When you think of Memphis cuisine, barbecue is #1 (read The Ultimate Memphis Barbecue Guide). After you have your Memphis barbecue fix, the next meal should be the southern staple, fried chicken. All of my friends have their favorite recipes and restaurants. We asked our friends and found that people swear by their chosen chicken and were adamant that we had to include their restaurant.
The truth of the matter is that I am a full-time teacher. There is no such thing as a “lunch hour”. So unless a restaurant is open at night or on the weekend, it can be a challenge to check it out. I’m sure that we would have a different experience if we went to some restaurants on different days or gave places a second chance. That’s just not doable in our time frame. If the chicken wasn’t great, like many of you, I didn’t want to go back. So if your favorite was having an off day, I’m sorry, I’m just calling it like I tasted it. They may get another chance. Well, probably not!
We’ve given our own ratings to each restaurant, from 1-5 drumsticks. Let us know if you agree or disagree with our assessment!
? Don’t waste your time
?? Hit or miss
??? You’ll have a good meal
???? Excellent fried chicken
????? You’ve arrived in fried chicken heaven!
The Ultimate Memphis Fried Chicken Guide
99 Cent Soul Food Express ???
We stopped in 99 Cent one Sunday for lunch, right before the church crowd got there. Food is ordered “cafeteria” style so you won’t have long to wait. Owner Will Nash is about as friendly as they come and takes pride in the recipes he uses that were passed down from his grandmother.
High quality soul food at a low price is a focus of the menu. I was a little worried that my fried chicken (99 cents a drumstick) would be dried out from sitting in a warming tray, but that wasn’t the case at all! The skin was lightly crispy, more tender than crunchy. The meat was flavor-packed and super juicy.
Located on South Main, close to the Civil Rights Museum, makes it a convenient stop for tourists and business workers. We almost overlooked it because it is somewhat hidden behind a trolley stop. Look for the bright red and yellow painted front entrance.
Also good: Joe had the fried catfish. The batter tasted the same as what is used on the chicken, light and crispy!
Address: 414 South Main Street (downtown)
Hours: Monday-Saturday 11-3pm, Friday & Saturday reopen 5-8pm, Sunday 11-6pm
Alcenia’s Desserts & Preserves ???
Alcenia’s is located downtown within walking distance of the convention center. It was featured in O magazine as a Favorite Food Find. Alcenia’s has also been featured on the Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-ins, & Dives” (Traditional Dishes episode) and “The Best Thing I Ever Ate” (Hometown Favorites episode-the sweet potato cobbler).
The restaurant gets its spirit from its vivacious owner, Betty Joyce “B. J.” Chester-Tamayo. BJ won’t let you leave without a huge hug. The recipes she uses have been passed down from her mother whom the restaurant is named after. Fried chicken is served Tuesday-Friday and includes 2 vegetables and cornbread and rolls.
We went to Alcenia’s on a Saturday, and the extra help had apparently called in sick. Needless to say, we had a very long wait. According to many of the reviews I read, most days it is a long wait. Food is cooked to order, so it is fresh. On Saturdays there is a different menu that focuses on brunch items. Since we were there for the fried chicken, we ordered the chicken and waffles. It was worth the wait. The chicken had a tasty batter and the meat was juicy and well seasoned. The fried green tomatoes were small, but I really enjoyed the light, crispy coating.
Also good: The desserts–all of them! You can also order very sweet Kool-aid that is listed on the menu as “Ghetto-Aid.” I must admit that I’ve never seen Kool-aid (or Ghetto-Aid) on a restaurant menu before!
Address: 317 N Main St. (downtown)
Hours: Tuesday-Friday 9am-5pm & Saturday 9am-3pm
Blue Plate Cafe ????
We have eaten at both Blue Plate Cafe locations, mainly for their fantastic breakfast. After reading the reviews about their fried chicken, I knew we had to check it out for lunch. Like many of these “southern style” restaurants, the Blue Plate Cafe closes early, making it difficult for me to catch with my work schedule. The first time we ventured to the Blue Plate Cafe in search of fried chicken was right after church. Can you believe it? They were out of chicken!!! That meant we had to wait a whole week to try again.
The next time we went to the Blue Plate was the following Saturday for lunch. Delicious biscuits and cornbread were delivered promptly to our table while we waited for our chicken. From our breakfast experiences, I was already a big Blue Plate Cafe biscuit fan. It was hard to not fill up on the buttery biscuits! Joe is our cornbread lover, but he can’t stand it if it is dry. The cornbread got a big thumbs up from Joe.
I ordered the 2-piece fried chicken with 2 vegetables for $8.49. With good mashed potatoes & gravy and tangy sweet coleslaw with well seasoned chicken, I quickly made a happy plate. The chicken’s batter was a bit thicker than I like, but that didn’t stop me from finishing it off!
Also good: The breakfast is one of the best in town and is served all day, every day.
Address: 113 S Court Ave (downtown) & 5469 Poplar Ave. (east Memphis)
Calvary Rescue Mission ????
I’ve never been, so this review is coming from Joe:
Calvary Rescue Mission is a non-profit, independent faith based shelter for the homeless of Memphis. So why would I recommend a homeless shelter for fried chicken? Well, since you asked–Calvary hosts a business luncheon combining an outreach opportunity through a great chicken dinner meal with guests speakers the first Tuesday of the month except the months of May, June, July, & August. If you ever have the opportunity to attend, I highly recommend it, but get there early to find a seat by 11:30 am. It so happens that I have to work in the office one day a week, Tuesdays (the rest of the week, I get to work from home). My co-worker, Jerry introduced me to the business luncheon, and is my frequent fried chicken partner!
The Calvary Rescue Mission’s mission statement is rebuilding the lives of homeless men, but their great secret is also cooking and serving some of the best chicken east of the Mississippi. The all-you-can-eat chicken dinners are $5.00 with all the fixings (ice tea, coleslaw, mash potatoes, green beans with bacon, white gravy, biscuits and dessert). The support staff in a small kitchen of the church have perfected a seasoned chicken coating and deep fry the chicken a golden brown to deliver for as many as 50 plus guests.
Also good: It’s $5 for great chicken! It doesn’t matter if anything else is good, but I could drown in the mashed potatoes and gravy. So, so good!
Address: 960 S. 3rd St. (in the chapel above the kitchen-Washington Heights area)
Hours: First Tuesday of the month (except for summer months), for lunch only
Cash Savers ????
Cash Savers is a grocery store. We had read other “best chicken” lists and saw Cash Savers listed. So we asked some of our friends who live in Midtown Memphis if Cash Savers really had good chicken, and we were given a resounding, “Yes!” So one of the Tuesdays that Joe has to go into work, I asked him to stop by and bring home some Cash Savers’s chicken. He was surprised that there was actually little line at the chicken counter when he got there (it was around 5 pm).
Now Midtown is about 30 minutes from our house. By the time Joe got home, our box of chicken was still piping hot. Oh why can’t there be a Cash Saver’s in Collierville closer to our house? That chicken was soooooo good! Even though the crust was thicker than I prefer, it didn’t taste heavy or greasy. We paid the same for a box of chicken than we normally pay for a 2 piece meal at a sit-down place. Well, I can sit down in my house! Give me the cheap, delicious chicken!!!
Also good: The cole slaw was on point! Great combination of sweet and tang!
Address: 1620 Madison (Midtown), There are other locations, but this is the one that we tried.
Hours: The store is open 24/7, but the sign in the deli stated that chicken is served 3-7pm.
Four Way Soul Food Restaurant ????
The Four Way is an old Memphis establishment that dates back to 1946. It was a popular meeting place for civil rights activists during the 50s & 60s. Even though the neighborhood isn’t what it use to be, the food served here has stood the test of time and was featured on the Travel Channel’s “Food Paradise” (Soul Paradise episode). It is located close to the Stax Museum of American Soul (read 24 Hours in Memphis for Music Lovers), which would be a great way to combine soul music with soul food!
It is in a more rundown part of Memphis, but considering it was one of the few chicken places open after lunch, we went after work anyway. We felt fine going in, but by the time we finished eating around dusk, it was feeling a little sketchy. I’m sure it would feel fine during the day for lunch.
What a welcoming place! Sometimes I get a few glares when I bring out my camera and start taking pictures, but I guess the Four Way is accustom to tourists coming from the Stax Museum. Our nice waiter even asked us if we wanted him to take our picture. Our waiter was also quick to recommend his favorites, the ice tea lemonade and liver & onions. When we told him we were there for their fried chicken, he warned us that it takes a little longer because it isn’t cooked ahead time, we told him we didn’t care, as long as it was good. We were assured it would be worth the wait. It was!
You can tell that the chicken is marinated because the seasoning goes all the way through every bite. Nothing compares to Gus’s (see below), but the Four Way came super close. The sides were definitely better than Gus’s. Next time we go, I might even just order a vegetable plate because a plate of those alone would be a fantastic meal!
Also good: The lemon meringue pie was as good as my mama’s.
Address: 998 Mississippi Blvd. (Washington Heights neighborhood)
Hours: Tuesday-Saturday 11am-7pm, Sunday 10am-5pm
Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken ?????
I’ve reviewed Gus’s before (read 24 Hours in Memphis- Civil Rights Focus), and it continues to be my favorite place to get a sit-down fried chicken meal. Gus’s is one of the few places that actually lives up to the name “world famous.” It has been on about every “best” list you can imagine! Gus’s has been featured on the Travel Channel and Food Network, several times each. There are currently 22 locations, and thankfully 2 of those locations are close to our home, the Downtown Memphis location is where we eat when we go to the Memphis Farmer’s Market. The Collierville location is about a block off of our historic town square. We go there when I am missing my sweet mama and feisty grandma.
This fried chicken will make all other chicken you ever eat again pale in comparison. No matter how good the chicken is in other places, I also end up commenting, “But it isn’t as good as Gus’s.” The chicken and batter have a bit of a spicy kick. It is served super hot (temperature-wise). I always tear a little of the crust to let out the steam before sinking my teeth into the juicy goodness!
Also good: I could eat the fried green tomatoes all day, every day.
Address: 310 S Front St (downtown) & 215 S Center St (Collierville, TN)
Hours: Tuesday-Saturday 11am-9pm & Sunday & Monday 11am-8pm
Jack Pirtle’s ??
Jack Pirtle’s is a Memphis tradition that dates back to 1957. There are 8 locations around Memphis with the original Bellevue location still in operation. So it must be good, right? We tried the Mt. Moriah location since that one was the closest to our house. Honestly, we were not impressed and haven’t been back. We’ve had some friends try to convince us to give them another shot, but so many chicken places, so little time!
Jack Pirtle’s is fast food chicken. Our chicken must have been sitting under a heat lamp too long because it was overcooked, and the mashed potatoes actually had a burned taste to them. The place was dirty, and it didn’t appear it was just dirty from being busy. Sorry lovers of Jack Pirtle’s!
Also good: Well, I liked the cole slaw! It tasted crisp and fresh with a good mix of dressing. Friends tout their livers and gizzards, but I don’t like them and didn’t try.
Address: Too many to list. See jackpirtleschicken.com for specific locations.
Hours: Monday-Saturday 9am-11pm & Sundays 10am-10pm
Joes’ on Highland ?????
Having opened in May 2017, Joes’ is a relatively new Memphis establishment. It is located where The Farmer use to be in Midtown. Owned by two Joes (so the apostrophe is in the right place) from Ecuador, the restaurant is quickly making it on various “top” lists.
For many of these reviews, I have mentally decided places were good, but they weren’t as good as Gus’s. Now I can easily report that Joes’ is just as good! Fried chicken is served every day on the lunch and dinner menus. You can order all-you-can eat for $14 per person. We ordered the 2-piece dark for $8, which included Marti Gras slaw and mash potatoes (with your choice of milk gravy or roasted chili gravy). It was plenty for us! The chicken has a thicker crust, but somehow is didn’t seem like it was too heavy. I am normally not a fan of thicker crust because it often tastes greasy. The Joes have this mastered– no greasiness! Also, the chicken is flavorful and juicy. We will be back!
Also good: The angel biscuits are light, buttery goodness!
Address: 262 South Highland
Hours: Tuesday-Saturday 11am-3pm (lunch) 5-9pm (dinner) & Sundays 11am-3pm
Little Tea Shop ????
Established in 1918, the Little Tea Shop is Memphis’s old restaurant (not the Arcade, like I previously was told). Featured on Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-ins, & Dives” (American Classics episode), I really wanted to visit this downtown institution. The problem was their limited hours. When you’re only open during the week and not at night, it makes it hard for a teacher to check them out. Luckily, we didn’t have any major travel plans during my last fall break (a rare break from traveling on my days off), so I insisted that Joe take me to the Little Tea Shop for lunch! Parking is on the street, but if there isn’t any spots available, our favorite (aka-cheap) downtown parking garage “Parking Can Be Fun” is only a block over at 79 Union Ave.
Upon our arrival, you would have thought that we were family! Service was excellent. We didn’t feel like we were being hovered upon, but all of our needs were met promptly. Apparently, we weren’t that special. Everyone that walked in the door was given individual attention. Regulars were greeted by name and a hug!
I loved this place. Fried chicken isn’t served everyday, but all I had to do was message the restaurant on Facebook, and the owner responded immediately. If you want fried chicken, go on a Tuesday! The southern fried chicken with 2 sides is $9.95. At first I was disappointed that there was only 1 piece of chicken on the plate, but it was mainly meat and filled me up. It was tasty, too. The coleslaw was bland for my taste, but the other sides Joe and I tried (mashed potatoes w/ white gravy, turnip greens, & egg plant creole) were perfection!
Also good: The Hoppin’ John which is lentils & spinach over rice. We were given a sample when we were first seated, and Joe ditched the idea of fried chicken so he could have more. Joe also said the turnip greens were some of the best he’s ever eaten.
Address: 69 Monroe Ave. (downtown)
Hours: Monday-Friday 11am-2pm
Lunchbox Eats ????
This was a new place for us. The Lunchbox Eats specializes in unique soulful sandwiches. It is located just a block south of the Fedex Forum, so it be a great little spot to try before heading to an afternoon basketball game or show.
Being a school teacher, I loved the “school house” theme of the Lunchbox Eats. When you enter, you have your choice of old classroom seats. Menus are printed on notebook paper, and dishes come to the table on cafeteria trays. So if you don’t like your food to touch, this is the place for you!
Since Joe and I were checking out the fried chicken we ordered the famous “Homeroom Chicken & Grids” which is deep-fried chicken in between two pieces of cheddar waffles and topped with muenster cheese for $8. Joe also had the avocado jo jos (fried avocado slices) and peach lemonade. A different flavored lemonade is served every day, so you never know what they’ll have!
We loved our chicken & waffles! The chicken was cooked perfectly, and the flavor of the waffles was unique and delicious! We were eyeing the other diner’s sandwiches, too (yum!) We’ll definitely be back.
Also Good: The lemonade, freshly squeezed with different flavors daily
Address: 288 S 4th St (downtown)
Hours: Monday-Saturday 10am-3pm
Miss Polly’s Soul City Cafe ???
Miss Polly’s is located right on Beale Street and great alternative if you aren’t in the mood for barbecue. This was one of the places we reviewed that gave us a good meal, but I wouldn’t make the drive just to eat here. We had the chicken platter that included a choice of 2 sides. We ordered the mac n’ cheese & turnip greens. The chicken bordered on being slightly overcooked but had good flavor. The mac was a little bland. I’m not a greens fan, but Joe thought they were really, really good. The fried green tomatoes–outstanding! If we’re on Beale and want some southern cooking, we’ll try them again.
Also good: The chicken and waffles, great for brunch!
Address: 154 Beale St. (downtown)
Hours: Sunday-Thurday 8am-10pm, Fridays 8am-3am & Saturdays 7am – 12am
Mot & Ed’s Southern Eatery ????
We found out about Mot & Ed’s through yelp.com. Located in Midtown, it wasn’t that difficult to stop in after work. Don’t let the bars over the windows deter you. We felt perfectly safe parking in the lot next to the restaurant. That’s not always the case with some of the dives we try out.
Two friendly ladies run the place, and although the service isn’t the fastest in the world, their friendly atmosphere makes the wait worth it! We had the fried chicken with two sides, greens & black-eyed peas with cornbread. Even though I prefer dark meat, all that was available during our visit was white meat. It was slightly dry, but the batter had nice seasoning. Joe loved his greens, not too salty, but plenty of delicious bacon flavors.
Also good: The angus stuffed burgers are a handful of greasy goodness!
Address: 1354 Madison Ave (Midtown)
Hours: Tuesday-Friday 11:30am-8pm & Saturday 1-8pm
Peggy’s Healthy Home Cooking ????
The menu at Peggy’s touts, “Where you can get a meal just like grandma use to make!” Well, my grandma couldn’t fry up chicken near as good as Peggy’s! The crust on the fried chicken is a bit thicker with a light peppery seasoning. The meat is juicy and plentiful, too! We tried both the white and dark meat. The white was just a tad drier than I prefer, but the dark meat was spot on.
Peggy’s is located in the historic Central Gardens area. We went for lunch both times we stopped in. The staff was super friendly without being bothersome. Each time there was a true variety of customers. When we dined on a Sunday, there were people coming from church, plus some construction workers. Everyone seemed to be regulars. I can see why. If we lived closer, we’d be regulars, too!
Also good: The yams! Oh my goodness, gracious they were so delicious.
Address: 326 S. Cleveland Ave (Midtown) We ate here & 3241 Elvis Presley Blvd (Whitehaven)
Hours: Tuesday-Thursday 11am-7pm, Friday 11am-9pm, Saturday 9am – 6pm (Whitehaven), Closed on Cleveland & Sunday 12pm – 6pm
* Fried Chicken is only served on Tuesdays.
Pho Binh ????
Now why or why would we list a Vietnamese as a good place for southern fried chicken? Well, because it’s good, and it’s cheap. Pho Binh has a lunch buffet that serves delicious Vietnamese food, but keep an eye on the kitchen. When you see the fried chicken being brought to the buffet, grab a plate and get in line quick! Regulars know to load up as soon as the chicken hits the line because as soon as it does, it’s gone!
From the outside of this strip mall dive, you’d never guess that it is so popular. But for $7.99, you get consistently all-you-can-eat good food. Nothing fancy, but just delicious, simple food. The fried chicken is mainly wings and drumsticks with a thick, super crunchy batter. Joe thinks it was corn starch batter. I thought it had sweet notes. Regardless, it has regulars coming to the lunch buffet on a daily basis.
Also Good: Everything else on the buffet! Be ready for some spicy kick!
Address: 1615 Madison Avenue (midtown)
Hours: 11-9pm, Saturday 12-9pm, Sundays closed
Southern Hands Family Dining ???
One of our friends recommended Southern Hands. I had never heard of it, so we had to give it a try. The location is in front of the nearly abandoned Hickory Ridge Mall, so I didn’t know what to expect inside. We were greeted with a warm smile, quickly seated, then our waiter immediately took our drink order. Joe and I split the fried chicken plate that was $10.99 for 1 breast, 2 wings, 2 sides, & 1 mini loaf of cornbread. Since we were splitting the meal, our nice waiter brought an additional cornbread loaf. This made Joe (the cornbread lover) a happy man!
Overall, the fried chicken was good with a thin, light peppery crust. We also ordered the fried green tomatoes as a starter. To me the breading on the tomatoes was too thick and crumbly.
Be forewarned, the blinds and ceiling tiles were pretty dirty, but the rest of the place was bright and cheery. I have no problem going to a dive, but I want any place where we eat food to be clean.
Also good: The cornbread had a nice buttery taste. I always prefer rolls over cornbread, but that didn’t stop me from nibbling on a loaf!
Address: 6025 Winchester Rd (southeast Memphis)
Hours: Monday-Saturday 11am-9pm & Sunday 11am-6pm
Uncle Lou’s ???
Uncle Lou’s is located between Graceland and the airport, so not the greatest area in Memphis. It’s in a little strip shopping center, so blink twice and you’ll miss it (like we did). We didn’t have any friends recommend Uncle Lou’s, but since it was high on Trip Advisor and has been featured on the Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-in, and Dives” (Where the Local’s Eat episode)and The Best Thing I Ever Ate (Hometown Favorites episode, we had to give it a try.
It is definitely a dive, but a clean dive which makes it acceptable in our book. You go up to the counter to place your order. If you need help, the staff is happy explain the menu and make recommendations. Joe and I spilt the 7-piece mixed (white & dark meat) combo with mild sauce. It came with 3 biscuits and 2 sides for $15.08. It ended up being way too much food for the 2 of us.
Let me tell you, if I hadn’t ordered the mild sauce, we would have probably ended up in the emergency room to repair the hole in my stomach. The mild sauce was hot enough for my taste. I had come in with a sinus headache, and the chicken cleared that right up! The chicken must be marinated in some hot spice before it is fried because when you bite into it, you can see the red has soaked all the way into the bone. The sauce that is poured on top is thin enough so that the chicken remains crispy. Overall, we probably won’t be back. It’s not that the chicken wasn’t good, the spiciness just isn’t our taste.
Also good: The biscuits, even warmed up the next day!
Address: 3633 Millbranch (south Memphis)
Hours: Monday-Thursday 11am-8pm, Friday-Saturday 11am-9pm, Sunday 12-6pm
There you have it –the ultimate Memphis fried chicken guide! What do you think of our list? We’d love to hear your thoughts. Please share by commenting below! We’d love to hear about any other fried chicken restaurants we should check out. Did we leave off your favorite?
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