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Pan-seared halibut on a bed of couscous with spring vegetables and cucumber relish at Chez Fonfon in Birmingham, Alabama.
Pan-seared halibut on a bed of couscous with spring vegetables and cucumber relish.
Chez Fonfon

17 Essential Restaurants to Know in Birmingham, Alabama

Find Southern food buffets, Northern Italian cuisine, classic French bistro fare, Thai food, live-fire dishes, barbecue, and award-winning seafood in the Magic City

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Pan-seared halibut on a bed of couscous with spring vegetables and cucumber relish.
| Chez Fonfon

Birmingham, Alabama, may not be as large or as bustling as Atlanta, but when it comes to food and dining, the Magic City holds its own against Georgia’s capital city and its sprawling metropolitan area. Located two hours west of Atlanta along I-20, the burgeoning dining scene in Birmingham means it’s getting increasingly difficult to find a bad restaurant here these days. Whether in the mood for Southern staples at a meat and three, a swanky dinner with cocktails, or a casual counter-service spot serving burgers and sandwiches, the challenge lies in choosing where to eat in and around Birmingham, then planning ahead and arriving at the right time to guarantee a seat.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

1. Niki's West

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233 Finley Ave W
Birmingham, AL 35204
(205) 252-5751
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There are Southern buffets, and then there’s Niki’s West, which has accrued a legendary cafeteria line since 1957. The younger sibling of the now-defunct Niki’s Downtown is heaven on earth for anyone who appreciates Southern food served cafeteria-style, and is a bucket list Birmingham lunch. The mains are on a rotating schedule, but the desserts and robust selection of sides remain steady Monday through Friday. Closed on weekends. 

2. Lé Fresca

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2218 2nd Ave N
Birmingham, AL 35203
(205) 593-4241
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Le Fresca opened in early 2020, and in that time it’s become a well-established member of Birmingham’s fine dining scene. Specializing in Northern Italian fare, Le Fresca is led by chef Marco Butturini, formerly of Magic City restaurants Bottega, Chez Fonfon, and Highlands Bar and Grill (not listed on this map because it’s temporarily closed) and sous chef Matthew Christie.

3. El Barrio

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2211 2nd Ave N
Birmingham, AL 35203
(205) 868-3737
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Downtown Birmingham has no shortage of restaurants or bars, but El Barrio stands above its competitors. The inventive menu is inspired by multi-regional Mexican cuisine, while the atmosphere and beverage selection give a sophisticated air. El Barrio is truly a cut above the rest. It’s best to plan ahead for an outing here or prepare to wait in line for lunch, dinner, or brunch, because the restaurant doesn’t take reservations. 

4. Bettola

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2930 3rd Ave S
Birmingham, AL 35233
(205) 731-6499
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While there’s no shortage of pizza in Birmingham, the options for Neapolitan-style pies are a little slim. Helmed by chef James Lewis, Bettola specializes in wood-fired pizzas, pastas made on site, and a robust selection of cocktails and wine. It’s an ideal spot for a dinner with friends or colleagues, but couples can also squeeze into the bar for an intimate date night. 

5. Hot and Hot Fish Club

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2901 2nd Ave S Suite 110
Birmingham, AL 35233
(205) 933-5474
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Established in 1995, Hot and Hot is one of the Magic City’s most highly regarded restaurants. Chef Chris Hastings, a James Beard Award winner, takes inspiration from French, Californian, and Southern cuisine and produces some solid seafood. In 2020, Hot and Hot traded its Highland Park location for a roomier space at Pepper Place.

6. OvenBird

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2810 3rd Ave S
Birmingham, AL 35233
(205) 957-6686
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Located in the Pepper Place shopping center, OvenBird strikes a balance between rustic and formal. Using seasonal ingredients, Chris and Ivie Hastings of Hot and Hot Fish Club draw inspiration from live-fire cooking in Spain, Argentina, Portugal, and Uruguay, in addition to the American South. OvenBird’s menu is only rivaled by its atmosphere, especially when the patio is in commission. 

7. Helen

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2013 2nd Ave N
Birmingham, AL 35203
(205) 438-7000
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Helen is a modern homage to chef Rob McDaniel’s grandmother and her style of cooking. However, Helen’s smoker is far from the restaurant’s primary draw — large cuts of beef dominate Helen’s tablescapes, while the vegetable-heavy sides are prepared with enough care for a vegetarian to feel comfortable at a “steakhouse.” Other highlights include Helen’s expert selection of wine, beer, and spirits, and the Alabama-famous angel biscuits that start off every meal. 

8. The Essential

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2018 Morris Ave
Birmingham, AL 35203
(205) 703-3012
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Pastries, pastas, and brunch are the move at this intimate, yet trendy Morris Avenue spot. The space itself is darling, and offerings such as homemade Pop-Tarts and an A-plus beverage selection make the Essential one of the most Instagrammable restaurants in Birmingham. Open Wednesday through Sunday, the Essential takes reservations for lunch and dinner, but its coveted brunch service is first-come, first serve. 

9. Automatic Seafood and Oysters

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2824 5th Ave S
Birmingham, AL 35233
(205) 580-1600
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This 2020 James Beard Award finalist lies in a cluster of restaurants that have coalesced in Birmingham’s Lakeview district in recent years. The seafood spot is a gustatory and visual spectacle, thanks to the efforts of 2022 James Beard Award finalist for Best Chef South Adam Evans (the Optimist) and Suzanne Humphries. Automatic is definitely the place to impress folks visiting Birmingham, with some of the best dinner, brunch, and cocktails in the city and hospitality that makes people feel like celebrities. Lakeview is crowded, so anticipate parking and walking, or keep enough cash on hand for a valet.

10. Bottega

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2240 Highland Ave
Birmingham, AL 35205
(205) 939-1000
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Located smack dab in the middle of Highland Avenue, Bottega is an iconic Birmingham institution serving sophisticated fare that’s part Italian, part Southern. Unfortunately, the formal dining room is still closed in the wake of the pandemic, but the cafe, which specializes in wood-fired pizzas and sandwiches, is humming along and serving more formal dishes. Bottega Cafe is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday, making it a great alternative to area lunch spots that close between lunch and dinner service in the late afternoon.

11. Chez Fonfon

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2007 11th Ave S
Birmingham, AL 35205
(205) 939-3221
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Located in Birmingham’s Five Points South neighborhood, Chez Fonfon sits in good company — it’s surrounded by some of the city’s most popular restaurants, like Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar B-Q and the Original Pancake House — but completely holds its own. The French bistro is a classic Magic City institution, and although it’s not quite as upscale as certain go-tos restaurants in Birmingham, the fare is undoubtedly on the same caliber.

12. Al's Deli & Grill

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1629 10th Ave S
Birmingham, AL 35205
(205) 939-4278
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With its extensive hours and proximity to University of Alabama-Birmingham (UAB), Al’s is a popular spot for students, medical professionals, and the like. But that doesn’t mean its offerings shouldn’t be taken seriously. Al’s excels at both American and Mediterranean casual meals, including sandwiches, kebabs, and seriously loaded baked potatoes. 

13. Little Donkey Méxican Restaurant | Homewood

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2701 18th St S
Homewood, AL 35209
(205) 703-7000
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What started as a well supported Homewood watering hole is now one of Birmingham’s main culinary empires. Operated by Pihakis Restaurant Group (Rodney Scott’s BBQ, Hero Doughnuts, Big Bad Breakfast), Little Donkey is solid in all departments. The tacos never disappoint, the margaritas flow steadily, and the service remains on-the-dot. 

14. Hero Doughnuts

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3027 Central Ave
Homewood, AL 35209
(205) 623-1017
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Homewood-based Hero Doughnuts may be acclaimed for its pastries, but folks haven’t really enjoyed Hero if they haven’t eaten something savory sandwiched between the brioche buns. Those uninitiated should try the fan-favorite Hero Burger or Spicy Chicken sandwich, or the sleeper hit, the chicken salad sandwich, which is available on Thursdays. With satellite locations in the Summerhill neighborhood of Atlanta and in Charleston, it’s clear Birmingham isn’t the only city that can’t get enough of Hero Doughnuts. 

15. Saw's BBQ

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1008 Oxmoor Rd
Homewood, AL 35209
(205) 879-1937
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Birmingham cannot get enough of Saw’s BBQ — greater Birmingham currently includes six locations spreading all the way to Leeds, as well as a food truck. And once people have a taste, they may not be able to satiate those cravings for Saw’s either. Folks can’t go wrong with a barbecue sandwich, plate, or family meal, but make sure to watch out for specials, like the pork and greens, a mammoth pile of grits, collards, pulled pork, and onion rings, or the sweet tea fried chicken sandwich, which is available at the Avondale location. 

16. Red Pearl Restaurant

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243 W Valley Ave
Homewood, AL 35209
(205) 945-9558
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Located in West Homewood, home to some of the Magic City’s finest international restaurants, the Red Pearl offers the best bet for Chinese and American Chinese food in Birmingham. Whether dining in or grabbing takeout, Red Pearl is a must for anyone visiting Birmingham, as well as for longtime residents. The restaurant is adjacent to Super Oriental Market, which has a stunning selection of produce, meat and seafood, packaged goods ranging from tea to seasonings to candy and household cleaning products, and cooking supplies. 

17. Blue Pacific at Hoover Food Mart

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3219 Lorna Rd
Birmingham, AL 35216
(205) 978-0754
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Blue Pacific’s Thai food is more than worth the short excursion to Hoover, a suburb just south of Birmingham. Unassuming on the exterior (first-timers often confuse it for a gas station,) Blue Pacific is home to the best bet for Thai food in the Birmingham area. Favorites include the coconut soup, spicy basil, laap, and any of the restaurant’s appetizer. 

1. Niki's West

233 Finley Ave W, Birmingham, AL 35204

There are Southern buffets, and then there’s Niki’s West, which has accrued a legendary cafeteria line since 1957. The younger sibling of the now-defunct Niki’s Downtown is heaven on earth for anyone who appreciates Southern food served cafeteria-style, and is a bucket list Birmingham lunch. The mains are on a rotating schedule, but the desserts and robust selection of sides remain steady Monday through Friday. Closed on weekends. 

233 Finley Ave W
Birmingham, AL 35204

2. Lé Fresca

2218 2nd Ave N, Birmingham, AL 35203

Le Fresca opened in early 2020, and in that time it’s become a well-established member of Birmingham’s fine dining scene. Specializing in Northern Italian fare, Le Fresca is led by chef Marco Butturini, formerly of Magic City restaurants Bottega, Chez Fonfon, and Highlands Bar and Grill (not listed on this map because it’s temporarily closed) and sous chef Matthew Christie.

2218 2nd Ave N
Birmingham, AL 35203

3. El Barrio

2211 2nd Ave N, Birmingham, AL 35203

Downtown Birmingham has no shortage of restaurants or bars, but El Barrio stands above its competitors. The inventive menu is inspired by multi-regional Mexican cuisine, while the atmosphere and beverage selection give a sophisticated air. El Barrio is truly a cut above the rest. It’s best to plan ahead for an outing here or prepare to wait in line for lunch, dinner, or brunch, because the restaurant doesn’t take reservations. 

2211 2nd Ave N
Birmingham, AL 35203

4. Bettola

2930 3rd Ave S, Birmingham, AL 35233

While there’s no shortage of pizza in Birmingham, the options for Neapolitan-style pies are a little slim. Helmed by chef James Lewis, Bettola specializes in wood-fired pizzas, pastas made on site, and a robust selection of cocktails and wine. It’s an ideal spot for a dinner with friends or colleagues, but couples can also squeeze into the bar for an intimate date night. 

2930 3rd Ave S
Birmingham, AL 35233

5. Hot and Hot Fish Club

2901 2nd Ave S Suite 110, Birmingham, AL 35233

Established in 1995, Hot and Hot is one of the Magic City’s most highly regarded restaurants. Chef Chris Hastings, a James Beard Award winner, takes inspiration from French, Californian, and Southern cuisine and produces some solid seafood. In 2020, Hot and Hot traded its Highland Park location for a roomier space at Pepper Place.

2901 2nd Ave S Suite 110
Birmingham, AL 35233

6. OvenBird

2810 3rd Ave S, Birmingham, AL 35233

Located in the Pepper Place shopping center, OvenBird strikes a balance between rustic and formal. Using seasonal ingredients, Chris and Ivie Hastings of Hot and Hot Fish Club draw inspiration from live-fire cooking in Spain, Argentina, Portugal, and Uruguay, in addition to the American South. OvenBird’s menu is only rivaled by its atmosphere, especially when the patio is in commission. 

2810 3rd Ave S
Birmingham, AL 35233

7. Helen

2013 2nd Ave N, Birmingham, AL 35203

Helen is a modern homage to chef Rob McDaniel’s grandmother and her style of cooking. However, Helen’s smoker is far from the restaurant’s primary draw — large cuts of beef dominate Helen’s tablescapes, while the vegetable-heavy sides are prepared with enough care for a vegetarian to feel comfortable at a “steakhouse.” Other highlights include Helen’s expert selection of wine, beer, and spirits, and the Alabama-famous angel biscuits that start off every meal. 

2013 2nd Ave N
Birmingham, AL 35203

8. The Essential

2018 Morris Ave, Birmingham, AL 35203

Pastries, pastas, and brunch are the move at this intimate, yet trendy Morris Avenue spot. The space itself is darling, and offerings such as homemade Pop-Tarts and an A-plus beverage selection make the Essential one of the most Instagrammable restaurants in Birmingham. Open Wednesday through Sunday, the Essential takes reservations for lunch and dinner, but its coveted brunch service is first-come, first serve. 

2018 Morris Ave
Birmingham, AL 35203

9. Automatic Seafood and Oysters

2824 5th Ave S, Birmingham, AL 35233

This 2020 James Beard Award finalist lies in a cluster of restaurants that have coalesced in Birmingham’s Lakeview district in recent years. The seafood spot is a gustatory and visual spectacle, thanks to the efforts of 2022 James Beard Award finalist for Best Chef South Adam Evans (the Optimist) and Suzanne Humphries. Automatic is definitely the place to impress folks visiting Birmingham, with some of the best dinner, brunch, and cocktails in the city and hospitality that makes people feel like celebrities. Lakeview is crowded, so anticipate parking and walking, or keep enough cash on hand for a valet.

2824 5th Ave S
Birmingham, AL 35233

10. Bottega

2240 Highland Ave, Birmingham, AL 35205

Located smack dab in the middle of Highland Avenue, Bottega is an iconic Birmingham institution serving sophisticated fare that’s part Italian, part Southern. Unfortunately, the formal dining room is still closed in the wake of the pandemic, but the cafe, which specializes in wood-fired pizzas and sandwiches, is humming along and serving more formal dishes. Bottega Cafe is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday, making it a great alternative to area lunch spots that close between lunch and dinner service in the late afternoon.

2240 Highland Ave
Birmingham, AL 35205

11. Chez Fonfon

2007 11th Ave S, Birmingham, AL 35205

Located in Birmingham’s Five Points South neighborhood, Chez Fonfon sits in good company — it’s surrounded by some of the city’s most popular restaurants, like Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar B-Q and the Original Pancake House — but completely holds its own. The French bistro is a classic Magic City institution, and although it’s not quite as upscale as certain go-tos restaurants in Birmingham, the fare is undoubtedly on the same caliber.

2007 11th Ave S
Birmingham, AL 35205

12. Al's Deli & Grill

1629 10th Ave S, Birmingham, AL 35205

With its extensive hours and proximity to University of Alabama-Birmingham (UAB), Al’s is a popular spot for students, medical professionals, and the like. But that doesn’t mean its offerings shouldn’t be taken seriously. Al’s excels at both American and Mediterranean casual meals, including sandwiches, kebabs, and seriously loaded baked potatoes. 

1629 10th Ave S
Birmingham, AL 35205

13. Little Donkey Méxican Restaurant | Homewood

2701 18th St S, Homewood, AL 35209

What started as a well supported Homewood watering hole is now one of Birmingham’s main culinary empires. Operated by Pihakis Restaurant Group (Rodney Scott’s BBQ, Hero Doughnuts, Big Bad Breakfast), Little Donkey is solid in all departments. The tacos never disappoint, the margaritas flow steadily, and the service remains on-the-dot. 

2701 18th St S
Homewood, AL 35209

14. Hero Doughnuts

3027 Central Ave, Homewood, AL 35209

Homewood-based Hero Doughnuts may be acclaimed for its pastries, but folks haven’t really enjoyed Hero if they haven’t eaten something savory sandwiched between the brioche buns. Those uninitiated should try the fan-favorite Hero Burger or Spicy Chicken sandwich, or the sleeper hit, the chicken salad sandwich, which is available on Thursdays. With satellite locations in the Summerhill neighborhood of Atlanta and in Charleston, it’s clear Birmingham isn’t the only city that can’t get enough of Hero Doughnuts. 

3027 Central Ave
Homewood, AL 35209

15. Saw's BBQ

1008 Oxmoor Rd, Homewood, AL 35209

Birmingham cannot get enough of Saw’s BBQ — greater Birmingham currently includes six locations spreading all the way to Leeds, as well as a food truck. And once people have a taste, they may not be able to satiate those cravings for Saw’s either. Folks can’t go wrong with a barbecue sandwich, plate, or family meal, but make sure to watch out for specials, like the pork and greens, a mammoth pile of grits, collards, pulled pork, and onion rings, or the sweet tea fried chicken sandwich, which is available at the Avondale location. 

1008 Oxmoor Rd
Homewood, AL 35209

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16. Red Pearl Restaurant

243 W Valley Ave, Homewood, AL 35209

Located in West Homewood, home to some of the Magic City’s finest international restaurants, the Red Pearl offers the best bet for Chinese and American Chinese food in Birmingham. Whether dining in or grabbing takeout, Red Pearl is a must for anyone visiting Birmingham, as well as for longtime residents. The restaurant is adjacent to Super Oriental Market, which has a stunning selection of produce, meat and seafood, packaged goods ranging from tea to seasonings to candy and household cleaning products, and cooking supplies. 

243 W Valley Ave
Homewood, AL 35209

17. Blue Pacific at Hoover Food Mart

3219 Lorna Rd, Birmingham, AL 35216

Blue Pacific’s Thai food is more than worth the short excursion to Hoover, a suburb just south of Birmingham. Unassuming on the exterior (first-timers often confuse it for a gas station,) Blue Pacific is home to the best bet for Thai food in the Birmingham area. Favorites include the coconut soup, spicy basil, laap, and any of the restaurant’s appetizer. 

3219 Lorna Rd
Birmingham, AL 35216

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