Local Dives

I live in an imperfect town, but it’s home nonetheless. This column by another Southerner explains this ambivalence as well as anything. But fortunately for me, for all it’s imperfection, Birmingham, Alabama has some award-winning, James-Beard-recognized, Iron-Chef-defeating chefs doing some spellbinding work here. If you’re ever in the neighborhood, I highly recommend the following (in no particular order):

  • Bottega has both a formal “Dining Room” and a less formal Cafe version. The restaurant is helmed by none other than Frank Stitt. If you don’t know of him, I’m not sure what to tell you.
  • Bettola serves authentic, casual Italian fare (mainly homemade pasta and Neopolitan-style pizza). It’s probably my favorite casual restaurant in town. Its skipper, James Lewis, is another James Beard honoree.
  • Chez Fonfon is another Frank Stitt joint, but this one is a more casual French bistro type place. The cheese plate alone is a satisfying meal.

Other places to try:

  • Satterfield’s: Sophistication in Cahaba Heights
  • El Barrio: Great Mexican food. The house-made guac comes with extra lime wedges so you can adjust the acidity to your taste.
  • Brick and Tin: Creative and simple soup, sandwiches, and entrees.
  • Bright Star: 100+ years of Greek-influenced fare in Bessemer.
  • Ocean and 26: Great seafood.
  • Red Pearl: Great, authentic Chinese with a grocery store.
  • Mr. Chen’s: Super Chinese.
  • La Libertad: Authentic South American fare, graciously served without pretense or frills. If you’re fluent in Spanish, that will help.

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