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.
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.
Evangeline’s– My personal favorite. 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.
Side By Side– Downtown, at the intersection of University Blvd and Greensboro Avenue, in the Embassy Suites. Owned by Chris Hastings of Hot’n’Hot Fish Club (Birmingham) fame. If you don’t recognize the name, Google him. He’s no joke as a chef. Same general type of menu and dress as Evangeline’s. Don’t know about outside wine policy.
R. Davidson Chop House– Newest entrant into the better dining scene. 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, it specializes in steaks and seafood. Easy walking distance to all the downtown nightlife. Got a 1-glass Wine Spectator award for the wine list, which concentrates on domestics, particularly California. Some Old World, but not a ton. Does allow outside wine, with a $20 corkage fee. Loose dress code, and hasn’t been open all that long. So if you’re not naked, they’ll probably seat you. 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.
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. 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 10 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.
301 Bistro – in the old downtown train station. Neat atmosphere due to the nature of the building. Really knowledgeable bar staff last time I was there. Southern farm-to-table American menu, casual dress, don’t know about outside wine. A block and a half down a hill from the main downtown entertainment area, so waits might be a bit shorter.
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.
Cypress Inn – On the river, but on the north side, on Rice Mine Road. Popular local place, Southern cuisine with a slight emphasis on seafood, always crowded. Lots of people love it. It’s good, but I’ve never really understood what all the fuss was about. Casual dress.
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.
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.
CentralMesa – 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 in the entertainment district.
Billy’s – Downtown Northport on the same block as City Café (see below). Good bar food. Signature marinated chicken breast sandwiches.
Steamers – 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.
Surin– On The Strip. Excellent Thai food, and reasonably priced. Sushi isn’t my thing, but I’m told Surin’s is really good. They have a late-night sushi special that draws crowds.
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.
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 – an open-air stand, but covered, on the Houndstooth Bar’s patio, on the Strip. Opens Fridays of game weekends. If they have a permanent location, I’m not aware of it. Take-away barbecue, burgers and dogs, and you can sit at one of the many picnic-style tables on the Houndstooth’s covered patio facing University Boulevard. Good people-watching.
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 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.
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, isn’t necessarily 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 when. Just don’t expect a 21st century experience.$40 – $50 a couple, including beer and tip. If you want a cocktail, get something simple. Believe me, 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.
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 restaurant. Best cocktails in town. I think they go a bit overboard on the infused liquors, but they have high-end whiskies, really nice complementary ingredients, and highly knowledgeable bartenders. You’ll be amazed at how much difference good vermouth makes.
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. 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. No kitchen, though Big Bad Wolves sets up on the patio on game weekends.
Egan’s–The longtime owner sold last spring, and a longtime regular bought it. Re-opened with slight renovations. Still a smoky dive bar where any idea and anybody are both welcome and fair game. Doesn’t matter if you’re black, white, Asian, conservative, liberal, gay, straight, unsure, male, female, academic, day laborer or somewhere in between … bring your opinions and your ‘A’ game. The one thing everybody agrees on is the Crimson Tide.Re-opened the first week of August 2018. The main change the old Eganites will notice is they pulled out the old suspended ceiling, and it’s now a lot higher, revealing the original tin. Also added fans which, in combination with the higher ceiling, really help with the smoke. They’ve about ironed out all the kinks. It’s a bit different from the old version, but not too much, and I’m glad Egan’s is back.
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. Recently underwent a major interior renovation, 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.