If a place is known for its fried chicken, you order the fried chicken. End of discussion. Or... maybe there's a restaurant widely revered for its specialty but offers a dish that is mind-blowingly incongruent and yet so very delicious. You're going to want to try that too, right?
Fish Tacos at Elwood's Shack
Elwood's Shack is literally a shack adjacent to the Lowe's parking lot on Perkins near Summer. It's safe to say that it's the last place you'd expect to find a mighty fine fish taco. The Steelhead Trout Fish Tacos ($11) come two to a plate. An eight-inch tortilla is baked with mozzarella to form the taco shell, and because the cheese coats the entire tortilla, it tastes as though the trout is wrapped in a crispy, deliciously gooey quesadilla. (Look out, Taco Bell!) Steelhead trout is a fish that spends part of its life in the ocean and can grow up to 55 pounds. The meat is very pink, and the flavor is not at all fishy. The trout is topped with fresh field greens, avocado, pico de gallo, and a creamy horseradish sauce. It's really quite amazing. And filling. I have no idea how anyone could eat two. Sides are sold separately, so definitely hold off on those or get someone to share.
Elwood's Shack, 4523 Summer (761-9898)
Hamburger at Jack Pirtle's
Clearly Jack Pirtle's is known for their chicken, as they should be, but they also cook up a damn fine burger. The Old Fashioned Grilled Hamburger is not fancy, and it doesn't need to be. All of the basics are there — a nice-sized patty (grilled to perfection), crispy iceberg lettuce, thick cut raw onion, thinly sliced tomato, generous pickle slices, lots of mayo, and tangy mustard. The kicker is the buttered and grilled bun. (Butter = love.) It's reminiscent of the kind of burger you'd order late at night in a bar, but it's available all day long and you don't need a buzz to think it tastes good! And for $2.79, it's a steal. With prices that low, you'll want to order a side of fries to dip in their signature gravy. Go ahead, get a little chicken too. Put it the fridge and eat it later.
Jack Pirtle's Chicken, 1370 Poplar
Tamales at Dino's
The tamales at Dino's are listed under "Italian specialties" on the menu, but they are made in South Memphis especially for the restaurant. They come plain, with chili, or "3 way" ($7.95) — with chili and spaghetti. Of course, I had to go with the latter. The 3-way tamales definitely fall under the "Things I never thought I'd eat sober" category. Although, honestly, they may in fact be the perfect hangover food. The tamales themselves are tender, meaty, and pack a nice, spicy punch. Four of them serve as a base for the spaghetti and chili (a combination known as spaghetti red). You can't eat chili without cheese and onions, so it's like three meals in one. Dino's chili isn't far off from its traditional sauce (aka gravy). I'd bet they just add some beans to it. Whatever they do, I like it. There's enough tomato-y goodness to get a traditional spaghetti fix with the noodles and enough bean action to get the full-on chili experience. It is way too easy to eat way too much of this!
Dino's Grill, 645 N McLean (278-9127)