My experiences in Tuscaloosa
I’m a northerner who has spent a lot of time in Tuscaloosa over the past six months. Here are my impressions of the restaurants I have gone to. Disclosure – I am not a barbecue fanatic and I don’t like catfish. This may limit the range of my opinions. Also, I never got a good raw oyster in Tuscaloosa. Was that just bad luck or are warm water oysters not as good as cold water?
5 – I really like this place. Very well prepared food. Great ribeye and pork chop. Problem – they only have five entrees plus a dish that rotates daily. Not much variety in the sides and appetizers, although they are very good. After a few visits, it gets tiresome. Noisy. Not cheap. A chain.
Jim N’Nicks – Went here three times. Good brisket, good baby back ribs, bad spare ribs. Gristle and fat. Good pie. A chain.
Sitar Indian Restaurant – My favorite restaurant in Tuscaloosa. Very good Indian food. I recommended it to everyone and took all my guests there. Gosht Palak – lamb and spinach. Shrimp Chettinad – shrimp in a savory sauce. Chicken 65. I went there once for the lunch buffet and was not impressed. I was surprised to find this was a chain. Felt like a friendly family restaurant.
Front Porch (Northport) – Meat and three. Powdered mashed potatoes. What more do I need to say?
Mr. Bills (Northport) – Meat and three. Powdered mashed potatoes. What more do I need to say?
15th St. Diner - Only went there once. Liked the atmosphere. Southern/comfort food. Chicken pot pie with lots of corn starch. Gumbo with lots of corn starch.
Longhorn Steak house – I swore I would never go there because I hate the ads, but it was the best chain steak house I found. Good prime rib. I went there a lot. Close to my hotel after an 11 hour day.
Nicks in the Sticks – I went there with friends. I had a good ribeye and the atmosphere was nice, but it was a lot longer drive than Longhorn. Sorry.
De Palmas – The only Italian Restaurant in Tuscaloosa I know of other than Olive Garden. Not bad. Not expensive. A pleasant place. But not like Yonkers or the North End. How can you call yourself Italian if customers aren’t stuffed when they leave. Never tried the pizza.
Steamers – Fish. Used to be the Bayou, which I loved. Great gumbo. Steamers is pleasant, but not as good. I like the Shrimp Basket better.
Shrimp Basket – Fish. All you can eat very good steamed shrimp on Tuesdays. What more do I need to say? Busy. $4.99 for six oysters on the half shell! I’ve never tried them because I didn’t want to take up room that I could use for shrimp. A chain.
Wintzel’s – Fish. Went here once. Didn’t like the steamed shrimp or the atmosphere. Others have told me they really like it. A chain.
Mexican restaurants. I tried Iguana Grill, Los Tarascos, and Pepito’s. I only gave them one try each because they had bad chicken enchiladas with salsa verde. Stringy chicken. Pasty green sauce. I got takeout burritos from Chipotle and Moe’s. Ok. There are a lot of Hispanic people in Tuscaloosa. There must be some good restaurants.
Epiphany – A friend took me here. Hoity toity. An interesting focus on local food. Very pleasant. Not impressed. My wife might like it.
Evangeline’s – A client took me here. Fancy schmancy. Very pleasant. Not impressed. My wife would probably like it.
Taziki’s – Got takeout. Good cheap mall Greek food. Lamb. Gyros.
Dreamland – I went to the original funky one with a friend. Ribs, white bread, beer. And that’s it. Enjoyed it.
Swen Chinese Restaurant – Got takeout. Ok.
I hope this is helpful. I'm going back in the spring, so I am interested in other ideas.
Dreamland may make my favourite ribs. We visit the one in Huntsville and I know they do quality control out of Tuscaloosa (Jerusalem Hts.)
Right beside the stadium is Rama Jama's. We ate there and it was a huge hit. 5 of us all tolled and everyone was thoroughly satisfied. I had a burger and it was fabulous. If you like the flat top kind.
If you head to BHam give Green Acres a try. We went to the "Original" right down town. True soul food that's surprisingly good. Considering "All the way" is S&P, hot sauce and ketchup. (On fried chicken wings, fried catfish, gizzards, etc) Never thought it would work but it does.
Tuscaloosa definitely has its challenges, but this is a strange rundown. As noted elsewhere here, it neglects the best ribs place, Archibald's on MLK. Also the best Chinese place, Mr. Chen's, a branch of the Birmingham one but so what? People love it. Also the best meat and three, Maggie's Diner. Also the second best meat and three, Carmelo's Cafe. And so on. There are even Turkish and Persian restaurants, Shiraz International Grill and Yakamoz, both imperfect but with some great dishes. And the pizza at DePalma's is pretty good, try the Catalonian.
Thanks for the response. I don't think the rundown is so strange. I was in town for a long time, so I tried a bunch of places. There was nothing on Chowhound. Yelp recommended a lot of places that weren't so good. Red Lobster got the same rating as Shrimp Basket. As I indicated, I'm not a major rib fan. I did try Carmelo's, but it was the first day I was in town and I didn't remember it. Is it really considered meat and three?.
When I go back, I'll try your other recommendations.
Sitar and Five are chains much in the same way as DiPalma's and Tazaki's. There are 5 or less locations (more to Taziki's) but they are still mostly limited to Alabama and Georgia (pretty much the same with Jim and Nicks'). I have not been to the JnN in Tuscaloosa, but here in BHM they are much better at spareribs or babybacks than brisket (too lean).
Is Front Porch the one on the river? It was pretty weak if so.
Tuscaloosa has never been the mecca of dining. Hop yourself over to Birmingham but make reservations first:
Highlands Bar & Grill (Frank Stitt's place, menu changes daily) The BEST I've been to in a long time.
Chez Fon Fon (Frank Stitt)
Botegga Restaurant & Cafe (Frank Stitt - these are 2 restaurants, the Cafe is more casual)
Hot & Hot Fish Bar
Flip Burger Boutique (Top Chef Richard Blais) this is located at The Summit, so if you're in the mood to shop, it's a fabulous place.
The Little Donkey (Jim 'n Nicks new venture; taqueria)
el barrio trumps little donkey (although both have good interesting drinks)
check out ollie irene (local gastropub), bettola (southern italian/pizza), saw's bbq, rojo (for atmosphere)
tuscaloosa is not full of good eats but check out archibalds bbq for the ribs and bbq (the one on mlk blvd, its a shack, the others suck)