With the University of South Carolina and Fort Jackson, Columbia SC welcomes folks from all places, and we love it. This has led to a diverse and international food scene that you might not expect to see in a mid-size Southern city. Although it would take too long to describe all of our international eats in one blog post, we’ve rounded up the major Asian cuisines below (and stay tuned for more roundups on our blog). Here are just some of the restaurants (and dishes) you should give a try while here.
Taiwanese: JJ’s Tea House
Brand new to the restaurant scene this year, JJ’s Tea House has already made quite the impression. Featuring a Taiwanese menu and an extensive selection of bubble tea, this spot on USC’s campus is a great place to grab a quick bite when you’re craving Asian food. Try the spicy pork wontons or beef noodle with jalapeno gravy for something with a kick. If you’re looking for something on the milder side, enjoy the egg fried rice with Taiwanese sausage or the cold beef shanks. For dessert, don’t miss the shaved ice (top it with red beans for a truly Asian dessert), but you can’t go wrong with any of the bubble tea options.
Also try: Egg Roll Chen -- follow the locals to this long-time Columbia favorite for Taiwanese beef noodle soup or the spicy yen su jee (Taiwanese salt and pepper chicken). Pro tip: ask for rou zou fan (minced and seasoned pork) on the rice.
Chinese: Sun Ming Chinese Restaurant
Sun Ming in Irmo is known in Columbia to have the most extensive menu of authentic Chinese dishes. Specializing in Sichuan cuisine, here you can get some amazing flavors with spicy chicken ding, spicy pork in pot, eggplant in garlic sauce, salty pepper boneless pork, sauteed string bean, spring chicken in bone, and steamed flounder with ginger and scallion. We could go on, but all we really mean is you need to go here… pronto.
Also try: Any of the M restaurants, but especially M Kitchen (also in Irmo) which serves up some unique Chinese dishes you won’t find elsewhere, including soy-braised pork belly and meatball over tofu in a clay pot.
Vietnamese: Pho Viet
Pho Viet has two locations -- one on Decker Boulevard and one in Five Points. Here you can not only order up your pho (pronounced fuh), but also Vietnamese BBQ with vermicelli noodles or rice. The portion sizes are substantial so come prepared to feast on #allthefood.
Korean: Korea Garden
This hole-in-the-wall on Decker Boulevard serves up some amazing Korean dishes. Try the seafood pancake and pan-fried dumplings for starters, then order up an array of savory dishes, including bulgogi (thin, marinated slices of beef), hot spicy pork, galbi (Korean short ribs), japchae (potato glass noodles with veggies), and dolsot bibimbap (served in a hot stone bowl).
Thai: Mai Thai Cuisine
It’s so easy to love Mai Thai, a tucked away restaurant in West Columbia, and its wonderful curry flavors. You’ll enjoy classics like Pad Thai and Massaman curry, but don’t look over their specialties, such as Mai Thai Duck, Eggplant and Shrimp Amazing, and Two Friends Panang.
Also try: Baan Sawan -- where you go when you want expertly prepared Thai food with a serious wine selection in one of the cutest little spots along Devine Street (order the calamari steaks -- you won’t regret it). Basil -- this Charleston transplant is an upscale Thai experience surrounded by the great shopping at Cross Hill Market. Duke's Pad Thai Street Food and Noodle Bar -- recently opened, this place is already a hit with its build-your-own noodle bowls and street food on a stick options (plus the dim sum style dumplings!)
Japanese: Inakaya Japanese Restaurant
Inakaya is a gem. If you’ve got a large group, book one of their tatami rooms for traditional Japanese-style dining. Then, order one (or more!) of their food boats that are chock full of good eats. If you’re not in the mood to share, try the katsu-ju donburi, a pork cutlet over a bed of rice. Unique appetizers include the agedashi dofu and pumpkin tempura.
Also try: Menkoi Ramen House -- this Vista locale isn’t serving your microwaveable ramen. The bowls of ramen noodles, typically in a pork broth, are topped with stewed pork, chives, bean sprouts, egg and more.
Sushi: Camon Japanese Restaurant & Sushi Bar
Sushi deserves its own category, and Camon does too. Opened in 1985, Camon is beloved by patrons who have been eating their way through nigiri since the beginning. Everything will be great quality, but try their Columbia Roll or Camon Roll (I, II or III) for something new.