What it’s known for: The distinctive name sets the tone for this jewel in Columbia’s Vista, with its handwritten menu that changes daily. Everything here is farm fresh, with inventive pairings and specialty cocktails unlike any others in the city.
Style: Southern, Lowcountry, Brunch
Address: 920 Gervais St.
What it’s known for: Had a late night out? Throw on your shades and head to Cafe Strudel for breakfast, order the hangover hash browns and never look back. This is diner food, but better. The menu has a nice selection of sandwiches and soups, plus entrees at dinner. Daily specials for all three meals make it even better.
Style: Breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner, family-friendly, diner
Address: 300 State St., West Columbia
What it’s known for: Like its name suggests, Terra’s menu reflects the freshest bounty of the surrounding land. The menu changes daily, and in addition to local fish, steaks and chops, also has a variety of pizza choices from the wood-burning oven.
Style: Southern, Lowcountry
Address: 100 State St., West Columbia
What it’s known for: Set in an old auto repair shop and named after the warmouth bass, The War Mouth is described by one of the owners as a “love letter to the 803.” The menu includes dishes made with ingredients you might bring home from hunting or fishing – catfish stew, quail, venison – plus regional faves such as Country Captain. It has a hipster vibe with good craft beer choices.
Style: Southern, lunch, dinner, barbecue, traditional, family-friendly
Address: 1209 Franklin St.
What it’s known for: When Blue Marlin opened in an old railroad depot in the Vista in 1994, it was one of the first nice restaurants to commit to the city’s new entertainment and dining district. And it has been setting the standard for business lunches and dinners ever since. The shrimp and grits are some of the best in town, there’s a number of great fish dishes and the menu is always consistent and always good. You can’t go wrong here.
Style: Seafood, traditional, Southern, lunch, dinner, family-friendly
Address: 1200 Lincoln St.
What it’s known for: Positioned right across from the State House, The Oak Table is a popular stop for lawmakers and other downtown workers. The locally sourced menu changes often and offers Southern dishes with a modern twist. The bar has a selection of interesting house-infused vodka martinis and a great view.
Style: Southern, traditional, lunch, dinner, brunch
Address: 1221 Main St.
What it’s known for: The name gives it away here, and oh, is it good. Order a Belgian waffle paired with delicious fried chicken, or Kiki’s signature red velvet waffle with cream cheese frosting. And after you let that sink in for a minute, look at all the other awesome soul food choices. Some nights also have jazz concerts. It’s warm, Southern hospitality and great soul food.
Style: Soul food, breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner, Southern, family-friendly
Address: 7001 Parklane Road
What it’s known for: This mainstay in Five Points has a changing menu of modern, inventive takes on Southern classics. The meatloaf is famous here, as is the daily house-ground burger special. It’s lively at both lunch and dinner, and offers great daily wine and beer specials.
Style: Southern, lunch, dinner, brunch
Address: 2001-A Greene St.
What it’s known for: The menu at Solstice is seasonal, local and bright, highlighting the farmers and fishermen who provide the stars of each dish. There’s also a list of daily lunch and dinner specials that are not to miss. Great seafood, house-ground burgers and inventive cocktails. This is an easy place to love.
Style: Southern, traditional, seafood, family-friendly
Address: 841 Sparkleberry Lane, Suite 4
What it’s known for: This is Columbia’s quintessential meat-and-three place, where almost anything counts as a vegetable (banana pudding!) and the fried chicken is crispy, hot and hard to beat. They have other choices, but you’ll be sorry if you don’t try the chicken. Open for breakfast, lunch and supper (they don’t call it dinner here), this local chain also is a regular stop on the political trail and has hosted presidents, lots of candidates and other celebs.
Style: Diner, Southern, breakfast, lunch, dinner
Address: 15 locations across the Midlands
What it’s known for: When you eat barbecue in Columbia, it’s made with a mustard-based sauce, and nobody has been doing it longer than the Bessinger family. The flagship store, where all the smoky magic happens, has been serving up sandwiches and plates for more than 60 years. Now with 12 locations around the Midlands, you’re never far from a taste of history. If you’re there early enough and they still have ribs left, by all means order some.
Style: Barbecue, family-friendly, Southern, lunch, dinner
Address: 1600 Charleston Highway, West Columbia
What it’s known for: The owners of Baan Sawan created a menu based on what they would want to eat if they were going out to dinner. They say they deconstruct traditional recipes and cook dishes with classic and modern techniques. The carefully chosen wine and beer list changes often. Favorites include the three-flavored duck and five choices of curry.
Address: 2135 Devine St.
What it’s known for: More than 20 years ago, and long before brewpubs became all the rage, the Hunter-Gatherer opened up shop between the SC Statehouse and University of South Carolina campus. The beer is brewed on-site, with seasonal offerings. The amount of detail paid to the brewing has always been impressive, and so is the food. The menu changes seasonally. Great selection of sandwiches, appetizers, salads, entrees and house-made pizzas.
Style: Brewpub, sandwiches, lunch, dinner
Address: 901 Main St.
What it’s known for: This small coffee/wine/bistro is a great combination of local farm-to-table with a Spanish twist. The menu changes and evolves according to season, and weekend brunch brings an inventive twist to old favorites. Local art fills the walls, and the cocktails are creative and well thought out. This is what people call a great find.
Style: Spanish, Mediterranean, Coffee, brunch, dinner, farm-to-table
Address: 116 State St., West Columbia
What it’s known for: This beautiful restaurant offers inside seating and a cool balcony overlooking the Five Points shopping district. Located in the historic VFW officers club, the restaurant showcases local ingredients with a Southern and Italian twist. Daily offerings might include a sweet tea pork chop or something wonderful involving peaches. The bar, built in the late 1800s for the historic Blakely hotel in Philadelphia, is home to inventive, seasonal cocktails.
Style: Southern, Italian, traditional, dinner, farm-to-table
Address: 751 Saluda Ave.
What it’s known for: A favorite neighborhood bistro in Forest Acres, Tombo Grille is a favorite for date night or a girls night out. The menu features fresh, local ingredients prepared with an international flair. Nightly specials are particularly popular and stay consistent each week. There’s often live music, too.
Style: Southern, traditional, lunch, dinner, farm-to-table, family-friendly
Address: 4517 Forest Drive
What it’s known for: Barbecue is the star here, along with a killer buffet that keeps on going. You smell the goodness before you get to the door, and the attentive staff makes sure you have everything you need. And if you’re looking to feed a crowd, their catering menu is a great option. You’ll see trays of Hudson’s at tailgate parties all around during football season.
Style: Barbecue, Southern, family-friendly
Address: 4952 Sunset Blvd., Lexington
What it’s known for: This small, family-owned spot serves up homemade Italian dishes in a welcoming, easy-to-love atmosphere. House-made mozzarella, pastas, pizza and the freshest tomatoes grace the menu here, and there’s a great patio to enjoy a glass of wine and catch up with friends.
Style: Italian, casual, family-friendly, lunch, dinner
Address: 2406 Devine St.
What it’s known for: The fresh, local ingredients and seasonal focus help elevate the Italian dishes at Rosso to special status among Columbia’s restaurants. Artisan meats, local produce and handmade pasta all combine with a wood-fire grill and wood-burning oven to turn out memorable, refined meals. The deep reds of the interior, the comfortable warmth and smart dishes combine to make this neighborhood trattoria a big hit.
Style: Italian, farm-to-table, dinner
Address: Trenholm Plaza, 4840 Forest Drive
What it’s known for: This narrow, lively gathering spot near the SC State House specializes in Bourbon – the drink and the New Orleans inspired menu. Serving lunch, late lunch, dinner, late night and Sunday brunch, there’s always a reason to try something new. The cocktails and, of course, the bourbon list, is extensive.
Style: Southern, Cajun, lunch, dinner, brunch
Address: 1214 Main St.
What it’s known for: This is the place to go for a lively bar scene combined with Southern fare with an international flair. Cola’s is in a restored R.C. Cola bottling plant downtown and has a patio with a great view of the SC State House. It’s a great place to meet friends after work.
Style: Southern, casual, dinner
Address: 1215 Assembly St.