Meats and threes, steam tables, buffet lines steaming with food prepared the way we love it down here—the aroma of cornbread baking, greens bubbling in a pot with a big old hunk of ham hock, creamed Silver Queen corn.  If your mouth isn’t watering yet, then you might not be the audience for this blog entry.

Yes, we’ve got the fancy farm-to-table thing going on, as witnessed by just about every travel publication and website you can think of. But our old-school farm-to-table is hands down better than anything you’ll find in the country.

Niki’s West

Serving Birmingham since 1957, Niki’s West is as old school as it gets. Here, a broad assortment of fresh vegetables and meats is served up buffet style, and the atmosphere is warm and inviting. The second generation of Gus P. Hontzas’ family runs the business currently, extending a family tradition of hospitality and good eats. If you can’t find something on the line that tickles your fancy, well, then we’re just not sure what to tell you.

Eagle’s Restaurant

A good six years before Gus Hontzas founded Niki’s West, Eagle’s Restaurant opened its doors to hard working Birmingham folk. Owned by the Rucker family for more than 40 of its 62 years, Eagle’s was best known only to us locals until Andrew Zimmern featured the establishment on his broadcast of Bizarre Foods America. Zimmern discovered what we all already knew – that if you’re hankering for true blue soul food, Eagle’s is about as true as it gets.. Want to try chitlins? Eagles is your joint. Hankering for some pork neck bones or some trotters (pigs feet for the uninitiated)?  You might be new to soul food and prefer something more mainstream. Eagle’s has that too. Beef tips and rice are a huge favorite (Mondays and Wednesdays only). Meatloaf, barbecued chicken, spaghetti with meat sauce, pork chops, along with candied yams, collard greens and pot likker, black-eyed peas cooked with corn and tomatoes, mmm mmm mmm.  And we’re just scratching the surface.

SAW’s Soul Kitchen

In the heart of the trendy Avondale neighborhood, you’ll find a tiny little joint called SAW’s Soul Kitchen. Get there early if you want to beat the crowd, because inside seating comes at a premium. If the weather’s nice, though, you can take it outside where you’ll find a scattering of tables for an al fresco soul food experience.  Here, you’ll find an assortment of delicacies from pork and chicken barbecue to shrimp and grits. Signature dish? Pork and greens: a healthy serving of white corn cheese grits topped with slow-cooked pulled pork barbecue, a mess of collard greens, and some delicately fried super thin onion rings on top. Other notables: an oyster po’ boy that will set you free and a seriously decadent banana pudding.

Gabriella’s Bistro & Art Gallery

With an über popular Sunday brunch, Gabriella’s Bistro, located smack-dab in the middle of Birmingham’s Theater District, is your after-church go-to. Expect soul food classics like neck bones, collard greens, chicken – baked or fried, and the full range of vegetables. Quench your thirst with a glass of peach iced tea, finish your meal with some cran-raisin bread pudding and you’ve had yourself a true soul-transforming experience.

Magic City Grille

Right down town you’ll find this easy little diner to satisfy your soul food cravings. Want a fried chicken that would embarrass your grandmother and every other cook on your family tree? Magic City Grill. The diner does more with a small buffet steam table than most restaurant can accomplish with a kitchen full of fancy white coats. Magic City Diner’s menu features fresh southern style vegetables complementing your choice of meats, salads, and desserts.

Ted’s Restaurant

No tour of soul food restaurants is complete without a visit to Ted’s.  Since 1973, this intimate little place has graced our city with its excellence. You’ll find no more fragrant a steam table than the one you pass through at Ted’s. Originally founded by Ted Sarris, the restaurant has been run by Tasos Touloupis since the year 2000. Breakfasts and lunches are all Ted’s does, and they do them right. From fried okra to turnip greens, you’ll find fresh vegetables cooked southern style. Marry those veggies up with Ted’s fried chicken livers with rice and gravy.  If you just can’t go there, however, you’ll find all sorts of fish, fowl, pork, and beef.

A Few Other Notables

Fife’s – Hearty breakfast and lunch fare.

Z’s Restaurant – Located in the heart of the Civil Rights District, Z’s is the home of the famous bean pie (yes, you read that right!).

Mrs. B’s on Fourth – Also in the heart of the Civil Rights District.