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Suggestions for a Chowhound new to Birmingham

I've just accepted a job there, and I've never been. I've been fortunate to have lived in some of the best food cities (Chicago, SF, New Orleans) up till now--what does everyone recommend?

I'll take suggestions on everything, from cheap sandwich shops to the fanciest place in town. I'm an obsessive cook too, so the locations of the best farmer's market and Asian grocery would be great. Heck, anyone know which bars have a good pub quiz?

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  1. You are moving to another great food city, albeit a sleeper.

    See this thread for starters - http://www.chowhound.com/topics/346530. All four Stitt restaurants are a must for your local education. Add to Cafe Dupont downtown and you have enough to keep you eating well for a while.

    For pizza, go to Betolla (authenitic Naples).

    For markets, V. Richards in Forestpark and Tria in Homewood. If you're looking for the real farmer's market (where restaurants shop), go to the one on Finely Ave; From May thru September, the yuppies shop at the one at Pepper Place.

    1. Funny enough, a Atlanta newspaper writer just got an award for his work on Alabama cuisine from the Association of Food Journalists' 2006 awards. Check it out here:


      1. Birmingham, for a mid-sized city in the deep south, does have a lot to offer, but I find that I've gotten a bit bored with the food choices recently. It's probably because I've been here over 15 years (has it really been that long????) and I'm craving more variety. There are a couple of good korean restaurants here and I will give you the official korean endorsement of them (since they are my people). There's a pretty good korean market on Greensprings Hwy. in Homewood called "Asian Market"--no lie. It's on top of the hill near the intersection of Valley Ave and Greensprings Hwy. There is a small cafe located in the back of the market which I've never tried. I do like this market's kimchee. There is a slightly upscale korean bbq place that recently opened in Inverness off Hwy 280. It's pretty good and it's more about the atmosphere than just sitting down to a meal of good ol' korean grub. There's also a vietnemese restaurant on Greensprings Hwy across from Publix that is pretty good. This is the only vietnemese in town that I am aware of.

        As much as I enjoy the Frank Stitt restaurants, I'm kinda tired of hearing that they are the ONLY must-eat destinations in the city. Besides, it's not at a realistic pricepoint that most everyone can experience and tends to attract the yuppie/moneyed crowd.

        Pub quiz? The only bars that I've heard that have trivia or stuff like that tend to be in the 'burbs away from the city like in Hoover near the Galleria.

        BTW, are you planning to live in town or away from town (i.e. Hoover, Inverness, Vestavia?)

        1. Here are a few suggestions:

          Thai & sushi - Surin West in the Southside area of Bham
          Indian - Ahi Bite in Hoover or Taj India in Southside
          Mid Eastern/Med - Nabeel's in Homewood
          Best Fish - Ocean in Southside
          Best BBQ - try them all & decide for yourself
          Latino - Los Angeles in Lakeview area of Bham
          Best Fusion (French/Japanese) - San San Trio in Homewood
          Best gyros - Purple onion (local franchise)
          Great hamburger - Milo's (local franchise)
          Buzz worthy - LOCAL (in Vestavia), Cafe Dupont (downtown), The Bright Star (in Bessmer), Fox Valley (in Maylene), any Frank Stitt restaurant (all in the southside)

          Fresh Market on Hiway 280 is good. Our Whole Foods (also on 280) will be opening soon (I hope!).

          1. I'd disagree that Stitt restaurants are universally beyond the means of most folks. Highlands and Bottega Rest. are expensive by Bham standards - though a bargain relative to the OP's previous three cities. Fonfon and Bottega Cafe both have entrees in the $10-13 range; two can easily eat for under $40 without booze; the bar tab is what drives the bills in these last two joints.

            I also don't think Stitt's are the only musts; as I noted the other thread, I think Gianmarco is fantastic (and as good as any of Stitt's places).

            But I do think he merits mention in any list for the area not just because the food is great (consistently), but because he brought great food to town when we were a culinary wasteland and has trained many of the other chefs who now have their own places.

            To prove that I'm not Frank's lapdog, however, I will say that his new sommelier service sucks. The guy is pretentious (which may be to be expected), hovering, and will steer you away from a good pairing to a mediocre or worse choice.

            6 Replies
            1. re: Bluehound

              Just curious...is the Social Grill still open near downtown?

              I used to call on Nuncie's Music and would always treat one of the salesmen
              to lunch at the SG.

              It was one of my favorite meat and 3's anywhere. If it's still around and still
              the same it should be on every 'hound's list.

              1. re: GroovinGourmet

                It's closed - after being in serious decline for several years. For meat & 3s, I like Niki's on Finley - though there are a lot of options in that genre.

                1. re: Bluehound

                  What's the name of the old school Greek owned restaurant near
                  (or in) downtown - I remember there was a lot of seafood on the
                  menu and the inside was decorated kinda crazily ... is it still

                  1. re: atruebluedevil

                    The Fish Market is owned by the Sarris famly which I think are greek. They moved to a much more modern and spacious location about a block away. Is that the place you're thinking about?

                    1. re: atruebluedevil

                      You're probably thinking of John's. Still open but under new ownership for about 3 years. The food is decent, but they've changed the menu dramatically.

                      Or you may be thinking of the Fish Market - which is still very good - simple Greek prepared fish.

                  2. re: GroovinGourmet

                    The Social Grill moved to Hoover in the summer of 2004, not far from where Ollie's (1926-2001) had relocated to years earlier, and now both have closed.

                2. I spent my college years in B'ham.There are numerous joints about town that are amazing.The Greeks run the city so you know the seafood and steak places are going to be outstanding.Of particular interest is The Smokehouse on Finley Boulevard.The steam table is a 30 foot long testament to man's ability as hunter/gatherer.Andrews Barbecue on 1st Avenue North is also very good.Go for the outside slice pork,it's simultaneously crispy and tender.I could rattle off a ton more but go to Renge on Green Springs for the Teppan table.It's top notch.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: scrumptiouschef

                    Renge is good but there are better Japanese restaurants in the city now. Kobe is really good (Hiway 280) and Kinomi (Trussville) is great (VERY good sushi). Ethnic restaurants are really blooming around here. Thai and Indian cuisine is becoming more and more available and the quality keeps going up. For a true fine dining experience, try Fox Valley in the Maylene/Alabaster area. It's in a strip mall, but the food and wine are fabulous!! It's a little out of the way, but worth the drive, definitely!!

                    1. re: scrumptiouschef

                      If you're going out to Finley, catch the farmer's market when it's in season. Unlike the State Farmer's Mkt in Atlanta, you'll actually see the growers selling their own produce, rather than just someone with a bunch of crates they've bought from a wholesaler.

                      1. re: ted

                        Is Charley's Cafe on Arkadelphia,100 feet north of the railroad trestle still operating?When I lived in B'ham it was a superb Southern Meat and 3 paradoxically run by a tiny Vietnamese woman who also had a very good hand with pork barbecue.

                    2. We travel all over the country and it's hard to find a place with more really good food than Birmingham (of course, it's almost impossible to have a bad meal in New Orleans, which we visit monthly).
                      An absolute must is Bright Star in Bessemer, which is one of the best places you'll find anywhere (oh, the almondine!!!). It has ties to NOLA, specifically Commander's Palace.
                      If you can find a member, have him take you to The Club or The View, for the atmosphere and the food. The former is an older-skewing supper club with a dance floor that inspired Saturday Night Fever (really), the latter is a more hip and trendy place, both overlooking the city.
                      Surin is great Thai, but Taste of Thailand and Thai Garden are also great. We do Taj India regularly. Fish Market is a must, as is Niki's on Finley. Social Grill actually moved south of town, but like Ollie's, found that what was special downtown did not work in trendier pastures, and it has closed. Dittos on Smokehouse; we're not impressed with Renge (there are much better choices). Late night, Purple Onion is definite. Hamburger Heaven is great (2 locations), and Lloyd's on 280 is an old-time local Southern-food institution.
                      For pricier fare, once you get past Stitt's places, there's Grey House Grill, Cobb Lane, the Restaurant at Culinard, Hot and Hot Fish Club. Haven't tried Ocean or local yet.
                      There are numerous hole in the wall hotdog places here (Gus' downtown, Scott's Koneys, etc.) that are real good.
                      The Pepper Place farmer's market is for suburbanites who leave thinking they've been to a real farmer's market, while the rest of us know better.
                      BBQ is a very personal, passionate choice. For me, Dreamland is overrated (not bad, though). Full Moon, Jim N Nicks, Golden Rule, Bob Sykes... try 'em all. Truthfully, the best is Big Bob Gibson's in Decatur, an hour north. Try the white sauce, a North Alabama peculiarity.
                      And in your kitchen, start using Dale's marinade -- it's a Birmingham thing. There used to be several Dale's steakhouses; the only remaining one is in Florence.
                      Welcome to town!

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: avrahamkudzu

                        Haven't been to the Brightstar but I do hear it is pretty good. Mo Rocca (formerly of the Daily Show on Comedy Central was in town this summer to shoot an independent film on which I was an investor) raved about their prime rib.

                        Although the Social Grill was quite a Birmingham institution, I was not impressed with it at all. I took some coworkers to the downtown location about 6 years ago. The food was cold, the owner was rude, and he charged us a 50 cent surcharge to use our credit cards on a $7 bill. My coworkers were consultants who travel in town for business and do not normally carry cash. He was just flat out rude about it.

                        I was soooo not impressed w/the Grey House Grill. Overly large portions of mediocre food at the best would be an apt description. I used to love Cobb Lane but haven't been there in about 12 years. It's under new ownership but supposedly w/the same recipes but I haven't heard any good reviews.

                      2. My favorites (short list), having spent roughly 75% of my 41 years there, would be:

                        Highland's Bar & Grill/Chez Fonfon...
                        Yes, I agree with many of the previous comments, good and bad, yet he has accomplished what few others were willing to try. I'm also partial having cooked there. Still a fantastic place to enjoy wonderful/creative dining. In either place, try sitting at the bar.

                        Lucy's Coffee & Tea...
                        A gem of a coffee house. Unpretentious yet full of life and yes, great coffee. Right in the heart of the UAB area (2007 University Ave). Always brimming with "witty" types from the UAB med/dental/research departments and colleges. Sadly only open during the week but worth the trip. Tell Lucy that "Edward from Salt Lake City" recommended her place.

                        Continental Bakery...
                        Best bakery for "authentic" French breads/pastries/croissants,etc anywhere in town. Located in English Village area of Mnt Brook. Good coffee to on the weekends and a nice place to walk to if within reasonable distance.

                        The Pita Stop...
                        Best Lebanese/Middle Eastern restaurant in town. Located a bit west of the UAB area.

                        O'Carrs Deli...
                        Well if you want a bit of New York or Chicago, at least in regards to a deli, this is my only choice. Original location in Homewood (18th Street) is still best. Great sandwhiches and fantastic shakes and malts too for those hot summer days. This is the REAL DEAL, locally (family) owned since the 70s. Check them out.

                        Salt Lake City, UT
                        (formally of Birmingham)

                        1. And yes, Hot & Hot Fish Club...


                          1. Thank you so much, all. Keep 'em coming! I'm moving tomorrow and will try to get to all of these.

                            1. I'm new too and look for fellow foodies. I specialize in cooking Cape Malay Curries and South African cuisine.. I've discovered some great places here. Obviously there's the Frank Stitt restaurants. But there's a lot of talk about the new restaurant at the Tutweiler. Also nothing wrong with Betolla at Pepper Place..If you want to connect and talk food let me know....

                              5 Replies
                              1. re: enzymatic

                                There's a really recent thread that's very comprehensive about Bham located here:


                                This one is a bit out of date so it might get ignored. My curiosity is peeked however. How are Cape Malay curries different from known Thai and Indian curries? I've never had a South African dish. What are the specialties?

                                1. re: sheilal

                                  I just returned to the board after a while.. South African Curries, like Indian curries, differ by region and religious preferences. The Cape Malay population is Moslem and tends to avoid pork. Lamb, beef and chicken are popular. In the days of the early settlers, Water Buffalo was mentioned, "deng-deng'... there's a dish I've tried called Deningvleis.. it's a sweet, tamarind based dish, more like a stew. It's superb... I haven't been able to find the right recipe though.
                                  Generally Malay curries are milder and sweeter and contain dried fruit.
                                  I make a lamb curry with granny smith apples,sultanas, lime juice, ginger, garlic, coconut and a number of other ingredients that make it very different.
                                  It's popular because it's not hot. I also add apricot preserve and chutney.
                                  We also serve sambals on the side, giving you the options of cool and hot.
                                  Bananas and milk. chopped chilis, tomato and onion and south africa's signature condiment... Mrs. Ball's Chutney.
                                  There's also Bobotie, which I've seen described as South African Meatloaf/
                                  It's a ground lamb curry with some of the ingredients above but it's served with a custard topping... sounds strange, but it's very good.
                                  I could go on, but I think you get the gist of it.. if you want recipes, email me./
                                  If you're going to try it, you're going to want to ground your own curry powder.
                                  South African powders and pastes are different too....

                                  1. re: enzymatic


                                    Have you discovered the Indian markets in Hoover? They may have many of the ingredients you need for what sounds like some mighty tasty food. There are at least two (there was a third but I'm not sure if it's still open). They are on Lorna Road. If you're interested, let me know and I'll send you names and addresses.
                                    Also, for whole spices, we have a Penzy's store in Inverness Plaza off U.S. 280; Whole Foods also has a decent selection, but the packages are so big it's hard to keep 'em fresh unless it's something you use regularly.
                                    The dishes you described sounds pretty good. I may have to hit you up for some recipes.

                                2. re: enzymatic

                                  I definitely am up to talking about and also checking out the food offerings in Birmingham. Dax, a chowhound new to B'ham, and I met up and checked out Red Pearl off Valley Ave. I was the only chowhound who responded to him. My email is gyp7318@hotmail.com

                                  1. re: gyp7318

                                    Definitely, drop gyp or I a line. We should get some group dinners going to try more dishes family style. This is something we did a lot in Boston; I miss that. A lot of the Boston cher's I know (and used to dine with) recently got together to try a new place and it sounds like it was a good time.



                                3. I would also recommend Standard Bistro in Mount Laurel (down Hwy 280 past Inverness). I have been there several times, and the food is wonderful. Must try - pork tenderloin, bread pudding, and the warm chocolate cake. Their menu can be accessed through Birmingham Menus at http://www.birminghammenus.com/standa.... Speaking of, Birmingham Menus is a great site for previewing menus by area of town. The owners Nate and Jen also list discounted gift certificates quarterly; sign up on their mailing list to be notified when new gift certificates are posted.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. Not mentioned in the replies so far is an out of the way place called the Open Door Cafe' and bakery next door in Crestline Park. Plenty of parking in a quite neighborhood. Check out this review done several weeks ago.

                                    1. Welcome to town.

                                      Stitt restaurants (Highlands and Chez Fon Fon in 5 Points South, Bottega on Highland Ave.) are must-trys. But so are other high-end restaurants, starting with Hot and Hot (on 22nd S; off Highland), Ocean (5 Points South), Icon (downtown Tutwiler Hotel) and local (Vestavia Center on U.S. 31). I hear Veranda is good under new chef, but I've not tried it yet.

                                      An Asian market not mentioned is the market on West Valley Ave. It's the biggest and has fresh vegetable, cooked duck and live fish.

                                      Best beer/trivia combo: On Tap (Lakeview, Inverness, Riverchase). They recently expanded to 50-plus taps. Tuesday is team trivia night.

                                      Tria is a great high-end market. So is V Richard's. Our Whole Foods is on U.S. 280. The Western in Mountain Brook Village is known for both a good meat counter and good wine selection. Another good butcher is Mr. P's in Bluff Park.

                                      If you like tacos, try any of the taquerias in town. They do the real deal.

                                      For fish: SnapperGrabbers on U.S. 31 in Vestavia Hills is best, followed closely by Sexton's in Cahaba Heights. Whole Foods and Fresh Market (also on U.S. 280 -- detecting a trend?) also have good seafood.

                                      Don't be swayed by the yuppie reputation of the Pepper Place Farmer's Market, which ends this month. It's the best place to find organic produce direct from the farmer.

                                      Bettola in the Martin Biscuit Building on 2nd Ave. South has great Neapolitan pizza and sandwiches.

                                      Let us know what you think.

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: Big Daddy

                                        I see that Chris Hastings at the Hot and Hot Fish Club was nominated for Best Chef: South by the James Beard group in 2007. He may have won, I'm not sure.

                                        What more can you tell us about him and his restaurant?

                                        1. re: HickTownBarnaby

                                          Chris was nominated, but did not win. In my opinion, it's just a matter of time.
                                          Hot and Hot is a great restaurant. He does great seafood and braises. He really follows the principle of building flavor.
                                          He's also into cool deconstructions, such as his Hot and Hot pork and beans. It's so good, the memory will linger for days.
                                          The restaurant boasts great service, but it's also fun to sit at the chef's counter off the open kitchen. It's fun to watch them prepare the food, there's great intereaction with the cooks, you learn alot about what you're eating and you can scout out your next meal. I don't know if they still do it, but they used to offer a tasting menu with smaller portions of roughly half the menu.
                                          He's a seasonal and local when possible chef.
                                          Chris and Idie Hastings also are some of the nicest people you'll ever meet. Chris has taken a different approach to expanding his empire: Instead of owning multiple restaurants like Frank Stitt, he has gotten into restaurant management. He has/still does oversee operations at Standard Bistro, the Birmingham Country Club and is involved with the Watermark people on the Florida panhandle, including their signature restaurant Fish Out of Water. They also have expanded into Internet sales, selling their propietary coffe blend, the hand-made pottery plates they use as well as the usual t-shirts and caps.

                                      2. FYI On Tap has continuous trivia and you can get remotes to compete/key in your answers. They also offer a more traditional (to me) quiz night on Tuesdays where you can play in teams and you have the length of a song to come up with the answer. While most of their food is typical bar food, sometimes their meat and three options are pretty good, and when their wings are on they can be really tasty too. The high point is that they have lots of beer on tap too. Imagine that.

                                        1. I have been going to Tria Market Homewood since it opened several years ago. This year they began the long slow process of changing their format from a self service market to incorporating a full service restaurant. I was told when the process started they would still cater to those of us who got our own breakfast, lunch and salad bar plates and ate at the tables provided. Now there are only two tables that are not designated to the restaurant areas.

                                          This morning when we got our own breakfast plates theoe two tables had been taken over by computer hardware of an employee or vendor and there were no tables for us to sit at. I asked at the office and was told we could sit at any table. We went into the restaurant area, but were very uncomfortable the whole time. One waitress and another waiter kept trying to take my plate even though I had not finished. I could tell the restaurant manager with the goatee was annoyed that we had slipped into this restaurant.

                                          What has happened to Tri Market seems to be reinforcing a trend that I have been observing for some years. Homewood is fast loosing the relaxed middle class nature it had when I was growing up and is now rivaling Mountain Brook in its exclusiveness and snobbishness.

                                          We will not be going back to Tria Market