Local Flavor Edition in Memphis, TN
Located in a former garage in a blue collar neighborhood between Midtown and Soulsville, Payne's Bar-B-Q might be off the beaten path, but the signature dish -- a chopped shoulder sandwich, served mild or hot -- is indubitably the best-tasting bargain in town. Diced with a cleaver into flavorful cubes, then slapped between two pieces of hamburger bun and topped with tangy cole slaw that's an unearthly shade of chartreuse, the humble chopped pork shoulder is elevated to ambrosial status. Even better: A full lunch of sandwich, bag of chips, and cold Coke will set you back a mere four bucks and change.
The Mediterranean meets the Middle East at this popular Midtown lunch counter, situated in the back of a beer-and-cigarettes bodega. Most diners call in orders, but you're welcome to linger over such delicacies as Bi Bim Bop (rice, greens, mushrooms, and carrots topped with a fried egg) or Korean dumplings at a table inside the no-frills convenience store. If you're hungry enough, go for a spicy muffaletta -- this version of the New Orleans specialty is big enough for a family of four -- or sample overstuffed vegetarian pita sandwiches like the Bleeding Heart or the more subtly titled Veggie Delight. Be sure to check out the other clientele -- Ardent Studios, where the Raconteurs, Bob Dylan, and Huey Lewis have recently recorded, is located right across the street, and superstars have been known to cross Madison for a quick bite.
Most of the city's Hispanic population has settled into onto the northern side of East Memphis, hence the name "New Spain." Drive down Summer Avenue between Graham and White Station, and you'll see dozens of tiendas, taquerias, and Mexican cafes. Many are of the fly-by-night category, which is why we have to recommend Guadalupana as the most established of the lot. Expect traditional working class fare, ranging from authentic huevos rancheros to spicy menudo. Tortas (Mexican sandwiches) and tacos are bargain-priced, with protein options running the gamut from familiar (chicken and pork) to exotic (goat and tongue). Wash it down with a glass of horchata, a rice and almond flavored drink, or a bottle of Jarritos soda, imported from south of the border.
This cafe, located on the ground floor of a former Masonic Temple rehabbed as a non-profit cultural center, serves as a catalyst for change for the Binghampton community. Manned by chef Erik Waldkirch, a Culinary Institute of America-trained caterer, and his staff, a healthy mix of longtime locals and transplanted refugees, the restaurant's mission is many-fold: Caritas Village provides healthy food options, like grilled salmon salad and piping hot turkey paninis. It serves as a culinary training ground for young chefs looking for an opportunity to work in a professional kitchen, and much of the food is grown in neighborhood garden plots that have sprung up in recent years. Go to fill your stomach, but expect to leave with your heart and soul nourished via the myriad educational programs and art exhibitions that are an indelible part of the Caritas Village experience.
New Orleans' loss was our gain when Gary Williams came north in the post-Katrina migration. A talented chef who hails from the fabled Lower Ninth Ward, Williams took out a lease on a small building just south of the Downtown Memphis skyline a few years ago. Thanks to his trick bag of Creole soul food specialties, which run the gamut from alligator stew and crawfish Etouffee to the best-tasting oyster po boy you'll find this side of I-1o, and a wide range of vegan offerings (think mock chicken salad and curry cabbage-stuffed veggie rolls), Williams and his crew often have a crowd of hungry fans lined up outside six days a week. Be patient -- Williams' bread pudding with whiskey sauce is well worth the wait.