Thanks to the most recent census, Huntsville now ranks as Alabama’s largest city. The population those census numbers represent is recognized as being well-educated and increasingly diverse. In addition to thousands of jobs required by space and rocket companies, five colleges are also part of the Huntsville landscape: Oakwood University, Alabama A&M, Drake State Community and Technical College, Calhoun Community College, and University of Alabama in Huntsville. It makes sense that Huntsville dining establishments reflect respect for elevated palates and cultural preferences alongside regional Southern cuisine that has been served for generations.
1. Tom Brown’s Restaurant
Tom Brown’s Restaurant is technically in Madison, but when it comes to restaurants and shopping, Madison and Huntsville are practically interchangeable. Chef and Owner Tom Brown opened his stunning restaurant in the middle of a worldwide pandemic, but it proved to be an instant success with a sought-after reservation list to prove it.
Chef Brown’s wife is the visionary behind the restaurant’s decor, and their daughter Kenzi, an artist who specializes in preserving flowers in acrylic, contributed eye-catching works for the walls. Chef Brown is particularly proud of the restaurant’s seafood and steak selections. If you arrive with a huge appetite, the 40-ounce bone-in ribeye called The Tomahawk is a specialty, but the redfish topped with Crawfish Julie is my personal favorite.
A second Tom Brown’s location is scheduled to open in South Huntsville at Hays Farm in late 2022.
Pro Tip: Make reservations early in the week for prime weekend spots.
2. Cotton Row
Cotton Row was the first restaurant Chef James Boyce opened in Huntsville, and he has since opened three more. Located in the southwest corner of Courthouse Square in downtown Huntsville, Cotton Row is in a building that dates to 1821 and was a part of the cotton exchange so popular with traders. Chef Boyce trained at the Culinary Institute of America in New York and received extensive experience in Las Vegas and California before settling in Huntsville with his wife and family. Huntsvillians embraced his culinary concepts eagerly.
The menu changes often but always includes southern and French-inspired dishes using locally sourced ingredients. Cotton Row is open for dinner Tuesday through Saturday.
Char Restaurant is open for lunch and dinner seven days a week, and its brunch menu is available on Saturday and Sunday. It is located on Bob Wallace Avenue within sight of the Parkway, which is the main thoroughfare connecting all the sections of Huntsville. The menu has a heavy emphasis on steaks and seafood with hints of New Orleans showing up in the Nola BBQ Shrimp, the redfish dishes, and the blueberry bread pudding for dessert. Reservations are strongly recommended.
4. The Poppy & Parliament
The Poppy & Parliament began its life as a bar called The Poppy owned by Shane Brown from Yorkshire, England. Then fate stepped in. Chef Barry O’Connor from Cork, Ireland, walked in while visiting Huntsville and struck up a conversation with Brown. Shortly after, the adjacent building became available, and a full restaurant headed by Chef O’Connor and called Parliament was added with access created between the two businesses. Most recently, a British/Irish/European market opened upstairs.
The menu hints strongly of England and Ireland with fish and chips, colcannon, bangers and mash, and a steak called the Prime Minister, but there are a number of Mediterranean dishes as well.
You can’t miss the building. It is painted poppy red with an authentic British phone booth out front.
5. 1892 East Restaurant & Tavern
The neighborhood surrounding 1892 East Restaurant & Tavern embraces the restaurant and has found it to be a great place for dining while visiting with friends. Fortunately, those who don’t live nearby are welcomed warmly, too. The Five Points neighborhood is, in fact, one of Huntsville’s Historic Preservation Districts. Before or after dining at 1892 East, you may well want to allow some time to drive around and admire the homes in the area.
The menu is small but very tantalizing. You might be surprised to find vegetarian entrees among the choices. Be sure to order the Crispy Shrimp & Grits appetizer. The shrimp are stuffed with the grits, and this dish made the Alabama Tourism Department’s list of 100 Dishes to Try in Alabama Before You Die. It is really delicious.
6. Commerce Kitchen
Commerce Kitchen is on the opposite end of the block and on the same side of the street as Cotton Row and is another of Chef James Boyce’s establishments. Commerce Kitchen is also housed in a vintage building with a relatively small dining room.
The lunch menu features sandwiches, salads, snacks, and specialties in a smaller quantity with special preparations and very reasonable prices. The dinner menu is expanded and includes regular nightly specials, such as chicken-fried steak on Tuesday and blackened catfish on Thursday.
Pro Tip: My favorite time to dine at Commerce Kitchen is for weekend brunch. The atmosphere is elegant, and the dishes are so appealing. Imagine a starter of Cornmeal Crusted Gulf Oysters followed by the Twickenham Original, which includes a souffled pancake.
7. Grille On Main
Grille on Main is located in The Village of Providence by the large fountain near the entrance. It is the newest of Chef James Boyce’s concepts (His fourth one, by the way, is Pane e Vino located inside the Huntsville Museum of Art — also “a cut above” kind of place). The menu here is similar to Commerce Kitchen but offers more choices made possible with a larger kitchen and dining area. The newly decorated interior is extremely pleasing, and the atmosphere is perfect for date nights or for getting together with friends.
There are plenty of seafood options, but also pasta, pork, chicken, steaks, and the chef’s favorite: braised short rib of beef.
Pro Tip: I can personally vouch for the Pineapple Upside Down Carrot Cake on the dessert menu.
8. Rhythm On Monroe
Rhythm on Monroe is attached to the Von Braun Center, a huge entertainment complex in Huntsville. It is particularly popular with those who attend performances at Mars Music Hall which is directly across the corridor from Rhythm on Monroe. It is perfect for an early dinner or for hanging out at the rooftop bar after a concert.
The dining room is open for dinner seven nights a week and for brunch on Saturday and Sunday. The menu has a delightful music and performance theme with categories such as Sound Checks for appetizers, Opening Acts for soups and salads, Headliners for entrees, Groupies for sides, and such. The weekend brunch offers fun-sounding options such as Cinn-Ful Rock n’Roll and White Lightening Nachos. I can personally attest for the Eggs Bennie & the Jets.
The soaring ceilings and modern décor lend a big-city vibe.
9. Flight Plan Wine & Tapas
Flight Plan Wine & Tapas is a delightful play on words suggesting both the flights of wine and whiskey that are offered and the aeronautical emphasis so prevalent in Huntsville. The lunch and dinner menu consists of charcuterie boards, small plates, salads, naan bread pizzas, tapas, and extremely tempting desserts.
This restaurant is relatively new to Huntsville, having opened in November of 2019. It is located in Jones Valley at one end of the huge Target shopping center.
Pro Tip: Be sure to try the Fried Deviled Eggs with bacon and caviar. So good.
10. G’s Country Kitchen
G’s Country Kitchen claims to serve the best soul food in North Alabama, and my meal there gave no reason to argue. This family-run eatery is located in the Oakwood Shopping Plaza on Oakwood Avenue. The typical offering is a meat with two sides and bread for $8.99 with banana pudding and sweet potato pie waiting to finish the meal. Fried chicken, pork chops, hamburger patties, or catfish are the most popular “meats,” while sides such as fried okra, yams, turnip greens, slaw, cabbage, and mashed potatoes make choosing only two a dilemma. “G” is the mistress of the kitchen, but her husband and family members greet and serve the hungry guests. It’s a slice of Southern hospitality you won’t want to miss.
11. Blue Plate Café
Blue Plate Café on Governor’s Drive serves hordes of customers at breakfast time and slightly fewer at lunch, and the crowds taper off at suppertime. That said, I spotted Alabama Governor Kay Ivey there for her evening meal during a visit a few years ago. Blue Plate’s cocoa biscuits are only offered on Saturday, so you’ll find an extra surge of guests ordering those hot biscuits topped with butter and chocolate sauce (also known as chocolate gravy).
The Blue Plate Special consists of a meat, three sides, and a choice of cornbread or roll. Each day of the week offers a different array of meats and sides. If you want chicken and dressing, be sure to visit on Saturday or Thursday. The café opens at 6 a.m. and closes at 8 p.m., clearly following the “Early to bed, early to rise” mantra.
12. Supper Heroes
Supper Heroes is the kind of place you’ll definitely want to enjoy with children or grandchildren in tow. The walls are filled with paintings and posters of famous superheroes, and the menu is even in comic book form. The location on Winchester Road is a little bit off the beaten path, but in reality, it is only about a 15-minute drive from the U.S. Space & Rocket Center. Supper Heroes serves fantastic burgers and sandwiches which include fries and slaw, and the Young Heroes (children’s menu) options are all just $3.99.
Pro Tip: There are several screens showing superhero-style movies. If you happen to visit with young children and the movie playing is too intense, just ask your server, and they will gladly change it to something more kid-friendly.
13. Toybox Bistro
Toybox Bistro is located on Jordan Lane not far from one of the main entrances to Redstone Arsenal and the sites of numerous space-focused companies. It is said to be especially appealing to nerds — meaning extra-smart rocket scientists and such. Collections of vintage toys are everywhere (even on the ceiling), and buckets of Legos are offered for building and playing while you wait for your food to arrive. Once again, this place is fun for children. It is closed on Sunday but open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. the other six days of the week.
Waffled Mac n Cheese, the Hades Burger, Huntsvegas Hot Chicken, the Sonic Gut Buster Ripper Dog, and the Roast Beef Sundae are just a few of the eclectic dishes on the menu.
14. Dragon’s Forge Café
Dragon’s Forge Café has a fantasy theme, hinting at dragons, dungeons, Harry Potter, and unconventional weirdness. The headliner items are coffees and teas, making it a natural fit for Huntsville’s Craft Coffee Trail, but it also serves fresh-made soups, sandwiches, and sweets. With advance notice, Dragon’s Forge will prepare a tea service, making this a delightful place for a group of friends to gather or for a grandmother to share with her granddaughters.
The café is inside Lowe Mill ARTS & Entertainment, so be sure to allow time for browsing, buying, and meeting the artists before and after your visit. Dragon’s Forge is open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday.
15. Ol’ Heidelberg
Huntsville’s ties to Germany began when rocket scientist Wernher Von Braun and his team members arrived in 1950. It didn’t take long before some favorite recipes began to be shared with their new American friends and colleagues. Ol’ Heidelberg opened in 1972 and continues to be known as Huntsville’s premier location for authentic German cuisine. Sausages, schnitzels, sauerkraut, and more are served for lunch and dinner every day except Monday.
Pro Tip: If you visit with picky and suspicious grandchildren, order schnitzel and potatoes for them, and they will be happy eaters.
16. Rosie’s Cantina
Although there are a number of other Mexican restaurants scattered around Huntsville, Rosie’s Cantina is the most popular. It has grown in following since it opened in 1995 and has expanded to two large locations, one on University Drive and the other on the Parkway. The extensive menu and the sauces made fresh daily are two of the perks that set Rosie’s apart from the rest. A very reasonably priced kids’ menu that includes a drink also appeals to families. My personal favorites are the Rosiechanga and the Chicken and Spinach Burrito, but I am ready to try many other items. As with so many restaurants in Huntsville, it is closed on Sunday but open for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday.
17. Stone Age Korean BBQ
Two terms are used prominently at Stone Age Korean BBQ. They are “All you can eat” and “Do it yourself.” For one set price (less for lunch than for dinner and weekends), you will have your choice of meats and sides and then be invited to cook the meats to your own satisfaction on the gas grill in the center of your table. Meal ingredients are served family style. This makes for a unique and entertaining dining experience.
18. Mason Dixon Bakery & Bistro
Mason Dixon Bakery & Bistro is the undisputed health queen on my list. The bakery, which opened in 2013, was Alabama’s first gluten-free bakery, and the bistro followed in 2015. Breads are baked fresh every day, and meats are cured and smoked in house. What a treasure this is for those with celiac and other conditions so that they can enjoy breads, cookies, cupcakes, and other treats without worrying about getting sick! Mason Dixon goes even further by providing Paleo and vegan choices, too.
The bistro side of the business has breakfast, salad, burger, sandwich, and drink options available all day. Mason Dixon is also closed on Sunday but is open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday. If you thought a beautiful, gluten-free wedding cake was impossible, think again. Mason Dixon has you covered.
I hope you plan a trip to Alabama’s Rocket City soon, and please arrive with a good appetite. You will have a dizzying number of restaurants from which to choose. For more trip-planning inspiration, see all our Huntsville, Alabama, content here.