Food & Drink

The 15 Essential Columbia, SC Restaurants

Published On 08/02/2016 Published On 08/02/2016

Best cheap eats: Egg Roll Chen

715 Crowson Rd
When you’re feeling poor, lazy, or both, head to Egg Roll Chen. Standouts include honey sesame chicken, pork wontons with a kick, and yen su jee (Taiwanese popcorn chicken). Not only will your dinner be inexpensive, but you’ll also have enough for lunch the next day, as the portions here are truly huge.

Forrest Clonts/Motor Supply (edited)

Best place when someone else is paying: Motor Supply Company

920 Gervais St
Fine dining in a chill atmosphere, with local art on the walls, and locally sourced ingredients on your plate: that’s Motor Supply in a nutshell. The menu changes daily, highlighting whatever’s fresh and in season, but this spot also has a reputation for cocktails. During brunch, you’ll see quite a few bacon-infused Bloody Marys.

Best vegetarian: Good Life Café

1614 Main St
Soak in some sun and enjoy some people-watching at this veggie lover’s paradise on Main St. Not only is the location great, smack in the heart of Downtown Columbia, but the whole menu is vegan and raw as well. Try the messy-yet-beautiful nori wrap, or go bold with an eggplant bacon wrap.

Best date night: Cellar on Greene

2001 Greene St
Cellar on Greene is tucked away from the noisy parts of the Five Points entertainment district, and with its cozy atmosphere and extensive wine list, it’s a perfect spot to begin your evening. Plus, you can impress your date with a three-course meal without sweating the bill -- a paltry $22 is all it’ll cost you.

Best late-night eats: Beezer's

919 Sumter St
Sure, you could hit up the bustling grease joints that are Waffle House or Cook Out, but Beezer’s is your best bet if you don’t want to have more regrets than necessary in the morning. This basic sub shop offers fresh-baked bread, but more importantly, it’s cheap, delicious, and open until 3am. You’ll wanna grab yourself a T-bird (turkey, lettuce, tomato, provolone, and mayo), but be prepared to join a long line of undergraduates.

Wurst Wagen

Best sushi: Camon

1332 Assembly St
The best sushi in town can be found on the ground floor of a parking garage. Seriously. You can take your non-sushi-loving friends here, too, because the teriyaki is not your average overly sweet stuff; it’s subtle and beautifully plated. Dining at Camon also usually comes with a bonus: while you’re waiting for the main event, you might be treated with a veggie roll or a crunchy crab roll. Yes to free food, and hell yes to free, high-quality sushi.

Best pimento cheese: DiPrato's

342 Pickens St
South Carolina doesn’t play around when it comes to pimento cheese, and DiPrato’s is the place to go for the stuff. Demand is high enough that it’s now available at some grocery stores, but the best way to enjoy it is at the restaurant, where it comes with puffy fried pita chips -- and you can get a version of it made with sharp Vermont cheddar, too. Be prepared to ingest your full daily allowance of salt and grease, and then some.

Best (pimento cheese or otherwise) burger: Rockaway Athletic Club

2719 Rosewood Dr
For a beer and a burger that may or may not be topped with gooey pimento cheese, head to this unmarked brick building where the Bayeux Tapestry lines the wall in the bar area and the Molson is always in stock. If pimento just isn’t your thing, opt for one of the 10 other burgers on offer, topped with everything from American to Monterey Jack.

Best coffee shop: The Local Buzz

141 S. Shandon St
The Local Buzz serves locally roasted Turtle Creek Coffee (duh), but it’s also got an unpretentious, homey vibe that helps distinguish it from the pack of other admittedly great coffee shops in town. To top it off, there’s usually some kind of gluten-free and/or vegan baked treat on offer -- two things that typically aren’t easy to find in Cola.

Rise Gourmet Bake Shop

Best breakfast: Rise Gourmet Goods & Bakeshop

926 Harden St
The biscuit is the quintessential Southern breakfast item, and Rise absolutely nails it. Pair one (topped with bacon, egg, and cheese) with a cup of coffee, then add one of the house-made flavored creamers: burnt cinnamon, Café Brulot, and Tahitian vanilla are all ridiculously delicious.

BBQ for everyone: Little Pigs

4927 Alpine Rd
North and South alike, Carolinians take their BBQ very, very seriously. Fortunately, if you don’t want to venture into the quagmire of a BBQ debate, Little Pigs offers three different varieties: mustard, vinegar, and that red stuff the rest of the world calls BBQ sauce. This, combined with the buffet format, ensures everyone at your table will be satisfied by the mountainous meal they consume.

Best fast food: Drake’s Duck-In

1544 Main St
Drake’s has been around forever, and in that time it’s reached the pinnacle of the fried chicken sandwich experience. The chicken is a little greasier, the pickles more plentiful, and the accompanying sweet tea (you were going to order tea, weren’t you?) is even sweeter.

Best brunch: @116

116 State St
Just over the river in West Columbia, this tiny storefront serves up a reliably delicious brunch and an outstanding list of cocktails. Standout items: tortilla espanola, and any of the special takes on the White Russian. Come early or late -- this place gets packed quickly.

Forrest Clonts and Sweet Cream Co.

Sweetest dessert: Sweet Cream Company

1627 Main St
Handcrafted ice cream, anyone? A few notable flavors include rose, olive oil & rosemary, and Aunt Cathy’s zucchini bread, but this shop debuts new ice cream and Italian ice varieties on a regular basis. During the cold winter months, try the Cup of Awesome: it’s half coffee, half hot cocoa, and all awesome.

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1. Egg Roll Chen 715 Crowson Rd, Columbia, SC 29205

Claiming to be the first restaurant in Columbia to include authentic Taiwanese fare on their menu, this family-owned spot is a neighborhood go-to for Asian comfort food. Regulars hit up this barebones joint for the succulent, oversized egg rolls that give the place its name and roll out (get it?), but seating is available if you prefer to dine in and watch the cooks hard at wok in the open kitchen (sorry, we couldn't resist).

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2. Motor Supply Co. 920 Gervais St, Columbia, SC 29201

This upscale-casual eatery has been a Congaree Vista staple since 1989, beloved by locals and visitors alike for its farm-forward New American fare. While the menu changes daily depending on seasonality, signature dishes like the Carolina heritage bone-in pork chop -- perpetually succulent and paired with tasteful sides, depending on market availability (say summer corn puree and bacon-braised kale in warmer months, for example) -- continue to delight and satisfy. With an award winning wine list and specialty cocktail offerings often featuring house-infused liquors, the rustic-chic space is an ideal venue for an intimate, convivial evening.

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3. Good Life Café 1614 Main St, Columbia, SC 29201

Situated right in the heart of Main Street, this unpretentious, contemporary joint sits atop the totem pole of Columbia’s scarce vegan dining options. Blending nondenominational influences (the choice between a grilled tempeh Reuben wrap and a mushroom Nori wrap is surprisingly difficult, we’ve learned), the menu offers an array of raw and cooked vegetarian dishes. If you’re looking to rehydrate after a morning workout or to nurse your hangover with one of their refreshing juices, make sure to arrive on the earlier side -- it’s a popular brunch destination on the weekends.

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4. Cellar on Greene 2001 Greene St, Columbia, SC 29205

From its robust wine offerings to its affordable prix-fixe menu (we’re talking 3 courses for under $25), this bistro is one of the best date night options in Five Points. Wine aficionados can sample different varietals before committing to a bottle to sip on throughout their meal, which -- whether you opt for standout dishes like the seared rare Yellowfin tuna nachos, or the Flatiron steak topped with heavenly bourbon-peach barbecue sauce -- is sure to satisfy.

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5. Beezer's Gourmet Sandwich Shop 919 Sumter St, Columbia, SC 29201

Saving downtown Columbia from late-night craving-induced doom, Beezer’s is your go-to sandwich shop. It’s a bare-bones, divey joint featuring all the accoutrements of great delis (inspirational sports quotes in Times New Roman framed throughout, ATM nestled in the corner, menu offerings blown up to cover an entire wall). What sets it apart from other nearby outposts is the quality of the food: whether you’re an early bird or a night owl swinging after dark, you can expect cold beers in the fridge and flavorsome sandwiches on freshly baked bread (pro tip: locals obsess over the signature T-bird sub).

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6. Camon Japanese Restaurant 1332 Assembly St, Columbia, SC 29201-3124

Don’t be alarmed by the environs: settled on the ground level of a parking garage, this unassuming spot serves some of the best sushi in Columbia. The place draws an impressive amount of local regulars, as both owners -- the husband and wife duo of the Kobayshi family -- are on the premises daily, frequently working behind the sushi counter themselves. Come for the ingredient-forward, artfully presented nigiri; stay for the convivial conversation and tranquil ambience.

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7. Di Prato's 342 Pickens St, Columbia, SC 29205

If not the homey, Old New York-inspired environs, it’s the addictive pimento cheese (dulcet and creamy, whether served in a ramekin alongside house-made chips, or luxuriantly spread across a bacon-topped cheeseburger) that attracts neighborhood regulars here time and time again. You can even buy it the pound and bathe in it, if that’s your jam. If you’re the type who struggles with showing up on the earlier side, you’ll likely lament the lack of a reservations policy at this ever-popular brunch locale.

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8. Rockaway Athletic Club 2175 Rosewood Drive, Columbia, SC 29205

Known by locals as Rockaway's, this bar offers the area's best pimento cheeseburgers, as well as a casual booths-lined spot where you can catch up with friends, and maybe make some new ones. The spot is hidden in an unmarked brick building but once you do manage to locate it across from Rite Aid, you'll be treated to low prices and and a refreshingly amicable, yet decidedly post-college-age, crowd.

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9. The Local Buzz 141 S Shandon St, Columbia, SC 29205

Designed with an outdoor seating area and colorful interior decoration, the Local Buzz is the one-stop, family-friendly location where you can get your coffee, as well as your lunch, dessert, and socializing fix, all in one go. The shop prides itself in local sourcing too, fetching its baked goods from Silver Spoon Bake Shop and coffee from Turtle Creek Coffee.

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10. Rise Gourmet Good and Bake Shop 926 Harden St, Columbia, SC 29205

Started by NYC patisserie master Sarah Simmons, Rise is a French bake shop with a southern twist. In a tastefully decorated shop colored with Tiffany blue and caramel, the ambitious operation prepares sandwiches, whips infused creams like burnt cinnamon and spiced pumpkin, and bakes and one-of-a-kind baked goods like a citrus, brioche-based muffin and a blondie called a Take 6 -- Simmons' take on the popular candy bar. And to fully utilize every inch of the space, the menu also features savory dishes like soups, sandwiches, and salads.

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11. Little Pigs BBQ buffet 4927 Alpine Rd, Columbia, SC 29223

Hailed as the best barbecue in South Carolina, Little Pigs offers a buffet eating experience in which the meat is the focus, and every other dining element is tuned out. Indeed, as far as decoration, you'll see little more than patriotic flags, and factory-standard four-tops almost haphazardly arranged about the room. With three kinds of barbecue (tomato, pepper and vinegar, and mustard), homestyle veggies, and laudable mac 'n cheese however, you'll feel fine that the only accouterment to this restaurant is the collection of hot sauce bottles at every table.

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12. Drake's Duck IN 1544 Main St, Columbia, SC 29201

Referred to as "Ducks" by locals, this fast-casual bastion of the best chicken sandwich in town is a go-to comfort favorite for locals. Located in downtown Columbia, parking might be hard to come by, but the wait is worth it for the sub-$6 menu of sausage sandwiches, cheeseburgers, and New York-style cheesecake slices.

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13. @116 Espresso and Wine Bar 116 State St, West Columbia, SC 29169

This tiny shop in west Columbia is a popular coffeeshop by day, and a charming wine bar by night. While the walls feature excellent artwork by local artists, you'll want to turn your attention to the Spanish-inspired menu which shines during the brunch hours, with options like the spanish-style potato crusted quiche, and bocadillo jamon y manchego (ham and cheese).

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14. Sweet Cream Co. 1627 Main St, Columbia, SC 29201

While the crew at this downtown parlor might be known for handcrafted ice cream flavors sold in small batches, the organic and locally-sourced flavors ensure a favorite with every visit. Picks vary from strawberry to more eclectic mixes like whisky pecan, and if you come in with your furry friend, the owners will have a frozen treat for them too!