Highlands, one of best in the nation, according to Gourmet magazine, owned by Frank Stitt. In Five Points South.
Bottega and Bottega Cafe, its adjacent informal place, owned by Stitt. On Highland Avenue east of Five Points.
Chez Fon Fon, a French bistro owned by Stitt, next to Highlands.
Hot and Hot Fish Club. Tasty food in a lively setting. Just off Highland Avenue.
Sol y Luna, Mexican restaurant serving tapas-size portions in an attractive place. It's owned by a former architect from Guadalajara. It's on 7th Avenue South in Lakeview area.
Betolla, new lively Neapolitan restaurant in Pepper Place area, serving pastas, pizzas, salads and antepasto. Young chef-owner buys key ingredients from Naples: mozarella, flour, etc., and uses only fresh local arugula and basil.
Several decent barbecue joints including Jim and Nick's, Dreamland, Johnny Ray's and Golden Rule.
Several Arabic restaurants, the best known of which is the Pita Stop, on Southside near UAB campus.
Best Indian food: Taj India, in strip mall on Highland Avenue. It serves a tasty selection of mostly northern Indian food at its lunch buffet.
Nikki's West for a large selection of meats and vegetables -- extended version of Southern "meat and three" served from a cafeteria line. It also serves Greek-style seafood. One writer for USA Today claimed the place provided him one of his most memorable meals ever. It's in a food wholesale market area on the north side of town.
Bright Star, in the industrial suburb, Bessemer, just west of Birmingham. Been around 100 years serving Greek-influenced southern food.
Irondale Cafe, the original Whistle Stop Cafe from "Fried Green Tomatoes." Interesting setting and OK food, but most of it doesn't compare to Nikki's West. In Irondale, just east of Birmingham.
Paw Paw Patch, another meat-and-three place serving lunches only weekdays. Gets better every time I go. On Greensprings Avenue in Homewood.
The above locally owned restaurants are the favorites of the foodies at Southern Living, Southern Accents, Coastal Living, Cooking Light, etc., the magazines published in Birmingham.
Depends on the cuisine . . .
Highlands Bar & Grill - New American
Bottega - Italian
Seafood - Ocean
French Bistro - Chez FonFon
Thai - Surin West
Cafe Dupont & Fox Valley (tie)- Traditional American
These are all located in Birmingham. The first 5 are all located in Southside and are within walking distance. Cafe Dupont is downtown. Fox Valley is in Helena/Maylene with is a southern suburb.
I can't answer what's great in Anniston. Do they even have any high-end restaurants there? I've heard pretty good things about the restaurant at the Victorian Inn, but since I've no experience, I can't offer an opinion.
Also, I wish I could reply about a great Mexican/Latin restaurant, but I've yet to find one. La Paz used to be really good, but lately it's fallen flat. I had high hopes for Cocina Superior, but it disappointed as well. Los Angeles is really, really good, but not stellar. Great japanese is also lacking. But come to think of it, there is a really intersting fusion/french/japanese place called San San Trio that's really good. I'd forgotten all about it until now! I'll have to try it soon and give a report.
Hot and Hot Fish Club on the Southside in Birmingham. It is run by a protege of Frank Stitt who is the chef at Highlands Bar and Grill. My husband and I found that hte food at Hot and Hot Fish Club was just as good as Highlands but that the atmosphere was more relaxed, younger crowd, a bit hipper. We found the atmosphere at Highlands to be a bit stuffy with a bit of the "old South" feeling which we do not appreciate.