From Huntsville to Mobile, creative chefs prove every day that budget-friendly fare is delicious, surprising, even iconic—but never boring. We’re talking bao sammies, legendary barbecue classics, and homestyle cooking of all stripes. So, skip the drive-through, support local, and spend that tenner on the 10 best cheap eats in Alabama.
1. M & K Jamaican Restaurant
This unassuming storefront, which opened on Huntsville’s northeast side in 2017, serves the traditional flavors of owners Mark and Karen Blake’s native Jamaica. “Someone can come here and have a great full-course meal,” Mark says. M & K Jamaican Restaurant’s signature jerk chicken with peas and rice, caramelized plantains, vegetables, and fluffy coco bread comes to just north of $10. The wildly popular vegan version of the entrée and the rave-worthy (but decidedly not vegan) oxtails go for more but are worth the splurge. Diners will find the menu chock-full of tasty and affordable wraps, savory hand pies, robust vegetarian options, and killer $7 lunch specials—all with an authentic flare. “We were born and raised in Jamaica,” he adds. “We’ve been eating this ever since we were growing up.” 2501 C, Jordan Lane NW, Huntsville. (256) 384-7956.
2. Archibald and Woodrow’s Barbecue
There may not be much new at the family-run Archibald and Woodrow’s Barbecue, but that’s kind of the point. This Alabama institution has been serving its legendary hickory-smoked meats at the same tiny, soot-streaked building in Northport for 60 years. Happily, 2 of its most popular offerings—fall-off-the-bone ribs and savory pulled pork—come in sandwich form for $9-plus and $7, respectively. Opt for the original location or the newer spot in Tuscaloosa.
3. Foy Superfoods
Who says fast food can’t be super fresh, highly nutritious, downright delicious, and affordable? Basically everyone. But the husband-and-wife team behind Foy—short for “fountain of youth”—in West Mobile is proving them all wrong. The couple opened the grab-and-go gem in 2017 after spending time in Dallas and Fort Lauderdale. “There were a lot of great options there for places to eat that were fast, fresh, and affordable. We just didn’t have that here,” says Liz Garza. “It became a passion project.” The majority of the bowls, salads, and sandwiches on Foy’s produce-packed menu clock in at $10 or less. Sweet, fruit-filled açai bowls are a perennial favorite. But the ultimate best seller is the Southwestern grain bowl: brown rice layered with garlic-laced black beans, roasted sweet potatoes, fresh pico de gallo, and a honey chipotle sauce that, Garza boasts, “is so good, people say they could drink it.” 6345 Airport Boulevard, Mobile. (251) 586-8995.
4. Mediterranean Sandwich Company
While not strictly traditional Mediterranean, this local chain out of Mobile offers a feast for a low cost and some wild flavor combos to boot. Try the Redneck Gyro, which pairs the classic beef-lamb rotisserie meat with Conecuh sausage, gooey cheese, and Cajun tzatziki for a little over $10. Hefty sandwiches and paninis come with sides such as stuffed grape leaves or creamy bacon-carbonara orzo, a best seller. Daphne, Tuscaloosa, Mobile.
5. Delta Blues Hot Tamales
It’s hard to say exactly when the hot tamale joined the full panoply of quirky Southern food traditions, but the spicier, cigar-size version of the Mexican classic is ubiquitous in at least 2 places: the Mississippi Delta and the dining room of Delta Blues Hot Tamales in Pelham. Sample a trio of the flavor bombs—smothered in simmer sauce and accompanied by a side like corn maque choux—for just $9. Bonus: Thanks to meticulous kitchen conditions, the eatery’s gluten- and nut-free menu is a safe haven for diners with food allergies. And owners Adam and Fawn Freis, both graduates of Louisiana State University, keep things fun with Creole favorites such as affordable—and hearty—red beans and rice or the slightly pricier alligator sauce piquant. “One of the guys we tailgated with at LSU owned an alligator farm. He’d cook up a big batch of alligator sauce piquant every time we played Florida,” Adam says. “I may have borrowed a little from that recipe.” 3569 Pelham Parkway, Suites 1 and 2, Pelham. (205) 624-2092.
6. Sol Restaurante and Taqueria
Modern Mexican hot spot Sol Restaurante and Taqueria in Montgomery has mastered the build-your-own-meal menu. Choose 4 items—burritos, crispy tostadas, chiles relleno, and more—from its traditional lunch menu for just $10. Or take a walk on the wilder side with wallet-friendly street food choices like pineapple pork tacos ($3), cheese and chile-lime elote ($3.25), or handmade sopes piled high with everything from savory steak to pork belly ($6.25). Stylish and welcoming, the family-run eatery expanded to a second location in late 2021, so waiting on a table shouldn’t be a problem. Multiple Montgomery locations.
7. Squid Ink Eclectic Eats & Drinks
With a name like Chef “Panini” Pete Blohme, you know you have a character on your hands. And the menu at the culinary mad scientist’s new Mobile gastropub—Squid Ink Eclectic Eats & Drinks—is just as inventive. Luckily for the budget conscious, there are plenty of sub-$10 dinner options, including mouthwatering bao sammies. A pillowy bao bun is filled with your choice of hot-sauced fried chicken, umami bomb tuna poke and spicy mayo, or grilled chicken thighs garnished with all the bánh mì fixings. Bao sammies are $8 and served with skinny fries. Double the bao for just $3 more. Other wallet-friendly options include a burger and an avocado BLT topped with plenty of fixings, including gyoza. See? Mad! Happy hour at the restaurant’s historic downtown digs offers discounts on drinks and bar snacks, too (be sure to designate a driver if you plan to drink alcohol). 102 Dauphin Street, Mobile. (251) 405 0031.
8. Tart & Tartan
Demonstrating that everything old is new again, one of Opelika’s newer bakeries, Tart & Tartan, has brought back family-style dinners with house-made take-and-bake casseroles that feed up to 4. Hungry diners will always find poppyseed chicken on the menu, but check Instagram (@tart_and_tartan) for new, weekly offerings like barbecue bacon chicken ranch. “Some of these recipes are from a family cookbook that my mom and I compiled about a decade ago,” says owner and accountant-turned-baking whiz Mary Kathryn Whatley. Fans can reserve a casserole—ranging from $10 to $17—online, but they’ll have to pick it up in person. That means facing down the case filled with cupcakes and other fresh-baked goodies that anchors Whatley’s sweet little European-style dining room downtown. Good luck resisting the cinnamon rolls or chocolate chip cookies. 117 S. Eighth Street Suite 203, Opelika. (334) 748-9075.
9. Hero Doughnuts & Buns
In a case of local boy done good, what began as a farmers market pop-up has grown to 5 locations—including the newest in Trussville—across Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina. But the success hasn’t inflated proprietor Will Drake’s head or his prices. Traditionalists can opt for the classic burger, an all-beef patty topped with American cheese and standard accoutrements for $7. Or go big with the super crunch, a juicy fried chicken breast slathered in cracked sauce and pepper jam. No sandwich on the menu will set you back more than a 10 spot, impressive considering crafting the buttery brioche buns is a 2-day, in-house process. Multiple Birmingham locations, and Trussville.
10. Down South BBQ
Painted across the side of a small take-out shack off Highway 59 is a sign exclaiming, “You can smell our butts for miles!” And at this little, locally beloved barbecue joint in Foley, the deals scream just as loudly. While most sandwiches range from $4 to $8, owners Kenny and Jane Williams’ Southern food masterpiece will set you back $11. Hefty portions of pulled pork and slaw fill 2 griddled jalapeno-and-cracklin cornmeal cakes. Fortunately, diners can enjoy the admittedly messy fare in the open air at shaded tables nearby. Or grab a sack of sammies and a few heaping sides of mac or mustard potato salad ($2.50), and the family’s beach picnic is ready. 19891 County Road 10, Foley. (251) 955-6622.
The only thing travel pro and guide author Jessica Fender loves more than a good deal is a great meal. Follow her adventures—gastronomical and otherwise—at travelerbroads.com.
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