Travel down Green Springs Highway and, upon a drive-by glance, one might regard the busy thoroughfare as a collection of strip malls, gas stations and nothing more. But zoom in for a closeup, if you will, and inside each of these unassuming strip mall storefronts, you’ll find the beating heart of a Korean kitchen, the steaming soul of Vietnamese pho’s spicy and fresh healing broth, the arresting creativity of bold Chinese dishes you never imagined and the vibrant colors and heart of Mexico City and Peru come to life through food. The only thing that could rival the rich diversity of flavors offered along Green Springs is the kindness of the folks serving up this goodness. Say the words “Green Springs,” and any die-hard Birmingham foodie will immediately start talking about their favorite authentic international eatery. It’s a food lover’s paradise where you can taste the authentic flavors of the world in a day. Here’s a slice of culinary life along Birmingham’s international food heaven.
8 Authentic International Eateries on Green Springs Highway
Phở Quê Hương Vietnamese Restaurant
30 Green Springs Hwy., Ste. #15, Birmingham, AL 35209 • (205) 942-5400
Hours: Open daily, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Pho, pronounced “fuh,” is a Vietnamese rice noodle soup, famous for its aromatic broth made from simmering meat, ginger and spices, and served with tender cuts of brisket, steak, chicken or meatballs, and garnished with bean sprouts, lime, jalapeños and basil. Half the fun is doctoring up your pho to meet your desired level of spicy and savory. Once you taste this rich healing broth, your primal foodie instincts kick in and you turn into a chef of your own making, adding a spritz of more acidity with lime, a dash of hot Sriracha sauce, perhaps a note of sweet and savory Hoisin and a sprig of herbaceous basil.
Fresh and light is how Executive Chef Eric Le describes the cuisine on the menu. “It features rice noodles, flavorful soup broths, fried spring rolls, crisp herbs and vegetables, French baguette sandwiches and, of course, Vietnamese iced coffee,” he says. “Most of our recipes are original to the restaurant since it opened in 1995 with some family recipes introduced as well. We like to feature the most popular dishes that our patrons have enjoyed over the years, and we like to introduce new diners to those favorites as well.” Patrons definitely become loyal regulars after tasting this addictive cuisine in this laid-back eatery. If you’re not a fan of noodle soup, you must try the bánh mì, crusty French baguette and a touch of mayo with pork or ham, topped with crunchy, fresh cucumbers, shredded carrots, radishes, cilantro and jalapeños. Wash it down with a cold, sweet Vietnamese coffee for a winning flavor combo. The happiness in your mouth originates with a happy kitchen. “It’s not all work,” says Eric. “We hang out and have fun too. It is not uncommon to find our staff and friends enjoying an after-hours poker game or karaoke session.” Cheers to a happy kitchen and our happy bellies!
430 Green Springs Hwy., Ste. # 8, Birmingham, AL 35209 • (205) 945-8007
Hours: Monday and Wednesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; closed on Tuesdays
John Chang and his wife came to the states from Korea 32 years ago, and the duo has owned the 13-year-old Seoul Restaurant for the past four years. It definitely has the cozy, personal feeling of walking into someone’s home. John, a vivacious and helpful chap, takes your order, while his wife is the culinary brains behind the deliciousness. “My wife cooks everything. She’s been cooking Korean food for 40 years, so she’s a professional. I’m just her helper,” says John, with a contagious laugh, adding, “Everybody loves it here and says the food is good. And when the customers say that, my wife is happy.”
John begins his description of Korean food by noting how healthy it is. “We eat a lot of vegetables, and we cook with 100% olive oil and all-natural ingredients — and no MSG,” he says (all facts that are noted in colorful lettering on the glass windows and doors of the eatery).
“When you order a dinner or lunch plate, it comes with six different side dishes, because that is part of Korean culture. When you eat anything, you eat a lot of side dishes, like kimchi, cucumber, seaweed salad, fish cake, spicy tofu and mung bean sprouts — every morning, my wife makes them all fresh!” John tells us that the most popular dish is the Hot Pot Bi Bim Bap — rice topped with nine vegetables, beef and a fried egg in a stone pot. “Bi Bim Bap means ‘mix all together’,” explains John. “Then we give you the hot sauce separately. So, you choose your spice level, one through 10, then you put it on yourself and mix it all together. That one is very popular.” He adds that Beef Bul Go Gi is a great introductory dish for those not acquainted with Korean cuisine. And if you like soup, try the kimchi soup. He smiles upon mentioning this tasty soup, adding simply, “It’s very good.” You can’t talk about Korean cuisine without mentioning their famous barbecue. Swing by Seoul Restaurant at lunch and grab their new Korean barbecue lunch box special for $8, which comes with rice, noodles, vegetables and Korean sauce. “Just try us one time,” John challenges with a grin. “When people try it one time, they love it.”
406 W. Valley Ave., Birmingham, AL 35209 • (205) 916-7624
Hours: Open daily, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.
“In the kitchen, we have a few different ladies that cook,” says Machetes Manager Paola Cadena. “One is from Puebla, Mexico, and another is from Veracruz, Mexico, so each lady brings her own style and spices to the dishes, so we try to mix those flavors together.” When Paola and her then-husband Rafael took over the restaurant two years ago, they kept some of the dishes and introduced their “machetes” to the menu. “Machetes” are oversized quesadillas that look like machetes. “They come from Mexico City, where I am from,” says Paola. “And so that’s one of the things we like to offer that’s different. We have a 10-inch and 20-inch machetes with handmade tortillas and Oaxacan cheese.”
Taco fillings range from the traditional pork, chorizo, steak, grilled chicken, beef and shrimp, as well as eggs and potatoes in various combinations with the meats. For those seeking dishes featuring vegetarian options, Machetes offers beans, mushrooms, spinach and even zucchini flowers. For the adventurous epicure, try the tripe, cow tongue, pork skin, corn smut fungus or Mexican truffles. On the weekends, loyal regulars flock to Machetes for the barbecue lamb soup special, along with other tender lamb meat specials. And don’t leave without trying the aguas frescas, housemade fruit beverages made fresh daily from pineapple, hibiscus and cinnamon rice milk, or “horchata.” While the food is certainly delicious, what does Paola love most about the restaurant? “The people — we have a lot of regulars that we’ll see twice a week, and if they don’t show up, we are like, ‘What happened? Are they OK?’,” she says.” They are all so nice, and the people that work here too. They really care for the business. When you cook, and it tastes really good, it’s because you put love and care into it.” The proof is in the pudding — the colorful eatery is usually filled to the brim with locals.
808 Green Springs Hwy., Ste. #140, Birmingham, AL 35209 • (205) 942-5000
Hours: Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
“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 Mr. Chen’s Green Springs restaurant, the fifth and largest Mr. Chen’s, which also boasts the biggest international market in Birmingham. “We serve more traditional Chinese dishes like cumin lamb, pan-fried dumplings, steamed buns, chicken with black bean sauce and spicy dishes like our wild chili with beef or black pepper with beef. We also have dishes made of fresh seafood from our super market, like whole fish steamed with black bean sauce, spicy blue crab, ginger onion lobster and sautéed crispy frog leg.” If it is a customer’s first time trying authentic Chinese cuisine, Linda introduces them to pineapple shrimp or chicken with black bean sauce as a nice introductory plate, and she says that people are always pleasantly surprised by the freshness and creatively cooked veggie dishes.
Linda becomes passionate when talking about the more complex dishes, though, which is very much in line with the mission of the restaurant itself. “We wanted to open yet another Mr. Chen’s with this international supermarket, so that more people can learn about culture by trying authentic Chinese food. We try to encourage American people to try more of our cuisine,” she says. It’s hard not to be enticed by her sales pitch for the whole fish, for instance, a dish she’d challenge curious taste buds to try: “Because there’s nothing in there but the ginger, onion and brown sauce. We get it from the supermarket live, and when you steam them, the meat is so tender, the taste is so fresh and with the ginger and onion and salty brown sauce, the taste is just … perfect!” She also recommends the hot spicy blue crab in the shell. She admits that it takes a little elbow grease, but it’s worth the work! “My favorite part is my team. Everybody works hard here. We are like a big family,” says Linda. “And our return customers bring their friends here, and they always like it and come back.”
118 Green Springs Hwy., Birmingham, AL 35209 • (205) 541-8250
Hours: Monday through Friday, open 24 hours; Saturday and Sunday, closed
It’s easy to pass this gem by, as it is appears to be what it’s labeled as: a supermarket. But, walk to the back of this small grocery store, and, upon seeing a butcher counter with fresh cuts of marinated meat, a tortilleria y taqueria where an aproned “abuelita,” or grandmother, wanders in from the kitchen to add a gorgeous mole dish to the hot bar, and a small collection of communal tables with mostly Latino customers silently devouring their plates of authentic Mexican food — you’ll know that you’ve wandered into something truly special. We tried the pork tamale, a perfectly pillowy corn masa steamed in a corn husk with a center of tender pulled pork and just-spicy-enough green chile sauce, and we stood slack-jawed as we watched an employee spoon the chocolate-y thick, dark brown mole sauce onto a plate, a delicious memory captured as if in slow motion. If you’re on the go, grab a lunch and peruse the aisles, were you can find Mexican popsicles from Paleteria y Neveria Lichita’s (also a new addition to the new Pizitz Food Hall) or fresh, authentic Mexican pastries. Don’t miss this hidden treasure!
22 Green Springs Hwy., Birmingham, AL 35209 • (205) 941-1009
Hours: Open daily, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
It would be ludicrous to extol the virtues of Green Springs international culinary prowess and not to mention the only place in Birmingham serving up dim sum! This Chinese-and-Korean eatery is wheeling around Cantonese-style small plates and steamer baskets of tapas-style comfort food and winning hearts and stomachs. In the process, Red Bowl has garnered accolades as one of Birmingham’s top Asian eateries in local magazines and online foodie blogs, and it’s not hard to see why. Simply put all the hype to the test with a dish you can find at nearly any Chinese restaurant, a small bowl of wonton soup. Served with three fresh, homemade, perfectly al dente dumplings and garnished with crisp green onions, you’ll be a Red Bowl devotee after one bite. The pan-fried bun stuffed with pork and the steamed dumplings are each served with complex dipping sauces that enhance the buns and dumplings with a perfect combo of sweet, savory and spicy. You must treat your taste buds to these mouthwatering, authentic Chinese and Korean flavors, and for a true treat, stop by for the dim sum service on Saturdays and Sundays from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. You won’t regret it!
112 Green Springs Hwy., Birmingham, AL 35209 • (205) 942-9480
Hours: Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Looking for Peruvian cuisine in Birmingham? Look no further! We couldn’t help but duck into this eatery for a taste test of authentic Peruvian food. Our tummies were still full from Brito’s next door, but, come on — authentic Peruvian?! We persevered and suffered the extra calories in the name of bringing you, dear reader, the insider foodie info. We nabbed a couple of appetizers to-go, a tamale and an empanada, as we perused the menu of Peruvian as well as Mexican dishes. The tamale was wrapped in a charred banana leaf and served with pickled onions, lime and salsa, allowing you to doctor up each bite to your liking. We requested a hot sauce. “Habanero?” The hostess asked sweetly as we gave a quick approving nod. The orange hot sauce looked innocent enough. Suffice it to say, if you like serious heat, this very-obviously homemade habanero hot sauce is the stuff. And we cannot heap enough praise on the glorious Peruvian empanadas at Sabor Latino. The buttery, flaky crust perfectly complements the tender chicken and spices inside this dreamy little handheld pie. We might just have to go back for a plate of these pillowy pastry perfections!
301 Oxmoor Road, Birmingham, AL 35209 • (205) 460-6517
Hours: Open daily, 4 p.m. to 11 p.m.
We can’t pass up a taco truck, so when we spotted this sneaky little guy at the corner of Green Springs and Oxmoor Road — made obvious only by the flurry of cars pulling in and out of a random lot — we had to investigate. Note that when you go to stand at a line for a taco truck and not only Latinos, but people of all races and walks of life are also there, you know you’ve hit taco-truck pay dirt. The tacos are served on warm corn tortillas, sprinkled with cilantro and chopped white onion and served with limes. The small tented seating area offers red and green hot sauces. If you’re not in the mood for tacos, never fear! They also offer quesadillas, tortas, tostadas, burritos and more. Grab a Jarritos all-natural Mexican soda in your favorite flavor and chow down on your Mexican street food of choice — ¡Ole!
Hop in your jalopy and head over to Green Springs for a dose of edible culture! And stay tuned for our roundup of Valley Avenue eateries for more international delicacies!