It’s time for another round of Cheap Thrills, where we let you in on some amazing, affordable FINDS around town. This time, we’re looking to the local food experts — Birmingham’s top chefs and cooks — to share their favorite cheap eats. That is to say, the city’s most mouthwatering morsels that won’t blow a hole in your wallet. These 14 delicious meals, appetizers and treats will delight your palate AND your wallet!
Local Chefs’ Top 14 Cheap Eats in Birmingham
Grilled Pork Spring Rolls, $4.36
Saigon Noodle House
Matt Ralph, Chef and Partner of wooden goat in Avondale, could die a happy man after his favorite Sunday afternoon meal at Saigon Noodle House, which includes his favorite appetizer there, the grilled pork spring rolls. “They’re amazing,” he says. “I would eat that as my last meal. That’s definitely where it’s at.” Get the grilled pork spring rolls for $4.36 at Saigon Noodle House.
Meat-and-Two Plate, $8
Housed in the Hoover Firing Range, Relish Café is not your average meat-and-three restaurant. It’s got fabulous daily dishes like shrimp and grits with conch sausage or chicken and dumplings and mouthwatering sides like the fried okra with housemate aioli. Chef Paul Yeck, formerly with Bottega and now moving to the research and development wing of Fresh Hospitality, says he likes to take his family for a great home-cooked Southern meal there on his day off. Get the meat-and-two plate for $8 at Relish Café.
Homemade Sorbet, $10 for two
Doodle’s Homemade Sorbets & Ices
“I love Doodle’s, and my kids love it just as much as me,” says Ashley McMakin of Ashley Mac’s cafe. “My favorite flavors are the Cappuccino Chip, Mint Chip and the Coconut Cream. It’s the perfect after school treat for the whole family!” Get two massive cups of homemade sorbet or Italian ice for $10 at Doodle’s Homemade Sorbets & Ices.
Hot Dogs, $2 each
Gus’ Hot Dogs in Irondale
There’s nothing like a killer hot dog, and when you get the hankering for one, Chef George McMillan of FoodBar says you should head to Gus’ Hot Dogs in Irondale for a hot dog with all your favorite fixins. “I have them weekly,” he says. “They’re addictive.” Get them for $2 each at Gus’s Hot Dogs.
Shrimp Pad Thai, $8
“The coolest thing is you would never guess that a gas station on the side of the road would serve the most authentic, unassuming and delicious Thai food,” says Terrill Brazelton, head chef at Slice Pizza & Brewhouse. If you’re a fan of Thai cuisine, you must head to Blue Pacific, the in-house restaurant at the Hoover Food Mart gas station. The Blue Pacific chefs and Thai natives moved to the states about six years ago and have quickly amassed a cult following among Birmingham foodies. Get the pad Thai noodles with green onions, bean sprouts, peanuts and shrimp tossed in an authentic pad thai sauce and topped with an egg lattice for $8 at Blue Pacific.
Tacos, $2 each
El Korita taco truck on 280
“Nothing screams authentic like a taco truck in a gravel lot on the side of a busy highway,” says Ashley Tarver, chef and owner of Copper Pot Kitchen. “It was so random I knew it had to be good. The husband-and-wife team make killer tacos. I love to wash them down with a Mexican Coca-Cola, which I usually need after the red and green sauce!” Head to the El Korita taco truck on 280 near the Super Target and try Ashley’s favorite tacos — the tacos de cachete (beef cheek), chorizo, pastor (pork) and asada (steak) — for $2 each and a Mexican Coca-Cola for $2, and don’t forget to request the red and green sauces for a little added heat!
Sweet Tea Fried Chicken Sandwich, $7.69
Saw’s Juke Joint
We asked our buddies at Mafiaoza’s for their favorite cheap eat, and General Manager Patrick Randall weighed in on behalf of the back-of-the-house crew. “We’d have to go with the sweet tea fried chicken sandwich at Saw’s Juke Joint,” says Patrick. “The sandwich just feels right. You get your beer in a plastic cup, and your food is served on styrofoam plates with plastic cutlery. It all matches the laid-back vibe that Saw’s creates for its customers.” Get the sweet tea fried chicken sandwich for $7.69 at Saw’s Juke Joint.
Chicken and Andouille Sausage Gumbo, $4/cup
Timothy Hontzas, the chef and owner of Johnny’s Restaurant in Homewood, cites another Homewood establishment for his favorite cheap eat, “the cup of gumbo with chicken and andouille at Homewood Gourmet,” he says. “The gumbo has an absolutely perfect chocolate roux. And for a couple extra bucks, the seafood gumbo is the best on this side of the Big Easy.” Get a cup of chicken and andouille gumbo for $4 at Homewood Gourmet.
Hummus & Pita, $3.99
Eli’s Jerusalem Grill
Nothing beats the authentic and creamy hummus and fluffy warm pita bread at Eli’s Jerusalem Grill on 280, Birmingham’s only authentic Israeli eatery. Chef Angela Schmidt, owner of Chef U Birmingham, gives it her stamp of approval too, saying, “It was so good, I went twice in one week. I need to go back soon.” Get the hummus and pita for $3.99 at Eli’s Jerusalem Grill.
Tacos, $2 each
Los Dos Hermanos Taco Truck on W. Valley Avenue
“When it comes to cheap, I’d have to go with leftovers from Mom’s fridge. Yes, I’m 40 years old and will still raid my mother’s kitchen,” jokes David Horn, chef and owner of Mudtown. “But it’s hard to beat a few tacos from the Los Dos Hermanos taco truck. I don’t have those nearly as often as I’d like to!” With authentic fillings and a killer green hot sauce, you can’t go wrong with these tacos. Get them for $2 each at the Los Dos Hermanos taco truck on W. Valley Avenue.
Smoked Sausage Breakfast Biscuit, $1.89
“This is going to sound crazy, but I love Jack’s for breakfast. They have a smoked sausage breakfast biscuit that is the best biscuit you can get,” says Jennifer Mims, chef and owner of Homewood’s newest and wildly popular eatery, Real & Rosemary. And you wouldn’t expect this answer coming from one whose own menu is so fresh and healthy, but everyone’s got their guilty pleasures, right? Get your own smoked sausage biscuit for $1.89 at Jack’s.
Popsicles, $4 each
Steel City Pops
This Birmingham original has crowds of adoring local fans, and what better time to get a delicious, cold, sweet Steel City pop than the summer! Meredith McMillan, the head baker and owner of Merry Cheese Crisps, says these popsicle s are hands down her favorite cheap eat. “They are consistently delicious,” she says. And with flavors like buttermilk, chocolate peanut butter, coconut, strawberry balsamic, orange mint green tea, strawberry lemonade, cucumber lime, hibiscus, blood orange and coffee brownie, they’ll have you returning for more! Get your popsicle for $4 at Steel City Pops.
The “Big Nasty,” $8.95
When you want to fuel up for the day ahead and you’re not messing around, Sky Castle Gastro Lounge owner Jason Bajalieh says we should head to Chris Z’s in Lakeview and get the “Big Nasty,” a large order of hash browns with sausage, bacon, bologna, ham, onion, peppers, tomatoes, Swiss cheese, American cheese, shredded cheddar cheese and two eggs any style with Z Sauce. “It’s right down the street from our restaurants so it’s easy for us to drop in, say hello and grab the ‘Big Nasty’,” says Jason. “You can count on it to be one of those meals you know is going to be good every time.” Get your own “Big Nasty” for $8.95 at Chris Z’s in Lakeview.
Two Beef Dogs Plus Chips & Drink, $6
Big Al’s Dog Wagon
“I always time my visits to Lowe’s in Trussville around lunchtime, because that’s when the hot dog guy , Big Al’s Dog Wagon, is there,” says Chef George Reis of Ocean restaurant & 5 Point Public House Oyster Bar. “He’s at the exit, and I just can’t walk past without getting two beef dogs all the way with Golden Flake corn chips and a Mellow Yellow.” If you ever run into “the hot dog guy” and you’ve got some cash to spare, don’t pass up this mouthwatering, All-American combo. Get your two beef dogs with chips and drink included for $6 at Big Al’s Dog Wagon.
Dine local with these delicious cheap eats. Your tummy and your wallet will thank you!
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