4 Chefs Making Mobile A Top Rated Food City

4 Chefs Making Mobile A Top Rated Food City

Words by Courtney Hancock
Photos provided by Visit Mobile

Mardi Gras may be over but the (socially distant) party doesn’t have to end. This year, I’m extending “Fat Tuesday” and plan to enjoy stuffing my face with coastal inspired dishes every day of the week. I took a trip to Mobile in the Fall and discovered a world of vibrant culture, rich history, over-the-top southern hospitality, and the best damn seafood I’ve ever had.

After a bad experience with shrimp as a kid, I had somehow convinced myself of a shellfish allergy that was wildly overexaggerated. In my college years I decided to test the waters again only to discover that while I was actually not allergic to shellfish, I had also been missing out on some of the most delicious food I’d ever put in my mouth. Now in my late twenties, I’m still making up for lost time.

My mouth was watering with expectation during the entire four-hour drive from Birmingham to Mobile. I knew we had a long list of restaurants on our list and that I was about to embark on the biggest seafood-eating excursion of my life. Of course, Mobile’s reputation preceded my trip, so I knew I was in for a delicious couple of days, but what came next… holy mackerel (literally)!

You don’t know, until you know. And if you know, you know. There is not another food city like Mobile. Every dish layered with locally sourced ingredients and seasoned with passion for the community. From fresh shucked oysters to classic shrimp and grits, every bite was divine. As we traveled from restaurant to restaurant, I noticed something, these dishes were special. Every waiter, every chef, every cook put something more into each dish that can’t be found at a grocery store. It sounds cheesy, but the love that every person I met in Mobile has for their city was contagious.

And it came through on the plate.

It’s one of those, you just have to experience it for yourself, things. I can sit here and describe each plate to you, tell you how the lobster mac & cheese was fresh but not fishy, perfectly al-dente, and the creamiest blend of cheeses. I could tell you how the biscuits at The Hummingbird Way were fluffy, sweet, salty, warm, and melted in my mouth. Or that the deviled eggs at SOCU were my favorite surprise. But Mobile is about more than just amazing food, it’s about the people who make it.

I couldn’t just pick one favorite, so I had to pick four. Let me introduce you to Chefs Erica Barrett, Von Larson, Duane Nutter and Jim Smith. These Chefs deserve to tell you their story, not only through their food, but in the remarkable interviews I had with each of them.


  1. What’s the style of your restaurant?
    Mobilian food! Southern & Seafood - gulf, everything from a local farm.

  2. Why Mobile? 
    I’m from Mobile and I had an opportunity to open up a concept that I thought would describe the kind of food that we love - represent the city & how I grew up.
  1. Top 3 influences that inspired your restaurant.
    My mom & my grandmother - A lot of dishes are  named after them on our menu! My mom is the best frier I know. My grandmother is where I developed my love for cooking. I also spent 20 years in ATL - so the music & vibe comes from living in a bigger city and I wanted to bring that energy to the restaurant. And one of my favorite brands is Nobu in Malibu.

  2. What dish would you want Good Grit readers to order on your menu? 
    The oceans 11 - one of our most popular, describes what we’re around which is the Gulf. All of our sides too!
  1. What mark do you want to make on the culinary scene in the south? 
    I want people to see the seafood culture - Mobile isn’t just a southern city, it’s surrounded by water. In the food world, when I look at my position - it’s elevated southern. When I started my product line, I did things like grits, but with truffles. Southern food is already great by itself - people are always craving it and we’re already making our mark in the world but it’s cool to show it can be elevated and sophisticated. 

  1. What is the style of your restaurant?
    It’s an Asian fusion – Thai food, Vietnamese, Southern, and seafood all mixed together.
  1. What is it like being a part of the food scene in Mobile?
    I kind of just fell into it. I don’t think I did it on purpose. I grew up near Thailand, and I was in a low-income apartment when I first moved to America. I learned to cook by going to my friend’s house and making food. My husband grew up making food with his grandmother. So we went into the restaurant industry. I put together a menu that I thought, if I would like to eat it then others would like to eat it. It’s a small menu, but everything is delicious.
  1. Who or what influenced your restaurant?
    My dad. I learned how to cook from him. We grew up poor but he always seemed to make a fresh meal every dinner. I was the oldest, so I always helped make dinner for my siblings. Even though I went into a different career I always ended up coming back to food.
  1. What dish would you want Good Grit readers to order off your menu?
    Get the special because you can only get it that day! We have a southern special and an Asian special.
  1. What mark do you want to make on the culinary scene in the South?
    I think for people to be open. What’s great about our restaurant is that you can come in and get a hamburger steak, but someone across from you can get pho. I think it extends someone’s palate to something they didn’t even know they would like. It’s pretty simple—food is simple. It’s just about the execution. If you start with really good products, it’s pretty easy. People try to complicate it. Food to the core of it is simple, and what it can do to someone’s soul—it can bring back memories. It’s a comfort. I don’t think of myself as a chef. I just learned over the years how to make really good food. 


  1. What is the style of your restaurant?
    I would say it has a vintage NOLA look with some modern touches.
  1. What is it like being a part of the food scene in Mobile?
    Building a food scene her was a little more difficult than any other city I have worked in, because here in this part of the Gulf Coast there is just a lot to do. The outdoor life and football is king. Beautiful beaches, some of the best fishing and hunting in the United States.
  1. Top 3 influences that inspired your restaurant.
    My past, present and future. I was born in a small town about 50 miles west of New Orleans called Morgan City. I moved to Seattle when I was 8 years old. That had a huge influence on my flavor profile that comes natural to me. Thirdly is the future and how I'm going to get there by studying my own past. Finding out what my ancestors ate and putting it in a modern context for the average person’s consumption.
  1. What dish should Good Grit readers order off your menu?
    I would say the Coffee Rubbed Pork Tenderloin/ with black-eye peas & curry rice with bock choy and red eye gravy.
  1. What mark do you want to make on the culinary scene in the South?
    My mark on the culinary scene in the South is an always will be, is that Southern Cuisine is not monolithic, or one note. It's extremely diverse and complex with lots of global influence. Fried Chicken and Mac & Cheese are good but southern foodways go back farther than the 1900’s.


  1.  What is the style of your restaurant?
    It’s modern-southern cuisine.

  2. What is it like being a part of the food scene in Mobile?
    It’s great! We have so much support from the neighborhoods and community. Mobile is a place that’s hungry for next-level, interesting dining.

  3. What are the top 3 influences that inspired your restaurant?
    Seafood & oysters. I want others to enjoy the food I do personally, so the restaurant was a way to share those foods with other people. 

  4. What dish would you want Good Grit readers to order off your menu?The staples, our biscuits and oysters! We always have Alabama oysters on hand so go for those. 

  5. What mark do you want to make on the culinary scene in the South?
    I would love for The Hummingbird Way to be a place where people can walk in with whatever problem, issue, or bad day they had and feel like they’ve been comforted, taken care of, and are special.