Your Culinary Expedition to Columbia’s Top 40 Restaurants

Posted On November 8, 2018

From Alodia’s to Za’s

Written By April Blake     Photos by Sally Taylor and Jay Browne

The dining scene in the Midlands is growing at such a staggering rate, it’s hard to keep up with the latest and greatest — all while not forgetting longtime local favorites, too! We’ve rounded up forty of the top Midlands restaurants and are sharing a tidbit about each one to help give a sense of the flavors to be found in our city’s strengthening and ever-diverse dining scene. 

Alodia’s Cucina - One version of this casual yet upscale Italian restaurant wasn’t enough for the Midlands, so now there are two ways to enjoy some of the best Italian classics. The original location in an unassuming shopping center next to an H&R block in Irmo gives way to a cozy, white table clothed evening perfect for sharing a romantic meal or celebrating a family birthday with accessible price points and a wine list for vino appreciators of all levels. Their newer Main Street location in Lexington has a festive vibe with an open kitchen  to watch pasta being made, and often, an outdoor concert happening at the Icehouse Amphitheater just behind the white-brick restaurant that was formerly a furniture store. No reservations accepted, so plan accordingly. 781-9814

Solstice Kitchen - This jewel is tucked away in Northeast Columbia is a sister restaurant to Mr. Friendly’s and Cellar on Greene in Five Points. Their menu, which changes daily, is driven by the seasonal produce and meats sourced from local farmers as much as possible for the freshest food around. Solstice is known for modern Southern cooking and the creativity from the kitchen shines through in meals like house-made chorizo sausage tacos or mahi-mahi and Beaufort stew. Vegetarian options are given as much care and thought as their meat entrees and are available for lunch and dinner as well. A well-appointed wine selection and cocktail menu pairs perfectly with what’s on your plate. Their beautifully dressed dining room brings a fancier touch to dinner and even lunch, for a much-needed midday treat for local office workers and Northeast dwellers alike. 788-6966

Bourbon - In the mood for a Cajun-Creole treat, with a fancy cocktail or two to bookend the meal? Then you’ll want to head to Bourbon, whether it’s for a night out on Main Street before taking in a movie at the Nickelodeon, or if you’re avoiding going back to the office at the end of the day. The bordello-esque dining area has richly colored damask wallpaper, mood lighting, and a lineup of bourbons along the wall behind the bar for a visual centerpiece. The menu changes ever so slightly with the seasons, where the fish and vegetables may come and go, but favorites like boudin balls, creole pimento cheese, and Crystal spikes bleu cheese slaw can always make their way to your table. Bourbon does not take reservations, so keep that in mind when planning a visit on the weekend. 403-1404

Kao Thai - The first occupant of the old fire station in Columbia’s Vista is Kao Thai, which opened in July to bring modern takes on Thai food to the area in a hip atmosphere. The concrete floor and exposes brick and beams are a decorative nod to the building’s past, but the food is all in the present. Their cocktail menu features drinks with and without a Thai twist, like the Thai tea martini and sake. A can’t-miss starter item is the roti and curry, a creamy coconut milk-based sauce spiced with yellow curry and other spices and served with roti, a pan-fried flatbread, as a vehicle for the curry. Pineapple fried rice, pad see ew and papaya salad are other familiar Thai dishes on their menu that are done with a flair specific to Kao. Being in the Vista, their nearby private parking lot for diners is a big draw. 569-6881

929 Kitchen - Modern elegance sets the stage at the glass-fronted 929 Kitchen, while traditional Korean cuisine with some inspired fusion are the star of the show. Diners can choose from bibimbap or katsu, or they can get the best of two worlds with kimchi nachos or tacos that feature bulgogi, the Korean spice marinated meat. Their cocktail program is equally a fusion of the best elements of Eastern and Western, with a focus on soju, the Asian answer to vodka, which provides a clean palate for ingredients like matcha, kimchi juice and lemon juice to shine. Lunch and dinner are available at 929, and reservations are encouraged for dinners. The Gervais Street restaurant is open Monday through Saturday and reservations are encouraged for the boutique space. 764-3825

Bone In Barbecue - Though it’s been around for several years, Bone In Barbecue has reinvented themselves with the help of a brick and mortar location that allows them space to serve more people who are hungry for their offerings. The menu was thankfully able to grow to encompass more barbecue, more meat, and more fixins on the side like their bechamel sauce macaroni and cheese, pickled okra, pulled pork and St. Louis style ribs. Bone In Barbecue is in located in the up and coming Bull Street District and has the distinction of being the first restaurant on the premises in the former Ensor Building. Exposed brick and beams lend a sexy city grit feel that contrasts with the sleek wood and modern decorative touches, plus plenty of local art with a very meta food theme. Lunch and dinner are served Tuesday through Friday and dinner Tuesday through Saturday. 728-7512

Menkoi Ramen - The flashing neon light depicting a bowl full of hot soup beckons with a pull similar to the Hot Doughnuts Now sign, bringing about a craving for warm, brothy ramen that far surpasses the college ramen many initially think of. Menkoi, located in the Vista, is a noted hangover cure among the bar-hopping set, a cold remedy for others, and a bowl full of comforting flavor for all. Orders can be eaten in the comfy but sparsely decorated dining room or packaged up to go for your ramen-on-the-run needs. Menkoi is open quite late on the weekends to serve the bar crowd and is open at lunch and dinner, too. The menu has less than 20 items total, making the decision for which ramen and sides to get pretty easy, but the spicy ramen is a Columbia favorite no matter the weather. 708-1569

Arabesque on Devine - It’s been scientifically proven that following a Mediterranean diet is one of the best ways to eat healthfully, with their reliance on omega-3 rich fish, a rainbow of vegetables, and heart-healthy olive oil. So, you could say a dinner out at Arabesque is doctor’s orders for optimal health! The cozy restaurant on Devine Street is a neighborhood favorite that serves up Lebanese favorites like hummus, baba ghanouj, kabobs, shwarma, pizzas and more. Unlike a few other Middle Eastern restaurants in Columbia, Arabesque does serve alcohol and has a curated wine list that pairs fantastically with the Mediterranean flavors for which they’re known. Their outdoor patio seating provides an excellent view of Devine Street for optimal people watching, or traffic watching if you go during happy hour, which features the best prices in town on both snacks and drinks. 779-6299

Za’s - More than just ‘za — pizza, that is — Za’s menu has evolved since its beginnings to become a full-service restaurant with offerings to satisfy any desire, from fresh vegetable appetizers to hearty sandwiches and pastas, but the pizza is still there and more extensive than ever. A weekend brunch has been recently introduced as well, and it’s still enough of a secret that there isn’t a line, a rarity on the Columbia brunch scene. Both indoor and outdoor seating gives diners a choice between being able to watch a ball game on one of the several TVs throughout or watch people and traffic milling about the tree-lined Shandon neighborhood street. Za’s is open for lunch and dinner seven days a week and has an extensive wine list and specialty cocktail menu that shifts with the seasons to feature fresh local produce and herbs. 771-7334

Il Giorgione - Traditional Italian techniques are the foundation of every dish served at Il Giorgione, as they are created by the Italian-trained Chef George. Simple, rustic pasta dishes that allow the ingredients to shine, and carefully paired wines are the can’t miss items on the menu. The small Devine Street restaurant twinkles at night under the glow of dimmed lights and candlelight flickering at each table, and shines during the day thanks to tree-filtered natural light flooding in the windows. You’ll feel like the only person in the restaurant while you’re there thanks to their attention to detail in service, where they can help you decide whether it’s going to be pizza or pasta that day — the choice is irresistibly difficult with so many mouth-watering options available. With indoor and outdoor seating, Il Giorgione is open Tuesday through Saturday for lunch and dinner. 521-5063

116 Espresso and Wine Bar - The cutest little restaurant space on State Street holds more tables than you’d think possible and serves up a dinner menu that changes daily, plus a weekend brunch that brings the coolest hungry people in town out on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Daily specials feature seasonal ingredients and an artistic flair are posted on social media on weekdays. How about a pan-seared duck breast with paprika sweet potato puree and roasted red pepper harissa or a lamb burger? Brunch offerings include the sweet in the form of waffles with seasonal fruit, to a quiche of the day, with plenty of variety in between, like their to-die-for tri-color hash browns garnished with chunks of tangy goat cheese.  791-5663

Terra - With a spectacular view of downtown Columbia from their front windows, Terra is a staple in the area’s dining scene with Chef Mike Davis leading the helm on using the freshest ingredients in the most creative ways possible. Sometimes, those ingredients even come out of the backyard of the chef himself. The fancy yet casual atmosphere lends itself well to celebrating a special occasion just as easily as celebrating a Wednesday (which is their pizza and pinot special night, certainly worthy of a fete!). Terra can cater to a meat and potatoes eater as well as someone looking for something to eat that cannot be found elsewhere in town. Their wine list and cocktail program are also worthy of a mention, with a team behind the bar that takes the time to truly craft cocktails that fit with the menu and the seasons. 791-3443

Kiki’s Chicken and Waffles - Comfort food often equals carbs, which is totally fine, as long as it’s as delicious as the chicken and waffles from Chef Kiki Cyrus. The northeast Columbia restaurant serves up more than just chicken and waffles, there are also a plethora of home-cooked sides from collards to okra that’ll remind anyone raised Southern of Sunday suppers at grandma’s house. Dessert waffles, especially the red velvet waffle with strawberries and cream cheese icing will round out the meal, assuming you’ve got room left after downing everything else. Kiki’s opened in 2012 when the chicken and waffle craze was just starting to make its way across the country. Kiki’s is opening a second location on Bower Parkway in the northwest section of Columbia in 2019. Either location you visit, come hungry and with loose pants. 699-5422

Spotted Salamander - Once a little catering business that set up at Soda City Market each Saturday, selling sweets and their version of the uber-popular New York cronut, Spotted Salamander is all grown up with a sweet little brick and mortar location that has expanded to take over another building, too. They churn out a daily rotation of salads, sandwiches, entrees, deviled eggs, croinuts, sangrias, sodas, and small plates to an eager set of hungry downtowners who are more than happy to wait for a seat. Their popular mix of creative and flat-out deliciousness has spawned dishes like sweet tea vodka meatball subs and tomato pie macaroni and cheese. A regular menu changes seasonally, but their specials are written on a chalkboard and posted daily to social media, for those in the know to be able to daydream about what they’ll order until they get there. Spotted Salamander is open for lunch Monday through Friday. 556-2197

Devine Cinnamon Roll Deli - Can a cinnamon roll get any better than it already has? The answer at the DCRD is a resounding yes. This mother-and-son-owned restaurant rolled onto the Columbia dining scene in 2016 and became line-out-the-door popular quickly, thanks to their namesake cinnamon rolls which come in flavors like strawberry cheesecake, wildberry graham cracker, and apple cobbler to name just a few. The rest of their menu is just as mouth-watering with creative breakfast sandwiches, New York food cart style hot dogs, and sandwiches that aren’t of the boring corner store variety. They really do have people lined up there, so plan ahead or get there early for breakfast or lunch, or they have weekend brunches to to begin a relaxed day downtown. You may recognize them from their appearance on the Food Network with their enormous cinnamon roll, but their regular-sized ones pack plenty of sweet, too. 465-4947

Peace of Soul Vegan Kitchen - Once known as Lambs Bread Vegan Cafe, its new owner Folami Geter is the daughter of the former owner. She is modernizing the feel of vegan soul foods in Columbia. They are skilled at making meat-like textures and flavors out of entirely plant-based products in a way that amazes and makes you thrust your plate out asking for another serving. Their macaroni and “cheese” and stewed collard greens are also perennial favorites for lunch and dinner. Choose from a menu special like chicken-fried “steak”, orange “chicken” or their rotating “meat” and three special to get a diverse sampling of the menu. Once the sole restaurant in the area, the Cottontown retail and dining district has caught up and is blossoming around Peace of Soul. One of their upgrades along with the new name is a food truck that should be hitting the streets in 2019. 253-7889

Kingsman Brew & Que - After a few decades in business, the legendary Cayce restaurant has a Lexington outpost that serves up even more in the form of pit-smoked barbecue and a lot more craft beer brew. Situated just on the outskirts of the Main Street district of the Town of Lexington, you can still find their famous ribeye pimento cheeseburgers and hamburger steak from the original. In the Lexington location, there is room for a smoker that serves up pulled pork, smoked chicken, brisket and more. Plus, there’s a healthy beer menu serving up domestics and craft brews alike. This casual hangout is good for a hearty lunch, after work wind down beers, or a family dinner out. The Brew & Que is open for lunch and dinner every day of the week. 957-0863

Tazza Kitchen - An oasis in a parking lot, Tazza has a strange but desirable ability to shroud its patrons from the busy streets surrounding the restaurant on the edge of Trenholm Plaza with lush greenery and tucked away tables outdoors, plus cozy indoor tables that feel private amid a modern dining room. Their daily menu features inventive salads, a variety of wood-fired pizzas with toppings that you won’t find just anywhere, and other uses of their brick oven like wood-fired salmon and brick oven crab cakes. A fantastic cocktail selection that’s great for happy hour, plus happy hour pricing on appetizer snacks makes this a great gathering place for girl’s night or catching up with coworkers after a long day. 782-0760 

Moctezuma’s Taqueria - Some of the best Mexican food in town is hiding in a small strip of buildings on Beltline Boulevard near Devine Street in a little taqueria with a questionable name for a restaurant (don’t Google it if you don’t know already). Their menu is filled with the usual numbered lunch and dinner specials, but amongst those are even more special lunches and dinners like tortas and huraches. Their classic Tex-Mex fare is even more addicting than your usual Mexican go-to, and the evidence is found in the place usually being packed to the gills with people from all walks of life stopping for a moment to celebrate the little things in life, like a fantastico burrito. Moctezuma’s is open for lunch and dinner seven days a week. 888-7498

Lula Drake Wine Parlour - Main Street’s void of adorable wine bars that are classy but not too classy, with an eclectic and stylish menu that has everything from snacks to dinner has been filled with the opening of Lula Drake Wine Parlour. Named after a woman who used to own a hat shop in the same space in the early 1920s, this wine bar has top notch bottles and down to earth descriptions than even a vino novice can appreciate and pair with their meals with ease — or their knowledgeable staff will help with recommendations, too. In their small kitchen, Chef Pierce Bowers works magic with a pasta-based menu and fresh ingredients. There’s a spot at the bar, or farther back in some of their cozy tables for people kicking off work early, first dates, and when you want to impress an out-of-town friend with how cool Main Street’s gotten since they left for Portland. 606-1968

COA Agaveria Y Cocina - A sexy hotel chain needs a sexy restaurant located within and COA fits the bill. Located in the ALOFT hotel on Lady Street, COA is the sister restaurant to Camden’s celebrated Salud. The Agaveria portion of the name refers to their extensive tequila tasting menu, as tequila is made from the agave plant. And the cocina churns out a small menu that will delight the taste buds and keep the tequila from taking too much a hold of those who venture too many a taste. Notable menu items include their “street tacos” with carne asada, the pina-habanero ceviche, and the queso fundido, but luckily they feature small plates made for sharing, so it’s easy to order half the menu and get a taste of everything without overdoing it as long as you bring your friends. 851-5965

Blue Cactus Café - By this point, the Cactus is as much as a Columbia institution as the state house or the giant fire hydrant sculpture, but with more swagger and sass. The family-owned business is now onto its second generation of ownership, dishing out Tex-Mex and Korean food that coexist on the same menu, along with a little attitude if you ask why your food is taking so long. Everything is prepared to order and they are upfront about the time it takes, with signs and everything. People love this restaurant and its staff so much that they get postcards from around the world, which adorn the walls of the restaurant, giving it a very internationally homey feel. If you ask for your bi bim bap or anything else spicy, it will come out spicy, which explains how they sell so much of their green tea and red bean ice cream scoops, another can’t-miss menu item. 929-0782  

Stella’s at Arko’s - Burgers, brisket nachos, gourmet tacos, and chimichurri steak? What kind of place combines all of these things and more, including a healthy selection of vegan options, too? It’s Stella’s at Arko’s, that’s who. Located in the Flight Deck plaza in Lexington, Stella’s at Arko’s brings the upscale to the area with a delectable menu and a cocktail selection that rivals big city bars. A handful of specially crafted cocktails and classic concoctions sit easy alongside a bourbon, whiskey, and scotch list that’s pretty extensive. Not sure what you might fancy? Their staff is knowledgeable and very willing to share their preferences and help you choose your libations for the evening, should the list be a bit overwhelming. They have both indoor and outdoor seating for any kind of weather and are open for dinner Wednesday through Saturday and Sunday brunch. 785-5560

Very’s Great Philly Food - Very delicious, very cravable, very full — these are all things you’ll think about the very tucked away Philly-style eatery on Two Notch Road in Columbia. Real Philadelphians have said that this is the truest Philly cheesesteak they’ve had outside of Pennsylvania. Their pizzas, pastas, and lasagnas are not to be missed, either. Made to order, Very’s is very generous with their sauces and cheeses on each plate, leaving diners feeling satisfied and ready for a carb-induced nap following their meal. The feel of the no-frills restaurant is very family friendly from the booths lining the walls, to the dark carpet and wipeable surfaces, making this an ideal place to bring the whole crew, as they have multiple tables to seat large groups. On the way out, don’t miss their Italian ices for the perfect way to top off the meal. 788-6254

Ganbei Restaurant - Behind the doors at Ganbei, a Japanese restaurant and bar in Lexington, a contemporary styled dining area awaits. Ganbei’s menu offerings span the traditional appetizers of potstickers, edamame, and crab rangoon to make way for their hibachi and sushi roll entrees. Not sure if you want to go raw with sushi or have a hot meal from the wok? They’ve got both, so you can make a choice, or go with both, as many diners tend to do so that they can get the best of both worlds. The Godzilla rolls in particular are a highly recommended menu item. They are open for lunch and dinner every day of the week.  808-1618

Mai Thai Cuisine - Tucked into a small strip mall on Highway 378 near I-26 and Lexington Medical Center, Mai Thai has long been a secret gem of West Columbia. Behind the plain exterior is a beautifully appointed dining room, dim with mood lighting even during lunch, it transports you to a more relaxed place and time — the right here and the right now. Freshly made Thai dishes from appetizers to entrees like black pepper tofu, drunken noodles with chicken spiced to your liking, or a vegetable filled green panang curry. It’s hard to leave without topping off the meal with a sweet, whether its a simple bowl of lychees or a bubble tea from their bakery next door. Mai Thai does a brisk takeout business at lunch, which is good for when you’re unable to unwind in the dining room. Mai Thai does not take reservations and is very popular on the weekends. 939-4795 

Upper Crust - Not only will this crust, but this whole restaurant will shoot up to the upper parts of your “Where should we eat?” list. The crust is wood fired with an oven that’s in plain sight of most of the diners in the restaurant, and the rest of their menu is “California-fresh,” as described by owner and chef Beth Burrell. In addition to a dozen different pizza creations, like a pulled pork barbecue pizza or a chorizo and manchego cheese pie, their appetizers, salads, and sandwiches lean towards the healthy side, so there’s no need to count calories here. The house-made meatballs or the totchos (aka tater tot nachos!) are popular menu selections that reflect the creativity put into the food here. Sunday brunch is another popular time to visit and taste the best of their sweet and savory morning offerings. 888-6282

Momma Rabbit’s Nibbles and Sips - Can you believe that seven siblings work together to run a cafe in Lexington? It’s true, each sibling has a job, from the culinary school- trained brother and sister, to the manager and servers. The locally owned restaurant has become a destination for both lunch and dinner and it gets pretty packed. Adorably punny named sandwiches that have an undeniable flavor that can stand up to their names make up the meat of the menu, and tasty salads, soups, and pimento cheese, hummus, and chicken salad dips round out the options. Brunch is served Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. In addition to being a restaurant, Momma Rabbit’s also serves up frozen take home meals for an easy and healthy way to have a quick freezer meal ready any night of the week. 356-1330

Antai Asian Dining - There are Chinese restaurants, and then there is Antai Asian Dining in Lexington, which serves up the freshest-tasting versions of Chinese-American food that you’ll ever hope to find. They have the usual menu items like eggplant in spicy garlic sauce, General Tso’s chicken, lo mein, and the Many Blessings dinner, plus an extensive sushi menu where they are rolled to order. Antai also offers some specialty dinners like the triple taste bird’s nest with three kinds of meat in one meal, and the ma po tofu for those looking to add a lot of spice to their life. The attention to detail and flavor is evident in both the food and the service. Antai is open for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday. 356-0062

Tombo Grille - Forest Acres’ neighborhood spot is Tombo Grill, where neighbors meet and friends and family gather when they want to go somewhere nearby but not quite downtown. Creative comfort food is how Tombo describes its menu style, and that is a fair assessment based on creations like their chorizo mac and cheese, braised short ribs and roasted meatloaf, just to name a few. Daily chef’s specials are announced at 5 p.m. on Facebook and Twitter for those who like to see what’s new on the fly. Their wine list boasts the largest half bottle wine list in town, and the rest of the by the glass or by the bottle selection is nothing to look past, either. Tombo is open Monday through Saturday for dinner, and reservations are encouraged. 782-9665

Good Life Café - What began as a small raw vegan cafe in West Columbia has transformed into a thriving Main Street institution where people go when they are looking for the healthiest food around. People with food sensitivities, allergies, those who keep kosher, and vegans alike have a plethora of amazingly inventive foods like jackfruit tacos to buffalo cauliflower bites that won’t have anyone missing the meat — or the heat, as most of the foods are not heated to more than 115 degrees to preserve the height of nutrients in each plant-based ingredient that make up their menu. Some cooked items are also available if you do want the heat, but they’re still extremely healthful. Cold-pressed juices and smoothies are available for those on the go, and Good Life boasts an impressive organic wine and beer list as well. Enjoy indoor or sidewalk dining on the most bustling block of Main Street. 726-2310

Root Cellar - Lexington isn’t always known as a place to find local food more so than chains, but the Root Cellar fits the bill for those looking for fast-casual Southern cooking that’s derived from local ingredients and made by local folks. Their menu covers the down home Southern with fried chicken livers, to the much more mainstream buttermilk fried chicken or shrimp and grits. A large list of sides make it hard to choose just a few because you’ll want to save room for their from-scratch red velvet cheesecake, or perhaps the creamy banana pudding pound cake. A curated wine list and domestic beers are available for those who want to make it a happy hour. The Root Cellar is open for lunch and dinner every day of the week. 359-5436

The War Mouth - Southern favorites and forgotten flavors of the past are dished up at the War Mouth in a gourmet yet approachable way. Venison, purloo, catfish and collard greens are on the menu in ways that can’t be found anywhere else nearby, plus their pit-smoked barbecue that can be smelled throughout the Cottontown neighborhood. The menu changes frequently, and items on it, like the pickle plate, can change daily depending on seasonal availability. A whole section of items to share with the table ensures that everyone gets a taste of everything they want on the menu. Some of the most inventive cocktails in town are being served behind the huge garage doors here, which are raised up when it’s nice out so you can enjoy a cool breeze with a stiff drink. Truly, the War Mouth has become a neighborhood restaurant and bar in the way that a local chain only wishes it could be, and residents within walking distance find themselves drawn here often. 569-6144   

The Secret Garden - The secret is getting out on the Secret Garden, a Southern buffet that’s only open two days a week — that’s how you know it’s the real deal. The owner, Sonny Poole grows all/nearly all of the food served in the restaurant in his own secret garden (but it must be pretty big). The seating area is interesting, as it looks like a few buildings fused together, and the small buffet stand gets refilled constantly as people keep filling their plates with home cooked Southern delights like tomatoes and okra, macaroni and cheese, fried chicken, barbecue  and individual servings of dessert. The buffet is unlimited servings, so come hungry because there’s so much you’ll want to try but still won’t be able to taste it all. They only accept cash and are open Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.  608-5050

Goat’s - This second iteration of the brick-walled, ruby-lit Goat’s (shortened from Goatfeather’s, which was its previous proper name) is so reminiscent of the first one that you may not even realize that it’s 2018 and not 2004 as you sit as the dark bar and sip on a wine flight and snack on buffalo fried oysters. Olando “Opie” Patterson, a beloved long time bartender at Goatfeather’s, bought it and made a few tweaks to make Goat’s his own establishment. Some of the changes include an expanded menu, a larger variety of wine, and a new vibe. For those wanting to enjoy Five Points in a bit different way than the college students, Goat’s is the place to go. They are open Monday through Saturday beginning at 4 p.m. each day.  708-4495

Delucca’s Italian Grill - It’s nearly missable on Highway 378, sandwiched between a sandwich shop and Greek restaurant near the zoo entrance, but there’s good reason to turn around and check out Delucca’s. A longtime West Columbia staple, the Italian restaurant is beloved for its casual elegance that extends from the white tablecloths that don’t demand formal wear to the precision that the chefs put into their dishes like the gnocchi which features the best of three sauces: red pomodoro, white alfredo, and green pesto, arranged to mimic an Italian flag, lest you forget the type of food on order. Delucca’s also has a wide selection of wines from which to choose and their staff is knowledgeable about what will pour best with your dishes for the evening (or afternoon). They are open Monday through Saturday. 926-5255

Rosso Trattoria Italia - Casually elegant chef-driven Italian fare really and truly can be found in a shopping center in Forest Acres. Rosso, which means red in Italian, is just that and more. The white linen tables set the stage for some of the most top-notch service to be found in Columbia, along with foods that some may call daring, like a bone marrow appetizer or funghi pizza. Less adventurous eaters can still find what they want though, in steak frites or a lemony pasta primavera, and the ever-faithful spaghetti and meatballs staple. With a commitment to using local farmers and vendors, they feature fresh caught seafood from Sea Eagle Seafood, Adluh and Congaree Milling Company grains, and Heritage Fields produce, among many others.  787-3949

Pho Viet - There are two locations of Pho Viet — the original on Decker Blvd., and the second location in Five Points on Devine Street. Both serve up a few dozen types of pho, a rich bone broth that is said to have healing properties, with rice noodles, a choice of pork, beef, chicken, or tofu, and lots of vegetables and herbs. Pho is eaten with chopsticks to grab the meat, veggies, and noodles, and a large spoon to get hearty helpings of the broth. As good in the dead of winter as on a warm summer’s day, pho is truly an addicting experience. The Decker restaurant is brightly decorated but is definitely in a former fast food restaurant, while the Five Points one is tucked in a trendy strip alongside other area favorites. Both locations also serve a variety of flavors of bubble teas and have a few Asian beer selections, too. And remember, when it comes to pho, slurping is encouraged!  699-5959

Crepes and Croissants- One of the few places serving French food in Columbia (for now), Crepes et Croissants, to use the French version of their name, has thin pancakes filled with toppings both sweet and savory for whichever inclination you have that day. They have more than crepes and fat buttery croissants, though. Meringues, a rainbow of macarons and a variety of coffee drinks will have you feeling perfectly French for the day. Owner and chef Laurent Prescelti is from France and is trained in the French culinary traditions and is excited to share them with Columbians who may have never had a chance to try authentically French fare. The small downtown shop is located on Sumter Street and closes at 3 p.m. on weekdays and 2 p.m. on weekends.  462-4779

Libby’s of Lexington - Located on West Main Street in Lexington, this little neighborhood restaurant and bar has become a staple of the area, serving up a wide variety of pizza, gourmet sandwiches, salads, and other elevated pub style eats. Daily specials of intriguing options like ahi tuna tacos or a fireball chicken wrap are posted on their Facebook page with a hilarious commentary on the day, for more adventurous eaters to find what’s on the menu, or just for a laugh. Diners can sit inside, but the large outdoor patio with a view of the traffic passing by on Main is where the real action is. With fun and friendly service, Libby’s is open for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday, and come casual! 520-4689