New and creative eateries are popping up everywhere in Birmingham’s booming food scene, so much so that it can be difficult to keep up and decide what’s worth the try. But to celebrate some local restaurants that have been Magic City staples for years — perhaps without the same hype that surrounds their new neighbors — we’ve rounded up some hidden culinary gems even locals haven’t heard of. From terrific Thai food to secret menus, burgers hiding at local doughnut shops, Sunday morning tamales and the BBQ you need to add to your list, here are 12 of Birmingham’s best-kept secret bites.
12 Hidden Gems You’re Passing By Every Day
Masaman Thai Kitchen
790 Montgomery Hwy #104, Birmingham, AL 35216 • (205) 200-0711
Hours: Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday, 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.; Saturday, 12 p.m. to 9 p.m.; Sunday, Closed
Dish worth trying: Masaman curry
Masaman Thai Kitchen, located in Vestavia Hills City Center shopping center, serves up some of the best Thai food in the ‘Ham. This family-owned business is a must-try for any adventurous eater. It is even one of our editor’s favorite local restaurants! While she can’t get enough of the spicy Thai noodle, or pad kee mow, the crowd-pleasing favorite at this hidden gem is their namesake dish, the Masaman curry, a rich addictive Masaman curry sauce served over rice with carrots, avocado, cashew and your choice of chicken, tofu or vegetables.
Mr. Chen’s Authentic Chinese Cooking
808 Green Springs Hwy, Homewood, AL 35209 • (205) 942-5000
Hours: Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday & Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Dish worth trying: Spicy cumin lamb
If you haven’t dined at Mr. Chen’s and enjoyed their authentic cuisine, you must add it to your list. “Mr. Chen’s is a more authentic Chinese restaurant. Sesame chicken and Mongolian beef — you’re not going to see that here,” says Linda Lee, part-owner and manager of the Green Springs restaurant, but we’re borderline obsessed with the neighboring international supermarket. This enormous space houses any and every authentic Chinese delicacy you could dream of, giving Birminghamians the opportunity to explore more about international cuisines and culture.
Kool Korner Sandwiches
1360 Montgomery Hwy, Vestavia Hills, AL 35216 • (205) 822-4406
Hours: Monday through Wednesday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Thursday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Closed on Sunday
Dish worth trying: Classic Cuban sandwich
Kool Korner Sandwiches was founded in 1985 in Atlanta, GA, by Ildefonso and Lucia Ramirez, where their classic Cuban sandwiches became iconic favorites of Georgia Tech students. Lucky for us Birminghamians, the Ramirezes moved their operation to the Magic City, in Vestavia. Noted food historian John T. Edge named the Kool Korner Cuban one of his “100 Southern Foods You Absolutely, Positively Must Try Before You Die” in Garden & Gun.
The Great Wall
706 Valley Ave, Birmingham, AL 35209 • (205) 945-1465
Hours: Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.; Friday & Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Dish worth trying: Szechuan secret menu
The Great Wall is another delicious Chinese restaurant worth adding to your must-try list. The big secret, though, is their Szechuan secret menu. Szechuan food is known for its spicy and distinct flavors, and the talented chefs over at Great Wall have brought those flavors to life through dishes like dan-dan noodles, cumin pork ribs and braised veggies. You’re now in on the secret menu secret!
3027 Central Ave, Homewood, AL 35209 • (205) 623-1017
Hours: Open every day, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Dish worth trying: Hero Burger
The popular Hero Doughnuts is definitely not a hidden gem, but we’ve got to highlight the Hero Burger, which just so happens to be one of our favorite burgers in Birmingham. A crisp, buttery bun, melted cheese and cooked-to-perfection patty make it deserving of topping even the most discerning diner’s “tastiest burger” list.
Taqueria Juarez Taco Truck
1459 Montgomery Highway, Vestavia Hills, AL 35216 • (205) 381-2433
Hours: Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 9:45 p.m.; Sunday, Closed
Dish worth trying: Burrito
One of the best aspects of Birmingham’s food scene is the mobile eateries. From pizza to BBQ to tacos and everything in between, there is a traveling truck for every palate. The Taqueria Juarez taco truck is situated in a parking lot on Highway 31 in Vestavia and is the place to go for some of the most delicious tacos, quesadillas, huaraches, sopas, tortas and burritos in the city.
Green Acres’ Cafe
1705 4th Ave N, Birmingham, AL 35203 • (205) 251-3875
Hours: Monday through Wednesday, 9 a.m. to 9:45 p.m.; Friday & Saturday, 9 a.m. to 10:45 p.m.; Sunday, Closed
Dish worth trying: Fried chicken wings
Have you ever wondered where the best fried chicken in Birmingham is? Meet Green Acres Cafe‘s signature fried chicken wings. This beloved eatery has been serving up fried delights in downtown Birmingham since 1958. Give this hiding-in-plain-sight eatery one try, and we bet you’ll be hooked.
Makarios Kabob & Grill
940 20th St S, Birmingham, AL 35205 • (205) 731-7414
Hours: Sunday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Friday & Saturday, 10 a.m. to 1 a.m.
Dish worth trying: Shish kabob
A local realtor once mentioned to us Makarios when listing a few of his favorite hidden spots. Located in historic Five Points South, this unassuming shop serves up some of the most satisfying kabobs, hummus, shawarma, falafel, fattoush, tabouli and more. We can’t help but always go back to the classic shish kabob.
1100 10th St S, Birmingham, AL 35205 • (205) 322-0515
Hours: Monday through Saturday, 8:45 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sunday, 8 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Dish worth trying: Homemade tamales — Only on Sunday Morning!
We are big fans of La Estrellita in the Glen Iris area. Located near another fantastic and relatively unknown gem, Giuseppe’s Cafe, La Estrellita is best known for their tamales, served up fresh and hot only on Sunday mornings. They sell out quickly, so set your alarm early to take advantage of this one!
The Fig Tree Cafe and Catering
3160 Cahaba Heights Rd, Birmingham, AL 35243 • (205) 969-6711
Hours: Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m .to 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Monday, Closed
Dish worth trying: Jerk tuna ceviche
Many locals have heard of The Fig Tree, but not as many have given this fabulous cafe a try. This spot in Cahaba Heights is the ultimate lunchtime destination, and their unexpected offerings are creative, unique and beyond delicious. We’ve recently fallen in love with the jerk tuna ceviche, a rare find in Birmingham’s food scene.
3511 6th Ave S, Birmingham, AL 35222 • (205) 254-9266
Hours: Monday through Friday, 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Saturday & Sunday, Closed
Dish worth trying: Rib plate with mac & cheese and green beans
There is so much barbecue in Birmingham, it’s honestly hard to keep up, but Carlile’s BBQ is a staple that is far too often overlooked, even by locals. They’ve got everything you’d expect in a good ol’ barbecue hut — pulled pork, ribs, chicken and all the Southern sides you crave. And they might even be better than Mama’s.
Silver Coin Indian Grill
3321 Lorna Rd, Birmingham, AL 35216 • (205) 823-9070
Hours: Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.; Friday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.; Monday, Closed
Dish worth trying: Samosa chaat
Silver Coin is a Birmingham favorite, and we’ve tried nearly everything on the menu, but the samosa chaat has our heart! It’s a vegetable samosa topped with chana masala, spices, onion, yogurt, green mint and tamarind sauce offering a tasty and authentic dish.