The largest city in the state of Alabama, Birmingham is a great destination for food lovers. Whether you want to grab a local brew while dining on wood-fired pizza, slurp some late-night ramen, or eat Southern comfort food, the city's restaurants offer a variety of options for every budget. For special occasions, the elegant Highlands Bar and Grill in Five Points South is a must, while those with families will enjoy more laid-back spots like John's City Diner or Trattoria Zaza. From coastal fare at Automatic Seafood and Oysters to house-made pastries and pastas at the Essential, you can't go wrong with a meal at any of these top restaurants in Birmingham.
With a dining room outfitted with wicker light fixtures, Adirondack chairs on the outdoor lawn, and fresh seafood sourced from the nearby Gulf, Automatic Seafood and Oysters transports diners to a relaxed beach town. The food has the same elegant yet relaxed vibe; enjoy Gulf, East, and West Coast oysters at the expansive raw bar, or settle into a booth for favorites like the tender Octopus a la Plancha and duck fat poached fish. Automatic also serves weekend brunch, offering up seafood-centric dishes like a tuna breakfast sandwich and fish terrine as well as French toast and a double-stack house burger.
This French-inspired restaurant in Five Points South is consistently one of the city's best, and was honored as James Beard Foundation's Most Outstanding Restaurant in 2018. From its romantic, ivy-covered exterior to its intimate dining room, it's also a great spot for a special occasion dinner. The rotating menu is heavy on sustainable, seasonal ingredients—many sourced from chef/owner Frank Stitt's farm. Think venison, pork, dark greens, and hearty root vegetables in the fall and winter, with brighter fare like seafood and organic fruit in the spring and summer. One item always on the menu: the stone ground baked grits. Don't skip the dessert: pastry chef Dolester Miles won a James Beard for her sweet creations like decadent coconut-pecan cake.
Run by the mother-daughter team of Denise and Crystal Peterson, this casual Southern lunch spot downtown is popular with both the business crowd and families. Customers line up weekdays from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., as well as the second and last Saturday of the month, for soul food staples like chicken and waffles, shrimp and grits, fried pork chops, hot wings, collard greens, coleslaw, and macaroni and cheese. Don't miss the homemade red Tropical Splash punch.
Come for the beef fat "candle"—a sliver of flaming, rendered fat swimming in sofrito—and stay for the tasty Spanish and South American small plates, all cooked over an open fire. Ideal for large groups or hungry duos, the menu is divided into seven sections, ranging from snacks like deviled eggs and Spanish charcuterie to seafood plates such as Gulf fish topped with crispy bacon, jalapeños, and candied hazelnuts. Standout dishes include the seasonal paella and the market whole fish, served with chimicurri and grilled lemons.
This airy, European-style bistro serves lunch and dinner Wednesday through Saturday as well as a weekend brunch. Owner and pastry chef Kristen Farmer Hall's savory breads and starters are a must. Try the mushroom toast on house sourdough or the chicken liver toast with cherry mostarda and pickles. For mains, you can't go wrong with the made-from-scratch pastas, like a simple rigatoni with chorizo bolognese and manchego. Save room for dessert: the apple cream puff with vanilla pastry cream and apple butter is excellent. The restaurant also has a stellar wine and cocktail program.
If you or someone in your group has dietary restrictions, head to John's City Diner downtown, which has an extensive Southern and Asian-inspired menu with several gluten-free options and hormone-free meats. Plus, they have a dedicated kid's menu to please even the pickiest of eaters. Options here include appetizers like pimento cheese with crunchy bread and Korean-style wings, generous salads, and burgers and sandwiches. Comfort food can be had as well, with classic dishes such as macaroni and cheese, meatloaf, and fish and chips on offer.
Birmingham is known for its craft beer, and you can sample brew from several local makers like Ghost Train Brewing Company and Avondale Brewing Company at this laid-back pizzeria. Choose from house pies like a basic pesto with house Italian sausage, roasted red peppers, Alabama goat cheese, and shaved red onions; or build your own, with options for gluten-free crust and vegan cheese. All pies are baked in a wood-fired oven. The menu also includes several salads, small plates like tater tots and fired-baked wings, and dessert pizzas. Slice Pizza & Brew has locations in both Vestavia Hills and Lakeview.
With locations in Homewood and South Side, you're never far from some of the city's best barbecue. Both spots serve up plates of smoked meats like pulled pork, ribs, and smoked chicken with Alabama-style white barbecue sauce. The menu also includes several styles of "stuffed taters," plus hearty, Southern-style sides like baked beans, potato salad, and macaroni and cheese. You can also get SAW's signature smoked barbecue sandwiches—as well as burgers, salads, shrimp and grits, and the must-try sweet tea-fried chicken sandwich—at sister restaurant SAW's Soul Kitchen in Avondale.
This Five Points South destination from the duo behind OvenBird showcases chef-owners Chris and Idie Hastings' commitment to sustainable seafood. The concise menu blends classic French techniques with Southern flavors. Start with local oysters on the half shell, a cheese and charcuterie plate, or a bright chilled seafood pasta salad with shrimp, blue crab, crawfish, and lemon vinaigrette. Entrées range from a prime N.Y. strip to seared snapper and shrimp and grits—all served with seasonal vegetables like celery root purée and Brussel soufflé. For an intimate experience, book the chef's counter overlooking the open kitchen.
Located in the Theatre District, this restaurant is part ramen shop, part late-night izakaya—dark, moody, and perfect for post-show snacking. Grab a seat at the long bar, the outdoor patio, or one of the intimate indoor booths and enjoy shareable snacks like shishito peppers, edamame, and tako puppies (octopus hush puppies served with yuzu mayo). For something more filling, order up a steaming bowl of hot ramen. The spicy miso with chashu pork is a must try and available in vegetarian and vegan options as well. Want to create their dishes at home? The restaurant sells its house-made sauces, salts, and other dry goods.
Chef Tim Hontzas effortlessly blends the flavors of his Greek heritage with those of his childhood in the Mississippi Delta at this Homewood restaurant. Dubbed by locals as "Greek plus three," Johnny's serves traditional Southern dishes like fried catfish, jambalaya, and red beans and rice alongside Greek staples like ketfedes (Greek meatballs) and fasolakia (stewed green beans and tomatoes). Your order? The meat plus three plate lunch plate, served with a homemade cornbread or yeast roll.
This fast casual restaurant downtown serves up some of the city's best Italian fare. Line up early to grab a seat in the dining room, where you can watch as chefs pull hot pizzas from the oven and boil huge pots of fettuccine and penne. In addition to pizzas by the slice and comforting pastas, the menu includes salads, sandwiches, and daily specials like braised short rib. With breakfast pizza, pork hash, and French toast, the brunch menu is also outstanding. The best part? Everything is at a reasonable price.