Eat Like a Local: Birmingham, Alabama
For Yahoo Food’s travel summer series, Eat Like a Local, we’re taking you on a cross-country food crawl, city by city. Here’s where to chow down in America’s lesser-known destinations without sticking out like a sore thumb.
The no-frills facade of Gus’s Hot Dogs. Photo credit: southernfoodwaysalliance / Flickr
Birmingham, Alabama, home to the largest cast iron statue in the world, spirited cheers of “roll tide,” and a way more diverse food scene than you might think. Walt Lewellyn of weekly newspaper Weld for Birmingham gave us the lowdown Birmingham’s best restaurants, and now we’re sharing them with you.
Best Hole in the Wall: Gus’s Hot Dogs
"It is just a phenomenal hot dog," Lewellyn said of the fare at Gus’s Hot Dogs, which has been around since the 1940s. “It really does draw a diverse crowd because it’s very cheap—you get lawyers hobnobbing with people who just walked in off the street, which is unusual in Birmingham, where people tend to be tribal.” Try the “special dog,” a weiner topped with seasoned ground beef, sauerkraut, chopped onions, and a barbecue-like sauce that remains mysterious to all but owner George Nasiakos. Serious Eats calls the dog “gloriously messy, cheap, and delicious.” (1915 Fourth Ave. N, Birmingham, AL 35203; 205-251-4540)
Best Dive Bar: The Upsidedown Plaza
The Upsidedown Plaza is “the kind of place where you don’t want to go there wearing sandals,” Lewellyn warned. ”It is 100 percent a dive bar. It fits all those qualifications. And it’s cheap.” Come to play pool, knock back a few PBRs, and kibitz with students from nearby University of Alabama at Birmingham. (2012 Magnolia Ave., Birmingham, AL 35205; 205-930-0333)
Best Dark and Sexy Date Spot: Bettola
Photo credit: Bettola/Facebook
“Bettola actually means ‘dive bar’ in Italian, but that’s not what that place is,” Lewellyn said. He’s a fan of the restaurant’s antipasti, pizza, salad, and “small-town Italian vibe. It’s a little like Naples!” The interior can be dark and moody in the evening, though Lewellyn suggests an outside table for dates. (2901 Second Ave. S, Birmingham, AL; 205-731-6499)
Best Lunch: Niki’s West
Niki’s West has been around since 1957, and it looks it. “I highly doubt that it looked that much different if you were to eat there in the '50s,” Lewellyn said with a laugh. The restaurant is set up like a cafeteria serving up Creole fish, baked Greek chicken, “and any soul food side imaginable,” but don’t even think about holding up the line. “The guys [behind the counter] are not especially forgiving if you are on your phone,” Lewellyn warned. “They are not afraid to shout at you to get your order. If you know the system, it’s very nice. If you don’t, it can be a hassle. But I think it’s part of the charm.” (233 Finley Ave. W, Birmingham, AL 35204; 205-252-5751)