With its world-class art and history museums, tree-lined streets and quirky neighborhoods, lush green spaces, and thriving festival and craft beer scenes, Birmingham is also a can't miss destination for another reason: its food.
From white tablecloth dining to no-frills food trucks, popsicle stands, neighborhood pubs, and family-owned soul food spots, Birmingham's culinary scene offers options for every budget and taste. Whether you're seeking Southern classics like chicken and waffles and Alabama barbecue doused in the state's famed white sauce, the childhood nostalgia of corn dogs and ice pops, or Vietnamese pho or other global-inspired fares, Birmingham offers a range of must-try foods. Here are 10 of the best foods to try during your next visit to the city.
Whether it's slathered on hickory-smoked ribs or doused on tender chicken, the secret to Alabama barbecue is in the sauce: the mayonnaise base mixed with vinegar, mustard, and brown sugar is tangy, peppery, creamy, and distinctive. Try it at Miss Myra's Pit. Bar-B-Q, a small shop with counter service that serves up meat plates (chicken, pork, beef, ribs, and smoked sausage) along with sandwiches and Southern sides like turnip greens, baked beans, slaw, and potato salad. Or head to SAW'S BBQ in Homewood or Southside for plates of smoked pulled pork, chicken, and ribs, also served with the state's famed white sauce.
This is not your childhood corn dog. At Carrigan's Public House, which has locations both downtown and in the popular entertainment district of Lakeview, the playful carnival classic gets a modern update. The traditional hot dog is fried, served on a stick, and covered in "hipster ranch," made with cilantro, cotija, and guajillo ketchup. Don't eat meat? The pub also serves a vegetarian-style corn dog, with BEYOND "meat" that is breaded, fried, and served with the same sauce and side of pub fries.
While nearly 300 miles inland, Birmingham still benefits from its proximity to the Gulf Coast, with several local restaurants serving dishes with fresh seafood and another Alabama specialty: oysters. Get raw Gulf, West, and East coast bivalves from boutique farms at Automatic Seafood and Oysters, an award-winning restaurant in Lakeview with serious beach town vibes. Or head to 5 Point Public House Oyster Bar, a traditional pub meets seafood shack in Five Points South, where a daily selection of Alabama varietals like Murder Point, Isle Dauphine, and Point aux Pin are available on the half shell. Fried oysters, battered in cornmeal and served with sriracha aioli, crunchy slaw, and pickled onions are also on the menu.
Chicken and Waffles
This sweet and savory combo is an Alabama staple, and no one does it better than Yo' Mama's. Run by the mother-daughter team of Denise and Crystal Peterson, this casual Southern lunch spot downtown draws crowds for soul food fare like shrimp and grits and fried pork chops as well as its standout dish: a fluffy Belgian waffle topped with tender and juicy fried chicken wings and house-made syrup. The dish can also be made gluten-free for those with dietary restrictions.
Chef Tim Hontzas effortlessly blends the flavors of his Greek heritage with those of his childhood in the Mississippi Delta at Johnny's, his Homewood restaurant. Dubbed by locals as a "Greek plus three," Johnny's serves traditional Southern dishes like fried catfish, jambalaya, and red beans and rice alongside Greek staples, like Ketfedes. The beef meatballs are packed with Greek spices and served with a side of tzatziki.
Stone Ground Baked Grits
Grits are a Southern staple and can be found at restaurants throughout the city. But chef Frank Stitt at Highlands Bar and Grill elevates the dish by mixing organic, stone-ground grits with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, white pepper, egg, and butter to form grit cakes. Once baked individually, the crispy cakes are served with a creamy Parmesan sauce and topped with a generous portion of country ham, plus wild mushrooms and fresh thyme.
No trip to Alabama is complete without sampling another Southern specialty: fried chicken. At Eugene's, a food truck with brick-and-mortar outposts in Uptown and Hoover, sample a version inspired by owner Zebbie Carney's childhood in Nashville: hot chicken. Pick your level heat, from lemon pepper (no heat) to stupid hot, offered on everything from wings to tenders, either on plates or sandwiches. For a contemporary spin on the dish, head to the elegant Cafe Dupont for its buttermilk-fried chicken entrée served with creamy truffled potatoes and a creamy lemon beurre blanc.
Popsicle from Steel City Pops
Have a sweet tooth? Birmingham's favorite treat is an ice-cold popsicle from Steel City Pops, which has been blending the organic, all-natural treats since 2012. Ingredients for seasonal, playful flavors like strawberry lemonade, Arnold Palmer, and coffee are sourced locally from local growers and makers. Get them at The Summit, a high-end shopping center located at the intersection of Highway 280 and Interstate 459, as well as pop-up stalls at local events and festivals.
Pho Doc Biet
Nothing tastes better on a chilly day than a steaming, satisfying bowl of pho. Locals swear by the Pho Doc Biet at Saigon Noodle House on Highway 280. Your order? Pho number one, which comes with a mix of meats—brisket, tender slices of beef, meatballs, tendon, and tripe—as well as the usual toppings of cilantro, sliced onions, and scallions. The restaurant also offers a vegetarian pho as well as seafood and chicken options.
Beef Fat Candle
One of the city's most dramatic and talked about dishes is the beef fat "candle" at the Spanish and South American-inspired neighborhood spot Ovenbird. Made from a sliver of tallow, the candle comes fully lit and swimming in sofrito, a mix of onion, saffron, bell pepper, and cooked tomato. As the candle melts away, combine with the sofrito and spoon onto a large slice of the restaurant's crusty grilled bread.