The Frugal Foodie's Guide

Great local eats for under $20|$15|$10

Trolley Stop Market

Justin Fox Burks

There's a food revolution afoot and it's all about access, access, access. Good food at good prices means that the days of cloth-napkin exclusivity are behind us. From the cool culinary clique in Cooper-Young, to the dark-horse dishes outside the city core, we welcome you to the era of the frugal foodie.

Photography by Justin Fox Burks


Stuffed Quail | $14

Sweet Grass opened last spring and ever since it's been a star of the restaurant scene. Its menu is divided into categories of small, medium, and large plates, which makes tailoring your meal to your appetite and your pocketbook that much easier. Most of the medium-sized plates are large enough to serve as a full meal, and all come in under $20— some, like the Stuffed Quail with Cracklin' Cornbread, Grilled Radicchio, Bleu Cheese Cream and Pickled Beets, even under $15. Sweet Grass' Coastal Carolina food has been an instant success among epicurean Memphians, combining a Southern taste for home-style food with an elegant flair and coastal twist. No wonder they were voted "Best New Restaurant" in this year's Best of Memphis issue of the Memphis Flyer. 937 S. Cooper. 278-0278

Izakaya | $2-$6 per item

Tsunami is a staple on Cooper-Young's trendy restaurant row. Chef Ben Smith recently introduced a menu of Asian tapas known as izakaya and it's perfect for the economical nibbler. Samples include Asian Nachos with crispy won ton chips, tuna tataki, fresh jalapeno, cilantro crema, and sriracha $6; Bacon-wrapped Dates with sweet chile dipping sauce $3; Seaweed and Cucumber Salad $3; Wasabi Peas $2; Crawfish Cake with Sambal Remoulade $4; Chilled Sesame Noodles $4; and Wasabi Deviled Eggs $4. Of course, they've also got a menu of small plates for the entree-inclined, and you can easily get by under $20 that way, too. 928 S. Cooper. 274-2556

Shrimp and Scallop Linguine | $19

The Majestic Grille has a nice range of prices for its sophisticated menu. The shrimp and scallop linguine, served with roasted tomato cream, asparagus, and red peppers, is a nice price for date night, but their signature flatbreads are equally delicious for the casual, thrifty diner. They can serve as appetizers, but with a side salad make a perfect meal. Try the duck confit flatbread, with caramelized onions, sun-dried cranberries, mixed greens, garlic olive oil, and goat cheese. 145 S. Main. 522-8555

Fried Green Tomato and Crab Napoleon, $16.95

Though they revise their menu seasonally, the Grove Grill has held on to this small-plate entrée through a few rounds of changes. One look at the crispy fried tomato and crab layers served with lemon hollandaise and tomato vinaigrette, it's not hard to see why. In addition to this culinary gem, the Grove Grill offers a rib-eye cap steak with herb-pecorino fries and sautéed mushrooms for $18.95, and wood-grilled yellow fin tuna with avocado salsa and mango coulis for $17.95. 4550 Poplar. 818-9951


Large, 4-piece Catfish Basket | $12.25

Crispy-fried catfish is a celebrated guest at every Southern table, flanked with golden French fries and those little fried orbs of ambrosia we call hushpuppies. Soul Fish knows this well: Every day they dish out catfish, fried or blackened, and any number of delightful accompaniments, from spicy Cajun cabbage to garlic Parmesan broccoli. Catfish not your thing? Try the Cuban sandwich for a change of pace. Soul Fish's cool retro decor and the sensible price tag keep Memphians coming back. (Just be careful where you park; the prime parking spots next door are a guaranteed trip to the impound lot. Then again, you'll always have a few leftover hushpuppies to keep you company.) 862 S. Cooper. 725-0722

Kee Mao | $12.25

Situated in an elegant house on Peabody, Bhan Thai is a great place for a romantic meal that won't leave you penniless. Start with the favorite Bhan Thai toast — toast topped with ground shrimp and chicken, fried to perfection, and served with a cucumber salad. Or grab an order of Tiger Cry, tender beef served with homemade hot sauce. Follow it up with the Kee Mao, a spicy fried noodle dish served with beef, basil leaves, bean sprouts, egg, carrots, bell peppers, and Bhan Thai's Secret Sauce. Tofu can be substituted for many of the entrees for vegetarian and vegan friends. Be sure to visit on the weekend for live music on the patio. 1324 Peabody. 272-1538

Appetizer Sampler | $11.95

When Eurostyle opened up last May, they filled a much-needed niche for Eastern European food in Memphis. The appetizer sampler gives a perfect demonstration of just what we've been missing: Pelmeni (meat dumplings with sour cream), Vareniki (potato onion dumplings), Mushroom Julienne, Smoked Salmon Sandwiches with honey mustard and bell peppers, and Eggplant a la Hugo (baked eggplant with cucumber, tomato, and fresh dill). 6534 Quince Rd. 737-7593

Brushmark Peanut Soup, $4, Crepe of the day, $9

Lunch at the Brushmark is one of Memphis' best treats. Not only does the restaurant benefit from the cultivated surroundings of the Brooks Museum and a vista of shady Overton Park, but the menu is refined and well priced, which makes lunch there a perfect afternoon interlude. There are plenty of affordable lunch options, but the combination of Brushmark specialty soup, African peanut, and their crepe of the day served with a side salad, is an epicurean's delight.  1934 Poplar. 544-6225


BBQ Nachos | $8.39

It may not be the traditional style of Memphis barbecue, but Central's BBQ nachos are the best of their breed, combining a Memphis favorite with a beloved Tex Mex dish. For a small additional cost, you can substitute turkey, chicken, or beef for the pulled pork, but purists know the pulled pork reigns supreme. For the price, these nachos are the perfect casual meal to savor or share on the Central BBQ patio. 2249 Central Ave. 272-9377 | 4375 Summer Ave. 767-4672

Grilled Pimento Cheese | $8

Ben Vaughn's Au Fond is a favorite lunch spot for the locavores of Cooper-Young and beyond. The grilled pimento cheese sandwich takes a Southern lady's standard to a savory new level, served with a heap of delightfully thin pommes frites. (Also check out their Mexican cokes — a foodie classic — in the old glass bottles and made with real sugar.)  938 S. Cooper. 274-8513

Colossus Burger | $8

Three Angels Diner's gourmet diner food at diner prices is a perfect anchor for the Broad Avenue arts district on the rise. The Colossus Burger is a particular masterpiece: A half-pound burger with bacon, melted smoked gouda, crispy fried onions, slaw, tomato, pickle, and garlic mayo, served with delectable homemade chips. And the fact that it's open until 2 a.m. Tuesday through Sunday? It's almost too good to be true. 2617 Broad Ave. 452-1111

Pizza Slice | $2.50-$3.50

Made from hand-tossed, house-made dough, Jillbilly's pizza pies are a great example of how locally sourced ingredients make good food better. Fresh veggie and meat toppings make these slices — which are big enough to constitute a meal — a smart cheap eat choice.  704 Madison. 526-1361

Chicken 65 | $4.45

Maharaja Cafe's Chicken 65 is definitely worth the drive. These crunchy, spicy morsels of fried chicken are topped with onion, cilantro, and lemon. They are listed as an appetizer, but there's enough for an entree and once you try it, you might just find yourself ordering a second plate — and still come in under $10.  4273 American Way. 366-5555

Pho | $5.99

For a large (and we mean large) bowl of this Vietnamese specialty soup, the $5.99 price tag seems almost criminal. Add to that the fact that it's some of the best pho around, and you've got a frugal foodie favorite. Finish it off with Dua Xiem — fresh coconut meat on ice for $3. 2946 Poplar Ave. 458-1644

The San Diegan | $9.95

This open-faced omelet is endorsed by Rachel Ray, but even without the star power, Brother Juniper's would hold its own as the primo breakfast spot in Memphis. The San Diegan (with portabella mushrooms, tomatoes, bacon, green onions, feta, cheddar cheese, sour cream and home fries) is a model of Brother Juniper's-style breakfast. Add in their baked goods and vegan and vegetarian options, and you've got a steal of a meal. 3519 Walker Ave. 324-0144

Sliders | $7.99 for three

Don't be fooled by the tavern label, Bardog is a favorite spot for Memphians to grab a bite. Their sliders come in the original beef and cheese variety, all beef hotdogs with tangy relish and cheese, and fried egg with bacon and cheese, and are served with a hearty helping of french fries.   73 Monroe. 275-8752

3 piece Dark Meat plate | $5.25

There's a reason Front Street becomes sheer chaos during the lunch hour, and it has everything to do with a little chicken shack named Gus's. Some of the best fried chicken you'll ever be blessed enough to eat comes from the folks at Gus's: It's spicy, crispy, juicy, and made fresh to order. 310 S. Front. 527-4877; 215 S. Center St. (Collierville). 853-6005; 2965 N. Germantown Pkwy. (Cordova). 373-9111; 505 Highway 70 W., Mason, TN



The Ninja | $5.59 

When Kwik Chek closed its doors this summer, a wave of fans stepped up to save the day. And while it wasn't necessary (they opened again later that day) the sentiment was duly noted: Memphians need their Kwik Chek. Who can blame us? With ingredients like turkey, roast beef, Swiss cheese, bell pepper, onion, mushroom, lettuce, sprouts, oriental sauce and spice, and names like The Ninja, Bloody Valentine, and Hey Zeus, they've branded their style of cheap eats forever.  2013 Madison Ave. 274-9293

The Fino | $6 

The Hill is an Italian enclave in St. Louis that boasts some remarkable Italian eats. Fortunately, we've got our own offshoot on Madison Avenue. Fino's has the best Italian lunch menu in Memphis, hands down, and as far as sandwiches go, it's tough to beat the Fino: salami, provolone, olive dressing on fresh Italian bread. You don't need a lot of bells and whistles when the basics are this good. 1853 Madison Ave. 272-3466

Super Sub | $5.39 

Also known as the Chinese Sub Shop because its menu offers both subs and chinese food, the Super Submarine Sandwich Shop on Highland makes a mean sub for a sweet price. The Super Sub is the ultimate experience, with bologna, turkey, salami, ham, and cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, mayonnaise, mustard, and Italian dressing. Get it on hard (toasted) or soft bread and grab a bag of Golden Flake chips for 50 cents. 614 South Highland St. 324-3728

Falafel | $4.95

Wrapped in a warm pita, crispy falafel from Sean's Cafe comes topped with the traditional tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers, and tahini sauce. It's a midtown favorite, along with the fresh smoothies and vegan options at Balewa's Vegan Gourmet station. When you've got a lech for Middle Eastern to-go, Sean's should be the first place on your radar.  1651 Union Ave. 274-3917

The South Main Club | $7.95

There are few foodie pleasures in life as reliably fresh and cheap as a Frank's Deli sandwich. They smoke their own turkey, and pile it on high with chicken, ham, applewood smoked bacon, cheddar cheese, lettuce and tomato on a toasted whole wheat bread. The portions aren't small either — I've been known to make two meals out of a Frank's sandwich. That is, if I can bear to put it down. 327 S. Main St. 523-0101

Tortuga de Carnitas Mexico City | $9.95

Las Tortugas is authentic Mexican cuisine and they won't hear anyone say any different. They use fresh ingredients to make their famous tortas, as in the Tortuga de Carnitas made with Mexican barbecue pork and served on grilled, hand-made bread with fresh avocado, and fresco cheese. Tacos are served on homemade, soft corn tortillas, and garnished with avocado, lime, cilantro, sweet onion and spicy salsa tayde. 1215 S. Germantown Rd. 751-1200

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