If you live in Birmingham, you know there is no shortage of delicious meals to be found within our city. Thankfully, in my eight-plus years of living in Birmingham, I have attracted into my orbit some fellow restaurant lovers, who appreciate the must-eat dishes on Birmingham menus as much as I do. “Only one?” my friend Aisha replied when I asked for her favorite Birmingham meal. (And that is why we’re friends.)
After a bit of crowdsourcing, here are some top recommendations from my food-minded friends. These are the must-try meals at Birmingham restaurants.
10 Must-Try Dishes on Birmingham Menus
Seasonal Guacamole at El Barrio
2211 2nd Ave. N., Birmingham, AL 35203 • (205) 868-3737
Hours: Tuesday through Thursday, noon to 8 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, noon to 9 p.m.; closed Sunday and Monday
Anytime I’ve got an out-of-towner on my hands, I bring them to El Barrio. The margaritas are top-shelf, and the food is otherworldly. Their chunky guacamole is the best guac I’ve ever had — and I have had a lot of guac. But what I learned from my friend June is that right now there is a seasonal guacamole on the menu, studded with strawberries and candied bacon. “The original is amazing,” she says, “but I can’t even describe how good the seasonal is.” Also worth noting is my friend Jared’s recommendation for the bacon quesadilla.
The Mac Melt at MELT
4105 4th Ave. S., Birmingham, AL 35222 • (205) 917-5000
Hours: Tuesday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. to close; Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. to close
5219 Peridot Pl., Ste. 3, Hoover, AL 35244 • (205) 988-2022
Hours: Daily, 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.
For the cheese lovers among us, MELT is a must-add to your Birmingham restaurant rotation. A number of my friends mentioned MELT, but my friend Katie’s must-eat dish takes center stage: The Mac Melt, where the grilled cheese sandwich on Texas toast is filled with house-made mac and cheese. “It’s a classic sandwich with America’s favorite food,” Katie says. “It’s cheese heaven.” And affordable, too – only $11.
Seared Sea Scallops a la Mode at Vino
1930 Cahaba Rd., Birmingham, AL 35223 • (205) 870-8404
Hours: Monday through Thursday, 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.; closed Sunday
Tucked in English Village is a magical spot called Vino, where my friend Jessica highly recommends the seared sea scallops with grilled asparagus, basmati rice, and coconut cream curry sauce — and she likes to enjoy it with a glass of wine. “It’s light but still filling, and boasts a mix of flavors from the fresh, crisp asparagus and light seafood to the warm, rich curry and comforting rice. Plus, the ambiance at Vino really takes the meal to the next level. Sitting outside on the patio under the twinkle lights with friends and family can’t be beaten.” I concur. SB TIP: If you leave without getting the apple fritters a la mode, you’ve missed out on possibly the best dessert in Birmingham.
Pad Kee Mao or Pad Si Ew at Blue Pacific at Hoover Food Mart
3219 Lorna Rd., Birmingham, AL 35216 • (205) 978-0754
Hours: Wednesday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.; closed Sunday through Tuesday
Apparently, I have been missing out on a Birmingham gem in Blue Pacific, which comes recommended by a number of my friends. “It’s Thai food in a former gas station,” my friend Elizabeth tells me. She loves the pad kee mao (rice noodles stir-fried with your choice of meat, Chinese broccoli, eggs, bell peppers, and mixed with a Thai chili basil sauce for $9) because “it has the right amount of spice.” My ultimate foodie friend Aisha, whose opinion on food I’d trust second to none, says, “Every dish there tastes like it was made with love.” She likes the pad si ew with chicken and shrimp (stir-fried flat rice noodles with meat, Chinese broccoli, carrots, and eggs for $9) and spring rolls ($3.50 for two). “It’s the best Thai food ever, besides Thailand, I’m sure,” she says.
Hamburger Fonfon at Chez Fonfon
2007 11th Ave. S., Birmingham, AL 35205 • (205) 939-3221
Hours: Tuesday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturday, 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.; closed Sunday and Monday
I have never been to France (working on changing that), but had I been, I’d imagine it’s a lot like Chez Fonfon, where one can sit outside and laze through a meal so good you think you’re dreaming. Enough from my lovely friends for a moment – let me tell you what my favorite dish at Chez Fonfon is. The Hamburger Fonfon with Comté, grilled red onion, pickles, and pommes frites for $18. Fair warning: Be prepared to say goodbye to any other hamburger, because in my opinion, there is simply no equal, anywhere.
Veal Chop Parmesan at Gianmarco’s Restaurant
721 Broadway St., Birmingham, AL 35209 • (205) 871-9622
Hours: Monday, Tuesday & Saturday, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Wednesday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.; closed Sunday
My boyfriend, also a food-lover, says his must-eat dish is the veal chop Parmesan at Gianmarco’s. This delectable dish features breaded and fried bone-in veal chop, tomato sauce, Parmesan, mozzarella, and rigatoni for $38. “It’s a huge portion with perfectly cooked veal – everything about the dish is executed perfectly,” he says. I see a date night here in my very near future.
Chicken and Waffles at Yo Mama’s
2328 2nd Ave. N., Birmingham, AL 352o3 • (205) 957-6545
Hours: Monday through Friday, 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; closed Saturday and Sunday
My dear friend Carla Jean is a vegetarian and is constantly looking for the best veggie burger in town. As we had this conversation, she said, adorably, “Yo Mama’s is the worst thing about being vegetarian. I think about their chicken and waffles all the time, and I miss them.” Take it from her, and give it a try: It’s Belgian waffles filled with homemade syrup and fruit toppings, finished with a pile of six golden fried chicken wings for $11.95. Unbelievable!!
Chinese Duck Nachos at EastWest
2306 2nd Ave. N., Birmingham, AL 35203 • (205) 202-4496
Hours: Tuesday through Thursday, 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.; closed Sunday and Monday
Multiple friends mentioned EastWest, where eastern culture and western culture meet on the plate in delicious fashion. Its signature dish is likely the Chinese duck nachos, made with wontons, kimchi queso, cilantro, onions, and jalapeno for $12. “EastWest is one of my favorite places to eat,” my friend Ashleigh says. “The duck nachos are CRAZY good. The tender, mild duck meat paired with the tanginess of the kimchi queso and the light crispiness of the wonton nachos is amazing. I might go get some tonight.”
Ceviche de Camaron at Sabor Latino
112 Green Springs Hwy., Birmingham, AL 35209 • (205) 942-9480
Hours: Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday, 11 a.m. to 2:20 p.m.; Saturday 11 a.m. to 9:45 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.
At Sabor Latino in Homewood, Peruvian cuisine is on full display. A must-try? Ceviche de Camaron — raw shrimp marinated for 30 minutes in lemon juice and spices. “It’s light, delicious, and makes you feel less guilty about pigging out on chips, salsa, and margs,” my friend Jessica says.
Spicy Tuna Roll & the Coconut Tofu Soup at Nori Thai and Sushi
4704 Cahaba River Rd., Birmingham, AL 35243 • (205) 970-7570
Hours: Tuesday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturday, noon to 10 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; closed Monday
For my friend Stephanie, the must-eat dish at Nori Thai and Sushi is actually two dishes: the spicy tuna roll and the coconut tofu soup. “You can get them together as a lunch deal or separate at dinner,” she says. The spicy tuna roll is $6.95, and Stephanie says once she tried it — life changed. “It’s light, it’s buttery, it’s creamy. It’s not chewy or funky tasting like others. I now call it the top destination.” As for the coconut tofu soup, which runs $4.95 for a small bowl and $9.90 for a large bowl, “[It] just makes you warm and happy inside,” Stephanie says. “It’s a warm, creamy goodness that hits your veins and just makes you say ‘aaahhh.’”
We hope you’ve discovered a new dish to try. Bon appetit!
To explore more of the Birmingham culinary scene, visit our archives.