Rocket City Eats: A Local’s Guide to Huntsville’s Best Bites

Everybody has an opinion about the best places to eat in Huntsville, Alabama; this is ours. Only, we happen to be locals and professional travel writers. So we might know a thing or two, and at least our guide to restaurants in Huntsville, Alabama, should be well written. Also, like so many Huntsvillians, there’s a bit of an engineering affliction in the office, so you’ll get a well researched and organized list of the best restaurants in Huntsville.

Huntsville was Alabama’s first capital 200 years ago, and today, it’s a high-tech hub blasting off into the 21st century. You can’t separate Rocket City from its history, including Twickenham Historic District, the densest concentration of antebellum homes in Alabama, and we’re not going to try. Instead, we’ll pick two favorites for each best-of category, an old-standby and an up-and-comer. You get twice the food and a tour of Huntsville simultaneously. Did we leave you hungry for more? You better keep reading to start the feeding.

Best BBQ in Huntsville, Al

Photo Credit: Amy C Evens via Flickr.

There are three things you don’t discuss in the South: religion, politics, and who has the best BBQ. You might be safer picking sides in the Iron Bowl. It seems like there are only two things required to garner votes, a stack of firewood out front and a sign with a pig on it. I can’t even tell if a run-down building is positive or negative.

That being said, there’s one clear choice for the best old-school BBQ in Huntsville, even though it’s in Decatur — Big Bob Gibson’s Bar-B-Q. Founded in 1925, they are widely recognized as one of the world’s oldest and most prestigious barbecue restaurants. Plus, Bob Gibson created the Alabama White BBQ Sauce, so you’ll get to try an Alabama native food at its original location. There’s also a pile of firewood out back and a neon sign with a pig on it.

I’ll go with Moe’s for the up-and-coming BBQ, even though they have neither a pile of firewood nor a pig sign outside. They do have a national presence but Alabama roots, so you know that you get solid smoked meats and high-quality sides. Plus, they’re skiers and started their business catering pork to a Jewish wedding, so what’s not to love. Also, a trip to Moe’s BBQ gives you an opportunity to explore the Village of Providence. With a walkable town square and mixed-use urban development, you’ll have to remind yourself that you’re in northern Alabama.

Best Mexican Restaurant – Huntsville, Al

Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

While Huntsville isn’t known for Mexican food, it’s hard to talk about the food scene without mentioning Rosie’s, perhaps the most prolific local restaurateur and a go-to favorite for the best Mexican restaurant in Huntsville. Technically, Rosie was Rhonda Martin’s grandmother, and the restaurant is owned by Tod Craig, David Martin, and B.J. Fratesi. Also, Walton’s Southern Table is a Rosie’s Concept Restaurant, so technically, we already mentioned them.

There are three Rosie’s Cantina locations in Huntsville and the Little Rosie’s Taqueria. Plus, the original location spun off to their kitchen manager, Phil Sandoval, when they opened their flagship store across University Drive, so that’s another Rosie tie-in. You’ll get Tex-Mex favorites with a cumin-forward spice pallet no matter which establishment you choose.

We’re going with La Esquina Cocina for the up-and-coming best Mexican restaurant. If you like deep, rich flavors and high-quality food, you must try La Esquina Cocina. A meal here is like a gastronomic tour of Mexico. They’re not the cheapest Mexican food in town, but their food quality far exceeded the price point. Also, be sure to get a reservation, because the secret is out about this fantastic restaurant!

Best German Restaurant in Huntsville

Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

Unlike Mexican Food, Huntsville is known for its German fare. We brought in a bunch of German rocket scientists after WWII, and they brought their food. There are really only two choices in town, and both are excellent – Hildegard’s German Cuisine and Ol Heidelberg Cafe. I guess there’s a third, the Biergarten at the Space and Rocket Center, but that’s as much about boosters as bratwurst. Plus, it’s been paused for a spell for social distancing.

How do you choose between Hildegard’s and Ol Heidelberg? As the name implies, Ol Heidelberg is the older of the two, having opened in 1972 with direct roots back to the now-defunct Bavaria Delicatessen, which dates back to 1963. It also has an immersive German hunting lodge theme with the décor and wait staff. Hildegard’s was TripAdvisor’s #1 restaurant in Huntsville and 15-years of operation. You can’t go wrong with either one, so maybe you call ahead and see where you can get a table. No matter what, try and save room for their decadent German desserts.

Best Asian Restaurant in Huntsville

Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

Like the Germans 80 years ago, a new wave of foreign scientists and business leaders call Rocket City home. Not only does the Toyota Motor Manufacturing plant employ over 1,400 people, but they also sponsor our minor league stadium and make Huntsville a sneaky good place for sushi. That’s why our up-and-coming Asian restaurant is Four Leaves Asian Restaurant in Madison.

Their menu features Pan Asian fare with classic Chinese, Southeast Asian (including Thai), Hibachi, Noodles, Bento Box, and Sushi. Everything they make has fresh vegetables cooked in the healthiest ways possible with the perfect balance of flavor and spices.

If you’re looking for a tried and true Chinese Restaurant, Ding How II has been serving Huntsville for more than 20-years. They offer authentic Chinese food and the best Dim Sum around. Their Dim Sum is more than just steamed dumplings; it’s a full Chinese tea time experience.

Best Breakfast in Huntsville, Al

Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

You can’t eat all day if you don’t start with breakfast… Unless you sleep until noon. But then, wouldn’t your lunch actually break your fast? I don’t know. Words are hard, especially when you’re up early looking for the best breakfast in Huntsville, Al.

What isn’t hard is heading to Blue Plate Café for an oversize helping of country goodness to start your day. They’ve been serving Huntsville for more than 20-years, and it doesn’t look like they will be slowing down anytime soon. My favorite is the build your own three-egg omelet.

If you want to work a little harder, the 1892 East Restaurant and Tavern brunch is pretty special. It’s a trending Sunday-Funday tradition. Not only because every plate includes a mimosa, but they also only serve brunch on Sunday. And there’s usually a wait, so you’ll want to get a reservation, but it’s worth it. They have the best benedicts in town. I would say the best burger too, but it’s only on their brunch and lunch menu, which brings us to our next section.

Best Burger in Huntsville

Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

Let’s start with what I know – Straight to Ale / Ale’s Kitchen is going on this list. Their Diablo Burger is a game-changer, and we haven’t mentioned Campus 805 yet. Plus, there’s that turning a middle school gym into a brewery thing is classic. The hard part is picking an old-school burger to go with a burger made literally in an old school.

If I went with my gut (pun intended), I would say the 1892 burger, but I’ve already said that in best breakfast section, and there’s that whole only-on-the-lunch-menu thing is hard. If I went with my heart, I’d say Supper Heroes, not only for their intended puns but also, who doesn’t love cheeseburgers and comic books?

However, my journalistic integrity says I have to have Huntsville’s oldest restaurant somewhere. So. Here it is. Big Springs Café, opened in 1922 and is the home of the “Greasy Burger”. FWIW, White Castle (circa 1921) is the oldest fast-food chain and, like the Greasy Burger, you either love them or hate them.

Best Pizza – Huntsville

Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

Coming right back to Campus 805, we’ll start with a pizza so good it’s both the #1 and #6 on Yelp’s best pizza in Huntsville – Earth and Stone Wood Fired Pizza, aka Yellowhammer Brewing. They serve a modern, thin-crust pizza with fresh, flavorful toppings cooked in a wood-fired oven. They also serve boozy ice cream, which is pretty fantastic.

Now it’s time to pick a classic pie to pair with Earth and Stone. A little bit ago, I would have said Mario’s Five Points, if for no other reason, their forward garlic sauce and willingness to add extra garlic to it. However, the Google machine tells me that they’re permanently closed, so I’ll have to bake a garlic knot in tribute. Part of me wants to put in Terry’s Pizza (oldest pizzeria) or The Boot (highly ranked ) here, but I haven’t actually tried them yet either.

I’ll go with the pie I know and say Big Ed’s Pizza. Not only am I a fan of everything Ed and Ed-related, but Big Ed’s has been serving hand-tossed pizzas for over 50 years. They make their sauce in-house and have some kicking carryout specials too.

Best Fine Dining – Huntsville, Al 

Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

If you’re talking about the best fine dining in Huntsville, sooner or later, the conversation will come to Cotton Row. It’s our most acclaimed restaurant with our most famous chef – James Boyce. The building dates back to 1821 and sits right on the courthouse square on the old cotton exchange, so it definitely qualifies as “old school”. Their ever-changing menu focuses on unique and inventive dishes with a perfect blend of French fundamentals and southern influences. Cotton Row is a tried and true choice for upscale restaurants in Huntsville. 

If we’re looking for up-and-comers, how about starting in The Avenue? It’s a collection of 197 loft apartments and 21,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space that offers an urban living experience unique to Rocket City. It’s also home to Purveyor, another fine downtown Huntsville Restaurant. They offer a little of everything from small plates to steaks. It’s all flavor-forward and cooked to perfection. They pride themselves on their cocktail pairings too, so be sure to ask for a suggestion.

Best Cocktail in Huntsville

Photo Credit: Sarah Belanger via The Huntsville Madison County Convention Visitors Bureau.

Where do you go for the best cocktails in Huntsville? My general answer is downtown, where the mixology scene is thriving. You’ll find everything from hidden basement Tiki bars (Phat Sammy’s) to a slew of rooftop bars. However, we only get to pick two. So, right or wrong, here we go.

For old school, we’re rolling with Catacomb 435. Even though it’s relatively new, their commitment to the speakeasy style earns them street cred. Plus, Matt Ortega is probably the craftiest cocktailier in town. You’ll want (re: need) a reservation, and you’ll want (re: need) to make it surprisingly far in advance. However, when it’s finally your time to experience Catacomb, you will not be disappointed. You don’t get a drink menu per se, just a suggestion sheet you share with Matt, and he’ll create something special and unique based on your input.

From the catacombs to the rooftops, our next choice is Stella’s Elixir Lounge. They offer new twists on old classics in an open and fun setting. They’re posh without being pretentious, smooth, and oh-so-sophisticated. Their daily specials showcase the breadth and depth of their drink menu, except for Saturday, which is your ‘lucky to get in the door’ day.

Best of the Rest

Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

Before you accuse us of keyword stuffing, let me just say that there are some restaurants that I couldn’t, in good conscience, leave off this list. But my editor said I could only use 2,000 words, and I still need to do a little keyword stuffing…lol!

Best Steak in Huntsville – Connors Steak and Seafood (and an excuse to go to the Bridge Street Town Centre)

Best Italian Restaurant in Huntsville, Al – Mazzara’s Vinoteca (Located in the Historic Humphreys-Rodgers House in downtown Huntsville, it’s starting a new chapter of gourmet Italian cuisine in Huntsville)

Best Gluten-Free Bakery in Huntsville – Mason Dixon Bakery (good enough to enjoy even if you eat gluten)

Best Donuts in Huntsville – Bigfoot’s Little Donuts (for people who like their toppings outside of their donuts)

Best Food Truck in Huntsville- NASA Food Truck Corral (but you need to figure out how to get there)

Best Vegan The Hippea Camper (a food truck with a funny name that’s seriously good)

Best Salad in Huntsville – MELT (They also serve a darn good grilled cheese)

Best Lunch Special in Huntsville – El Olmeca (split the lunch fajitas at the Madison location, you’ll thank us!)

Downtown Huntsville Restaurants Open on Sunday

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Sundays are traditionally a day of rest in the South, and with the labor market these days, it’s harder to find downtown Huntsville restaurants open on Sunday. Here are a few of our go-to Sunday favorites.

Seasalt – Downtown Huntsville’s urban oyster bar with 24 beers on tap

The Martin – American comfort food in a fun setting

The Poppy & Parliament – Huntsville’s best English food with extraordinary fish and chips

The Revivalist – The lobby bar in 106 Jefferson that pays homage to past

Commerce Kitchen – The family style Sunday Supper is superb, but you’ll want a reservation

Pane E Vino Pizzeria – Italian favorites on the banks of Big Spring

CO/OP Community Table + Bar – Serving seasonable and sustainable food in the Embassy Suite lobby

Huntsville Dining FAQs

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What food is Huntsville known for? Huntsville is known for southern cooking and traditional German food.

Why does Huntsville have so many German restaurants? The German scientist who came to Rocket City brought their culture with them.

What is Alabama’s most famous dish? Shrimp and grits, but it can be prepared many ways from spicy, peppery, cheesy, creamy and even tangy.What is the official dessert of Alabama? Lane Cake – A symbol of Southern culture mentioned in To Kill a Mockingbird.

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