In four years of college, I’ve eaten at a lot of places. Freshman year involved a lot of trips to the dining halls, and I’ll admit I’ve had my fair share of Panda Express at the Ferg. These last four years though, I’ve also explored Tuscaloosa’s restaurant scene and discovered a few real gems. So here are all my favorite secret spots.
Taqueria La Michoacana is on Veterans Memorial Parkway, and it’s easy to miss. The food is incredible. Forget every taco you’ve eaten at Chipotle. This is authentic Mexican food at its best. You’ll never wait for a table; in fact, it’s often nearly empty.
The first time I ate here, I was meeting a friend. Unluckily for her, the plastic under my car started falling off, forcing me to stop and reattach it with zip ties. Then, my phone died, meaning not only could I not let my friend know about my car, I also could not follow the GPS directions, so I got lost and was even more late. To the underclassmen: carry a phone charger and zip ties. Also, find friends who trust you enough to wait when you’re inexplicably half an hour late. You never know how your evening will go.
Wright’s Restaurant is out past the Moon Wink Lodge on University Boulevard. You will likely be the only college student in the place. This is truly a Tuscaloosa locals spot. Go for the burger, stay for the meat and three. My boss calls this the best burger in Tuscaloosa, and it doesn’t hurt that it’s cheap. Everything at Wright’s is cheap. I once spent six dollars on the meat and three and was presented with more food than I could possibly eat.
The “vegetables” options are all delicious, and if you don’t tell your health-oriented friends, you can eat cherry cobbler and call it a vegetable. My first time at Wright’s was an end of semester lunch with my colleagues at Alabama Public Radio. To the underclassmen: get out of the campus bubble and listen to the food advice of adults who have been in town a lot longer than you have.
Animal Butter is not a secret spot, partly because it’s right on University Boulevard downtown. However, they run a special that is somehow not being properly enjoyed by UA students. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, from 3 to 6 (or maybe 7?), Animal Butter does $5 happy hour burgers. These are amazing burgers. You get two options and both come with fantastic potatoes.
The first time I went to Animal Butter was an anniversary dinner with my boyfriend. He ordered a sandwich which was surprisingly spicy, which resulted in one of my favorite pictures of all time. It’s silly and delightfully sweet. To the underclassmen: you can eat well on a budget in Tuscaloosa, and always get water because you can’t predict spice.
There are so many good spots in Tuscaloosa, many of which aren’t really a secret. City Cafe is wonderful for breakfast or lunch. Glory Bound has weirdly cheap gyros if you’re a student and it’s early enough in the evening. Ichiban’s bento boxes are delicious and have way more food than you’d expect. Mr. Chen’s has bubble tea unless you get there too late on a Saturday and they’ve sold out. Local Roots takes dining dollars and has my favorite burger in town.
Tuscaloosa’s food scene is great, and it’s getting even better. I’ve enjoyed these last four years eating around town with friends. Each restaurant I love is filled with memories of meals eaten across the table from people I care about. My grandparents love Rama Jama’s and DePalma’s. My roommate and I got free breakfast at Waysider once two summers ago. The first time I had dinner with my boyfriend was at Tut’s, which was delicious but always unbearably hot, even in the winter. My little brother asks about Steel City Pops every time he visits. My friends and I ordered cheese fries every week for months at Wilhagan’s during trivia. There are restaurants where I went on bad dates, restaurants where I sat talking to friends long after our food was good and coffee shops where I wrote papers over giant mugs of hot chocolate.
Eat well while you’re here. Try new foods. Most importantly, eat with people you love.
Allison Mollenkamp is a senior majoring in English.