Looking for a solid destination for your next date night or a restaurant with an enchanting ambiance (and low decibel level) for a long-overdue dinner with your nearest and dearest? You’re in luck! Memphis is home to an array of beloved local restaurants with phenomenal menus, top chef talent, and an incredible atmosphere to boot. Here are just a few to put into your rotation.
5 Beloved Intimate Restaurants in Memphis
50 Harbor Town Square, Memphis, TN 38103 • (901) 260-3300
Hours: Monday through Thursday, 7 a.m. to 10 a.m., 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday, 7 a.m. to 10 a.m., 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., and 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.; Saturday, 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.; Sunday, 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Iconic and charming, Paulette’s has been the go-to spot for romantic dinners, intimate celebrations, and marriage proposals in the Bluff City since it first opened in the mid-1970s. Whether popping the big question to a special someone or ringing in an anniversary, its elegant ambiance invites closeness. After calling Overton Square home for 37 years, owner George Falls moved his French-inspired culinary institution to the River Inn of Harbor Town overlooking the Mighty Mississippi on Mud Island.
Swing by Paulette’s Little Bar for a glass of vino from its acclaimed wine list and enjoy music from the baby grand in the adjoining lobby on weekend nights. Then head over to its European-style dining room for a mouthwatering menu of steak, chicken, and seafood dishes served with panache and decadent desserts like their to-die-for Kahlua-mocha parfait (better known as the K-pie). Paulette’s cozy tables with a sunset view of the river make the perfect backdrop for a special evening out — the kind that, as you polish off a slice of Key lime pie or a signature strawberry crepe, neither of you will want to end.
RELATED: Your Updated Guide to Harbor Town
212 N. Evergreen Street, Memphis, TN 38112 • (901) 722-2177
Hours: Monday, 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.; Tuesday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.; Saturday, 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.; closed Sunday
Located in the Evergreen historic district in Midtown, Café Society channels the romance of a Paris sidewalk cafe with its casual yet cosmopolitan feel. Serving up the unpretentious fare of the French countryside, the cafe opened in 1987 under the guidance of Belgium-born chef Michel Leny, who based the bistro-style restaurant on the renowned Maxim’s de Paris, where his father was once a chef.
Cullen Kent, a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, has since taken the reins, mixing Belgian influences with modern American cuisine in inventive beef, veal, chicken, and seafood presentations. Dine on the patio to soak up the neighborhood vibe like a true Parisian, or snag a quiet table indoors for a more tranquil setting. Sample from a simple but classic menu featuring extensive wines, soups du jour, and scrumptious appetizers like bacon-wrapped shrimp, roasted oysters, and crispy Brussels sprouts. From the seafood bisque to the crème brûlée, each course is the perfect accompaniment to a heartfelt conversation over dinner with a loved one.
2146 Monroe Avenue, Memphis, TN 38104 • (901) 590-2828
Hours: Thursday through Saturday, 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.; closed Sunday through Wednesday
For a casual-chic dining experience with an adventure for your palate, there is no choice but Restaurant Iris, which locals and visitors alike consistently rank among the top fine dining establishments in Memphis. Housed in a picturesque Queen Anne-style bungalow near Midtown’s historic Overton Square, the flagship restaurant of Kelly English, New Orleans native and James Beard Award finalist, offers low-key ambiance and a rotating menu of fresh and seasonal ingredients. Chef English infuses his creativity and passion for both French-Creole and Southern cuisines into flavorful dishes sure to tantalize your taste buds — from starters like the lobster “Knuckle” sandwich to melt-in-your-mouth entrees like the seared duck breast with glazed carrots and greens.
The bar menu is diverse with a mix of wines, after-dinner drinks, and cleverly named handcrafted cocktails like Strawberry Fields, a vodka strawberry lemonade concoction with sprigs of locally grown basil. Expect stellar service and an atmosphere that’s a feast for the eyes with cushy dining nooks and walls adorned in local art. Top off the evening with a luscious dessert (we recommend the peanut butter and chocolate bread pudding) and dream about your next foodie adventure.
Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen
712 West Brookhaven Circle, Memphis, TN 38117• (901) 347-3569
Hours: Tuesday through Saturday, 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.; closed Sunday and Monday
Craving Italian food served over candlelight? Look no further than Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen. This East Memphis gem, located in Brookhaven Circle, is a perennial crowd-pleaser with its handmade pastas, hearty seafood and game entrees, and warm, inviting allure. The first restaurant opened by serial restaurateurs Andrew Ticer and Michael Hudman — lifelong Memphians from big Italian families — Andrew Michael has earned recognition from the James Beard Foundation as well as publications like Southern Living for its innovative Italian dishes served with Southern flare.
Ticer and Hudman both trained at the Italian Culinary Institute in Calabria, Italy, and are highly recognized in their own right as James Beard Award nominees and recipients of Food & Wine magazine’s “Best New Chefs” award in 2013. Andrew Michael’s menu changes often to utilize locally sourced produce, cheese and meats, but the must-try signature menu items include the potato gnocchi and the ravioli. (SB TIP: Come at happy hour for drink and pasta specials).
The A/M Italian breakfast — creamy polenta with pork belly, a poached egg, and pork rinds — is also a winner. On warmer nights, dine al fresco on the patio under a softly lit pergola, split a dessert, and savor the fragrant blooms in the adjoining garden.
1044 South Yates Road, Memphis, TN 38119 • (901) 763-3700
Hours: Monday through Saturday, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Sunday, 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Tucked away in an inconspicuous corner off an East Memphis side street, Erling Jensen isn’t the most obvious pick for a date night or nice dinner on the town, but it should be. This Bluff City staple has kept locals coming back for more than 25 years thanks to its reasonably priced gourmet plates and the discerning palate of its namesake chef and owner. Since opening his eponymous restaurant in 1996, Erling, a Denmark native and European-trained chef known as a founding father of the Memphis fine dining scene, has drawn accolades from the James Beard Foundation, Food & Wine, Southern Living, and Virtual Gourmet, among others.
Erling Jensen’s dining room is small and intimate, but its menu is broad, with a wide selection of starters, salads, seafood, and wild game. Opt for the chef’s tasting menu to enjoy a five-course sample of the latest dishes in season, along with complimentary wine pairings. Or check out the extensive bar menu, which offers small-plate versions of entrees as well as longtime favorites like the bison burger and flatbread pizza. And don’t forget to save room for dessert! Erling Jensen is famous around town for its chocolate soufflé and house-made sorbets.
Happy dining, Memphis!
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