Best Local Website — Sports

Perhaps it’s a sign of the times that readers chose — the University of South Carolina’s official athletics website, essentially a propaganda arm for the school’s sports programs — as the best sports website in town, rather than an objective outlet. Either way, the true best sports website in town is The State’s, which is highlighted by Josh Kendall’s exemplary coverage of Gamecock football, Ben Breiner’s incisive breakdowns of on-field action and Andrew Ramspacher’s tireless coverage of USC basketball. — Chris Trainor

Best Local Radio Station

WUSC 90.5 FM

I hear debates all the time about whether WUSC was better back in the day. And here’s the thing: It would actually be a bad sign if people weren’t having these arguments. The University of South Carolina’s student radio station has evolved with the face of popular music, mingling resonant tangents of mainstream pop and hip-hop with the expected indie rock while continuing to showcase niche styles such as metal and the blues. Apologies to the old heads, but the kids are alright. — Jordan Lawrence

Best Activist Group or Effort

Sexual Trauma Services of the Midlands

Here’s the thing no one ever tells you about giving: You alone aren’t going to solve everybody’s problems. In fact, you're probably not going to solve anybody's problems. So you know what you should do? Anything. As much and as often as you can. Me? I give to Sexual Trauma Services of the Midlands, which advocates for and supports survivors of sexual assault and abuse and endeavors to prevent sexual violence. I know too many people who’ve survived awful things. — Patrick Wall

Best Green Business or Initiative

Congaree Riverkeeper

In 2018, it’s been one big win after another for the Congaree Riverkeeper. After keeping the heat on an I-20 wastewater treatment facility discharging sewage into the lower Saluda River, the organization saw those discharges end in February, and under its watchful eye, sewage spilled by the City of Columbia’s wastewater system went from 2.3 million gallons in 2016 to 663,000 in 2017. And it has kept pressure on SCANA to remove coal tar that seeped into the Congaree River, threatening a lawsuit when it looked like they would back out of the cleanup; SCANA has since changed its tune. Led by Bill Stangler, the nonprofit advocate for the Columbia area’s streams and tributaries is standing tall. — Jordan Lawrence

Best Use of Public Funds

Other Stuff Besides Roads

Sure, the roads aren’t perfect, but I find South Carolinians’ obsession with them to be a little weird. What makes my heart swell with civic pride is knowing that my tax dollars go to stuff like books and other media at Richland Library, the trails that comprise the Three Rivers Greenway, and the affordable health services at Eau Claire Health Cooperative. Not all spending by local, state and the federal government is great, but some of it sure is. — Eva Moore

Biggest Waste of Public Funds

Richland Renaissance

The former county administrator’s grandiose vanity project, enabled by a feeble and fractured Richland County Council, involved buying up old malls and relocating crucial county services into them. Sort of. The plan was hatched in private, and would have involved tearing down the perfectly functional current administration building, as well as a slew of tangentially related projects to “revitalize” Richland County. We fired the administrator, but we now own parts of some malls, with no real plan for what’s next. Cool? — Eva Moore

Biggest Improvement in Columbia This Year

Unveiling of Civil Rights Protest Markers and Richard Greener Statue

It’s never too late to acknowledge moments that are truly important. That was certainly the case during the last year in Columbia, as notable efforts of African-American citizens were recognized in a permanent way. At the University of South Carolina, a statue was unveiled honoring Richard T. Greener, the school’s first African-American professor. Also, a pair of markers were put up — one on Taylor Street and another on Main — that detail two civil rights court cases spurred by African-American students who held sit-ins at lunch counters in Columbia in the 1960s. — Chris Trainor

Worst Local Politician

Hardy King

There are different ways to be terrible. In Hardy King’s case, it’s by sharing racist memes — then simultaneously claiming he never posted some of them (the one referencing a whole bunch of virulent black stereotypes) while defending the content of others (the anti-Muslim ones and the ones presenting wildly inaccurate “facts” about immigrants). — Patrick Wall

Best Troublemaker

Elaine Cooper

Who’s that standing outside the State House with a sign and a bullhorn? Or posing with unsuspecting right-wing politicians, frowning just as the picture is snapped? Who’s always good for a zinger of a quote? It’s Prime S#!tstarter Elaine Cooper, of course. Whatever your progressive message, she’ll show up to amplify it. This category was practically made for her. — Eva Moore

Best Annual Event or Festival

Hip-Hop Family Day

It’s more than the impressive headliners — Kool Moe Dee, Slick Rick, Nice & Smooth, and MC Lyte have all performed. It’s more than the huge attendance — though filling Columbia’s Main Street with crowds that push into five figures is wonderful. This event is special because of how well it communicates the community-building ethos at the heart of hip-hop, doing so with one of — if not the most — family-friendly music festivals in the area. Few cities anywhere have something to match Hip-Hop Family Day. Cherish it. — Jordan Lawrence

Best Visual Artist

Michaela Pilar Brown

Artists don’t merely paint pretty pictures. They challenge conventions, defy norms, fiercely explore uncomfortable themes through nonlinear narratives. Michaela Pilar Brown — who we just put on our cover, remember? — does all of these things. She won top prize at this year’s ArtFields competition, and her works are shown internationally — not just on the kitchen walls of Shandonites. — Patrick Wall

Best New Restaurant

929 Kitchen

This modern Korean eatery in the Vista is a great blend of homemade touches and fusion flair. In a year that’s seen both sad closings (Tallulah) but also cool openings (Bone-In Barbeque, COA Agaveria Y Cocina, Bodhi Thai), 929 cements our hope for the future direction of the Midlands’ dining scene. — Eva Moore

Best Restaurant

Baan Sawan

This tiny, elegant Thai eatery is probably the only place on the planet you can get tom kha gai with duck-fat matzo balls in it, and almost certainly the only place where the bartender/co-owner will suggest you pair that soup with a nice albariño. Forget Disney; for me, Baan Sawan may well be the happiest place on Earth. — Eva Moore

Best Kid-Friendly Restaurant


It’s weird that the wooden bar booths where I used to smoke cigarettes and slog through journal articles in grad school are the same wooden bar booths where my toddler drops crayons on the floor and eats vegetables he won’t eat at home. — Eva Moore

Best Barbecue

True BBQ

You can smell it before you even get there. This hole-in-the-wall barbecue joint on D Avenue in West Columbia smokes ribs and other delicacies on a huge grill right out in front of the restaurant. My go-to is a pulled pork Big Z sandwich (with the golden “Pretty Lady” sauce) and a side of macaroni, with a glass of iced tea so sweet it’ll send you into a diabetic coma. — Chris Trainor

Best Breakfast

The Original Pancake House

When I wake up in need of a really good breakfast, it’s The Original Pancake House that’s on my mind — those buttermilk pancakes that are creamy and fluffy with the slightest tang, those deliciously enormous omelets, the savory rush of salami and eggs with potato pancakes. There are fancier brunch experiences in town, but in the simple terms of really good breakfast food, OPH reigns. — Jordan Lawrence

Best Breakfast

Waffle House

Yes, it’s a chain. But at what other chain can you watch the chef break fresh eggs into a skillet and cook them to order? The rhythm and flow of Waffle House’s system is a joy to behold, and probably teaches Americans more about real cooking than they’ll ever learn from a competition kitchen show. Oh, and if you’re curious: two eggs over medium; hash browns, diced and peppered; wheat toast. — Eva Moore

Best Brunch

Thirsty Fellow

Located on Gadsden Street, in the shadow of Colonial Life Arena, Thirsty Fellow has a popular Sunday brunch with a number of the offerings you might expect: eggs benedict, mimosas, shrimp and grits, and some pretty respectable pizzas. But the standout item, and the one that keeps me coming back, is the baked French toast, which is actually more of a French toast casserole with blueberries. Just trust me, you need this. — Chris Trainor

Best French Fries

The Whig

There are many tasty items on The Whig’s menu of better-than-your-average bar food. And pretty much all of them are made all the more better by pairing them with the beer-battered fries — crisp and perfectly zesty on the outside, wonderfully moist on the inside, the thick-cut marvels are the best in town. — Jordan Lawrence

Best Hamburger

Hunter-Gatherer Brewery & Alehouse

As far as serious restaurant burgers go, the Main Street Hunter-Gather has it down pat — thick, tasty, perfectly cooked patty; buttery bun; fresh veggies; fun and flavorful cheese options (the ESB beer cheese and gouda are particularly strong choices). Yes, the city’s OG brew-and-food joint does burgers right. — Jordan Lawrence

Best Hamburger


We’re in the trust tree here, right? OK, well, I’m kind of a messy eater. As such, Rush’s chili cheeseburger — piled high with all the requisite burger toppings and a prodigious amount of that meaty, zesty chili — can be a bit of a challenge. Put it this way: I’d never eat it while wearing a white shirt. But, gracious, it’s delicious. Bonus points because Rush’s serves its fries in a cup and hollers your order back to the kitchen via microphone. — Chris Trainor

Best Milkshake

Rosewood Dairy Bar

The key to a good milkshake? Not making it too thick. It’s supposed to be a drink, not something you eat with a spoon. Rosewood Dairy Bar knows the score. It makes the best shakes in town, with the perfect consistency. They’ve got plenty of flavors, too. Plus, you can enjoy your shake in their little detached dining room, which has what may be the world’s last working Pole Position machine. — Chris Trainor

Best Mobile Food

The Wurst Wagen

If you’re out at a local festival knocking back a few and the munchies strike, the Wurst Wagen is your most reliable relief. They’re out at pretty much everything slinging plump and juicy German sausages that’ll always set you right. Some pro-tips: Always get the spicy mustard (unless you go for the currywurst, which is also good); and don’t sleep on the potato salad, the best vinegar-based variety I know of in Columbia. — Jordan Lawrence

Best Smoothie

Drip Coffee

Look, most smoothies are loaded with sugar. Even if most of it comes from fruit, that ain’t that good for you — and most fast-food smoothie places load their wares with super sugary sweeteners and fruit juices. Drip’s Charged Protein Smoothie — also called Breakfast Smoothie at its Main Street location — is just as decadent and a more complete food, packed with peanut butter, bananas and almond milk. It also stirs in some of its cold brew coffee for an extra jolt. — Patrick Wall

Best Pizza


Probably the closest you are going to reasonably get to New York style pizza in the Capital City. Perfectly floppy and foldable. They also make a killer calzone (try the Garnet and Black). Also, their lunch deal — two slices and a drink for $4.99 — is the go-to cheap midday meal in Columbia. — Chris Trainor

Best Sushi

Camon Japanese Restaurant & Sushi Bar

Eating at Camon is like eating at the home of a lifelong friend. The care and love that Chef Kobayashi puts into his food is evident, whether it’s a decadent Honeymoon Roll or a simple slice of sake sashimi. — Patrick Wall

Best Sweet Tea


Rush’s has sweet tea

Strong and sugary greatness

And they add lemon

#teahaiku — Chris Trainor

Best Wings

Bar None/Smokey Loggins

I feel at this point that we’ve typed enough words in Free Times about the smoked wings at Bar None, available every other Tuesday, that if you haven’t gone and dunked a few of the tender flavor bombs in that wonderfully peppery LoCo sauce, that we should probably stop so as not to have to fight even bigger crowds to get them. Oh well. — Jordan Lawrence

Best Chinese Restaurant

Main Moon

My father-in-law used to run a Chinese restaurant, and cooks the best authentic Chinese food I’ve ever had. But sometimes, man, I just want to eat the hell out of some American-ass General Tso’s chicken or beef with broccoli with pork fried rice. When that happens, I go to Main Moon, as cheap and excellent a Chinese restaurant as you’ll find in Columbia. — Patrick Wall

Best Mexican Restaurant

Moctezumas Taqueria

This is not so much a slight to the excellent Real Mexico as it is a shout-out to Moctezumas, the go-to Mexican joint for the Rosewood area and home to some of the best huaraches I’ve ever had. (Get the asada with the green sauce.) — Patrick Wall

Best Southern Restaurant

The War Mouth

Make no mistake: The War Mouth is a Southern restaurant. But it’s doing much, much more than barbecue and shrimp-and-grits, elevating scrappy dishes like purloo, chicken bog and catfish stew into adventurous entries into New Southern eating. — Patrick Wall

Best Local Band

King Vulture

There are more than a few local bands doing exciting things right now. But I’ll give the nod to King Vulture, a swirling, boundary-averse explosion of colorful pop and indie rock energy that owns elation as convincingly as sorrow, shot through with invigorating guitar texture, slyly grooving bass lines, and subtly sweeping saxophone. But none of this would mean much without the profoundly emotive songs and singing of Kate Pyritz, who leads the group with matter-of-fact confidence. — Jordan Lawrence

Best Neighborhood Bar — Shandon/Rosewood/Forest Acres

Foxfield Bar and Grille

Look, I don’t even hang out at Foxfield more than a handful of times a year, but I know a proper neighborhood bar when I see one. With its live music offerings and off-kilter vibe, the place just feels like Rosewood. — Eva Moore

Best Local Brewery

Columbia Craft Brewing Company

It’s hard to imagine a beer drinker in 2018 entering Columbia Craft and not finding something to satisfy them. If you’re looking for an easy-drinker, the eponymous lager is one of the tastiest and most crushable examples in a crowded local field of cold-brewed refreshers. If you’re into sours, their adventurous, perpetually rotating creations are on point. And if you’re looking to boldly go to new hop frontiers, they’ve got some of the best NEIPAs in the area, and the Road Rage India Red Ale is a style-splicing delight. — Jordan Lawrence

Best Brewpub

Old Mill Brewpub

This Lexington hotspot continues to impress. Brewmaster Matt Rodgers conjures a number of savory beers on-site, including the highly regarded Merle Haggard Brown Ale, the summery Session IPA and, my personal favorite, Ghost in the Mill. Any of those are good for washing down the pub’s fiery Brimstone Burger. — Chris Trainor

Best Craft Beer Selection

Keg Cowboy

A proclamation greets you when you log onto Keg Cowboy’s website: “No Crap On Tap!” And the bar, which is located on Lexington’s resurgent Main Street, isn’t kidding. It keeps a solid rotation of cold craft brews on tap, including offerings from local and state outfits, such as Holy City Brewing and Cottontown Brew Lab. Keg Cowboy also slings one of the best grilled cheese sandwiches you’ll ever eat. — Chris Trainor

Coldest Beer

Uncle Louie’s

You don’t go to Uncle Louie’s for heady draft IPAs or fine wines or craft cocktails. You go to Uncle Louie’s to drink the most head-jarringly cold domestic bottled beers found on the face of the planet. — Eva Moore

Best Distillery

Crouch Distilling

Crouch Distilling does whiskey — my favorite liquor, and probably yours, too — really well. Its Carolina Rye Single Malt Whiskey — a 100 percent rye product, an incredibly rare thing — is special, spicy and complex with notes of vanilla and dried fruits. Its Jimmy Red Corn Whiskey is distilled from heirloom Jimmy Red Corn milled by Geechie Boy; it is unlike any other whiskey I have tasted. And I’ve tasted a lot. — Patrick Wall

Best Alternative Clothing

Sid & Nancy

My desire to support locally owned businesses is often at odds with my desire to order things on the internet and never, ever have to enter a store. Sid & Nancy is a godsend. It’s conveniently located in Five Points; it’s small and well-curated and friendly; and it’s a great place to score a cool skirt or jacket — and be done with shopping for at least another half-year. — Eva Moore

Best Convenience Store

Columbia News Stand

Formerly located on Main, this locally owned convenience store has moved to Washington Street and expanded. It acts as a sort of downtown bodega, supplying cold beers and sodas, TP, snacks, gum, The Wall Street Journal, canned Vienna sausages and the other necessities of life to all. In a rapidly gentrifying downtown corridor, it’s a friendly and real place to shop. — Eva Moore

Best Florist

Something Special

There are a lot of reasons to like Something Special, the Main Street florist and gift shop. Their elaborate window displays at Halloween and Christmas are the stuff of downtown legend. They also regularly run specials on bouquets of a dozen roses. After a long week (we’ve all had them), a dozen roses can make things just a little bit better on the homefront. — Chris Trainor

Best Gamecock Store

Addam’s University Bookstore

This shop on South Assembly Street is absolutely stuffed with Gamecocks gear. And not just football paraphernalia, either. If you’re looking to show some love to the basketball, soccer, volleyball or any other athletic program at USC, you can probably find the appropriate apparel at Addam’s. This is where you need to go before the school year — and another year of USC sports — gets started. — Chris Trainor

Best Liquor Store


This eastside liquor emporium is tops when it comes to interesting bitters, hard-to-find liqueurs and higher end spirits. — Eva Moore

Best Place for Fresh Produce

South Carolina State Farmers Market

Soda City Market is cool if you want to eat an arepa, get a sno-cone and show off your corgi. But if you’re looking for a huge array of fruits and veggies, your best bet is at the state farmers market over in West Columbia. If you’re looking for produce from in-state and out-of-state farmers, and lots of it, this is your spot. — Chris Trainor

Best Sporting Goods Store

Todd & Moore

Yeah, sure, Academy Sports has it all. But so does the locally owned Todd & Moore, which also carries an assortment of Gamecock swag and apparel from local high school sports teams. And if you need a Yeti cooler, you can buy one here. — Patrick Wall

Best Pest Control

Cayce Exterminating Company

The first time I owned a house in Columbia, I used Cayce Exterminating Company for my pest-prevention needs, and my house never had bug problems. I now own another house in Columbia, and I still use Cayce Exterminating; the one time I did have a small ant infestation, they came out and cleared up the problem right away. They’re professional, personable, reliable and affordable — exactly what you want in a pest company. — Patrick Wall

Best Car Wash

Constan Car Wash

There are a lot of reasons to love Constan. They will transform your car from a dirty, dusty heap into a sparkling, gleaming machine. And they’ll skillfully change your oil and check all the fluids. But what puts them over the top, for me, is that — for reasons I’m not quite clear on — they also sell loaves of fresh baked bread by the cash register. An oil change, a car wash and a loaf of bread? Columbia, baby. — Chris Trainor

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