Strip Mall Staples

Some of the area’s best meals can be found in the middle of a mini mall.

Illustration by Colleen Comer

Nothing beats the ambiance of a local mom and pop restaurant tucked away on a side street in a historic home loaded with charm. It screams date night, a unique spot for making memories and sharing Instagram-worthy scenery. The only problem is, a location like this just isn’t the reality for most restaurants, who instead look for amenities like new construction, easy parking and turnkey maintenance. Options that make running a business not just easier, but actually feasible. Enter the strip mall.

You might have driven past these long and low buildings containing shop after shop, often with glowing neon signs and expanses of parking spaces, without ever taking note of what was really there. But hidden amongst the cell phone repair stores and boutiques are tucked some of Mobile and Baldwin counties’ best eats. Locally owned restaurants are serving everything from sushi to country cooking and leaving locals with a full bellies and big smiles.

New restaurants are always popping up, and rounding them all up in a comprehensive list would be mind-boggling, both to write and to read. Instead, MB compiled a few of our favorites to please every palate, from Southern or savory to international or sweet. Eats from across the nation and around the world are hidden in plain sight along our highways and boulevards, beckoning you to walk through the door and take a bite.

Southern Meat and Threes, Cheryl’s Cafe. Photo by Elise Poche

Cheryl’s Cafe
southern comfort and soul

This indoor/outdoor Spanish Fort staple has a down-home Southern feel and a permanent menu to order from every weekday. To find the best of the best dishes it has to offer, though, take a peek at the daily chalkboard menu. Hung for all diners to see and posted on Facebook upon opening each day, these specials feature traditional Southern meat and threes (shown left), fresh salads and a plethora of well-loved sides that eat like they’re straight out of a home kitchen. A mom herself, owner Cheryl Barnes has made a 20-year effort to feed Baldwin County eaters as if they were her own family. 6580-D Spanish Fort Blvd., Spanish Fort, 626-2602

east coast on the gulf coast

Family, food and Philly are the backbone of D’Michaels, in Theodore. The vibrant, coastal-themed eatery is plastered with photos from owner Fred Heirbacher’s past and present, memorabilia from Ocean City, New Jersey, and plenty of Philadelphia personality. The regular customers known to the staff by name attest to the outstanding cheesesteaks, gyros and even pizzas that the joint has been slinging since 2006. And college students, rejoice — not only are prices reasonable, but Heirbacher is always ready to put young upstarts behind the counter and in the kitchen. 7101 Theodore Dawes Road, Suite A, 653-2979

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Jamaican Vibes
bold colors and flavors

This family-owned counter-service joint boasting the “best Jamaican food in town” gives off plenty of authentic vibes from the moment you walk through the doors. If the vibrant flag-themed decor and reggae music don’t transport you directly to the islands, witnessing the Jamaica-native owners sing along while preparing your meal just might. The restaurant has been a 10-year mainstay on Government Boulevard, and there are flavors for every palate; a bite of jerk chicken or curry shrimp may be more in the beginner’s comfort zone, while oxtail or ackee and salt fish deliver a taste of Jamaica straight to your plate. 3700 Government Blvd., Suite A, 602-1973

Chi-Town Dawgz
Midwest meets mobtown

Chi-Town Dawgz channels the Midwest while Chicago’s skyline and accoutrement-laden hot dogs have dominated its signage for the last three years. They sell Vienna Beef’s original Chicago-style hot dogs in regular, jumbo and foot-long sizes, along with burgers and other specialty sandwiches, but their biggest seller is the signature Italian beef. Straight from Chicago, thin-sliced roast beef is served on Italian bread either dry, wet or dipped with savory gravy. As one of the only suppliers of the signature sandwich in the area, Chi-Town Dawgz transports you directly to the Windy City from its diner-casual Hillcrest locale. 1222 Hillcrest Road, 461-6599

Peking Duck, Shanghai Cottage. Photo by Elise Poche

Shanghai Cottage
chinese/sushi fusion

“Master Joe” is a name synonymous with lower Alabama Asian cuisine, and Shanghai Cottage has delivered his traditional Chinese menu to the Eastern Shore since 2009. Alongside the signature Master Joe’s sushi, fans flock to the time-honored Peking duck (shown right), so much so that calling ahead is a must to make sure it’s still available on any given day. A full bar, table seating and made-to-order, customizable dishes make this strip mall spot sing. 22530 US Highway 98, Fairhope, 928-6668

Siam Thai
elegant thai, low price

Stepping into Siam Thai brings you from the shopping center’s one-note exterior to an ornately dressed interior. From the gilded ceiling to carrot flower-adorned plates, it brings a high-end experience at an affordable price. Traditional curries, stir-fries, sushi and signature cocktails are sure to please anyone that walks in — and make sure to do so on Friday nights, when they have live performers alongside dinner and drink specials galore. 915 Hillcrest road, 380-9111

Halal Cuisine of India
authentic taste of india

Plenty of spots on both sides of the Bay offer top-notch Indian fare, but Halal Cuisine of India has been serving strictly Halal food to Mobile patrons for over 20 years. Their traditional chicken, lamb, goat and fish dishes are all best-sellers prepared  just as they would be in their origin country, with plenty of vegetarian plates and side dishes, to boot. For the most thorough sampling of what they have to offer, stop by during lunch for a buffet to please all palates. 3674 Airport Blvd., 341-6171

Mole Enchiladas, Villa Del Rey. Photo by Elise Poche

Villa Del Rey
real mexican, tex-mex optional

Tex-Mex is the name of the game when you think of Mexican restaurants on both sides of Mobile Bay. And for the past six months, Villa Del Rey has delivered, but on much more than just the standard burritos and quesadillas. The menu is large enough to satiate taco-hungry eaters but also caters to those looking for more authentic Mexican flavors — if that’s you, give the mole enchiladas (shown left) or guisado de puerco a try. And specialty margaritas, frozen or on the rocks, will have you coming back for more. 720 Schillinger Road S., 348-7838

2 Sisters Panini
fairhope’s favorites in daphne

The Fairhope, 2 Sisters Panini. Photo by Elise Poche

Fairhope residents rant and rave over Two Sisters Bakery with reckless abandon, so in an effort to bring their cherished goods closer to Daphne, Spanish Fort and Mobile eaters, 2 Sisters Panini opened in Daphne in June. Under its own business name and licensing, the larger cafe still serves the same well-loved menu offered at the Fairhope bakery and deli, but with specific emphasis on panini such as The Fairhope (right), which is a big hit. 1501A US Highway 98, Suite 3, Daphne 930-1444

Wonderland Cafe
alice’s treats and eats

Dormouse Salted Caramel Chip Frozen Coffee, Wonderland Cafe. Photo by Elise Poche
Kids, kids at heart and adults with a gnawing sweet tooth will go mad for the “curious eats and whimsical treats” at Wonderland Cafe. Although “Alice” and the Wonderland crew took over Piccadilly Square’s Boba Time in early March, they kept the smoothies and bubble teas on the menu and are constantly expanding with new dishes and drinks. An updated menu was launched in the fall, but fan favorites such as the Dormouse salted caramel chip frozen coffee (shown left) and the ever-colorful Alice’s Very Merry Unbirthday Cake are here to stay. 6345-B Airport Blvd., 378-5300





Well-Loved Staples

We’ve shown our love to these spots in the past, but they’re too good to leave out!
Al’s Hot Dogs 4701 Airport Blvd., Suite 210 342-3243
Cortlandt’s Pizza Pub 4356 Old Shell Road, Suite E  342-0024
Delish Bakery and Eatery 23 Upham St. 473-6115
Jerusalem Cafe 4715 Airport Blvd. 304-1155
Kai Restaurant 5045 Cottage Hill Road 607-6454
Meat Boss 5401 Cottage Hill Road 591-4842
Micheli’s 6358 Cottage Hill Road  • 725-6917
Regina’s Kitchen 2056 Government St. 476-2777
Roma Cafe 7134 Airport Blvd. 341-7217
Sunflower Cafe 320 Eastern Shore Shopping Center 929-0055, 3055-A Dauphin St. 479-3200
Yak The Kathmandu Kitchen 3210 Dauphin St. 287-0115, 400 Eastern Shore Shopping Center 990-6192
7 Spice Grocery and Grill 3762 Airport Blvd. 725-1177

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