Alabama’s 10 Best Meat ‘N’ Threes, According To Our Readers

No style of restaurant makes our Southern hearts sing quite like the beloved meat ‘n’ three. We frequent them on Sundays after church, on a Tuesday to break up the workday, and just about any time we’re feeling homesick for grandma’s cooking. At these cafeteria-style eateries, guests choose from a rotating menu of proteins, then pair their main dish with a menagerie of Southern-style vegetables and sides. It’s build-your-own heaven. Everyone gets exactly what they want, and everyone leaves happy. Want fried chicken with mac and cheese, plus collard greens? You got it. Prefer beef tips with boiled cabbage and fried okra? Go right ahead. There’s a perfect order for every taste.  

Fried chicken and sides at Johnny's Restaurant in Homewood, AL
Courtesy Jessica Chriesman

While meat ‘n’ threes are ubiquitous across the South, Alabamians have a special place in their hearts (and weekly diets) for this style of eating. And while every town has its favorites, there are a few meat ‘n’ threes that stand out as truly spectacular. Here are the best meat ‘n’ threes in Alabama, as voted by Southern Living readers.  

Niki's West in Birmingham, AL
Photo: Caleb Chancey

Niki’s West

Location: Birmingham

This Birmingham institution has been rocking and rolling since 1957, with no signs of slowing down. If you go, be prepared to wait in line. Diners are ushered through a maze of velvet ropes until they arrive in front of Niki’s legendary steam table. The spread features around 10 entrees and upwards of 40 vegetables and sides. It’s a lot to take in, but you’ll need to make your selections quickly and wisely. Fried green tomatoes or butter beans? Go ahead and get both. Whatever you do, don’t pass on the pie.

Pannie-George’s Kitchen

Location: Auburn & Montgomery

Everything on the menu rotates at Pannie-George’s save one item: the fried chicken. Order it, alongside black-eyed peas, candied yams, and creamed corn. Owners Mary Counts and Lorine Askew named the restaurant for their grandparents Pannie and George as a way to carry on their family’s proud food traditions.  


Johnny’s Restaurant

Location: Birmingham

If you see a line of people snaking down a second-story staircase and onto the sidewalk below, congratulations, you’ve made it to Johnny’s. Chef Timothy Hontzas has received plenty of accolades (including several James Beard nods) for his homegrown “Greek ‘n’ Three” where souvlaki and keftedes shine alongside chicken pot pie and 15-hour pot roast. Despite the national attention, the excellent food and no-nonsense atmosphere inside this neighborhood diner remain unchanged.

City Café

Location: Northport

If a place has been around since 1931, they’ve got to be doing something right. City Café does virtually everything right. Fried catfish fingers, hamburger steak, roast beef—it’s all there. The “three” part of your order can include everything from string beans to cobbler. Early risers (and night owls, too) love the humble café’s hearty breakfast, which they start serving promptly at 4 a.m. The prices may not be exactly the same as they were in the 30s, but this is still a great place for a homecooked meal at a value price. The crowd is made up of equal parts college students from nearby University of Alabama and longtime residents occupying their regular tables.

Blue Plate Cafe

Courtesy of Blue Plate Cafe

Blue Plate Café

Location: Huntsville

Open six days a week from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., you can count on Blue Plate for a hearty meal any time of day. The Blue Plate Special includes one meat and three veggies, plus a roll or cornbread. Blue Plate is famous for its melt-in-your-mouth pot roast, but you should also make sure to order at least one veggie in casserole form. Hashbrown casserole and broccoli casserole are both top picks.  

Mary’s Southern Cooking

Location: Mobile

For authentic soul food, there’s no better spot than Mary’s Southern Cooking. Here, you’ll find Southern delicacies that are hard to find anywhere other than grandma’s house nowadays. Friday specials include oxtail, pig feet, and hog maws. On Sunday, you can order chitterlings, and on Mondays liver and onion and turkey necks are featured.

Martin’s Restaurant

Location: Montgomery

Founded in the early 1930s, a lot has changed since Martin’s first began serving hungry Alabamians. One thing that hasn’t? The restaurant’s legendary fried chicken. It’s so beloved that not only is it served in-restaurant six days a week, but you can also order a whole fried bird in a family-style to go order. Martin’s also does two things only a true Southern eatery would. One, they offer the chicken pulley bone in addition to fried breasts, thighs, wings, and drumsticks. And two, they serve pineapple casserole.

Watson’s Southern Table

Location: Huntsville

For a contemporary take on the classic meat ‘n’ three, head to Walton’s. You’ll still have your choice of nearly every Southern comfort food under the sun, but you’ll also find some not-so-traditional offerings like a small beer and wine menu, plus the option to sip on a mimosa or Bellini with your meal. Whatever you do, make sure to order the strawberry pretzel salad for the perfect bite of nostalgia.  

Zack’s Family Restaurant

Location: Dothan & Slocomb

You won’t have to make any decisions at Zack’s because everything is served buffet style. Every day offers something a little different, but you can count on classics like country fried steak, rice with gravy, and fried green tomatoes. If you’re in desperate need of some color on your plate, head to the small salad bar. You’ll also find some color in the dessert spread that includes banana pudding, key lime cake, and peach cobbler. Note: At the time of publish, the Dothan location was closed due to fire damage sustained in July 2022.  

Claunch Café

Location: Tuscumbia

Three generations of Claunches have made this neighborhood restaurant into a northwest Alabama institution. The turnip green soup (a Monday special) and pecan chicken salad have both found themselves on lists of must-eat dishes in Alabama. In addition to classic meat ‘n’ three fare, Claunch Café also serves up dishes like burgers and spaghetti with meat sauce.

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