Having a food blog has a lot of upsides.  Mainly, it’s a perfect excuse to eat out at great places with new friends.   As a result, we have made more die-hard foodie friends in the past year and a half than ever before.  And we are finding out about must-blog restaurants even sooner than we otherwise would have.

Last week, we went to a party at a friend’s amazing downtown loft, where we only knew a handful of people.  As we stood on one of the most spectacular roof decks in the city, taking in the skyline and watching the Baron’s fireworks from above, we were all inspired to talk about the things that make Birmingham a great place to live, especially right now.  And of course, that conversation quickly turned to food.  

Someone mentioned our blog, and the conversation quickly turned to which places we ABSOLUTELY NEED TO BLOG ABOUT IMMEDIATELY (all caps because, you know how people ’round here get about this kind of thing).  There were, let’s say, some strong opinions on the matter.  

Throughout the night, one place came up time after time:  Hotbox at Parkside.  People were absolutely heartbroken and horrified to find out that we ate at Hotbox once a long time ago but never wrote about it.  A grassroots groundswell of enthusiasm for getting us to try it again emerged.  By attending this amazing loft party downtown, we had stumbled upon the target demographic for Hotbox — friendly 20 and 30something urban-dwelling professionals with awesome foodie instincts — and had made friends with the leaders of the unofficial but extremely passionate Hotbox fan club.  Any restaurant with that dedicated of a following deserves some attention.

Within a few days, we had picked a date to meet the three most vocal members of that fan club at Hotbox.  Hotbox is actually a permanent food truck located in ever-trendy Avondale, in the back of bar called Parkside which is, predictably, across from the park.  We decided to go on a Friday evening at 6:30pm.  Perfect timing:  the place was hopping, but with my vulture-like table nabbing skills, we were still able to find a place to sit on their gorgeous back patio.  Hotbox itself is run out of an airstream trailer, increasing the cool factor (as if that was necessary) 1000-fold: 

   
We were a group of 5, perfect for sharing.  And the menu is relatively small, so we were able to try a large selection of the offerings: 

 
We poured over the menu, carefully deciding what to eat.  I was told the burger and drunken noodles were a must.  Mr Foodie insisted on the Banh mi – something that is an uncommon find in a town with little in the way of good Vietnamese food.  We rounded our order out with the nam tok beef and calamari salad.  And when I was in line, I noticed that the potstickers were being made from scratch, so I impulsively added those to my order.

Here we go; one of the best meals I’ve had in awhile, in no particular order:

The drunken noodles.  It seemed like they had put not just pork shoulder, but an entire pork shoulder, on top.  Wide, flat rice noodles with tender pork, eggs, Chinese broccoli, and a very light brown sauce.  Savory, not spicy at all, but didn’t really need any spice.  Fantastic just as it was.  And beautiful, too.

  
The Banh mi.  Mr Foodie was in ectasy.  Flaky baguette bread, spread with pork mayo (yep,  chunks of delicious shredded pork in the mayo), spicy pork sausage, topped with tons of fresh cilantro, cukes, and carrots.  Incredible.  

 

Next up, that burger…. OMG that burger … Topped with cheese, pickles, and most importantly, a thick shmear of bacon jam – moist, a little sweet, and a ton of salty, crunchy bacon in every bite.  Served with skinny, salty, crispy fries.  An aerial view:

 
Now from the side, showing all the layers: 

 
The potstickers.  Lightly pan fried, each of these contained an entire shrimp and chopped up cabbage.  Delish.  

  
Cross section here is crucial; check out that shrimp: 

 
Nam tok beef.  We sat around trying to identify the incredible blend of flavors:  cilantro, lime, and chilis mixed with tender, fatty beef.  Melted in my mouth.

  
And finally, the calamari salad.  A much lighter alternative to the rest.  Perfectly grilled  calamari, very tender, with what we think is a mayo-rice vinegar sauce, mixed with a tiny bit of ?siracha.  Served on a bed of vermicelli, topped with tons of delicious cilantro, roasted red peppers, and green onions. A great accompaniment to the rest of the meal.   


And so incredibly beautiful; look at that mound of roe on top:

   
My stomach is growling hungrily as I write this… I’m obviously going to need to go back tonite.  Hotbox is going to become one of our go-to food staples.

As amazing as the food was, another aspect of Hotbox deserves equal attention-the atmosphere. While the inside of Parkside was wall to wall people (and I must admit, was adorned with one of the best collections of repurposed Alabama signs I’ve ever seen), the patio was remarkably chill.  Don’t get me wrong, it was insanely crowded.  But being outdoors under the clear Alabama sky, the smell of cedar mixed with all the incredible food, the cool breeze, and the friendly crowd of patrons (many of whom at least one of us knew), fostered great conversation about everything from the food to emojis (yes, there’s a lot of ground to cover there).  And what’s most telling is, when we got up to leave, we were all surprised to find that it was already 11pm-we had been there for four and a half hours without even noticing.

The moral of this delicious story is as follows.  One of my favorite things is when someone tells me, I drive past that restaurant every day and didn’t realize it was something special till I read your blog.  Give how popular Hotbox has become, it seems like a critical mass of Birminghamsters has discovered it without any trouble.  However, despite the fact that Mr Foodie and I are constantly trolling for the best places to eat, we missed this one, making this post long overdue.  

To sum it up:  sometimes, the best thing EVER can be right under your nose – it just takes some awesome new foodie friends to make you see it.

Hotbox at Parkside on Urbanspoon