Owner Lazaro Montoto maintains a healthy diet, and doesn't believe in sacrificing flavor to do so. That's why he opened Tropical Grille as an alternative to the nation’s preponderance of greasy fast-food dives. Natural light pours from wall-length windows onto his steaming grill, where the smell of sizzling chicken and steamed veggies mingle with the aromatic release of Lazaro's flavor-packed spice rubs. He puts those blends to good use; in addition to spicing up the grill, they also infuse his signature pork, which marinates for 12 hours before taking a trip to the slow-roaster for inclusion in thick sandwiches and hearty wraps.
A nonprofit organization designed to promote and improve the lively Columbia neighborhood, the Five Points Association has spearheaded many projects since the early 1980s, ranging from a large-scale streetscaping project to the construction of two fountains to yearly beautification updates. The group also organizes events to bring people to the landmark district—notably the Five After Five concert series and the city's Saint Patrick's Day festivities. Overall, the association, which comprises more than 100 members each year, works to balance the interests of the Five Points' merchants with those of residents and visitors.
Tokyo Grill’s chefs stand over sizzling grills, their furrowed brows illuminated by the dancing flames as they speedily prepare food that blends hibachi flavors with fast and casual dining. With swiftness and precision, they grill fresh vegetables alongside juicy strips of steak, cuts of chicken, and plump jumbo shrimp, then quickly plate the still-steaming meats atop beds of rice speckled with wedges of zucchini, slices of onion, and traces of fairy dust. Elsewhere in the kitchen, sushi chefs are equally hard at work, folding crabmeat and crisp cucumbers into sushi rolls.
The two sisters and a brother who run Tios Mexican Cafe and Cantina serve up Tex-Mex specialties such as barbecued tacos, mexican pizzas, and wet burritos smothered with mild enchilada sauce and cheese. They also cater to vegetarians with options such as the burrito-in-a-bowl, which is made with lard-free refried Beans and Daiya vegan cheese. Food isn’t the only reason to visit, though: the spot also houses a game room and a full bar with cocktails, beer, and 25 types of tequila.
Saluda's Restaurant celebrates many histories. Its solid mahogany bar was part of Philadelphia's Blakely Hotel in the late 1800s, its walls sport vintage European posters advertising festive drinks, and its menu pays homage to timeless Southern staples, from shrimp and grits to artfully grilled rib eyes. Perhaps the greatest nod to the past is the building itself, which was constructed after World War I as a VFW officers club. There, veterans would gather to carouse and reminisce, fostering a convivial tradition that Saluda's has since restored and nurtured.
Executive chef Blake Fairies fuels the animated atmosphere with dishes whose down-home roots benefit from French and Italian influences. His prime concern is freshness—in an interview with Undefined magazine, he revealed how his fish du jour is often prepped the day after his friend Mark, a member of Abundant Seafood in Charleston, lures it onto his boat with promises of a free tropical time share. Like much of the kitchen's produce, chef Blake’s flash-fried green tomatoes come from local farms, and his entrees incorporate seasonal ingredients to complement ones imported from across the world. The results are plates that blend classic taste with inventive zest: steaks in black-truffle butter, helpings of handmade pasta, and pork chops brined in sweet tea. At the bar, guests can peruse more than 300 wines as well as cocktails and small-batch bourbon.
For three years running—2011, 2012, and 2013—Columbia Metropolitan magazine has declared Gervais & Vine's wine list the city's best. What earned it the distinction is simple: globe-spanning variety. Its menu hosts everything from California's 2011 J. Lohr pinot noir to South Africa's Spice Route “Chakalaka” and Germany's Dr. L Riesling, which completed medical school during its fermentation. All told, more than 40 wines by the glass fill the list, complementing the Mediterranean-inspired tapas of head chef Jason Holowacz.
When crafting his entrees, Holowacz focuses on pairing. Dishes range from the Spanish flavors of grilled shrimp to Italian favorites such as pizza with goat cheese and herb-infused olive oil, allowing guests to experiment with their white or red selections. For pointers, periodic winemaker dinners and wine tastings cover different varietals and their best edible matches. And while guests sip and sup, inside or on the outdoor patio, Gervais & Vine entertains their ears every Wednesday and Thursday night with live jazz.