Columbia’s restaurant scene has been growing for years, and now the city boasts an eclectic mix of old-school favorites and innovative newcomers. Right in the middle of South Carolina, Columbia is an easy weekend getaway, and visitors enjoy Gamecock sports, outdoor activities along the river, visits to museums and historical homes, or just simple times with friends. On Saturdays, 150 vendors take over Main Street for Soda City Market, the place to find local food, crafts, music, and more. The market showcases Columbia’s diverse community and cultures. Newcomers to the city should definitely explore the range of pimiento cheese options, including the pimiento cheese burger, rumored to have been invented here.Read More
18 Essential Restaurants in Columbia, South Carolina
Come for the pimiento cheese, and stay for the eclectic culture
1. Duke's Pad Thai
Well worth the short drive over the bridge to Cayce, Duke’s is a great choice for takeout or a casual meal. Diners step up to the counter to order classic Thai dishes or cult favorites from the street eats menu, like fried fish cakes with sweet chili sauce or crispy chicken with sriracha and spicy mayo. Duke’s also offers a build-your-own bowl option, with a selection of noodles, broths, proteins, and vegetables.
2. Terra Restaurant
There are few greater pleasures than dining on Terra’s shaded patio on a balmy day. It’s easy to stop in at happy hour to enjoy a classic cocktail from the bar with an appetizer, preferably the smoked lamb mac with goat and fontina cheese and poblano peppers. Patrons looking for a full meal should stay for chef Mike Davis’ seasonal specials, prepared simply to highlight local ingredients. The staff is top notch, always ready to recommend a dish and the perfect wine to accompany it.
3. Black Rooster
The menu is French-inspired, but incorporates elements from all over the world. Recent specials included a Cuban-themed ramen bowl and chitarra cut pasta with brisket and pork meatballs, tomato ragu, and pecorino romano. Before the main course, let the knowledgeable staff recommend a wine to go with a tin of mussels or octopus, which are served with house pickles, sourdough baguette, and a small salad. The rooftop bar offers a view of downtown Columbia and an excellent selection of cocktails, beer, and wine.
The all-day cafe owned by chefs Sarah Simmons and Aaron Hoskins delights diners with an exceptional pastry selection, healthy options for breakfast and lunch made with seasonal ingredients, and excellent coffee. Loyal customers subscribe to their newsletter and follow the restaurant on social media to hear about family-style meals for delivery or pickup, the perfect way to celebrate any holiday…or just any random day that needs some joy.
5. The War Mouth
This gastropub quickly became a local favorite, offering plates of ribs and slow-cooked whole hog barbecue for hungry patrons with an affinity for Southern cooking, as well as creative small plates, like deviled eggs, wood-smoked South Carolina Pecans, and house pickled vegetables. The produce — whether pickled, charred, fried, roasted, stewed, or fresh — skews local. Specials often feature ingredients like venison and oxtail. The cocktails are inspired and there’s always something new and seasonal to try.
6. Il Focolare Pizzeria
The newest concept from chefs Sarah Simmons and Aaron Hoskins is a pizzeria with a simple menu to delight the palate. The 13-inch pizzas are all made to order in a wood fired oven and diners can’t go wrong, though the rosemary and potato pie is an unexpected treat. The menu includes a small selection of mediterranean inspired salads and appetizers like fried marcona almonds and mezze with pita. The takeout business is booming, because who doesn’t love an elevated pizza night at home?
7. Motor Supply Company Bistro
In 1989, Motor Supply brought a fresh new concept to Columbia — farm to table dining in a casual setting that still felt special. The restaurant remains a favorite with Chef Wesley Fulmer at the helm. He keeps the menu fresh, making everything in-house, featuring local heritage foods. The cocktail program also highlights local ingredients, and seasonal cocktails never fail to delight.
8. 929 Kitchen & Bar
This cozy spot in the Vista serves traditional Korean dishes with a few surprises. They also have a full bar with an impressive cocktail menu. Katsu (panko battered pork deep fried and served with 929’s signature tangy, savory brown sauce) is a standout, as is the tteokbokki (chewy rice cakes tossed in a spicy gochujang-based sauce and served with eomuk fish cakes and udon noodles). 929 is is a treat any day of the week, but particularly delightful on Sunday evenings, when many of Columbia’s better restaurants are closed.
9. Camon Japanese Restaurant
For many Columbians, Camon provided their first exposure to sushi. Little did they know they might never find anything that topped that experience. Chef Kobayashi, who owns and operates the Japanese restaurant with his family, believes in the freshest food served with artistic flair. Guests seated at the sushi bar can watch him in action while they enjoy a delicious meal and make friends with the regulars.
10. Hampton Street Vineyard
Located just off Main Street, this self-described American brasserie with an award-winning wine list offers a tight menu of French classics, often with a twist, like pork crepinette with sautéed kale, pickled squash, and honeyed beets. The small bar is a great place to catch up with a friend, and the wine room is cozy but large enough for a private dinner party. Happy hour at one of the outdoor tables should include at least one order of gloriously crispy potatoes. If happy hour turns into dinner, the Fracas Burger, served on a croissant with brie, braised onions, and port dijon mustard, is a delight.
With a bar boasting more than 400 whiskeys and a cocktail menu featuring well-made classics and contemporary creations, Bourbon is an ideal spot for drinks. The cajun and creole inspired menu makes it much more than a drinking hole, though. Patrons can enjoy a seat at the bar or an inside table, but outside seating at the Main Street hot spot offers excellent people watching. The Bayou Burger — a one-third pound chuck and brisket-short rib ground beef patty served on a brioche bun — is spectacular. And the creole pimento cheese is always a good idea.
12. Spotted Salamander Cafe And Catering
Before the cafe opened, chef owner Jessica Shillato of Spotted Salamander had quite a following as a caterer for private parties and special events. Each delicious dish highlights Chef Shillato’s love for local ingredients and Southern cooking. Deviled eggs with special additions like bacon and blue cheese take the edge off of a mid-day appetite, but leave plenty of room for mains like the Spotted Salad, with sweet tea vodka barbecue chicken, bacon, cheddar, tomatoes, Adluh cornbread croutons, mixed greens, and buttermilk ranch dressing. Watch the Spotted Instagram for specials like crab fries — a pile of lump crab over hot fries with brie “Cheese Whiz,” and crab seasoning. The desserts here are legendary, and guests can’t resist taking home an oatmeal cream pie or a slice of chocolate cookie butter pie for “later” (i.e., in the car on the way back to work).
Columbia is famous for pimiento cheese, and DiPrato’s version is the gold standard. In addition to pimiento cheese (best shoveled into the face on their crispy fried pita chips) the deli offers an extensive menu for lunch and brunch. DiPrato’s sandwiches are mouth-watering, and guests love options like panini with marinated and roasted peppers, fresh mozzarella, spinach, artichokes, fire roasted tomatoes, basil leaves, and kalamata olive tapenade, served with a side of basil pesto mayonnaise. Daily specials like Tuesday’s bacon and pimiento cheese burger with fries are a must. DiPrato’s is essential for tailgate takeout — the wings are unparalleled.
14. The Gourmet Shop
Open since 1979, the Gourmet Shop is always bustling. The wait is never too long though, because the kitchen and wine shop are there to be explored. Customers may come for the brie and bacon croissant, but leave with a French jacquard tablecloth, an excellent bottle of mildly effervescent txakoli, and a slab of imported cheese for later. The mimosa kit — a bottle of sparkling wine and a carafe of orange juice — is a brunch budget favorite.
15. Baan Sawan Thai Bistro
Baan, as devoted regulars call it, is a family owned bistro where everyone is made to feel at home. As de facto family, visitors enjoy excellent Thai food, as well as superior wine and beer options. Chef Alex Du Monde and his parents cook up excellent versions of classic Thai dishes, innovative takes on those classics like tom kha matzo soup, and irresistible specials. Alex’s brother Sam Suaudom holds court behind the bar, ready to offer personalized suggestions for any palate. (He also offers personalized conversation, and can hold his own on any number of subjects.) Specials like jok, a savory Thai rice dish, are a nod to the family’s ties to Southern cooking.
16. River Rat Brewery
Just a short distance from Williams Brice Stadium, River Rat is a great hang. The outdoor area is kid and pet friendly, while the rooftop lounge is free of kids, pets, and smoke. In addition to its own wide and varied selection of craft brews, River Rat has interesting (in the good way) wines and specials like fruity prosecco pops. The menu features brew friendly fare like smoked wings, pretzels, and pimiento cheese.
17. Il Giorgione
Il Gio is named after chef owner George Kessler. He sends out meal after delicious meal from the kitchen while Monica, his co-owner and wife, welcomes customers at the door and makes sure they grab a drink at the bar while they wait. If it weren’t for (most) diners speaking English, Il Gio would fit into any Italian neighborhood. The menu includes simple traditional dishes like margherita pizza and spaghetti alla carbonara as well as a few nightly specials. The Praianese salad — with tuna, house-made mozzarella, tomatoes, arugula, lemon, and extra virgin olive oil — is so deeply satisfying that diners almost forget it’s a salad.
18. Hunter-Gatherer Brewery/Taproom
The Hangar, located in the actual Curtiss-Wright Hangar, is an offshoot of Columbia’s original brewery, Hunter-Gatherer. House-brewed beers are the perfect complement to their elevated pub menu. Weekend brunches chase away the blues — the huevos rancheros breakfast pizza is a favorite. During happy hour, or literally any other time they’re open, don’t miss the warm sausage balls, served with Hunter-Gatherer’s ESB mustard. Guests who arrive via small plane can take a quick walk or golf cart ride to the Hangar to enjoy a meal that far surpasses typical airport fare. The restaurant also hosts a farmers market on Thursday afternoons.