Healthy Menus Easy to Find in Memphis

Photo courtesy of Sally Walker Davies
By Sally Walker Davies, Memphis Local Expert

Memphis may not be the first city one thinks of when one thinks of healthy eating. But the city known for its pork barbecue and traditional Southern foods (Gus’s fried chicken, anyone?) has a very health-conscious side to it, as witnessed by the diverse and plentiful list of restaurants with healthy menu options.

We’ve chosen our list of the top 10 Memphis restaurants with healthy menus for their ingredients, food quality, and excellence of the food; after all, if you’re going to keep an eye on the calories and whole grains, there’s no reason that eating healthy equals bland taste. Many of the restaurants on this list are dedicated to working with local producers and organic farms, and delight in creating seasonal menus to showcase the robust agricultural offerings in our three-state area.

Our list includes the Trolley Stop, which is truly focused on local everything, from the foods offered on menu to the packaged foods in its shop. Mosa Asian Bistro can whip up almost any menu item to your liking, whether you want to add tofu or more vegetables or need to drop nuts from a dish. No matter which of our 10 selections you choose, you’re guaranteed a healthy meal. (And if you clean your plate, you can pick up something from Mary’s Gluten Free Bakery, too.).

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

So maybe one wouldn't normally think of a Mexican restaurant as a healthy eating place, but Swanky's is pretty healthy, as long as you choose wisely. 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.

9. Trolley Stop Market
Photo courtesy of Trolley Stop Market

One of the most unique spots in town, the Trolley Stop is part restaurant, part bar, part market and part gift store - and we adore each and every part that exists here. The cavernous space located across from the Orleans trolley stop on Madison Avenue offers diners some of the best breakfast in town; the food is super-fresh, with locally-sourced everything on the menu: Eggs, bacon, grits and cheeses come from 'round these parts, and the result is fabulous. When the plate hits the table, you truly feel like you're eating at a friend's house, or at Grandma's - it's that good, and that home-cooked.

8. 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.

7. Otherlands Coffee Bar & Exotic Gifts
Photo courtesy of Otherlands

A charming local favorite,Otherlands is kind of like that box of chocolates Forrest Gump talks about – you never know what (or who) you will find inside the funky building, located north of the main center of the Cooper Young neighborhood. While Otherlands serves wonderful pastries and desserts, it also doubles as a gift store, featuring loads of handmade items from across the globe. Think Pier 1 with loads of authenticity. Shelves are filled with jewelry and candles and small decor items; most of the mirrors and artwork on the wall is for sale, and almost all the art is local.

6. 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.

5. Sakura
Photo courtesy of Sakura Memphis

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.

4. 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.

3. Stone Soup Cafe & Market

Stone Soup brings a veteran of the Memphis restaurant scene, chef Sharron Johnson, back into the Cooper Young neighborhood following a great run with the now closed Buns on the Run. Johnson offers everything that is comfort food - breakfast features egg platters and omelets and biscuits and gravy, plus hue cinnamon rolls and other bakery delights. Lunch means plate lunches, sandwiches (including the amazing Big Rex - a everything is made on premises, and some things - including herbs and a few veggies - come straight out of the restaurant's garden. Take out is a big business at Stone Soup, and the market area is a real delight, offering daily baked goods and produce and products from local purveyors.

2. Whole Foods Market
Photo courtesy of Sally Walker Davies

Beyond the beautiful fresh produce section and an impressive bulk foods / grains / teas area, and the usual suspects including an expansive health and beauty area, Whole Foods rocks the healthy eating scene in Memphis. There's a fresh-made gelato station with mountains of enticing, creamy treats. There's a bakery filled with gorgeous breads and huge single-serving desserts, all made from scratch. There's a wok and sushi bar, a sandwich bar and chef's case, and a station for freshly made pastas and sauces to combine at whim. And there are two stand-out areas in the new, improved Whole Foods - a growler station and an honest-to-goodness barbecue shack.

1. Zaka Bowl
Photo courtesy of Zaka Bowl

With a sparse decor and equally pared-down menu, you'd think Zaka Bowl wouldn't garner a big following. But the East Memphis eatery, owned by the folks who brought us downtown's South of Beale, has garnered a loyal following of healht-conscious fans. The menu is indeed simple: Start with a choice of Jasmine brown rice, quinoa, noodles or chopped spinach, top with what's referred to as H.I.P. or High in Protein veggies / tofu, then load up on hot and cold garnishes, everything from roasted chickpeas to rosemary carrots, cinnamon chili sweet potatoes, pineapple pico and jicama slaw. A kid-sized bowl is also available, although this isn't a place for kids who don't eat their veggies. Drinks, natch, are on the healthy side too, with choices from Spindrift Soda to Boxed Water and various teas and coffees.