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Feb 22, 2011 11:43 AM

LA to Birmingham. Where Do I Eat?!


I'm traveling (too briefly!) through Birmingham for work, and I've never been. I'll probably only have one (maybe two?) opportunities to check out the local food scene, and would love some recommendations. I live in Los Angeles and I've been fortunate enough to eat all over the country, but I'd say my true Southern dining experiences are lacking. Where do I go around (or close to) downtown Birmingham to fill that void? I've read a lot about Niki's and Irondale, and both sound delicious, but I'm open to options!
Thank you!

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  1. By all means go to NIKI's, and do NOT do the Irondale Cafe.
    Niki's is the best example of a Southern "Meat N Three" in B'ham; The Irondale Cafe is mediocre by comparison.

    1. For southern food I'd recommend Dyron's or Highlands. They're more upscale than the meat and three recommendation but if you're coming halfway across the country, I wouldn't recommend diner food.

      For seafood, I'd recommend Ocean, 26, or Hot & Hot. Although you've got seafood in LA, you'll find options more regionally specific (Florida grouper, gulf shrimp) that aren't as common where you're from.

      8 Replies
      1. re: mahalan

        While I really like Dyron's, it's more low-country than Southern and while I realize there is some overlap, there are lots of places in SC then Augusta that do LC better. Highlands is top notch although in my single visit I thought my main (venison) did not justify the sticker price. The meat itself was fine, but the sides were weak (to the point I cannot even recall what they were when I ate less than a month ago). However, apps, drinks, service etc. were extraordinary.

        1. re: Dax

          The Veranda has a New Orleans twist, but it's mighty fine food and would be something regional at least for someone from LA (and not Lower Alabama). Little Savannah is another option for Southern-style high-end cooking. Actually downtown is Cafe Dupont, another haven for haute Southern.
          Relatively close to downtown, best bet would be before-dark drinks at The Garage courtyard, followed by dinner at Hot and Hot.

          Cafe Dupont
          113 20th St N, Birmingham, AL 35203

          Little Savannah Restaurant
          3811 Clairmont Ave S, Birmingham, AL 35222

          1. re: Dax

            Would someone from LA know the difference between southern and low country? Coming from Texas I certainly didn't.

            1. re: mahalan

              But isn't the point being able to experience and understand what distinguishes Low Country from other Southern cuisines?
              Otherwise, it would be like one of us going west in search of the mythical "California" cuisine -- as if cuisine in San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego and Fresno were interchangable. Or someone from out there thinking barbecue is the same everywhere you go around here -- that 'cue is the same in Texas, Memphis and North Carolina.
              There are enough misperceptions about the South in the rest of the nation. We should take pride in our food and the sophisticated yet unique level at which we prepare it.
              That's not to say we shouldn't suggest good Low Country- or New Orleans-style restaurants here in Birmingham. Just help visitors understand the differences.

              1. re: Big Daddy

                Sorry. Not being from around here, I didn't realize that the difference - well, mattered.

                1. re: mahalan

                  Awwww, we're just jawboning here.
                  But, in my opinion, such differences do matter to people who appreciate food and regional influences on a cuisine. That's part of the joy of being into food and exploring other cultures through their cooking.
                  But also, these differences can affect the dining experience. Somebody who equates Chinese food with relatively mild Cantonese cuisine would be in for a pepper-fused shock upon walking into a Sichuan place.

                  1. re: mahalan

                    If you were from the Low Country, the distinction would probably matter. It's kind of like lumping different barbecue styles together, or maybe cajun and creole. But we are digressing from the area food discussion ...

                    1. re: Dax

                      PoorLAFoodGirl. Asks for restaurants and gets a culinary lecture instead.
                      Nikki's on Finley for lunch. Hot and Hot/Little Savannah/Cafe Dupont for dinner. My recommendations.

          2. can you give us an idea of what price point you're interested in and what meals you'll be having? i second the little savannah recommendation - they do southern better than any other restaurant in town in my opinion - and i strongly urge you not to waste your time here at irondale cafe. fannie flagg and fried green tomatoes made it famous, but it's just not very good - and even the fried green tomatoes are disappointing!

            1 Reply
            1. re: bhamgirl99

              It would also probably be helpful if LAFoodGirl could indicate times she might be in the area. Traveling to and traveling thru Birmingham can mean very limited time constraints. For example, Highlands is fabulous, but sadly, not open for lunch. So if there's a four hour layover window during the day, she would be out of luck.