A number of Southern cities are now top destinations for the food-obsessed due to both an influx of big-city talent and a surge of homegrown gourmet ethos. You hear a lot about Charleston, New Orleans and Nashville but the food scene in Birmingham, Alabama, is also one of the most exciting in the country right now. In fact, it was voted the No. 1 Up-and-Coming Food City by Zagat voters in our recent national survey. If you're passing through town anytime soon, here are eight restaurants that prove exactly why you need to eat in Birmingham right now.
Ask Birmingham's top toques where they like to go on their occasional night off, and Ollie Irene is sure to come up. Set in Mountain Brook, near Birmingham, this Beard-nominated gastropub offers new takes on the farm-style fare chef Chris Newsome’s grandmother used to prepare. Expect to see dishes like boudin balls and chicken liver pâté with house pickles, Dijon and toasted baguette.
Insider tip: Buy a beer for every chef in the back for just $15.
2713 Culver Rd.; 205-769-6034
After 20 years of serving some of the most refined farm-to-table cuisine on the eastern seaboard, James Beard Award–winner chef Chris Hastings, chef-owner of renowned Hot & Hot Fish Club, has expanded his Magic City footprint. Opened this fall, Ovenbird serves Latin American–inspired fare cooked solely in wood-burning ovens — the space was built without a gas line. Responsibly sourced proteins are slowly fire-roasted, then served in flavorful small plates.
Insider tip: Order the beef-fat candle; it's an edible candle made from rendered beef fat.
2810 Third Ave. S.; 205-957-6686
Since 1982, mom-and-pop team Paradis and Beard-winning chef Frank Stitt have been attracting hoards of locals and traveling gourmands to their Five Points restaurant. For the past seven years, the place has been a finalist for Beard's "Outstanding Restaurant" award. Even without the prestigious nods, it's been a longtime go-to for special occasions. And the Frenchified Southern fare is just as impeccable as it has been since the start. Multi Beard Award winner Stitt now has two other concepts under his belt, Chez Fonfon and Bottega Restaurant. But a trip to Birmingham isn't complete without a visit to Highlands.
Insider tip: For a more relaxed dinner, grab a seat at the bustling bar.
2011 11th Ave. S.; 205-939-1400
Part of the brand-new Grand Bohemian Hotel Mountain Brook, this chic rooftop eatery is reminiscent of a modernized medieval castle. It offers an array of regional, seasonal fare prepared by executive chef Kirk Gilbert such as Alabama lamb rack with huckleberry-elderflower reduction as well as Gulf shrimp and diver scallops with celery root and Yukon gold potatoes, heirloom rainbow carrots and saffron lemongrass beurre fondue. Right near the kitchen, the space also offers a wine tasting lounge, wine blending room and a cooking school led by owner/former executive chef of Little Savannah, Clif Holt.
Insider tip: Grab a drink next to the fire pits on the outdoor terrace.
2655 Lane Park Rd.; 205-203-4745
This funky spot, located in Downtown’s up-and-coming Second Avenue North neighborhood, takes fare from across Mexico and gives it an American twist with locally sourced ingredients — it’s not your typical cheese- and bean-laden burritos. Instead, the place offers interesting mash-ups and hybrids like grilled chorizo meatloaf and green pozole with slow-roasted pork, hominy, hatch chile, cilantro, tomatillo, marinated cabbage and cornbread.
Insider tip: Tuesday through Friday, the restaurant offers one-night specials ranging from duck tamales to slow-cooked ribs.
2211 Second Ave. N.; 205-868-3737
Birthed in New Orleans, raised in Downtown Birmingham, this chainlet of coffee shops is taking over the South. Similar to Portland-based Stumptown or San Francisco’s Blue Bottle, there are now crisp, minimalist storefronts popping across the region with newly opened locations in Atlanta, Chattanooga and Nashville. By the end of 2016, the company plans to add three to four more retail locations. Birmingham, however, is the base of operations, where all the carefully sourced beans are roasted and sent off throughout the region.
Insider tip: Try an old-fashioned from Birmingham-based We Have Doughnuts.
Babalu is the taco joint that’s taking over the area under the Mason-Dixon line. After receiving rave reviews in Jackson, Mississippi, and Memphis, the company jumped into the Magic City with a modern location in the Lakeview district. With indoor and outdoor seating, the place serves hormone-free proteins and craft cocktails in comfortable surrounds.
Insider tip: Don’t overlook the Baba Burger, served on a sweet sourdough torta-style bun.
2808 Seventh Ave. S.; 205-297-0200
Opened in late 2014 by Le Cirque vet (in Daniel Boulud days) and James Beard nominee chef James Boyce and his wife, Suzan, Galley & Garden is the husband-and-wife team’s foray into Birmingham. (The couple owns multiple beloved concepts in Huntsville, Alabama.) Set inside the recently renovated historic Merritt House, their Birmingham spot features modern French-American dishes with Southern influences including coffee-crusted short rib and Joyce Family Farms fried chicken breast with sweet potato purée, braised greens and sawmill gravy.
Insider tip: Sunday morning jazz brunch is a must.
2220 Highland Ave.; 205-939-5551