18 Must-Try Restaurants in Columbia, SC
Columbia is famously hot -- and not just for the temperature (although that’s definitely a factor). The capital city has a lot more to offer than just football tailgating; it’s a vibrant town with thriving arts, culture, and culinary scenes, and a sustainable cost of living that makes it one of South Carolina’s true hidden gems (inasmuch as a state capital can be hidden). The dining landscape in particular has taken off in the last few years, and from vegan soul food to smoked brisket, you can find pretty much anything you’re craving here. We’re highlighting the best of the best in Columbia’s restaurant scene, making your time in the Soda City even more enjoyable.
Best vegetarian: A Peace of Soul
2338 Main Street
Formerly known as Lamb’s Bread Cafe, Peace of Soul caters mainly to vegetarians, but even carnivores can agree that the vegan soul food here is hearty, flavorful, and stick-to-your-ribs good. Their mac & “cheese,” curry potatoes, candied yams, and BBQ “spare ribs” are so delicious, you might find yourself daydreaming about going vegan (as long as you can eat here every day).
Best BBQ: Palmetto Pig
BBQ in South Carolina is an artform that both producers and consumers take extremely seriously. While somewhat of a dive, Palmetto Pig more than makes up in flavor what it lacks in atmosphere. The pulled pork and fried chicken are both fantastic, but what really steals the show are the sides: the homemade mac & cheese, hushpuppies, and hash and rice are close to a religious experience. Don’t forget the banana pudding, if you really want to take things up a notch.
Sweetest dessert: Sweet Cream Company
1627 Main Street
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.
Best food truck: 2 Fat 2 Fly
It’s hard to believe people are only just now figuring out how to reinvent the chicken wing. 2 Fat 2 Fly has not only reinvented it, but they’ve completely perfected the chicken wing as we know it with stuffed wings (that’s right: Stuffed. Wings.). Our favorites are the Sucka Punch -- stuffed with jalapeño, bacon, and cheddar -- or the mac & cheese-stuffed wings, which are just as tasty as the name implies.
Best coffee shop: Cool Beans
1217 College Street
Caffeine is important to practically every group of people in Columbia -- from college students to business people -- and Cool Beans definitely delivers the goods. They offer both brewed and espresso drinks and have a rotating list of specials to choose from, as well as free Wi-Fi for those needing to get some work/studying done, plus delicious snacks and pastries for that 3pm pick-me-up. Plus, the staff are warm and approachable, which, if you’re planning on posting up here for hours on end, is pretty important.
Best breakfast: Just Us
1208 Knox Abbott Drive
You know a breakfast place is legit when there’s already a line to be seated by 8am. Not only is Just Us reasonably priced, but their food is also on point; we’re talking serious southern fare without any flair or pretension. Case in point: All their menu categories start with “Just,” as in “Just Breakfast,” or “Just Biscuits.” Your best bets are standard breakfast fare (eggs, bacon, home fries) paired with a side of gravy, because gravy makes everything better.
Best place when someone else is paying: Motor Supply Company
920 Gervais Street
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 bar food: The Whig
1200 Main Street
Bar food can often be kind of a let down, but The Whig -- an award-winning dive bar -- is doing things a bit differently, putting a big enough emphasis on their bar cuisine that you don’t actually have to be tipsy to enjoy their menu. We’re talking things like smoked Gouda mac & cheese, chipotle pimento cheese fries, and palmetto cheesesteak, all of which pair perfectly with an ice-cold beer from their giant beer list.
Best Chinese: Sun Ming Chinese
7509 St. Andrews Road, Irmo
If you’re looking for some greasy, ready-in-10-minutes takeout Chinese food, this ain’t the place; if, however, you’re looking for some of the highest-quality Chinese food in the entire state, then you’ve gotta try Sun Ming. They’ve got all the standards, like fried rice, lo mein, and General Tso’s chicken, in addition to more traditional Cantonese cuisine like clay pot beef brisket, pickled cabbage soup, bitter melon, and Cantonese roast duck. Is your stomach growling yet?
Best date night: Cellar on Greene
2001 Greene Street
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. For a first date or a night out with friends, you can split a medley of small plates and not lose your shirt over it. And for you winos out there, take a gander at their $90 weekly mystery case, where you pick five wines and they add seven random bottles to your list, making you look like a true wine aficionado.
Best cheap eats: Egg Roll Chen
715 Crowson Road
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.
Best hangover cure: Menkoi Ramen House
1004 Gervais Street
There are very few ailments a good bowl of Ramen can’t heal, so when you’re trying to recover from a night of debauchery, we recommend heading straight to Menkoi to let their magic broth bring you back to life. Although each of their ramen options are delicious, some of our favorites are the Cha Shu Men (soy broth with pork and a boiled egg), or the Spicy Ramen (spicy pork broth with pork and a boiled egg). You’ll be back to normal in no time!
Best pimento cheese: DiPrato's
342 Pickens Street
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 late-night eats: Beezer's
919 Sumter Street
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.
Best brunch: Cafe Strudel
300 State Street
When it comes to brunch, there are few places guaranteed to make your stomach happier than Cafe Strudel. Whether you’re nursing last night’s hangover, trying to get a little day drunk, or just looking for a seriously good breakfast, The ‘Strude’s got you covered. Some things to love about this place: the self-serve coffee bar with coffee arranged in order of caffeine strength, the fancy mimosas with fresh-squeezed OJ and cinnamon sticks, and the Hangover Hashbrowns (with onions, banana peppers, tomatoes, cheddar cheese, and two eggs).
Best fast food: Drake’s Duck-In
1544 Main Street
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 sushi: Camon
1332 Assembly Street
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 or otherwise) burger: Rockaway Athletic Club
2719 Rosewood Drive
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.
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