The 15 Best Restaurants in Tuscaloosa, Home to the University of Alabama

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Meat-and-three combos surrounded by Bama paraphernalia, a decades-old barbecue icon for ribs and pulled pork, a neon-lit vegan cafe serving smoothies and bowls, and more of Title Town’s best meals

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Better known in some circles as Title Town, Tuscaloosa is home to the championship-winning Crimson Tide. But the growing town (the population just surpassed 100,000) has a lot going for it both on and off campus. A diverse culinary scene is growing alongside the town itself, powered by Southern hospitality and the mutual support of a unique arts and entertainment scene. There are the restaurants you might expect honoring Alabama barbecue, local culinary traditions, and Southern culture, but Tuscaloosa also boasts a ramen shop, a French-inflected steakhouse, a vegan market, and plenty of other exciting spots. While much of the city revolves around the Capstone, routinely celebrating the school’s sports and academics, the culinary scene deserves a few titles of its own. No matter if you’re rolling with the Tide or just passing through, Tuscaloosa has an award-winning dining experience, a family-owned generational favorite, or a trendy hangout worth checking out.

Jen Bowman is a freelance writer, blogger, and Northerner living in the South. Originally from Pennsylvania, she currently resides in Nashville. She’s a lover of homemade pasta and beginner baker.

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Since 1953, Nick’s has been serving filets and deep-fried classics (onion rings, chicken livers) in a faded crimson building on Route 43 past West Tuscaloosa, earning it the nickname Nick’s in the Sticks. The restaurant’s tagline, “Made for the locals,” just about sums it up. The wooden walls are lined with beer signs, dollar bills are stapled to the ceiling, and the seating of choice is a cushy black plastic chair. Between the decor and the prices, Nick’s seems frozen in time — especially when you’re waiting for your food. Don’t worry; signature drinks like the Nicodemus (a blend of fruit punch, vodka, rum, tequila, and Bacardi 151, accented with a cherry) will keep you busy as you wait.

Over the bridge in Northport might be the cheapest meal you’ll get while in Tuscaloosa. Since the 1940s, City Cafe has been serving low-cost, hearty meals to working-class locals and college kids. The usually packed restaurant serves around 1,000 meals during lunchtime. Each day of the week corresponds to a different section on the menu, allowing regulars to switch it up constantly. With old UA sports posters covering the wooden walls and a large mural by the counter, City Cafe’s decor has stood the test of time alongside the prices. Don’t forget to order the fruit cobbler as one of your “vegetables” to finish off your meal.

This cozy spot to enjoy a cup of coffee is a favorite among UA students. According to the company, when the original location, on Towncenter Boulevard, opened in 1993, it was the first coffee shop in Tuscaloosa. At the time, the owners couldn’t afford to buy matching furniture, instead decorating the room with donations and thrifted items; owner Rebekah Wanstall has since taken over the operation, but the mismatched chairs remain, a charming staple for lovers of the shop. Each location offers 40 different coffee syrups, along with assorted teas and baked from-scratch pastries, while the North River location offers full-service dinner.

A closeup on a cinnamon roll.
The cinnamon roll at Heritage House.
Jen Bowman

You’ll find Dillard’s Chophouse sitting on the corner of Fourth Street and Greensboro Avenue in Druid City, where it offers diners views toward the Black Warrior River and Hugh R. Thomas Bridge. While the scene around golden hour is stunning, the food is the real attraction: 22-ounce prime cowboy rib-eye, pan-seared venison filet, and sides to share with the whole table (any cut of meat is good when it’s paired with lobster mac and cheese). The high ceilings and exposed-brick walls, along with the wine list, help Dillard’s impress any guest.

A large steak on a cutting board with three sauces in ramekins.
Cowboy rib-eye.
Dillard’s Chophouse

Half Shell’s 15 locations, across Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi, serve Southern cuisine with a New Orleans flair, with plenty of options for seafood lovers. A large theater-style sign points customers toward the door of the Tuscaloosa location; once inside, the upscale interior is lined with local art and lacquered oyster shells. Go for the seafood linguine — which comes covered in Creole alfredo with Gulf shrimp, crawfish, mushrooms, and lump crabmeat — or the hand-battered Gulf shrimp, deep-fried to golden, crunchy perfection.

A restaurant exterior in redbrick, with a large light-up sign reading Half Shell Oyster House, with an arrow pointing to the door.
Outside Half Shell Oyster House.
Jen Bowman

Nestled in downtown Tuscaloosa, this shabby-chic restaurant is a classic, known for serving only five entrees each at brunch and dinner. There’s a coffee shop on one side and a restaurant with a full bar on the other, and the exposed-brick interior is decorated with local art. Despite the concise menu, there are a range of activities to keep customers interested: daily happy hours, ladies’ nights, wine Wednesdays, and $5 burger specials. Can’t get enough of the fried Gulf shrimp or baked avocado? Weekend jazz brunch allows you to indulge in more of Five’s signature Southern tastes with live music and a bloody mary bar where you can customize your concoction.

A restaurant exterior, in a large beige brick building, with the number five printed on the exterior.
Outside Five Bar.
Jen Bowman

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Located in the Alamite hotel, co-owned by head football coach Nick Saban, Forte gives Tuscaloosa a taste of France. Executive chef Jacob Stull’s menu combines flavors from a brasserie and a steakhouse with high-end cocktails and a curated wine list. The menu includes seasonal must-haves, like beignets with pumpkin spice sauce, as well as carefully selected mains, like octopus a la Creole. Combined with a sleek interior, Forte is worthy of any national champion. If you can’t stop by for dinner, the restaurant offers a brunch menu that’s just as fancy.

Three beignets covered in powdered sugar and leaking custard.
Beignets at Forte.
Jen Bowman

Opened in 2022, the Veganish Market transports a slice of beach vacation to downtown Tuscaloosa. The place is owned and operated by Yazmyn Rozier, who drew inspiration from her yearly vacations to Miami to bring a “fun, community-driven cafe” to T-Town. The restaurant offers both vegan and non-vegan grab-and-go options such as smoothies, grain bowls, and sandwiches. The space, while small, does its best to offer a tropical escape, with palm leaf wallpaper and pastel colors throughout.

Two hands hold pink drinks in front of a neon sign reading Good Vibes hung on tropical palm wallpaper.
Drinks and vibes at Veganish Market.
The Veganish Market

Sticking out like a sore thumb between Druid City and West Tuscaloosa’s neutral homes and small businesses, a small, bright crimson-and-white house is home to the Historic Waysider Restaurant. Upon walking into the cozy breakfast spot, you’ll be greeted by a cardboard cutout of coach Nick Saban, and everywhere you look are more reminders that you’re in Crimson Tide territory. The Alabama-centric restaurant was a favorite spot for a former Alabama football legend, coach Paul “Bear” Bryant, who’s represented by a bust with his signature houndstooth fedora at his usual table in the corner. Although the interior draws customers in, they stick around for Waysider’s signature soft, buttery biscuits and the meat-and-three combos. The Waysider is a must-try for anyone who calls themself a Crimson Tide fan.

This Irish pub in the heart of Dixie is a staple for many UA students. It sports all the features of the traditional college bar: wood paneling and exposed brick, walls (and ceilings) decorated with sports memorabilia, and signs for Irish brands and local businesses. There are local touches too, like the 21st birthday stickers slapped on surfaces around the bar (meant to bring good luck to the birthday celebrator), and the TVs are eternally tuned to Crimson Tide games. Whether it’s for drink specials ($5 Irish marys) or a quick bite (try the shepherd’s pies), the Innisfree and its friendly staff offer Southern hospitality with an orange, white, and green twist.

A crowd of young people on the patio of a redbrick pub where an awning reads Innisfree Irish Pub.
The crowd at Innisfree Pub.
Innisfree Pub

Sandwiched on the Strip, the Houndstooth is a true college bar. A fenced outdoor seating area is the first to greet you as you walk up, before you catch the large red marquee letters spelling out “Alabama” behind the bar. Grab a Pink Elephant, Houndstooth’s signature drink, in a red or white branded cup. Then head for a seat in front of one of the many large TVs inside or outside, or play a round of pool to work up an appetite. While the bar doesn’t have a full kitchen, a building next door contains Houndstooth To-Go, the bar’s takeout operation. Place your order online or at the bar for a white barbecue chicken sandwich with a side of onion rings or the shareable Touchdown Nachos, and wait for one of the runners to deliver the goodness in a to-go bag.

When he opened Rama Jama’s in fall 1996, owner Gary Lewis quickly realized that owning a greasy spoon literally in the shadow of Bryant-Denny Stadium was a lot different from running any other food business. Drawing its name from the football chant “Rammer Jammer, Yellow Hammer,” the restaurant is covered in Alabama memorabilia, including artifacts from Bryant-Denny Stadium, such as a seat from the upper bowl, an orange flag removed from a construction site near the stadium (there can’t be any orange near BDS), and autographs from Alabama legends. The menu also takes inspiration from UA, including the 18-National Champ Burger, named after the AU football program’s 18 national titles, and the SEC Champ breakfast. A red neon sign outside lights up when the burgers start flipping.

Opened in 1962 by George and Betty Archibald, this barbecue restaurant has been family run for three generations. The kitchen uses hickory wood to smoke its meat, creating a crispy outer layer on slabs of ribs and delivering moist, tender pulled pork. The signature sauce only enhances the rich, smoky flavor. Pair those legendary ribs or an order of hot chicken wings with two sides (the crispy fried green tomatoes are a must). You wouldn’t notice Archibald’s, situated in a dirt parking lot, unless you were explicitly looking for it, but the smell of pork slowly cooking will let you know you’re in the right place.

Ribs and other meat presented on wax paper with slices of white bread.
Meats at Archibald’s.
Eater

Inside popular outdoor shopping mall Midtown Village, this hidden gem serves ramen, donburi rice bowls, and boba milk tea. Opened in 2020, the restaurant has an airy interior, accented with light wood and Japanese memorabilia, and the service is quick. Enjoy an order of crunchy takoyaki stuffed with creamy minced octopus, before indulging in the spicy miso ramen: The thick miso-based soup is filled with tender pork belly, vegetables, a boiled egg, and red ginger for some added zing.

When Jheovanny Gomez followed his then-girlfriend (now wife) from Colombia to Tuscaloosa, he never thought he’d co-own four restaurants. But two years after he arrived to study at UA, Gomez helped open Jalapeños Mexican Grill, which has been serving the area since 2001. Aside from a standard array of Mexican dishes, the restaurant offers some more ambitious items, including the legendary fajita gumbo: seasoned chicken, shrimp, steak, and pico de gallo, all covered in cheese sauce. Jalapeño’s latest location, in Temerson Square, is home to the largest tequila menu in Alabama, ranging from flights to signature margaritas. On any given night, Gomez can be found helping out at one of his restaurants.

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Since 1953, Nick’s has been serving filets and deep-fried classics (onion rings, chicken livers) in a faded crimson building on Route 43 past West Tuscaloosa, earning it the nickname Nick’s in the Sticks. The restaurant’s tagline, “Made for the locals,” just about sums it up. The wooden walls are lined with beer signs, dollar bills are stapled to the ceiling, and the seating of choice is a cushy black plastic chair. Between the decor and the prices, Nick’s seems frozen in time — especially when you’re waiting for your food. Don’t worry; signature drinks like the Nicodemus (a blend of fruit punch, vodka, rum, tequila, and Bacardi 151, accented with a cherry) will keep you busy as you wait.

Over the bridge in Northport might be the cheapest meal you’ll get while in Tuscaloosa. Since the 1940s, City Cafe has been serving low-cost, hearty meals to working-class locals and college kids. The usually packed restaurant serves around 1,000 meals during lunchtime. Each day of the week corresponds to a different section on the menu, allowing regulars to switch it up constantly. With old UA sports posters covering the wooden walls and a large mural by the counter, City Cafe’s decor has stood the test of time alongside the prices. Don’t forget to order the fruit cobbler as one of your “vegetables” to finish off your meal.

This cozy spot to enjoy a cup of coffee is a favorite among UA students. According to the company, when the original location, on Towncenter Boulevard, opened in 1993, it was the first coffee shop in Tuscaloosa. At the time, the owners couldn’t afford to buy matching furniture, instead decorating the room with donations and thrifted items; owner Rebekah Wanstall has since taken over the operation, but the mismatched chairs remain, a charming staple for lovers of the shop. Each location offers 40 different coffee syrups, along with assorted teas and baked from-scratch pastries, while the North River location offers full-service dinner.

A closeup on a cinnamon roll.
The cinnamon roll at Heritage House.
Jen Bowman

You’ll find Dillard’s Chophouse sitting on the corner of Fourth Street and Greensboro Avenue in Druid City, where it offers diners views toward the Black Warrior River and Hugh R. Thomas Bridge. While the scene around golden hour is stunning, the food is the real attraction: 22-ounce prime cowboy rib-eye, pan-seared venison filet, and sides to share with the whole table (any cut of meat is good when it’s paired with lobster mac and cheese). The high ceilings and exposed-brick walls, along with the wine list, help Dillard’s impress any guest.

A large steak on a cutting board with three sauces in ramekins.
Cowboy rib-eye.
Dillard’s Chophouse

Half Shell’s 15 locations, across Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi, serve Southern cuisine with a New Orleans flair, with plenty of options for seafood lovers. A large theater-style sign points customers toward the door of the Tuscaloosa location; once inside, the upscale interior is lined with local art and lacquered oyster shells. Go for the seafood linguine — which comes covered in Creole alfredo with Gulf shrimp, crawfish, mushrooms, and lump crabmeat — or the hand-battered Gulf shrimp, deep-fried to golden, crunchy perfection.

A restaurant exterior in redbrick, with a large light-up sign reading Half Shell Oyster House, with an arrow pointing to the door.
Outside Half Shell Oyster House.
Jen Bowman

Nestled in downtown Tuscaloosa, this shabby-chic restaurant is a classic, known for serving only five entrees each at brunch and dinner. There’s a coffee shop on one side and a restaurant with a full bar on the other, and the exposed-brick interior is decorated with local art. Despite the concise menu, there are a range of activities to keep customers interested: daily happy hours, ladies’ nights, wine Wednesdays, and $5 burger specials. Can’t get enough of the fried Gulf shrimp or baked avocado? Weekend jazz brunch allows you to indulge in more of Five’s signature Southern tastes with live music and a bloody mary bar where you can customize your concoction.

A restaurant exterior, in a large beige brick building, with the number five printed on the exterior.
Outside Five Bar.
Jen Bowman

Located in the Alamite hotel, co-owned by head football coach Nick Saban, Forte gives Tuscaloosa a taste of France. Executive chef Jacob Stull’s menu combines flavors from a brasserie and a steakhouse with high-end cocktails and a curated wine list. The menu includes seasonal must-haves, like beignets with pumpkin spice sauce, as well as carefully selected mains, like octopus a la Creole. Combined with a sleek interior, Forte is worthy of any national champion. If you can’t stop by for dinner, the restaurant offers a brunch menu that’s just as fancy.

Three beignets covered in powdered sugar and leaking custard.
Beignets at Forte.
Jen Bowman

Opened in 2022, the Veganish Market transports a slice of beach vacation to downtown Tuscaloosa. The place is owned and operated by Yazmyn Rozier, who drew inspiration from her yearly vacations to Miami to bring a “fun, community-driven cafe” to T-Town. The restaurant offers both vegan and non-vegan grab-and-go options such as smoothies, grain bowls, and sandwiches. The space, while small, does its best to offer a tropical escape, with palm leaf wallpaper and pastel colors throughout.

Two hands hold pink drinks in front of a neon sign reading Good Vibes hung on tropical palm wallpaper.
Drinks and vibes at Veganish Market.
The Veganish Market

Sticking out like a sore thumb between Druid City and West Tuscaloosa’s neutral homes and small businesses, a small, bright crimson-and-white house is home to the Historic Waysider Restaurant. Upon walking into the cozy breakfast spot, you’ll be greeted by a cardboard cutout of coach Nick Saban, and everywhere you look are more reminders that you’re in Crimson Tide territory. The Alabama-centric restaurant was a favorite spot for a former Alabama football legend, coach Paul “Bear” Bryant, who’s represented by a bust with his signature houndstooth fedora at his usual table in the corner. Although the interior draws customers in, they stick around for Waysider’s signature soft, buttery biscuits and the meat-and-three combos. The Waysider is a must-try for anyone who calls themself a Crimson Tide fan.

This Irish pub in the heart of Dixie is a staple for many UA students. It sports all the features of the traditional college bar: wood paneling and exposed brick, walls (and ceilings) decorated with sports memorabilia, and signs for Irish brands and local businesses. There are local touches too, like the 21st birthday stickers slapped on surfaces around the bar (meant to bring good luck to the birthday celebrator), and the TVs are eternally tuned to Crimson Tide games. Whether it’s for drink specials ($5 Irish marys) or a quick bite (try the shepherd’s pies), the Innisfree and its friendly staff offer Southern hospitality with an orange, white, and green twist.

A crowd of young people on the patio of a redbrick pub where an awning reads Innisfree Irish Pub.
The crowd at Innisfree Pub.
Innisfree Pub

Sandwiched on the Strip, the Houndstooth is a true college bar. A fenced outdoor seating area is the first to greet you as you walk up, before you catch the large red marquee letters spelling out “Alabama” behind the bar. Grab a Pink Elephant, Houndstooth’s signature drink, in a red or white branded cup. Then head for a seat in front of one of the many large TVs inside or outside, or play a round of pool to work up an appetite. While the bar doesn’t have a full kitchen, a building next door contains Houndstooth To-Go, the bar’s takeout operation. Place your order online or at the bar for a white barbecue chicken sandwich with a side of onion rings or the shareable Touchdown Nachos, and wait for one of the runners to deliver the goodness in a to-go bag.

When he opened Rama Jama’s in fall 1996, owner Gary Lewis quickly realized that owning a greasy spoon literally in the shadow of Bryant-Denny Stadium was a lot different from running any other food business. Drawing its name from the football chant “Rammer Jammer, Yellow Hammer,” the restaurant is covered in Alabama memorabilia, including artifacts from Bryant-Denny Stadium, such as a seat from the upper bowl, an orange flag removed from a construction site near the stadium (there can’t be any orange near BDS), and autographs from Alabama legends. The menu also takes inspiration from UA, including the 18-National Champ Burger, named after the AU football program’s 18 national titles, and the SEC Champ breakfast. A red neon sign outside lights up when the burgers start flipping.

Opened in 1962 by George and Betty Archibald, this barbecue restaurant has been family run for three generations. The kitchen uses hickory wood to smoke its meat, creating a crispy outer layer on slabs of ribs and delivering moist, tender pulled pork. The signature sauce only enhances the rich, smoky flavor. Pair those legendary ribs or an order of hot chicken wings with two sides (the crispy fried green tomatoes are a must). You wouldn’t notice Archibald’s, situated in a dirt parking lot, unless you were explicitly looking for it, but the smell of pork slowly cooking will let you know you’re in the right place.

Ribs and other meat presented on wax paper with slices of white bread.
Meats at Archibald’s.
Eater

Inside popular outdoor shopping mall Midtown Village, this hidden gem serves ramen, donburi rice bowls, and boba milk tea. Opened in 2020, the restaurant has an airy interior, accented with light wood and Japanese memorabilia, and the service is quick. Enjoy an order of crunchy takoyaki stuffed with creamy minced octopus, before indulging in the spicy miso ramen: The thick miso-based soup is filled with tender pork belly, vegetables, a boiled egg, and red ginger for some added zing.

When Jheovanny Gomez followed his then-girlfriend (now wife) from Colombia to Tuscaloosa, he never thought he’d co-own four restaurants. But two years after he arrived to study at UA, Gomez helped open Jalapeños Mexican Grill, which has been serving the area since 2001. Aside from a standard array of Mexican dishes, the restaurant offers some more ambitious items, including the legendary fajita gumbo: seasoned chicken, shrimp, steak, and pico de gallo, all covered in cheese sauce. Jalapeño’s latest location, in Temerson Square, is home to the largest tequila menu in Alabama, ranging from flights to signature margaritas. On any given night, Gomez can be found helping out at one of his restaurants.

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