Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Central South >
Dec 25, 2010 06:59 PM

Not to miss culinary experiences in Birmingham

I have friends from Ohio coming for a week. I'd like some suggestions about what you all would consider your top 5 or 6 dining recommendations in Birmingham (or within a 45 minute radius from downtown). They're originally from the Boston area, so I don't think I'm going to even try taking them anywhere for seafood.

Another important qualification: Neither I nor my friends are particularly interested in anything too hoity-toity or expensive, so skip Highlands and its ilk. Sorry if that's weird.

I'll just tell you a few that reflect what I have in mind...please feel free to upvote/downvote:

1. BBQ: Saw's in Homewood or Jim N Nicks.
2. Breakfast: OHOP
3. Thai: Surin 280
4. Southern Fried Chicken: Seafood and Chicken Box
5. Food "trip": Wright Dairy (Anniston)
6. One "nice" but not hoity toity meal: Gianmarco
7. Lunch: Brick and Tin or Max's Deli or Gordo's or Kool Korner
8. Tex-Mex: 2 Pesos vs. Cantina Superior
11. Chinese: Mr. Chen's
12. Pub food: Tavern at the Summit or Village Tavern
13. Bakery?

Please feel to add your favorites. I'd really love your help here. Thanks in advance.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. For BBQ, I'd probably nix the Jim & Nick's and stick with Saw's or maybe add Miss Myra's to the mix. Also, to me, as far as a local 'chain' of BBQ goes, I'd put Full Moon or Golden Rule about Jim & Nick's.

    For Thai, I prefer Thai Emerald in Greystone over Surin. The service is always better than Surin's, and I like the atmosphere/ambiance better.

    Indian @ Sitar or Silver Coin might be a nice option. Don't even bother with Taj India.

    For Mediterranean, the Pita Stop Cafe cannot be beat; the new location in Cahaba Heights (across from Winn Dixie) has a lot better ambiance than the original UAB location, and the food is every bit as great.

    For lunch, I agree with Max's or Kool Korner (haven't been to Brick & Tin yet), but if you don't mind good sandwiches, also consider Diplomat Deli or even Billy's (the Liberty Park location to me has better atmosphere than the English Village one).

    For Tex-Mex, I have heard mixed reviews on Chuy's, but my standby is Zonna Rosa in Liberty Park. Basically it's where all of the Mexico Lindo food, servers, and decor moved after Mexico Lindo was ousted by that Mtn Brook development off Hollywood that never materialized.

    Taj India
    2226 Highland Ave S, Birmingham, AL 35205

    Pita Stop Cafe
    1106 12th St S, Birmingham, AL 35205

    Thai Emerald
    5408 Highway 280, Birmingham, AL 35242

    Mexico Lindo
    501 S Jefferson St, Athens, AL 35611

    Golden Rule
    81 Church St, Birmingham, AL 35213

    2 Replies
    1. re: johnnystiletto

      Thanks. Good stuff. We live very near Thai Emerald and took them there last time they were here...I think the dishes at TE are more unfamiliar to them than those at Surin....TE is my absolute favorite down this way for sushi though. Prob will do Silver Coin and may Zona Rosa too. Pita stop is a good suggestion!

      1. re: johnnystiletto

        As far as pure (pulled) pork goes, Saw's has everyone here beat. However, I greatly prefer Jim and Nick's over Miss Myra's, Full Moon, or Golden Rule. To me, those three have average at best pork (not talking "barbecued" chicken with white sauce here). Plus I love the habanero sauce at J&N. Saw's is great but sometimes their sides are hit or miss, as are their ribs.

        I'd skip the Thai unless they are starving for it after the move to Ohio. If they were adventurous at all while living in Boston, Boston's Thai scene is worlds better than ours.

        Actually, Boston's Taiwanese (Chen's), Indian, Mediteranean, Jewish Deli, Cuban, Bakery, etc options are worlds above ours. However most of ours are still worth a trip. Boston did not have good Tex-Mex and most of my (good) experiences there were with taquerias (mostly Mexican and Salvadoran). I would stick to Latin and local Alabama options.

        Fon Fon might also be an inexpensive option.

      2. Curej, just my opinions on a few:
        BBQ - I like Jim N Nicks 280 is great.
        Southern Fried Chicken - if you don't want to drive out to Trussville, and don't want oversalted chicken, go to Max's Deli. I like it hands down against Seafood and Chicken Box.
        Lunch - Max's Deli again gets a vote from me. We've had everything from their Ruben to their hamburgers and hotdogs. Have yet to find anything we didn't like.
        Tex-Mex - I'm a fan of both 2 Pesos and Cantina Superior, though I like the larger selection at 2 Pesos.
        Chinese - we stopped by Mr. Chen's for lunch yesterday after Christmas with the family. I really should be ashamed I don't get by there more often since we moved. The steamed buns were absolutely fantastic.

        Have fun with your friends, and let us know where you decided to take them. I'd love to hear what they had to say about our favorite haunts.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Jannae

          I like Max's fried chicken...we'll probably be going there anyway...I just think the atmosphere at Chicken and Seafood Box is sort of classic Alabama strip mall, and I get a kick out of it. We'll be going to Chen's, too. Went there yesterday with my kids for Christmas lunch and it was great. My wife had her first allergic reaction to shrimp (I think anyway) though....a little spooky, but not Chen's fault. THANKS!!

          1. re: curej

            seconding (thirding?) the suggestion for max's for fried chicken.

        2. Makarios has pretty good Mediterranean food. The decor is tacky and low-end though.

          1. Just cutting & pasting from your list:

            1. BBQ: I don't think B'ham has crazy-great barbecue so I would drive the just-over 45 minute limit you gave and give your guests a *real* Alabama 'cue experience at Archibald's in Northport/Tuscaloosa. Choose whichever day of the week you can sit outside comfortably and eat on one of the picnic tables outside. That is an Alabama barbecue experience.

            2. Breakfast: Makes me wish Crepes Eggs-Cetera was still around, however awful the name. Those latkes could not be beat. In any case, Demitri's in Homewood has a pretty good breakfast. Good luck getting a park in the morning. I will NOT go to Bogue's for lunch, but the breakfast is good... I still need to try "The Egg & I" and the new b'fast place that just opened at the Mountain Brook exit off 280. Starts with an O.

            3. Thai: I like Taste of Thailand on Lorna.

            4. Southern Fried Chicken: Max's.

            5. Food "trip": I actually used to drive to Anniston to get Wright Dairy milk before V. Richard's carried it. Maybe make the trek to Archibald's your trip and you could show your guests the campus at Alabama (and a million other things - the Westervelt-Warner Museum, etc)? Get there in the morning and have breakfast at The Waysider - that is a great breakfast. Or...what about one of the vineyards, like Morgan Creek? But if they are wine snobs, maybe not.

            6. One "nice" but not hoity toity meal: Gianmarco's doesn't really do it for me, I'd go Veranda or Bottega.

            7. Lunch: Chez FonFon

            8. Tex-Mex: I don't think this is a great option in B'ham.

            11. Chinese: Mr. Chen's

            12. Pub food: Just not sure.

            13. Bakery: Continental for bready things, not sweets.

            I've been to Boston. They have us beat on ethnic.

            Some other thoughts:
            Stick to our strengths.

            Barbecue, already discussed. Plus, if you get to Miss Myra's there's white chicken sauce and that's something hard to find outside Alabama.

            At Veranda you can give them a taste of New Orleans thanks to the staff imported from Commander's.

            At Bright Star in Bessemer there's straight Greek and Southern. That is a beautiful thing. Introduce them to Jimmy or Nick and that can be a great conversational experience, especially if they're any kind of college football fan and you can very easily steer things toward a Bear Bryant (or many other football legends) story.

            If you go to Fish Market (I know they're from Boston, but Fish Market really can be quite fine) they can try West Indies Salad which is native to Mobile. Shrimp & grits, too. Heck, alligator.

            Take them for catfish at Fish Market or one of the other barbecue joints. Don't forget fried pickles!

            If Boston hasn't been blessed with a Krispy-Kreme yet, you can't let them leave without a 'hot one'.

            Gilchrist in Mountain Brook at lunch. Hello, aspic. Hello, you gorgeous egg and olive sandwich. Hello, pimento cheese.

            Short field-trip to Peanut Depot on Morris Avenue!

            Don't miss a trip across the line at Niki's on Finley. Getting yelled at "siiirrrr...maaaa'aaam..." is half the fun. As are the fried green tomatoes and those glorious collards and rutabagas. Hot banana pudding. Classic Alabama meat & three.

            I can go on forever...

            Bright Star Restaurant
            304 19th St N, Bessemer, AL 35020

            1512 Greensboro Ave, Tuscaloosa, AL 35401

            Bogue's Restaurant
            3028 Clairmont Ave S, Birmingham, AL 35205

            Gianmarco's Restaurant
            721 Broadway St, Birmingham, AL 35209

            Southern Fried Chicken
            1313 W Walnut St, Rogers, AR 72756

            Egg & I Restaurant
            4741 Chace Cir, Hoover, AL 35244

            5 Replies
            1. re: deepfriedkudzu

              DFK: This has made me decide that I MUST try GIlchrist. I've driven past it a hundred times and honestly didn't even know it was a restaurant! I'm dying for some good aspic.

              1. re: deepfriedkudzu

                Please expound on the aspic offering at Gilchrist. I like their pimento cheese.

                1. re: Dax

                  Johnnystiletto: oh it's a must-do! The aspic is (Dax:) just regular tomato aspic, with a dollop of mayonnaise on the side, but how many places can you have lunch that offers *aspic*!?

                  It just makes my little Southern heart so happy. I order it every time.

                  At home I make aspic and serve it in little tea cups. It never fails to impress people from other parts of the country. They think they just stepped onto the set of GWTW.

                  BTW, Gilchrist also serves breakfast *cheap* but I've never tried it.

                  Curej: while I was out tonight, I thought of a couple of other "Birmingham" food experiences: a Milo's hamburger with the fries and sweet tea. Not something that will impress anyone, necessarily, but Milo's is the only place that does their hamburgers that way. And they're great.

                  Especially if your friends watch Top Chef, consider taking them to Flip (if anyone else here is a TC fan, Richard Blais has his own show on Science Channel now: ). Where else can you get a "Southern burger" which consists of "country fried beef, pimento cheese, b&b pickles, green tomato ketchup" (and it's wonderful)? They're doing fried b&b pickles, too. Oh...and those milkshakes...come on...

                  1. re: deepfriedkudzu

                    the new breakfast place in Mt Brook is called Over Easy- I'm not a big breakfast eater so i haven't been. Gilchrist is great always crowded and not many tables so avoid the rush hour-11:30-1:00-
                    does anyone remember the Magic Pan at Brookwood mall-I loved that place as a child!!
                    I can't wait to try Max's chicken-got the latest groupon from there and will use it soon
                    I'm heading to Cocina Superior tonight-I like it alot for Mexican
                    what about Ted's for a meat and 3- my D and BF go there often and they eat out often.

                    Cocina Superior
                    587 Brookwood Vlg, Birmingham, AL 35209

                    1. re: deepfriedkudzu

                      I too make my own aspic and serve it with a shrimp mayonnaise. I use an old copper ring mold for mine, but I love the idea of tea cups!

                      As far as pimento cheese goes, I rarely eat it out anywhere since I prefer to make my own.

                2. I don't consider Chez Fon Fon hoity toity (despite the name). It's pretty reasonably priced as well. It's a Stitt restaurant so it is definitely Highland's ilk in that manner though.

                  The Cafe side of Bottega is not that expensive or upscale feeling to me either (though it's better in the summer when you can sit outside).

                  I mention those because it seems odd to do a B'ham culinary experience tour without any of Frank's restaurants.

                  The places you've got picked out are pretty good. Continental Bakery's rosemary foccaccia is delicious and Chez Lulu next door is good for a light lunch.

                  Chez Lulu
                  1911 Cahaba Rd, Birmingham, AL 35223