Food & Drink
A Dining Guide to Columbia, South Carolina
When it comes to adventurous dining, the South Carolina capital is full of surprises
Photo: Lynn Luc
As one of the country’s oldest planned cities, Columbia, South Carolina is rife with tradition, be it the prominence of its museums, the legacy of its educational institutions, or the warmth of its hospitality. Upon this foundation, however, the city is ever evolving, and its culinary scene is no exception. Though Columbia’s quintessential dishes such as pimento cheese and Carolina barbecue remain a fixture, a wave of creativity has elevated the local dining scene, which spans from farm-to-table menus to carefully curated markets. Better still, thanks to the region’s temperate climate, outdoor dining is an option all year long, just one of the safe, distanced ways you can enjoy the city’s delicious discoveries.
But before you take a tasting tour to remember, you’ll need a fitting place to stay. Graduate Columbia may offer the perfect answer; a favored locale in the heart of the city, the hotel boasts both unique accommodations and the comforts of home. Just steps from the University of South Carolina campus and its historic Horseshoe, the historic building has an aesthetic like nothing else in town, its guest rooms melding collegiate spirit and modern Southern style with aplomb. Before venturing out, drop your bags and grab an espresso (or a classic gimlet) at the cozy, wood-paneled Poindexter bar and cafe tucked within the lobby.
Just a few blocks away, Market on Main has emerged as one of downtown Columbia’s most popular additions. Part artisan market, part gourmet restaurant, “MoM” serves as a one-stop-shop for local cheese, charcuterie, brews, wine, produce, and pantry goods, and it also offers sit-down dining. While the lunch and dinner menus feature artful small plates such as the falafel burger and rich mains studded with locally sourced ingredients, the inventive brunch offerings truly shine: egg sammies and bagels piled high with pancetta, fig jam, and sunny eggs; a Korean chicken salad; and a decadent huevos rancheros bowl, just to name a few. With a newly expanded patio for al fresco dining, the restaurant has quickly become the place to be on Sunday mornings.
Market on Main isn’t the only spot peddling fine dry goods. Located in historic Five Points, The Gourmet Shop, a family-owned institution since 1979, lines its shelves with a curated selection of cheese, coffee, and chocolate, while another half of the shop holds kitchen wares, pantry goods, and locally made gifts. Those looking to linger can settle in at a table in the full-service cafe, where coffee and tea accompany brie-filled croissants, baguette toasts, and a slew of tasting boards for sharing.
For a globally inspired bite, you’ll want to snag a reservation at Tazza Kitchen in Trenholm Plaza. The restaurant draws influence from Baja California, Mexico, and the Amalfi Coast, making for a diverse menu of bright, wood-fired specialties. Those in the mood for tacos can dig into the likes of pork carnitas, pulled chicken, and harissa-glazed shrimp with all the fixings, while pizza lovers will delight in brick-oven pies, from classic Margheritas to those with more adventurous toppings such as spicy sausage and black pepper honey. Paired with a craft cocktail or a glass from the robust wine list, a meal on Tazza’s lush, greenery-filled patio is nothing short of transportive.
No trip to the Palmetto State capital is complete, however, until you get your fill of Southern comforts. For just that, an evening at The War Mouth is in order. On North Main in the Cottontown neighborhood, the beloved watering hole serves the classics—whole-hog barbecue, chicken bog with Carolina Gold rice, smoked ribs, and catfish stew, for instance—alongside patrons’ thoughtfully crafted cocktail of choice. Helmed by the chef Rhett Elliott, a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu and the son of a Camden, South Carolina, pitmaster, the no-frills eatery is a love letter to the region, and has been praised for its thoughtful cuisine that tastes like home.
Despite encompassing a world of flavors, Columbia’s restaurants have one thing in common: They all embody Carolina cooking, where each meal is served with care, and there’s a seat at the table for everyone. To plan your culinary adventure, visit experiencecolumbiasc.com.