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Birmingham’s Best Bites: Some of Our Favorite Places and Southern Fare for Visitors

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By Susan Swagler
Special to The Birmingham Times

Birmingham has grown into one of the country’s top food destinations, routinely making numerous national “Best” lists (pizza, ‘que, ice cream, cocktails and more) and turning out a number of Food Network competitors and James Beard Foundation Award finalists and winners.

Want barbecue? We have some of the country’s best. Need a place to gather a group and eat something tasty? We’ve got you covered. Want to sample Southern dishes like collard greens, grits, or fried chicken or catfish? We’ll point you in the right direction and introduce you to the Magic City’s unique take on the classic meat and three—the Greek and three.

Here are some of our favorite places for Birmingham’s best bites. A few of these are new; others have been around for generations. Some are local hidden gems; others you might have seen on television. It was hard to narrow the choices down, but these places are where we go to eat, where we take friends when we want to show off our remarkable culinary scene. To give you more backstory about our choices, we didn’t include addresses and hours of operation here. That’s what Google is for!

There’s something for every taste in Birmingham, and we sincerely hope you will enjoy eating around our Magic City!

BARBECUE

Alabama is known for its vinegar-and-tomato take on the traditional “mother sauce,” and every restaurant does sauce differently. Then there’s our creamy Alabama white sauce, too. You’ll want to try both kinds.

SMOKE Bistro in the Pizitz Food Hall is owned by executive chef Raquel Ervin, who has been on a number of Food Network and Cooking Channel shows. Chef Raquel started her business catering and then opened her popular Eat at Panoptic food truck followed by SLIDE cafe. This newest venture features a variety of barbequed meats and delicious sides. Consider the slow-smoked (12-hour) beef brisket with her traditional barbecue sauce or the marinated chargrilled chicken thighs tossed in a white barbecue sauce. She also serves thick-cut Conecuh sausage. Get any of this on a sandwiches or plate. And her five-cheese mac and cheese has won numerous awards.

Full Moon Bar-B-Que, with locations all over town, does an excellent pork sandwich with a signature chow-chow. The vinegary slaw is one of the “100 Dishes to Eat in Alabama,” so is the Half Moon Cookie.

Go to one of several Saw’s BBQ locations for that Alabama white sauce on smoked chicken. (Men’s Journal named Saw’s the “Best Barbecue in America.”) Menus vary by location. Look for the Pork n’ Greens (on grits) and cross off several bucket-list foods at once.

Rodney Scott’s Whole Hog BBQ started in Charleston, SC, but Birmingham eats it up. Rodney, who cooked his first hog at age 11, won the Best Chef Southeast James Beard Award in 2018. He has two locations in Birmingham—Avondale and Homewood. Go there for pit-cooked pork served open-face on white bread with Rod’s sauce or the pulled chicken with his white sauce or some tender, tasty beef brisket.

Dreamland Bar-B-Que is downright iconic—smoking pork spareribs over hickory and serving them with plain white bread for generations. Another of the “100 Dishes to Eat in Alabama,” there “ain’t nothing like ‘em nowhere.”

Rusty’s Bar-B-Q in Leeds is a mom-and-pop shop with some truly tasty hickory-smoked pit barbecue. Food & Wine named Rusty’s “one of the best BBQ spots in the state.” The deviled eggs and the banana pudding should be on your list of things to eat.

Try the barbecue pork sandwich and the pies at Bob Sykes Bar-B-Q (in business since 1957). Get some tasty ‘que and sample the famous cheese biscuits at Jim ‘N Nick’s Community Bar-B-Q. (You can take that biscuit mix home as a souvenir, too.) And give Miss Myra’s Pit Bar-B-Q a try. It’s in Cahaba Heights. They’ve been smoking butts since 1984. The old-school pork sandwiches (large and small), the smoked chicken (white and dark) and the homemade pies make this place a favorite of celebrity chef Andrew Zimmern.

https://www.eatsmokebistro.com/

https://fullmoonbbq.com

https://www.sawsbbq.com

https://www.rodneyscottsbbq.com

https://dreamlandbbq.com

https://rustysbarbq.com

https://bobsykes.com

https://www.jimnnicks.com

https://www.missmyras.com

PIZZA

Post Office Pies in Avondale and now in Mountain Brook makes hand-tossed pizza cooked in wood-fired brick ovens and served family style on butcher paper. The dough is homemade; the ingredients are sourced from local farmers. This place was founded by executive chef John Hall, who is classically trained and worked for some of the best chefs in the world before opening the original location in the post office his grandmother once used.

The Bajalieh brothers who own Slice Stone Pizza & Brew, with one location in Lakeview near downtown, another in Mountain Brook’s Crestline neighborhood and another south of Birmingham near Highway 280 in Vestavia Hills, grew up in the restaurant business and opened Slice in 2011. They serve pizza made to order with ingredients like Alabama goat cheese from farmers they know personally.  And the wings—marinated, grilled and finished in the oven in a cast iron skillet—are incredible. So is the baked feta. Food Network listed Slice as one of the best places to eat in Birmingham.

Tre Luna Bar & Kitchen, near the Hoover Met, has beautiful wood-fired pizzas and a patio that can accommodate large parties (first come, first served). The forest mushroom pizza with mascarpone, Parmigiana-Reggiano, mozzarella and arugula is delicious, so is the pie with house-made sausage, ricotta, Calabrian peppers, spinach and mozzarella. The restaurant, owned by Chef Brian Mooney and his wife, Erin, also offers craft cocktails, fresh oysters from around the country, seasonal entrees and homemade pastas.

Bottega Café, in Birmingham’s Southside, is owned by celebrated chef Frank Stitt and his wife, Pardis. (Frank is known throughout the world and is the winner of multiple James Beard awards, among many other recognitions; he’s been called “the Godfather of Southern cuisine.”) Bottega does excellent, inventive oven-fired pizzas. Thin, heat-blistered crusts are topped with ingredients like morels, local farm eggs, bacon, fontina and caramelized onions. A white pie has fennel sausage, onion, ricotta and provolone. Seasonal main dishes include fresh pastas and things like shrimp and crawfish risotto and hanger steak with sauce romesco. Be sure to try the homemade chips and charred onion dip. The other side of Bottega, the dining room, is a more intimate restaurant serving refined Italian fare and creative cocktails. Reservations highly recommended.

https://www.postofficepies.com

https://www.slicebirmingham.com

https://www.trelunabarandkitchen.com

https://bottegarestaurant.com

SOUL FOOD

Eagle’s Restaurant might well be Birmingham’s premiere soul food spot. The family-owned Eagle’s has been serving soul for more than 70 years. Lines are often out the door, especially on Sunday, at this little cinderblock building. You’ll find fresh collards, fried corn, black-eyed peas with okra, green beans and more. The vegetable plate is reason enough to go, but the oxtails and the fried pork chops and the chicken and dressing all are legendary. Food Network chef Andrew Zimmern featured this restaurant on his show and eats here when he comes back to town. Save room for sweet potato pie.

Jake’s Soul Food Cafe in Hoover adds a soulful twist to our food scene—serving Southern soul food and Caribbean dishes. This family-owned restaurant was created because owners Dawn and Sean Simmons love the flavors of the Caribbean (these recipes here come from her father) and they have an affinity for good Southern cooking. You can get pork chops with gravy and Port of Spain curry chicken, Southern-fried catfish and Jamaican jerk chicken, cornbread and coco bread. The oxtails at Jake’s happen to be a favorite of Charles Barkley (of Auburn and NBA basketball fame).

https://eaglesrestaurant.com

https://jakessoulfoodcafe.com

GREEK AND THREE

The South knows how to do a meat-and-three meal (that’s a meat of your choice and three vegetable sides; macaroni and cheese counts as a veggie here). Birmingham does it with some Greek flavor. Johnny’s Restaurant in Homewood is nationally known. Chef Timothy Hontzas has been nominated for several James Beard Awards (Best Chef South and Outstanding Hospitality), and his restaurant is where we like to show what Southern hospitality really looks like. You’ll find comfort-food classics like fried catfish, purple hull peas, fried chicken, turnip greens and Tim’s own crispy Parmesan grit cake (get this) as well as Greek specialties such as spanakopita, souvlaki, rolo kima (Greek meatloaf with lamb) and house-made yiaourti cheesecake.

Since 1973, Ted’s Restaurant, in downtown Birmingham, has been a local favorite (and they do a lot of catering for visiting film and television productions). Open for breakfast and lunch (and Saturday brunch), Ted’s, owned by Tasos and Beba Touloupis, offers Southern cooking seasoned with Greek hospitality. The menu changes daily and veggies are fresh from local farmers. The fried okra is delicious. You can’t miss with the fried chicken or any of the Greek specials like souvlaki and pastitsio.

Niki’s West has been serving Birmingham since 1957. A steak and seafood restaurant as well as a meat and three, Niki’s is beloved by Birmingham and celebrated author Rick Bragg. The menu changes daily, but the Greek chicken is always on it. That said, a simple vegetable plate will do just fine.

http://www.johnnyshomewood.com

https://tedsbirmingham.com

https://www.nikiswest.com

SEAFOOD

The Fish Market Restaurant & Oyster Bar on Birmingham’s Southside can handle a crowd. Owner George Sarris has been serving Gulf-fresh seafood (as well as fishes from around the country) for decades, and his warehouse-sized restaurant is filled with souvenir-worthy Greek imports (make sure to visit the market in the back room). The fried green tomatoes are delicious, and the crab claws (fried or steamed) are always fresh. Don’t miss the West Indies salad and Dino’s Greek baked oysters. Any fresh fish over a Greek salad is a good choice, but the baked “VIP” snapper is a must.

If you want fancier seafood, head to Automatic Seafood and Oysters in the Lakeview neighborhood. Chef Adam Evans, who was named Best Chef South by the James Beard Foundation in 2022, offers fine dining in a comfortable, yet sophisticated space (what was once the Automatic Sprinkler Corp. manufacturing facility). The menu changes daily, and Adam specializes in fresh, spear-caught fish from the nearby Gulf coast. Also, the harissa-spiced Octopus a La Plancha is amazing.

http://www.thefishmarket.net

https://www.automaticseafood.com

HOST A CROWD AND HAVE A BEER

Most of Birmingham’s breweries also are great, family-friendly places to hang out and eat. They have lots of space, so bring a crowd! Cahaba Brewing Company is a 30-barrel brewhouse in the historic Continental Gin complex in East Avondale. The taproom and patio are spacious, and The Current at Cahaba food truck is parked there permanently. You’ll want to try the citrus-brined smoked and fried wings; the pretzel with beer cheese; crispy, hand-cut onion rings; the kale Caesar salad; and the two-patty, cheesy Smash Burger with fried shallots. There’s also a kids’ menu.

Back Forty Beer Company, across from Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark, is another family-friendly place that can accommodate a lot of people. The gourmet pub food is nearly as important as the beer at Back Forty Birmingham, and Russ Bodner is the executive chef here. Try the Back40 Cheeseburger (hugely popular) or the shrimp poke or one of the made-to-order Neapolitan pizzas. There’s also a kids’ menu. Back Forty has an expansive beer garden with places for kids to play and lots of rocking chairs along the porch for relaxing.

Good People Brewing in downtown Birmingham’s Parkside District near Railroad Park and Regions Field has HotBox serving food Wednesday through Sunday from its Airstream trailer. Get the lemongrass fried chicken or the currywurst or the Voodoo Burger with candied jalapenos. Check out Good People’s unique barrel-aged sour beer program, too. Outside food is permitted here. (Anyone under 21 must be accompanied by a guardian.)

https://cahababrewing.com

https://www.facebook.com/CurrentCahaba

https://www.backfortybeer.com/birmingham

https://www.goodpeoplebrewing.com

https://www.hotboxbirmingham.com

BURGERS

The hamburger at Chez Fonfon is renowned in Birmingham and beyond. This French bistro, on Birmingham’s Southside since 2000, is owned by Frank and Pardis Stitt. Fonfon’s burger with comté cheese comes with a tall cup of some of the best fries you will ever eat. And there are plenty of French comfort foods, like a lovely croque monsieur, as well as carefully crafted cocktails in this Belle Époque-style eatery. Reservations highly recommended.

The Anvil Pub & Grill in Hoover’s Village at Lee Branch is owned by a French-trained chef who grew up in Trinidad and worked in some of the world’s best restaurants. Chef Sedesh Boodram makes a great burger. Everything at this upscale English pub is made here including the delicious brioche bun for this burger. This restaurant, with its regional specialties, is named with a nod to Birmingham’s steel-making past. It has a large, airy patio and is very family friendly.

Whiskey Foxtrot Burger Dive, which started in Hoover, has a new, second location in Homewood called Whiskey Foxtrot Burger Shoppe. Cool, casual and family-owned, you’ll find American Wagyu ground beef burgers, hand-cut fries, and a “dragged through the garden” Chicago-style all-beef hot dog. The Fat Elvis burger features two Wagyu beef patties, cheddar, bacon, peanut butter, and grape jelly.

https://www.fonfonbham.com

https://www.theanvilpub.com

https://www.whiskeyfoxtrotbham.com/location/whiskey-foxtrot-burger-dive/

https://www.whiskeyfoxtrotbham.com/location/whiskey-foxtrot-burger-shoppe/

WING IT

Yo’ Mama’s Restaurant serves some of the best chicken on waffles in the city. You also can get a fried wing plate, a hot wing plate, fried catfish and a turkey burger. And the cheesy grits topped with tasty shrimp are always a great idea. Here’s your gluten-free eatery. There’s soul food here but so much more, too. This family-owned business is open for weekday lunch. There’s brunch the second and last Saturday of each month. Also worth noting: There will soon be more of Yo’ Mama’s to love! The restaurant, which is an important part of Birmingham’s downtown food scene, recently received $1.7 in funding from the City of Birmingham and will be relocating to a larger location soon. For now, head over to Second Avenue North and enjoy!

Eugene’s Hot Chicken, in Birmingham’s Uptown area (near the BJCC and Protective Stadium) and in Hoover, started as a food truck. Owner Zebbie Carney specializes in Nashville-style hot chicken (wings or other parts), but you can get pork chops and catfish and delicious sides, too. Choose your heat from “none” to the aptly named “stupid hot.”

For more than 60 years—through some of Birmingham’s most significant social and economic history—Green Acres Café has been a constant in the city’s downtown 4th Avenue Historic District. Owner Greg Graton dishes out chicken wings, and people line up out the door for them. Get them “all the way!” (ketchup and hot sauce, salt and pepper). Add fried green tomatoes to your order, then take your signature brown paper “greasy bag” with you to nearby Kelly Ingram Park and have your lunch with a side of history.

https://www.yomamasrestaurant.com/

https://www.eugeneshotchicken.com

https://www.greenacres-cafe.com

FAST AND FRESH AND ABSOLUTELY LOCAL

Birmingham has a long, storied history with its hot dogs, and Gus’s Hot Dogs on 4th Avenue North, established in 1947, is the longest-surviving Greek-owned hot dog stand in town. Traditionally, each Greek hot dog purveyor had his own unique sauce, inspired by the Greek village they once called home. Gus’s has turkey dogs and Polish sausage, but the all-beef regular dog with mustard, onions, kraut and sauce, is simply great. Get a Grapico and a bag of Golden Flake Sweet Heat chips to go with it.

Ashley Mac’s with locations all over town is fresh, fast and casual. Woman-owned and homegrown, Ashley Mac’s is known for its sandwiches, salads and gourmet-to-go dishes. The baby bleu salad is wildly popular, so is the smoked turkey sandwich with Havarti and apples. The Andy Mac burger (available on Fridays and Saturdays) has homemade sweet-hot pickles and a great sauce.

Iz Café, in Vestavia Hills, is another homegrown favorite and beloved for its sandwiches, salads and takeaway gourmet dinners. There’s always a daily soup special, but the regular tomato basil is amazing. So is the pimento cheese (regular or jalapeno). Get it on a salad plate or a sandwich and you’ll want to try the homemade sweet potato chips

Sam’s Super Sandwiches, in SoHo in Homewood, has been beloved by Birmingham for more than 50 years. The roots of this business, like many others here, go back to a collection of Greek-owned hot dog shops. The burgers—regular, cheeseburger and “Super” versions of both—are popular. But you can’t go wrong with any of the other “Samwiches” either. And there are breakfast Samwiches, too.

Homewood Gourmet is owned by the husband-and-wife team of Chris and Laura Zapalowski and serves made-from-scratch sandwiches, salads, gumbo and po’boys and gourmet dinners to go like the popular chicken and sausage jambalaya and vegetarian lasagna. Chris is from New Orleans, so you can trust that the gumbo is authentic, and the po’boys are perfect.

https://gusshotdogs.com

https://ashleymacs.com

https://www.everythingiz.com/cafe

https://samssupersamwiches.com

https://homewoodgourmet.com/

SWEETS

Kristal Bryant and her husband, Jonathan, opened their first wildly popular, confection-colored K&J’s Elegant Pastries in Uptown near Protective Stadium. They have a second location in Hoover’s Ross Bridge community. Kristal, who has appeared on Food Network, the Travel Channel and in Southern Living and Cosmopolitan, makes excellent cupcakes and elaborate, creative custom cakes. You’ll want an Instagram-worthy, confection-topped Kollosal Milkshake.

Another wife-and-husband team, Geri-Martha and Ryan O’Hara, started Big Spoon Creamery when they hauled a deep freezer onto their driveway and sold homemade ice cream to the neighbors. Today, two locations churn out small-batch, artisan ice creams made fresh with local fruits and other quality ingredients. The menu changes frequently, but you can expect Valrhona dark chocolate, vanilla made with Madagascar vanilla beans and exotic combinations like Alabama goat cheese strawberry hibiscus. They have one location in Avondale and another in Homewood’s Edgewood community.

Cookie Fix is another sweet, homegrown favorite. This cookie shop in Homewood offers a rotating seasonal menu of 80 flavors of freshly made, small-batch cookies. These are big cookies—crisp on the outside and gooey inside. The salted dark chocolate caramel is a local favorite.

https://www.kjselegantpastries.com

http://www.bigspooncreamery.com

https://cookiefix.com

BREAKFAST

Birmingham quickly learned to love Czech pastries when former Auburn University and NFL football player Chad Slade opened an American Kolache location in Vestavia Hills. Friendly staff serve beautiful, puffy sweet and savory kolaches for breakfast and lunch. Slade teamed with some local makers like Jawanda’s Sweet Potato Pie for a sweet treat and Dreamland Bar-B-Que for a savory kolache. You can’t go wrong with either one or with the spinach & artichoke version or the Buffalo chicken.

Head to Farmbowl + Juice Co. in Homewood for smoothies, fresh juices, wellness shots, and acai and oatmeal bowls filled with locally sourced ingredients from a network of farm partners. We love the Nutty Professor acai bowl with bananas added.

Crestline Bagel Company, with locations downtown in Innovation Depot, in Mountain Brook and in Cahaba Heights off Highway 280, is a hometown favorite. The bagels, breads, spreads and specialty sandwiches and salads are all handmade at this artisan, woman-owned bakery.

Biscuit Love in Cahaba Heights is a beloved Nashville tradition that is right at home here in Birmingham. The biscuits are big and rich and flaky. The East Nasty—a buttermilk biscuit topped with fried boneless chicken thigh, aged cheddar and sausage gravy—is a favorite. So is The Lily—drop biscuit French toast baked in custard and served with mixed berries, cream, and house-made butter toffee syrup.

https://birmingham.stlkolache.com/locations/

https://www.farmbowlandjuiceco.com

https://www.crestlinebagel.com

https://www.biscuitlove.com/

ONE STOP PEPPER PLACE

Finally, stop by The Market at Pepper Place on Saturday morning for one of the best farmers markets in the state, if not the entire country. Then and always, there are lots of places to get a drink or a bite:  The Lumbar has craft cocktails and burgers with Hatch green chiles in a quirky setting that celebrates science. BLUEROOT has delicious, nutrient-dense foods including salads, grain bowls, breakfast bites and superfood snacks.  Both places are women-owned.

Also at Pepper Place, you’ll find Blueprint on 3rd. This is a polished-casual American brasserie where chef-owner Dean Robb; his wife, Jenny Walls Robb; and executive chef James Huckaby specialize in regional cuisine. Try the popular Surf & Swamp (mixed grill of alligator, shrimp, catfish and crawfish-red beans and rice). Dinner only; reservations required.

Chris and Idie Hastings have Hot and Hot Fish Club and OvenBird here, too. (Chris is an award-winning chef—James Beard and more—who beat Bobby Flay on Iron Chef America.) Go to Hot and Hot for Gulf-fresh seafood, great steaks and Chris’s famous tomato salad. OvenBird has an extensive bar menu, and the beef fat candle is a must. For both:  dinner only; reservations highly recommended.

https://pepperplacemarket.com

https://www.lumbarbham.com

https://www.bluerootco.com

https://www.blueprinton3rd.com

https://www.hotandhotfishclub.com

https://www.ovenbirdrestaurant.com

TRENDING

Check out Abhi Eatery & Bar in Mountain Brook Village for beautiful sushi and Asian-fusion dishes like Shanghai pork belly, spicy pork mint salad, and a chickpea and shitake wrap with bulgogi sauce. Nepalese chef Abhi Sainju really shines with specialties from his childhood (a yearning for them is why he began cooking). You’ll want the mo:mo and the Nepalese lamb curry and the thukpa noodle bowl. Red Sea, owned by friends and Ethiopian ex-pats, Giniyat “Gini” Mohammed and Kedija Teyeb, is next to a halal Mediterranean market on Green Springs Highway and offers a mix of Ethiopian, Mediterranean and Cajun cuisines. Dishes range from stewed lamb to shawarma to red beans and rice. Paramount downtown offers creative pub food, cocktails, and arcade and video games in a chic industrial setting.  Sol Y Luna Tapas & Tequilas, serving lunch, brunch and dinner in Mountain Brook, offers craft margaritas and a long list of tequilas. The “perfect margarita” is indeed perfect. So are the fried duck empanadas and the cilantro-mint chicken skewers. Shu Shop downtown has handcrafted ramen and Japanese-inspired small plates. (Note:  On-premises dining is 21 and over.)

El Barrio Restaurante y Bar downtown is hard to get into, but it’s worth the wait for its multi-regional Mexican-inspired cuisine made with seasonal produce and Gulf-fresh seafood.  Get the guacamole. Get the ceviche. Get the roasted chile relleno. Bamboo on 2nd is a local favorite for Asian-inspired food and inventive cocktails. Go for sushi, noodle bowls, small plates, and a variety of skewered dishes like lemongrass chicken with honey-Sriracha sauce and grilled salmon with eel sauce. Helen, located in a two-story, 1920s-era shotgun-style building in downtown Birmingham, is a contemporary Southern grill owned by the husband-and-wife team of Rob and Emily McDaniel. Rob pays homage to memories of cooking over the hardwood coals of his grandmother Helen’s indoor grill. Grilled meats are the go-to here, but Rob also has a way with local vegetables. Harvest Roots Kombucha Taproom in Avondale offers crisp, clean, innovative kombucha in a variety of flavors including Sunshine with spicy ginger, lemon and lime zest and Cosmos with citra, mosaic and galaxy hops and pineapple vibes. This woman-owned and -operated business also has products in stores and restaurants all over Alabama.

Last Call Baking Co., by Chanah Willis, is a small-batch bakery that specializes in beautiful and delicious laminated goods in traditional French style. What this means is a line out the door Thursday through Sunday, and when things are gone, things are gone. Go early! The woman-owned business is next to the equally popular June Coffee. Visit these two places with a friend:  One stand in line for coffee, the other for baked goods. Meet on June’s patio and enjoy. The Pizitz Food Hall downtown has something for everyone—from tuna poke to tacos to pho to Indian street foods and more.

http://abhibirmingham.com/

https://redseabham.com/

http://www.paramountbirmingham.com

https://www.solylunabham.com

https://shushopbham.com

https://www.elbarriobirmingham.com

https://www.bambooon2nd.com/

https://www.helenbham.com/

https://www.harvestrootsferments.com/

https://www.lastcallbakingcompany.com/

https://junecoffee.co/

https://www.thepizitz.com/food-hall/

Susan Swagler has written about food and travel and life for more than three decades. She worked for 20 years as a trusted restaurant critic for The Birmingham News. These days Susan travels our state writing about restaurants for Alabama News Center, an online media outlet produced by Alabama Power. Susan is a founding member and past president of the Birmingham Chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier International, a philanthropic and mentoring organization of women leaders in food, wine and hospitality. To date, the chapter has awarded more than $160,000 in grants and scholarships to women of all ages across our state. Follow Susan’s blog at www.savor.blog.