When you’re exploring a new city, it can be easy to find high-profile restaurants that are well known spots for power players inking deals and rubbing elbows. But sometimes the best ideas and the most interesting conversations come while chatting it up someplace that only the locals know. We talked with regional elected officials to find out their favorite under-the-radar spots for a casual bite. 

Mack’s Cash Grocery on Laurel Street has been a family favorite of City of Columbia Council Representative Joe Taylor for years. “My dad bought snacks here when he was a kid over 80 years ago,” Taylor recalls. For as long as I remember they have the best deal on cheeseburgers, hot dogs and fried baloney sandwiches. This might be the last place in town where you can get a double pimento-burger, fries and a tea and still get change back… and you know it’s old school when a beverage option is still grape Kool-Aid.”  

When looking for traditional Southern style cooking, Taylor heads to The Food Gallery on River Drive. “Minnie Morris taught her family how to prepare the very best meats and vegetables. From pork chops and cubed steak to oxtails, fresh collards, yams and macaroni and cheese to simply the finest rice and gravy that will make you smile like a little kid, this place is simply special.” 

For Richland County Councilwoman Gretchen Barron, takeout breakfast is a family favorite, and they find it at Southern Manna Café on Leesburg Road. “We’re big breakfast people,” Barron says. “And as a true Southerner born and bred in South Carolina, I had to try their salmon patties and grits.”  

Another spot Barron recommends is The Red Rooster off Wilson Boulevard. “It has a neighborhood bar grill feel,” Barron says. “They have outdoor dining, multiple TVs, and it’s very family friendly.” They also host events from Trunk or Treat at Halloween to car shows and everything in between. “You have to try the garlic parmesan chicken wings and the sweet potato French fries,” Barron says of her go-to menu picks.  

West Columbia Mayor Tem Miles knows that the secret to a successful restaurant is as much about the people as it is about the food. “At Nick’s House of Pizza the food is so good, and the people are wonderful,” Miles says. “Nick’s has been in business for over 24 years. It is family owned and operated. Nick passed the business down to his son Andrew a few years ago but you can still catch Nick at the front of the House or greeting customers when he isn’t in Greece visiting family.” At Nick’s you’ll find authentic Greek food as well as American staples.  

For Forest Acres City Council Representative Haskell Kibler, The Other Store on Bethel Church Road has unexpected charm and a friendly atmosphere, in addition to incredible food. “This former community gas station with distinctive wall art provides unique character to an otherwise unassuming building within a neighborhood setting,” Kibler says. “You can’t go wrong with any pick, but my favorite is the egg salad sandwich.”  

Forest Acres is also home to Zesto Forest Drive. “They continue to offer the best milkshakes, chicken and burgers that you can find,” Kibler shares. “I enjoy walking my boys up to the window for an ice cream after a ball game or meeting a friend for lunch inside.” 

You might find City of Cayce Mayor Elise Partin at Piecewise Coffee for their excellent coffee, chai and baked goods. “It’s got a great big-city local-coffee-shop feel right at our Cayce Riverwalk and Cayce River Arts District,” Partin says.   

She also touts the abundance of international cuisine in Cayce. Her picks include La Estrella, TeaPot, Duke’s Pad Thai, The Reggae Grill, El Jimador, Monterrey Mexican and, Trini Lime, which is opening this summer.  

One of City of Columbia Council Representative Aditi Bussells’ favorite spots for international cuisine is Kimchi on Decker Boulevard. “I feel like I’m in someone’s home, and I love seeing the couple that owns the restaurant smile so big when they see us enjoy the food,” she says. 

What are your favorite undiscovered eateries in Columbia SC?