Best of Columbia 2015: Food & Beverage

Best New Restaurant


Runner-up: Spotted Salamander

The ambience is delightful, the food is delicious and the drinks can’t be beat. Welcome to Columbia, Bourbon.

Honorable mention: Old Chicago Pizza & Taproom, Hickory Tavern, Tazza Kitchen, Hot Box

Best Restaurant

Motor Supply Company Bistro

Runner-up: Mr. Friendly’s

New Southern Café

Motor Supply’s been around for many years, but over the past year, under the leadership of Chef Wes Fulmer, it’s stepped up its game once again. When you eat at Motor Supply, you know you’re going to have a seasonal, artistic, delicious meal.

Honorable mention: Cantina 76, Terra, Cola’s, The Oak Table, Bourbon, Solstice Kitchen

Best Restaurant - Northeast

Solstice Kitchen

Runner-up: Travinia’s Italian Kitchen

Solstice would be a great restaurant in any part of town; in the Northeast — where chains far outnumber your locally owned options — it’s a godsend.

Honorable mention: Polliwogs, Hot Box

Best Restaurant - Lexington

Old Mill Brewpub

Runner-up: Mellow Mushroom

Located inside Lexington’s historic Old Mill on East Main Street, Old Mill Brewpub is a go-to dining spot in Lexington with a robust food menu. But it’s more than than, too, offering more than two dozen beers on tap and more than 50 bottled beers.

Honorable mention: Travinia’s Italian Kitchen, The Flight Deck, Libby’s, Private Property

Best Restaurant - Irmo

Liberty on the Lake

Runner-up: British Bulldog Pub

On Liberty at the Lake’s website, there is a slogan: “The only thing better than our food is the view.” They aren’t kidding. The taproom and grill, located just off Marina Road, offers a stunning view of Lake Murray. It also offers solid steaks, sandwiches and plenty of cold beverages that go down easy after a hot day on the lake.

Honorable mention: Real Mexico, Alodia’s Cucina Italiana, Zorba’s

Best Restaurant - West Columbia/Cayce

Café Strudel

Runner-up: D’s Wings

There are lots of formidable competitors in this category, among them Terra and 116 Espresso & Wine Bar. So how does Cafe Strudel come out on top? It must be the restaurant’s wide appeal, which extends from its delicious, inexpensive and super-popular breakfast (the Hangover Hashbrowns are legendary) to its creative and eclectic dinner menu.

Honorable mention: Terra, 116 Espresso & Wine Bar, 2108 State Bar and Grill

Best Chef

Mike Davis - Terra

Runner-up: Frank Bradley - Bourbon

Nine years ago, Mike Davis opened Terra and set the standard for chef-driven cuisine in Columbia — and he still does. The best thing about Davis is that nothing on the plate is an afterthought; he gives the same attention to a side of butter beans as to a perfectly cooked rabbit loin.

Honorable mention: Dave Grillo - Cantina 76, Alan Boyle - Solstice Kitchen, Joe Turkaly, Nathan Christmus - caterer

Best Place for a First Date


Runner-up: Gervais and Vine

Not fancy, but still a bit classy, with house-brewed beer and daily dinner specials? Sounds just about right for getting to know someone. We know a lot of married couples who used to hang out here in the early days of their relationship, so clearly it’s good luck.

Honorable mention: Mr. Friendly’s New Southern Café, 116 Espresso & Wine Bar, Cola’s, The Oak Table, Bourbon, Cellar on Greene

Best Late Night Food

Waffle House

Runner-up: Cook Out

A waffle. Toast. Two eggs. Choice of breakfast meat. Grits or hash browns (not really a choice, as you’ll obviously order hash browns, scattered). Oh, Waffle House’s All Star Special, a late night feast fit for royalty.

Honorable mention: The Whig, Bar None

Best Place to Dine Outdoors

Liberty on the Lake

Runner-up: Pawleys Front Porch

There are few things more awesome than throwing back a couple of cold ones while listening to music and enjoying Liberty’s classic American cuisine with a group of friends. An awesome view of the sunset doesn’t hurt either.

Honorable mention: Gourmet Shop, Carolina Ale House, Terra, Tazza Kitchen

Best Take Out Food

Zoe’s Kitchen

Runner-up: Rush’s

Want something delicious to eat at your desk — but tired of the burger-dominated lunch market? Zoe’s has you covered. Those white beans are damn good.

Honorable mention: Eggroll Chen, Hot Box

Best Bang for the Buck

Cook Out

Runner-up: Cantina 76

Are you hungry, but kind of broke? Cook Out is your move. Basically, they’ll sell you a lot of pretty good food for a low price. Take their Cook Out Tray, for example. You can get a burger, a huge tea and two sides for $4.99. You know what one of the sides is? A corn dog! That’s bang for your buck, pal.

Honorable mention: Moe’s Southwest Grill, The Whig

Best National Chain Restaurant


Runner-up: Bonefish Grill

Remember that black-and-white YouTube video that came out in 2006 about one man’s journey to Chick-fil-A at his local mall? (“Go up there and just give me a chicken sandwich with some waffle fries! … And maybe a Coke to drink or something.”) Well, it now has more than 20 million views and it’s still hilarious. It’s also extremely vulgar, which is totally unlike what you’ll encounter at Chick-fil-A. No, you don’t remember it? Unforgivable.

Honorable mention: Chipotle, Longhorn Steakhouse, Carrabba’s, Outback Steakhouse Nominee

Best Fast Food Chain


Runner-up: Five Guys Burgers and Fries

Remember when McDonald’s reigned supreme in the world of national chain restaurants? Well, those days are over. With incredible waffle fries, first-rate chicken sandwiches and absurdly attentive service, Chick-fil-A has earned its spot at the top of this list.

Honorable mention: Rush’s, Zaxby’s, Cook Out

Best Kid-Friendly Restaurant


Runner-up: Chuck E. Cheese’s

There are several reasons Chick-fil-A likely took this spot. Their kids’ meal is fairly priced. Some of the store’s locations have cool playgrounds. You might see that cow mascot if you go on the right day. (Don’t go that day if your kid is scared of such things.) But the number one kid-friendly attribute? You can trade in the kids’ meal toy for an ice cream. #winning

Honorable mention: CiCi’s Pizza, Moe’s Southwest Grill

Best Place for a Business Breakfast

Cafe Strudel

Runner-up: Lizard’s Thicket

It’s no secret that the fastest way to a person’s heart is through their stomach. Who wouldn’t want to hammer out a business deal over Hangover Hash Browns, Cinnamon Pancakes and freshly squeezed orange juice? Yum.

Honorable mention: Eggs Up Grill, Drip, Le Peep

Best Place for a Business Lunch

Blue Marlin

Runner-up: Motor Supply Company Bistro

Features a dimly lit, dark-wood ambience that makes you feel like you’re cutting important deals — plus excellent seafood, collards and sweet tea. Locally owned and consistently great.

Honorable mention: Mr. Friendly’s New Southern Café, The Oak Table, Solstice Kitchen

Best Wine List

Gervais and Vine

Runner-up: Cellar on Greene

This wine and tapas bar holds tastings, winemaker dinners and jazz nights every now and then, so if you want to wind down after a long day at work, seek out this Vista establishment. Join the wine club, and you’ll get to expand your knowledge and your palate by trying different wines each month.

Honorable mention: Hampton Street Vineyard, Mr. Friendly’s New Southern Café, Solstice Kitchen

Best Coffee


Runner-up: Starbucks

You might wonder what’s taking so long. You might wonder why the barista has to set up each of those little pots by hand, painstakingly measuring and grinding the beans, pouring hot water and patiently stirring. You might wonder these things — unless you’ve already had a delicious cup of Drip coffee, in which case you know that the wait is well worth it.

Honorable mention: Cool Beans, The Wired Goat, Loveland Coffee

Best Barista

Michael King - Drip

Runner-up: Jessica Ochoa - The Wired Goat

Michael King is a friendly, smiling, caring guy, but not too friendly, you know? You don’t want an overenthusiastic barista. Plus, he makes a mean cup of coffee.

Honorable mention: Beach Loveland - Loveland Coffee

Best Sweet Tea

Groucho’s Deli

Runner-up: Bojangles’

There’s one liquid that works best in washing down your STP Dipper from Groucho’s. No, it’s not the 45 Sauce (though it is liquid gold). It is, of course, the deli’s famed sweet tea. And when they say sweet tea, they mean sweet tea. You might need a little extra ice to cut the sweetness — or you might not.

Honorable mention: McAlister’s Deli, Chick-fil-A, Lizard’s Thicket, Rush’s

Best Breakfast

Cafe Strudel

Runner-up: Original Pancake House

If you’ve ever driven down State Street some weekend morning and wondered why all those people are standing on the sidewalk waiting to get into Café Strudel, now you know.

Honorable mention: Cracker Barrel, Eggs Up Grill, Lizard’s Thicket

Best Brunch

Di Prato’s

Runner-up: Cafe Strudel

Pecan raisin French toast, huevos rancheros served with a juicy chorizo link, salmon cakes and grits, fluffy omelettes — all this and more awaits you at Di Prato’s, where the savory enjoyment of a traditional delicatessen meets some serious Southern comfort. Get your brunch on.

Honorable mention: 116 Espresso & Wine Bar, Motor Supply Company Bistro, The Oak Table

Best Deli/Sub/Sandwich Shop

Groucho’s Deli

Runner-up: Firehouse Subs

The story of Groucho’s began in 1941 with potato salad, cole slaw and dressings for salads and sandwiches. Its mantra of “fast, fresh and original” has worked out quite well for the deli, as it now spans 26 locations throughout the Carolinas.

Honorable mention: Jimmy John’s, Beezers, 5th Avenue Deli

Best Vegetarian Menu

Good Life Cafe

Runner-up: Blue Cactus

Not just a vegan restaurant, but a raw vegan restaurant with a fully stocked bar?! Vegetarians rejoice.

Honorable mention: Black Bean Company, Lamb’s Bread

Best Barbecue

Shealy’s Barbecue

Runner-up: Hudson’s Smokehouse

Batesburg-Leesville is known for two things: High school football and Shealy’s Bar-B-Que. They’re both pretty damn good. Shealy’s all-you-can-eat buffet offers a vast array of items, including, of course, barbecue and all the trimmings. The fried chicken is also fantastic. Plus, you cannot eat less than two bowls of banana pudding there, unless you are some kind of communist or something.

Honorable mention: Little Pigs BBQ, Southern Belly, Palmetto Pig, True BBQ

Best Burrito

Moe’s Southwest Grill

Runner-up: Chipotle

“Welcome to Moe’s!” At the Tex Mex restaurant Moe’s, employees yell when you walk through the front door, but that’s neither here nor there — the important thing is that Moe’s has huge burritos, more than 20 ingredients and free chips and salsa with every order. Moe’s has a number of locations in the Midlands, all of which employ workers skilled at stuffing as many ingredients as possible into a rolled tortilla. Moe’s queso dip is also quite good.

Honorable mention: El Burrito, San Jose, Real Mexico

Best Pizza

Mellow Mushroom

Runner-up: Marco’s Pizza

If you’ve ever gazed upon Mellow Mushroom’s Red Skin Potato Pie — with its roasted red potatoes, Applewood smoked bacon and caramelized onions — you can understand how Mellow Mushroom pulled down top honors.

Honorable mention: Thirsty Fellow, Village Idiot, Dano’s Pizza, Pizza Joint, Nicky’s Pizzeria, Pizza Man

Best Wings

2 Fat 2 Fly

Runner-up: D’s Wings, Publick House (TIE)

What’s that? Macaroni and cheese stuffed inside a chicken wing?! Jambalaya too? Yes, yes it’s true. Truck owners Corey Simmons and Ramone Dickerson have found a way to make fried chicken wings even more awesome. The two even have their own show, Wingmen, on the Oprah Winfrey Network.

Honorable mention: Wild Wing Cafe, Wings & Ale, Carolina Wings and Ribs

Best Ribs

Hudson’s Smokehouse

Runner-up: Carolina Wings and Ribs

Ribs are really hard to get right. They have to be moist, but the meat needs to be cooked thoroughly enough that it slides off the bone with minimal gnawing. Hudson’s has mastered the art.

Honorable mention: Texas Roadhouse, True BBQ

Best Hot Dog

Sandy’s Famous Hot Dogs

Runner-up: Rush’s

Sandy’s is a Midlands institution, with a host of locations across the area. They are known for their Black Angus hot dogs and homemade chili. They’re flavorful dogs that can be a little messy — a good four-napkin kind of hot dog. When you’re done with that hot dog, Sandy’s also has delicious ice cream that comes in absurdly large portions.

Honorable mention: Buddy’s Saucy Dogs, Jimmy’s Mart, KC Hot Dogs

Best Hamburger

Pawleys Front Porch

Runner-up: Five Guys Burgers

and Fries

Burgers so good they made Guy Fieri slightly less annoying. Yes, Pawleys was once featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives — and boy do these burgers deserve the honor.

Honorable mention: Rockaway Athletic Club, Rush’s, Smashburger, Burger Tavern 77

Best French Fries

Five Guys Burgers and Fries

Runner-up: McDonald’s

Five Guys gives you so many of these amply seasoned fries that they could be a meal all by themselves. Unless you’re sharing with someone, stick with a small order and enjoy that delicious Cajun seasoning.

Honorable mention: Smashburger, Rush’s

Best Salad

California Dreaming

Runner-up: Copper River Grill

Year in and year out, California Dreaming wins in the best salad category, and with good reason. Those salads are huge, but balanced — and those little honey-slathered croissants are downright addictive.

Honorable mention: Zaxby’s, Ruby Tuesday

Best Steak

Ruth’s Chris Steak House

Runner-up: Longhorn Steakhouse

Of course it’s the best steak. It’s Ruth’s Chris.

Honorable mention: Outback Steakhouse, Texas Roadhouse

Best Taco

Cantina 76

Runner-up: San Jose

Cantina 76 serves up a selection of creative and tasty tacos on its fresh flour tortillas, but let’s focus for a second on just one of them: the BBQ Brisket taco, with tender beef, honey-chipotle barbecue sauce, pico de gallo and a lime squeeze. It’s a flavorful intersection between Southern flair and Tex-Mex heat — exactly the spirit that makes Cantina 76 tick.

Honorable Mention: Real Mexico, Moe’s Southwest Grill, Taco Bell, El Burrito, The Whig

Best Asian Restaurant


Runner-up: M Vista

Miyo’s is known for its creative Asian fusion cuisine. In addition to an extensive sushi menu, featuring things like the Godzilla, Hawaiian and Mandarin rolls, you can find dishes ranging from Thai Basil Beef, Spicy Garlic Eggplant and Buddhist Delight gluten-free tofu to something as simple as egg drop soup. Delicious.

Honorable mention: Inakaya, Mai Thai, Blue Cactus

Best Mexican Restaurant

San Jose

Runner-up: Cantina 76

Chalupas, churros, chimichangas — this family-owned business serves delicious, authentic Mexican cuisine. And, if you stop by on your birthday, they’ll even let you wear a sombrero. Nice!

Honorable mention: Real Mexico, Casa Linda, El Poblano

Best Chinese Restaurant


Runner-up: Eggroll Chen

From Shanghai noodles and General Tso’s chicken to ginger beef and shrimp fried rice, Miyo’s offers its own take on Chinese classics — and the results are consistently delicious.

Honorable mention: Eggroll Station, Sun Ming, Main Moon

Best Italian Restaurant

Villa Tronco

Runner-up: Pasta Fresca

Villa Tronco is old-school — charmingly old-school. The Italian spot on Blanding Street purports to be the first Italian restaurant ever opened in Columbia. With a menu full of Italian classics, a seemingly endless wine list and a cozy environment reminiscent of an old movie, Villa Tronco continues to attract loyal regulars and new customers alike.

Honorable mention: Travinia’s, Rosso Trattoria Italia, Alodia’s Cucina Italiana

Best Greek Restaurant


Runner-up: Grecian Gardens, Mediterranean Tea Room (TIE)

Want to fill your tummy with some of the city’s most revered Greek salads and pizza? Try Zorba’s.

Honorable mention: Devine Foods

Best Japanese Restaurant


Runner-up: Inakaya

This Myrtle Beach-based Japanese steakhouse chain has eight locations in Georgia and the Carolinas, which means we’re not the only city that appreciates Miyabi’s hibachi-style cooking and full-service sushi bar. Sit back, relax and watch as the chefs show off their mad skills on the grill.

Honorable mention: Yamato, Camon

Best Southern Restaurant

Mr. Friendly’s New Southern Café

Runner-up: Lizard’s Thicket

For years, Mr. Friendly’s has been setting the standard for classy Southern dining in the Capital City. There’s no better place to take an out-of-town guest who wants to know what Southern fare is all about.

Honorable mention: Yesterdays

Best Indian Restaurant

Delhi Palace

Runner-up: Spice Junction

Delhi Palace has been a mainstay in the Best Indian Restaurant category, and for good reason. The St. Andrews Road eatery features a host of Indian delicacies on its formidable menu, including everything from staples like tandoori chicken and lamb curry to spicy seafood items like shrimp vindaloo.

Honorable mention: 2 Gingers

Best Cajun Restaurant


Runner-up: Bojangles’

Cajun flavors, fine dining techniques — and a whole lot of whiskey. We can get behind that, Columbia — and so can you.

Honorable mention: Private Property

Best Thai Restaurant

Mai Thai

Runner-up: Basil Thai

You never know what a West Columbia strip mall might bring, but in the case of Mai Thai it brings a much-adored local treasure. Mai Thai serves up a splendid array of Thai favorites, cooked with all the love your heart can handle.

Honorable mention: Baan Sawan, Bangkok, Golden Chopstix, Thailand

Best Cuban or Caribbean Restaurant

Arkos Mojo Grill and Martini Bar

Runner-up: Coconuts

Delicious Caribbean and Latin food in a classy environment. ¡Arriba!

Honorable mention: La Isla Bonita

Best Middle Eastern Restaurant


Runner-up: Mediterranean

Tea Room

If you’ve never sampled Middle Eastern cuisine before, you’re missing out. Here you’ll find hummus, falafel, lamb kabob, shawarma and much more. Oh Al-Amir, we still think you’re tops.

Honorable mention: Arabesque, The Green Olive, Elie’s Mediterranean

Best Sushi


Runner-up: Miyo’s

Nailing the classic rolls, whipping up some truly delicious creations of its own, and slinging the freshest and tastiest sashimi in town, Inakaya isn’t just a great sushi restaurant for Columbia, it’s one of the best sushi experiences you’ll ever find for such a reasonable price.

Honorable mention: Tsunami, Camon Japanese Restaurant, Takosushi, Saki Tumi

Best Seafood Restaurant

Blue Marlin

Runner-up: Bonefish Grill

Blue Marlin has famous shrimp and grits, yes — but also a diverse array of other seafood, in a lovely restaurant nestled in the heart of the Vista.

Honorable mention: The Oyster Bar, Harbor Inn Seafood

Best Dessert


Runner-up: Tiffany’s Bakery

Nonnah’s is full of awesome. In addition to favorites like raspberry cheesecake and honey walnut tarts, this cozy little shop has flaming desserts and a special Pineapple Caramel Colada. Finish off your date night with a stop at Nonnah’s. You won’t be disappointed.

Honorable mention: Kaminsky’s, Sweet Cream Company, Terra, The Oak Table

Best Frozen Yogurt

32 Degrees

Runner-up: Yoghut

Tasty fro-yo and an astonishing number of toppings — we’re talking Pop-Tarts, pineapple, Andes mint, Swedish fish — add up to one popular yogurt shop.

Honorable mention: TCBY, Sweet Frog, Menchie’s

Best Ice Cream

Marble Slab Creamery

Runner-up: Sweet Cream Company, Zesto’s (TIE)

Wait — you can get ice cream with Butterfingers, chocolate chips and caramel all mixed in? Yes, you can. There might be some hard-hearted person out there who can resist the appeal of Marble Slab, but we have yet to meet that person. And when Marble Slab has its cinnamon ice cream out — well, you’d be a fool not to try it.

Honorable mention: Coldstone Creamery, Baskin Robbins, Sandy’s Famous Hot Dogs

Best Mobile Food

2 Fat 2 Fly

Runner-up: Pawleys Front Porch

It’s been a big year for 2 Fat 2 Fly, most notably because the food truck and its two proprietors, Corey Simmons and Ramone Dickerson, were the subject of a reality TV show on the Oprah Winfrey Network. But most importantly: THEY MAKE CHICKEN WINGS WITH MACARONI AND CHEESE STUFFED INSIDE OF THEM.

Honorable mention: Wurst Wagen, Bone-In Artisan BBQ, Pawleys Front Porch, Belgian Waffle Truck

Best Service


Runners-up: Mr. Friendly’s, Terra

When you drive up to Chick-fil-A at lunchtime, you will likely see a long line of cars snaking around the building, waiting on drive-thru service. But, fear not. The crew at Chick-fil-A can move a drive-thru line faster than anyone in the business, in part because, during peak hours, they send employees into the parking lot with digital tablets to go ahead and take orders. That’s hustling.

Honorable mention: The Oak Table, Solstice Kitchen

Best Caterer

Spotted Salamander

Runner-up: Southern Way

Combine folksy South Carolina flavors — tomato pie, pimento cheese — with a sophisticated approach, and you’ve got the city’s best caterer.

Honorable mention: Moe’s Southwest Grill, Scott Hall Catering, River Road Catering Company

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