Head south to Alabama's port city for fresh, delicious seafood and charming neighborhood bistros.
Sophisticated, romantic, and good-looking, Café 615 attracts people who could be described the same way. I felt underdressed and rumpled amid all the starched linens, cool artwork, and muted colors. In a town where you can't swing a cat without hitting a fried fish shack, Café 615 makes a welcome addition. That's not to say, however, that chef Ryan Wilder touts an uppity menu. Esoteric items such as veal-and-goat cheese-stuffed mushrooms are balanced by appetizers such as vegetable spring rolls. Want to feel good about yourself by ordering some greens? Go for the spinach salad--it sounds innocent enough until you factor in the caramelized red onions, pecans, buttermilk blue cheese, warm bacon vinaigrette, and roasted duck. If you already feel good about yourself and are wearing elastic britches, go for the oven-roasted rack of lamb. The rich lamb comes atop some mean horseradish mashed potatoes in a pool of gravy made from shallots and Cabernet. The chef's crème brûlée will please: creamy, smooth, cool in the center, and crunchy on top. 615 Dauphin Street, (251) 432-8434. Entrées: $21-$29.
Guido's Regional Cuisine
From the perfect tinkling brass bell over the door to the A Year in Provence decor, everything is delicate and rather feminine-looking. Don't let the exterior fool you--the food here is hearty and bold. Start with the crab-and-corn bisque, if it's on the menu. For $3.50, you'll be stuffed with the freshest crab and sweet corn. I adored my blackened mahi mahi with Gorgonzola cream ($8.95 at lunch). The spicy fish was tempered perfectly by the decadently creamy cheese sauce, which didn't slap you down with pungent Gorgonzola. And if you happen to be from a Southern-impaired area and don't know the joys of a gooey, pecan-crusted bread pudding--just order it here at Guido's Regional Cuisine. You'll be glad you did. 351 George Street, (251) 694-0606. Lunch entrées: $6.95-$10.95, dinner entrées: $16.95-$24.95.
When a restaurant calls its food "Mediter-asian," I'm a little dubious. Combine tastes from the Mediterranean and Asia, and what comes to my mind is anchovy sushi or meatballs and udon. Yet this small restaurant produces some big, international flavors. Take the pan-seared ahi tuna appetizer ($9). What makes the plate is the light, fresh ginger slaw--it's inventive and surprising. The menu changes often at NoJa. When I was there, I found the Mediterranean Snapper--covered in kalamata olives, salty capers, and served with white asparagus--to be a fish dish I could eat every week and maybe twice a week. 6 North Jackson Street, (251) 433-0377. Entrées: $22-$29.
If lunch leaves you in a quandary, head here for some campy fun. Just reading the irreverent specialty pizza menu will have you laughing. The Anna Nichole pizza sports chunky salsa, mozzarella and Cheddar Jack cheeses, chicken, onion, green peppers, tomatoes, and sour cream. The Bela Lugosi comes with a garlic base. Seven cheeses top the Mickey Mouse. The Monica touts ham, pepperoni, sausage, and beef. Levity aside, the pizzas are fabulous and use high-end ingredients. Soggy bruschetta and watery bolognese pasta had nearly convinced me to stick to just pizza, but then I tried the squash soup ($2.95 for a cup). Order this to-die-for concoction, and you'll leave wondering how La Pizzeria managed to make humble squash into such a smooth and tasty dish. 1455 1/2 Monroe Street, (251) 473-5003. Pizzas: $11.95-$13.95.
"Charming Local Restaurants in Mobile" is from the December 2005 issue of Southern Living. Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.