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Best of Columbia 2017: Writers' Picks

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Best Local Website — News

Free Times

OK, I’ll admit it. I’m biased. But I sincerely believe this newspaper’s website — — offers readers a tremendous level of in-depth reporting on local politics, music, arts, food, film, beer and so much more. And we’ve been doing it since 1987. Plus, come on, we’ve got Rant and Rave. — Chris Trainor

Best Radio Station


WUSC is a top-notch college radio station, offering a sampling of all the trending indie artists you’d expect along with a wide array of other programming — the ever deep-diving Blues Moon Radio, the heavy music gateway Metal Cock Radio. It’s a gateway to new sounds, and a constant refresher on music you might have forgotten or missed somewhere along the way. WUSC is legit. — Jordan Lawrence

Best Local Instagram

For one shining half-year, the Instagram account churned out literally hundreds of amazingly funny image macros and jokes about Columbia. They were heartwarmingly specific, referencing everything from ghost stories about Old State Road to jokes about defunct Conundrum Music Hall. They were basically the best thing about Instagram. Unfortunately, after this year’s Best Of winners and runners-up had been notified and was not among them, the account flamed out in epic fashion, posting a series of “Are You Not Entertained?!”-type gifs and a soul-deep wail of anguish about not having won — and vanished. Update: The day after we sent this issue of Free Times to press, the Instagram account returned.Eva Moore 

Worst Road

The Jarvis Klapman Bridge

Seriously, have you driven over this bridge lately? It’s a teeth-rattling ride as you careen over the many busted, patched, scuffed and bumpy spots. It’s no fun to ride on any roughed-up roadway. But it’s particularly harrowing when that road IS A TALL BRIDGE SPANNING A RIVER. It’s knee-buckling stuff. — Chris Trainor

Best Annual Event or Festival

Love Peace & Hip-Hop

Columbia’s Hip-Hop Family Day is more than just a terrific celebration for a too often misunderstood and maligned genre. It’s also showcase for some high-caliber rap talent — Kid ‘n Play, KRS-One, Kool Moe Dee, Slick Rick, Big Gipp, Monie Love and Nice & Smooth have all performed — and an event that overflows with an empowering sense of unity, with fans young and old gathering to enjoy the music they love. It’s the most unique and vital event our city has. — Jordan Lawrence

Best Asian Restaurant 

Ganbei (Lexington)

This Sunset Boulevard Japanese mainstay offers delicious food in a contemporary atmosphere, with incredible (almost over-the-top) service. The spicy tuna sashimi is a great start, and the Singapore rice noodles are always a winner. Do yourself a favor and grab a firecracker roll, while you’re at it. — Chris Trainor

Best Chinese Restaurant

Sun Ming

Sometimes you have to specifically ask to see the Traditional Chinese menu at Sun Ming — and you should. This restaurant is an absolute treasure, and the meaty, nectar-like Eggplant in Garlic Sauce is one of the world’s great foods. It’s also one of the few places where you can get a Peking duck (you have to order it ahead of time, so you know it’s the real deal). — Eva Moore

Best Barbecue

True BBQ

The pork at this West Columbia joint is perfectly smoky, tender with just enough crisp to give it delectable texture. The hash deftly balances sweet and spice, a prime example of one of this state’s barbecue hallmarks. The mustard sauce is great — though myself, being born in central North Carolina, I’m particularly excited by the wonderfully tangy vinegar option. — Jordan Lawrence

Best Hamburger 

Mack’s Cash Grocery

If, like me, you grew up having a favorite greasy spoon dive hamburger spot (if you’re ever in Greenwood, South Carolina, give The Dixie a shot) then Mack’s is the place for you. They serve textbook greasy-spoon-style burgers, the best of which is their pimento cheeseburger. Check them out the next time you’re on Laurel Street. — Chris Trainor

Best Mobile Food

The Wurst Wagen

Yes, the plump and delicious knackwursts, bratwursts and other German sausages offered up by the Wurst Wagen are all great — as are occasional additions to the menu, such as the tasty breaded schnitzel — but the kicker for me is one of the sides: the potato salad, a perfectly peppery and vinegary complement to whatever meat you choose to eat beside it. — Jordan Lawrence

Best Gyro

White Duck Taco Shop

I know. It sounds crazy. But with lamb that is crisp but still juicy and tzatziki that strikes just the right balance between minty and spicy and creamy, the gyro taco at White Duck is just great — so good that I don’t even care that it comes on fresh corn tortillas rather than a pita. — Jordan Lawrence

Best Dessert 


There are lots of reasons to love Kaminsky’s (Why, hello Mountain of Chocolate Cake), but I’m particularly fond of the Reese’s Cup milkshake, made with vanilla bean ice cream, chocolate chips, Reese’s peanut butter and chocolate syrup. It’s the kind of drink that gives you hope for America. — Chris Trainor 

Best Frozen Yogurt 


Sure, Menchie’s is a lot like the other ubiquitous frozen yogurt places. You go in, grab a cup and serve yourself. You can mix flavors of yogurt, add toppings (extra cherries, please) and the cost of the whole thing is determined by the weight of your frozen creation. One of the things that set Menchie’s apart, though? Those cool spoons you can take home. Sometimes they even have movie characters on them. We’ve got a drawer full of them at the house. — Chris Trainor

Best Milkshake 

Rosewood Dairy Bar

There are a lot of reasons to love Rosewood Dairy Bar, including their formidable burgers and that little detached dining room they have with a working Pole Position machine and the coldest air conditioning in Columbia. But what makes it tops? Their peanut butter milkshake. It’s richer than Mark Zuckerberg. Also, yes, this is the second time in this issue I’ve Writers’-Picked a peanut butter milkshake. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ — Chris Trainor

Best Milkshake


Rush’s focuses its milkshake game with only nine flavors, three of which are all you need — chocolate, strawberry or vanilla. Chocolate tastes like Hershey’s syrup in good soft serve, and strawberry has real chunks of fruit that give a nice kick when they slither up the straw. Speaking of, you can actually suck this thing through the straw, unlike some other milkshakes. Amazing. Get some fries and dip in. — David Travis Bland

Best Pizza 


You simply can’t beat Dano’s for a big, foldable slice of pizza. Their slices somehow manage to be floppy and crispy at the same time, which is a perfect balance. Extra points for having those ridiculously thin paper plates that are ubiquitous at New York pizza parlors. The calzones at Dano’s also are off the charts. — Chris Trainor

Best Late Night Food

Bar None

Late night food is either drunk food or you’re-having-a-weird-night food. Bar None is good for both. As a vegetarian, though a bad one, I’ve never had their barbecue sandwich, but I knew a band that came in from Rhode Island and Bar None’s pecan-smoked pulled pork was all they had heard about Columbia. I’ve also watched friends nearly gnaw their fingers off while buried in a basket of their smoked wings. They know how to use a fryer, too. Cheese sticks, fried mushrooms, and cheese fries with jalapenos, are all served with “nectar,” aka ranch. But to me, what stands out amongst this lot of alcohol-absorbing or strange trip-ending goodness is their fried pickles. — David Travis Bland

Best Wings

Bar None (smoked wings)

The best wings in Columbia aren’t the easiest to get your hands on. They’re only available one day every other week at Bar None, smoked by Josh Bumgarner such that they are juicy and packed with tremendous flavor. Paired with the bar’s wonderfully spiced LowCo barbecue sauce, they’re truly a treat. Keep your eyes trained to Bar None’s Facebook page on Tuesdays to keep tabs on when they’re being served. — Jordan Lawrence

Best Local Band

GRÜZER/The Restoration

I’d like to point out two encouraging nominations in this category for 2017: GRÜZER, a commandingly sludgy metal band that has done much in its three years on the scene to open up South Carolina’s exceptional heavy music scene to those who don’t seek out such sounds; and The Restoration, an exceptionally intelligent folk-rock outfit that creates immersive narrative albums that strike at the core of the various issues of faith and prejudice that continue to haunt the modern South, inspiring a full-on stage musical coming this spring at Trustus Theatre. I would have been thrilled had either of these bands actually won, but I’ll settle for the nominations, an affirmation that there are plenty of people with adventurous taste here in the Midlands. — Jordan Lawrence

Best Bar to See Live Music

New Brookland Tavern

Yes, New Brookland Tavern is the city’s most reliable and most pivotal hub for original live music, existing as a haven for heavy bands, indie rockers and others. But it’s also just an enjoyably shambled dive bar, a stalwart neighborhood hangout with rock-solid bartenders, an increasingly pleasing tap selection, and a PBR and Fireball special that’ll set you right no matter what kind of day you’ve had. Regardless of what’s happening on the stage, New Brookland is a good place to spend your night. — Jordan Lawrence

Coldest Beer

Uncle Louie’s

Uncle Louie’s is not f#!king around when it comes to cold beer. Order yourself a bottled domestic, and it’s going to be so cold it burns your hand and throat. They keep the A/C kicking, too. It’s like being in one those ridiculous Coors Light ads with, like, a snow-covered train or a bone-achingly cold mountain stream — except, you know, not. — Eva Moore

Best Distillery

Crouch Distilling Co.

If you like bourbon — and what good American doesn’t? — you should check out Crouch. From their Carolina Rye Single Malt Whiskey — a rare 100 percent rye product — to their bright and fascinating Jimmy Red Corn Whiskey, plus the pleasant little tasting room and distillery, they are one of the cooler things happening in Columbia. — Eva Moore

Best Brewery


Bierkeller, brewing nomadically at the facility operated by the Swamp Cabbage Brewing Company, produces a handful of traditional German beers that are just flat-out great — from the crisp and refreshing Kölumbianer kölsch and Kellerbier lager, to the dark and rich Braunbier and playfully smoky Rauchbier. Seek them out. — Jordan Lawrence

Best Barber Shop 

Washington Street Barber Shop

Looking for an old school barber shop? Not a salon masquerading as a barber shop, but a real live barber shop like you used to go to? One with wood-paneled walls and newspaper clippings on the wall and an old tube TV playing Gunsmoke and Matlock? Washington Street Barber Shop, just off Main Street, is your ticket. — Chris Trainor

Best Convenience Store 

Obama Gas Station

There are a lot of reasons to love the Obama store up on North Main Street. For one, it’s not a chain, but is locally owned by immigrants from Yemen. It’s a neighborhood spot, with the vast majority of customers being regulars. And the store is stuffed with all the typical convenience store staples. But mostly I love it because the owners NAMED A GAS STATION FOR THE 44th PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES. — Chris Trainor

Best Gamecock Store 

Addams Bookstore

This place is like a Gamecock oasis. This store is literally stuffed with USC paraphernalia. Like wall-to-wall. And, honestly, they’ve got easily the widest selection of Gamecock clothing in town. They also have books, if you are into learning. — Chris Trainor

Best Sporting Goods Store 

Todd & Moore

Todd & Moore has been a Columbia fixture since 1944. They’ve got sports apparel and equipment for a wealth of different sports, and they carry plenty of Gamecock stuff, too. They’re particularly popular with Free Times because they’ve even got a nice selection of ping-pong equipment. — Chris Trainor

Best Golf Course

The Spur at Northwoods Golf Club

This course, open to the public, is perfectly suitable for scratch golfers or occasional weekend hackers (like me). The 6,800-yard, 18-hole track was conjured up by renowned designer P.B. Dye and is at once challenging and accessible. They’ve also got some sand traps that can only be described as daunting. — Chris Trainor

Best Car Wash 

Constan Car Wash

You can get it all at Constan: An oil change. A car wash. A shoe shine. Free popcorn. Free popcorn! Plus, it’s right there on Gervais Street in the heart of the Capital City. — Chris Trainor

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