I always describe Birmingham as a really big small town. In reality, Birmingham is a sizable city with over 1 million people in the metropolitan area, but has all of the charm of the South and it seems like everyone you meet has a connection to someone you already know, much like the small town I grew up in. Birmingham is perfectly placed in close proximity to cities like Nashville and Chattanooga, and it’s close to the mountains and the coast. It’s Atlanta without the crazy traffic, and is full of people who love this city, sweet home Alabama, and SEC football.
I fell in love with Molly Green after I passed by one day and saw paper dresses on mannequins in the window. I’ve spend a lot of time just hanging out here and have become good friends with the owner, Brittany, and her sister Anna. They focus on providing eco-conscious fashion, but that’s just an added bonus with all of the quirky patterns, fun dresses, and unique accessories to choose from. Molly Green is definitely not your average boutique!
Located on the main street of downtown Homewood, with tons of eating and shopping options nearby.
Molly Green, 2817 18th St South, Homewood
The smell of smoked barbecue in the air will insist upon going inside, everything at Saw’s is amazing. The sides vary day to day but I can vouch for the mac and cheese, greens, and chicken and dumplings.
There are now multiple locations but the original is still my favorite, it gets crowded at lunch time during the week, so I usually go early or wait until 1:30 or 2pm.
Saw’s BBQ, 1008 Oxmoor Road, Homewood
A few doors down from Saw’s, a bakery that specializes in unique cupcake flavors and has a much loved Cupcake Truck that travels around the city. The Caramel Sea Salt Mocha, Strawberry Milkshake, Curious George, and Over the Moon are some of my favorites, but one of the most popular cupcakes for Harry Potter fans is the Sorting Hat, which has a different flavor for each house at Hogwarts blue, yellow, green, and pink buttercream hidden under a layer of chocolate ganache.
Dreamcakes, 960 Oxmoor Road, Homewood (or chase down the cupcake truck!)
Chez Lulu and Continental Bakery
A slice of Europe in the middle of English Village, a cluster of shops and restaurants in the suburb of Mountain Brook. I love all of the breads and pastries at Continental Bakery (they also serve the bread and olive oil at Chez Lulu). At Chez Lulu I order the goat cheese, pear and walnut sandwich and a side salad or soup depending on the soup of the day. Not for huge appetites, but it’s great for eating and people watching like a French woman. Awesome brunch options too (crepes, mimosas, and other such deliciousness).
Chez Lulu and Continental Bakery, 1909 and 1911 Cahaba Road
Steel City Pops
Steel City Pops is a favorite of everyone in the city, with unique flavors like corn, chocolate chili, sweet tea, and avocado, and the coffee pop is made with espresso from the coffee shop next door, Octane. Recently they’ve added the option to dip the pops in chocolate, and I’m not complaining.
Located in downtown Homewood, next to Octane Coffee and Little Donkey, with carts that travel around the city.
Steel City Pops, 2821 Central Avenue, Suite 109, Homewood
Octane Coffee, a much loved Atlanta based coffee company recently merged with local Birmingham bean roaster Primavera to become the main provider of coffee beans in the Birmingham area. They just opened a location in Homewood, next to Steel City Pops and Little Donkey, (also newer additions to the growing foodie culture of Birmingham). Octane has also started serving wine and beer, so you could easily spend all day and night here!
Octane, 2821 Central Ave. Homewood
Bottletree is a favorite music venue for musicians all around the country, known for its intimate feel, quirky atmosphere and hospitality, but it’s also a favorite lunch & brunch spot. Vegetarian friendly dishes like vegan chili (which is amazing in the Viking Funeral, sweet potato fries smothered in pimento cheese and topped with chili).
Bottletree, 3719 3rd Ave. South
Chez Fonfon is maybe my favorite restaurant in Birmingham. I am pretty ridiculous about my love for French inspired anything, and Chez Fonfon only increased that love in me since we moved here a little over four years ago. The burger is quite possibly my favorite anywhere (and I love the grilled onions on top), the fries are amazing, I love the salads, the soups, the desserts, and the Croque Madame (ham and cheese with a fried egg on top). Really great cocktails and wine selection too.
Chez Fonfon, 2007 Eleventh Avenue South
Highlands Bar and Grill
Next door to Chez Fonfon, this is my favorite fine dining restaurant in Birmingham. Frank Stitt, the owner and chef of both Chez Fonfon and Highlands, as well as Bottega and Bottega Cafe, is a member of the James Beard Foundation and has received national acclaim, and has a best selling cookbook: Frank Stitt’s Southern Table. Also known for amazing cocktails. Make reservations well in advance and ask if you can sit in Goren’s section (he’s my favorite server).
Highlands Bar & Grill, 2011 Eleventh Avenue South
A reasonably priced antique store in the Crestwood area of Birmingham. They are always getting new pieces in and have a great variety of items from different time periods and styles, and some of the booths are really well curated and decorated. A good way to spend an afternoon even if you aren’t looking for anything in particular.
Urban Suburban, 5514 Crestwood Boulevard
The Cheesy Beef Taco basket (hard shelled) The meat is pulled tender beef (reminds me of pot roast), the cheese is queso, fresh tomatoes and lettuce. There are TWO tacos. Comes with chips and salsa, a side (you want the mac and cheese), and it’s like $8. My husband’s favorite is The Fat Boy burrito but he also loves The Judge. Quick and easy and delicious.
Taco Mama, 63 Church St, Mountain Brook
What’s on 2nd
Never-ending source of entertainment for afternoon browsing, there’s tons of stuff, vintage and retro treasures, Birmingham and Alabama postcards, old photographs of Birmingham, belt buckles, and lots of toys that all you other kids of the 80’s will remember having as a child. Be sure check out the stuff upstairs (three floors total!)
On the same street as Rogue Tavern and Pale Eddies (bars), Urban Standard (coffee and cafe food), Charm (jewelry/gifts). Located downtown, bring some quarters and hang out a while.
What’s on 2nd, 2706 2nd Avenue North
Cool hangout spot on 2nd Ave. N, just a few doors down from What’s on 2nd, serving coffee, lunch (soups and sandwiches), and sweets (the cupcakes are a highlight). I have had many a coffee meeting here, and it’s a favorite spot for a lot of the creative people that live and work downtown.
Urban Standard, 2320 2nd Ave N
Fine dining in a traditional bistro atmosphere with a focus on a slow food philosophy. The chef, Chris Dupont, features a lot of locally sourced ingredients in his dishes and the cuisine is a combination of Southern and French inspired dishes. The fried oysters, okra and fried green tomatoes are all amazing, and I’ve loved every entree I’ve had there. They also have an option to sample multiple courses that I’d highly recommend.
Cafe Dupont, 113 20th St N
I still call it by the original name, Za Za (which you can do too if you want to seem in the know). During the week they have a rotating selection of pizzas and pastas. The 3-cheese and pepperoni pizza slices are available everyday but they also have a daily meat and vegetarian option. Brunch is also a must on Sundays, with a farm egg topped breakfast pizza and marscapone french toast as highlights on the menu. Really busy for brunch, get there early!
Trattoria Centrale, 207A 20th Street
Church Street Coffee & Books
Coffee and Books! I highly recommend the break-up cookies, treehuggers, and the Earl Grey Lattes. I like to sit outside during the summer, drinking coffee and eating sweets for breakfast. The people that work there are pretty cool, and I love that you can request books online and come pick them up in just a few days without paying any shipping. The selection of books they have is pretty well curated, and I love to browse the covers just for kicks. And I’ve joined the new Children’s Book Book Club (for adults), Tiger Lily’s Warriors.
Church Street Coffee & Books, 81 Church Street, Suite 106
As a non-native, I would have never found the hidden treasure of Doodle’s all by myself. My friend Lexie introduced me this summer and I’m officially addicted. Watermelon is my usual choice, Lexie loves the vanilla, and my husband recommends the cookies and cream. Open during the summer. Hidden away behind the Olive Branch Mediterranean Cafe.
Doodle’s, 3238 Cahaba Heights Road
Food trucks are definitely finding a home with Birmingham foodies, and Shindigs is one of the favorites for good reason. They’re known for their steamed buns (pictured) with fillings like catfish, pork belly, and bbq pork, but they also have burgers and entrees. Fresh food with locally sourced ingredients, and really really delicious.
Whiskey bar with a Kentucky & Tennessee inspired menu featuring hot browns, burgers, and seasonal sides, like fried okra (dying for these to be in season again!). I almost always order the Dram burger because it is so ridiculously good, but occasionally I change it up and opt for the Pimento Cheeseburger or the Bison Burger. The peppercorn buns, rosemary ketchup and drinks like the John Daly (an alcoholic Arnold Palmer) and the stuff dreams are made of. I recommend sitting on the patio when the weather’s nice, the inside is delightfully loud and crowded as a good whiskey bar should be.
You can also order off of the menu of the restaurant upstairs, Avo (short for Avocado in Californian), which features a modern menu, a plus for pleasing varied appetites.
Dram, 2721 Cahaba Rd, Mountain Brook
Pop’s Neighborhood Grill
I always get the Spicy Slaw Burger (my husband gets the bacon cheeseburger), and they come with fries for $5.99 (win!). Casual diner feel, and the only downside is that they aren’t open for dinner during the week.
Pop’s Neighborhood Grill, 1207 20th Street South, Five Points
Birmingham Museum of Art
My husband took me here on my first trip to Birmingham while we were dating; we’d met on an archaeological dig and the Pompeii exhibit was touring there at the time (perfect!). It’s an awesome place to wander around on a free afternoon, and on a nice day the sculpture garden would be a great place to hang out and read, for free!
Other notable exhibits featured in the past include Andy Warhol, Who Shot Rock and Roll, Norman Rockwell.
The museum has a diverse collection, with Asian, European, American, African, Pre-Columbian, and Native American art, and a notable permanent collection of Wedgewood pottery, declared to be the finest outside of England. During the summer you can buy tickets to party on Fridays at the museum for their Art on the Rocks series.
Free admission, free parking in a lot by the museum if you get the parking ticket validated.
Birmingham Museum of Art, 2000 Rev Abraham Woods Jr Blvd
(Formerly Whistle Stop Cafe) Of Fried Green Tomatoes fame, this is my favorite “Meat-and-three” in all the land. I didn’t know the term “meat-and-three” until I moved here, but it almost always means really good sweet tea and amazing fried chicken. And lots of Southern sides. It’s not on the way to anywhere but it’s delicious enough to be a destination itself.
Irondale Cafe, 1906 1st Avenue North, Irondale