Much of Alabama’s best food can be found in out-of-the-way spots that only locals know about. But these days, more and more of our best-loved locales are earning national recognition. From a century-old American classic to a spot owned by one of the country’s best new chefs, here are just a few of our state’s award-winning restaurants.

Highlands Bar and Grill, Birmingham

Legendary chef Frank Stitt’s flagship restaurant isn’t just one of the best in the state, it’s tip-top in the country. For three years running, Highlands’ refined, classic Southern cuisine has earned it James Beard Foundation Award nominations for outstanding restaurant nationally. In 2007, the Southern Foodways Alliance gave Stitt its Lifetime Achievement Award, and Esquire inducted him into its Restaurant Hall of Fame in 2011.

Hot and Hot Fish Club, Birmingham

Chef Chris Hastings’ beautifully plated high-end cuisine has built a national reputation for this intimate and enjoyable restaurant. Hastings was nominated for the James Beard Foundation Award for best chef in the South three years running. Hot and Hot was also named one of the 101 best restaurants in America by The Daily Meal.

Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q, Decatur

Way back in 1925, Bob Gibson invented the white barbecue sauce that has become North Alabama’s signature topping for smoked meat. But the place hasn’t rested on its laurels; it has won countless barbecue championships over the past decade, including a televised cook-off on NBC’s “Today.”

Cotton Row, Huntsville

At 18 pages, the extensive wine list from this high-end Southern eatery was given a Best of Award of Excellence by Wine Spectator. And chef James Boyce’s dishes, at once innovative and traditional, have been featured in national publications of all kinds. His butter bean risotto was even named one of the nation’s best daily specials by Bon Appétit.

Baumhower’s, various locations

Founded by a former Crimson Tide defensive lineman, this place is Alabama through and through, and it now boasts seven locations all across the state. Its wings are the big draw, having been named the best in competitions from Birmingham to Mobile.

Gulf Shores Steamer, Orange Beach

As the name suggests, fried seafood is absolutely banned at this beachside joint. Its huge platters of shrimp, crab, oysters and mussels are delicious enough to have been named among the best in the country by Coastal Living, Southern Living and USA Today.

True, Mobile

Chef and owner Wesley True is one of the country’s most vocal supporters of Alabama Gulf Coast seafood, but his beautifully composed dishes speak for themselves. The cuisine at True’s eponymous restaurant is innovative but still based in classic French technique. This consistently successful pairing has been rewarded with a James Beard Award semifinalist nomination and mention in national media, including Southern Living, USA Today and CNN.

The Bright Star, Bessemer

After more than 100 years in business, this beloved purveyor of seafood, steaks and Greek-inspired entrees won a James Beard Foundation America’s Classic Award in 2010. Owners Jimmy and Nicky Koikos were also named best restaurateurs in the state by the Alabama Restaurant Association in 2011.

Filet & Vine, Montgomery

Combining a butcher shop, wine and beer store, and meat-and-three restaurant, this longtime favorite is pretty much a one-stop shop. And its delicious dishes and vino expertise have been consistently winning awards as Montgomery’s best since it opened in 1998.

Opus, Northport

Consistently honored as one of the best restaurants in the Tuscaloosa area, this modern spot features creative dishes that incorporate flavors from around the world. Now the eatery is beginning to garner wider notice. Its incredible wine list received national attention in 2011, when it won a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence in 2011.

There are hundreds more amazing eateries to discover in Alabama, so be sure to explore more of the state’s featured restaurants.

About the Author

Jason Horn is a Birmingham-based food writer and co-founder of FoodBlogSouth. Read more from him at his blog, The Messy Epicure.

The views expressed here are those of the author.