Living Here Guide

Our bucket list of Columbia area restaurants

From holes-in-the-wall to sleek, hip places to see and be seen, you’ll find dining experiences — and food — for every palate.

Let me suggest a few spots in and around Columbia not to be missed:

Trendsetters in farm-to-table and sustainable dining: Terra, Motor Supply (housemade charcuterie), Rosso Trattoria Italia, Blue Marlin, Solstice (and sister restaurants Mr. Friendly’s and Cellar on Greene) and The Oak Table (an offshoot of a popular Charleston spot).

The innovators: Baan Sawan Thai Bistro, Hunter-Gatherer (beers brewed on site, ever-changing menu) and two eateries west of the Vista at opposite ends of the street: 116 State (order extra bread with the mussels...yum!) and 2108 State (look for Lizard Man on the corner and Gamecock sauce on the sandwiches).

Classics for special occasions: Garibaldi’s (whole crispy flounder in apricot shallot sauce), Saluda’s, Ristorante Divino, Villa Tronco, Al’s Upstairs Italian (a great view of Columbia at dusk).

Best holes-in-the-wall: Oyster Bar (shucked and steamed for you), Blue Cactus (a fusion of Korean/Cuban/vegan-friendly menu), Food Emporium (fried turkey wings, oxtail, homemade dessert cakes), Mack’s (burgers, cash only, line forms at the back door), Linda’s Deli at The Other Store in Forest Acres (greek.turkey.sandwich.)

In the “Oh, and they serve (good) food too” category: Goatfeathers, Kraken Gastropub, Jake’s (outside patio alone is worth it), Flying Saucer (brats!), Cock and Bull, Drip, The Whig (below-street bar with to-die-for mac and cheese), The Gourmet Shop (a really good lunch), Mr. Bunky’s (general store with a onion rings and dare to eat the 32-ounce steak) and Old Mill Brew Pub in Lexington

Been around since forever: Lunch Box (breakfast and lunch), LaBrasca’s Pizza (small pizza and cheese salad make a meal), Mac’s on Main (soul food, live jazz, Chef Fatback), Bernie’s (best fried chicken)

Good for you: Rosewood Market Deli (vegan and microbiotic menu options), Lamb’s Bread (vegan), Good Life Cafe (raw food and juices)

Great brunch spot: DiPrato’s, Thirsty Fellow, MoMo’s Bistro on Devine

New this year: Basil Thai (another Charleston import), Liberty on the Lake (boat in while enjoying a day on Lake Murray)

Read more: Let’s eat

A sampling of local food bloggers on their favorite Columbia dining spots and dishes:

Laura Abogan, “I would go to either Cellar on Greene or Terra. At Cellar on Greene, I’d order tuna nachos, whatever their fish special happens to be, and the grilled pound cake. At Terra it would be lamb mac & cheese or whatever S.C. fish they have that day.”

Kim Byer,, on Sakura in Forest Acres: “I’m mad for the fried tofu or Age ("Ah-gay") tofu, four gently fried cubes soaking in a light tempura sauce and covered in wispy threads of seaweed. The taste and texture combination make for a transcendent experience! It’s one of my favorite small dishes around. And, it’s under $5.”

Jennifer Thompson, “My first choice, and one in which I always recommend to visitors, is Al’s Upstairs Italian. I am partial to most of his veal dishes, my favorite being Veal a la Al. Veal is one thing that can quickly be ruined if not prepared correctly. The chef at Al’s has mastered it! ... I have yet to find even a close second to the risotto. ... It is the inspiration for my risotto dishes. The service is impeccable. Servers are quick to offer advice on wine pairings. Al’s, to me, just screams Columbia. The atmosphere is pleasantly quaint. And the view is one that NO other establishment in Columbia can compete with. Al’s simply says ‘Welcome to Columbia, we’re glad you’re here!’”