Best of Columbia 2021: Food and Drink | Free Times

Best Farm-to-Table Restaurant — Motor Supply Co. Bistro

Second Place: Spotted Salamander Cafe and Catering

Chef Wes Fulmer’s long-running connections with the farming community have always helped bring in the freshest ingredients to help fuel his local menu. An advocate for the region’s farmers, it’s almost impossible not to see Columbia on every plate he serves. Fulmer’s enthusiasm for local goods spills into head barman’s Jake Smith’s cocktail menu, where he constantly finds ways to incorporate local fruits and products like Indah coffee into his work.

Honorable Mention: Terra Restaurant, Black Rooster

Best Asian Restaurant — Miyo’s Group

Second Place: Duke’s Pad Thai

There’s no denying that Miyo’s has a long standing history in the community, with owner Michelle Wang Cao’s various M concepts spanning the Midlands since 1996. The business came under fire last year when Wang was put under the social media spotlight for her handling of employees and employee benefits at the onset of the pandemic.

Honorable Mention: 929 Kitchen & Bar, Bodhi Thai

Best Bagel — Carolina Cafe & Catering

Second Place: The Devine Cinnamon Roll Deli

A constant flow of students, university workers, and state government employees make their way to Carolina Cafe for baked goods and sandwiches, bagels prominent among them. There aren’t many places in Columbia to find a good bagel, and this downtown hallmark has them in all manor of flavors, including eight grain, blueberry, everything, jalapeño, sun-dried tomato, chocolate chip and pumpernickel.

Honorable Mention: Brugger’s Bagels, smallSUGAR

Best Bang for the Buck — Cantina 76

Second Place: Cook Out

The local chain Cantina 76 has four spots throughout the state and, besides the obvious commonality of offering up margaritas and tacos, they all have one thing in common: a reputation for being a damn good deal. Perhaps that’s due to the three-hour happy hour, where they sell their house margaritas for half off, and the rotating daily specials.

Honorable Mention: The Devine Cinnamon Roll Deli, Lizard’s Thicket

Best Barbecue — Home Team BBQ

Second Place: Shealy’s Bar-B-Que

The Charleston import remains a hit in Columbia’s Five Points neighborhood. There’s the wildly popular wings, the brisket, the ribs, and just the all around smoked goodness. It’s a favorite among the nearby students, their families and just about anyone else who has an even passing interest in barbecue.

Honorable Mention: Little Pigs Barbecue, Midwood Smokehouse

Best Barista — Greg Slattery (Curiosity Coffee Bar)

Second Place: Chelsea England (Indah Coffee)

A repeat winner in this category, Greg Slattery is the co-owner of North Main Street’s Curiosity Coffee Bar. He helps curate an ambitious coffee selection and espresso drink menu. More than that, he’s a community leader, helping host events that support other local businesses and advance the dialogue on important social issues. Hats off to Greg.

Honorable Mention: Travis Hoyt (Loveland Coffee), Erica D’Amato (Loveland Coffee)

Best Breakfast — Cafe Strudel

Second Place: Eggs Up Grill

Its location has shifted and it’s added a second Lexington shop, but the best place for breakfast remains Cafe Strudel. It’s obvious from the lines out the door on the weekend that people are happy to hang out for their chance to score Hangover Hashbrowns and four-egg omelets to start their days off right.

Honorable Mention: The Original Pancake House, Rambo’s Fat Cat Biscuits

Best Brunch — Cafe Strudel

Second Place: The Gourmet Shop

Cafe Strudel has most of what you could ask for in a brunch. There are pancakes, eggs, lunch-y sandwiches and an early-in-the-day-worthy bloody mary and mimosa. Meanwhile, it’s all served up in two pleasant spaces convenient to many in the Midlands.

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

Best Burrito — Boca Grande Burritos

Second Place: Real Mexico Restaurant

Chef-owner David Grillo traded in his post as the head of Cantina 76’s kitchens to bring what he hoped would be one of the city’s top burritos. After being open less than six months, it appears he’s on to something. Grillo’s spot has already earned a strong following that adore the hand-rolled burritos that come in varieties that range from chicken, chorizo and pork to vegan/vegetarian options.

Honorable Mention: San Jose Mexican Restaurant, Cantina 76

Best Caribbean Restaurant — Island Grill

Second Place: Fire and Spice Irmo

Island Grill has become a cornerstone of the Benedict Allen area and for good reason. The Jamaican food is warm and comforting, and the folks who run it day in and day out are some of the kindest people you’ll meet in town. Come for the jerk chicken, stay for the hospitality.

Honorable Mention: La Isla Bonita Restaurante

Best Catering — Spotted Salamander Cafe and Catering

Second Place: Southern Way Catering

Looking for some of the best true Southern catering in town? Give chef-owner Jessica Shillato a call. She’ll whip up the most unique and tasty deviled eggs you’ve ever seen and pair that with smoked pork shoulder or fried turkey. If you’re looking for something lighter, she’s got that too.

Honorable Mention: Cantina 76, Dupre Catering

Best Charcuterie Board — The Gourmet Shop

Second Place: Abundant Graze

Charcuterie boards have become all the rage across the country, especially so in Columbia. The city’s original cheese and meat slicing shop has been in the game longer than anyone, and it shows through in meat and cheese selections that are artfully paired and arranged on a board with other accoutrements. Add that to the Five Points people-watching opportunities at an outdoor table, and you’ve got yourself a winner.

Honorable Mention: Motor Supply Co. Bistro, Carolina Charcuterie Company

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Motor Supply Co. Bistro is voted Best Farm-to-Table Restaurant, Best Chef (Wes Fulmer), Best Bartender (Jake Smith) and Best Restaurant in the Vista.

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

Second Place: Josh Rogerson (formerly Saluda’s Restaurant)

The Vista’s upscale restaurant Motor Supply Co. Bistro has one of the best reputations in the city for its fare and Chef Wes Fulmer has led the kitchen since spring 2014. He oversees the farm-to-table restaurant with an oft shifting menu that has emerged from the pandemic well. The kitchen’s output ranges from expertly prepared local proteins to seasonal produce.

Honorable Mention: David Grillo (Boca Grande Burritos) Javier Uriarte (Ratio Restaurant)

Best Chinese Restaurant — Eggroll Chen

Second Place: Miyo’s Group

Eggroll Chen is unique in that it’s been able to carve out its own legacy as an essential local restaurant in a niche that isn’t typically known for that. A big part of it is the specials menu, which packs some of the most craveable dishes in the city, whether it’s the salty, spicy, crispy yen su jee or fragrant, anise-heavy beef noodle soup. It doesn’t hurt that the everyday regular items are pretty darn good, too, especially the perfectly peppery egg roll.

Honorable Mention: Sun Ming Chinese Restaurant, Main Moon

Best Coffee — Loveland Coffee

Second Place: Drip Coffee

Loveland Coffee is making quite the name itself in suburban Irmo. From humble beginnings, owner and roaster Beach Loveland has grown his coffee business from being a roaster with a drive-through hut to now operating what is perhaps the area’s nicest coffee shop. The coffee offerings are wide-ranging, and Loveland shows off these beans in accessible ways, whether through creative espresso drinks or pour-overs.

Honorable Mention: Curiosity Coffee Bar, Indah Coffee

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

Second Place: DiPrato’s

Groucho’s Deli is hard to beat. Founded in 1941, the Groucho’s franchise has kept Columbia’s working class heartily fed with their legendary STP Dipper, a massive sub field with roast beef, turkey and Swiss cheese that’s warmed until gooey and topped with bacon bits which lovingly fall into their Formula 45 sauce that you’ll happily dunk each bite into. Yeah, we’ve eaten a lot of these over the years.

Honorable Mention: Andy’s Deli, Enzo’s Delicatessen

Best Dessert — Kaminsky’s Dessert Cafe

Second Place: Spotted Salamander Cafe and Catering

Try and resist that display of cakes and pies that greets anyone who walks into Kaminsky’s. The inability to do so is prevalent in Columbia, as its residents say the desserts here are the best in the city. The offerings rotate seasonally, but some standards, like red velvet cake, Oreo cheesecake and others pair perfectly with specialty coffees and boozy milkshakes for the sweetest night out.

Honorable Mention: Cupcake DownSouth, The Haven Coffee House

Best Fast Food Chain — Chick-fil-A

Second Place: Rush’s

Year in, year out, six days a week, Chick-fil-A remains the people’s champion when it comes to fast food. Even when the drive-thru is packed, people still pull in to get those nuggets, sandwiches and waffle fries, served up by a friendly staff.

Honorable Mention: Zesto of West Columbia, Five Guys

Best French Fries — Five Guys

Second Place: McDonalds

Those little paper buckets of spicy taters are still the tops, and they seem to go especially well with piled-high burgers, which is handy for Five Guys, being a burger place and all.

Honorable Mention: Rush’s, Market on Main

Best Fried Chicken — Zesto of West Columbia

Second Place: Bernie’s Restaurant

There’s nothing better than popping into Zesto of West Columbia during the lunch hour to order a piping hot three-piece of their legendary broasted chicken. Super seasoned to the bone, crisp and juicy fried chicken you’d think would be easy to come by here in Columbia, but few do it as consistently as Zesto of West Columbia. It’s also just such a clean fried chicken. It never feels drenched in oil when it comes to the table. It’s really easy to eat and get back to work without feeling gross.

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

Best Frozen Yogurt — Sweet Cream Co.

Second Place: Menchie’s Frozen Yogurt

Sweet corn, toasted black sesame, and lime cardamom are all highly interesting flavors of ice cream and sorbet that can be found at the creatively quirky Sweet Cream. Not into wild tastes? More standard flavors become even more vibrant with their magically sweet and creamy touch, making them a local and even national ice cream standout.

Honorable Mention: Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers

Best Greek Restaurant — Grecian Gardens

Second Place: Mediterranean Tea Room

This longtime West Columbia staple has your Greek cravings covered, from a classic Greek salad to a feta-dappled pizza and, of course, a sticky baklava diamond to finish off the meal. Their to-go orders have been brisk throughout the pandemic.

Honorable Mention: Zorba’s Greek Restaurant, Pita’s Mediterranean Restaurant

Best Grits — Blue Marlin

Second Place: Mr. Friendly’s New Southern Cafe

When you’re serving up Lowcountry seafood like Blue Marlin does, grits are an essential element. And theirs — a creamy delight made with stone-ground grits from Adluh Flour, which sits just across Gervais Street — are a star in every dish they appear, from the famed Shrimp & Grits to the Tilapia Charleston.

Honorable Mention: The Devine Cinnamon Roll Deli, Cafe Strudel

Best Gyro — Zorba’s Greek Restaurant

Second Place: Pita’s Mediterranean Restaurant

Columbians love a good gyro, but what they really love is the best gyro. This year, the honor goes to Zorba’s Greek Restaurant for their fluffy pita bread that ensconces chicken or beef, plus onions, tomatoes, lettuce and the exquisite special sauce. The Mediterranean diet is said to be among the healthiest in the world, so indulge away in these gyros early and often.

Honorable Mention: Greek Boys, Noma Bistro by Al Amir

Best Hamburger — Pawleys Front Porch

Second Place: The Whig

A hamburger with the usual fixings, or a burger piled high with grape jelly caramelized onions and goat cheese — find them both, and many more unusual burger combos at Pawley’s Front Porch, Columbia’s long-running burger favorite. The Five Points favorite grinds its beef daily for the freshest flavor around.

Honorable Mention: Five Guys, Rush’s

Best Hot Dog — Rush’s

Second Place: Jimmy’s Mart

People in the Midlands love tradition, and a Rush’s hot dog qualifies as a Midlands tradition for sure. The fast food restaurant’s fabulous and fast hot dog basket, and the many combinations of toppings to make one’s perfect dog, are loved by locals — and even more by those who move out of town and specifically stop at Rush’s anytime they return.

Honorable Mention: The Devine Cinnamon Roll Deli, Steel Hands Brewing

Best Ice Cream — Sweet Cream Co.

Second Place: Zesto of West Columbia

In Columbia, the search for artisan, trendy ice cream begins and ends at Sweet Cream Co. on Main Street. Its presence has helped the 1600 block further its reinvention in recent years. With inventive flavors and classics, there’s something for everyone — like Balsamic Fig or Madagascar Vanilla.

Honorable Mention: Cold Stone Creamery, LICK Ice Cream

Best Indian Restaurant — 2 Gingers

Second Place: Delhi Palace

What sets 2 Gingers apart from others in town is their tremendous variety. They offer a number of dosa (thin, crispy rice crepe) and paratha (flatbread) dishes on top of a huge collection of vegetarian offerings you’ll be hard-pressed to find elsewhere. For folks who both love to try new things and also easily accommodate everyone you’re with at the restaurant, 2 Gingers is one of the very best places in town to try.

Honorable Mention: Persis Biryani Indian Grill, Village of India

Best Italian Restaurant — Alodia’s Cucina Italiana

Second Place: Il Giorgione

When you can see freshly made pasta hanging in the kitchen, it’s a sign you’re about to have a truly great Italian experience. With a curated menu of Italian favorites and inventive specials, Alodia’s is truly a gem in the Lexington-area dining scene.

Honorable Mention: Villa Tronco Italian Restaurant, Di Vino Rosso

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Inakaya Watanabe is voted Best Japanese Restaurant.

Best Japanese Restaurant — Inakaya Watanabe

Second Place: Miyabi Japanese Steakhouse

Inakaya Watanabe (not to be confused with the other Inakaya in Northeast Columbia) is a destination for sushi lovers, serving delectable sashimi cuts and creative rolls. But it’s also a great all-around Japanese restaurant, offering tempura, broiled seafood, teishoku dinners and more.

Honorable Mention: Camon Japanese Restaurant, Inakaya Japanese Restaurant (Northeast)

Best Kid-Friendly Restaurant — Chick-fil-A

Second Place: Flight Deck Restaurant

If you’ll pardon our terrible pun, Chick-fil-A ruled the roost this year in several categories. You can’t deny it though: Kids do love to get those pint-sized portions of chicken and fries, not to mention the milkshakes and ice cream.

Honorable Mention: Boca Grande Burritos, Urban Cookhouse

Best Late Night Food — Waffle House

Second Place: The Whig

The coffee is consistent and satisfying, like a good diner’s should be. The hashbrowns are more than just a great conduit for the bevy of available toppings — but they are definitely a great conduit for those toppings. The calculus of plate and utensil placement the line cooks use to quickly differentiate and prepare each order is fascinating. And those sweet cream waffles emphatically earn their place in the legendary name. Long live Waffle House.

Honorable Mention: Cook Out, Transmission Arcade

Best Mexican Restaurant — Real Mexico

Second Place: San Jose Mexican Restaurant

Besides making delicious food, the one thing that really sticks out about Real Mexico is the way they share their culture on a daily basis. They really love what they are doing and do a great job sharing their food through social media. In house, it always feels like a celebration at the restaurant, and on many weekends it really is when they run incredible specials and especially when they are celebrating holidays.

Honorable Mention: Cantina 76, Moctezuma Taqueria

Best Middle Eastern Restaurant — Mediterranean Tea Room

Second Place: Arabesque on Devine

In a small and distinctive space on Devine Street, the Mediterranean Tea Room is often declared a favorite restaurant among longtime residents. The menu includes items such as pita pockets and platters with stuff like kabobs and falafel.

Honorable Mention: NoMa Bistro by Al Amir, Green Olive Restaurant

Best Milkshake — Cook Out

Second Place: Rush’s

Free Times’ newsroom has frequently played host to a heated debate: Are Cook Out milkshakes actually milkshakes? But here’s the more important question: Who cares? Yes, they’re sometimes hard to take down with a straw, but when you’re confronted with such overpowering combinations of creamy soft serve and stuff like peach cobbler, peanut butter banana and cheesecake (which you can augment with blueberry, caramel, cherry, chocolate chip or strawberry), it’s worth a little spooning.

Honorable Mention: Chick-fil-A, Zesto of West Columbia

Best Mobile Food — Los Chicanos Food Truck

Second Place: Boca Grande Burritos

Los Chicanos signature sky blue food truck is as inviting and enticing a presence as any eatery in Columbia, mobile or not. The taco truck serves up some of the most well-loved tacos, burritos and quesadillas throughout the city with their frequent stops at events like Soda City Market and beer garden pop-ups. They keep diners on their toes, too, by frequently offering specials or hopping on trends like birria.

Honorable Mention: City Limits Barbeque, Spuddering Around

Best National Chain Restaurant — Chick-fil-A

Second Place: Bonefish Grill

What can we say at this point? Columbia has a lot of great local eateries, but when it comes to national chains, Chick-fil-A is still on top. Friendly service, quick drive-thrus, and don’t forget those waffle fries. It’s a winning combo.

Honorable Mention: O’Charley’s Restaurant & Bar

Best New Restaurant — Boca Grande Burritos

Second Place: Ratio Restaurant

In opening along Forest Drive, chef-owner David Grillo brought a lively and spirited burrito eatery in Boca Grande Burritos. It’s open six days a week and slings burritos out in eye-bobbling time for a spot that is as focused on a from-scratch ethos as any eatery.

Honorable Mention: Transmission Arcade, Di Vino Rosso

Best Pizza — Village Idiot Pizza

Second Place: LaBrasca’s Pizza

Pizza and beer at Village Idiot is practically a rite of passage to gain residency in Columbia, and those fond memories of such nights endear it to people far beyond staying-out-to-2 .a.m. age. With three locations between Five Points, Forest Acres and the Olympia neighborhood, there are plenty of ways to enjoy the slices that get top billing across the board in this city.

Honorable Mention: Il Focolare Pizzeria, Il Bucato

Best Place for a First Date — The Grand on Main

Second Place: Cantina 76

Dinner and a movie is so expected. How about dinner, drinks and bowling? That’s what’s on offer at this bar, restaurant and bowling alley. And it gives you the added advantage of sitting close by to every other cool spot that the Main Street District has to offer — in case things are going well, and you want to keep the night going.

Honorable Mention: Motor Supply Co. Bistro, Transmission Arcade

Best Place to Dine Outdoors — Black Rooster

Second Place: Market on Main

The rooftop bar at Black Rooster has one of the best views of the Congaree River, the Gervais Street Bridge and the Columbia skyline that you’ll find anywhere. If you can’t find a table up there, the sidewalk tables outside the restaurant also offer a nice view. And you get to enjoy these nice environs while munching on splendid fusions of Southern, French and Asian cuisine.

Honorable Mention: The Gourmet Shop, Saluda’s Restaurant

Best Restaurant — Halls Chophouse Columbia

Second Place: Motor Supply Co. Bistro

Halls Chophouse has become the standard fancy night out spot in Columbia, and with good reason — the service, the menu offerings and the atmosphere all swirl together in an intoxicating blend of pure luxury. While we may not all be frequenting Halls weekly, the time spent there is always an experience to remember and savor until the next time.

Honorable Mention: Terra, Saluda’s Restaurant

Best Restaurant, Devine Street/Shandon/Rosewood — Il Giorgione

Second Place: Cantina 76

Shandon’s neighborhood favorite can be found populated with residents who have walked there many nights of this week. With a highly creative specials menu that changes daily, and a tried and true menu of Italian classics, including a spectacular wine list, it’s no wonder Il Giogiorne made the grade for the downtown-adjacent dwellers.

Honorable Mention: The Devine Cinnamon Roll Deli, Za’s on Devine

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

Second Place: The Gourmet Shop

Five Points may be changing, but Mr. Friendly’s New Southern Cafe is still here. The upscale, Southern-focused restaurant still prioritizes a solid wine list, upscale dinners and a strong lunch offering. The daily specials, often focused on seasonal offerings, frequently impress.

Honorable Mention: Home Team BBQ, Saluda’s Restaurant

Best Restaurant, Forest Acres — Tazza Kitchen

Second Place: Pasta Fresca

Mixing an upscale feel with approachability is hard to pull off, but Forest Acre’s neighborhood fave Tazza Kitchen does just that. With light bites, salads, brick-oven pizzas and a well-appointed wine list, it has something for everyone. The appeal is undeniable, as Tazza is frequently full, but not bursting, with nearby residents stopping by for lunch or dinner before heading home.

Honorable Mention: Boca Grande Burritos, Tombo Grille

Best Restaurant, Irmo — Zorba’s Greek Restaurant

Second Place: Bistro On The Boulevard

Though the decor is a little on the wild side, the Greek classics offered at Zorba’s are the tops , and the people of Irmo know it. This neighborhood restaurant is frequently filled with folks who know one another, and they also know what they want because of how often they frequent their favorite dining spot. Gyros, Greek pizzas, olive-topped salads and a delectable selection of desserts are all as much part of the Zorba’s experience as seeing someone you know at the next table.

Honorable Mention: Fire and Spice Irmo, Alodia’s Cucina Italiana

Best Restaurant, Lexington — Bodhi

Second Place: Griffin Chophouse

Chef-owner Nivit Tipvaree’s restaurant has developed into one of the Midland’s very best, turning out artfully done dishes night in and night out. While Thai is the foundation of the restaurant’s food, Tipvaree takes Bodhi in many directions thanks to his wide-ranging culinary background. Whether he’s pan-searing scallops over a parsnip puree with a tamarind gastrique or searing pork chops served with sticky rice, Chef Tipvaree manages to find a seamless balance between Thai food and Western culture with skillful ease.

Honorable Mention: Private Property, Alodia’s Cucina Italiana

Best Restaurant, Main Street — Halls Chophouse Columbia

Second Place: Bourbon

Get your steak and get it done right, if you’ve got the stomach for the hefty bill. Charleston import Halls Chophouse Columbia does what’s to be expected at a high-end steakhouse. Besides the great, well-cooked cuts, expert good service, big sides and heavy drinks. It’s not reinventing the wheel, but it doesn’t need to when it does it better than most.

Honorable Mention: The Whig, Hampton Street Vineyard

Best Restaurant, Northeast — Ratio Restaurant

Second Place: Travinia Italian Kitchen & Wine Bar

Chef-owner Javier Uriarte was already one of Columbia’s young culinary stars, with a background that included a stop at Motor Supply Co. Bistro and spearheading the opening of Main Street’s Hendrix. But amid the pandemic, he staked out on his own, with relatively little pause. Uriarte created Ratio, a Peruvian-focused tapas bar that has revived rave reviews since opening in Northeast Columbia. It’s worth the drive.

Honorable Mention: Inakaya Japanese Restaurant (Northeast), Tiffany’s Bakery

Best Restaurant, Vista — Motor Supply Co. Bistro

Second Place: Blue Marlin

It’s hard to believe that Motor Supply has been a cornerstone of the Vista since 1989. A big part of that is the incredible staff that manages to keep it fresh and current. Between Executive Chef Wes Fulmer’s farm-to-table menu and new head barman Jake Smith, the duo continues to preserve and keep the restaurant consistently at the top of Columbia’s game.

Honorable Mention: Coa Agaveria Y Cocina, Cola’s Restaurant

Best Restaurant, West Columbia/Cayce — Terra

Second Place: Black Rooster

The sun rises in the least, sets in the west, and West Columbia’s Terra racks up accolades in Best Of Columbia behind chef-owner Mike Davis’s cooking chops. The upscale restaurant has garnered a reputation as among the best in the state, not just Columbia. It has done that behind its seasonal, creative menus and front of house team that is as well trained as any.

Honorable Mention: Cafe Strudel, Kingsman Restaurant

Best Restaurant When Someone Else Is Paying — Halls Chophouse Columbia

Second Place: Motor Supply Co. Bistro

Yes, when the steaks cost up to $100 before you even get into the market price options, it’s nice to let somebody else pay. But here’s a tip: Halls also serves a nice lunch, where you can get items like the steak and fries, which features prime filet mignon and costs $19.

Honorable Mention: Ruth’s Chris Steak House, Saluda’s Restaurant


The War Mouth is voted Best Ribs.

Best Ribs — The War Mouth

Second Place: Home Team BBQ

Eating smoked ribs is one of the most primal pleasures in modern dining, pulling — or gnawing — away meat from the bones. Venture to Cottontown and stop by The War Mouth for one of the best versions of this you can get. Baptized in smoke and drizzled with mustard barbecue sauce, the culinary experience of eating those ribs is nigh unmatched in Columbia.

Honorable Mention: Hudson’s Smokehouse, Midwood Smokehouse

Best Salad — California Dreaming

Second Place: Spotted Salamander Cafe And Catering

Many years over, California Dreaming’s salad has been voted the best in Columbia. It’s easy to see why, with the mountain of lettuce covered in curls of cheese, handfuls of chopped vegetables and eggs, and generously drizzled with the restaurant’s signature hot bacon dressing. Put a honey butter croissant on the side and this salad looks like the best-dressed stack of lettuce that could ever exist.

Honorable Mention: Groucho’s Deli, Verde

Best Seafood Restaurant — Blue Marlin

Second Place: Oyster Bar Columbia

Though Columbia is an hour and a half away from the nearest ocean, that’s not too far to enjoy fresh seafood daily. And where better than the best seafood restaurant in town? Blue Marlin offers fresh catches seven days a week at their iconic Vista location. Enjoy indoor or outdoor seating and net yourself a seaside dining experience without the interstate travel.

Honorable Mention: Pearlz Oyster Bar, Oak Grove Fish House

Best Service — Halls Chophouse Columbia

Second Place: Motor Supply Co. Bistro

The Columbia outpost of Halls Chophouse gets a lot of things right, but among the most impressive is its service. Affable and convivial, the staff creates the perfect environment for your steakhouse meal. As impressive is their ability to mold that experience to the setting, whether that’s date night, steaks with friends or business meetings.

Honorable Mention: Loveland Coffee, Saluda’s Restaurant

Best Shrimp & Grits — Blue Marlin

Second Place: Mr. Friendly’s New Southern Cafe

Shrimp and grits are a big deal in South Carolina, so when a place is bestowed the honor of having the best shrimp and grits, it’s worth making sure they’ve crossed your lips. Try the Blue Marlin’s famous shrimp and grits, made with tasso gravy and hyper-locally ground Adluh grits any day of the week.

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

Best Smoothie — Tropical Smoothie Café

Second Place: Smoothie King

Feel like treating yourself to a peanut butter cup smoothie, or a Bahama Mama, or a Mocha Madness? Or would you rather be a little more health conscious and get yourself a Detox Island Green smoothie? Well, the only place you can get any of those is at Tropical Smoothie Café, along with a selection of quesadillas, wraps and bowls.

Honorable Mentions: Tasty As Fit, Good Life Café

Best Soul Food — Kiki’s Chicken and Waffles

Second Place: A Peace of Soul Vegan Kitchen

A favorite stop for visiting politicians, Kiki’s pushes beyond the titular chicken and waffles, and also whips up red velvet waffles, collards and some truly spectacular mac and cheese at both its Midlands locations.

Honorable Mention: Lizard’s Thicket, Ms. B’s Southern Soul Food

Best Southern Restaurant — Mr. Friendly’s New Southern Cafe

Second Place: Lizard’s Thicket

Through the ups and downs of the past two years, Mr. Friendly’s has weathered some trying times, but they frequently end up at the top of this category, and it’s easy to see why. With creative daily specials, from the land and the sea, there’s something for everyone who loves Southern-style food without the buffet feeling. Check their social media for daily openings and closings because they are striving to be extremely COVID conscious.

Honorable Mention: The War Mouth, Little Pigs Barbecue, Spotted Salamander Cafe and Catering

Best Steak — Halls Chophouse Columbia

Second Place: Griffin Chophouse

When choosing a steak, one rarely gets to view the different cuts beforehand, but when dining at Halls Chophouse, a passel of servers will showcase their selections and will dazzle with their beefy knowledge. And with rarer cuts of meat available than anywhere in Columbia, like the A5 Waygu filet, this is where the best steak in town can be found.

Honorable Mention: LongHorn Steakhouse, Kingsman Restaurant

Best Sushi — Camon Japanese Restaurant

Second Place: Inakaya Watanabe (St. Andrews Road)

COVID be damned, Camon is here to stay. The downtown sushi restaurant re-opened to wide anticipation in November. Camon has seemingly not missed a beat with its expertly prepared sushi, plus it’s taken on one of the most responsible and cautious approaches to operating amid the pandemic.

Honorable Mention: Inakaya Japanese Restaurant (Northeast), Tsunami

Best Sweet Tea — Groucho’s Deli

Second Place: McAlister’s Deli

Most sweet teas in town are just sweet teas, but for some reason it’s hard to forget the taste of Groucho’s. I can sit here and tell you what every bite of the STP Dipper tastes like, and how good crisp, cold sweet tea is while you’re sneaking it in between bites of the sandwich smothered in Formula 45 sauce. It’s good. Really good.

Honorable Mention: Bojangles, Rush’s

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Cantina 76 is voted Best Taco and Best Bang for the Buck along with Best Margarita and Best Happy Hour.

Best Taco — Cantina 76

Second Place: Real Mexico Restaurant

Cantina has become an essential stop for anyone looking for an ice cold pitcher of margaritas (eight varieties daily) and unconventional worldly tacos. The menu jet sets all across the globe, from chicken teriyaki to Peruvian shrimp tacos to barbecue brisket. Cantina delivers a little bit of everything you could want, which is why it’s become such an easy go-to for so many locals in Columbia.

Honorable Mention: Tacos Nayarit, Coa Agaveria Y Cocina

Best Take Out Food — Il Bucato

Second Place: Groucho’s Deli

The very new Forest Acres pizza place has captured hearts and stomachs with its small footprint, creative and top-notch pizza toppings (like the pie that has house-smoked bacon, roasted Anjou pear, balsamic glaze, house ricotta sauce and a three-cheese blend) as well as its takeout-only format. In a year where takeout was king, Il Bucato did it the best.

Honorable Mention: Basil Thai Cuisine, Enzo’s Delicatessen

[Online copy corrected.]

Best Thai Restaurant — Bodhi Thai Dining

Second Place: Duke’s Pad Thai

Highly innovative and gorgeous Thai food available on Main Street in Lexington, who’d have thought such a thing would ever exist? The artfully arranged Thai dishes, plus extravagantly creative desserts have people coming from all over to visit the cozy former BB&T building in downtown Lexington for an experience one never could have predicted would be available in this fairly conservative area.

Honorable Mention: Mai Thai Cuisine, Basil Thai

Best Vegetarian — A Peace of Soul Vegan Kitchen

Second Place: Good Life Cafe

It’s impossible to think about vegetarian food in Columbia and not think of A Peace of Soul. They’ve not only nailed vegetarian food, but transcended it with their versions of takeout favorites like the amazing crispy “chicken” sandwich and legendary Mandarin “chicken.” But the sides are where it’s at, from their curried potatoes to their smoky purple cabbage and creamy mac and cheese.

Honorable Mention: Rosewood Market & Deli, Tasty As Fit

Best Veggie Burger — A Peace of Soul Vegan Kitchen

Second Place: The Whig

A Peace of Soul has grown in renown for vegans and non-vegans alike for their insanely realistic and delicious vegan versions of meat, and the incredibly delicious and dairy-free mac and cheese. Responding quickly through COVID times, they’ve grown their business and their menu in the small and recently renovated Cottontown storefront to bring all types to give meatless-ness a try, at least for a meal or two.

Honorable Mention: Good Life Cafe, Rosewood Market & Deli

Best Wine List — Hampton Street Vineyard

Second Place: Halls Chophouse Columbia

Yes, the longtime downtown restaurant Hampton Street Vineyard has new ownership and a new kitchen focus. No, the wine focus is not gone. In fact, the restaurant has only expanded on it, with an ownership group with plenty of sommelier experience. They’ve curated a list that is both accessible and high-end, a duality that fits well into an increasingly more curious Columbia diner.

Honorable Mention: Saluda’s Restaurant, Di Vino Rosso

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D’s Wings is voted Best Wings.

Best Wings — D’s Wings

Second Place: Publick House

For well over 30 years, D’s Wings has been serving massive, delicious fried wings to the Cayce and Columbia community. Recently, moved from their iconic location, leaving behind years of memories and signature dollar bills hanging on the walls (all of which they donated to Camp Kemo, close to $5,000). They moved to West Columbia in June to a new, more expansive location at a former mechanics shop where they’ll surely be slinging award-winning wings for many more years to come.

Honorable Mention: Transmission Arcade, Carolina Wings & Rib House