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Best of Columbia 2018: Food and Beverage

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Motor Supply kitchen

Motor Supply Company Bistro wins Best Restaurant, Best Service, Best Restaurant When Someone Else is Paying, Best 'Farm to Table' Restaurant, and Best Steak, and gets an honorable mention for its Shrimp & Grits.

Best New Restaurant

The Grand on Main

Runner-up: COA Agaveria Y Cocina

Sure, perhaps the chief draw to this new Main Street establishment is that it has a bowling alley. Or that you can literally see a TV from anywhere in the place. But The Grand’s also got an impressive menu, featuring everything from shrimp and grits to smoked pork chops to a delicious espresso rubbed ribeye. And craft beer fans should definitely give the pour-your-own Grand Tap Room a try.

Honorable mentions: Alodia’s Cucina Italiana Lexington, Duke’s Pad Thai

Best Restaurant

Motor Supply Company Bistro

Runner-up: Cantina 76

For decades, Motor has set the standard for delicious food, great service, local ingredients and a general high-quality night out in Columbia.

Honorable mentions: Mr. Friendly’s New Southern Café, Terra

Best Restaurant — Irmo

Alodia’s Cucina Italiana

Runner-up: Primal Gourmet

The OG Alodia’s in the Midlands. Features a menu loaded with Italian classics (baked ziti, lasagna), specialties (duck penne gorgonzola), meats and fish (filet mignon, veal parmesan) and more. Alodia’s also has a very reasonably priced kids’ menu.

Honorable mentions: Bistro on the Boulevard, Fire and Spice

Best Restaurant — Lexington

Alodia’s Cucina Italiana

Runner-up: Libby’s

The new Alodia’s in the Midlands. This one is located on Lexington’s booming Main Street, just in front of the popular Icehouse Amphitheater. Features the menu items that made the original Alodia’s location in Irmo a favorite. Try the bowtie gratinata.

Honorable mentions: Keg Cowboy, Bodhi Thai Dining

Best Restaurant — Northeast

Solstice Kitchen & Wine Bar

Runner-up: Little Pigs Barbecue

When you want to have a really nice meal out without leaving Northeast Columbia, your choice is clear: Solstice is consistently excellent in its food, service and drink offerings. A true gem.

Honorable mentions: Groucho’s Deli, Kiki’s Chicken and Waffles

Best Restaurant — West Columbia/Cayce

Café Strudel

Runner-up: Terra

Yes, Café Strudel does brunch. They also serve non-brunch dishes such as burgers, seafood mac and cheese, and duck nachos. If you’ve only been to grab a Bloody Mary and Hangover Hashbrowns to undo the damage done the night before, you might need to expand your horizons.

Honorable mentions: @116 Espresso and Wine Bar, Henry’s Restaurant & Bar

Best Chef

Mike Davis, Terra

Runner-up: David Grillo, Cantina 76

In the 11 years since he moved here and opened Terra, Mike Davis has elevated the local culinary scene, helping us form and find our own Midlands restaurant culture rather than mimicking the styles of Charleston and other Southern food cities. Nothing on a Mike Davis plate is an afterthought. Plus, he’s a pretty cool guy.

Honorable mentions: Blythe Kelly, Cellar on Greene; Nick Rodriguez, Ristorante Divino

Best Service

Motor Supply Company Bistro

Runner-up: The Devine Cinnamon Roll Deli

Service at higher end restaurants has evolved a lot over the years, becoming less stuffy as the American dining experience changes. Motor’s floor staff are warm but not too forward or personal, and they’ll make your dining experience great. At the bar, meanwhile, Josh Streetman runs a pleasant and professional ship.  

Honorable mentions: Mr. Friendly’s New Southern Café, Terra

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Best Place for a First Date

Hunter-Gatherer Brewery & Ale House

Runner-up: The Grand on Main

A first date spot should be nice but not fancy, and a Columbia original all the way. H-G is a consistently great option, with its gentle bustle, tasty specials and low-key vibe.

Honorable mentions: Motor Supply Company Bistro, Mr. Friendly’s New Southern Cafe

Best Place to Dine Outdoors

Liberty On the Lake

Runner-up: The Gourmet Shop

It’s summertime in Columbia, which means the thermometer could hit triple digits pretty much any day. Perhaps not the best conditions for dining outside. But, if you hit Liberty on the Lake, you’ll be alongside Lake Murray and can at least think about diving in that cool water while you enjoy your food.

Honorable mentions: Cantina 76, Terra

Best Restaurant When Someone Else Is Paying

Motor Supply Company Bistro

Runner-up: Ruth’s Chris Steak House

It’s simple: Motor Supply won the Best Restaurant category, and food always tastes better when it’s free. Ce qu’il fallait démontrer.

Honorable mentions: Tallulah, Terra

Best ‘Farm to Table’ Restaurant

Motor Supply Company Bistro

Runner-up: Terra

Motor Supply Co. was one of the first fine dining restaurants in the Midlands to spotlight locally grown ingredients and form relationships with local farmers. So it stands to reason that our readers voted them the best. Whether you’re looking for a sustainably raised pig or some local microgreens, this is the place to go.

Honorable mentions: Spotted Salamander Cafe and Catering, Primal Gourmet

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Lula Drake Wine Parlour

Best Wine List

Lula Drake Wine Parlour

Runner-up: Cellar On Greene

Wine lists used to be judged by their depth: pages and pages documenting one’s impressive cellar. These days, they’re judged in other ways: creativity, uniqueness, approachability, dimension. It’s safe to say that nowhere in town knows wine better than Lula Drake Wine Parlour, and their wine list is a joy to behold, whether you’re a beginner or a connoisseur.

Honorable mentions: Gervais & Vine, Hampton Street Vineyard

Best Late Night Food

The Whig

Runner-up: Waffle House

The Whig is stealthily one of the best restaurants in Columbia, augmenting its bar-food lineup with incredible signature dishes (see: the gouda mac, the palmetto cheesesteak, the Berger burger, the monthly chicken-and-waffles special). And its kitchen is open almost as long as the bar is — midnight Sunday through Thursday, or 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday.

Honorable mentions: Cook Out, Bar None

Best Take Out Food

Zoë’s Kitchen

Runner-up: Egg Roll Chen

When you’re feeling like Greek and whoever you’re eating with feels like pretty much anything else, place an order with Zoë’s and swing by to pick up your salvation. You can get your hummus and pita, while they get a chicken salad sandwich or a salmon bowl or ravioli. Everybody wins.

Honorable mentions: East Bay Deli, Primal Gourmet

Best Bang for the Buck

Cook Out

Runner-up: The Devine Cinnamon Roll Deli

The Cook Out tray, that wonderful special that for about $5 allows you to pair a sandwich like a burger or the ever-delicious Cajun Chicken sandwich with two sides (of which quesadillas, chicken nuggets and corn dogs somehow count), just got a new item to choose from: Cook Out Rounds, which are hashbrowns filled with cheese. Bang for your buck, indeed.

Honorable mentions: Cantina 76, The Whig

Best Fast Food Chain


Runner-up: Rush’s

Look, we crave a piping-hot Chick-fil-A original chicken sandwich and those delectable waffle fries, just like you do. And when we do, we choose to forget, for the briefest of moments, that Chick-fil-A donated portions of its sizeable profits to bankroll organizations that oppose LGBTQ causes. We feel bad about it. Do you?

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

Best National Chain Restaurant


Runner-up: Bonefish Grill

Again, yes — once you get past the whole they-hate-the-gays thing.

Honorable mentions: Texas Roadhouse, Outback Steakhouse

Best Kid-Friendly Restaurant


Runner-up: Lizard’s Thicket

There are a lot of reasons your kids may like Chick-fil-A. The service is over-the-top quick, so they won’t get impatient waiting on the food. Many of the locations have playgrounds. But we all know the top reason the youngsters love it: They can trade in their kids’ meal prize for an ice cream.

Honorable mentions: Flight Deck Restaurant, Urban Cookhouse

Best Coffee

Drip Coffee

Runner-up: Indah Coffee

Offering a variety (a very wide variety at the original location in Five Points) of different coffees from the expert roasters at Counter Culture, the baristas at Drip will attentively make your pour-over. The result is the best cup of coffee in Columbia.

Honorable mentions: Starbucks, Loveland Coffee

Best Barista

Mel Foshee, Drip in Five Points

Runner-up: Rachael Harrison, Drip on Main

The diversity of the winners in this category over the years suggests that what people want most of all in a barista is a real person — with serious coffee and espresso skills. Take Mel Foshee. She’s not going to do some kind of perky, sunshiny song-and-dance for you just because you ordered a latte. She’s going to make you a damn good cup of coffee, and be professional and speedy and low-key about it. She is the best. We love her.

Honorable mentions: Greg Slattery, Curiosity Coffee Bar; Kristen Terlitsky, Silver Spoon Bake Shop

Best Catering

Spotted Salamander Cafe And Catering

Runner-up: Cantina 76

When you need classic-yet-creative catering that breathes “Columbia”, think Spotted Salamander. This long-running local caterer can handle events large and small.

Honorable mentions: Riverbanks Zoo & Garden, Capital City Kitchen & Grill

Little Pigs cooker-JAC.jpg

at , in on August 3, 2018. John A. Carlos II / Special to The Free Times

Best Barbecue

Little Pigs Barbecue

Runner-up: Shealy’s Bar-B-Que    

True, you don’t have to go far for good barbecue around these parts. But for the best, you head to this little joint just off of I-20, where the meat is double-smoked and the hush puppies are piping hot and the sauces — my god, the sauces — are impeccable. Don’t believe us (or your fellow readers)? Southern Living thinks it’s the best, too.

Honorable mentions: The Southern Belly BBQ, Midwood Smokehouse

Best Breakfast

Café Strudel

Runner-up: Eggs Up Grill

Yes, Café Strudel serves lunch and dinner. (And pretty good lunch and dinner. Try the steak salad.) But breakfast is the most important meal here, as evidenced by the long, long lines on the weekends. Mostly, folks are waiting for the Hangover Hashbrowns, a delectable concoction of potatoes, cheddar cheese, onions, banana peppers, tomato and eggs that’s perfect for any morning, sober or no.

Honorable mentions: Original Pancake House, The Devine Cinnamon Roll Deli

Best Brunch

Café Strudel

Runner-up: DiPrato’s

We repeat: Hangover Hashbrowns.

Honorable mentions: The Gourmet Shop, 116 Espresso and Wine Bar

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Best Burrito

Real Mexico Restaurant

Runner-up: Moe’s Southwest Grill

This Bush River Road mainstay is known for its authenticity, great service, cold drinks and savory food. The restaurant’s burritos are the centerpiece of its large menu. Perhaps chief among them is the Loco Burrito, a huge offering stuffed with ingredients and covered in out-of-this-world queso.

Honorable mentions: Cantina 76, Chipotle Mexican Grill

Best Deli/Sub/Sandwich Shop

Groucho’s Deli

Runner-up: East Bay Deli

This Columbia staple has been around for 77 years and now has locations across South Carolina. While Groucho’s has all kinds of sandwiches on its menu, the show starts and ends with the STP Dipper, which has roast beef, turkey, Swiss cheese and bacon crumbles piled on a soft, fat roll. And you dip it in the Nectar of the Gods, aka Groucho’s Formula “45” sauce.

Honorable mentions: The Devine Cinnamon Roll Deli, Crave Artisan Specialty Market

Best Dessert


Runner-up: Nonnah’s

Go ahead: Just try to stroll by this Vista eatery on a crisp fall evening and resist the pull of those cakes in the case. Just try to avoid ducking in for a brownie sundae or a salted caramel milkshake. Yeah, we didn’t think you could do it.

Honorable mentions: Cupcake DownSouth, Silver Spoon Bake Shop

Best French Fries

Five Guys

Runner-up: The Whig

If this category was “Most French Fries,” Five Guys would be even more of a shoo-in. They dump an overwhelming heap of the well-seasoned, peanut oil-fried munchables into each and every bag.

Honorable mentions: Henry’s Restaurant & Bar, McDonald’s

Best Frozen Yogurt


Runner-up: 32 Degrees

Yoghut has a number of interesting offerings, like superfruit bowls, smoothies and various bubble teas. But the frozen yogurt is, naturally, the keynote item on offer. They have a wealth of flavors, including red velvet cake. Yes, we said red velvet cake.

Honorable mention: Menchie’s Frozen Yogurt

Best Grits

Blue Marlin

Runner-up: Mr. Friendly’s New Southern Café

Nice restaurant grits have to walk a fine line. They can’t be too basic — you’re looking for something fancier than your standard white breakfast grits made with water and salt — but if they’re too full of butter and cream, it can be hard to taste the bold corn flavor we all love. Blue Marlin walks that line — and uses stone ground grits milled by Adluh, which has a historic mill practically across the street.

Honorable mentions: Café Strudel, Lizard’s Thicket Restaurant

Best Gyro

Taziki’s Mediterranean Cafe

Runner-up: Zorba’s Greek Restaurant

Are you craving a gyro? Do you not want to wait until September to get one at the Greek Festival? Head to this Forest Acres-adjacent fast-casual Greek chain, which serves gyros with myriad meats and sauces.

Honorable mentions: Grecian Gardens, Pita’s

Best Hamburger

Pawleys Front Porch

Runner-up: Five Guys

This Five Points spot has long been a favorite among Best Of Columbia readers. And we can see why. Pawleys doles out hearty, Angus chuck roast burgers that are purportedly seasoned with a “secret blend” of spices. One thing that’s not a secret? The Isle of Palms burger, which features pimento cheese and jalapeño bacon.

Honorable mentions: Rockaway Athletic Club, The Whig

Best Hot Dog

Sandy’s Famous Hot Dogs

Runner-up: Rush’s


The slaw can’t be beat.

The chili’s full of meat.

But the best thing of all

is the dogs are not small.

Honorable mentions: Jimmy’s Mart, The Devine Cinnamon Roll Deli


Best Ice Cream

Sweet Cream Company

Runner-up: Marble Slab Creamery

Creative, housemade ice cream flavors using local and organic ingredients? Yes please.

Honorable mentions: Scoopy Doo, Baskin-Robbins

Best Milkshake

Cook Out

Runner-up: Rush’s

Drinking a Cook Out milkshake is not a quick undertaking. It’s basically a cup full of ice cream. Better still, it comes in an array of tasty flavors and is downright cheap.

Honorable mentions: Rosewood Dairy Bar, Zesto of West Columbia

Best Mobile Food

2 Fat 2 Fly Stuffed Chicken Wings

Runner-up: The Wurst Wagen

In fact, 2 Fat 2 Fly is on official hiatus right now, with both its truck and its brick-and-mortar location shuttered while its magnetic founders work on some new projects. Even on hiatus, the truck remains one of the tastiest and best-loved mobile food experiences Columbia has seen. They did a one-day-only pop-up in May, so keep an eye out.

Honorable mentions: The Belgian Waffle Truck, City Limits Barbeque  

Best Pizza

Mellow Mushroom

Runner-up: Village Idiot Pizza & Pub

Mellow Mushroom has long proven popular with its stone-baked pizzas, with the trademark being its unique, savory spring water crust. Try the Pacific Rim. Yes, we know, it has pineapples on it. Just trust us.

Honorable mentions: Dano’s, Za’s on Devine

Best Ribs

Midwood Smokehouse

Runner-up: The War Mouth

A truly great rib is a wondrous thing —moist, but with a pleasingly jerky-like dryness to the bark; flavorful, but not overimbued with sticky sweetness or salt; meaty but also more than simply meaty. Midwood Smokehouse has great ribs.

Honorable mentions: Carolina Wings & Rib House, True BBQ

Best Salad

California Dreaming

Runner-up: Spotted Salamander Cafe And Catering

There are salads, and then there are salads: full-meal-sized, important salads, served with those addictive squishy honey croissants and plenty of dressing. Plus, the place is an old train station. Pretty cool.

Honorable mentions: J Peters Grill & Bar, Za’s on Devine

Best Seafood Restaurant

Blue Marlin

Runner-up: Pearlz

Lots of restaurants have great seafood dishes. But seafood is Blue Marlin’s specialty, whether it’s a local catch or a classic like salmon or ahi tuna. Dig that scallop pasta, with that butternut-sage cream sauce and the sage derby cheese.

Honorable mentions: Bonefish Grill, Oyster Bar

Best Shrimp & Grits

Blue Marlin

Runner-up: Mr. Friendly’s New Southern Café

Blue Marlin does not try to break the mold of this signature Lowcountry dish. Your bowl will be filled with stone-ground Adluh grits, creek shrimp, andouille sausage and tasso gravy. But the creamy, savory, slightly spicy result is the best you’ll find in Columbia.

Honorable mentions: Motor Supply Company Bistro, Nonnah’s

Best Smoothie

Tropical Smoothie Cafe

Runner-up: Smoothie King

Think of a smoothie. Any smoothie. You can get it at Tropical Smoothie. Classic strawberry-banana? Got it. Something with superfoods like avocados and kale and açai berries? Yup. Luxurious treats with rich chocolate and peanut butter? Oh yeah.

Honorable mentions: Good Life Café, Drip Coffee

Best Steak

Motor Supply Company Bistro

Runner-up: Ruth’s Chris Steak House

So, Motor makes a lot of great food — but this Vista spot is low-key famous for its steaks. The menu changes daily, which means that sometimes you can get a great filet mignon or a coulotte steak, and sometimes you can get a big, beefy ribeye. They’re all fabulous.  

Honorable mentions: The Kingsman, LongHorn Steakhouse

Best Sushi

Inakaya Japanese Restaurant (O’Neil Ct.)

Runner-up: Camon Japanese Restaurant

This long-running Columbia institution is beloved for its simple, fresh sushi. Check the specials boards to see what wondrous things are in stock, or just opt for your favorites.  

Honorable mentions: Tsunami, Inakaya Watanabe Japanese Restaurant (St. Andrews Road)

Best Sweet Tea

Groucho’s Deli

Runner-up: Bojangles’ Famous Chicken ‘n Biscuits

There are two liquids that are a must at Groucho’s. One is the Formula “45” sauce in which you dip your sandwiches. The other is the sweet tea. Properly sweetened — read: really damn sweet — and plenty flavorful, Groucho’s brew is aided by the fact that they use crushed ice, which makes all drinks better. (Scientific fact.)

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

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Best Taco

Cantina 76

Runner-up: Real Mexico Restaurant

If you have any doubt about the quality of Cantina 76’s tacos, just pop in to the Main Street location at lunch time. People show up in waves to try their specialty tacos, including the smoked pork, barbecue brisket, and chicken teriyaki offerings. The Surf ‘n’ Turf (flank steak and fried shrimp) is a showstopper.

Honorable mentions: San Jose Restaurante Mexicano, White Duck Taco Shop

Best Vegetarian Menu

Good Life Café

Runner-up: Rosewood Market & Deli

Good Life has a truly stacked vegetarian menu, from its raw offerings to its beloved vegan salads and desserts.  

Honorable mentions: A Peace of Soul Vegan Kitchen (formerly Lamb’s Bread Vegan Café), Primal Gourmet

Best Veggie Burger

Good Life Café

Runner-up: The Whig

So, you want a burger, but you don’t want a cow to die to satisfy your craving. Try the sweet potato bean burger at Good Life Café. It’s a mix of sweet potatoes, beans, grain and spices on a grilled bun. It’s just one of a host of vegan items on offer at the Main Street café.

Honorable mentions: Burger Tavern 77, Goat’s

Best Wings

D’s Wings

Runner-up: Publick House

D’s brags about its four signature homemade sauces — and for good reason. Rare are buffalo sauces that so expertly ramp up the heat without overpowering the flavor. Go and get them slathered on some juicy flats and drumettes.

Honorable mentions: Bar None/Smokey Loggins, Peebles Wing Shack Columbia

Best Asian Restaurant


Runner-up: Inakaya Watanabe Japanese Restaurant (St. Andrews Road)

Miyo’s fits this broad category as well as any restaurant could. Whether you’re after sushi, a nice noodle dish, dumplings, something from the wok or beyond, the local institution probably does it and does it well.

Honorable mentions: Baan Sawan Thai Bistro, M Vista

Best Caribbean Restaurant

Fire and Spice

Runner-up: Island Grill

If you love jerk chicken, rice and peas and fried plantains, you’ll want to check out Fire and Spice. This eatery also serves up sandwiches and entrees with less of a Caribbean flair, from the banh mi sub to the housemade pimento cheese.

Honorable mentions: Island Noodles, La Isla Bonita Restaurante

Best Chinese Restaurant


Runner-up: Egg Roll Chen

Long a standout in the Columbia area, Miyo’s has numerous restaurants and concepts spread across the Midlands. The menu is loaded with diverse offerings and longtime favorites, like the Hong Kong Fried Rice.

Honorable mentions: Sun Ming Chinese Restaurant, Main Moon

Best Greek Restaurant

Mediterranean Tea Room

Runner-up: Zorba’s Greek Restaurant

You do not mess with Mediterranean Tea Room. The venerable Devine Street eatery serves up Middle Eastern favorites, Greek salads and much more in a cozy atmosphere.

Honorable mentions: Grecian Gardens, Greek Boys

Best Indian Restaurant


Runner-up: Delhi Palace

The Bush River Road mainstay is known for its flavorful, authentic Indian cuisine. Featuring vegetarian entrees, basmati dishes, and seafood, among many other items.  

Honorable mentions: Spice Junction, Persis Biryani Indian Grill

Best Italian Restaurant

Villa Tronco Italian Restaurant

Runner-up: Pasta Fresca

This Blanding Street establishment has been dishing out Italian food in Columbia for more than 70 years. The pizza is sneaky good, the lasagna is hearty and delicious, and the cheese manicotti alone is worth the trip downtown. Villa Tronco also has a deep wine list.

Honorable mentions: Il Giorgione, Alodia’s Cucina Italiana

Best Japanese Restaurant

Miyabi Japanese Steakhouse & Sushi Bar

Runner-up: Inakaya Watanabe Japanese Restaurant (St. Andrews Road)

Want a show with your sukiyaki? Head to this hibachi joint, where the chefs cook your meal on the stovetop in front of you while performing a number of impressive moves and tricks. Pro tip: Be ready to catch a shrimp in your mouth.

Honorable mentions: Inakaya Japanese Restaurant (O’Neil Ct.), Camon Japanese Restaurant

Best Mexican Restaurant

Real Mexico

Runner-up: San Jose Mexican Restaurant

One of the biggest signals that Columbia is a legitimate city is that we appreciate an authentic Mexican restaurant like Real Mexico. Seriously, it’s hard to find a parking spot here some days.

Honorable mentions: Cantina 76, Moctezumas Taqueria

Best Middle Eastern Restaurant


Runner-up: Mediterranean Tea Room

For years, Al-Amir has been turning out high quality Middle Eastern food in various locations around the Midlands. These days, the restaurant keeps it real on the 1700 block of Main Street. Damascus hummus!

Honorable mentions: Arabesque, Pita’s

Best Southern Restaurant

Mr. Friendly’s New Southern Cafe

Runner-up: Lizard’s Thicket

Five Points fine-dining staple Mr. Friendly’s is consistently on the short list to be this town’s Best Restaurant, and it’s largely on the strength of its menu, which has been setting the standard for upscale yet casual Southern food for years.

Honorable mentions: Yesterdays Restaurant & Tavern, The War Mouth

Best Thai Restaurant

Mai Thai Cuisine

Runner-up: Baan Sawan Thai Bistro

Tucked away in a nondescript shopping center on Sunset Boulevard is this tasty Thai eatery, and bold, flavorful dishes lie within. The Thai classics — your pad Thais, your massaman curries, your tom yum gungs — are unassailable, and the house specialties are creative.

Honorable mentions: Basil Thai Cuisine, Bodhi Thai Dining

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