Because everyone should try something a little bit different every once in a while, to expand one’s palate, we give you a list of five often overlooked hole-in-the-wall restaurants. And a reason why you should try each one.
Some of these places you may have heard of before. Some are literally holes in a wall of a larger space. All have something in common: really good food.
In no particular order of preference...
Blue Cactus is legend in Five Points of the freaking good mix of Korean and Tex-Mex food served unapologetically slow by Julie Ford. Ford took over the restaurant after her parents, Lloyd and Mary Reese retired late last year. A tip for first timers: when you order by heat level, believe them when they say what Cactus considers “medium” is what others consider to be “hot” (we’ve seen the face of dining companions turn bright red after sampling a BC medium curry). Try the crowd favorite bibimbap, or the ropa vieja if you’re feeling the need for Tex-Mex. Just be prepared to wait. It’s worth it. 11 a.m.-3 p.m and 5-9 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Saturday. 2002 Greene St., call ahead for take-out only (803) 929-0782, www.bluecactus.cafe
Crave Artisan Specialty Market is similar to Linda’s Deli (see below) in that both dining spots are (a) located within another store and (b) operated by women. Chef Ola Helsing creates fresh sandwiches, soups and salads with ingredients sourced from local farms. Her menu may change seasonally, but check out The Devereaux. Listed under the salads section of the menu, you could eat the crabcake balanced on a slice of toasted bread with balsamic-dressed butter crunch lettuce and Mother Shucker’s remoulade sauce as an open faced sandwich. Or just try any of the grilled paninis. Check out the Facebook page for daily specials. 2843 Millwood Ave., (803) 254-1001.
Linda’s Deli at The Other Store is operated by Linda Sellers. The Deli is on the back half of the convenience store, at the corner of Bethel Church and Atascadero in Forest Acres. Every morning, Sellers makes the soup of the day by scratch (try the spicy black eyed pea or tomato bisque). Sandwiches and salads are made fresh to order (classic Greek turkey or the Avocadowich are favorites). Lunch is served 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and a new 5:30-9 p.m. Thursday dinner service. 4130 Bethel Church Rd., (803) 787-4351, www.facebook.com/otherstore.
LaBoo’s Finest Turkey Wangzz started out as a food truck by Corey LaBoo. In October 2017, LaBoo set up a brick-and-mortar site on West Beltline and expanded his menu from deep fried turkey wings (yum) to include more fancier fare — Cajun seafood alfredo with lobster, lamb chop lollipops, blackened salmon Philly sandwiches, fresh veggies and more. Check the specials on Facebook, call ahead and take-away (no dine-in space available...yet). And don’t forget a bottle of Mudd! It’s LaBoo’s version of lemonade. 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Wednesday, 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday and noon-10 p.m. Saturday, closed Sunday and Monday. 3908 West Beltline, (803) 394-2054
The Oyster Bar is The Vista’s original oyster bar. You might walk right past it if you aren’t looking for the smart black and white sign on Park Street, just off Gervais. The bar is in the front, the food is in the back. Once seated at the large horseshoe shaped counter, check out the fresh seafood options (there’s shrimp, scallops and an occasional special). Order an oyster shooter to start (tasty!) and wait for your oysters — steamed or raw — to arrive. The staff will shuck them for you so can relax and maybe order another pound. Dinner only 4-11 p.m. Monday-Wednesday, 4 p.m.-1 a.m Thursday-Saturday. 1123 Park Street, (803) 799-4484, www.oysterbarcolumbia.com.
The Mousetrap in Middleburg is nestled in between professional offices. Lunch specials are usually a variation on a meat-and-three (posted daily on Facebook); evenings are for happy hour and maybe a bit of jazz. Open Monday-Friday 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and 5-10 p.m. 2711 Middleburg Dr. (803) 799-2120
The Lunch Box is perfect for affordable takeaway breakfasts and lunches. You can build your own grits bowl in the morning (butter, bacon and cheese is our favorite) and get a jumbo sweet tea (arguably the best in downtown Columbia) for $5. Daily lunch specials and fresh sandwiches are made to order or grab containers of green salad, tuna, pasta or egg salad, and fresh fruit from the cooler. 8 a.m.-3:30 pm. Monday-Friday. 1305 Lady Street, (803) 799-3318