A definitive food guide to Alabama
With award-winning restaurants, mouth-watering barbecue and the freshest seafood in the south, Alabama is stirring the cultural melting pot and redefining traditional soul food.
From creative chefs elevating southern cuisine to new heights to laid-back coastal shacks serving up fresh-out-of-the-sea platters, Alabama’s rich and varied landscape is reflected in the unique food of its region. A road trip through this state ensures you won’t go hungry, because it’s all about sweet home-cooking in Alabama.
To deep dive into the southern state's culinary scene, start at the city of Mobile, situated by the warm waters of the Gulf Coast. Amid boulevards lined with historic homes, their balconies laced with ornate ironwork, you’ll discover restaurants where handwritten menus sing of the sea. Freshly plucked oysters are a pearly favourite in Mobile, so revered that the city even has an interactive scavenger hunt connecting its 12 giant-sized oyster street sculptures.
But, for a fresh take on an old classic, pull up a stool at Mobile’s recently opened The Hummingbird Way Oyster Bar, where chef Jim Smith is creating waves by jazzing up a grilled oyster with a delicious fusion of bacon, fennel and windowsill herbs.
Still peckish? Then head to Wintzell’s Oyster House for a hearty bowl of seafood gumbo, where they’ve been patiently stirring the roux since 1938. This legendary Gulf Coast institution peppers its award-winning gumbo with shrimp, crawfish, crabmeat and, that southern staple, okra. Round off your Mobile feast with a trip to the Mo’Bay Beignet Co, a stylish new-kid-on-the-block café serving up freshly fried pastries topped with peaks of powdery sugar.
And, as the birthplace of Mardi Gras, a 300-year tradition that’s still celebrated with dazzling masked balls, a vibrant parade and a year-round museum, be sure to pick up a few MoonPie souvenirs; an indulgent sandwich of chocolate and marshmallow goodness, merrily thrown from floats during carnival season in February.
From Mobile, it’s a short coastal drive past shipbuilding warehouses to the buoyant fishing village of Bayou La Batre, crowned the Seafood Capital of Alabama. Tucked into the peaceful shores of the Mississippi Sound, you’ll find a charming harbour jostling with hundreds of barges, tugs and shrimping boats, many of which visitors can board for seafaring expeditions.
Fishing is the lifeblood of this picturesque port, which dates back to 1786, more recently finding fame as a location in the hit film Forrest Gump. Try to time your visit to join one of the annual maritime festivals such as the Blessing of the Fleet in May, where makeshift stalls sell plates overflowing with freshly boiled shrimp. Travelling further along Alabama’s southern coast, you'll find the resort city of Orange Beach where white sandy beaches and turquoise seas await.
Two hundred miles north in Birmingham, a flourishing gastronomic landscape has earned itself the nickname ‘Dinner Table of the South’. Birmingham is a youthful city that swings with a lively theatre scene, buzzy backyard craft breweries strung with lights and recently revitalised leafy urban parks.
Just be sure to arrive hungry. From succulent fried chicken brined in sweet tea, slid across neon-lit Formica tables at the local hangout Saw’s Soul Kitchen to soft-shell crab presented on starched white tablecloths at the Highlands Bar & Grill — previously voted the most outstanding restaurant in the US in the James Beard awards — Birmingham truly caters for all tastes.
Venturing up towards Huntsville, home of the Smithsonian-affiliated US Space & Rocket Center, Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q is well worth a pitstop. Credited as the first restaurant to put Alabama’s popular white BBQ sauce on their menu back in the 1920s, the tasty mixture of mayonnaise, vinegar, horseradish and black pepper has been pleasing diners ever since. Come to this barbecue joint for their hickory smoked pulled pork, served straight from the smouldering pit, but stay for their homemade pecan pie, baked fresh daily.
Three seafood hotspots in Alabama
Automatic Seafood and Oysters, Birmingham
Chef Adam Evans opened this chic eatery Automatic Seafood and Oysters and promptly nabbed a James Beard Award for his efforts. The raw Gulf Coast oysters are a must, eaten at the chef’s counter on cane-backed stools.
The Bright Star, Bessemer
The seafood gumbo and baked jumbo stuffed shrimp are the stuff of legend at The Bright Star, a landmark diner serving Greek-American cuisine in weathered leather booths since 1907.
Fisher’s Upstairs, Orange Beach
Chef Bill Briand is luring foodies to Orange Beach with his upscale, water-fronted dining room called Fisher's Upstairs. Sea scallops topped with a pistachio crunch, and shrimp and grits, finished with a tangy creole tomato sauce and crispy fried grit cakes, are culinary showstoppers.
Plan your trip
To discover more about Alabama and its culinary offering, visit travelsouthusa.com and alabama.travel
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