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Tennessee 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.

Arnold's Country Kitchen
605 8th Avenue S.
Nashville , Tennessee
Tel: 615 256 4455

For less than a ten spot, you can enjoy what is commonly considered to be the city's best meat-and-three. For those not familiar with the Southern concept, this is a choose-your-own-adventure style of eating in which you select one meat (such as barbecue pork or roast beef) and three veggies (from collard greens to mac and cheese). Located in a less-than-picturesque part of downtown in a red-and-yellow cinderblock building, Jack Arnold's restaurant welcomes a crowd that includes average working Joes, hipster kids, bums, and a bipartisan mix of local politicians (the mayor's a fan). Service is truly democratic: Everyone lines up together and files through, cafeteria-style. Jack is usually on hand, working alongside his wife and sons, carving up perfectly cooked roast beef or dishing out scoops of corn pudding or collard greens.

Open Mondays through Fridays 6 am to 2:30 pm.

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.

Hotel Photo
Capitol Grille
Capitol Grille
Nashville , Tennessee
Tel: 888 888 9414
Tel: 615 244 3121

The Capitol Grille is where you'll find high-powered lobbyists celebrating the passage of a major bill on Capitol Hill, just a few blocks north, as well as old-money couples toasting to a golden anniversary. The dining room has a stately grandeur with plush banquettes and white-lined candlelit tables sitting beneath vaulted ceilings. Since this is the in-house restaurant for the stately Hermitage Hotel, the service is low-key but attentive (note that this isn't a member of the Capital Grille steak house chain). Dishes are traditional with a Southern twist: The osso buco comes atop a mélange of sweet potato, black-eyed peas, Brussels sprouts, and apple; and Kobe beef short ribs get a down-home touch with rice "middlins" and chicory, tomato gravy. Can't decide? The chef will happily entertain on-the-fly requests for tasting menus. At breakfast and lunch, the dining room attracts a downtown business crowd who use it as an impromptu office.

Open Mondays through Saturdays 6:30 to 10:30 am, 11:30 am to 2 pm, and 5:30 to 10 pm; Sundays 11 am to 2 pm and 5:30 to 10 pm.

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."

1904 Broadway
Nashville , Tennessee
Tel: 615 340 0762

Lime is more than just a pan-Latino bistro (a rare food hybrid in this city). Owned by the same people as sushi hot spot Virago, this midtown newcomer is the closest that Nashville gets to South Beach. Wooden slats curve up to the ceiling and glass-tiled walls glow blue in the multilevel restaurant. In warm weather, windows open garage door–style, connecting the outdoor deck to the bar area, where mix-masters whip up wild versions of classic drinks (jalapeño caipirinhas, anyone?). The food is meant for sharing: salsa samplers and dishes like the adobo tuna with large squares of sashimi-grade fish atop a bed of posole, cactus, peppers, and squash. Who's here? Vandy undergrads getting loopy on mojitos, the tragically hip music execs that hit on them, and the late-night party crowd clamoring for a table on the side patio.

Open Mondays through Fridays 4 pm to 1 am, Saturdays 5:30 pm to 3 am.

1000 Main Street
Nashville , Tennessee
Tel: 615 262 1111

There's nowhere cooler to have a late lunch or working breakfast than this East Nashville joint. Housed in an old car showroom, Marche serves a simple, seasonal menu, with vegetarian-friendly options. It's a step down in price and formality from its big sister, Margot, just a block away, but no less tasty: The kitchens both rely on fresh local ingredients for their daily specials. Recent favorites include a butternut squash bread pudding with roasted fennel, and a BLT made on thick toasted Tuscan hearth bread and served with a salad of warm cabbage, farro, and raisins. The line for a table can be intimidating on Saturday and Sunday mornings after 9 am; the best times to come are early afternoon for a late lunch or at dinnertime, when the din (the floor is concrete and the ceiling metal) is diminished.

Open Tuesdays through Fridays 8 am to 9 pm, Saturdays 8 am to 4 pm, and Sundays 9 am to 4 pm.

Margot Café and Bar
1017 Woodland Street
Nashville , Tennessee
Tel: 615 227 4668

With two bistro-style restaurants to her name, chef Margot McCormack is the Wolfgang Puck of East Nashville. She opened her namesake 80-seat eatery in East Nashville's Five Points shopping area in 2001, when few other chefs were willing to brave the rough-around-the-edges artist community. Now, Margot's rustic French- and Italian-inspired fare (braised spareribs with mashed potatoes at dinner, savory crêpes and frittatas at Sunday brunch) has an established foodie fan base. The atmosphere is warm and romantic with burnished rust-colored walls and simple wooden tables set with mismatched vintage china. It's perfect for a celebratory dinner (it's not necessarily cheap, with entrees hovering around $20). The seasonal menus are tweaked daily, incorporating the fresh produce McCormack sources locally. Her popular Slow Food dinners, which promote the use of regional foods and methods, sell out as soon as they're announced. Indeed, the restaurant fills up quickly at all meals: Make weekend reservations at least three days in advance.

Open Tuesdays through Saturdays 6 to 10 pm, Sundays 11 am to 2 pm.

Midtown Café
102 19th Avenue S.
Nashville , Tennessee
Tel: 615 320 7176

Nashville restaurateur Randy Rayburn has rowdier restaurants than Midtown Café, but this is where the big kids in town get their kicks. City powerbrokers including politicians, athletic stars, and, of course, country-music types, reserve noontime tables in this close-quartered eatery (Midtown was featured in The Wall Street Journal's "Power Tables" column last year). The bi-level dining room allows big shots to literally sit a few feet higher than those in the front. At night, the 70-seat dining room, with its flattering low lights and unobtrusive service, becomes more romantic. Old favorites on the menu include lemon-artichoke soup and crab cakes with cayenne hollandaise sauce. Though Midtown offers free valet parking, visitors to the city should save the gas in their rental car and request the complimentary shuttle that offers round-trip transportation to Midtown from area hotels. Reservations are recommended; a two-day advance is a safe bet for lunch parties over four.

Open Mondays through Fridays 11 am to 2:30 pm and 5 to 10 pm, Saturdays 5:30 to 10 pm, and Sundays 5 to 10 pm.

1235 6th Avenue N.
Nashville , Tennessee
Tel: 615 248 4747

Dinner at Monell's is like dropping in on a Tennessee family reunion. Everything is shared and served on long, well-worn tables amid cozy fireplaces and paintings of Southern panoramas. Guests are seated at a table with their party as well as those of two or three other groups (they don't take reservations, so you never know with whom you'll break bread). The menu is the same for everyone, so you'll be passing around Tupperware bowls filled with Southern staples like pinto beans, corn pudding, pulled pork, and skillet-fried chicken. There are two to three entrée choices daily, as well as four or five selections each of hot veggies and salads; dessert and sweet tea (a Southern tradition) are included, too. Weekend breakfasts are particularly satisfying, with a seemingly endless supply of sausage gravy, scrambled eggs, biscuits, and grits. There's one flat price per person at every meal, ensuring all the food they can eat.

Open Mondays 10:30 am to 2 pm, Tuesdays through Fridays 10:30 am to 2 pm and 5 to 8:30 pm, Saturdays 8:30 am to 1 pm and 5 to 8:30 pm, and Sundays 11 am to 4 pm.

Park Café
4403 Murphy Road
Nashville , Tennessee
Tel: 615 383 4409

Tucked into what was once a private home, this local favorite in Sylvan Park feels intimate and warm. This may have something to do with the arrangement of tables, which flow through the house, taking advantage of various nooks and crannies. (Try to ignore the garish paintings and concentrate on how lovely your date looks in the soft lighting.) The bistro fare references Italian, Southern, and Asian flavors: pork chops with sesame sweet potato hash and a hoisin barbecue sauce, grilled shrimp with saffron risotto. Don't get too distracted by the food or you'll miss the country stars that often populate the dining room (Dolly Parton drops in regularly for the green chile mac and cheese). Young music-business professionals fill the front bar during happy hour.

Open Mondays through Thursdays 5 to 10 pm, Fridays and Saturdays 5 to 11 pm.

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.

1101 McGavock Street
Nashville , Tennessee
Tel: 615 259 5105

This Gulch restaurant succeeds in pulling off minimalist chic in a town where the style is more down-home than Met Home. The oval-shaped steel bar and white-washed dining room compete with the great views of the developing Gulch area outside the restaurant's huge picture windows. The design may come by way of L.A., but the menu, like so many in town, is full of new takes on Southern staples like grits (these are studded with black truffles) and Low-Country shrimp boil. Though the bar does plenty of business with the after-work crowd, the pretty people descend at lunchtime. Execs from nearby Music Row stop by for fish tacos or a pizza from the brick oven at the "chef's bar," a seated area where diners can watch food being prepared.

Open Mondays through Thursdays 11 am to 2 pm and 5 to 10 pm, Fridays 11 am to 2 pm and 5 to 11 pm, Saturdays 5 to 11 pm.

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.

Samurai Sushi
2209 Elliston Place
Nashville , Tennessee
Tel: 615 320 5438

This tiny eight-table restaurant is a favorite among in-the-know locals for owner Yun Choo's imaginative rolls. One of the most popular is his namesake Choo Choo Roll: eel, crab, salmon, and avocado topped with sliced strawberries. It's across the street from the legendary rock club Exit/In, making it a favorite pre-concert nosh for the cool kids. Other regulars include the occasional celebrity looking to get their nigiri fix (Keith Urban and Nicole Kidman are fans). For years, the restaurant operated with a six-seat sushi bar and half a dozen tables. In mid-2007, it expanded into an adjacent (though relatively nondescript) space.

Open Mondays through Fridays 11:30 am to 2 pm and 5 to 10 pm, Saturdays 5 to 10 pm.

507 12th Avenue S.
Nashville , Tennessee
Tel: 615 254 2000

The first thing you see when you enter this downtown Gulch-area restaurant is the vast wine cellar, which holds more than 300 selections and doubles as a private dining room. Upstairs, the bar area and main dining room establish the style: modern, with clean lines, metal accents, and lots of glass. But the best seats in the house at Watermark are on the balcony, which overlooks the Nashville skyline. Serious diners don't let the view distract them from the menu, heavy on haute versions of Southern classics. Grits appear in a soufflé with local goat cheese, and corn bread gets smeared with foie gras and apple butter. The kitchen makes good use of its wood grill in dishes like lamb loin with red currant relish and sorghum glaze, and New York strip with "fried chicken" mushrooms and béarnaise sauce. Menus change according to what's fresh locally and many dishes incorporate snippings from the herb garden on the roof.

Open Mondays through Thursdays 5:30 to 9:30 pm, Fridays and Saturdays 5:30 to 10 pm.

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