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Aug 8, 2007 01:21 PM

Birmingham - Favorite "cheap" eats/dishes?

While I love to dine at Icon, Gianmarco's, etc. as much as the next 'hound, sometimes such destinations fall outside of my budget. Yes, I realize y'all must have been thinking I was independently rich by now but that is not exactly the case.

One of the reasons I loved Boston was for the sheer variety of places you could drop by to pick-up or eat-in a specialty dish at a relative bargain. While I hate to specify cheap, what are your favorite take-out or eat in dishes for say under ~ $7ish? For example, the bahn mi at Que Huong, the carnitas taco at Cantina, maybe the gyro at the place Barb mentioned out on Lorna Road, etc. Sure some of these might be repeats but I'm bound to come across something I haven't tried (still haven't tried the gyro out on Lorna Rd). Anything from a favorite appetizer you often crave to just the best shwarma, to the best fries, nachos, whatever.

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  1. Some of these may inch a little closer to around $10, but here goes:

    Chicken noodle bowl (only served at lunch) or Thai noodle at Surin
    Carlene's Plate (BBQ salmon over a baby blue salad) at Homewood Gourmet
    Chicken sandwich with cheese at Billy's
    Fried chicken at Seafood and Chicken Box
    Macaroni and cheese at John's
    Crawfish pie (served only at lunch on Fridays) at O.T.'s
    Penee pasta with chicken (Friday special) at Taziki's
    Pesto wrap with turkey at Bottletree

    6 Replies
    1. re: pinotboy

      I noticed the crawfish pie at OT's before and wondered if it was any good. Will check it out.

      1. re: Dax

        Have you tried their fried pickles? They are great.

      2. re: pinotboy

        I thought in B'ham "Everyone Goes to Milo's" ! ! !

        1. re: kelomaki

          I think Milo's is an acquired taste. Either you love it or hate it. I don't particularly care for their fries (often undercooked), but their burgers are really really good in my opinion. Their sauce is so good I dunk my fries in it. Mmmmmmm

          A #1 combo is only about $4.60 with tax and unlimited refills on their great sweet tea. I usually eat there towards the end of the month when my money's running out.

          1. re: sheilal

            No doubt about it being an aquired taste... but the sauce has a unique blend of flavors. Our favorite location is just off I-65 north of town in Gardendale.

            1. re: kelomaki

              Too me, the smokey taste/spice is over-powering

      3. Sal's on Hwy 11 just past the exit/entrance to Hwy 59 will sell you a single serving of three large succulent meatballs for under $3. Ask for one or two of their small fresh baguettes and a little parmesan cheese and make yourself a delicious meatball sub. They have a 1/2 Greek chicken that is good, but sometimes a little oily for under $9.

        The carnitas at Habaneros, behind John's City Diner on Gadsden Hwy, are delicious and also around $9. They make a mean shrimp quesadilla, to boot! Service is speedy quick and food is hot and fresh every time.

        Love the lobster bisque at Brio's in Homewood. A nice bowl of that and a good wedge of iceberg with blue cheese and bacon will set you right for under $10 day or night.

        The little hole in the wall that could - Chop Suey Inn - on Greensprings puts out a mean bacon fried rice and fresh tasty egg rolls for cheap cheap. Ask for extra hot mustard. For some reason they guard that stuff like gold.

        For the most bang for your buck, Tavern on the Summit will serve you a huge (and I do mean huge) plate of nachos with all the trimmings for around $6 or $7. I like to order the crabcake appetizer and have them add a small miso dressed salad on the side. Big enough for a light lunch and cheaper than ordering the crabcake entree. They also have a tasty prime rib sandwich that runs about $9 or so. Ask for grilled onions, au jus AND horseradish sauce. See which you like the best.

        I'm wracking my brain here. I'll come back when I think of more. Get thee to Costa's on Lorna Rd, in the meantime. That gyro is good stuff! They make kick-ass bleu cheese dressing there, too. Some little old lady drives in to mix it up every day. That sandwich comes with fries but they will sub a salad if you ask. Ask.

        1 Reply
        1. I second the Chicken noodle bowl at Surin for lunch! The chicken massaman w/cashews is great too! Also, around the UAB area, I love the grilled amberjack poboy at Fish Market. They put so much fish on the poboy, that I have to take some out just to fit it into my mouth.
          The mac & cheese at John's City Diner is so creamy and filling. Yum! While I love gyros, they make a mean burger at Purple Onion! Not quite the Chez FonFon level, but good all the same. At times I crave the pig-in-a-salad at Jim N Nick's. With pork, bacon, toasted almonds, crispy croutons, cheese, etc topped with a bbq ranch (and lots of added hot sauce), it really hits the spot. Plus it comes with garlic cheese muffins. Red Robin which recently opened in Trussville has some great burgers as well and an endless bowl of fries. The seasoning salt they have on the table is a great addition to the fries. The Seafood Market in Trussville has great coconut shrimp if you're craving a "beachy" treat. Leonardo's has good fettucine alfredo, but the real draw there are their rolls. OMG! Soaked in butter, they are irresistible!!! Not too healthy, but if you're ordering the alfredo, what's an extra few hundred calories???!!! I also like Zoe's grilled chicken greek salad with feta. Their homemade dressing is great.
          The southwestern egg rolls with avocado and tamarind dipping sauce at Cheesecake Factory is sublime. The roasted garlic/white wine/shallot/grilled chicken pizza at The California Pizza Kitchen is really good too.

          1 Reply
          1. re: sheilal

            Our go-to at the Cheesecake Factory are the Thai Lettuce Wraps. Huge serving for an appetizer. Just right for a light summer dinner. The fire roasted artichokes and the tamale cakes with avocado salad are very good, too.

            I like the salads at Jim N Nick's, but I get the BBQ on the side to eat by itself. I really miss the boiled eggs, though. No clue why they stopped adding those to the salad.

            John's is a pretty good deal at lunch. The baked herb chicken is really tasty. I love their coarse ground grits with roasted corn as a side. I'd love to try duplicating that one at home.

          2. Get thee to a taqueria, where they run about $1.50 or so with authentic ingredients like lengua and carnitas. We're blessed with a bunch in this town. A few suggestions:
            Las Americas on W. Valley
            Taqueria Mexico on Lorna Rd.
            Taqueria Mi Casita in the Pallisades shopping center off Green Springs Rd.
            All also make good tortas, along with the Chivo Torta shop tucked into a little plaza near the Bruno's off Lorna Rd. in Hoover.

            The lunch buffet at Taj India on Highland
            The pho at Que Hong (the spring and summer rolls used to be a downright bargain, but they recently raised prices. They're still righteous, though. The spring rolls are my favorite in town).
            Nabeel's -- good Mediterranean food at a great price.
            The burgers and wings at On Tap (great beer selection, too).
            The Chinese food at Red Pearl is good and decently priced. We're hurting in this town for good authentic Chinese food and the dim sum scene is --- dim.
            A great cheapo Chinese restaurant is China Moon on Clairmont in the Piggly Wiggly plaza. I'll take Hong Kong Harbor in Atlanta any day, but it's one of the best for the money.

            14 Replies
            1. re: Big Daddy

              Oh believe me I prefer taquerias for tacos and tortas. Any of these have good chorizo, al pastor or barbacoa for tacos or tortas? Where is La Americas on W. Valley (cannot find on yahoo yellow pages). As far out as the Red Pearl past Greensprings?

              Been to the lunch buffet at Taj and liked it ok. Prefer some more spice so want to try Silver Coin in Hoover (edit: yes I originally typed Silver Spoon - damn you Ricky Stratton and your race car bed!). I really haven't tried any places in hoover yet.

              I like Nabeel's ok so far.

              China Moon was pretty weak, even for Westernized "Chinese" when I tried it this past Sunday when I was too lazy to venture far from my couch (it's about 5 blocks from me). I heard there is a "good" Westernized place near Otey's in Crestline Village but haven't tried it yet.

              Red Pearl is hit or miss in my three visits there. What are your favorite dishes there? Fellow chowhound gyp and I went recently and were underwhelmed with our dishes. Still seems like the best bet in town.

              Great suggestions, keep 'em coming!

              1. re: Dax

                Las Americas is just past the Red Pearl/ Oriental supermarket. They also have a little market attached that has a pretty good selection.

                You're right about the Pearl being hit or miss, not only in food but also in its health ratings. I like the squid dishes there and the pork with tofu and bamboo shoots. They used to have a much better menu, but have dumbed it down. I wish we had some even decent Chinese food around here. There once was a place called P's Oriental Gourmet that did Hong Kong style food and served dim sum. Closed.

                Where do you go for Chinese food?

                Frankly, the dumbing-down effectis my complaint with practically all ethnic food here. The Mexican places are good, when they're catering to the community like the taquerias. (Another decent place that comes to mind is La Macarena off U.S. 280 across from the Target Plaza). As for the al pastor, most of the restaurants I cited do a credible job (although some is too sweet for my taste). I'm still looking for good chorizo in markets or restaurants; I'm a Detroit native of Mexican descent and have yet to try anything as good as what we used to get in Mexicantown and bring home.

                Taj suffers from this dumbing down problem to some degree. If you get down to Hoover, try the Silver Coin (it's off Lorna at Rocky Ridge). Wonderful naan and I haven't had anything there I haven't liked. Decent number of Indian people there.

                Getting away from the topic on your post, if you're looking for good, authentic Japanese food, it's worth a trip down 280 to the Kimono, near Greystone. Leo, the sushi chef and owner, will hook you up if you ask for omakase or just say I want to eat like your Japanese customers do.

                1. re: Big Daddy

                  re: Where do you go for Chinese food? Atlanta. After living about a mile away from Boston's Chinatown for roughly 4 years, I miss the extent available in larger cities.

                2. re: Dax

                  Hey Dax,
                  The chinese place you're referring to is Chen Express. My hairdresser turned me onto them. They are quick, pretty inexpensive, and more importantly, they DELIVER. I've had their pot stickers and steamed chicken and vegetables. Both were very tasty. The chicken and veges were a part of their low cal/low fat spa menu and had a very tasty sauce on the side. I'm sure they will deliver to your place since it really isn't too far away from Crestline.

                  I know a lot of people who LOVE China Moon, including my brother when he lived in Bham. I never understood it besides the fact that they were cheap and the portions plentiful. I found it to be too greasy, salty, and just bleh.

                  Silver Coins has a weekday buffet that is supposed to be really good. Watch out though, they don't dumb down the heat level for the western palate and some dishes were almost too hot to eat for a friend of mine.

                  1. re: gyp7318

                    I love the not duming down part. Hoover just seems like such a hike living and working in Forest Park/Southside.

                    Chen Express, yes! Some friends that live in Forest Park said they deliver to their place, so will check them out. Any idea about an online menu?

                    1. re: Dax

                      Dax, we drive to Atlanta to feed most of our ethnic cravings, when Birmingham just can't satisfy. Better Vietnamese, Thai, Korean and Mexican to be had on Buford Hwy and such. Good thing I have family there and a reason to make the drive regularly. We should do a Buford tour one day! We live in Forest Park very close to Avondale. Are you liking this area?

                      ShangriLa (off Montclair Rd) delivers to this area. They do a good hot and sour soup and have fresh summer rolls (the soft unfried ones...I get confused with summer and spring - different at different places) if you ask Grace who usually answers the phone. The shrimp in black bean sauce is good, if a little sweet. Avoid any beef there. It's been "velveted" and has that unappetizing mushy texture that I avoid like the plague.

                      1. re: chanterelle

                        Chanterelle - I really like Forest Park so far. I still have to try Little Savannah which looks good but the prices are a little spendy for the main ingredient in the dishes on the sign outside. Maybe I'll try some apps at the bar.

                        Will give ShangriLa a shot.

                        1. re: Dax

                          You are correct about Little Savannah's prices. The food there is good but it is not on the same level as Highlands, and yet its prices are often higher than Highlands.

                          1. re: Dax

                            I take back my recommendation for the Shrimp w/Black Beans. The last time I ordered it, I thought it was sub-par but the fresh rolls are still delicious and not on the menu, so remember to ask.

                            Now I'm commuting back and forth to Atlanta during the week due to a job change. I'm not ready to give up my home in B'ham yet, so I'm in Atlanta M-F and home on the weekends. I'm working close to Duluth and Buford Hwy is now a short drive away! I'm in heaven!

                            And on the Little Savannah topic, I would rather spend my money at Ocean or 26. The food is good but not mindblowing, and for that money I want it to be memorable. They fill a neighborhood need for higher end dining, however. It's still good to know they're there if and when you want to go.

                        2. re: Dax

                          I doubt Chen Express has anything online. It sounds like a small mom and pop place that probably hasn't invested in any web stuff.

                          Someone mentioned Chop Suey Inn on Greensprings. I know of a person that raves about that place---that it is really good americanized chinese, plentiful portions, and very CHEAP. I have never tried it b/c it is take out only and I don't want to deal w/the 15 minute to and from my house. Lazy, I know! I actually now prefer Chen Express to Shangri-La. I was real pleased w/how fresh the food tasted and the veges still had a nice crunch to them.

                          Getting korean food in b'ham is getting a little better. I really like the korean bbq at Ginza on Valleydale Rd off Hwy 280. I hate, HATE driving down 280 but I will for their spicy beef bbq. It's essentially boneless galbi marinated in gochujang, a spicy red bean paste. Pretty good ban chan as well. The kimchee passes my korean-american taste buds. :)

                          1. re: gyp7318

                            gyp, I was the one that mentioned Chop Suey Inn. I wouldn't feel confident ordering just anything off their menu, but what is good there is good. The eggrolls are always piping hot and filled with fresh tasting ingredients, including shrimp. I think you get three fat ones for under $3. I remember ordering something there with ginger once (and I LOVE ginger) and there were large matchstick sized pieces mixed in that, once chewed, overwhelmed any other flavor in the dish - filling my mouth with that distinctive hot soapy astringency that ginger in large volumes will deliver. So I'm pretty tame now when I order from there, usually getting the more mundane dishes that I would never bother with at another Asian restaurant, namely fried rice. They have several different options (I think hot dog fried rice is even one of them!), but the bacon is my all-time favorite and they are generous with it, without it making the rice extremely oily.

                            Everyone raves about Thai here, either citing Taste of Thailand or Surin as their favorite, but I've yet to find a Thai restaurant that meets or exceeds my expectations within the city limits. The best I've had in the south is Chiang Mai in Lawrenceville, GA.

                        3. re: gyp7318

                          Crap; I typed up a long reply but accidentally hit the back button. Long story short, dinner at Chen Express was good, very fresh tasting Americanized "Chinese" favorites, prepared well. Great peking dumplings

                          1. re: Dax

                            Where is this Chen Express? I've never heard of it. Is it new? My favorite American/Chinese is in the Festival Center (Crestwood Area). Golden Palace. Excellent egg rolls and the best hout & sour soup around. Plus, if you ask for something extra spicy, they definitely accommodate.

                            1. re: sheilal

                              The Hunan chicken, while nothing amazing, were nonetheless freshly battered and fried even if the diced vegetables (small pieces of carrots, onions and peas) were likely frozen. You could actually see the herbs in the pork meat in the dumplings, which are probably the best I have tasted in town so far. Hot and sour soup was good, lots of mostly fresh tasting ingredients. Still odd to eat "Chinese" at a place when you're being served by Caucasians, but whatever ...

                    2. You have to get downtown and try Birmingham-style hot dogs, either at Pete's Famous or Gus's Hot Dogs. If you get one "all the way," you'll get mustard, onions, kraut, and a slightly-sweet-slightly-spicy red sauce that is Birmingham's own. Also, the chili-slaw dogs at Gus's are the best. Either place, get it to go or be prepared to stand. There are a few wobbly stools along a foot-wide counter at Gus's. At Pete's, you have to stand, and you do what we've dubbed "The Pete's Famous shuffle" when someone leaves -- everyone sucks in to let them past, then shuffles down closer to the cash register. Both places are pure downtown Bham.

                      9 Replies
                      1. re: bhamdining

                        Great tip! Are either open on Sundays?

                        Also, is Social Grill still open?

                        1. re: GroovinGourmet

                          My recollection is that Pete's is open from @ 11:00-5:00 on Sundays, but I would call first to check. Gus's is not open on Sundays. There are not many places open on Sundays in Birmingham other than chains.

                          Social Grill has been closed for years.

                        2. re: bhamdining

                          I tired to go to Pete's once but the line stretching outside was not moving so I went across the street for a gyro at a place called the Pita Stop or something like that. Bad idea.

                          1. re: Dax

                            It is best to hit Pete's around the time that it opens to avoid the long lines. You should have seen it on Saturdays back when Alabama still played some of its home games at Legion Field--it was a nightmare!

                            1. re: pinotboy

                              Two Pete's dogs all the way for under $4 with tax isn't bad either. NO need for chips and they held up to the 10 minute trip to the office much better than expected. I liked the combination of mildly spicy and sweet with the kraut and other toppings. Will try Gus' chili dogs soon. This post was in no way brought to you by my other healthy eats post.

                              As an aside, the traffic light system in downtown and Southside is horrible.

                              1. re: Dax

                                Someone told me recently that Gus's was closed....

                                1. re: SkippyLeBeef

                                  Negative. I had lunch there first of last week.

                                    1. re: SkippyLeBeef

                                      You may be thinking about Tony's Terrific, which did close within the last couple of weeks. It was located on the corner of Second Avenue North and 20th Street.