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Best of Columbia SC 2018

DINING 


Appetizers

Saluda’s

Step up to Saluda’s for starters with style. You could make an entire meal of a mix of their taste-tempting appetizers. Flex your Prince Edward Island mussels, prepared lovingly with pancetta and roasted tomatoes in a white wine broth and “get your southern on” with grilled scallops in a sorghum vinaigrette with tart apple relish. 799.9500; saludas.com

Authentic American

Tombo Grille

Skip the drive downtown and head to Tombo Grille in Forest Acres. Its wide-ranging menu includes steak, roast hen, salmon, shrimp and grits, lobster pot pie and a burger that topped our 2017 “Best Burgers” list. It is open Mondays ( when many restaurants aren’t), and that’s when  you can hear a live band and get a burger and a beer for $9. 782.9665; tombogrille.com

Authentic Asian

Tao Asian Fusion

Tao Asian Fusion hits the trifecta on the fusion triumvirate of authenticity, taste and quality. The most important of those criteria is quality of ingredients. If you crave crisp vegetables, substantial cuts of fresh meats flavored with zingy, tangy sauces, their Thai basil made with white meat chicken, shrimp or beef or pad Thai noodles will please you. 749.9809; taoasianbar.com

Authentic Italian

Villa Tronco  

Possibly the best Italian in South Carolina, the food is very good and this is Columbia’s oldest restaurant. And what a wine list! Don’t forget to ask for a slice of Carmella’s cheesecake for dessert. See live opera singers the first Thursday of every month. 256.7677; villatronco.com

Authentic Mexican

La Fogata

Mexican cuisine has gone competitive in the past ten years as traditional restaurants have supplanted cheap fast-food chains,  upping the ante on who has the best chips, salsa and entrees. It is clear that La Fogata – with its three Midlands locations – is the best choice for excellent Mexican food at a reasonable price. 791.8540; lafogatasc.com

Bakery

Tiffany’s Bakery and Eatery

Since 1977, Tiffany’s continues to be Columbia’s go-to for the best in baked goods. Tiffany’s is famous for ITS petit fours because they’re melt-in-your-mouth scrumptious. Cakes range from the basic to as creative as you dare to be. You can enjoy lunch, too. We recommend a sandwich on a handmade croissant, but make sure to save room for a sweet something.  736.2253; tiffanysofcolumbia.com

Barbeque

Midwood Smokehouse

A newcomer, so to speak, in the ancient barbeque wars is Midwood Smokehouse, an offspring of the legendary Charlotte joint. How you smoke your meat is key, but so are the sauces. Keep everybody happy with a cross section including: South Carolina mustard, Eastern NC vinegar, spicy habanero and their own Midwood signature. One more thing. Brisket, people. Brisket. 764.1231; midwoodsmokehouse.com

Breakfast Spot

Original Pancake House

Hands down, this is the best breakfast in Columbia. Dive into a stack of pancakes dripping with whipped butter and authentic maple syrup. Freshly-squeezed juice, freshly-brewed coffee (with real cream!) and farm-sliced bacon or spicy sausage complement waffles, crepes, pancakes or however-you-want-’em eggs. 782.6742; originalpancakehousencsc.com

Burgers

Grill Marks

What makes a burger great? Top quality beef? Check. Flavor? Check. Bun and condiments? Check. Grill marks? You bet! Along with the great Grill Marks burger, pile on shoestring fries, Vista ambience, friendly wait-staff, full bar, and ice-cream drinks, like the “freak shake.” It’s like a second childhood for adults, but actual children adore it, too. 661.8932; grillmarks.com

Candy

Taste of the South

Your out-of-town friends and family will go nuts when you treat them to something from Taste of the South. Chocolate covered pecans and pralines are their specialty. But that’s just the tip of the candy mountain.  A wide variety of sweet or salty covered nuts and fruits can be bought by the bag, mixed in a reusable gift tin, or included in a gift basket. And they ship ’em anywhere for you.  888.768.2783;  atasteofthesouth.com

Caterer

Seawell’s

This family-owned and operated business is now in its third generation. Once one of Columbia’s first drive-in restaurants, it evolved into a full-time caterer with one of the city’s largest reception centers for weddings, corporate events, office parties, trade shows, tailgating, buffets, and table-served meals.  771.7385; seawellscateringsc.com

Chef

Mike Davis

Chef Mike is proud to offer the best simple and seasonal sustainable foods at Terra Restaurant. A graduate of Johnson & Wales Culinary School, Davis is a proponent of the slow foods movement. He is renowned for changing the state’s culinary landscape, which is apparent here in Columbia with a wide variety of new restaurants opening their doors. Columbia thanks you, Chef Mike!  791.3443; terrasc.com.

Cocktail

Cola’s

Mixologists bring finesse to a curated collection of cocktails at this favorite eatery. Mojitos made with fresh fruit juices capture all the brightness of summer flavors and colors. House-made, jalapeño-infused vodka turns up the heat on Bloody Mary’s and oyster shots. Sip some Champagne in a traditional, lemony French 75 or go “one better” with Cola’s “76,” enhanced with strawberries. 451.0051; colasrestaurant.com.

Coffeehouse

Drip  

Coffee isn’t just about that jolt most of us need to get percolating in the morning. It’s a social thing. Drip is a unique, independently-owned café in Five Points, where the atmosphere is as smooth as the coffee. Come for the java but stick around for the great music and camaraderie. 661.9545; dripcolumbia.com

Crabcakes

Bistro on the Boulevard

This friendly restaurant near the lake wins accolades from repeat customers for its seriously solid menu. But it’s the mouth-watering crab cakes that garner rave reviews over and over. Each crab cake is house-made with the ideal blend of lump crabmeat, spices, and just enough breading to give form and flavor to the patty that’s cooked to perfection, every time. 369.1332; bistroontheblvd.com

Desserts

Nonnah’s

Interesting fact: Nonnah’s offers a bar and full menu, including brunch, and it is truly delicious fare. But to experience a wonderful world, “start with dessert!” So, we shall, because Nonnah’s is deeply-rooted in our favorite locale: creamy, dreamy, zesty “dessert world.” Pro-tip: grab some pals, get a small table, order four to six desserts and share. Unparalleled delights! 779.9599; nonnahs.com

Family Restaurant

Henry’s

With three Columbia locations, Henry’s is the perfect place to go when everyone in your crew wants something different. Classic burgers always satisfy, but try a surf-and-turf take with grilled shrimp and onions or a Greek version with feta and Kalamata olives. Don’t forget brunch, where chicken tenders and crispy waffles share a plate that just needs syrup to make it irresistible. 708.4705; henrysgrillandbar.com

Solstice Kitchen

With a thoughtful menu that evolves seasonally, Solstice Kitchen consistently earns top rankings as a special occasion destination. Expert chefs rely on more than a dozen local purveyors and growers to source ingredients at the peak of freshness. Brined, boneless pork chops with smoked pimiento cheese and a Cherry Coke-molasses barbecue sauce are true show-stoppers. 788.6966; solsticekitchen.com

Healthy Fare

Rawtopian Bliss

Tacos, teriyaki, pizza and pasta: These are just a few of the favorite foods that get a modern makeover into appealing vegan versions at Rawtopian Bliss. With colorful presentations that showcase organic ingredients, it’s easy to see how this mindfully-prepared cuisine is whetting our appetites for food that’s as beautiful as it is healthful. 518.8927; rawtopianbliss.org

Ice Cream

Sweet Cream Company

Sweet Cream Company on Main Street offers small-batch, hand-crafted, rich and creamy flavors. Grab a cone at lunch or an on-the-way home from work snack on a famously hot summer afternoon. Unique flavors push the boundaries and put your grocer’s freezer offerings to shame. Selections change frequently, so try that one calling your name today.  251.3311; sweetcreamcompany.com

Late Night Menu

Yesterday’s

A Five Points anchor for decades, Yesterday’s is a homey tavern offering Southern American cuisine. The college crowed knows it’s the late-night place to be, but the burgers, deli sandwiches, chicken fingers, nachos, soups and salads are good for lunch or dinner, too. Large parties are welcome but better call ahead. 799.0196; yesterdayssc.com

Lunch Spot

DiPrato’s

This is the people’s pick for best lunch with good reason. DiPrato’s is known for its famous pimiento cheese, which is also available for takeout. It’sSignature sandwiches, hot Paninis, and to-die-for salads can’t be beat. Being locally owned and operated and service with a smile only add to all the other reasons to head over at noon. 779.0606; dipratos.com

New Restaurant

Bodhi Thai Dining

The transition of the old bank building on Main Street in Lexington is all the rage. Strangers stop you on the street to insist, “Eat at Bodhi Thai!” The food truly soothes your “Bodhi” and soul, and you can take that to the bank. Reservations are advised. Street parking is limited, but there are spaces in the back. 957.1994; bodhithaidining.com

Organic Food

Rosewood Market

Open since 1973, Rosewood Market is the place to go for organic produce, pastured pork and other goodies supplied by local South Carolina farmers. The deli offers daily lunch and dinner specials, to eat in or to go, as well as soups, salads, desserts and baked goods to satisfy any taste, from the strict vegan to the keenest carnivore. 785.1083; rosewoodmarket.com

Outdoor Dining

Mr. Friendly’s

Authentic Southern cuisine is one secret behind the success of Mr. Friendly’s New Southern Café. What Midlands’ residents might not know is that it is also the best place for al fresco dining. The shade of the tree-lined patio adjacent to old railroad tracks gives its Deep South ambience another boost. Mr. Friendly’s exudes the essence of Carolina, never failing to charm.  254.7828; mrfriendlys.com

Pizza

Il Giorgione

You can’t “phone it in” if you want the best. The pizza in this intimate venue, which is romantic enough “for a first or 400th date,” treats you to an experience that leaves cardboard delivery in the dust. Pair your pick with an Italian salad topped with fresh mozzarella. Il Giorgione is cosa eccezionale: a great thing. 521.5063; ilgiorgione.com

Raw Bar

Oyster Bar Columbia

This unpretentious spot in the Vista has been the real deal since 2001, serving up the freshest raw and steamed oysters topped with the restaurant’s own “Mother Shucker Sauce.” Rounding out the menu are shrimp, scallops and a handful of tasty sides including smoked sausage and our favorite: “Growder,” a combination of grits and chowder topped with bacon and cheese. 799.4484; oysterbarcolumbia.com

Romantic Atmosphere

Travinia Italian Kitchen & Wine Bar

This place is definitely romantic. Sofas, a stone fireplace, lots of wines and martinis. Yep, it’s all Italian romance at Travinia. It offers a quiet ambience, perfect for whispers of affection. Excellent, unobtrusive service keeps your focus on your sweetie, after you order, of course. Two locations – Columbia; and Lexington: 957-2422; traviniaitaliankitchen.com

Salads

Jason’s Deli

First of all, Jason’s has a lovely salad bar that’s fresh and full of healthy choices. But if you want somebody to make your salad, this is the place to go. All menu salads can include salmon or chicken (antibiotic free), and nearly all are gluten-free.  The other reason to order a salad rather than a sandwich is you’ll have room for our favorite part: the free serve-yourself ice cream.  540.1973; jasonsdeli.com

Seafood

Blue Marlin

At the hub of the Vista, Blue Marlin is the kingfish of Columbia’s seafood scene. Blue Marlin’s signature dish is creek shrimp and andouille sausage with Tasso gravy. The oyster and shrimp Bienville and the shrimp and Tasso ham are both are served with hometown creamy Adluh grits. 799.3838;  bluemarlincolumbia.com

Service

Stonefire American Grill

A grill in Elgin serves great food along with heaping helpings of service and hospitality. At Stonefire American Grill, service isn’t a mere concept – it is a core value. IPA-battered fresh haddock, shoestring fries, hush puppies, lemon aioli and house made pickles will tempt anyone’s palate but the outstanding service is what makes patrons feel so welcomed. 419.2332; stonefireamericangrill.com

Specialty Drink

Motor Supply Bistro

Sure, you know all about farm-to-table dining – but what about “farm-to-shaker” sipping? At this award-winning restaurant, the cocktails are just as creative as the dishes on the menu. Locally-sourced herbs give flavor to the handmade bitters and infused spirits that change seasonally to embrace what’s fresh and abundant. Recent guests have enjoyed tequila-coconut milk punch and lively strawberry-mint juleps. 256.6687; motorsupplycobistro.com

Steakhouse

Ruth’s Chris Steak House

With its stellar national reputation, it’s no surprise Columbia voted it the very best in town. Ruth insisted the best beef be served sizzling hot on plates heated to 500∞F, which exceeds the industry standard. Complement your meal with a bottle of wine from their award-winning list of over 200 labels from around the world. 212.6666; Ruthschris.com

Sunday Brunch

Café Strudel

If you need a remedy for too much Saturday, Café Strudel is your Sunday salvation – no preachin’, just teachin’ your body to get right again. This paradise of Sunday brunch is home of the “hangover hash browns.” Get right with the sunrise burrito with black beans, sour cream and cheddar cheese. Strudel food can fix what ails you. 794.6634; cafestrudel.com

Sushi

Miyo’s

With multiple locations and dozens of sushi variations, diners could try a new dish at each visit to Miyo’s and not repeat for months! Sample the special menu to experience the artistry of sushi that’s as pleasing to the eye as to the taste buds. Try the Palmetto Rolls that feature coastal crab and shrimp, enhanced with avocado, tuna, honey, Japanese mayo and bright red roe. Multiple locations. Forest Acres: 743.9996; miyos.com

Vegan

Good Life Café

Eating in the raw is what you do at Good Life Café. Executive chef Sharon Wright prepares natural, wholesome, nutritious and delicious meals and beverages for those desiring a more healthful culinary lifestyle. The menu consists of American, Italian, Indian, Thai and Mexican gourmet cuisines. Many dishes are gluten free. 726.2310; Goodlifecafe.net

Water view Dining

Liberty on the Lake

Dine al fresco on the water even if you don’t own a private yacht with a chef. Enjoy the sunset while dipping your steak in signature sauces or treat yourself to the Ahi tuna. Get chummy and share small plates of baby back ribs, shrimp or chicken Florentine. Affordable luxury on beautiful Lake Murray. 667.9715; libertytaproom.com

Wine List

Gervais and Vine

Not a wine aficionado? There are several flights of wine from which to choose, so let your palate be the judge. Your server will guide you to a series of three related, but different, wines or you may select your own. The breadth and depth of their list is matched only by its quality. Outdoor seating only enhances the ambiance. 799.8463; gervine.com  

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