Memphians are becoming more discerning diners. How do we know? In the past decade or so, as the number of ethnic-cuisine categories has grown, the number of readers who write in "gross" or "don't eat that" has shrunk.
One other aspect of the voting worth mentioning: "Best Barbecue" received the most votes of any category on this year's ballot. Priorities (and wet naps), right?
John Bragg, Circa
Jose Gutierrez, Encore
Erling Jensen, Erling Jensen, the Restaurant
It's true: Good things do come in threes. This trio of popular restaurateurs — two downtown and one in East Memphis — divvied up the ballots for "Best Chef," with no one winning a clear majority. Which, when you think about it, means three times as much prize-winning food for Memphis diners.
BOM 1. Huey's
Hey, guess what? Huey's won "Best Burger." Again. The late Thomas Boggs' culinary and civic legacy exemplifies the very Best of Memphis and always will.
3. Cracker Barrel
Brother Juniper's isn't a big place. It's tucked away near the Highland Strip, where no chain restaurant could survive. And it's not easy to get a table on weekend mornings. That's because Brother Juniper's offers delicious homemade breads, breakfasts your mother never had the nerve to make, and a unique yet familiar charm.
Best Romantic Restaurant
Feel like makin' whoopee? Well, don't try it at Paulette's. The other diners will get upset. But as a romantic prelude to makin' whoopee? Flyer readers say you can't go wrong at the little white restaurant on Madison. And don't forget dessert.
Best Sunday Brunch
3. Peabody Skyway
Owen Brennan's Sunday brunch offers six serving stations — one each for salad, seafood, bread, prepared entrées, cooked-to-order entrées, and dessert. Most brunch customers don't eat again until Tuesday.
Best Wine List
Le Chardonnay crossed Madison Avenue this year, taking up larger quarters in the former Square Foods building. But they kept the great wine list and added a big fireplace. Don't worry. It's still dark as heck, perfect for a quiet rendezvous.
Flyer readers are nothing if not loyal, and Folk's Folly not winning "Best Steak" would be rare to medium-rare. It doesn't take a medium to predict another meal well done by this East Memphis institution.
1. Central BBQ
Central BBQ has elbowed its way into the upper tier of Memphis barbecue joints. And that's fast company, indeed.
3. Central BBQ
Rendezvous takes the top prize for ribs again. After 60 years of luring diners down the best-smelling alley in the world to savor the ultimate Memphis dining experience, what else would you expect?
Best Hot Wings
1. Buffalo Wild Wings
3. Central BBQ
Buffaloes are to wings what Chicken of the Sea is to tuna. Or something. We know buffaloes don't have wings, but Buffalo Wild Wings does, and they're really good.
Best Fried Chicken
BOM 1. Gus's Fried Chicken
2. Popeye's Chicken & Biscuits
Smoky, crispy, explode-in-your-mouth fried chicken is the trademark of this Memphis-area restaurant. Well, that, and red-check tablecloths, cold iced tea, friendly help, and big lunch crowds.
Bayou Bar & Grill may have moved to a new location on Madison Avenue, but this popular Midtown eatery and watering hole hasn't budged from its number-one position in the mouths and minds of Flyer readers. You can still waste a beautiful day on the patio sipping beer (or café au lait) while nibbling at a perfect po' boy sandwich or scarfing down a bowl of alligator chili. Just don't forget the beignets.
1. Yia Yia's
At first glance, one might wonder why Memphians picked Yia Yia's as their favorite Mediterranean restaurant. The menu boasts dishes like Idaho rainbow trout and fresh Atlantic salmon, which are, by definition, not Mediterranean. But despite some American main courses, Yia Yia's menu is inspired by the cuisines of Italy, Spain, Greece, and France. It's a place where you can have perfect gnocchi with your Cobb salad or nosh on duck confit with polenta while waiting for your flank steak.
2. Beauty Shop
The crème brûlée is fine, the Bavarian apple strudel is special, and the hot-chocolate crepe is wicked. But the K-Pie (aka Kahlúa-Mocha Parfait Pie), a gigantic wedge of coffee ice cream in a coconut-pecan crust topped with fresh whipped cream and Kahlúa, is a rite of passage.
What's so great about Ronnie Grisanti & Sons? Imagine a grilled Bartlett pear drizzled with balsamic vinaigrette and topped with toasted walnuts and Gorgonzola cheese. Follow that salad with a potato-crusted salmon in cipollini-onion butter. Wash it all down with an Italian red as dark and chewy as licorice raisins. That's what's special.
2. Taqueria La Guadalupana
El Porton is like the Mexican Huey's. It's fast, affordable, and consistently delicious — and with enough locations to ensure that no matter where you are, there's always a margarita close by.
Monolithic horse sculptures, expertly mixed martinis, and Chengdu spiced lamb tossed with cumin and mint. What else do you want?
1. Bhan Thai
Bhan Thai is coziness personified. The curries are exquisite, and the Singha is always ice-cold. Bhan Thai is veggie-friendly too.
1. Pho Saigon
2. Saigon Le
3. Pho Hoa Binh
The spring rolls are nine-months pregnant with basil-wrapped shrimp. The flavorful noodle soups are as delicious as they are enormous. Pho Saigon is a no-frills operation with a vast, reasonably priced menu. The emphasis here is entirely on the food.
Whimsy, flavor, and lots of locations make Sekisui Memphis' favorite sushi bar. The eel-stuffed, mango-topped Pikachu roll is appropriately cute — and it kicks tail.
1. India Palace
2. Golden India
3. Bombay House
Two words: gulab jamun. After gorging on a lunch buffet of tandoori chicken, lamb korma, and a half-dozen samosas, there is always room for gulab jamun, those juicy syrup-soaked balls.
Best Home Cooking/Soul Food
1. The Cupboard
2. Soul Fish
The fried green tomatoes and the divine cheese- and cracker-crumb-laden eggplant casserole at the Cupboard are truly good for your soul.
3. The Cupboard
Is it really fair to let Wild Oats, soon to be finally renamed Whole Foods, compete in this category? It's the definitive whole-foods megastore for Memphis, and everywhere else, for that matter.
BOM 1. Dish
Sometimes it's better to graze than to eat a huge meal. At Dish, the tapas menu features all sorts of yumminess, such as a Japanese pickle assortment with seasonal cheeses, wild mushrooms and goat-cheese wontons, and broiled scallops over edamame hummus.
With a menu featuring delightful dishes such as seared sea scallops with grilled pineapple salsa and cornmeal-crusted halibut with gazpacho vinaigrette, Tsunami once again placed first for "Best Seafood." It looks like Flyer readers love sake-steamed mussels in Thai red-curry sauce, crispy calamari with chipotle aïoli, and ... uh, we'll be back ... it's time to eat.
BOM 1. Memphis Pizza Café
Once again, readers say the best place for a mouthwatering slice is Memphis Pizza Café. Offering more than your typical slice of pepperoni with cheese, it's the place to go for an out-of-the-ordinary and out-of-this-world pizza pie.
In a repeat win, the deli to take the cake in '08 is Fino's. Offering soups, cannoli, and tasty vegetarian and meaty subs in the heart of Midtown, there's something delicious for everyone.
Best Bargain Dining
Everyone enjoys great meals on the cheap — especially when gas and groceries have reached their highest prices in years. Though voting was too close to call on this one, apparently Flyer readers like huge burgers and bar food, quick deli sandwiches, thrifty Vietnamese meals, and 79-cent tacos.
Maybe it's because they have Sundays off. But there's always a smiling face behind the register at Chick-Fil-A when you want one of those tasty chicken sandwiches. And their drive-thru is pretty fast and efficient too.
Best Waiter/ Waitress
Michele Fields, Calhoun's Sports Bar
Jeffrey Frisby, Restaurant Iris
Tyler Lloyd, Mollie Fontaine Lounge
Chris Owens, Café Society
Everyone appreciates great service. Though voting in this category was too close to call, these people obviously do a great job serving up tasty food and drinks to their customers.
Best Kid-Friendly Restaurant
1. Chuck E. Cheese
Think about it: Kids love Chuck E. Cheese. Whether they are afraid of the giant man-mouse or not, kids run wild playing games like Whac-a-Mole and Skee-Ball, and they love to bury themselves in the big ball pit after eating pizza.
Best Late-Night Dining
CK's Coffee Shop
It looks like Flyer readers are satisfying late-night munchies with burgers, bar food, and breakfast. Whether it is fresh, hot, small, and square or covered with caramelized onions, burgers can generally kick a late-night craving. And who doesn't love waffles, bacon, and eggs after a few too many beers or a long night of studying?
Best Place for People-Watching
2. Beale Street
3. Young Avenue Deli — tie — The Peabody
Maybe it's the hot girls in plaid skirts or the huge selection of beer. Or maybe it's the prime location in Peabody Place one block over from Beale, where a constant stream of tourists wanders to and fro. Whatever the case, the Flying Saucer downtown is the best place to sit back and people-watch.
3. Café Ole
Located in the heart of Cooper-Young, Celtic Crossing's patio always has been a popular outdoor spot. With a newly revamped enclosed patio, the comfort level for dining and drinking was taken up a few notches, and Memphis likes the change.
Best Place That Delivers
Some days you don't want to leave your couch. When hunger strikes, Memphians love a tasty "Sam I Am," a hot roast-beef sandwich, or a California pita delivered right to their door. Oh, and don't forget a side of Young Avenue Deli's famous fries. It's quick and easy, and there aren't any pots and pans to wash.
1. La Baguette
3. Fresh Market — tie — Brother Juniper's
Take a handful of local food lovers, add a dash of entrepreneurship, et voila! C'est magnifique! C'est délicieux! C'est La Baguette. High school French aside, readers love the traditional French pastries, breads, and croissants available near the main library on Poplar. After 25 years of bringing Continental confections to Memphis, La Baguette is still a favorite.
Best Local Coffeehouse
3. Java Cabana
The aptly named High Point Coffee gives Flyer readers a nice alternative to that big, corporate coffee shop which shall remain nameless. With a wide selection of coffees, teas, and eats, High Point also has the environment of a warm, neighborhood coffee shop. Local art, Wi-Fi, and comfy chairs add to the ambience.
From the regional fusion food at McEwen's and the Majestic to the Continental flair of Erling Jensen and Circa to the fantastic seafood at Tsunami, our readers like to keep their options — and mouths — open.
Best New Restaurant
1. Restaurant Iris
2. Café Eclectic
3. Elfo's — tie — Muddy's Bake Shop
With a chef who hails from southern Louisiana, the authentic Creole cuisine at Restaurant Iris makes our readers' mouths water. It could be chef Kelly English's experience at the Culinary Institute of America and cooking in Spain and France. It could be the design of the restaurant by Memphis native Jackie Glisson, winner of HGTV's Designers' Challenge. Or maybe it's that the restaurant serves the tastiest "knuckle sandwich" you'll ever eat.