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Best of Columbia 2020: Food and Drink

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Motor Supply Co. Bistro

Motor Supply Co. Bistro is voted Best Chef — Wes Fulmer, Best Restaurant — The Vista, Best Place for a First Date, Best ‘Farm to Table’ Restaurant, Second Place for Best Restaurant and Best Charcuterie Board and Honorable Mention for Best Brunch.

Best ‘Farm to Table’ Restaurant — Motor Supply Co. Bistro

Second Place:  The War Mouth

During its three-decade run in the Vista, Motor Supply has become known for a few key things. Among them are its excellent food and the local sourcing it utilizes to make it. A daily shifting menu often touts the local farms it worked with, providing a a handy reminder of the culinary wonders local goods can lead to.

Honorable Mentions: Terra, Spotted Salamander Cafe and Catering

Best Asian Restaurant — Inakaya Japanese Restaurant (O’Neil Court)

Second Place: Miyo’s / M Vista

This spot, one of two separately owned local restaurants with the name Inakaya, is more than just a good sushi joint. Sanma, tempura, shake, syoga-yaki and more are on the menu for folks who want to dive into other elements of Japanese fare.

Honorable Mentions: 929 Kitchen & Bar, Duke’s Pad Thai

Best Bang for the Buck – Cantina 76

Second Place: The Whig

This small chain, which has two locations in Columbia — one on Devine Street and another on Main — is a crowd-pleaser for those looking for tasty tacos and slurpable margaritas. It has a solid menu of Mexican offerings for reasonable prices. It’s taco menu, in particular, is noteworthy, with a number of delicious offerings at an affordable cost. Look out for those happy hour specials, too.

Honorable Mentions: Cook Out, Fire and Spice Irmo

Best Barbecue — Home Team BBQ

Second Place: Little Pigs Barbecue

With its Five Points location, opened last year, Charleston-born Home Team BBQ has taken the city by storm. It’s hard not to see why. Beautiful brisket, juicy pulled pork and the near-revered smoked chicken wings draw in those who need to satiate their smoked desires.

Honorable Mentions: Shealy’s Bar-B-Que, Hudson’s Smokehouse BBQ

Curiosity Coffee Greg Slattery

Greg Slattery of Curiosity Coffee is voted Best Barista.

Best Barista — Greg Slattery

Second Place: Travis Hoyt

There’s many things you could write about Greg Slattery, from his barista skills to his reputation among many as one of the purest souls in town. This is the best barista category, though, and it’s rightful to acknowledge that Slattery’s Curiosity Coffee Bar slings some of the most well-thought-out coffee drinks and provides a range of coffees that few can trump.

Honorable Mentions: Mia Blanton, Kam Kelley

Best Breakfast – Café Strudel

Second Place: The Devine Cinnamon Roll Deli

Most folks likely think of Café Strudel, which has locations in West Columbia and Lexington, as a brunch spot. But you know you can also show up there earlier in the morning, right? And you’re in for a treat if you do. The Hangover Hashbrowns are a long-acknowledged MVP, but the cinnamon pancakes might be the most underrated player on the menu. If the Hangover Hashbrowns are Michael Jordan, the cinnamon pancakes are Horace Grant.

Honorable Mention: Eggs Up Grill, Original Pancake House

Best Brunch — Cafe Strudel

Second Place: The Gourmet Shop

Brunch is a much-derided thing by chefs, or so Anthony Bourdain led us to believe. Chefs be damned, it’s the people’s meal. Who doesn’t want an egg sandwich at 1 p.m.? West Columbia’s Cafe Strudel knows the people demand it and do it as well as it comes.

Honorable Mentions: DiPrato’s, Motor Supply Co. Bistro

Best Burrito – Real Mexico

Second Place: Cantina 76

Real Mexico, located in a small, unassuming spot along Bush River Road, remains one of the most popular spots in Columbia for authentic Mexican food. And the restaurant’s burritos are certainly part of its well-earned reputation. The California burrito — with carne asada steak, avocado slices, pico de gallo, rice and beans — is, in particular, a standout.

Honorable Mentions: Moctezumas Taqueria, Moe’s Southwest Grill

Best Caribbean Restaurant — Island Grill

Second Place: Fire and Spice Irmo

When Columbians are longing for a taste of the Caribbean Islands, they head to the bright yellow and red building on the corner of Harden and Taylor Streets. Inside, they find Caribbean spices on everything from chicken wings to the more traditional oxtails and goat meat, and at very reasonable prices. Island Grill even features a humble vegetarian selection, a rare find for most Caribbean restaurants.

Honorable Mention: Legacy Caribbean Bar & Grill

Best Catering — Spotted Salamander Cafe and Catering

Second Place: Southern Way Catering

Before its cafe location was known as a go-to spot for creative Southern fare, Spotted Salamander made its name with equally impressive catering, able to thrill with something as standard-issue as Thanksgiving dinner and fixings or when adapting to whatever out-there party theme you can muster.

Honorable Mentions: Blue Marlin Signature Catering, Honey River Catering

Best Charcuterie Board — The Gourmet Shop

Second Place: Motor Supply Co. Bistro

There are so many ways to arrange sliced meats, cheeses, crackers and jam on a plate,  but there’s just something about the way The Gourmet Shop arranges its charcuterie boards that makes it so appealing. Maybe it’s the staff’s extensive knowledge of fine cheeses and cured meats? It could be, which is why their charcuterie boards make the cut in Columbia.

Honorable Mentions: Lula Drake Wine Parlour, Bourbon

Best Chef — Wes Fulmer (Motor Supply Co. Bistro)

Second Place: Jessica Shillato (Spotted Salamander Cafe and Catering)

While Motor Supply’s long-time, well-regarded barkeep Josh Streetman departed earlier this year, the restaurant keeps humming along with Chef Wes Fulmer at the helm. The kitchen is as local and sustainable as ever and offers up some of the best bites in town.

Honorable Mentions: Mike Davis (Terra), Nelson de Hoyos (Halls Chophouse - Columbia)

Best Chinese Restaurant — Egg Roll Chen

Second Place: Miyo’s / M Vista

Egg Roll Chen on Crowson Road has long been a local favorite. One look at the crowds during lunch and dinner attests to the spot’s popularity. It has, for years, been dishing out appetizing favorites, like Mamasan’s Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup, which remains a crowd-pleaser. The House Fried Rice also is a heavyweight champ. Save room for some Taiwanese doughnuts for dessert.

Honorable Mentions: Sun Ming, Main Moon

Drip Coffee

Drip is voted Best Coffee.

Best Coffee — Drip Coffee

Second Place: Loveland Coffee

With a wealth of Counter Culture coffee beans, owner Sean McCrossin’s Drip has a coffee for everyone. No joke, going to either the Five Points or Main Street location is a borderline global coffee vacation, with delicious selections from all over the world.

Honorable Mentions: Curiosity Coffee Bar, Indah Coffee

Best Deli/Sub/Sandwich Shop — Groucho’s Deli

Second Place: No Name Deli

That first sandwich at Groucho’s is a rite of passage for any Columbia newcomer, be it as a college student, someone who came here for a job, or even someone from a more rural area who simply came into town. Once an STP is dippered, there’s no going back to any other old sandwiches from any other old delis.

Honorable Mentions: Crave Market, Beezer’s

Best Dessert — Kaminsky’s

Second Place: Silver Spoon Bake Shop

This Charleston import has taken the Vista by storm since opening in 2015. With a horde of desserts — from cakes to ice cream — it’s a sweet tooth’s paradise. To wash them down, Kaminsky’s serves up cocktails, too, including a number of dessert options.

Honorable Mentions: Ally & Eloise Bakeshop, Lita’s Treats

Best Fast Food Chain – Chick-fil-A

Second Place: Rush’s

There are plenty of reasons readers likely voted for Chick-fil-A as their favorite fast food joint. The chicken is juicy and flavorful, the waffle fries are tasty and the sweet tea remains a Southern favorite. But we’re betting the service likely helped push it over the top. The staff runs that drive-thru line like a well-oiled machine, which has been a bonus in COVID-19 times.

Honorable Mentions: Bojangles’ Famous Chicken ‘n Biscuits, Cook Out

Best Fries — Five Guys

Second Place: The Whig

The grease spotted brown bag reigns supreme. The burger chain’s hand cut fries are a well-fried, salty mess that pairs perfectly with the burgers. The quality is as good as it gets for a chain restaurant, and the quantity is just as impressive.

Honorable Mentions: Chick-fil-A, McDonald’s

Best Fried Chicken — Zesto of West Columbia

Second Place: Bernie’s Restaurant

The line of spaced-out people that snakes out from the interior of Zesto of West Columbia says everything it needs to, and the scent of fried chicken wafting down 12th Street says the rest. Nothing will stop people from near and far from getting their Zesto’s fried chicken fix, pandemic or not. The popular fried chicken joint has a big white tent under its ice cream cone in the sky to facilitate customer orders in a safe manner.

Honorable Mentions: Kiki’s Chicken and Waffles, Drake’s Duck-In

Best Frozen Yogurt — Menchie’s Frozen Yogurt

Second Place: Rita’s

In this hottest season of the year, getting a frozen yogurt is one way to keep cool. And Menchie’s is a great place to do it. It’s always got a vast array of flavors, and you can choose one, or mix them up. It occasionally has a Cinnamon Frosted Flakes flavor that is spookily good. It’s also got a wealth of sauces and other toppings to load on top of your yogurt.

Honorable Mentions: TCBY, Yogoluv: Frozen Yogurt and More

Best Greek Restaurant — Mediterranean Tea Room

Second Place: Grecian Gardens

The Devine Street Mediterranean restaurant has all the region’s favorites. The falafel is flavorful and has crunch. The lentils are tender yet firm. The pitas are delicious. Don’t let the busy lunch hour deter you — the kitchen staff has a way of getting the food out promptly.

Honorable Mentions: Zorba’s Greek Restaurant, Taziki’s Mediterranean Cafe

Best Grits — Blue Marlin

Second Place: Mr. Friendly’s New Southern Cafe

The Blue Marlin grits are most famous for being paired with shrimp and tasso gravy, but try, if you haven’t, the Salmon Pontchartrain, which finds the beloved base topped with a salmon fillet along with blackened shrimp and scallops, and a mornay sauce. The way the perfectly creamy grits balance the zest and spice of the rest of the dish is a testament to their earned reputation.

Honorable Mentions: The Devine Cinnamon Roll Deli, Cafe Strudel

Best Gyro — Taziki’s Mediterranean Cafe

Second Place: Mediterranean Tea Room

The best gyro in town can be found at Taziki’s Mediterranean Cafe, no matter if it comes in the chicken, beef, lamb or veggie variety. Each one is wrapped in an impossibly fluffy pita, encasing flavorful meats or vegetables, and is made to order, which makes the gyros a perennial favorite. Paired with chips and a healthy side to boot.

Honorable Mentions: Grecian Gardens, NoMa by Al Amir

Best Hamburger — Pawleys Front Porch

Second Place: Rockaway Athletic Club

Sometimes a burger is comfort food. That’s certainly the case at Pawleys Front Porch in Five Points. Pawleys grinds its Angus chuck roast beef daily, and offers a number different twists on the American classic. A favorite is the Wadamalaw, which comes with chipotle barbecue sauce, fried pickle chips, applewood smoked bacon, lettuce, tomato, red onion and cheddar cheese. Pawleys has got plenty of cold beer to wash it down, too.

Honorable Mentions: The Whig, Five Guys

Best Hot Dog — Rush’s

Second Place: Jimmy’s Mart

People who love Rush’s, the classic Columbia fast-food chain, really love Rush’s. In particular, the hot dog baskets are a beloved institution around town, and are as customizable as you could want. Chili, just ketchup, fried onions, or a scoop of slaw, Rush’s will make it happen, fabulously and fast.

Honorable Mentions: Crave Market, Sweet Pea’s Ice Cream Parlor

Best Ice Cream — Sweet Cream Co.

Second Place: Marble Slab Creamery

Many people fixate on the outside-the-box flavors — and, admittedly, Black Sesame Ginger, Sesame Seed Honey Pistachio and Orange Coriander are attention-grabbers. But this adventurous nature would mean nothing if the shop weren’t delivering handcrafted creamy goodness each and every time out.

Honorable Mentions: The Baked Bear, Sweet Pea’s Ice Cream

Best Indian Restaurant — 2 Gingers

Second Place: Delhi Palace

2 Gingers has long been a go-to for Columbians looking for fresh Indian cuisine. The Bush River Road spot has a diverse menu that includes seafood (the Tandoori Jhinga is a winner), Indo-Chinese fusions like the Chilli Garlic Fried Rice, and plenty of vegetarian options. It also has an intriguing wine program.

Honorable Mentions: Persis Biryani Indian Grill

Best Italian Restaurant — Alodia’s Cucina Italiana

Second Place: Il Giorgione

With locations in Irmo and Lexington, Alodia’s has increasingly been popular among Midlands residents looking for a top-shelf Italian meal. It has all your pasta favorites, like lasagna and baked spaghetti, along with some impressive seafood offerings (hello, tuna carpaccio), plus a whole lot more. Don’t forget to save room for some cannoli for dessert. Also has an extensive wine list.

Honorable Mentions: Villa Tronco, Pasta Fresca

Best Japanese Restaurant — Miyabi Japanese Steakhouse and Sushi Bar

Second Place: Inakaya Japanese Restaurant (O’Neil Court)

Sometimes a night out isn’t a night out unless a chef in a tall hat is flipping a piece of shrimp into the mouth of someone seated nearby. For that kind of fun, look to Miyabi for your Japanese steak and sushi cravings, where it will feed and entertain with the chefs’ deft handiwork chopping and sauteeing right in front of your table, plus their quick wit and true enjoyment of their craft.

Honorable Mentions: Inakaya Watanabe (St. Andrews Road), Camon Japanese Restaurant

Best Kid-Friendly Restaurant – Chick-fil-A

Second Place: Flight Deck Restaurant

It’s perhaps not a surprise that readers would have given Chick-fil-A the nod for its kids’ offerings. After all, chicken nuggets are probably as close as we’ll come to a universal kids’ food. But we all know the secret weapon for young folks at Chick-fil-A is that the restaurants will let you trade in the book or toy from your kid’s meal for an ice cream cone.

Honorable Mention: Lizard’s Thicket

Best Late Night Food — Waffle House

Second Place: The Whig

You can get a waffle. You can get a burger. You can get a biscuit. You can top it with gravy. You can get coffee. You can get a Coke. You can get them to make it raspberry. You can do any of these things at Waffle House any time of any day or night. And it is good.

Honorable Mentions: Cook Out, Bar None

Real Mexico

Real Mexico is voted Best Mexican Restaurant and Best Burrito and Second Place for Best Taco.

Best Mexican Restaurant — Real Mexico

Second Place: Cantina 76

In a word? Delicious. Real Mexico has been a near-legendary outpost of Mexican cuisine for years, and it has kept the quality going year in and year out. From tacos to burritos to quesadillas, it has all the go-tos for Americans, and the frequent specials involve adventurous experiments.

Honorable Mentions: Moctezumas Taqueria, San Jose

Best Middle Eastern Restaurant — Mediterranean Tea Room

Second Place: Arabesque on Devine

Mediterreanean Tea Room plays around in the space between Greek and Middle Eastern flavors. The result is some of the most distinct and addictive food in town.

Honorable Mentions: NoMa by Al Amir, Pitas

Best Milkshake – Rosewood Dairy Bar

Second Place: Cook Out

This long-running institution on Rosewood Drive has a lot going for it, including delicious burgers and fried chicken. But the milkshakes are a particular treat, especially during the blast furnace Columbia summers. It’s got numerous classic flavors, and the key is the consistency: not too thick, not too thin. Milkshakes are supposed to be a balance between being ice cream and a drink. Rosewood Dairy Bar hits that balance perfectly.

Honorable Mentions: Rush’s, Grill Marks

Best Mobile Food — A Peace of Soul Vegan Kitchen

Second Place: The Belgian Waffle Truck

A Peace of Soul is no longer relegated to its truck, returned once more to its brick-and-mortar location in Cottontown. But when it is out in its truck, slinging veggie burgers or Fried “Chicken” Sandwiches, that truck is dishing out some of the best mobile food you’ll find. No matter how you get your Peace of Soul, it’s worth seeking out.

Honorable Mentions: City Limits Barbeque (food truck), Rambo’s Fat Cat Biscuits

Best National Chain Restaurant — Chick-fil-A

Second Place: Bonefish Grill

This year, Chick-fil-A also won for Best Fast Food Chain and Best Kid-Friendly Restaurant, and was nominated for Best French Fries and Best Sweet Tea. Add those winning components together, and you get the national chain restaurant that Columbian’s like best.

Honorable Mentions: LongHorn Steakhouse, Olive Garden

Best New Restaurant — Home Team BBQ

Second Place: Black Rooster

Home Team BBQ replaced Harper’s, an outpost of a small regional chain that had become a fixture for Five Points visitors looking for a reasonable sitdown meal. Which makes the Charleston barbecue favorite a fine fit in the space,  as it brings delicious food that veers away from barbecue enough to please the non-smoked-meat crowd, has nightlife flare for the college and young professional set (the beer selection is great, and the signature Gamechanger blended drink earns its name), and makes fine use of its center-of-the-neighborhood front patio.

Honorable Mentions: Market on Main, Il Focolare Pizzeria

Best Pizza — Village Idiot

Second Place: Mellow Mushroom

Village Idiot turned 30 this year. And it’s thin New York-style pies remain a local staple, a foldable treat whether taken down with a craft beer at the bar in Five Points or taken home to scarf while binge-watching. The selection of toppings is wide but universally good, and the white sauce pies are low-key excellent.

Honorable Mentions: Dano’s Pizza, Il Focolare Pizzeria

Best Place for a First Date — Motor Supply Co. Bistro

Second Place: The Grand on Main

Motor Supply checks all the boxes for a solid first date spot: A great location in the Vista. A revered, clever bar program. A comfortable atmosphere that always leads you to want to hang out a while longer. A seemingly ever-evolving menu that includes plenty of local ingredients. It’ll give you a great environment and amazing service and food. Whether you make it to the second date is up to you, so don’t blow it.

Honorable Mentions: Cantina 76, Lula Drake Wine Parlour

Best Place to Dine Outdoors — Liberty on the Lake

Second Place: The Gourmet Shop

The Liberty deck — at the end of a marina, overlooking a picturesque vista of Lake Murray — would be a draw even if the Irmo outpost didn’t have top-notch modern bar food and a sprawling beer selection to match its downtown counterpart.

Honorable Mentions: Hendrix Restaurant, Tazza Kitchen

Halls Chophouse tomahawk

Halls Chophouse is Best Restaurant and Honorable Mention for Best Chef.

Best Restaurant — Halls Chophouse Columbia

Second Place: Motor Supply Co. Bistro

Halls Chophouse proves that steakhouses are still in vogue regardless of how much experimental or “New American” restaurants seem to be the thing now. Like any good steakhouse, it has a litany of different cuts and table sides, but Halls stands out. It is a celebration of everything a steak can be when served to impress.

Honorable Mentions: Terra, Mr. Friendly’s New Southern Cafe  

Best Restaurant — Devine Street/Shandon/Rosewood — Cantina 76

Second Place: The Devine Cinnamon Roll Deli

As a neighborhood spot, Cantina 76 is highly adaptable. A trio of yummy salsa, guacamole and chips with some margaritas is a recipe for a satisfying happy hour. A taco or two scarfed bar-side is a reliable option for a tasty off-hour snack. And sitting down for a dinner-time fest centered around a hearty chimichanga is sure to satisfy.

Honorable Mentions: Il Giorgione, Mediterranean Tea Room

Best Restaurant — Five Points — Mr. Friendly’s New Southern Café

Second Place: The Gourmet Shop

This Five Points institution has been satisfying diners for decades. It focuses on fresh ingredients and simple preparations. Mr. Friendly’s also has a formidable wine list. It’s known for its wild-caught seafood and house-butchered cuts of meat. The Carolina Heritage Farms Bone-in Pork Chop is the kind of dish wars are waged over.  

Honorable Mentions: Home Team BBQ, Saluda’s Restaurant

Best Restaurant — Forest Acres — Tazza Kitchen

Second Place: Pasta Fresca

Tazza Kitchen is a chain outpost that has come to feel like a real neighborhood hallmark. The excellent wood-fired menu and insanely-cozy-for-a-strip-mall patio are big parts of this. So too is the restaurant’s increasingly bold and tantalizing cocktail program.

Honorable Mentions: Tombo Grille, Bonefish Grill

Best Restaurant — Irmo — Alodia’s Cucina Italiana

Second Place: The British Bulldog Pub

Housemade pasta, inventive Italian dishes and a fantastic wine selection — what’s not to love about Alodia’s Cucina Italiana? Located on the east side of Lake Murray, the dining experience far outshines what one would expect from a restaurant in a shopping center.

Honorable Mentions: Sun Ming Chinese Restaurant, Fire and Spice Irmo

Best Restaurant – Lexington – Alodia’s Cucina Italiana

Second Place: Old Mill Brewpub

The Main Street corridor in Lexington has seen a renaissance in recent years, and now boasts a number of bars, restaurants and shops. Alodia’s has been a part of that renewed action, and was a key part in the revival of the Icehouse building. It serves a host of delicious Italian dishes, along with seafood and other offerings, and has an impressive bar menu.

Honorable Mentions: Bodhi Thai Dining, Private Property

Best Restaurant — Main Street — Halls Chophouse Columbia

Second Place: Bourbon

Halls Chophouse revealed what Main Street Columbia was missing — an upscale steakhouse. With its nightly live music, a true steakhouse bar and its notoriously delicious cuts of beef, it’s shown itself to have a recipe for success in the booming area.

Honorable Mentions: The Whig, Hendrix Restaurant

Best Restaurant — Northeast — Solstice Kitchen & Wine Bar

Second Place: Travinia Italian Kitchen & Wine Bar

The northeastern corners of Columbia can feel a little like a chain restaurant wasteland, which is why Solstice is such a welcome addition to the food and wine landscape. Its wine list, seasonally changing menu of gourmet specials, and upscale indoor and outdoor space make it a natural choice for the best restaurant in Northeast Columbia.

Honorable Mentions: Julia’s German Stammtisch, Pontiac House of Pizza

Best Restaurant — The Vista — Motor Supply Co. Bistro

Second Place: Blue Marlin

Just go. If you haven’t yet been to Motor, one of the true beating hearts of the local restaurant scene, we’re not sure what more Free Times can do to convince you. The cocktails are aces. The entrees are always amazing, particularly the fish, steak and pork preparations. The atmosphere strikes just the right balance between relaxed and refined. But we’ve said all this before. Seriously, just go.

Honorable Mentions: Cola’s Restaurant, COA Agaveria Y Cocina

Best Restaurant — West Columbia/Cayce — Cafe Strudel

Second Place: Terra

There’s a reason that lines form outside of Cafe Strudel on weekend mornings, and it’s because everyone wants to have a chance to start the day off right. Perhaps the cafe’s signature Hangover Hashbrowns are necessary, or maybe lingering at an outdoor table enjoying the bustle of those happy to score a spot makes you smile. Adjacent to the West Columbia Avenues, Cafe Strudel is popular for those who can walk there, and even those who have to drive across town.

Honorable Mentions: Black Rooster, D’s Wings

Best Restaurant When Someone Else Is Paying — Halls Chophouse Columbia

Second Place: Motor Supply Co. Bistro

Halls serves a Tomahawk Rib Eye that is 34 oz.. It’s dry-aged and presented with a beautifully arching exposed rib bone attached. It costs $99. We want to try it. We hope somebody buys it for us someday.

Honorable Mentions: Ruth’s Chris Steak House, Cola’s Restaurant

Best Ribs — Home Team BBQ

Second Place: The War Mouth

This outpost of the Charleston-based barbecue chain has made quite an impression in Five Points, drawing crowds with its pulled pork, surprisingly good burgers and fully stocked bar. But it’s quickly become known for succulent St. Louis cut ribs. If you don’t go with the full rack, you’re not doing it right.

Honorable Mentions: City Limits Barbeque (food truck), True BBQ

Best Salad – California Dreaming

Second Place: Spotted Salamander Cafe and Catering

Maybe it’s the huge pile of salad with a plethora of textured toppings, or perhaps it’s the honey butter glazed croissant on the side that makes Columbians rave about California Dreaming’s salad. Whether you get it with a waterfall of bleu cheese dressing or signature hot bacon-mustard dressing, it’s a crowd-pleaser that keeps this former train station turned fine dining establishment packed for lunch and dinner.

Honorable Mentions: Crave Market, Groucho’s Deli

Best Seafood Restaurant — Blue Marlin

Second Place: Oyster Bar Columbia

It’s not easy to find good seafood inland, but Blue Marlin has been the go-to spot for seafood in Columbia for many years. It’s best known for its shrimp and grits with lusciously thick tasso gravy, but the crab cakes, she-crab soup and Lowcountry shrimp creole are other popular options at the Marlin.

Honorable Mentions: Pearlz Oyster Bar, Bonefish Grill

Best Service — Halls Chophouse Columbia

Second Place: Loveland Coffee

The common refrain from players in the restaurant scene is that Halls is more than just a restaurant, it’s an experience — and you pay for it. While the cooks dutifully do their part in the kitchen, that experience is tied together through their servers’ utmost care and attention to your evening.

Honorable Mentions: Black Rooster, Cantina 76

Best Shrimp and Grits – Blue Marlin

Second Place: Mr. Friendly’s New Southern Café

There are several places that serve solid shrimp and grits in Columbia. But Blue Marlin has long been at the top of the list, offering a taste of the Lowcountry in the heart of the Vista. Made with Adluh grits, this savory dish has been a Capital City favorite for years. The tasso gravy is what sends it over the top into all-star territory.

Honorable Mention: Motor Supply Co. Bistro, Saluda’s Restaurant

Best Smoothie — Tropical Smoothie Cafe

Second Place: Tasty as Fit

Sometimes a smoothie is a meal replacement. Sometimes it’s dessert. Sometimes it’s just a way to cool down from the heat. No matter which type of smoothie day it is, all of those needs can be met at Tropical Smoothie Cafe, with an extensive selection of fruity, icy beverages that can also be pumped up with protein powder and other powdered vitamin additions.

Honorable Mentions: Smoothie King, Good Life Cafe

Best Soul Food — Kiki’s Chicken and Waffles

Second Place: A Peace of Soul Vegan Kitchen

Kiki’s namesake includes chicken and waffles, which rightfully has its place in the halls of soul food. But Kiki Cyrus and her staff whip up much more than that. The wide-ranging and excellent menu also has smothered pork chops, fried okra, fried whiting and more.

Honorable Mentions: Big Bull’s Bang’n BBQ and Southern Comfort Food, Capital City Kitchen & Grill

Best Southern Restaurant – Lizard’s Thicket

Second Place: Mr. Friendly’s New Southern Café

The fact that Lizard’s Thicket is named “Lizard’s Thicket” and has the slogan “Y’all come” ought to let you know just how Southern this Southern restaurant is. It’s been a meat-and-three staple in the Midlands for decades, and it’s the kind of spot where macaroni-and-cheese is most certainly considered a vegetable. Get the chicken fried steak, then thank us later.

Honorable Mentions:  The War Mouth, Spotted Salamander Café and Catering

Best Steak — Halls Chophouse Columbia

Second Place: LongHorn Steakhouse

Halls Chophouse has made quite the impression since it opened on Main Street, near Gervais, in late 2018. It has become a popular spot for upscale dining, with the Statehouse and business crowd at lunch, and with folks celebrating special occasions in the evening. The restaurant is known for its exquisite steaks, cut from USDA prime beef and flown in from Allen Brothers of Chicago.

Honorable Mentions: Motor Supply Co. Bistro, Terra

Best Sushi — Inakaya Watanabe (St. Andrews Road)

Second Place: Inakaya Japanese Restaurant (O’Neil Court)

When you’ve got rich and fresh sashimi, adventurous but never too over the top rolls, a wonderful sushi bar experience, and a chef who makes you feel like preparing each meal came with a personal touch, you’re running a truly exemplary sushi restaurant. And this Inakaya has it all.

Honorable Mentions: Camon Japanese Restaurant, Tsunami Sushi Restaurant

Best Sweet Tea – Groucho’s Deli

Second Place: Bojangles’ Famous Chicken ‘n Biscuits

When you need to wash down that STP Dipper, accept no substitute. Groucho’s sweet — like, extra sweet — iced tea is almost as much of an institution as the roster of sandwiches and the famed 45 Sauce. It’s strong, but not overly so, and the signature crushed ice makes for a perfect concoction. Get a refill before you leave.

Honorable Mentions: Chick-fil-A, Lizard’s Thicket

Best Taco — Cantina 76

Second Place: Real Mexico

Cantina 76 tacos are not authentic. Nor are they trying to be. But that doesn’t mean biting into a rich and smokey and perfectly meaty brisket taco isn’t immensely satisfying. The rotating specials get even more adventurous, but for those seeking normalcy, the restaurant’s take on a simple beef taco is also well-seasoned and satisfying.

Honorable Mentions: Moctezumas Taqueria, Tacos Nayarit

Best Take Out Food — Eggroll Chen

Second Place: Duke’s Pad Thai

Though the competition for takeout food has gotten fierce in 2020, Eggroll Chen is the OG of takeout in Columbia, earning it top honors. The classic numbered menu serves up noodle, chicken, beef, seafood specials, and everything you’d expect from a Chinese restaurant, and more, which is why people love it so much, even bypassing closer Chinese food options to seek out Eggroll Chen and nothing more.

Honorable Mentions: Cantina 76, Lizard’s Thicket

Best Thai Restaurant — Mai Thai Cuisine

Second Place: Basil Thai

Mai Thai has all the great curries and stir-fries and noodle dishes you could want to feast on, along with several other tasty options to explore. But what really sets it apart is the fabulous thai bakery that’s attached to its West Columbia restaurant, offering yummy treats to enjoy at your table or to take home.

Honorable Mentions: Duke’s Pad Thai, Baan Sawan Thai Bistro

Peace of Soul people

Peace of Soul Vegan Kitchen is voted Best Vegetarian Menu, Best Mobile Food, Best Veggie Burger and Second Place for Best Soul Food.

Best Vegetarian Menu — A Peace of Soul Vegan Kitchen

Second Place: Good Life Cafe

The longtime vegan and carnivore-favorite food truck reopened its brick-and-mortar spot in Cottontown this year and it’s been an instant hit. Any changes outside of the space are hard to notice, as the Fried “Chicken” Sandwich and all the other favorites remain — and continue to please.

Honorable Mentions: Rosewood Market & Deli, The Whig

Best Veggie Burger — A Peace of Soul Vegan Kitchen

Second Place: The Whig

Veggie burgers are difficult to make well. They need to resemble ground beef in both taste and flavor, plus the patty needs to hold its shape when bitten into. And, above all, it needs to taste good — a tall order for a lunch item to take on. But the faux meat masters at Peace of Soul Vegan Kitchen have it down pat. Their version, served on a brioche bun, is meaty enough to please carnivores, but not so realistically beefy as to horrify real vegans.

Honorable Mentions: Rosewood Market & Deli, Good Life Cafe

Lula Drake Wine Parlour

Lula Drake Wine Parlour is voted Best Wine List and Honorable Mention for Best Charcuterie Board and Best Place for a First Date.

Best Wine List — Lula Drake Wine Parlour

Second Place: Gervais & Vine

Lula Drake Wine Parlour owner Tim Gardner has said he wants to give people an experience with his globe-spanning wine list. It’s hard to argue with him. A recent cellar sale showcased such a selection, with wines ranging from eclectic unfiltered bottles to exceedingly rare and valuable finds.

Honorable Mentions: Hampton Street Vineyard, The Vino Garage

Best Wings – D’s Wings

Second Place: Publick House

This Cayce haunt actually has a diverse menu of tasty offerings, including seafood, burgers, pasta, steaks, ribs and much more. But the wings are still the show. Available in two dozen flavors, these meaty confections will have you coming back time and time again. If you’re feeling adventurous, try them in the signature Suicide hot sauce. Just make sure to have something cold to drink close at hand.

Honorable Mentions: Carolina Wings, Wings & Ale

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