10 Food Truths You'll Understand If You're From Memphis

Julie R. Thomson
10 Food Truths You'll Understand If You're From Memphis

Memphis, Tennessee is arguably most famous for one thing: barbecue. The residents of this Southern town love their barbecue so much, they even put it on spaghetti.

Memphis folks make some of the best ribs in America, and if you ask a local, they’ll tell you they actually make THE BEST ribs. But there’s more to this town than ribs. These days Memphis offers cuisines from all over the world, and their fine dining scene exceeds expectations. 

“I think we can say [Memphis food] used to be barbecue, but it has evolved into something that I think is really exciting,” chef Ryan Trimm of Memphis’ Sweet Grass told HuffPost. “In the last 20 years, Memphis has become a melting pot. There are so many good restaurants here now, I’m so impressed with it.” 

We reached out to a few more local food experts to hear their take on what makes Memphis food so special, what their favorite spots are and what they think everyone else should come to Memphis to eat. Here’s what we learned:

1 Bryant Breakfast is the best breakfast in town, if not the country.

Braynt breakfast knows it (it's proudly posted on their website), the people of Memphis know it, and Trimm swears by it: This is the best breakfast spot there is.

"It's simple, but right," Trimm told Huffpost. "It reminds me of an old-fashioned worker's breakfast place."

"I get the biscuit sandwiches, they make really good biscuits. You can get a sandwich with egg and smoked sausage, or ham or chicken. And you can pour your own coffee," Trimm shared. "It's old school, and it's exactly what you want."

2 Don't mess with the dry-rub ribs.

Memphis is famous for their ribs, and more specifically, their dry rub ribs. "A lot of people want to cover [ribs] in sauce," explains Trimm. "I tempt them to add the sauce themselves -- or get it half wet, half dry so they can try it both ways." 

If you want the best dry rub ribs in Memphis, go to Central BBQ.

"They put all their seasoning on before smoking, and it gets a nice bark on them which is the best part of the ribs," said Trimm.

3 You don't need Krispy Kreme when you've got Gibson's Donuts.

This local donut shop is not scared to experiment -- ahem, fried chicken donuts anyone? -- but they do the classics well, too. And according to chef Felicia Suzanne Willett, their apple fritters are not to be missed.

4 Don't get all your barbecue in one spot.

Trimm's best barbecue advice to out-of-towners is that "they need to know how to order."

"You don't come to Memphis and get brisket. And you're not necessarily going to get the best of everything at one shop. Everyone does it a little different and it depends on your taste," he said. 

Trimm suggests Payne's Bar-B-Que for the best sandwich. "The sauce on the sandwich mixes with the slaw and it's a perfect combo of flavors," Trimm said.

He also recommends the cornish hen at Cozy Corner BBQ.

5 Pho Saigon is not to be missed.

They do everything well, but their banh mi is particularly special -- and cheap!

6 Jerry's Snow Cones understands that ice cream makes everything better.

Can't decide between a snow cone or soft serve? At Jerry's Snow Cones, you get both: a cup full of electric-colored ice, with a topping of vanilla ice cream on top. It's a beloved local stop. Willett recommends the pineapple, mango and coconut, with vanilla soft serve on top, of course.

7 Memphis makes fried chicken so good, even the grocery stores get it right.

Uncle Lou's is Trimm's favorite spot for fried chicken: "They put hot sauce on it that's sweetened, and, man, it is good." 

But he said local grocery store Superlo Foods also makes some really great fried chicken. Another local favorite is Gus's Fried Chicken.

"When visitors come to town, we always get Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken," said Colleen DePete, the general manager of local favorite River Oaks. She even took famed New York City chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten there last year. And when she goes, she also gets the fried green tomatoes.

8 In Memphis, you go to the fair not for the rides, but for the Pronto Pups.

Pronto Pups started in Memphis in 1946, and has had a strong following ever since. There's something about their corn dogs that people love -- "What they put in their batter is crazy good," said Willett -- and they've become a staple at county fairs.

"We go to the fairs not to ride the rides, but to get the pups," Willett explained.

9 Summer Ave. is a food mecca like you've never seen before.

This six-mile road is too long to explore on foot, but take a drive and you'll come across many local favorites, including spots like the Pancake Shop and the aforementioned Bryant's Breakfast. But, that's not all. Summer Ave. is wonderfully diverse, and you can come across every cuisine from Thai to Mexican. Plus, according to Willett, the best cheeseburger in town can be found there at Tops Bar-B-Q.

10 Memphis makes the best barbecue. Period.

The locals say that loud and proud. Even DePete, who told us, "There is so much more to Memphis than BBQ," quickly followed that up with, "I will say the one thing you can only get in Memphis is GREAT BARBECUE."

Trimm definitely agrees.

"I have yet to find another place that does it better," he said. "I'm not saying they're not out there, but I've been to Kansas City. I've been to Austin. I've lived in the Carolinas, and I've yet to find another place that does it better than Memphis."

If you're only in town for a short period of time, Willett says you should "bar hop the barbecue joints." That's the only way to do Memphis barbecue justice.

  • This article originally appeared on HuffPost.