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From Fine Dining to Fine Diners, Aiken Can Satisfy Any Palate

Bob Gillespie Bob Gillespie
Bob is a former sports writer at Columbia’s The State newspaper. He enjoys golf at South Carolina’s 350-plus courses, and after a round, sampling craft beers from the Palmetto State’s breweries.
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Food is an important part of any tourist’s travel experience, and rarely does a relatively small town offer a wide variety of dining options. Aiken, though, is the exception to the rule, with restaurants and diners that offer everything from elegant and historic settings to a great burger and beer.

For those with cultivated tastes and a love of history, The Willcox Restaurant, located inside the hotel of the same name is the perfect blend of great cuisine and surroundings. Recognized by Wine Spectator and Best Chefs of America, chef Ed DeFelice offers an American menu influenced by his international travels. Sunday brunch, lunch and dinner can all be enjoyed in the dining room, the lobby’s cozy club setting or even by the pool.

Equally enjoyable is Malia’s, which has been hosting locals and visitors for more than three decades. Chef/owner Malia Koelker and chef/owner/stepson Matthew Shackleton are noted for using fresh, ethically produced ingredients from local farms. With dishes ranging from Australian lamb to Scottish salmon, Malia’s often draws repeat diners from outside the U.S.

For great Italian dishes, visit Casa Bella Italian Restaurant, where the Iannelli family has dished out great food in a relaxed ambiance for years. For lovers of traditional steak dinners, downtown’s Prime Steakhouse combines a fine dining experience with aged steaks, whole lobsters and fresh seafood.

Stables Restaurant at the Inn at Rose Hill is housed in a converted horse stable three years in the making. This cozy location offers dinners of shrimp, salmon, filets and ribeye, plus a variety of pasta and vegetarian items. There’s also a weekly brunch and late-night menu.

If you enjoy good food but without fancy trappings (and prices), Aiken has an array of choices, from pub food (inside the town’s own brewery) to diner dishes, pizza and more.

Whiskey Alley, located in The Alley in Aiken’s bustling Downtown district, specializes in small plates, salads and entrees such as roasted ricotta gnocchi, filet medallions, fish and chips, burgers and vegetable plates. Nearby is another local favorite, Aiken Brewing Company, featuring house-brewed beers along with a fun food menu that includes pretzel bites, cheese fries and a blackened chicken po’boy. Despite its name, City Billiards, established in 1957 and one of the city’s older establishments, is in fact a full-menu restaurant with a “few” pool tables. Original owner A.R. Edwards developed a chili recipe still used today.

For great ethnic food, Roma’s offers authentic, fresh-made Italian food, while TAJ Aiken has a vast selection on its Indian buffet. Betsy’s Round The Corner is a classic diner featuring soups and salads, hot dogs, burgers, sandwiches and a daily Blue Plate Special, with shakes and ice cream at the old-fashioned soda fountain. What’s Cookin’ Downtown bills itself as “food fast, not fast food.” Customers order at the counter from a menu board, sit and enjoy food cooked to order but delivered quickly; the business model is Atlanta’s famed Varsity.

Not full yet? Choices for dessert range from the ornate to the simple. At La Dolce Bakery & Café, owner Lady Kelly MacVean (yes, she received that designation in England) oversees a combined bakery (with pastries by MacVean’s daughter) and English-style tea room. At Aiken Ice Cream you'll enjoy single, double and triple cones, ice cream sandwiches and ice cream cakes—all homemade, with flavors changing regularly.

Bottom line: If you leave Aiken hungry or unsatisfied, it’s not for lack of options.

Bob Gillespie
Bob is a former sports writer at Columbia’s The State newspaper. He enjoys golf at South Carolina’s 350-plus courses, and after a round, sampling craft beers from the Palmetto State’s breweries.