10 Spots

For Appetizers

by Jason Horn

Avo Sliders


This spot upstairs from Dram Whiskey Bar serves a somewhat fancier menu than its sister restaurant. The West Coast-inspired fare includes Sonoma sliders: mini-burgers on house-made focaccia topped with onions, port-wine mustard, and melted foie gras. They’re definitely more than indulgent enough to share, though you may not want to.

2721 Cahaba Rd., Mountain Brook; 205-871-8212;


Picky Italian-food lover? Don’t miss Bettola’s make-your-own antipasto platter, offering an array of cured meats (including some made in house), Italian cheeses, roasted vegetables and dips to choose from. Or try its delicious roasted calamari, a welcome change from the more common fried version.  2901 2nd Ave. S; 205-731-6499;

Surin West

This spot’s Surin baskets—a combo of shrimp, chicken, veggies, and spices cooked in crispy pastry shells—are one of the tastiest things on the menu, in no small part thanks to the honey-based dipping sauce they’re served with. (They’re also available at Surin’s Crestline Village and 280 locations.) 1918 11th Ave. S; 205-324-1928;

Ollie Irene

The best way to experience this Mountain Brook gastropub is to sit at the bar and sample a bunch of the universally excellent small plates. The tastiest of those is the house-made boudin balls. The crunchy Cajun snacks come paired with spicy mustard and bread-and-butter pickles.

2713 Culver Rd., Mountain Brook;  205-769-6034;


Dolmades, or stuffed grape leaves, are a staple of Greek and Middle Eastern menus all over town, but this version is the finest in Birmingham. The secret is the thick, rich and tart avgolemono sauce, which beautifully complements the perfectly seasoned rice and beef inside.

1831 28th Ave. S, #110, Homewood;  205-453-9300;

Mr. Chen’s

As the area’s most authentic Chinese restaurant, Mr. Chen’s offers a whole bunch of items you can’t get anywhere else. One of those is the delicious turnip cake appetizer, whose crisp-on-the-outside, chewy-on-the-inside texture and pungent dipping sauce are both amazing. 1917 Hoover Ct., Hoover;  205-824-8283;

El Barrio

“Queso fundido” just means “melted cheese” in Spanish, but the dip by that name at this downtown joint is much more, flavored with a generous shot of tequila and a nice balance of spicy and sour. For an extra buck and a half, it can come with roasted peppers and chorizo: Do it.

2211 2nd Ave. N; 205-868-3737;

Bottega Café

Potato chips and onion dip? At a Frank Stitt restaurant? It’s not quite that simple. The chips are cut and fried in-house, and the dip is made from flame-charred onions—but this is creamy, crunchy, salty comfort food at its best. Don’t skip it.

2240 Highland Ave. S; 205-939-1000;

Jinsei Sushi

It wouldn’t be a sushi bar without tempura, and this elegant SoHo eatery makes a tasty green-bean version. The veggies are always fried to crisp perfection outside while remaining nice and crunchy within. You can also get a large assortment of other veggies and seafood given a similar treatment.  1830 29th Ave. S, Homewood;


Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q

We’ll leave the best-barbecue argument for another day, but the best-barbecue-restaurant-appetizer contest goes hands-down to the cheddar biscuits at Jim ‘N Nick’s. You don’t even have to order ‘em; a basket will appear at your table as soon as you sit down.
Various locations;

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