Bill and Al’s Excellent Adventure – Babalu

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Chicken Taco
Lamb Sliders

When Babalu opened in 2010 at the former Duling School location in the historic Fondren District, it was an instant hit.

Jacksonians flocked to the modern space for its unique take on Latin-American Foods. When a restaurant strikes a nerve the way that Babalu has, it’s almost always the work of dozens of talented people who share a vision and bring their unique talents to the table, but that original vision has to come from somewhere.

As it turns out, Babalu’s founding owners, Bill Latham and Al Roberts, have been bringing great food to Jackson since the late 1970s, and their storied partnership tells a large part of the story about how Jackson became such a surprising food destination.

In 1982, Bill Latham opened Sundancer in Highland Village. A little over a year later his Sous Chef, Al Roberts, wanted to buy out Latham’s original partner. And just like that, Jackson’s most successful restaurant partnership was born.

Five years later, Bill and Al opened the wildly popular Amerigo Restaurant. More locations were added across the South in the following years.

In 2000, the iconic Char Restaurant in Highland Village became their next great success. This, their steakhouse, was an immediate success and remains one of Jackson’s most popular spots today.

In 2007, the pair sold their restaurant holdings to an out of town investment group and for the first time in over twenty years Jacksonians had no Latham-Roberts-run restaurant to enjoy.

Lucky for us, after an 18 month long non-compete period, the duo came back with a vengeance. In a two year period, they’d go on to open Five Guys Burger, and Table 100, a casual fine dining restaurant that features locally sourced products.

Spicy Chorizo Skillet
Charcuterie Board & Chocolate Truffles

In between those ambitious projects, Babalu was born. From the industrial furnishings to the black and

white reruns of I Love Lucy projected on a featured wall, everything came together as a clear vision, and they knew they had a hit.

Bill and Al are now in full expansion mode with Babalu. These titans have brought amazing food to Jackson for decades, and now, they’re sharing their talents with the rest of the South.

In the last few years, they’ve opened locations in Memphis, Birmingham, Knoxville, and Charlotte. A second location in Memphis recently opened as well.  Babalus are in the works and moving forward in Atlanta, Chapel Hill, Lexington and Nashville, as well as a second Charlotte location.

As Babalu expands regionally, the Jackson flagship remains the gold standard. General Manager Justin Courson and Chef Cristian Rodriguez have been with the company for years, and they provide an experience you won’t soon forget. If you haven’t been to the original Babalu in Fondren, it really is a “must try” for any culinary tour of Jackson. It has one of Jackson’s best patios and the best guacamole this side of the border (made table side). There is a lot to like on the menu, but we recommend the duck tacos as one of our favorite bites in the city.

Babalu is located at 622 Duling Avenue in the historic Fondren District. You can find them on the web at or reach them by phone at 601.366.5757.

Patrick Kelly

Patrick Kelly, Writer and Team Lead for Chef Relations & Business Development at Eat Jackson, Eat MS Coast, Eat Y’all and The Mississippi List