With a demand for fresh, local produce sweeping over the American state of South Carolina, there has never been better or healthier time to eat out in the charming and picturesque state. As its largest city, Columbia is pioneering this new wave of culinary experimentation, with its plethora of restaurants dedicated to providing seasonable, sustainable and delicious delicacies. Here’s 10 of the city’s best hidden culinary gems, from homely Mexican lounges to sleek bistros in the heart of the town center.
Named after the great grandmother of owner Adam Huneau, this restaurant aims to recapture the authentic taste of Italy by offering traditional recipes passed down by the family over generations. With great care put into creating a friendly and inviting atmosphere, the restaurant’s interior is pleasantly cozy, with its warm, low lighting, and bright red walls hugging diners in a warm embrace. The menu is a delectable list of all the Italian comfort classics with an international twist, from the smoked gouda cheese bread to the mouth watering fettuccine Alfredo. Authentic, amiable and with wonderfully attentive staff well versed on the menu and wine list, Alodia’s is a home from home in the city, and a great place to enjoy a laid back yet refined lunch or dinner.
Originally a neighborhood sandwich and cookie shop established in the 1980s, Mr Friendly’s New Southern Cafe has gradually transformed into Columbia’s kernel of Southern comfort fare. Built on the simple philosophy of great food, great service and great wine, the restaurant is a guaranteed hit with diners searching for hearty portion sizes, simple ingredients and maximum taste. With their fish dishes being some of the best in town, visitors can enjoy crawfish stuffed mountain trout fried in buttermilk, as well as tuna, chowder and sea scallop dishes to die for. The restaurant’s regularly changing specials keep the menu exciting and up to date with modern culinary demands, meaning that diners can choose a new favorite every time they visit. With a bright, modern interior, and colorful artworks adorning the walls, a meal at Mr Friendly’s is a refreshing and deeply satisfying culinary adventure.
Winner of the Best of Award of Excellence from the Wine Spectator Magazine for five years running, Hampton Street Vineyard is the top spot for wine lovers in Columbia. With over 650 different bottled vintages on offer, and 35 served by the glass options, choosing a tipple here can be a daunting task. But don’t fear; the restaurant’s carefully selected wine program changes weekly in accordance with the dishes on offer, giving guests the best choice of wines to complement their food. The menu here features a substantial list of dishes heavily incorporating French and Oriental flavors, and there is a tasty artisan cheese plate with spicy olives that it out of this world. An innovator in fine dining, guests will want to dress up a little before enjoying a glamorous meal at Hampton Street Vineyard.
Columbia boasts a thriving vegetarian and vegan dining scene, with Lamb’s Bread being a must try for creative cuisine free from any animal products. Any vegan will know that restaurant choices can be particularly limited, thus it is refreshing to see a variety of unusual options on the menu here, such as the monster philly cheese steak made with mock peppersteak and melted vegan mozzarella, all in a honey whole wheat roll. Using all non-GMO, nutritious products, and offering a variety of delicious fruit smoothies to complement meals, diners at Lamb’s Bread can revel in guilt-free indulgence. Eclectically decorated with a tribal theme and African masks covering the walls, this is an interesting and memorable dinner spot with a chilled out atmosphere.
Undeniably cool yet charmingly rustic, Motor Supply Co. Bistro’s interior is a melange of exposed brick walls and wooden beamed ceilings juxtaposed with modern table furniture and lighting schemes. Serving some of the best cocktails in town, the bar is a wonderful take on the classic French bistro, with its sleek wooden surfaces and enthralling drinks cabinet displaying every spirit imaginable. Serving sustainably sourced, farm to table products, this restaurant prides itself on being Columbia-orientated, and does its best to support the local economy. The hand-written menu changes daily, with chefs aiming to provide a diversified choice of homemade meat dishes, sandwiches and salads, as well as a tempting selection of fine wines. Aiming to restore the artistry to comfort food, ensuring all their dishes are farm-fresh and carefully prepared, Motor Supply Company is a truly innovative and pioneering restaurant in Columbia.
Refined and upmarket whilst still managing to remain unpretentious, Solstice Kitchen prides itself on its all-seasonal, internationally influenced menu, with dishes made in an array of styles, ranging from the traditionally Southern to Italian and French. Their regularly changing specials aim to create food combinations not tasted before by their customers, thus making the meals memorable and appealing for diners tired of the same old choices. Their minimalistic, modern interior keeps the focus on the food, which is impeccably presented by the dedicated chefs who aim to make each plate a work of culinary art. Creative in their craft, guests can enjoy regular happenings here that range from babysitter nights, where families can leave their children in the care of the restaurant’s nannies, to dining with the dogs, where dog owners can bring their pooches for a chef-prepared meal on the restaurant’s outdoor patio.
For a quick, flavorsome bite, Cecilia’s is a chilled out, no frills extravaganza of tasty Mexican fare. Family owned and operated, this cozy restaurant makes a change from the chain restaurants which currently dominate the Mexican food market in South Carolina. Cecilia herself runs the front desk, and the whole family pitches in to welcome guests and deliver the best enchiladas, quesadillas and tacos in town. Bursting with chicken, beef, fish or vegetables and always brimming with cheese, no one can ever accuse Cecilia’s as being miserly on portion sizes. Where the decor is fairly elemental, the food is simply outstanding and locally renowned, making this restaurant an excellent place to refuel after touring the city.
A family run venue, Julia’s is a taste of Germany in the heart of Columbia, and is a local favorite which any visitor is bound to have recommended to them at some point. Here diners can feel like they have been transported from sunny South Carolina to a cosy living room in Munich or Berlin, with the German plates, crockery and medals on display exuding a real homely feel. The owner Julia was born in Bad Homburg and raised in Oberursul Taunus before relocating to Columbia 40 years ago. In her stammtisch, which is the German word for a friendly family restaurant, Julia serves authentic German dishes such as breaded pork schnitzel and goulash soup, all of which are made using recipes from her much loved homeland.
The Oak Table is a champion of locally sourced produce passionate about supporting local farmers and fishermen. The restaurant certainly lives up to its name, with the interior being a beautiful contemporary design of reclaimed wood, designed using the oak from an up-cycled 19th century log cabin. Dapper and undeniably chic, guests can relax at the bar and enjoy an expertly prepared cocktail before taking a seat in the spacious, airy dining room. The food is traditional American cuisine reinvented using contemporary, international flavors and new ideas, with the certified Aberdeen angus steaks being some of the most well-cooked in town. Be sure to stop by for the Sunday brunch, which includes items such as the butterscotch French toast and a lobster scramble.
Diners at Inakaya will not only enjoy an original Japanese menu, but also a charming décor and flawless service. Where one part of the restaurant is fitted with traditional Japanese low tables and zabuton cushions to sit on, the other part features a Westernised seating arrangement. Sushi lovers are well catered for here, with all of the dishes being prepared using fresh fish cooked by knowledgeable Japanese chefs. Stylish, fashionable and always bustling, Inakaya is amongst Columbia’s highest rated restaurants, frequented by locals who flock to enjoy its energetic and modish atmosphere. With an extensive range of Oriental alcohols available for refreshment after a hearty meal, guests can opt for a traditional sake rice wine, or, for something a little less fiery, try one of the wide selection of imported beers.