Establishment neighborhood
Restaurant Iris
2146 Monroe Ave., Idlewild
Chef Kelly English is one of Memphis’s culinary celebrities, in part because he has such a strong handle on traditional French-Creole cuisine (he grew up cooking in Louisiana, and held his first restaurant jobs while studying at the University of Mississippi). Housed in a cozy home that feels simultaneously intimate and dressed-up, it’s perfect for a special occasion—call ahead and they’ll decorate your table in honor of an anniversary or birthday.
Porcellino’s Craft Butcher
711 W. Brookhaven Cir., White Station
Like several of the best contemporary eateries in Memphis, Porcellino’s is the creation of Hog & Hominy chefs Andy Ticer and Michael Hudman. The team sources meats from local purveyors and focuses on whole-animal cooking, both at their butcher counter and on their menu. Delicious quiches, toasts, and sandwiches are served for lunch, and at night, you’ll find satisfying small plates and great wines to enjoy them with. Their coffee shop—which serves some of the best espresso drinks in the city—is open from 7am.
Hog & Hominy
707 W. Brookhaven Cir., White Station
Andy Ticer and Michael Hudman’s first restaurant, Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen, was the first place that put them (and, in some ways, Memphis’s food scene) on the map. But if you’ve only got one night in town, we recommend sister restaurant Hog & Hominy, which boldly blends flavors from their Italian upbringings with Memphis classics, like collards with pepper vinegar and hominy, grits al forno, and biscuit gnocchi. They don’t take reservations, so arrive early, especially if you’re coming with a large party.
National Civil Rights Museum
450 Mulberry St., Downtown
The National Civil Rights Museum is fresh off a $27 million renovation (completed in 2014) that updated its capacity to provide interactive exhibitions, including a treasure trove of video footage. The museum itself is located at the Lorraine Motel, the site of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination, with King’s room preserved as it was the morning he left it, down to the day’s newspaper. It’s a beautiful, well-considered, incredibly important, truly moving experience to see it in person.
Elvis Presley Blvd., Old Hickory Hills
Memphis has a miles-long list of museums and venues where tourists can learn about the city’s rich music culture and history, but if you’re only in town for the weekend, opt for the classic trifecta of Graceland, Sun Studio, and the Rock ‘n Soul museum (free shuttles between the three make it blessedly easy). Start with Sun Studio, which is right near downtown, and offers tours through the building where everyone from BB King and James Cotton to Johnny Cash and Elvis recorded albums. Next, head to the Rock ‘n Soul Museum, just down the street, which is actually a creation of the Smithsonian. They have a huge collection of artifacts and really well-executed storytelling, so it’s probably the best place to learn about Memphis’s musical history from start to finish. End the day with the epic kitschy-ness of Graceland, which has tours all day until 4pm—two hours is plenty of time to get the gist of the place, and most people recommend visiting just before close, when the crowds start to dwindle.