My biggest surprise when visiting Huntsville was the incredible restaurant scene!
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You may remember that over the past couple months, I spent some time in Huntsville, Alabama. Some great friends live there and I always have a great time when I visit: they always know what’s going on in town or what’s happening this weekend, or where . One of the things that surprised me was the sheer diversity of restaurants. Beyond having every chain imaginable (fast food to upscale), there are so many local options!
I’m learning that the secret to unlocking the best food and drink options in Huntsville are to ignore the building itself. Don’t judge these books by their covers: my favorite places here have almost universally been in suburban strip malls or nondescript industrial buildings. But give it a shot, and you’ll find the amazing food and cool vibe you’re hoping for in the most unlikely places!
I’ll start with something that’s so perfectly Alabama: the Chuckwagon BBQ! As you might guess, it’s the best barbecue place in town. Like any really authentic BBQ joint, the sides change daily and they stay open until they run out of food. I’ve eaten here a couple times and have yet to find anything I don’t love. My favorite meat has to be the brisket, and the baked beans shouldn’t be overlooked because all the leftover scraps get tossed in. If you like spicy, go for the sausage. I’ve heard people swear by the fried apple pies too. Best of all, get the three meat plate to try a bunch of things, but know that it’s enough food to split with a friend!
Another favorite of mine was Hildegard’s German Cuisine. I confess I occasionally find German food a bit bland, but I know it’s because I’m eating sub-par options. Not so at Hildegard’s! Found in an unassuming strip mall, the schnitzel is fantastic and so is their wine & beer selection. I’d forgotten how great German wine is! And they have a cute patio for warm evenings.
My favorite meal in all our explorations has to be from Mango’s. At lunch, they offer a Caribbean buffet that’s reasonably priced and every single thing is addictively good! Even the soups, which usually I skip to focus on the tastier options, were thick and flavorful and demanded you grab a bowl. Jerk chicken was my favorite of course, but the meatballs and cornbread had to be the surprise winners! (I might have a problem with cornbread. When it’s good, it’s sooooo good.)
More surprising than the restaurant options is the beer scene. Huntsville has it’s fair share of microbreweries, and each finds a way to leave an impression. The most memorable one is the collection of bars and restaurants at Campus 805, but specifically Straight to Ale. Campus 805 used to be a school, and they left most of it as-is: the brewing space is in the old gym, and knocking down a wall or two creates enough classroom space to become a bar. Locals laugh about having a drink in their former 7th grade geometry classroom.
Straight to Ale should first get credit for its beer, which is fantastic. They have a ridiculous number of options on tap at any given time, and everything I’ve tried has been great. Current favorite is their quadruple, but that’s because I’m on a Belgian kick right now.
Want to take your beer and do something? Walk down the hall to the arcade! I’m not sure if this is operated by Straight to Ale or someone else, there’s a room of pinball machines in the old locker room, next door to pool tables and darts. So many classic games!
If you want a more sedate option, try to find the speakeasy in the building! It’s owned by Straight to Ale, but because of something with Alabama laws breweries have to keep any restaurant somewhat separate from the beer production area. So the beer’s available with the full menu, but it’s got a wall between it and the brewing tanks. Complete with dark velvet booths and classic movies playing in the background!
When you head over, there’s no sign. You have to find it, but here’s a hint:
Other restaurants right next to Campus 805 are Yellowhammer (also a brewery/pizza restaurant combo) and Rock N Roll Sushi. Yellowhammer has fantastic specialty pizzas, and Rock N Roll’s rolls are all named after famous musicians!
One other brewery bears mentioning: Rocket Republic. This place is a converted warehouse that from the outside looks not-so-converted. But inside they’ve got live music, games, and even Sunday afternoon yoga! Beyond having good beer, they also offer some tasty beer cocktails – perfect if you’re wanting to experiment a little! I loved one that was just a little bit peanut buttery. If I’m honest, though, my favorite was our hilarious (to ourselves only, I’m sure) game of ping-pong. Smart people that they are, the owners put the table in the corner to minimize flinging the ball across the warehouse, but I can’t say it never happened.
Finally, the place I’ve come to associate most with fun in the Huntsville area is Lowe Mill. So much so that I’ve talked about it before. Also a converted space, the former cotton mill now houses artist studios & boutique shops. It’s a great space for entrepreneurs of all flavors, complete with a baker & most recently, a distillery. While not everyone produces their craft on-site, many of the artists do and are happy to give you a demo. Friday nights at Lowe Mill include food trucks and live music, but for me no visit is complete with a stop at Suzy’s Pops. My current favorite is the Pear Riesling, but everything I’ve had has been delicious! Another winner is Piper & Leaf, who makes the best and most interesting teas (iced or hot) I’ve ever tasted. I wouldn’t think that iced mint chocolate tea would be good, but Piper & Leaf made it magical!
The building is dog friendly and walls are lined with local artists’ work on display. Whether you enjoy visual, musical or culinary arts, there’s something for you here.
Most of these foodventures coincided with my visit to the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, so check that out if you’re planning to visit Huntsville!
When you travel, what do you look for in a restaurant?