Birmingham's 5 Points South
Birmingham is home to great neighborhoods that are filled with a spirit that comes alive when you walk down the streets and step inside the boutiques and quaint restaurants. For this road trip, visit one of the first (if not “the” first) Birmingham neighborhoods, Five Points South. You will want to overnight to experience breakfast, lunch and dinner the next day in restaurants that serve wonderful food and showcase the rich culinary traditions of Alabama’s “Magic City.”
This is an approximate one-mile walk around the Five Points South dining and entertainment district. Most of the restaurants and all of the nightlife establishments in this area stay open late, but the shops normally close at 5 p.m.
Some of the Best Restaurants in Birmingham
Birmingham is home to some of the country's most celebrated restaurants. The New York Times wrote in 2006 that, “With little fanfare outside the world of devoted gourmets, white-tablecloth establishments that rival New York’s or California’s have bloomed like azaleas all over Birmingham.”
Rated one of the best restaurants in America, Highlands Bar and Grill is located across from Renaissance Records, or just a few steps east from The Storyteller fountain. It is owned and operated by award-winning chef Frank Stitt. A signature item on the menu, which consists of a host of culinary delights, is his delicious baked grits, listed on Alabama Tourism’s popular “100 Dishes To Eat in Alabama Before You Die” brochure. Highlands Bar and Grill has been named one of the top five restaurants in America by the James Beard Foundation for several years.
Not far from Highlands Bar and Grill is another top restaurant, Hot and Hot Fish Club. Walk the short distance east to the corner of 11th Avenue South and Richard Arrington Boulevard. Across the street at this intersection, 11th Avenue South is ahead, but off to your left; 11th Court is ahead but slightly to your right. Walk up the hill along 11th Court for about 500 yards. Hot and Hot Fish Club will be on the left just before you reach Highland Avenue South. Hot and Hot’s chef, Chris Hastings, competed and was the winner on Food Network’s show “Iron Chef America.” In 2012, the James Beard Awards named him Best Chef in the South. If you are visiting during the summer, be sure to ask for the tomato salad and pickled okra. Around the corner on Highland Avenue South is Bottega Restaurant and Café, an Italian restaurant housed in a historic limestone building.
Back near the Five Points South fountain, you can enjoy pizzas at Cosmo’s Pizza, burgers at Chez Fonfon,Thai at Surin West and Asian and seafood at Ocean. A popular spot for barbecue is Jim ‘n Nick’s, one of several locations of the Alabama-based barbecue chain. Nick Pihakis, Jim ‘N Nick’s founder, has been repeatedly named a semifinalist in the James Beard Awards Outstanding Restaurateur category, most recently in 2012.
Walk west from "The Storyteller" fountain on 11th Avenue South to find Charlemagne Record Exchange. Gain entrance to the CD and vinyl record store through a doorway that leads you upstairs. You will see some boutique shops across the street. Continue west on that block and you will pass Surin West and Jim ‘n Nick’s and end up at an intersection where you will find the more than 120-year-old Southside Baptist Church with its impressive 25 curved marble steps and six stately columns.
Also at this intersection on 11th Avenue South is the natural grocery and café, Golden Temple Health Foods. Located in the same building as Golden Temple is the Birmingham Festival Theatre, where plays have been performed since the 1970s. The theater is on the second floor of the building. You enter by going around the corner to the side of the building next to the post office. You will be on 19th Street and at this point walking uphill enough to make a street-level entrance to the upper floor. From the theater, continue walking up the hill on 19th Street South to find St. Mary’s-On-the-Highlands Episcopal Church, established in 1887.
Other James Beard Recognized Restaurants
For more dining experiences in the Birmingham area recognized by the James Beard Awards, visit Ollie Irene in nearby Mountain Brook, named a semifinalist for Best New Restaurant in 2012. At Birmingham’s Pepper Place in the Lakeview District, you’ll find Bettola for which Chef James Lewis was named a 2012 semifinalist for Best Chef: South. Or experience an “American Classic” in Bessemer at The Bright Star. Opened in 1907, the Greek-style, Southern restaurant was honored with this title by the James Beard Foundation in 2010.
How to Get Around
The Birmingham Parking Authority operates 10 parking garages and two surface lots downtown, including the one at Five Points South. Some facilities will require that you have payment in quarters to exit late in the evening when attendants are off duty. There is also metered street parking.
The Blue Line Dart Trolley runs north and south on 20th Street downtown with a turnaround at Cobb Lane on the south end and the Birmingham Civic Center on the north end. The cost is only a quarter. The trolley runs every 10 to 20 minutes Monday through Saturday and every 40 minutes on Sunday. There are trolley stops near the many hotels located on 20th Avenue and near the Cobb Lane B&B. After 5:30 p.m., the trolley alters its north turnaround and passes the Redmont and Tutwiler hotels. If you ride, don’t be alarmed if you pull the cord to request a stop at Five Points South and the trolley continues. Because of the design of the Five Points intersection, the trolley stops are in safe departure points about a block away. There are also two other trolley circle routes, a red and green line, that operate in downtown Birmingham. Go to the Greater Birmingham Convention and Visitor’s Bureau for complete tourist information.
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From seasoned road tripper Mike Shubic to founder and CEO of RoadTrippers.com James Fisher, meet the panel of advisors behind Travel’s Best Road Trips 2015.