City Cafe in Northport, AL
City Cafe in Northport, AL

by 4Q Basket Case
TideFans Moderator
**updated 8/27/2022**

[See Map at bottom of page for locations of all establishments mentioned here!]

Believe it or not, for a town its size, Tuscaloosa has a pretty snazzy restaurant scene.

Still, it’s a college town with permanent population of about 100,000.  So it doesn’t have a zillion great places, only a few.  It does have a lot of the next tier down.  But on game weekends, everything’s crowded, and “long wait” becomes a relative term.

Depending, depending, depending, the wait for a table can range from 30-45 min to 2 hrs or longer.

Also depending is whether you want a meal that is High End,  Next Tier,  Casual Grub,  BBQ,  Meat+Three,  or  Bars. Click on the links to find out what is available.

For other lists of Tuscaloosa-area restaurants or online reservations & reviews:

High End

All four of these restaurants will run you $75 – $150 a couple, depending on what you drink and how much.  More if you really blow out the wine.  Yes, they’re expensive.  But in my experience, they charge a fair price for what they deliver.

Reservations at least a month ahead, probably more, are essential if you want to avoid a long wait.  Honestly, I’d call a minimum of two months out for a gameday weekend.

  • The Alamite – See our Alamite lodging options overview which includes a menu summary. Bottom Line: First rate and will stand up anywhere. That comes at a price, and it isn’t cheap.
  • Evangeline’s – My personal favorite for value at this price. On the north side of the river, across McFarland / Hwy 82 from Indian Hills Country Club.  First-rate American fusion, with a Southern flair.  Will allow you to bring in wine for a corkage fee of $15 – $20.  I’ve seen the Sabans eating here, but don’t expect a sighting on a game weekend.  Dress is corporate casual – khakis, a button-down and a sweater for men, blazer optional. Comparable-level dress for women.  Lots of things on Yelp, TripAdvisor and Facebook.
  • River – As the name implies, it’s on the river, on Jack Warner Parkway (the OFC would remember this as River Road). Excellent mix of farm-to-table food with a studied casual atmosphere.  Best descriptor I can come up with is blue jean formal. Has a good wine list, and a knowledgeable bar staff, but does not allow outside wine. The wood-fired oysters are outstanding, and in the right weather, the outside seating overlooking the river can be spectacular.
  • Dillard’s Chop House (f/k/a R. Davidson’s Chop House) – Downtown Tuscaloosa a block away from Embassy Suites, in what some will remember as the old Tin Top space. It’s a big restaurant, so wait times might be shorter than at other comparable places.As the name implies, Dillard’s specializes in steaks and seafood.  Easy walking distance to all the downtown nightlife.  No longer allows outside wine.  Loose dress code, but you might be most comfortable in corporate casual or nice jeans and a collared shirt.  Blazer without a tie would also fit nicely.  Comparable for women.

High End With a ?

  • Side By Side – Downtown, at the intersection of University Blvd and Greensboro Avenue, in the Embassy Suites. Same general type of menu, pricing and dress as Evangeline’s.  Used to be owned by Chris Hastings (of Birmingham’s Hot’n’Hot fame), but no longer.  Haven’t been since Hastings’ exit, so can’t opine on food.  Don’t know about outside wine policy.

Next Tier

All of these are good, just not quite to the level of the three above.  Expect to spend $50 – $100 or so per couple, again, depending on what you drink, and how much.

Reservations (if accepted) are essential on gameday, though a month out for these is probably safe.

  • Chuck’s Fish – Downtown entertainment district on Greensboro Avenue.  A lot of people swear by it.  I think it’s good, but maybe not quite in line with its reputation.  At the top end of the menu, I just didn’t see value.  It’s still good, no doubt.  But I thought it should be better and more consistent for the money.  Southern American fare, with some pizzas and high-end bar grub thrown in.  You’d feel comfortable in anything from blue jeans and a collared Alabama shirt to khakis and a blazer.  They don’t normally take reservations, though I don’t know if that general policy holds on gameday.  Don’t know the wine policy.
  • Half Shell Oyster House – Downtown in the former Glory Bound location, at University and Greensboro Avenue. Nice chain restaurant with other locations around the southeast.  Originated in Mississippi, but goes for a Cajun / New Orleans style.  Food is OK, not great.  They rely on salty, fatty, spicy sauces, even when not warranted – as in, drowning royal red shrimp in Cajun sauce.  Really?  You pay a big premium for the mild sea flavor and the texture of that type of shrimp, and you’re going to smother it with a bunch of fat and hot spice?  Really?!? Saving grace is that it’s huge, so seating is relatively quick.  Still a wait on football weekends, just less than if it were smaller.  Doesn’t allow outside wine.
  • Five – owned by the Chuck’s folks, and an outstanding value. Consistent, and fairly priced.  Rotates in and out a set of five entrees, five appetizers, five red wines, five white wines, etc.  That generates both the name Five, and the ability to deliver consistently – not a lot of items for the kitchen to   Casual dress, no outside wine.  Doesn’t take reservations and is consistently packed out, even on non-game weekends.  Expect a wait.
  • Sweet Home Food Bar – Like Five, an outstanding value in the downtown entertainment district on University Boulevard.  Nice college date / casual adult night out.  Has a variety of offerings, leaning slightly toward Italian.  Run by a woman who left New York City and came to Tuscaloosa when her son enrolled at the University.  You can’t find nicer people or better food for the money.  Full bar, but no outside wine.  Nice Sunday brunch, too.
  • DePalma’s – A Tuscaloosa institution on University Boulevard, a block east of Greensboro. Good solid Italian food.  No reservations, no outside wine.  Stays packed out, even on non-game weekends.  Expect a minimum 1 hour wait, probably longer, on game weekends.
  • Urban Bar and Kitchen (UBK) – Good casual spot on University Boulevard in the middle of the Downtown entertainment district, just a few doors down from Halfshell Oyster House. Sometimes just goes by its initials – UBK.  Very slightly upscale menu, offering good value for the money.  Excellent cocktails.  OK beer selection.  Pass on the wine.  Don’t know if they’d allow outside wine, but it’s really not that kind of place anyway.
  • Southern Ale House (SAH) – Actually kind of in-between these guys and the truly casual list below. Upscale bar food, north of the river, on McFarland / Hwy 82.  Casual dress, no outside wine.  Good rotating local and regional craft beer selection.  Waits are usually less than the downtown options.  But like I said, everybody has a wait on game weekend.

Formerly restaurants, now event sites or closed:

  • Druid City SocialFormerly in 301 Bistro’s old spot in the train station.  Deep into COVID, changed to an event venue.  No longer a restaurant option.
  • Cypress Inn – Still closed as a restaurant, but open as an event venue. There are continual rumors of new owners re-opening it as a restaurant, but after several false starts, I’ll have to see it to believe it.  If / when a restaurant opens on the site, I’ll post an update.  For now, it’s no longer a restaurant option.
  • 301 BistroCLOSED. Permanently shut down when COVID started in March 2020.

Casual Grub

Most of these places don’t take reservations, though you might give it a try anyway.  Expect $10 – $17 entrees, and just skip the wine selection.  If you drink alcohol, go for beer or a simple highball.  These aren’t the places to be expecting a first-rate classic cocktail.

Also, as of August 2018, some shuffling of restaurants is in process.  The descriptions below reflect the best of my knowledge, given the state of flux.

  • Mugshots – Specialty is burgers, burgers, and more burgers. Did I say they do burgers?  Downtown, Greensboro Avenue entertainment district.  Strangely enough from the name, the beers are standard mass-market American.  Might be able to get a Heineken, but that’s about it.
  • Glory Bound – Gyros and similar Greek-based fare. Pronounced “Yiro,” rhymes with “hero.”   Not “Jy-row,” as in the first two syllables of “gyroscope.”  On the Strip in the old Steamers location. Also has passable pizza. Good for what it is.  Just remember, it’s a college date place on The Strip.  Manage your expectations accordingly, and you’ll be fine.
  • Avenue Pub – Just off University on 23rd Good bar grub in an excellent location.
  • Central Mesa – Gets rave reviews for its authentic Mexican.  This is not a dressed-up Taco Casa.  I’m not a huge Mexican fan, but have been a couple of times and liked the chorizo tacos.  On Greensboro Avenue between University and 6th Street in middle of the entertainment district.
  • Steamers – Now a food truck.  Mentioning a closed restaurant only so that you know a mainstay is gone. Some rumors of a reopening, but I don’t believe them.  If that changes, I’ll update.  For now, Steamer’s isn’t an option.
  • Taco Mama – Tacos and similar Mexican food on University near the new Booth (see bars below). Not quite as nice an atmosphere as Central Mesa, but excellent food.
  • Surin – An institution is gone, but replaced by…
  • Thai Basil II – Same location on University, same general feel, and a lot of the same staff as the old Surin. But different management.  I’ve been several times and have been happy with it.  If you liked Surin, you’ll probably like Thai Basil just fine.  To my knowledge, no midnight sushi special.
  • Buffalo Phil’s – Bar food and beer on The Strip. Excellent food for what it is, and fairly priced.  My main objection is their seating policy … there isn’t one.  It’s essentially a seat-yourself free-for-all, whether it’s LSU gameday, or a random Tuesday in February. I haven’t seen any fisticuffs over it, but I have seen some heated disagreements, especially if one party or the other is into his cups.  Because of the disorganization, I just don’t go there anymore, except at very off non-gameday hours – like, say, lunch in the middle of the week at 3:00.
  • Billy’s – REOPENED!  Closed for some time during COVID, but has re-opened in its former location in downtown Northport on the same block as City Cafe. Best descriptor I can come up with is upscale casual.  Sandwiches, wraps, burgers and some plated entrees in the $12 – $17 range.


I’m not going to get into the debate over which is better.  But the consensus among TideFans posters, listed in alphabetical order, is:

  • Archibald’s – Only a few (like 3-4) indoor stools, and a couple of outdoor picnic tables. Otherwise  In an obscure part of Northport.  If you want some, Google it for directions.
  • Big Bad Wolves – was an open-air stand on the Houndstooth Bar’s patio on the Strip but wasn’t around for the 2021 football season.  Houndstooth started offering their own food, so they understandably didn’t want a competitor operating on their patio.  Since there is no brick-and-mortar location, I don’t know if BBW is gone for good, or will set up elsewhere.  I’ll report as I find out more.
  • Dreamland – The original location has the most atmosphere, and is in Jerusalem Heights, kinda-sorta near the intersection of Highway 11 (aka Skyland Boulevard), and Highway 82 aka McFarland Boulevard, just south of I-59/20. Google for directions.  There’s another location just across the river at the foot of the Lurleen Wallace Boulevard (a/k/a Hugh Thomas) bridge.  Same food, much more convenient, but a more generic atmosphere.

Meat and Three

Really only one choice here if you’re making the pilgrimage.

  • City Café – Downtown Northport. Old-school dive meat and three.  High sodium, lots of pork fat flavor, slathered on like mother’s love.  Really good.  Not terribly healthful.  Gets crowded around lunchtime, defined at 11:15 – 1:15.  If you get there during that time, expect a wait.  No reservations.  No alcohol, but why would you want that when you can get buzz-inducing sweet tea?


  • The Waysider – Formally it’s “The Historic Waysider Restaurant.” Go for breakfast/brunch but be prepared to wait on game days.  Worth going to see all the pictures, paintings, and memorabilia on the walls.  Near 15th & Lurleen Wallace.


There are dozens and dozens of other options.  Just walk around downtown Tuscaloosa for some local places, or cruise McFarland between the I-59/20 and University Boulevard interchanges for generica of all descriptions.

  • Rama Jama’s – Burgers, fries, tater tots and similar, right next to Bryant-Denny, at the intersection of Wallace Wade Drive and Paul Bryant Drive. How historic can you get?
  • Nick’s In The Sticks – Still there, in the same roadhouse location on the outskirts of west Tuscaloosa. It’s been through several owners since the original Nick Del Gato died in the ‘80s.  The current owners have probably been the longest-lasting since Nick.  Exactly the same as it always was.  Which, depending on your expectations, might or might not be a good thing.Whereas the rest of the restaurant world has advanced, Nick’s has remained firmly rooted in the 1960s.  So the food you remember as a great steak, framed by the haze of youth, beer, Jack and Coke, a pretty girl, and limited alternatives, is lacking by today’s standards.

    If you do decide to relive the old days, the drill is a bit different.  Still no reservations.  Doors open at 5:00, and on weekends, there’s a line.  But the kitchen doesn’t start up until 5:30, so there’s a wait for both a table and the kitchen.  I’d suggest either get there at 5:00, or wait until at least 7:30, or resign yourself to a minimum one-hour wait.

    A good place to play, “Remember when…,” with friends who were with you back in the day.  Just don’t expect a 21
    st century experience.

    $40 – $50 a couple, including beer and tip.  If you want a cocktail, get something simple.  Believe me, this isn’t the place for an Old Fashioned.  And for goodness sake, take a pass on the wine.  Very casual dress.  Jeans and a collared shirt is most common.  Jeans and a t-shirt is acceptable.  Jorts or man-pris are not uncommon.

There are dozens and dozens of other options.  Just walk around downtown Tuscaloosa for some local places, or cruise McFarland between the I-59/20 and University Boulevard interchanges for Generica of all descriptions.

The Tuscaloosa Chamber of Commerce has a comprehensive list of dining establishments in the area including locations on a map.


All of the restaurants listed above (except the barbecue places and the meat and three) have full bar service.  Dreamland does serve beer, but it’s a place to eat, not hang out.

Just remember, it’s a college town.  Unless you’re at one of the high-end restaurants or a specialty bar, expecting a Chateauneuf wine or a well-made classic cocktail is likely to be a disappointing experience.  Embrace it for what it is.

Caveat re:  Smoking – Smoking isn’t allowed in restaurants.  But for bars that don’t serve food, Tuscaloosa still allows smoking at the option of the establishment.  Some bars allow it, others don’t.  Just be aware.

Other Bars – Not on the Strip

  • Alcove – Downtown, a few blocks away from the core of the entertainment district. Good beer and knowledgeable cocktail staff.  No food.
  • Catch-22 – In the middle of the downtown entertainment district, next door to the Five Bar restaurant.  Formerly the best cocktails in town.  I think they go a bit overboard on the infused liquors, but they have high-end whiskies, and really nice complementary ingredients.  Allows smoking.The technical knowledge of the Catch-22 staff deteriorated from the opening crew, and while they’re still friendly and nice, they don’t have the craft cocktail knowledge that the original group did.  You (and maybe the bartender) will be amazed at how much difference good vermouth makes.
  • Session – Successor to Catch-22 as the best cocktail bar in Tuscaloosa.  Downtown on University Boulevard. Excellent staff – the owner is a no-fooling mixologist / cocktail chef – and highly knowledgeable.  Staff is as well.  Has a couple of wine options, but this really isn’t the place for wine.  Truly outstanding cocktails.  I’m really glad they made it through COVID.
  • The Booth – a slightly spiffed-up reincarnation of the original that the OFC might remember as being on The Strip. This version is just off University, facing Government Plaza, on the fringes of downtown.
  • Black Warrior Brewery – Craft beer brew house.  No food beyond some bagged chip options.  University Boulevard about a block and a half east of Greensboro Avenue.
  • Innisfree – Moved several years ago to about halfway between downtown and the campus. Fun place, serves average bar food.  Live music, standard beer selection.
  • Jackie’s – Not exactly downtown, but 5-6 few blocks away from the entertainment district. Locals and college students mix.  Mainly a pool and beer joint.  I haven’t been in a long time, but I’m pretty sure they don’t serve food.

Other Bars – The Strip

  • Houndstooth – the juggernaut at the west end of The Strip.  Feels a bit generic, but is cavernous and has a gazillion TVs.  They had their own food offerings (burgers, dogs and the like) for the 2021 football season.  So no more Big Bad Wolves.  Don’t know if it was successful enough to continue into 2022 or not.  We’ll see.
  • Egan’s / Unique – An institution is gone.  Egan’s owner announced that it would close on August 2, 2021, and I went into mourning for the second time (it closed for a while in 2018).  It’s been replaced by something called Unique.  I call it U-Bar and have to confess that I was pleasantly surprised.  It is a reasonable facsimile of the old Egan’s, though why they didn’t keep the name, I don’t know.  Still finding its way with staff and clientele, but I’m holding out hope.  Still allows smoking.
  • Galette’s – Official name is The Campus Party Store, but everybody refers to it as Galette’s (with a hard ‘G’). Been there for decades and is an institution.  Underwent a major interior renovation a few years ago and doesn’t look anything like the same dive it used to be.  But the average age is still about 21 and a day, so I tend to steer clear.Loved the former incarnation when I was young, and if you’re under 30 or just want to experience a local fixture, you might like the new one.  But that time has passed for both me and Galette’s.
  • Rounders – the closest thing to a night club on The Strip. Has a bar and stage for live music on the rooftop, in addition to the street-level space.  Like Galette’s, the crowd is a bit younger than I belong in, and it’s the one Strip place that seems to attract a lot of young, local, non-students.
  • Twelve 25 – Brand new place on The Strip between Rounders and Unique (f/k/a Egan’s).  Place is huge…four full storefronts.  Full bar, full restaurant, and live music.  I haven’t been, so I have no idea as to quality, good, bad or indifferent.  Just looking at the lines to get in, I’d say the crowd tends to run young, and tends to include some non-student locals.  But again, it’s new.  I’ll post an update if / when I have some personal experience

A few Birmingham restaurants of note

In 2018, Highlands Bar & Grill in Five Points South won the James Beard Award as the best restaurant in the country.  They take reservations 30 days in advance, and it’s booked up really quickly after they start taking calls for a given day.

Bottega and Galley & Garden are all nearby and first rate.

Hot’n’Hot Fish Club had to move (landlord is demolishing the building in favor of high-rise condos).  It’s now in the Pepper Place complex near Lakeview.  Same owner / chef Chris Hastings, and same food.  Just a new location.

Also near Hot’n’Hot are Bettola, Automatic Seafood and Blueprint on 3rd.

Reservations strongly recommended for all.

Map of all recommended Tuscaloosa restaurants