A lot of people still don’t know where to eat in Memphis (or anywhere in the south, really) if you’re a vegetarian and I’m here to break it down for you.
One of the first things people ask me whenever I announce that I’m going anywhere that’s not a major European city is, “What are you going to eat there??” (Followed closely by, “Why are you going there???”) I almost always roll my eyes, tell them there’s vegetarian food everywhere, and confirm to myself again that eating meat is just the easy, lazy choice for people. (#sorrynotsorry)
While I was writing this post, I realized that a lot of my eating was, for lack of a better term, snacking. I have a really hard time picking out restaurants to eat at when I’m traveling. Does this happen to anyone else? I find myself so paralyzed with indecision that I just snack a lot, presumably until I can “decide” on a restaurant to eat it.
I think this is pure FOMO. I don’t want to pick a restaurant and potentially be disappointed by my meal and wish I had eaten elsewhere.
But you know where that lands me? Eating nowhere. (I mean, I eventually eat, but you know what I’m talking about.)
I wanted to make it crystal clear that if you don’t eat meat and want to visit Memphis, you are in good hands and you will be FINE. I repeat: You can be a vegetarian and eat just fine if you’re visiting Memphis, Tennessee. There are so many restaurants that I had on my list that I didn’t even have a chance to eat at, too.
Here’s where I ate:
A. Schwab Dry Goods Store
Found on the main strip on Beale Street, this was my first stop after I checked into my hotel and started wandering the streets of downtown Memphis. I was hungry but I didn’t want to stop for a meal yet so I stopped into A. Schwab’s Dry Goods Store because a) it had lots of choitzkes for sale that I wanted to look at and b) it had an ole timey soda fountain counter and I thought that was cute. After purchasing some local hot sauce for Nick, I found myself at the counter ordering their Elvis Milkshake. Of course this was a milkshake with banana and peanut butter; one of my favorite combinations. (If I had a peanut allergy, I would seriously starve.)
Yes, it was a touristy place and I’m sure the people around me were all tourists, but if you want a tasty (vegetarian) sugar bomb of a snack, this is your spot. It’s also been around for 143 years, so it has to be doing something right!
A Schwab’s Dry Goods Store is located at 163 Beale St, Memphis, TN 38103.
The Cheesecake Corner
As I mentioned before, all I did at first when I began wandering around Memphis was snack, or at least, buy snacks. I think I stumbled upon this little storefront when I was considering eating lunch at the historic Arcade Restaurant (the oldest restaurant in Memphis!). I wasn’t sure I was ready for a full lunch yet, so I bought a snack – a chunk of delicious cheesecake from The Cheesecake Corner. The decor was pretty unassuming, walls that were painted purple and green, and there was a refrigerated case with a variety of cheesecakes next to another refrigerator of non-alcoholic beverages, as well as wine. There were only a few people inside when I arrived; I assumed this was a symptom of being off on a side street.
I ordered a slice of the blueberry cheesecake to take home for later. I ended up eating it the following day and it was delicious. This was an unnecessary but delicious stop during my trip.
The Cheesecake Corner can be located at 113 E GE Patterson Ave, Memphis, TN 38103.
South of Beale
When you first see this place from the street, you’ll see the letters SOB and probably be confused. Upon closer inspection, you’ll realize that’s not actually the name of this restaurant (thankfully). I’d looked at the menu online and saw that they served sesame cauliflower and my mouth started watering. Anytime you turn a traditional Chinese dish vegetarian with cauliflower, I am here for it. Needless to say, it was delicious and I would head back there in a heartbeat to eat more of it.
I also really liked the interior decor of SOB. There was a sleek wooden bar the center (at which, I, of course, found myself seated) surrounded by wooden tables. Then outside there was a deck with umbrellas (because it’s really hot in Memphis, even in April) and more tables. I can totally imagine grabbing a few drinks with friends here after work if I lived in Memphis, absolutely.
South of Beale is located at 361 S Main St, Memphis, TN 38103.
Bluff City Coffee & Bakery
I popped in here before visiting the Civil Rights Museum because it isn’t a proper holiday for me if I’m not fully caffeinated the entire time. Located a block from the museum, this contemporary coffee shop serves up quality coffee drinks and delicious baked goods. I don’t think I had any of the baked goods, but the coffee was delicious and they had an assortment of non-dairy milks in house, too. There were definitely good vibes in this place.
Bluff City Coffee is located at 505 S Main St #4458, Memphis, TN 38103.
The Green Beetle
I’d passed by this joint on my walk down Main Street to the Civil Rights Museum and when I scanned their menu and noticed they served fried green tomatoes, I made a mental note to stop back after the museum for lunch.
If SOB was new and contemporary inside, this place was old and worn. But not in a bad way! I noticed there was a large portrait of a tiger on one wall. When I asked the bartender why they had a portrait of a tiger there, he said that was the first mascot of the University of Memphis Tigers – their basketball team. He said they’re now on their third tiger. I believe he lives at the Memphis Zoo when he’s not needed by the University.
The bartender, who was very informative and helpful with any question I asked – being new to Memphis and all, told me the story of The Green Beetle, too. He said it’s the oldest tavern in Memphis and legend has it that there was a pub in the original Court Square location of the Peabody Hotel in the basement that was called The Green Beetle.
Supposedly, a Native Memphesian was sad when the Peabody Hotel moved to its current location because The Green Beetle didn’t move with it. When this Memphesian became a prominent businessman, he bought the building that The Green Beetle is currently in and in the deed he wrote that any business in here had to be called The Green Beetle. Pretty neat! Who knows if it’s true though. If you know, let me know below!
Anyway, back to the food: I ordered the fried green tomatoes and they were delicious. I wasn’t incredibly hungry by that point so that was the only thing I had there.
I could’ve spent hours looking at the mismatched decor including a stained glass light depicting green beetles sitting at a bar above the actual bar, action figures, other school’s flags and various awards that the bar had won.
If you’re looking for a good dive bar in a less touristy part of Memphis, this is your spot.
The Green Beetle is located at 325 S Main St, Memphis, TN 38103.
The last spot of note that I ate in on my last night in Memphis was Central BBQ. This award-winning BBQ spot was a must-try on my trip. I’ve been known to ask for a side of BBQ in restaurants that are surely too nice to have any. I’m slightly embarrassing, I know. So a famous BBQ restaurant was a must for me.
When you enter the brick building after waiting on a considerable line outside, you order first from the main counter and then you’re given a number and asked to take a seat at either the bar area or any number of tables. Behind the shiny wooden bar is a sink that looks like it was taken right off a farm with a dozen or so beers on tap above it. There’s hot sauce galore on every table, too.
I ordered a small mac’n’cheese and a half order of vegetarian nachos (with beans instead of meat) that totaled an astonishing $9.55.
I love the south.
The nachos were covered in a pile of jalapenos, beans, and cheese, with some of the brine that I assume they cover the meat in before they roast it (is that how roasting meat works? Idk). I piled on the hot sauce and BBQ sauce and ate my heart out.
It was delicious.
The mac’n’cheese came in a little white container and it was pretty simple mac’n’cheese. But the cheese was thick and creamy and delicious. I definitely needed to sit for a little while after I was finished.
The staff was, again, as nice as can be. The bartender was super chatty and I appreciated anything he had to tell me about the history of Central BBQ. Central has surprisingly only been around since 2002. The two owners, Craig Blondis and Roger Sapp, met in the 80’s competing in BBQ competitions in the south. After opening Central BBQ in 2002, Blondis and Sapp have been featured on Pitmasters, The Best Thing I Ever Ate, and BBQ with Bobby Flay. There are now four Capitol BBQs in Memphis and one recently opened in Nashville’s Capitol View neighborhood.
The Central BBQ that I visited was located at 147 E Butler Ave, Memphis, TN 38103.
Other Restaurant Options for Vegetarians in Memphis
It may sound crazy but I actually had a lot of other restaurants on my list to try, too, that I just didn’t have time to get to because there are only so many meals in the day and things are pretty spread out in Memphis so getting around can be kind of a pain in the butt. But here are the restaurants that I would try if I went back (unfortunately about 3 of them have since closed):
- Imagine Vegan Cafe (located at 2158 Young Ave, Memphis, TN 38104)
- City Silo Table & Pantry (located at 5101 Sanderlin Ave #104b, Memphis, TN 38117)
And if all of those don’t work for you, there’s always the Happy Cow app, which has a massive list of all the vegan and vegetarian friendly restaurants in different cities around the world. I used it in Dublin when I visited in 2017 and it was a life saver. It introduced me to the Two Pups Coffee which introduced me to the concept of putting almond butter on avocado toast (don’t knock it til you try it) and for that I will always be grateful.
As you can see, being a vegetarian might not be a total walk in the park, but it’s totally do-able. Check out this Memphis-centric site that’ll tell you 16 ways to eat meat-free in Memphis!