Bottega Restaurant and Cafe, 2242 Highland Ave. S. (tel. 205/939-1000; www.bottegarestaurant.com), is an upscale Mediterranean- and Tuscan-style restaurant featuring a mixture of North African, Greek, and Italian cuisines. Noted local chef/restaurateur Frank Stitt's appetizers run the gamut from traditional carpaccio to exotic Spanish octopus. Varied preparations of monkfish, grouper, pastas, and veal dominate the menu. Pizzas and sandwiches also are available for takeout at the cafe next door, which is open daily except Sunday. Main courses cost $11 to $39.
Another local favorite is Café Dupont, 113 20th St. N. (tel. 205/322-1282; www.cafedupont.com). Chef/owner Chris Dupont draws raves as one of Birmingham's newest culinary stars. This casually elegant bistro makes a great place for a business lunch or a romantic dinner with its New Orleans-influenced menu. Start with a bowl of gumbo and then try the chorizo and crabmeat tart. Yes, just like the similarly named Café du Monde in the Big Easy, beignets are on the dessert menu. Main courses cost $19 to $23. Hot and Hot Fish Club, 2180 11th Court S. (tel. 205/933-5474; www.hotandhotfishclub.com), is up-and-coming chef Christopher Hastings's trendy eatery, housed in a former creamery turned '50s burger joint. Noted artisans have designed all the artwork, from paintings and sculptural details to the handmade pottery in which meals are served. The menu includes shrimp and grits with country ham, and barbecued beef short ribs with sweet-corn succotash, coleslaw, and cracklin' corn bread. For dessert, try the buttermilk panna cotta with local blueberries. Main courses cost $24 to $36.
Highlands Bar and Grill, 2011 11th Ave. S. (tel. 205/939-1400; www.highlandsbarandgrill.com), is the darling of the Birmingham culinary scene. With raves from major food magazines and consistently good food and service, it's sometimes difficult to snare a reservation at this popular place that combines the homey ambience of a French bistro with the familiarity of an American bar. The upscale crowd favors signature dishes such as fluffy baked grits with country ham and wild mushrooms. The seared tuna is succulent and flavorful, served rare over a bed of steamed vegetables. The trio of homemade ice creams -- butter pecan, coconut, and caramel -- is sublime. Main courses cost $28 to $40.
A must for fans of the movie Fried Green Tomatoes -- or for the batter-fried dish itself -- is just a short ride out of town. The Irondale Café, 1906 1st Ave. N., Irondale (tel. 205/956-5258; www.irondalecafe.com), is the nostalgic diner that served as the inspiration for Alabama novelist Fannie Flagg's Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café. Diners eat at red-and-white-checked tablecloths. Old-fashioned Southern vegetables such as okra, sweet potatoes, and turnip greens accompany entrees of fried chicken, dumplings, and a multitude of other dishes that change daily. Don't miss the crispy, batter-fried green tomatoes or the rich macaroni and cheese. Peach cobbler and chocolate cream pie are dessert favorites. Entrees cost $5.50 to $11.
Another home-cooking restaurant that's a bit out of the way but worth the trip is Niki's West, 233 Finley Ave. W. (tel. 205/252-5751). Though the restaurant bills itself as a steak and seafood place, locals swarm here to stand in the cafeteria line for the knee-weakening array of old-fashioned meatloaf, fried fish, and chicken, and a rainbow of seasoned Southern vegetables. Try the greens or macaroni and cheese, and don't miss the gooey, ultrasweet banana pudding for dessert. A platter of meat and three vegetables, plus drink and tax, costs about $10.
When you tire of Southern fried foods, opt for the Purple Onion Deli and Grill, 1717 10th Ave. S. (tel. 205/933-2424), a casual, locally owned chain restaurant that serves fresh sandwiches, salads, and side dishes in a fast-food-style atmosphere. Try the kabobs with charred chicken, lamb, and juicy vegetables. There are several locations scattered throughout the metropolitan Birmingham area. Entrees average $9 to $11 with all of the trimmings (rice, salad, and so on).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.