By LeNell Camacho Santa Ana
Never say never. When I left the city in 2000 for the big lights of NYC, I never thought I’d come back to find Birmingham, Alabama filled with so many food and drink options to keep even a big city girl happy. I said I would never move back to the ‘Ham but when my husband and I visited in 2011, we were so impressed by the prevalence of delicious cocktails, craft beers, and farm-fresh foods that we decided to call it home.
Steva Casey, bartender at Veranda on Highland and the Alabama Restaurant Association’s 2012 Bartender of the Year, believes that Birmingham is a burgeoning playground for cocktail enthusiasts with bar staff eager to explore new flavors much like the chefs that they work for. Asking restaurant and bar insiders for recommendations is always a great way to initiate a tasting tour. She loves to hang out at Bettola and Hot and Hot for cocktails and catch a beer at the Garage. For eats, she says don’t miss Satterfields, Pho Que Huong, Miss Myra’s, and Niki’s.
Since Ollie Irene was nominated for the James Beard’s Best New Restaurant for 2012 within a few months of opening, I asked the owners Chris Newsome and his wife Anna for their favorite haunts. They highly recommended the brunch at Veranda and the good ole country meat and three cookin’ of Irondale Cafe or Niki’s. For some international fun, they often hit Saigon Noodle House for Vietnamese or Gordo’s for some cheap and cheerful authentic Mexican tacos and baked goods.
You’ll find details on their recommended spots plus many more of our favorites below.
Inducted into the James Beard Foundation’s “Who’s Who of Food and Beverage” in 2011, Frank Stitt and his wife Pardis’ culinary passions have brought tremendous attention to Birmingham with their four establishments that feature local farms.
Highlands Bar and Grill, 2011 Eleventh Avenue South, Birmingham, Alabama 35205, 205-939-1400
Located in historic Five Points South, Highland’s white table cloth service sets the standards high for Birmingham’s food scene. The menu changes daily but is always inspired by classic French technique highlighting seasonal Southern products. You must try an Orange Thing, the restaurant’s most requested cocktail that originally happened by mistake when a bartender reached for the triple sec instead of the vermouth while making a martini.
Chez Fon Fon, 2007 11th Ave S., Birmingham, AL 35205, (205) 939-3221
Located next door to Highlands, Fon Fon offers the same high quality of food in a more casual bistro setting featuring French faves like moules et frites and steak tartare. Best burger in town.
Bottega Restaurant & Cafe, 2240 Highland Ave S, Birmingham, AL 35205, (205) 939-1000
The Cafe serves up Italian favorites like pizza, sardines and salads. The Cafe Mac and Cheese hits the spot. Heftier meals with an Italian touch such as house made pastas and pork milanese may welcome you for fuller fare next door in the restaurant.
BEYOND FRANK’S WORLD
When you want to have a great night out above and beyond, these are the other must-visit spots.
Bettola, 2901 2nd Ave S, Birmingham, AL 35233, (205) 731-6499
Chef and owner James Lewis’ inspirations hale from sun-soaked Southern Italian cuisine. Although the handmade pastas and antipasti platters please the palate, Bettola’s beating heart is its wood-fired Neapolitan pizza oven, handcrafted in Naples and shipped to Birmingham. Lewis opened intending he would only serve beer and wine, but local barman favorite Angel Negrin helped him build his small bar as one of the most talked about craft cocktail stops in town. Catch the recently opened Vittoria next door where Lewis will show off house cured meats in a tapas style setting.
Cafe Dupont, 113 20th St N., Birmingham, AL 35203, (205) 322-1282
Another strong supporter of slow food, chef owner Chris Dupont shows off regional products in a daily changing menu. His NOLA roots shine through. Gotta try his beignets.
Hot & Hot Fish Club, 2180 11th Ct S Birmingham, AL 35205, (205) 933-5474
Owner and Chef Chris Hastings won honor as 2012 James Beard Award “Best Chef in the South” award. Bobby Flay didn’t stand a chance competing against him in a 2012 Iron Chef episode with sausage as the secret ingredient, proving he’s not just about the fish. The menu reflects the commitment to local farmers.
Ollie Irene, 2713 Culver Rd, Mountain Brook, AL 35223, (205) 769-6034
This small, cozy spot exudes warmth like a gastro pub should. The chef’s mother often greets you at the door. Their duck fat fried pub fries will have you dreaming about potatoes for days.
Satterfield’s, 3161 Cahaba Heights Rd, Birmingham, AL 35243, (205) 969-9690
A great place for that special night out. The menu may offer you anything from grouper, rabbit, scallops, and lamb. Their beverage program compliments the passionate commitment to culinary excellence.
Veranda, 2220 Highland Ave S Birmingham, AL 35205, (205) 939-5551
Chef Jeffrey Hansell just arrived after working under John Besh at Lüke. Sunday jazz brunch features buttermilk fried chicken biscuit sliders and house made pork sausage. Located in a historic home on Highland Avenue, the elegant ambiance pairs beautifully with the rustic Southern inspirations on the menu.
J.Clyde, 1312 Cobb Lane, Birmingham, AL 35205, (205) 939-1312
Tucked away on a cobble stone street, beer lovers find their paradise. Gotta try the fried sauerkraut balls.
Garage Cafe, 2304 10th Terrace S, Birmingham, AL 35205, (205) 322-3220
This quirky local fave is cash only, has no draft beer, very limited parking, and random architectural salvage strewn all over. I always get a toasted cheese sandwich with everything under the sun on it.
Marty’s, 1813 10th Court S, Birmingham, AL 35205, (205) 939-0045
Open from 4pm to 6am 365 days a year, Marty’s is the mecca for the after after hours crowd with food served only from 11pm to 5am.
Cupcakes and Coffee
Dreamcakes, 960 Oxmoor Road, Homewood, Alabama (205) 871-9377
Owner Jan Moon shares all her recipes in her Big Book of Cupcakes. Her cute little sweet shop and roaming food truck will satisfy buttercream cravings.
The Red Cat, 2901 2nd Ave S #120, Birmingham, AL 35233, (205) 616-8450
If they don’t win you over with their coffee made from beans roasted in house, they’ll get you with their stone ground cheese grits.
Urban Standard, 2320 2nd Ave N Birmingham, AL 35203, (205) 250-8200
Downtown coffee shop with eclectic crowd enjoying soups, sandwiches, breakfast and excellent coffee roasted by local roaster. They also make purdy darn good cupcakes.
Saw’s Soul Kitchen, 215 41st St South Birmingham, AL 35222, (205) 591-1409
Visit the Avondale Brewery next door where you can lap up some local brews. Pad your tummy first with pork, greens, and grits.
Miss Myra’s, 3278 Cahaba Heights Rd Vestavia Hills, AL 35243, (205) 967-6004
Dig into pulled pork with white sauce followed by a slice of lemon pie.
Irondale Cafe, 1906 1st Ave N Irondale, AL 35210, (205) 956-5258
The home of the famous fried green tomatoes that inspired the book and movie. You can still hear the trains as if you are at the famed Whistle Stop.
Niki’s, 233 Finley Ave W., Birmingham, AL 35204, 205-252-5751
Greek-owned local hang out for meat and three near the no frills farmer’s market.
Saigon Noodle House, Hwy 280 4606, Birmingham, AL 35242, (205) 408-1800
Doctor up some pho with all the fixins.
Pho Que Huong, 430 Green Springs Hwy Birmingham, AL 35209, (205) 942-5400
Vietnamese noodle bowls in a strip mall that’s not much to look at, but worth seeking out.
Gordo’s, 433 Valley Ave, Birmingham, AL 35209, (205) 916-0707
Excellent tacos –fresh, simple—and a KILLER bakery attached so get a sack of cookies and sweets every time. Authentic and affordable!
Taqueria Guzman aka The Taco Truck, 215 W Valley Ave, Birmingham, AL 35209
My Mexican husband declares this the best tacos in town despite the more expensive gringo-owned eateries. Winner of a “Best of the South” Travel Award from Southern Living Magazine. You can even try tongue and tripe.
Trattoria Centrale, 207A 20th St N, Birmingham, AL 35203 (205) 202-5612
Great inexpensive downtown casual joint for a quick pizza slice and other under $10 eats made from scratch. Bustling brunch business. Espresso.