Are you the person in your family/ friend group who everyone turns to for recipes or restaurant suggestions? When someone invites you to do something, is your first question, “Will there be food?” If yes, then this is the roundup for you. From Southern staples and farm-fresh ingredients to festivals, specials and menu standouts, read through this smattering of suggestions and get a jumpstart on planning your ultimate culinary journey through Columbia SC.
Soda City Market
We can’t think of a more idyllic way to spend a Saturday morning than by strolling down Main Street, locally-brewed coffee and fresh floral bouquet in hand, at Soda City Market. Vendors line the street, selling everything from fresh produce, art, clothing, candles and so many more homegrown and handmade goods. With food options ranging from Avocado Toast SC, Rambo’s Fat Cat Biscuits and the Belgian Waffle Truck to Mary’s Arepas, Island Noodles and I Love Paella, breakfast seamlessly transitions to lunch all while buskers play music, dancers perform and larger-than-life bubbles bob their way through the crowd. If you think this all sounds too whimsical to be true, then you’ll just have to come see for yourselves.
You’ll find a lot more than Southern food in Columbia. This region’s vibrant and diverse community can be seen in the wide variety of international cuisine. Try your Thai prepared with different cultural influences at Baan Sawan Thai Bistro, prepare to be delighted by the stunning presentation at Bodhi Thai Dining or snap up some quick carryout from Duke’s Pad Thai.
Korean favorites like bibimbap, bulgogi and japchae noodles await at 929 Kitchen & Bar, while Arirang Korean Restaurant will shock you with the barrage of small plates they bring to your table before you can even get to your meal.
Who doesn’t love Italian? Get your fill with some perfectly prepared pizzas from Il Focolare, moderately portioned pasta dishes that will leave you full, but comfortable, at Il Giorgione, family favorites at Alodia’s Cucina Italiana, or amidst history at the oldest restaurant in the state – Villa Tronco.
Transport yourself to the Caribbean at Island Grill, where you can stock up on Jamaican jerk chicken, oxtails, patties, plantains, their special Island Curry Goat and more.
If it’s authentic Mexican cuisine you’re after, then you’re in luck. Both Real Mexico and Moctezuma Taqueria are go-tos, or you can stock up on ingredients at La Estrella and prepare your own feast at home.
Chicken Tikka Masala, Tandoori Kebabs, Butter Lamb, Paneer, curry, naan, samosas, basmati rice – 2 Gingers has all this and more and will have you coming back time and time again to load up on these delectable Indian dishes.
When the Mediterranean cravings strike, there are ample options ready to sate you. Noma Bistro by Al-Amir, Green Olive, Arabesque on Devine, Mediterranean Tea Room, Zorba’s Greek Restaurant and Taziki’s Mediterranean Café have all the grape leaves, hummus, falafel, gyros, labneh, tabbouleh and Damascus bread you could ever dream of.
We hope you like leftovers, because you’ll leave Sun Ming Chinese Restaurant with plenty. With dumplings, Lo Mein, fried rice and Chop Suey on the menu, it’s impossible to narrow it down, so just go ahead and order it all. Pro tip, order ahead for the Peking Duck with plum sauce.
If you’ve yet to dine on a farm against the backdrop of the setting sun, it’s time to purchase a ticket to one of F2T Productions’ monthly harvest dinners. The atmosphere and comradery are rivaled only by the four family-style courses coming out of the kitchen. A welcome cocktail kicks things off and wine pairings accompany each dish. Each event boasts a different menu and guest chefs are known to make an appearance, so every gathering is a different experience.
Must-Try Menu Items
In all cities, there are certain dishes that have earned a reputation for themselves. Those “you can’t go here without getting this” bucket list creations. Here are some of Columbia SC’s ~icons~.
We’ve all been there. It’s the weekend and perhaps you stayed up a little too late or indulged in too many local brews or handcrafted cocktails. Brunch is the only cure and even more specifically, the Famous Hangover Hashbrowns at Café Strudel. Crispy hashbrowns are topped with onions, banana peppers, tomatoes, cheddar cheese and two eggs cooked how you like. They’re famous for a reason.
“You know what they call a Quarter Pounder with Cheese in Paris?... They call it a Royale with Cheese.” Head to Columbia’s own little slice of France by way of Black Rooster in West Columbia, where they serve up their own French Onion-style Royale with Cheese. Two patties are topped with Gruyere, caramelized onions, house pickles and a demi glace aioli all within a buttered and toasted bun. It’s just as heavenly as it sounds and quickly became a local favorite.
You used to only be able to get Smokey Loggins’ famous smoked wings every other Tuesday at Bar None. It always drew a crowd and now they have a permanent home at Transmission Arcade on Main Street. Purchase them in increments of ten (we know you won’t be able to stop at just ten).
If you could only eat one taco from Cantina 76 for the rest of your life, which one would it be and why Peruvian Shrimp? The fried shrimp tossed in a sweet sesame chili sauce and topped with slaw is undoubtedly the crowd favorite.
Shrimp and grits are a Southern classic and the near-unanimous recommendation is to get the goods from Blue Marlin. Made with local Adluh stone ground grits, creek shrimp, andouille sausage and tasso gravy, you can order it in a petite appetizer size or a lunch/dinner entrée size. But let’s be real, we know which one you’re going to want to opt for.
The glory that is pimento cheese warrants its own section further down the list, but we would be remiss in not mentioning DiPrato’s Delicatessen here, as their name has essentially become synonymous with pimento cheese around in our town. It’s the go-to for any tailgate, social gathering, holiday potluck, you name it. Just dip a warm, freshly baked pita triangle into their classic, sharp white cheddar, jalapeno cheddar or smoked gouda and bacon and get ready for it to change your life.
Chicken and waffles are another Southern delicacy and no one does it quite like Kiki’s Chicken and Waffles does. Four wings or two breasts top a Belgian, wheat, blueberry, walnut, pecan, sweet potato, chocolate or red velvet waffle for a kicked-up version of that delightful sweet and savory combo. Or really mix things up and try your chicken with pancakes or French toast instead.
Sure, anyone can pull off a lobster mac and cheese. How about a real challenge? Terra’s Lamb Mac steps up to the plate and is one of the only items that is always on the menu. You’ll soon see why, as the smoky lamb mixes in with goat cheese, Fontina and poblano peppers beneath a crispy brown blanket of breadcrumbs. *chef’s kiss*
Spring and summer berries are abundant in Columbia and not only does it make for an adorable outing to fill your basket to the brim at various farms around town, but you get to enjoy the actual fruits of your labor afterward. Load up on your antioxidants at Double A Farms or Berry Hill Farm, which specialize in blueberries.
If strawberries are more your speed, then Cottle Strawberry Farm is just the spot. When they’re in season, you’re also sure to find Cottle strawberries popping up in recipes all over Columbia. A couple of our favorites are the Sea Salt & Black Pepper with Roasted Strawberries ice cream at Sweet Cream Co. or in local mixologist Jake Smith’s Cottle Buddy cocktail.
Pulled pork is an important food group and trust us when we say it won’t be hard at all to hit your recommended daily intake around here. You’ll smell a smoker at work in just about every district you enter. Whether you prefer to pile your plate high at a buffet like Doc’s Barbecue, Palmetto Pig or Three Pigs, venture off the beaten path for the hidden gems like Hite’s or True BBQ, sit down with the family at Hudson’s Smokehouse or to wash it all down with a Game Changer at Home Team BBQ, the options are plentiful.
Get ready for your tastebuds to deceive you, because you will be certain that the food from A Peace of Soul couldn’t possibly be entirely vegan – and yet it is. Shattering any misconceptions that vegan food has to be raw or isn’t filling, A Peace of Soul serves up all your soul food favorites. That’s right, the mac and cheese, the spare ribs, the collards, an out of this world fried chicken sandwich, all of it. You’d almost swear it’s the real thing.
Pick up convenient grab and go meals from Tasty As Fit. Fresh salads, nutrient-packed soups, veggie sushi and smoothies and desserts that taste like an indulgence, yet are chock full of fruits and veggies are all menu mainstays. Here, you’ll find plant-based substitutions like a mushroom walnut Bolognese or an alfredo sauce powered by cauliflower, making it easy to dip your toe into the vegan life.
Earlier this year, COA Agaveria y Cocina debuted a special vegan-friendly menu. Taquitos filled with sautéed hibiscus, lettuce wraps boasting Beyond Meat chorizo, cashew queso and more light and fresh options will satisfy your Mexican food cravings and make a believer out of the carnivores. Oh, and it definitely doesn’t hurt that tequila is vegan, too.
You can’t come to Columbia and not try pimento cheese. You would have to actively avoid it, as the signature Southern snack makes an appearance on almost every menu in town. So you may as well just embrace it. We even made it easy for you to lean into the experience with the Columbia SC Pimento Cheese Passport. Try it heaped onto a burger at Rockaway Athletic Club, melted over fries at The Whig, mixed into your morning hash browns at Café Strudel or even spread out on a pizza at Terra. Earn stamps as you go and thank us for the introduction later.
Spotlight on Specials
Show you’re in the know and pop into these spots on certain days for recurring specials that are local favorites. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – Fried Chicken Tuesday at Spotted Salamander is practically a holiday. The combination of sauces and toppings change week to week, each one a satisfying surprise. And Fried Chicken Tuesday is followed up by Burger Thursday, boasting a towering structure that is sure to induce an afternoon nap. Additionally, go to Spotted any day of the week (or all five!) and each time, you’ll have a different deviled egg waiting for you. The daily deviled eggs are the perfect start to any meal and run the gamut from feta with pesto and smoked salmon to cowboy caviar and pepper jelly with cornbread crumble.
Taco Tuesday at The Whig is the stuff of legend. The no frills tacos get the job done and a few dollars will go a long way. Good people gathering over good food is a simple pleasure that will never go out of style.
The ultimate comfort food has gotten a glow up at Lula Drake Wine Parlour. Pop in every Wednesday evening for a different gourmet spin on grilled cheese for… you guessed it… Grilled Cheese Wednesday. Past variations that have proved popular include brie with whipped espresso Nutella on toasted brioche; blue cheese, candied bacon and raspberry jam on waffles; brie, blueberry compote, bacon and balsamic on toasted brioche, and of course, a sumptuous lobster grilled cheese, among many, many, MANY other mouthwatering inventions.
One of the best deals in town also occurs on Wednesday night. Pop into Terra for Pizza & Pinot, which offers you a personal pizza and either a glass of a pre-selected pinot noir or the bottle for $15 or $25, respectively. You’ve just gotten away with robbery.
Friday mornings deserve a treat to celebrate inching ever closer to the weekend. Enter Croissant Friday at Silver Spoon Bake Shop on Devine. Flavors vary, but past offerings include raspberry Nutella, cream cheese and pepper jelly, olive tapenade and parmesan, peach jelly, sweet corn and pepperjack, and so many more. Go ahead and order a box to carry you through the whole weekend.
One Stop Shop
Why not try EVERYTHING and revolve your entire trip around the annual showcase of Columbia’s culinary talent by way of the Columbia Food and Wine Festival? While this year’s event looks a little different with a dinner and brunch event, what you can usually expect of this quickly-growing festival is several days of satellite events around town culminating in the main day full of small bites and libations from dozens of local chefs and breweries.