Dig Into Alabama's Top Dishes
Good food abounds in Alabama wherever you might be traveling. In fact, there’s so much delicious cuisine to try that when Alabama set about the task of compiling the top 100 dishes to eat in the state, their attempt at narrowing it down led to doubling the list.
To assist you in choosing from the more than 200 top dishes to try, follow along on an epicurean journey from north to south. We’ve designed a road trip that hits major cities in the North, Central, South and Gulf Coast, with an activity to work up an appetite and paired them with the perfect plates.
Don’t say we didn’t warn you if you find yourself needing some stretchy pants for the drive home.
Why go: This two-county region in northwest Alabama encompasses Florence, Tuscumbia and Muscle Shoals – three places that might not ring a bell, but chances are you’ve heard hit music that came from this area. The Rolling Stones, Rod Stewart, Etta James, Paul Simon, Aretha Franklin and Lynyrd Skynyrd have all recorded hit songs here. This region is also the birthplace of W.C. Handy, who is known as the “Father of the Blues” and composer of songs like “Beale Street Blues” and “Memphis Blues.”
Work up an appetite: Take a tour of Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, FAME Recording Studio or the Alabama Music Hall of Fame to see where music was made by some of the world’s most famous musicians.
What to order:
- Trowbridge’s Ice Cream & Sandwich Shop – Started as a creamery in 1918, the shop still serves orange-pineapple ice cream; pair it with a chicken salad sandwich.
- Odette – Head to downtown Florence for the brie & peach grilled cheese.
- 360 Grille – At this upscale steakhouse overlooking the Tennessee River (and the only revolving restaurant in the state of Alabama), be sure to order the crab cakes.
- George’s Steak Pit – Get 12 ounces of choice beef when you order George’s special rib-eye.
Why go? This former farming town launched itself into the spotlight during the Space Race in the 1960s, thanks to German rocket scientists at the NASA center here designing Saturn V, the rocket that sent Apollo astronauts to the moon. Since that time, Hunstville has steadily gained publicity, with even the New York Times calling it one of the top places to go in 2019. Nowadays, its up-and-coming culinary scene is getting lots of buzz.
Work up an appetite: Walk around the U.S. Space & Rocket Center and learn the journey from the roots of America’s space program to the space-based science and discovery missions of today.
What to order:
- 1892 East Restaurant & Tavern – Using only local ingredients from carefully selected family farms, chefs here change the menu seasonally, but you can always start with the crispy shrimp and grits.
- Beauregard’s – Locals say this neighborhood chain serves some of the best hot wings and habanero sauce.
- Ol’ Heidelberg – No matter what entrée you choose, start with a slice (or two) of the German brown farmers bread.
- Purveyor – Head downtown to The Avenue, a mixture of apartments and retail space, to try the Ahi tuna poke tacos.
- Tenders! - For 25 years now, this local chain has been serving the Big Daddy Chicken Plate.
Why go? If barbecue is your jam, then you’ll want to pay homage to Decatur. This is where white barbecue sauce was invented. Typically used on chicken and pork dishes, the sauce is based on mayonnaise with the addition of salt, black pepper, sugar and vinegar.
Work up an appetite: Winner of this year's USA Today Best New Museum contest as voted by readers, Cook Museum of Natural Science is located downtown and provides an interactive exhibits and activities for kids.
What to order:
- Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q – Winner of multiple World Barbecue Championships, this restaurant opened in 1925; Bob Gibson created white barbecue sauce. Order the original Bar-B-Q chicken with white sauce and leave some room for the homemade pie.
- Morgan Price Candy Company – Some dishes fit in your pocket; try the English toffee.
- Simp McGhee’s – Expect fine dining with a Cajun twist at this establishment near the Tennessee River and try the seafood-filled mushroom caps.
Why go? They might not have won the James Beard award, but nominees and semi-finalists are still winners to patrons' taste buds, and Birmingham is full of chefs who are still creating culinary masterpieces at places like Automatic Seafood and Oysters and Johnny’s (which combines local Southern ingredients with Greek influences).
Work up an appetite: Encompassing 1,500 acres of land along the Red Mountain Ridge in central Alabama, Red Mountain Park features more than 15 miles of trails, including the Butler Snow Sensory Trail, which allows people with developmental differences (like low vision and hearing) explore 14 activities along a 0.14-mile trail.
What to order:
- Café Dupont – Head downtown to this renovated storefront where the menu changes daily based on regional ingredients and order the buttermilk fried chicken with lemon beurre blanc and truffle creamed potatoes.
- Chez Fonfon – Transport yourself to a French bistro and skip right to dessert; choices include chocolate pot de crème, chocolate caramel nut tart and coconut pecan cake.
- Lloyd’s – Open since 1937, Lloyd’s serves thinly sliced and golden brown onion rings with every meal.
- Post Office Pies – Wood-fired brick oven pizza is on the menu here; swine pie toppings include sausage, slab bacon and pepperoni.
Why go? The craft beer scene is booming in downtown Montgomery. Full of games, bar stools and comfy couches in its taproom, Common Bond Brewery pours four flagship ales, as well as seasonal and rotating drafts. Go for the beer but stay for the ambiance of an 1888 Victorian-era mansion overlooking historic downtown at the Goat Haus Biergarten.
Work up an appetite: Open every day of the week, Blount Cultural Park spreads out over 175 acres and includes ponds, miles of walking trails, a natural amphitheater as well as the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts and the Alabama Shakespeare Festival (which hosts productions all year long).
What to order:
- Chris’ Hotdogs – Join the long list of notable patrons who have eaten here since 1917 and order Chris’ famous hot dog (mustard, onions, kraut and Chris’ famous chili sauce).
- Lek’s Taste of Thailand – A spring roll with peanut sauce goes good with any entrée.
- Tomatino’s – Be prepared for a pizza topped with spinach, mushroom, red onion, red pepper, black olives, artichoke hearts, feta, provolone, mozzarella, capers and roma tomatoes when you ask for the Mediterranean.
Why go? There’s more than football in this small eastern Alabama town. Full of fertile farmland, the food scene in fast-growing Auburn is a mixture of homegrown produce, fresh seafood and international cuisine.
Work up an appetite: Head to the 696-acre Chewacla State Park for some outdoor adventures like hiking or mountain biking. Alternatively, hop in a canoe and paddle around the 26-acre lake.
What to order:
- Bow & Arrow – Go for a half or a full pound of moist brisket and pair it with a side of hashbrown casserole.
- Toomer’s Drugs – Try the fresh squeezed lemonade at this historic soda fountain dating back to 1896.
- Acre – Come with an empty stomach for a dinner of grilled “flat iron” steak that includes a butterbean orzo salad, toasted peans, feta, dill, friend onions and kalamata-tomato “chimmi”.
- The Depot – Sustainability is the name of the game at this renovated train depot that’s now an upscale seafood restaurant (and the first in Alabama to receive the James Beard Smart Catch Leader Award). Try the flash fried cobia wings.
Why go? If your heart desires seafood, there is no finer place to be in Alabama than in Mobile. The abundance of Golf Coast seafood can be seen on every menu throughout the year.
Work up an appetite: Climb aboard the USS Alabama, a 45,000-ton war machine that led the American fleet into Tokyo Bay in September 1945 and tour the ship.
What to order:
- Dauphin’s – Enjoy panoramic views from the 34th floor as you dine on a bowl of Gumbo Z’herb.
- Original Oyster House – You can’t go wrong ordering any sort of seafood from this restaurant overlooking Mobile Bay, but be sure to try the fire-grilled oysters.
- Blue Gill’s Restaurant – Whether you prefer them fried or sauteed, get the crab claws.
- Felix’s Fish Camp – Expect lots of Gulf lump crab meat in your crab soup. You’re on vacation – go for the bowl.
Ready to go? Start planning to eat your way through Sweet Home Alabama.
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