Can a relatively small city in North Alabama really be a foodie destination? Can there really be enough great restaurants in Decatur, Alabama to make them worth an article here? Ask the locals. They will assure you that it’s true. Great food may be the number one reason proud locals and hungry folks from miles around clamor to the restaurants in Decatur, Alabama, but when you dig a little deeper, other reasons to visit the city emerge. History, recreation, arts, economy, civic pride AND outstanding cooks with prized recipes have blended to make an attractive, vibrant place to live and to visit. While we will touch on these aspects, our primary purpose, as always, is to talk about the restaurants in Decatur, AL.
Since the early settlement along the Tennessee River was dubbed “Decatur” in June of 1820, it has enjoyed the benefits of a superb location. The population and commerce possibilities jumped to a higher level when an important railroad hub was established there. Both the river and the railroad made Decatur such a critical piece of real estate during the Civil War that when the war ended only three buildings were left standing as a result of the fierce and prolonged fighting. Everything else had to be rebuilt by the determined citizens.
Fast forward 150 years and Decatur’s current population is almost 55,000. The river and railroad, along with the added benefit of Huntsville, Alabama’s, International Airport, less than 30 minutes away, make Decatur an attractive place for industry, recreation, and the arts. United Launch Alliance, Nucor Steel, Daikin America, and 3M, along with many small businesses, provide jobs and economic growth to the area. The Tennessee River constantly hums with barges, boats, skiers, and fishermen. Point Mallard Water Park, also along the river, was the first wave pool built in the United States and is a widely popular summertime attraction.
The Alabama Center for the Arts offers degree programs in both visual and performing arts, and the Princess Theatre for Performing Arts, less than a block away, is a treasured venue for concerts, plays, lectures, and films. The building which houses the Princess Theatre was built in 1887 as a horse stable for the Casa Grande Hotel. It was transformed into a theater in 1919 and has undergone several renovations since then. It is easy to imagine the lively vaudeville shows which filled the stage in its early years.
Decatur recently welcomed the Cook Museum of Natural History to its downtown attractions. Since the opening in the summer of 2019, it is drawing thousands with state-of-the-art exhibits and hands-on, immersive educational experiences.
Several key events draw visitors to Decatur yearly. First is the Alabama Jubilee Hot Air Balloon Classic over Memorial Day weekend, and next is the Spirit of America celebration held on the 4th of July.
During that event, a new Miss Point Mallard is crowned, who then becomes a major contender for the title of Miss Alabama. Throughout the year, Bank Street is closed off the third Friday of each month for music, crafts vendors, and car shows.
With so many reasons for visitors to flock to Decatur, it is only natural that great eating establishments have made a name for themselves as well. Some Decatur restaurants have served both residents and visitors for generations, while others are rising stars in the culinary world. All are worth sampling and are eager to welcome hungry diners. Here they are listed in order of their appearance in Decatur.
The 9 Best Decatur, AL Restaurants:
Big Bob started cooking barbecue for his friends in 1925, while he still worked for the railroad. His smoked meats became so popular that friends suggested he quit his day job and just barbecue full-time. By the early 1950s, he and several family members had joined the effort and opened a storefront near the present location on 6th Avenue. By 1987, the restaurant’s popularity had grown enough to justify a much larger restaurant next door with a greatly-expanded kitchen.
Pork and ribs are notable menu choices, but the smoked chicken drenched in white sauce is what put Big Bob over the top in most minds.
The Brunswick stew and gigantic stuffed potatoes are legendary as are the pies with huge mounds of meringue. Coconut and chocolate are the best sellers followed closely by lemon icebox and pecan. These pies are so popular that during a recent Thanksgiving week 725 were baked and sold. The lady who oversees the baking has been arriving every morning at 6:00 a.m. FOR 45 YEARS to create her masterpieces. The recipes have been passed down, so the consistently satisfying tastes remain the same.
Additionally, Big Bob’s grandchildren and grandchildren-in-law have won dozens of major awards in barbecue competitions around the country. The trophies line the walls near the front door. You can’t miss them and will need to be careful not to knock one over. Put this on your must-try restaurant lists when you visit Decatur.
What began as the Farmer Café in 1933, is now City Café and has been serving comfort food favorites continually since it first opened. This is the quintessential meat-and-three lunch place where banana pudding can be one of your three sides. At least nine meat choices are offered, and the Blue Plate Special includes bread and tea for only $9.99. Breakfast selections are the classic ones found in the South, along with omelets, French toast, and pancakes.
City Café is open for breakfast and lunch Monday through Friday but is closed on Saturday and Sunday. It’s in a great location for those buying produce at the Decatur Farmers Market and for employees and shoppers in downtown Decatur. With its proximity to Decatur City Hall and the Morgan County Courthouse, don’t be surprised to find yourself dining near the movers and shakers of the town. They will be glad you’ve come to spend your money in Decatur restaurants.
The aroma of Italian herbs and spices have permeated the kitchen and dining room at Alfonso’s since 1977. Dad still comes in every morning to make the sauces, but the restaurant is now in the capable hands of daughter Marie Barbee. The new location features a much larger kitchen and dining room but the same great recipes for pizza, pasta, and salads. That’s good news for the many diners who flock to this landmark Decatur restaurant every day at lunchtime. The lunch specials, in particular, are great bargains. I can personally vouch for the Spaghetti Bake available on Tuesdays. It comes with garlic bread and only costs $6.50. So, so good.
Build your own pizza, turn it into a calzone or sample one of the pasta-laden dinners. All are good, but save room for dessert. Cannoli, cheesecake or Coca-Cola cake will be impossible to resist.
Alfonso’s is open Monday through Thursday from 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. and on Friday and Saturday until 10:00 p.m.
725 Bank Street NW // +1 256-353-6284
Open since 1986, Simp McGhee’s is considered by most to be the premier upscale restaurant of Decatur. It is open for dinner only from Monday through Saturday and is closed on Sunday. Seafood and steaks with the flavor of New Orleans are prominently featured on the menu, but you’ll also find pasta, duck, lamb, and pork.
Live music is scheduled regularly at Simp McGhee’s, but probably the most entertaining association comes from the legend of the restaurant’s namesake, riverboat captain William Simpson (Simp) McGhee. Between daring antics in his boat, frequenting bars with his pet pig and setting up his best girlfriend as the madam of a large brothel, the stories abound. The food is excellent, and the atmosphere is lively, and everything combines to make this a top Decatur, AL restaurant.
No, this popular candy shop is NOT a restaurant, but you will be sorry if you visit Decatur without stopping in to sample some of these specialties. Beginning in 1987, Mary Morgan starting making her daddy’s secret recipe for pralines, and the public responded with cries of “More! More!” The biggest sellers are now English toffee, brittle, and chocolate-dipped cherries, and in the summertime, there is a selection of housemade gelato flavors.
The beautiful store showcases a wide range of gift items, and you can see into the open candy kitchen. I dare you to come out without a sack full of sweet treats. You will soon see it isn’t all about standard food when you talk about the best places to eat in Decatur.
608 Holly Street NE // +1 256-355-1045
B.B. Perrins was opened in 1988 by hometown sports hero Benny Perrin, who included his brother Braxton as the other “B” in the restaurant’s name. Benny played football, baseball, and basketball at Decatur High School and both football and baseball at the University of Alabama. He played for four seasons in the National Football League before retiring and moving back to Decatur. Sadly, he died in 2017, primarily as a result of the injuries he sustained playing football. However, the sports theme, the loyalty to Alabama football, and the great food remain at B.B. Perrins.
Ribs and wings are probably the most popular and the most notable menu items, but you’ll find many other appetizers, salads, entrees, and desserts on the extensive list.
With 20 flat screen TVs lining the walls, you are sure to catch your favorite team while enjoying a meal at this top Decatur restaurant.
115 ½ Johnston Street SE // +1 256-350-6715
Curry’s, which has been serving diners since 1996, is open from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday but is considered by everyone “in the know” to be a lunch, catering and carry-out place. Here you’ll find a very casual vibe with a beautiful glass-enclosed courtyard for dining in. Customers line up at the counter to place their orders and then fix their own drinks and carry their own trays to the waiting tables. The utensils and plates may be disposable, but owner Meg Curry’s food itself is first class all the way.
The chicken salad, strawberry pretzel salad, charcuterie board, and broccoli salad are probably the best sellers, but the oyster and scallop salads are wonderful, too. Desserts are over-the-top excellent, making this one of the best Decatur restaurants.
Curry’s will prepare entire carry-out meals for Thanksgiving and Christmas and do an excellent job.
Owner Tyler Jones and Chef Bill Harden opened in September 2015, and their restaurant is growing in loyal followers and rave reviewers. Describing their menu as “farm-to-fork comfort foods,” they appear to have a finger on the pulse and culinary wishes of Decatur diners. Jones, after all, is a native of Decatur with parents and grandparents who have been actively involved in the town’s many business dealings.
The $4-dollar kids menu choices make this a family-friendly place, and the desserts, such as Kentucky Derby pie and toffee crack pie, sound positively irresistible. For the primary entrees, seafood and steaks are prominent, but the lunch item of Morgan County Tomato Pie is very enticing. An array of creative burgers, sandwiches, and salads are loaded with fresh ingredients, and vegetarians will be happy to see the Black Bean Burger option.
RailYard is open from 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 Monday through Saturday and is closed on Sunday. Come check out this top Decatur restaurant.
Whisk’D Café is another brainchild of Tyler Jones and Bill Harden that they started in September of 2017. It is open seven days a week from 7:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. and is a breakfast and brunch spot with a coffee shop vibe and lots of art on the walls reflecting Decatur’s heritage and loves.
Chef Harden’s imaginative menu could be considered elevated breakfast fare. Eye-catchers include biscuits and gravy with a choice of sausage, black bean or chocolate gravy, a chicken and chutney omelet or lemon pound cake French toast, among many others. Coffee is free, and fried potatoes are prepared in five different ways. How’s that for blending into a long-established neighborhood?
Four of these eateries feature items appearing on the list of “100 Dishes to Eat in Alabama Before You Die.” All of them will serve you a delicious and satisfying meal (or candy treat) with a heavy dose of Southern hospitality in this “best of” Decatur restaurant.
Which of these Restaurants in Decatur, Alabama do you most want to try? Let me know in the comments section below!
Connie Pearson retired from past careers as a public school music teacher and as a missionary. She is currently a freelance travel and food writer and blogger based in Hartselle, Alabama. She has over 200 published articles in 24 different print and online publications, and her blog is There Goes Connie. Connie enjoys sampling regional cuisine wherever she goes and is a certified judge for the World Food Championships.