Moving to Birmingham, AL and need lots of advice (long)
- Dax May 2, 2007 08:12 AM
I will be moving to Birmingham this weekend from Athens, GA (but was in Boston for 8+ years prior to moving home temporarily to Athens). I was/am a frequent poster on chowhound in these two cities. I do consider myself a chowhound who seeks out the best food wherever it can be found, be it at a hotdog stand, a taqueria, the Ritz, a Frank Stitt place, etc. I do not consider myself a "foodie" that follows trends and popularity more than the grub; the mere term foodie grates me almost as badly as being forced to watch the View.
I’ve done some research on Birmingham, mostly here, but also on Bhamdining.com, zagat and even city search (yes, city search is questionable at best, with Zagat being heavily influenced by advertisers as well). Anyway, on to the quest; I seek the following and/or any other recommendations my trusted hounds have. Specifically, I’d love to hear about your favorite places and/or dishes at these places.
A. Markets/Specialty Stores: I understand the Finley Ave Farmer’s Mkt, Tria and V. Richards are good markets, as may be Pepper Place. However, I do not know their strengths, so if they apply below please point this out.
1. Asian – primarily for Asian produce, meats, condiments, spices, etc.
2. Latin – primarily for Latin produce (primarily peppers), tortillas, meats, condiments, spices, etc.
3. Greek/Armenian – I understand there is a large Greek population here. Excellent, as I love shopping at Greek Markets for related products (fresh olives, cheeses, grape leaves, spinach pies, etc).
4. General Markets for produce, artesian breads, etc.
5. Best Butcher
6. Best Fishmonger
B. Restaurants by Cuisine/Ethnicity: For the most part, I prefer to have entrees top out in the low twenties for average dining but I’m not averse to spending more if the occasion warrants (i.e. I hear the Frank Stott places are delicious but spendy).
1. Latin American – I realize this a broad category, but I am specifically looking for:
a. Mexican – I realize Mexican cuisine varies by state, but I am seeking restaurants or taquerias offering varieties or pork preparation, including carnitas, al pastor, chorizo, plus carne asada and other beef preparations. Fish tacos a bonus. I tend to like tortas, corn tortilla tacos with just the meat, onions, cilantro, lime and maybe salsa verde, plus good plates if the accompanying rice and beans are well flavored.
b. Salvadoran – Primarily for pupusas as I have not (yet) explored Salvadoran cuisine yet.
c. Brazilian including rodizo and beyond
d. Cuban (yes, I am stretching the definition of Latin American further than I should but bear with me). I love a good cubano, as well as some other semi-Cuban treats.
3. Indian (all regions)
4. Italian (mostly prefer Northern). Is this one of the specialties at the Stitt restaurants?
6. Vietnamese (primarily for pho, bahn mi, and perhaps some other dishes)
7. Chinese – I realize “Chinese” is a vague term due to all the regional cuisines. I’m not looking for Chinamerican dishes like general gau, beef and broccoli, nuclear orange colored sweet and sour anything. I lived within a mile of Boston’s Chinatown (not large, but still delicious) for 3+ years and loved heading there weekly for my fix of Cantonese, Sichuan, Shanghai-ese(?), Taiwanese, etc. Forgive me if I get the regions wrong. Any places serve a good Peking Duck or xiao long bao?
8. Seafood – I think I read here that The Fish Market is the real deal and the menu looks nice and varied. Is this the go to spot?
9. “New American” – this can be anything really, just looking for inventive cooking.
10. Meat and three joints.
11. Burgers and maybe hotdogs. Is Milos the place to go?
12. Pizza (not Greek pizza)
13. Barbecue – I’ve had Dreamland in the past and the ribs were ok but I’ve had a backyard offset smoker for 8 or so years smoking my own ‘cue so my expectations can be high. Prefer pulled pork to spare ribs, but love both, as well as brisket and properly smoked sausage. I think I recall reading that the Jim and Nicks’ outposts are pretty good?
C. Print Media/Local Blogs – this might belong on another board but since this request is already the size of a novella, please feel free to point out some good local resources for trusty reviews of local eateries, markets, etc.
Hounds, I really appreciate each and every one of you that is taking the time to read this dissertation. As I’ve said, I’ve been a long time contributor to other local boards and hope to be able to contribute about Birmingham in the near future.
Note: Please forgive the formatting which did not carry over from Word.
Congrats on coming to our fine city! Although we are spread out as Atlanta, depending on the area that you move to, some of the finer/better markets and restaurants can be quite a drive (in miles or traffic time).
1. Asian - there are a couple of good Asian markets clustered in the Southside & Greensprings area of town. The one on Southside is at the corner of 7th ave south & 22nd street. It's small but convenient if you work in the area. The one on Greensprings is much, much bigger and offer live seafood and asian cooking utensils.
2. Latin - we have a fairly large Hispanic community in the Hoover area. Lots of markets are in that area. A new smallish Mexican grocery opened in the Trussville area. It's good, but small.
3. Greek - The Fish Market Restaurant, in Southside, ois run by Greeks and offers greek specialties, like olive oil, fresh fish (which is stellar BTW), etc. Nabeel's in Homewood (also a restaurant) has a market attached with a good selection of regional items.
4. General Markets - can't go wrong with V. Richards or the new Whole Foods on Hiway 280. Further down on Hiway 280, there's a Fresh Market that's good as well. I haven't been to Tria so I can't comment. The Farmer's Market is great, as is Pepper Place.
5. Butcher - Mr. P's Butcher Shop & Deli (in Bluff Park) has the best cuts around.
6. Fishmonger - The Fish Market - hands down (see above)
7. Spices - there's a Penzey's in Inverness on Hiway 280.
1. Latin America
a. Mexican - The Iguana Grill in Hoover is really, really good and really authentic. Run by Hispanics for Hispanics with discriminating tastes. For more traditional fare with a scene, Superior Grill on Hiway 280 is good. They have an outdoor area with a band. Sabor Latino on Greensprings is good, no fuss Mexican.
b. Salvadoran - I don't think we have one in Bham. We do have a fairly new Peruvian restaurant that gotten pretty good reviews. I have't tried it yet though. It's called Romans and is in Homewood (off Greensprings).
c. Brazilian - alas, our churrascaria closed some time ago.
d. Cuban - not sure on this one.
NOTE - Los Angeles in Lakeview kind of spans Latino cuisines. Very, very good.
2. Greek - Nabeels in Homewood (hit has good middle eastern good as well), Fish Market in the Southside, The Purple Onion for the best gyros, The Pita Stop in Southside, the various Greek food festivals held in the fall around the city.
3. Indian - Taj India in the Five Points South area (good lunch buffet availavle) , Aha Bite in Hoover is outstanding for southern indian food.
4. Italian - Bottega in FPS (yes, a Stitt restaurant) is really good. But hands down, GianMarco's in Homewood is fabulous. I also like Tamburro's Bella Notte in Trussville, not pretentious, just really good food.
5. Korean - I don't know of one in our city.
6. Vietnamese - Que Hong in Homewood (off Greensprings) has really good pho.
7. Chinese - most around here are of the Americanized versions. The only authentic one I know of is at the asian market off Greensprings, there's a cafe adjacent. I've never tried it. And unfortunately, there's no dim sum in Bham. However, there are a couple of great Thai (Surin West in FPS) & Japanese (Kinomi in Trussville and Kimono on Hiway 280 in Hoover) spots.
8. Seafood - you must, must go to Ocean in FPS! Everything I've ever had there is superb. Also good, is Hot & Hot Fish Club in Southside. The Fish Market is good for less expensive fare. The Bright Star in Bessemer has fabulous seafood (scampi, almondine, etc.!!
9. New American - Highland's Bar & Grill in FPS (Stitt's flagship), Cafe Dupont downtown, daniel george in Mountain Brook, Fox Valley in Helena, Locale in Vestavia (the chef's table is supposedly outstanding-off the menu is to die for), The restaurant at the Museum of Art has a great Jazz brunch on the weekend and very good lunches.
10. Meat & Three - Nikki's on the northside or Tracey's in Southside. The famous Irondale Cafe (The TRUE Whistlestop Cafe from Fried Green Tomatoes) has some of the best fried chicken I've tasted besides my Mom's. I'm not a dog lover, so I've defer to someone else on that subject.
11. Burger's & Hot dogs - the new Red Robin in Trussville is wonderful for burgers. Milo's is the best fast food hamburger around with Hamburger Heaven a distant second.
12. Pizza - Dave's in Homewood has great traditional and some unusual varieties. Tomatopie in Trussville is great as well.
13. BBQ - Jim & Nick's has the best meat. However, my preference for sauce is still Dreamland. Costa's (several locations) is very good.
C. Print Media
www.bhamdining.com is a pretty good site. Unfortunately, it's not kept up to date on closings and new openings. www.bhammenus.com has a few links to on-line menus & websites for some of the restaurants around town. However, it's NO menupages.com. There's a dining forum on www.al.com that can get interesting at times. www.bhammag.com has a more comprehensive listing of restaurants however, there are no objective reviews or links.
There's a couple of new restaurants that have just opened a couple of weeks ago, that's generated a bit of buzz. One is called Martini's and is in Hoover. Supposedly, great steaks & seafood and unbelievable desserts. The other is Icon at the Tutwiler Hotel downtown. Very high-end, very expensive. The owners operate the restaurant at the Museum of Art and another restaurant they closed to open up at the Tutwiler (G's is was called). The owner also operates a catering company- Kathy G's, if you are ever in need. At G's they served the best upscale black & blue burger I've ever tasted (kobe, angus?) and a nicoise salad that was to die for. I hope they have these on the Icon's menu.
I truly hope this helps you get acquainted with our city. It's not New York, or Boston, but we do have our good points. :) And we do love to eat!!!
Luckily one of my friends in town knows some good places.
Four of us went to Bottega Friday. Unfortunately I was not too impressed with the pizza/salad thing I ordered (basically a pizza folded up with romaine and dressing). I cannot find them on the online menu, but I ordered the one with the apple smoked bacon and I think gorgonzola and kalamatas. The whole thing was incredibly salty, between the dressing (I guess?), the pure fat bacon (and I love fat) and whatever else was in there. Dining companions, however, loved their two pizzas and cobb salad; they also split two bottles of chardonnay (no idea about the label). I had two beers. I forget the name of the first (Hefeweizen) but they ran out immediately after and were also out of Bass (2nd choice after trying to re-order the Hefe). Service was off with the empty beer glass left on the table well after the 2nd beer arrived (and it took some time to even get a chance to order beer #2), as well as runners asking who ordered what. Also, when one of our party was trying to direct an out of town guest to the restaurant to join us and asked the waiter if he was good with local directions there, he replied "yes I am, but I'm much too busy to give them now." He wasn't that busy and at the least he could have tried to get the hostess or someone to try and get another potential customer directions to their restaurant. I hope I don't sound too whiny about service; it usually takes a lot for me to slam service after working in the industry for years back in the day. To be fair about the food, the others with me loved their dinners and are frequent diners there who swear by the food. Whatever, maybe I just ordered wrong on an odd night there; I'll give it another shot to try the pizza and mains.
Our experience at Surin West could not have been more different. After trying unsuccessfully to get a table at various Latin restaurants (including Los Angeles) on Cinco de Mayo (stupid without a res I know), we ended up here as my friend likes it. We were seated immediately. Excellent coconut shrimp soup and a marinated roasted duck with a delicious red curry sauce with a hint of spice (to be fair, it wasn't listed as especially spicy). Duck texture was more beefy in texture, or actually almost stringy like goat, but it was nonetheless delicious. Dining companion had a roast lamb special which was quite flavorful but a bit on the sweet side; delicious but I had expected a bit of heat (again, not listed as spicy so that was my incorrect assumption). Service was excellent and efficient with recommendations given freely once requested. My friend also says there is a really good Thai place out 280 East somewhere - will need to check it out.
Had some serviceable sangria at Roja after dinner at Surin West. It got better as the glasses kept draining.
Stopped a Whole Foods for some groceries today. Typical experience and dependable.
Went to V.Richard's both yesterday and today mostly to get a cup each of their delicious organic sweet tea.
Is Fresh Market out by Target on 280? I saw it but didn't go in after my visit to Whole Paycheck.
Looking pretty good so far Birmingham, thanks for all of the tips. I cannot wait to try them all.
Just to make a few minor corrections to your post, it sounds like you went to Bottega Cafe and not Bottega the white tablecloth restaurant next door. Sounds nitpicky, but they are two completely different restaurants and price points. I've had some fantastic dinners at both. Sorry to hear your experience at the cafe was so off.
Also, you had sangria at Rojo, not Roja. I like Rojo enough for a casual, neighborhood kind of a place thing, but I don't go there for the food. I go there to sit outside, eat the shrimp salad, and have drinks w/friends. I also like to support locally owned businesses as well.
Sheilal covered the waterfront very well. A couple of additional thoughts:
Depending on the fish your looking for, Tria is good for the more exotic and flown-in from afar fish; Fish Market is best for fish straight out of the gulf.
I second Sheilal on the Italian, Gianmarco's is best by far; Bottega Cafe is very good.
For pizza, I highly recommend Betola (at Pepper Place); it's a neopolitan style with charred crust.
For Indian, Taj India is my favorite, but Silver Spoon on Lorna Road is also very good.
My one disagreement is Fox Valley - used to be worth the 20 minute drive, now I wouldn't cross the street to eat there. I don't know what happened, but it's not even a shadow of its former self.
You didn't ask about sushi, but Jin Sei in Homewood is out of this world.
Hopefully, you stumble on some places we haven't found yet. Please let us know.
Speaking of Pizza,is Carnaggio still open?I used to love peering back in the kitchen at the Italian mamas back there cooking in blousey white smocks...like something out of Big Night.Also,if Charlies Cafe on Arkadelphia is still running it used to be the best Meat and 3 in town.Are any Bham hounds down with Curtis Giles?He was the unknown Alpha chef...his Brochettes Q and Bayou[sat 6]was the finest restaurant in town a few years back.It shuttered and I would love to know where he landed and if he's still cooking somewhere in town.
Is the charred crust of the pizza from Betola's from a wood burning oven like the authentic pizza places in NYC? I can definitely tell a difference in flavor between gas & wood. I haven't tried Betola yet. Odd, since I literally work just down the street, but I forget it's there. I've seen no advertisements for it.
I believe it is a wood burning oven. I've been there twice and had really good meals there. It's a young couple that owns it---the husband is in the open kitchen and wife is the hostess/front of the house. Very nice couple. Their version of pain au chocolat made from their pizza dough w/bittersweet chocolate and ricotta is out of this world.
Ate at Bettola for lunch today and had an excellent proscuitto, fresh mozzerella, arugula, and tomato sandwich. The dough for the "Italian flatbread sandwich" looked as it had been cooked in the pizza oven. Plenty of fresh ingredients and a large sized sandwich for about $9 before tax, tip, beverage, etc. Others really liked their pizzas and lamb sandwiches. Could not find their website, but found a menu here in pdf
Just needed to make a correction to something sheilal posted above. The new restaurant at the Tutwiler, Icon, is not affiliated in any way with Kathy G (the caterer and operator of the cafe at the Museum). The Chef and owner at Icon used to work for Kathy G years ago and was exec chef at the Museum before opening G. He and his partner took over ownership of G from Kathy G within a year of opening. They closed G to open Icon last fall.
There are some good places to eat around here and it is getting a bit more varied over the years. When I get bored w/the restaurant scene or need some honest to goodness ethnic variety, I hop on 1-20 and head east to Atlanta. That is the only place to get great dim sum and interesting asian groceries.
For korean food, there are a couple of choices. There used to be a great hole in the wall on Greensprings Hwy in Homewood called Seoul Restaurant. They had a great bento box lunch. However, the owners sold to another family back in fall and it hasn't been the same. The price point has gone up and the bulgogi that I had was definitely not good--just sliced beef w/too many green onions in an oversalty soy marinade. Not good at all. I haven't been back since. There is a really good korean bbq/sushi restaurant on Hwy280/Valleydale Road called Ginza. It's owned by Koreans, from what I can tell (I'm Korean). The kimchee is great and you get a bunch of different pan chan during the meal. I've only been there a couple of times for bbq. It's really good. I think it's a FANTASTIC addition to the local dining scene. I just wish it were closer in town. I despise Hwy 280 traffic. :(
The only Vietnemese place that I know of is on Green Springs Hwy in the same shopping center as Seoul restaurant. I've been going there at least 5 years. It's good but the kitchen can be inconsistent. My favorites there are the sauteed flat noodles w/veges, beef, pork, and chicken. I've had it there where it's been slap yo' mama good and the next time it's been burnt and not so great. I'm dying to go there this week and try their Vietnemese crepes. I read an article about them (not from this restaurant) in the US Airways in flight magazine and now I'm craving them.
As far as thai on Hwy 280, you must be speaking of Emerald Forest, near Greystone. It's supposedly owned by a chef who used to cook at Thai Garden in Hoover. I've had friends who love Emerald Forest, but it is just a little too out of the way for them to go on a regular basis.
For asian groceries, I go to the Asian Market (yes, it's literally called that) on Greensprings Hwy near Valley Ave. It's in the same shopping plaza as Pizza Hut. Are you sensing a theme---Green Springs Hwy is like a tiny Buford Hwy (Atlanta) for Birmingham. There are some other Asian Markets sprinkled around Birmingham, but I like to get my asian groceries there. There is also a small cafe tucked in the back of the market. It has good, very homey Korean food but it is like eating in your favorite aunt's den. It's very much just about the food.
I heard from a friend this weekend that the former Anthony's restaurant downtown next door to the 22nd Street Jazz Cafe is opening up as a Thai restaurant, brought to us by the same owners as Chai's asian groceries next door. I drove by this weekend and saw no sign yet. It'll be interesting to see if it's any good. FYI, Chai's is primarily a chinese grocery store, I believe. I have never gone in there but heard that a lot of the Chinese students/researchers from UAB go there.
As a fellow new Bhamite (moved in in January from San Francisco), let me reassure you that there is lots of good food here, and second all the above suggestions.
Two additions, though--for Thai, Taste of Thailand on Lorna Rd. in Hoover is better than Surin, in my opinion. You can order stuff "thai hot," which is actually reasonably spicy.
For BBQ, try Miss Myra's in Cahaba Heights (very close to where you're staying). Their chicken is incredible, and the pork isn't bad either. Go for the white sauce.
Had Miss Myra's the other night. I ordered the pulled pork and chicken combo plate with green beans and baked beans. Both beans were of the canned variety and nothing special. Pulled pork was good, albeit a little dry. That's my fault for going an hour before close since it was likely cooked overnight. The chicken was ok with the skin being really good but the meat just being ok.
Went back to Bettola last night. We shared a bottle of the merlot/cab blend (forgot the name), antipasti with salami, proscuitto, goat cheese, fresh parmesan, another cheese?, olives, roasted peppers, white bean puree, and marinated mushrooms. It was really good, especially with that bread which I assume is cooked in the oven. Also split the caprese salad (tomatoes were almost perfect) and the tuna carpaccio. Excellent service (Blake). I'll definitely return.
One more thing---I much prefer Silver Coins (almost wrote Silver Spoons---loved that show from my childhood) to Taj India. The service can be really slow but the food is worth it. Warning: their spicy is SUPER spicy. While I like a lot of heat in my food, their heat is different than the east asian heat that I'm used to w/lots of red peppers and garlic. Silver Coin's spicy makes me sweat profusely but doesn't have the burn of red chilies. I even ordered my dishes mild because my waiter was worried that medium was way too spicy for a non-native.
It's on Lorna Road in a shopping center before you cross 459. I didn't care for the TV show but made the mistake with the name. I could eat my weight in the spicy chutney they serve as a teaser. I agree that the heat is different; the waiters may be a little overly cautious in steering you away from the hot.
I ended up at Red Pearl Restaurant attached to Super Oriental Market at 243 West Valley Ave last night. While I took a copy of the menu with me, I already lost it. If I find it, I will scan and email it to birminghammenus.com. Anyway, I started with the scallion pancakes, which were thinner than I am familiar with, but good nonetheless, especially with a little sriracha. For my dinner, I had the beef with jalapenos. This was really good, although not as spicy as I had expected considering the name of the dish and the maybe 20 jalapenos sliced lenthwise. Leftovers were even better, as I added some of the Thai bird chilis that I bought at the market and made little roll-ups with the leftover pancakes. I think I will return soon to try the other dishes, like double and/or triple spicy (or triple chili, I forget the name) chicken, but maybe made with beef or pork. There are lots of dishes that I want to try there. English is limited.
I think Red Pearl would make a great chowhound outing for say 6-8 people. We used to do that a good bit up in Boston, as a way to meet chowhounders and try lots of new dishes at the same time. Maybe drop me a line if you're interested - email@example.com
I also love the market there. Tons of fresh and frozen seafood of all types, including very fresh looking head on shrimp for like $3 or $4/lb. Oysters and lobster were cheap too, especially considering the high price of lobster in the Northeast (although I didn't check what type of lobster). Also had fresh fish, eel, etc. I didn't buy any seafood but I did pick up some sauces, some frozen bao, frozen goya/potstickers, a bamboo steamer, and a few other items.
Speaking of the bamboo steamer, is there a good restaurant supply store open to the public in the area? I need a mandoline.
Have you tried the Asian Market on Greensprings for the bamboo steamer? They may have it for a pretty reasonable price. There is a restaurant supply place in downtown, somewhere on the southside. I want to say it's around 5th or 6th Ave South and maybe around 27th street or so? As long as I've lived in Birmingham (over 15 years) I don't know the cross-streets that well on that area of the southside. I just wander until I come upon it. You should be able to find it in the yellow pages I'm sure. I think it's called Bresco.
Had sushi and tempura veggies/calamari at Sekisui in Vestavia last night. I do not eat much sushi so I left my friend do all of the ordering since she is a regular there. She ordered a nigiri sampler that had one piece each of salmon, yellowtail, tuna (not toro), shrimp, crab stick, some eggy something or other, and another whitefish. All delicious and fresh tasting, prepared in front of us. She also loves the scallop hand rolls so we got a few of those. Maybe a little much for me. Also ordered bell pepper, shitake, broccoli, calamari, and sweet potato tempura, which was ok I guess but a little bland. I finished off the meal with a spicy seafood roll, which was good but a bit heavy on the red pepper (I assume that is what it is; I love spicy but that was quite hot). All in all, I guess it was great? It definitely was good, but I'm no sushi expert so I could not tell if it was excellent sushi or not. The service, between the sushi chefs and the waiter for the drinks and tempura, was excellent
Stopped by Pepper Place Mkt today. It was ok but I expected a little more I guess. I bought a homemade "blackberry" ice-cream that was lacking any blackberry taste. However, the tomato and goat cheese focaccia from the bakery at Culinard is very tasty. Hungry for a larger selection, we headed out to the Finley Blvd Mkt. Ok, now this is more my style - larger selection, watermelons bigger than a buick, plenty of fresh herbs, plants, flowers, vegetables, fruits, etc. I didn't buy anything today but will definitely return to buy some things to make a large dinner.
Ate lunch at ... maybe Nikki's out by the Finley Farmers Mkt? Meat and three type? It's huge and the steam table selection is enormous. Loved the fried okra and mac and cheese, collards ok, but the fried chicken was dry. I should have asked for some gravy to go with it. I'll go back to try the other offerings.
I think I will need to join a gym soon if I keep eating this way.
1. Asian--Downtown I shop at the one located at the corner of 7th Avenue South and 22nd street, but there are many choices in the Green Springs / West Valley Avenue section of Homewood/Birmingham.
2. Latin--I like El Mercado for Carnitas and other pork items as well as fresh corn tortillas. (A market with take out). I go to the one on Greensprings, but they also have a Lorna Road location. My favorite Mexican restaurant carnitas are served at Habanero's and they have more than one location. At any local Meican restaurant always ask for the "hot" salsa (or pico de gallo). Sometimes verde, sometimes made with dried chiles and always better than the "regular" salsa. Latin markets may be found in the same area of Greensprings and West Valley Avenue. The "Pig"--Piggly wiggly in Forest Park has a large Latin food selection as well. Cantina in Pepper Place has good fish tacos. Had a fabulous meal with friends visiting from CA at Sol y Luna on Saturday night--it's always excellent. 280 Cuban Grill may be the only Cuban restaurant, but my Cubano friends and I think it's very good.
3. Greek. Nabeels and I like the gyros etc. at Naji's Pita Stop on West Valley--great fresh pita, too. (Low on atmosphere and served on styrofoam, but tastes great and they have a market as well).
4. Indian. Taj India - I like the rabbit there.
5. Korean - How adventurous are you?
6. Vietnamese - I go to Pho Que Huong on Greensprings for pho noodle bowls. They are served with fresh jalapeno, bean sprouts, cilantro and lime on the side for seasoning. They also have summer rolls that are excellent with mint and shrimp.
7. Chinese - My favorite is Shangri La. The food is very clean and fresh even if it is somewhat American. The Peking duck was fine. (If you're a duck-lover you should try John's City Diner downtown for dinner. They have the best, crispiest duck in town.
8. Seafood. Definitely Ocean. The oysters and sea bass are incredible.
9. New American. 26 (next to Ocean in 5 Points South) should be added to the list below as well as Icon Restaurant & Bar in the Tutwiler Hotel. I've had some great food at (local) restaurant and cocktail bar in Vestavia as well.
10.O.T.s Neighborhood Sports Bar & Grill (Lakeview), Dale's Southern Grill (Vestavia) and John's City Diner downtown or Oak Hill Bar & Grill (Homewood) for meatloaf, fried okra, smashed potatoes, etc.
11. Chez Fonfon & O.T.s both make a great burger.
12. Pizza--My personal favorite is a whole wheat, thin crust Rock and Roll with anchovies on the side from Cosmo's in 5 Points. (Don't order thin crust to be delivered, tho' --it gets soggy).
13.BBQ. I'm from Kansas City and somewhat of a BBQ snob. I usually make my own but I do like O.T.s dry baby back ribs on Tuesdays with a bottle of Gates BBQ sauce from Kansas City.
14.www.bhamweekly.com, Birmingham Weekly published each Thursday and available at over 600 locations throughout Birmingham. Another "foodie" is always welcome. Birmingham Weekly covers food each issue and once a year we print a Menu of Menus magazine complete with menus, recipes, etc. from local restaurants. Call 939-4030 to find out where to obtain a copy near you.
15.Oops. I skipped Italian. Have to say Gianmarco's or Bottega as well. Others invariablty serve a too-sweet Sicilian red sauce. I haven't been to Bettola, but those who have love it.
Please let me know of any "jewels" you find here.
re: lynn Leishman
Lunched at Cantina in Pepper Place today. The menu indicates that they serve their tacos on flour tortillas - gross - but when I asked the nice guy expediting, he said they have corn tortillas too but most people that eat there want flour (crazy gringos). I ordered a fish (fried tilapia) taco and a carnitas taco, both on corn tortillas.
After ordering I spoke a while with the owner? who was expeditiing, asking whether they sold their carnitas by the pound (no, but he said some of the mercados out in Homewood/on Greensprings likely do), whether they or anyone in town serves al pastor pork (no, something about a health code issue? Maybe they cannot keep it on the spit and serve off of it?), about local chorizo tacos, about their Cubano (cannot wait to get back and try that) and whether they use real Cuban bread (he said unfortunately no one here makes fresh Cuban bread), etc. etc. He seemed surprised I asked all that, saying basically the majority of his customers do not like some of the stronger flavors associated with those meat preparations.
Anyway, the carnitas was served with onion, cilantro and some "roasted salsa." Tasted like regular fresh pico de gallo to me, which I like. The carnitas was very tasty and there was plenty of it, not the best I've ever had but it was definitely good. Anyway, at least I found a Mexican-style taco that I like here. The fish taco was the tilapia, two slivers of avocado, chile arbolo salsa, and supposedly cilantro mayo. I could taste the fish and some of the avocado and that was it. There was a nice long maybe 1/2 filet of tilapia, which was nice. It was great. I only have two qualms about the tacos. 1) At most of the latin restaurants, carnitas, beef, etc. tacos are typically only $1.75 or so. They were $2.75/taco here. However, fish tacos are typically more expensive at the few places I have previously tried, so it balanced out. 2) Both tacos were served with only one corn tortilla rather than the traditional two. This was fine for the fish, but the carnitas taco in all its juicy pico/meat jus splendor caused the tortilla to split apart, dropping all of the taco goodness in my dish. Oh well, I scooped it up with a chip.
Also, I asked for some picante and the guy gave me some russet red chile sauce, which I assumed was habanero based, but apparently not. I thought I heard the cook tell him chile en adobo (or chipotle en adobo) but I'm not positive. When I was about to put it on, he told me to go easy as it was hot but I had already tasted it and thought it tingly but not too hot. It was a great addition to the carnitas taco but overwhelmed the fish a little. I love to dice and use thai bird chiles on about everything so this was not hot, but good still. He also gave me, unasked, some chips and queso (they usually charge for them according to the menu). Chips were good but I'm not a huge queso fan.
All in all, I really like this place. I want to go back and try the Cubano with a beer and try and convince them to make the mollete stuffer with carnitas as well as the other ingredients.
Just came back from lunch at Catina and had to share my thoughts about the place. I didn't mind placing my order at the counter, but I felt a little like cattle as the cashier was rushing and a bit rude. It wasn't even that busy. Went to search for a table and found several empty ones with some very uncomfortable, wobbly metal chairs. They were darling to look at, but I wouldn't feel safe if I sat on one. Found a table with sturdy looking wooden ones, but had to clean the table off as it had not been bussed yet. I had ordered the fish taco and a pollo taco with a side of sweet potato fries. My friend had the fish sandwich and guacamole w/chips. First off, the guacamole is some of the freshest I've tasted in a long time. It could have used a hint more garlic, but otherwise, no complaints there!!! I'll go back just for the guac. The fish taco was great, but a bit skimpy on the crunchy cabbage and cilantro mayo. Honestly, I couldn't detect any hint of cilantro. The tequila grilled chicken taco was very flavorful, but unfortunately, not of tequila. My greatest disappointment were the sweet potato fries. They were more straws or strings than fries. Which would have been fine if they hadn't been so dry. I'll go back for the guacamole, but I think I'll try the cuban sandwich or the cilantro chicken plate. They looked very good on other people's plates.
re: lynn Leishman
I just got back from El Mercado on Greensprings and love the place, despite the language barrier. I picked up seemingly fresh corn tortillas, cilantro, a 1/2 lb of carnitas, some roma tomatoes, some big spring onion looking things, plus a bag of deliciously picante salsa verde (free with the carnitas I believe) all for $8. I just made a salsa cruda with a lot of that and will eat with chips and carnitas tacos tonight, washed down with a few modelos. On such a nice day, this is the life.
Also, picked up a menu from the "Asian Restaurant/The Koreans" from the back of the Asian Market place on Greensprings. The market next to Red Pearl is larger and more extensive, but both are great finds (thanks Hounds!). Also picked up a menu from Kabob & Curry, and San Miguel, all on or just off Greensprings. Little Bufford Highway, we are gonna become fast friends. Tried to get a menu from Pho Huong but it was closed from 3 to 5. Once I get my notes from my car about other places I saw, I will ask a few questions from the local hounds.