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Memphis + Graceland Restaurants

2600 Poplar Avenue
Memphis , Tennessee
Tel: 901 321 0082

Yilma Akilu and his wife, Seble Haile-Michael, are Washington, D.C., transplants who came to Memphis at the urging of a hungry friend to open this reasonably priced, humbly decorated Ethiopian restaurant. If asked, the charming hosts will explain the menu, how their homemade cottage cheese is prepared, and the proper way to scoop up Ethiopian food using strips of injera bread in lieu of utensils. The combination dinner allows the curious to sample a selection of rich lentil and bean dishes, extremely spicy stewed chicken, and mild, sweet cabbage prepared with butter, garlic, and turmeric. For the full experience, request to be served communally at one of the restaurant's authentic woven tables called mesobs.

Automatic Slim's Tonga Club
83 S. Second Street
Memphis , Tenneesee
Tel: 901 525 7948

The Caribbean-Southwestern-Southern fusion menu here is not for traditionalists. But if you have an adventure-seeking palate, the choices (and the portions) can be delightfully overwhelming. If you're game, try an oversized sandwich of smoked ham sautéed with coconut milk and topped with Pickapeppa sauce (lunch only), lamb chops in a sun-dried blueberry-mint-jalapeño sauce, or coconut-mango shrimp, perhaps with a voodoo stew of seafood. The fun, splashy colors used in the eclectic lighting fixtures, decorative tiles, and bar mirror the audaciously tasty food.

Dinner daily. No lunch on Saturdays and Sundays.

Bar-B-Q Shop
1782 Madison Avenue
Memphis , Tennessee
Tel: 901 272 1277

This little joint, with its no-frills decor, may just turn out the most perfectly spiced cooked pig that Memphis has to offer—no small feat, given that this city of pork barbecue contains more than 100 restaurants specializing in the Southern delicacy. The award-winning Dancing Pigs sauce, available in mild or hot, has become a mighty successful side business for the owners and imparts all it touches with a sweet, tomatoey zest. Come hungry, and the shop will satiate you with juicy pulled pork shoulder or a slab of tangy, succulent ribs (wet or dry) and all the 'cue fixings: baked beans, fresh coleslaw, and buttery Texas toast. If you're feeling bold, try an appetizer plate of barbecue bologna, sausage, and cheese, followed by spicy, rich barbecue spaghetti. Cholesterol watchers, beware!

Closed Sundays.

Central Bbq
2249 Central Avenue
Memphis , Tennessee
Tel: 901 272 9377

Opened in 2001, Central is just a baby in the barbecue universe, but it's a legend in the making. Quality and variety are the order of the day here: There's sweet, slow-smoked pulled pork, succulent dry-rubbed pork ribs that 'cue aficionados can slather with four tangy sauces (locals pick a tomato-based sauce every time), and, unusual for swine-centric Memphis, pulled chicken. As for fixin's, you'll find better fries at Young Avenue Deli and better beans at the Bar-B-Q Shop. But Central doesn't disappoint with its homemade potato chips, turnip greens, buttery mac and cheese, and creamy slaw flecked with chunks of peppers. Order your food at the counter and carry it to the wooden-beamed, white-tablecloth dining room or—when it's not sweltering—the patio. In November 2006, a 225-seat sister location opened at 4375 Summer Avenue.

Chez Philippe
Peabody Hotel
149 Union Avenue
Memphis , Tennessee
Tel: 901 529 4000

Unlike at many eateries in laid-back Memphis, jackets are suggested at Chez Philippe, the self-consciously refined restaurant of the Peabody Hotel. Although the restaurant lost its longtime chef-celeb, José Gutierrez in 2005, the establishment still turns out fine French fare, but now with subtle Asian variations. Chef Reinaldo Alfonso combines Harris Ranch short ribs and strip steak on one plate with sweetened carrot purée and Thai basil coulis, for example. The gold tablecloths and borderline-obsequious service is a nice change of pace, but we bet you'll head back to the barbecue shacks before long.

Dinner only. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

1400 Union Avenue
Memphis , Tennessee
Tel: 901 276 8015

Visions of fried green tomatoes and rightly seasoned turnip greens dancing in your head? You'd better make your way to this Deep South soul-food institution. The veggies alone (22 varieties daily) are cause enough to visit, with the eggplant casserole and the sublime mac 'n' cheese seeming straight from the pages of How to Make the Richest Side Dish at Your Church Potluck. Proprietor Charles Cavallo's meats and desserts also fit the bill nicely, notably the country fried chicken and gooey pecan pie.

150 Peabody Place
Memphis , Tennessee
Tel: 901 528 1415

After a 22-year-tenure at the Peabody Hotel, celeb-chef José Gutierrez set out to go it alone. He didn't go far (just around the corner), though he dropped a lot of Chez Philippe's stately pretense in favor of a more modern ambience: dark woods and dimmed lights. The menu is primarily French, but Italian, Spanish, Southern, and Asian influences creep in. In the cooler months, Gutierrez prepares homemade sausages and blends them into a creamy lentil soup, and fills flaky puffed pastry with hearty chicken stew. When the weather gets sticky, he tops fluffy pizza crust with smoked salmon, Mascarpone, sweet onions, and arugula.

Closed Mondays.

Enoteca at Bari (Bari Ristorante e Enoteca)
22 South Cooper Street
Memphis , Tennessee
Tel: 901 722 2244

When Bari opened in 2001, Memphians were skeptical: To them, Italian food meant pasta with meatballs, eggplant Parmesan, and fried mozzarella, not whole branzino stuffed with fennel and orange. Yet the cooking of Jason Severs—a Tennessee native who grew up in a household with four Italian women—won them over and generated enough buzz to open this all-Italian wine bar. Pair a glass of Ruffino Modus, a dry, full-bodied blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet, and Merlot, with an antipasti plate of prosciutto, salami, soppressetta, and grilled veggies, or Argiolas Vermentino, a fruity warm-weather white from Sardinia with the Bianco Sottobosco, a rich, semisoft cow's- and goat's-milk cheese with black truffles.

Erling Jensen, the Restaurant
1044 S. Yates
East Memphis
Memphis , Tennessee
Tel: 901 763 3700

Presided over by Danish chef Erling Jensen, this East Memphis restaurant works hard to impress its clientele with a French-inspired, seafood-heavy menu. The kitchen uses seasonal ingredients in artistic combinations, and you'll pay for the guarantee of quality. Filled with savory dishes such as lobster pancakes and rack of lamb with pecan, mustard, garlic, and molasses crust, the menu alone will start your mouth watering.

Dinner only.

Felicia Suzanne's
80 Monroe Avenue
Memphis , Tennessee
Tel: 901 523 0877

If Felicia Willet's downtown restaurant has a bit more pomp and circumstance than most Memphis establishments, it's because this haute down-home chef-cum-restaurateur spent her formative years in New Orleans, working alongside Emeril Lagasse. Located in what was Lowenstein's department store, the space has dark lilac walls, red velvet chairs and banquettes, and abstract paintings by artists from Jonesboro, Arkansas (Felicia's hometown). Willet prepares her menu of Southern favorites with local ingredients such as Alabama crab, Arkansas White River caviar, and Louisiana oysters. She might fry catfish, give it a spicy tang with Tabasco, and then turn up the heat with jalapeño tartar sauce.

Closed Sundays and Mondays.

Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken
310 S. Front Street
Memphis , Tennessee
Tel: 901 527 4877

Gus's casual checkered tablecloths and concrete floors hint at this location's humble past as a machine shop, and you might lift an eyebrow at Gus's self-proclaimed "world famous" status, but the poultry haven has indeed cultivated an enviable reputation. The recipe for Gus's success: bone-in chicken coated in a somewhat spicy, special-recipe batter, and then fried in peanut oil to a state of crispy, brown perfection. Once you visit, you'll understand why many visitors skip the side items to save room for more bird. But if you're intent on sides, try the not-too-mushy potato salad or the Cajun fried rice. (Isn't everything better fried?) For dessert, there's chess pie, with a rich filling that resembles a room-temperature custard—but with a tad more sugar and butter. In February 2007, Gus opened a second shop in Collierville, east of the city (215 Center St.; 901-853-6005). A word of caution: Avoid the imposter Gus places around town. As the staff here will tell you, "They just ain't the real deal."

2110 Madison Avenue
Memphis , Tennessee
Tel: 901 726 5128

Paulette's witnesses an interesting marriage of tradition and trendiness. Its old-country decor and menu of European classics clash with its location at Midtown's hip Overton Square, yet this remains a perennial favorite of both locals and tourists. The hearty Hungarian gulyás proves a stalwart starter, and the veal ragoût in a herby mushroom sauce likewise satisfies, but the real draws are the sumptuous crêpes and the reputation-building popovers, accompanied with strawberry butter. If not for dinner, stop in for the best Sunday brunch in town.

52 S. Second Street, Basement
Memphis , Tennessee
Tel: 901 523 2746

If you only have time to hit up one Memphis barbecue pit, Charlie Vergos' Rendezvous should be it. You'll find it in the basement of a nondescript building in an alley across from the landmark Peabody Hotel. Red and white checked tablecloths, local memorabilia, and news clippings dating from the '40s serve as décor in this cavernous 750-seat space. The waitstaff is strong-willed—don't dare ask 45-year-veteran server Robert Stewart, Sr., to change your order—and the pork ribs are quintessentially Memphian. There are two barbecue rib camps in town: "wet" (the gooey sort cooked in sauce) and "dry" (marinated in a vinegar-based solution, then cooked with spices). Vergos' technically fall in the later category, but Rendezvous management feels the term "dry ribs" unfairly maligns the chef's well-marinated, lovingly seasoned masterpieces. Other menu items include a simple sausage and cheese plate and a pork shoulder dinner, served with a side of beans and slaw. But hordes of locals and tourists swear by the tender, moderately spicy ribs.

Closed Sundays and Mondays.

Information may have changed since the date of publication. Please confirm details with individual establishments before planning your trip.