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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

The 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.
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Niki's West

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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. 

Lé Fresca

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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.

El Barrio

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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. 

Bettola

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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. 

Hot and Hot Fish Club

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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.

OvenBird

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Located in the Pepper Place shopping center, OvenBird strikes a balance between rustic and formal. Using seasonal ingredients, Chris and Idie 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. 

Shu Shop

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Trendy yet cozy, Shu Shop is part izakaya and part bar. Shu Shop’s vibe is a stark contrast from Birmingham’s other ramen slingers. The menu is short and sweet, sticking to what Shu Shop knows best.

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. 

The Essential

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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. 

Automatic Seafood and Oysters

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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.

Bottega

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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.

Makarios Kabobs & Grill

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Did we mention that Birmingham has a solid selection of Middle Eastern restaurants? Makarios has provided Five Points South with massive kebab plates, shawarma, and much more at not-too-hefty prices. Less adventurous eaters will be glad to know there’s a solid selection of burgers and sandwiches, salads, and even cheese quesadillas. Those farther out from the city can enjoy Makarios’ Vestavia Hills location on Columbiana Rd.

Chez Fonfon

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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.

Al's Deli & Grill

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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. 

Little Donkey Méxican Restaurant | Homewood

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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. 

Hero Doughnuts

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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. 

Saw's BBQ

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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. 

Red Pearl Restaurant

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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. 

Niki's West

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. 

Lé Fresca

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.

El Barrio

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. 

Bettola

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. 

Hot and Hot Fish Club

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.

OvenBird

Located in the Pepper Place shopping center, OvenBird strikes a balance between rustic and formal. Using seasonal ingredients, Chris and Idie 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. 

Shu Shop

Trendy yet cozy, Shu Shop is part izakaya and part bar. Shu Shop’s vibe is a stark contrast from Birmingham’s other ramen slingers. The menu is short and sweet, sticking to what Shu Shop knows best.

Helen

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. 

The Essential

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. 

Automatic Seafood and Oysters

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.

Bottega

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.

Makarios Kabobs & Grill

Did we mention that Birmingham has a solid selection of Middle Eastern restaurants? Makarios has provided Five Points South with massive kebab plates, shawarma, and much more at not-too-hefty prices. Less adventurous eaters will be glad to know there’s a solid selection of burgers and sandwiches, salads, and even cheese quesadillas. Those farther out from the city can enjoy Makarios’ Vestavia Hills location on Columbiana Rd.

Chez Fonfon

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.

Al's Deli & Grill

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. 

Little Donkey Méxican Restaurant | Homewood

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. 

Related Maps

Hero Doughnuts

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. 

Saw's BBQ

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. 

Red Pearl Restaurant

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. 

Related Maps