Popular local businesses students should know


CW Pearl Langley

Zach Johnson | @ZachJohnsonCW, Contributing Writer

Welcome to Tuscaloosa!  

The University of Alabama and the surrounding communities offer an incredible variety of places to spend your time at the Capstone.  From several beautiful lakes to many interesting local restaurants, there’s plenty to do and see.  


The Riverwalk is a staple for casual outdoor activities near the University. A four and a half mile stretch running along the Black Warrior River, the Riverwalk is home to many small parks, benches and beautiful views of the river. Easily accessible from campus, the Riverwalk begins just down the hill from Presidential Village and ends downtown near the Tuscaloosa Amphitheater.  


Cookout on 15th Street is an unquestionable staple for all UA students. The drive-thru staple, which is the only chain restaurant on this list— a testament to its popularity with students— is open until 3:30 a.m. on weekdays and 4:30 a.m. on weekends. While lines are often long late at night, its cheap food makes it a popular choice for students after a night out. 

Cookout also features a population of ducks eager to take your food and obstruct the parking lot. They are generally harmless. Please do not abduct them.  

Mr. Chen’s 

Just down the street from Cookout is Mr. Chen’s, an Asian grocery store and restaurant. Mr. Chen’s offers a wide selection of snacks, produce, condiments, rice and other items from many Asian countries. Chen’s also features a large menu with everything from Americanized Asian fusion dishes to authentic teas, soups and more.  

Mr. Chen’s is located on Hackberry Lane, on the other side of the train tracks from the football practice field.  

Lake Nicol 

Lake Nicol is a classic spot for hikes, swimming and picnics located just twenty minutes from campus. Short and medium-length hiking trails that run the perimeter of the lake offer unmatched views. At the end of one trail is a large, flat rock jutting out into the middle of the lake just inches above the water level with a great panoramic view.  


The UA Arboretum is another popular natural spot for students. The arboretum features walking trails, a wildflower garden, ornamental plants, an experimental garden and a children’s garden. Sponsored by the Department of Biological Sciences and an affiliate of UA Museums, the arboretum operates to teach about and research the ecology and biodiversity of Alabama. 

Students can sign up to volunteer on the Arboretum’s website. SGA President Madeline Martin made the Arboretum a major part of her campaign platform, advocating the use of the facility to help fight student hunger at the University.  

Monarch Espresso Bar and Heritage House 

Two of Tuscaloosa’s most popular coffee spots among students are Monarch Espresso Bar and Heritage House Coffee.  

Monarch Espresso Bar was started by two UA graduates with help from a Kickstarter fundraiser. Today, Monarch is popular among students, with great coffee and excellent merch. Monarch is located downtown near Government Plaza.  

Heritage House Coffee is a staple among UA students. Located near the end of the Riverwalk, Heritage House offers great coffee and a wide array of food options as well. Heritage House has a second location on the other side of the Black Warrior River in Northport.   

Rama Jama’s 

Rama Jama’s is one of the University area’s most hallowed grounds. Located diagonally from the stadium near the cemetery on the south side of campus, Rama Jama’s offers breakfast and lunch, Monday through Saturday. The place is full of Alabama memorabilia, from signed footballs, to portraits, to signs featuring ESPN’s tour of the restaurant a few years ago. No UA student’s education is complete without a trip to Rama Jama’s.  

River Market 

The Tuscaloosa River Market, located on Jack Warner Parkway along the Riverwalk, is a popular event space, and it holds the Tuscaloosa Farmers Market every Saturday. Local farmers and artisans bring their newest products on Saturday mornings from 7 a.m. to 12 p.m. Support the community by stopping by. 

The Quad 

The Quad is the epicenter of the University. The east half is clear of trees and provides ample space for picnics and activities on warm, sunny Tuscaloosa days. The west half is covered by an impressive canopy of trees complete with large wooden lawn chairs.  

The Quad is crisscrossed by sidewalks and pathways for you to easily traverse the center of campus. Inhabiting the Quad is a massive population of brave squirrels who refuse to back down from a challenge. 

The Rec 

The University Recreation Center offers a full gym, a pool, numerous basketball and volleyball courts, and more. Students can sign up for personal training programs, intramural sports and group exercise classes, to name a few of the services provided. University Recreation services also allow students to rent equipment like kayaks.  

The Robert E. Witt Center, located between Presidential I and II, features a climbing wall as well. Both facilities also have dining options. The Witt has a couple of small restaurants, including a smoothie shop and a café which accepts dining dollars and select meal plans.