions for, and an excellent array of food including bar pies - think pizza with a twist, like pulled barbecue pork, cheddar cheese and carmelized onions - there's a myriad of reasons to drop in.

7. Sweet Grass
Photo courtesy of Lisa Buser

With a seasonal menu and a focus on locally grown produce, the menu is never quite the same each evening at Sweet Grass, but one can always count on an artful combination of Low Country cooking combined with an overall Southern flair. Our favorites include a few always-on-the-menu options - the fried green tomato sandwich, such a treat - and the tasty shrimp and grits, peppered with a few scallops to keep your palate off balance. The airy, open dining room has a small bar area and a very small waiting area, so you can always pop next door to Next Door, also co-owned by Chef Trimm, to wait in comfort for a table if there's no spot available at the bar.

6. Cheffie's Cafe
Photo courtesy of 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.

5. Amerigo - Memphis
Photo courtesy of Amerigo - Memphis

A small chain of Italian eateries can be a dangerous thing - as in, dangerously dull. But that's not the case with Amerigo, which has one outlet in Memphis (there are two in Nashville / Brentwood, and another in Jackson, MS). White tablecloths are covered with butcher's paper, and the ambiance is old world but not stuffy. The food is fresh, simple, and generous - almost any pasta dish ordered is destined to be lunch the next day. The menu is huge, including traditional Italian favorites as well as a deep list of creative entrees featuring steak, chicken, and seafood. Our favorite indulgence are the cheese fritters - a heady combo of blended cheeses that are lightly breaded and flash-fried...in a word, divine. Two sauces for dipping are part of the fritter plate - do yourself a favor and just order the large plate. (These were featured in Bon Apetit, so you know they're fab).

4. Hog & Hominy
Photo courtesy of 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. There are loads of locally-sourced veggies, killer charcuterie, and a variety of wood-fired pizzas which feature - you guessed it - pork.

3. 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.

2. Mosa Asian Bistro
Photo courtesy of 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.

1. Ciao Bella
Photo courtesy of Ciao Bella

This casual Italian restaurant sets the perfect mood, and its appealing atmosphere is sure to relax you, thanks to the aromas of pizza right out of the oven and the smooth stylings of Sinatra or Como. The recently-updated menu is full of traditional Italian favorites, including a lengthy pasta menu, incredible toasted ravioli, and an excellent selection of pizzas. Heartier entrees include lots of fresh seafood, rack of lamb, veal scaloppini, and grilled pork tenderloin. Prices are reasonable, portions are large, and the food's always tasty; there's food service in the bar as well, which is nice if you're trying to grab a fast-ish meal. Comfort Italian at its best.