If you’ve ever traveled through the “Heart of Dixie” then you know it’s home to some amazing Southern comfort food. The fried chicken, apple pie, and ribs are almost unparalleled. But what you may not realize is that there is more to Alabama’s culinary landscape than meets the eye. Check out this Southern state’s stand-out cuisine in our second annual guide to the best food and drink in every state.
Acclaimed chef Frank Stitt is responsible for some of the best Italian food in Alabama (including pizza and pasta) and some of the best French food (he serves up the absolute best burgers), as well as the most expensive restaurant in the state. There are tons of family-owned classics such as Loyless’ Doughnuts, Gus’s Hot Dogs, and many more!
Over the course of the past year we’ve honored everything from its best hot dogs and brunch spot to its best bar and craft beer in our comprehensive and wide-ranging lists and rankings, compiled through extensive research and with input from a wide network of site contributors, bloggers, journalists, and chefs. We're proud to present definitive galleries celebrating the best food and drink in every state, and you can find our Alabama gallery ahead.
Enjoy some local craft beer and other great brews at Birmingham Brewhouse while waiting for your flight out of Alabama. Accompanying the drinks is a classic pub menu that features sandwiches, salads, and flatbread pizzas as well as “hoppetizers” such as their signature Birmingham Brewhouse Wings made with hot sauce or American Brown Ale barbecue sauce or Bama Chips, house-made potato chips with smoked barbecue brisket, queso, and green onion.
At this popular down-home Southern-style buffet, you’ll find more than 30 offerings from three hot bars, with something new every day of the week. There’s always fried chicken and fish, hushpuppies, pot roast, mac and cheese, mashed potatoes, honey-glazed sweet potatoes, and cornbread, along with a wide variety of meats, soups, fried treats, and vegetables. Friday night means steak and baked potatoes; Saturday means ribs with house-made barbecue sauce; and Sunday brings a traditional Southern Sunday supper with chicken and dumplings, turkey and gravy, and all the fixin’s. The weekend breakfast buffet is also popular, with eggs, bacon, sausage, biscuits and gravy, French toast, pancakes, and fresh-cut fruit. The price tops out at $13.19.
Next to a furniture store in Greensboro, Alabama, is Pie Lab, an eatery that does more than sell delicious homemade pies with a delicious, flaky, almost puff pastry-like crust. Chef Seaborn Whatley, who worked in New York before returning to his home town, set up Pie Lab in an effort to bring people to the area — since opening, the eatery has helped start a rejuvenation of downtown. The young people of the town are an integral part of Pie Lab, which hires and trains local teens in an effort to break the impoverished system that has been in place for so long. Of course, the pies are the center of this community-minded business, and the pies that they make are some of the best in the country, if not the world.
Callaghan’s Irish Social Club is currently the pride of the state after being named the South’s Best Bar by Southern Living magazine last year. Since 1946, Callaghan’s has been bringing together the local Irish community, as well as all others who want to join in the fun of live music, drinks, and delicious burgers.
Bill’s By the Beach/Yelp
Enjoy some freshly caught seafood at Bill’s by the Beach, where the restaurant implements a Gulf Wild tag system that will tell you just when, where, and even how your seafood was caught, as well as the exact path it took to get onto the plate in front of you. With a robust wine list and a cocktails and spirits menu, Bill’s by the Beach serves an impressive weekend brunch in addition to their main menu with amazing entrees such as oyster Bienville (fried oysters on Gouda and white cheddar crostini topped with a house-made seafood Bienville sauce) and Rudy’s signature shrimp and grits (half a pound of local shrimp that’s been Creole-spiced with heirloom tomatoes and house succotash over course-ground cheese grits), as well as steaks, tacos, salads, and more.
Good People Brewing Company’s Snake Handler Double IPA is a celebration of all things hoppy, with five different varieties of hops and aromas of pine, citrus, and grass. But don’t worry, it’s still described as “dangerously drinkable.” It’s the Birmingham brewery’s most requested beer for a reason.
James Beard Award-winning chef John Currence is the master of the Southern breakfast, and his menu at Big Bad Breakfast (which has another location in Oxford, Mississippi) is chock full of classic breakfast staples like shrimp and grits, biscuits and gravy, chicken and waffles, and flapjacks. And if you’re in the mood for lunch, there are salads; a burger; and sandwiches including The Screamin’ Demon (pickle-brined fried chicken, Duke’s mayo, lettuce, tomato, pickles, American cheese, and comeback sauce). Biscuits and jellies are made from scratch, and the Bloody Marys are spectacular.
In Birmingham, Frank and Pardis Stitt are justly famous for their Highlands Bar & Grill (one of the first contemporary Southern restaurants anywhere) and Italian-Southern (as opposed to Southern Italian) classic Bottega, but they get the cozy French bistro thing right, too, at Chez Fonfon. A cozy French bistro, that is, where the country pâté, trout amandine, and croque-monsieur share a menu with the Hamburger Fonfon. To make this impressive burger, chefs grind chuck in-house and form it into eight-ounce patties, to be griddled and topped with Comté cheese (whose sharp, nutty flavor adds a racy French flavor to the proceedings), along with grilled red onion, lettuce, pickle, and tomato. Très bien.
This cozy restaurant has been going strong since 1985, and you’ll still find Ricky, the owner, going table to table making sure everyone is happy. And with specialties like ma po tofu, Mandarin shredded pork and seafood, Peking duck, twice-cooked pork, a killer pu pu platter, and wonton soup that’s rich and flavorful, just about everyone dining here is happy.
Family-owned and -operated, Chocolate Corner in Gulf Shores may be small, but it’s definitely stocked to the brim with chocolaty goodness. They’re especially known for their homemade pralines, which are homemade with a massive amount of nuts, caramel, and chocolate.
The Red Cat/Yelp
Located in the hip city of Birmingham, The Red Cat's motto is "coffee for everyone," a motto they live up to by providing specialty coffees yet making them accessible to everyone from coffee aficionados to novices. Wraps, salads, paninis, and soups also grace the menu to accompany your coffee, as do delicious breakfast options from organic grits to spanakopita.
Whether in the shop or on the truck, there are plenty of tasty options available at Dreamcakes Bakery — 15 or more flavors daily, to be exact. The thing about these delicious cakes is that they actually look like they were dreamt up during a magical tea party. With a billowing topper of fluffy frosting and a delicate design, these cupcakes are a work of art. If you can catch it, try the fluffernutter cupcake, a peanut butter cake with marshmallow meringue that’s topped with a peanut butter cookie.
The Nick in Birmingham has been around for 35 years, and this dive bar/music venue has had its fair share of iconic bands pass through. Black Flag, Jane’s Addiction, and Widespread Panic all played this dive bar before they hit it big. Pass on through and maybe you’ll catch the next big thing.
The Heavenly Donut Co./Yelp
Fun and playful doughnuts are what makes Birmingham hotspot The Heavenly Donut Co. stand out. The worst thing about this place? It’s hard to pick what pastries should make up your dozen. Of course, you can’t go wrong with the classic glazed, which is yeasty perfection, and everyone knows the Oreo doughnut, topped with cookie cream and crumbles, is a must-have.
Across the street from an unassuming Sunoco gas station are some of the best tacos in Alabama. The Tacos Dos Hermanos food truck attracts a daily mob of customers looking for fresh and boldly seasoned tacos, burritos, and quesadillas at incredibly affordable prices. The Dos Hermanos Truck offers classic fillings like chorizo, carne asada, chicken, and barbacoa (lamb), and they top their tacos with freshly chopped white onion, cilantro, and pico de gallo. The truck is cash only, but it’s a small price to pay. One Yelp reviewer commented on how they walked away with five tacos and a burrito for under $20.
Café Dupont offers a "fresh perspective on regional ingredients" to create a menu bursting with traditional flavors and contemporary flair. This is most evident in their signature buttermilk-fried chicken with a lemon basil sauce, served atop warm creamed potatoes. You can thank the strong relationships chef Chris Dupont fosters with local farmers for the top-quality produce and meats that you’ll taste in every bite of their specialties.
Gus’s is home to the Greek Dog — in fact, it’s "the lone surviving old-school Greek hot dog place in downtown Birmingham," according to Serious Eats. To make their Greek Dog, char-grilled Zeigler pink franks are topped with seasoned ground beef, sauerkraut, a few chopped onions, and a special sauce that was formulated by Gus Alexander himself when he opened the stand around 1940 — a cross between barbecue sauce and New York-style stewed onions. The atmosphere has an unassuming air; it's small and quaint, with a TV in the corner, making it clear that, in here, it’s all about the dogs.
Birmingham’s Elyton Hotel is home to The Yard, chaf Haller Magee’s homage to globally-influenced, progressive Southern cuisine. Fresh ingredients are sourced daily, and they go into dishes including carrot-ginger soup with spring peas, goat cheese, fennel, and chervil; fried Tennessee quail with Parmesan grit cake, Bourbon-molasses glaze, pickled red onion, and house-made pepper jelly; crispy braised pork belly with smoked German potato salad and house-made choucroute; and braised Mississippi rabbit and grilled tenderloin with house-made pappardelle, spring peas, wild mushrooms, and local baby carrots.
Cammie’s Old Dutch Ice Cream has been serving Alabama’s finest ice cream since 1956. This family-owned creamery offers single, double, and triple dip cones plus menu items such as milkshakes, malts, Holland sodas, and a “meal in one” — a malted shake filled with five scoops of ice cream.
Over the past 30-odd years, chef Frank Stitt has been credited for significantly raising the bar in Alabama’s culinary scene. As if the success of his restaurant Highlands Bar and Grill and the roster of culinary talents who have launched their own successful careers after spending time in his kitchen weren’t impressive enough, he’s now doing the same thing for the state’s pizza scene. While devoted regulars may have trouble steering themselves away from Stitt’s classic dishes at Café Bottega like the seared beef carpaccio, niçoise salad, and chicken scaloppini, they’ll find themselves particularly rewarded by any of the eight pizzas on the menu.
This hip and popular Birmingham hotspot fills up its bar and tables nightly with locals looking for fun cocktails and creative and exciting Mexican fare. Popular starters include chunky guacamole, elote asado, and chorizo empanadas; “big plates” include a killer pozole and red chicken mole; and other popular offerings include beef barbacoa quesadilla, carnitas tacos, and Thursday-only braised duck tamales.
If you manage to down this daunting $25 burger at Mugshots Bar & Grill in under 12 minutes, you can have it for free along with a T-shirt. Don't get your hopes up though; consists of three patties, six strips of hickory-smoked bacon, cheddar and Swiss cheese, mustard, mayonnaise, tomato, lettuce, and red onions — with an onion ring and hand-battered pickle stuck to the top with a toothpick, for good measure. If you have room, it's also served with beer-battered fries.
Chef Frank Stitt’s Bottega Café boasts the best pizza in the state. There’s a white pie with fennel sausage, a grilled chicken and pesto combination, and even a pizza with okra and corn. But the signature pie that the restaurant pointed to as the biggest crowd-pleaser is the “Farm Egg,” topped with mushrooms, guanciale, Taleggio, and porcini oil.
This legendary restaurant was focusing on local and sustainable ingredients before anyone coined the phrase “locavore.” Highlands Bar & Grill put the Birmingham dining scene on the map when it opened in 1982, and chef and co-owner Frank Stitt, a member of The Daily Meal Council (who runs it with his wife, Pardis) has already been inducted into the James Beard Foundation’s Who's Who of Food & Beverage. The restaurant has been nominated for Outstanding Restaurant seven times. What to expect from a meal at Highlands? It’s sometimes best to hear it straight from the source: “We serve a daily changing menu informed by classic French technique, incorporating the foods of our Southern region. We love the ever-changing basket that each harvest allows, from the first springtime shad roe to the blue-green live and kickin' soft shell crabs that arrive a few weeks later. Summer's shell beans, tomatoes, okra, and watermelon bring a smile. The cooler weather game of venison and quail, root vegetables, and greens creates sustenance. Our dishes are prepared with respect and restraint to allow each ingredient's inherent goodness to shine through.”
Richard R. / Yelp
Chris Lilly is one of America’s most renowned pitmasters, and with good reason. He took over the pit at the circa-1925 barbecue joint a couple of decades ago, introducing new sauces and rubs to the equation, and suddenly Big Bob Gibson’s was on the map. He’s best known for his Alabama-style white sauce, a tangy concoction that best complements his smoked chicken, but his ribs are not to be missed. After being liberally seasoned with his award-winning dry rub, they’re pit-smoked low and slow over hickory wood, then glazed toward the end with his famous red sauce and honey. The end result is sweet, smoky, spicy, tender, juicy, and just about everything you’d look for in a rib.
Though just about everything on the menu at pitmaster Chris Lilly’s temple of Alabama-style barbecue is outstanding, the real claim to fame is the smoked chicken, dunked into the definitive version of tangy mayo-based Alabama white sauce. When shredded and tucked into a soft bun, it makes for one of the best chicken sandwiches you’ll find anywhere.
Just because this is the South doesn’t mean everything is battered and deep-fried. Doc’s is equally famous for its fresh seafood, raw oysters, seafood gumbo, royal red shrimp, and build-it-yourself seafood platter as it is for fried shrimp. Make sure you ask for the house-made cocktail sauce on the side.
Chef Monty Todd started Spoon & Ladle to showcase the amazing soup recipes that he learned from his grandmother as a child (as well as a few that he’s come up with on his own). While he doesn’t have a dedicated storefront, his soups can be found at a few local restaurants, supermarkets, and the Pepper Place farmers market on Saturdays. The selection changes weekly, but his soups always use fresh, seasonal ingredients; popular ones include chicken and sausage gumbo, old-fashioned vegetables, Brunswick stew, Guinness beef and barley, and beer cheese and bacon.
Celebrating its 61st year in business, George’s Steak Pit’s very name reveals why it’s so renowned: an open pit in the kitchen, on which steaks are grilled over hickory logs. The variety of steaks they’re turning out is also staggering: rib-eye, rib-eye butt, bone-in rib-eye, prime rib in two sizes, New York strip, T-bone in two sizes, filet mignon, tenderloin kebabs… The list goes on and on. And while a visit is still a splurge, no steak costs more than $37.95. For more states, check out our ultimate guide to the best food and drink in every state for 2019.