For a town of only 130,000 or so, Columbia, SC, has quite the thriving food scene. Credit its status as the state capital—all those legislators need to eat somewhere—as well as its healthy tourism industry, especially because these enticing Columbia restaurants are a major reason to visit in the first place. From modest diners to messy BBQ joints to fine seafood dining, here’s an overview of the best Columbia restaurants.
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day at Hampton St. Diner, which is why it’s served for a good 9 hours or so. The diner stays open until 3:30 p.m., meaning even at lunchtime you can still get breakfast platters such as the Hog ‘n’ Hash, not to mention the popular breakfast burger, which comes topped with cheesy hash browns, a fried egg, bacon, and caramelized onions. You can also order the celebrated chicken and waffles, which were featured on both ABC’s Tasty Tuesdays and WACH Fox’s Food Fridays.
Little Pigs doesn’t take a side in the great BBQ debate: it serves vinegar, mustard, and tomato sauces, so diners can choose whichever they prefer, or try all three. That spirit of sampling a little bit of everything is something of a theme actually, as it’s also a buffet-style restaurant. For just $9 during lunch (and $10.88 during dinner), you can load up on ribs, brisket, pork chops, wings, fish, and all kinds of sides and desserts.
Barbara Johnson started serving food as a way to serve her country. In the 1980’s, she began her cooking career at Fort Jackson, where her kitchen would one day win the Phillip A. Connelly Award for best food service facility in the U.S. Army. But after almost 30 years there, she decided to strike out on her own and open the Big Deal Grill. Her Louisiana roots shine through in the thoroughly Southern menu: smoked sausage and grits, stewed turkey wings, and, on most Sundays, chitterlings and hog maws.
The stone-ground grits in this restaurant’s acclaimed shrimp and grits come from the Adluh Flour Mill right across the street, but nothing on the menu has very far to travel before it reaches your plate. Fresh-caught fish from local sources make up a good portion of the offerings, from the Salmon Pontchartrain (served with blackened shrimp and scallops in mornay sauce) to the Tilapia Charleston (pan-seared with shrimp and crab cream sauce). The hand-cut steaks are also an excellent option if you’re not in the mood for seafood.
When Cowboy Brazilian Steakhouse opened in 2012, the Free Times named it the best new restaurant of the year and credited it with revitalizing Columbia’s Main Street. Little wonder: not only does it offer everything you expect from a typical churrascaria, including 16 cuts of beef, pork, lamb, and chicken carved tableside at your direction, but it does so in a charming early 1900’s setting inside the historic Kress Building. Hit the salad bar to balance out the meal, and order a glass from the walk-in wine cellar or a traditional Brazilian caipirinha cocktail to complete the experience.
At a Brazilian Steakhouse, you can expect anywhere from 10 to more than 15 different cuts of meat offered when you go. Here are some of the most popular (and uniquely Brazilian):
The modest setting won’t blow you away, but the chipotle chicken tacos just might—if you can make up your mind and order them, that is. There are so many tempting dishes and customer favorites that it’s hard to choose just one meal: the shrimp tacos on charred corn tortillas, the grilled chicken smothered in queso sauce, and the steak fajitas all have their supporters. Either way, you should leave room for dessert, namely the fried ice cream, which comes topped with strawberries and whipped cream.
Chef and owner Michael Hicks got his start in the food industry at the eager age of 15. (OK, so he was a dishwasher at Applebee’s, but still.) Since then he’s spent his life mastering the cooking skills he needed to open Delucca’s, where he serves up slow-roasted osso bucco, veal parmesan, and handmade pumpkin ravioli. His kitchen also makes a mean pizza, including a tasty spinach and prosciutto made with both mozzarella and fresh goat cheese.
The signature sandwich here is known as the RSVP, and it’s hard to imagine too many people declining an invitation from one. It’s just too hard to resist its combination of roast beef, oven-roasted turkey, bacon, and swiss, served on a homemade onion roll with house mustard dip. Elsewhere on the menu you’ll find more than a dozen other specialty sandwiches, almost all served on homemade bread, plus fresh-baked peanut butter blossoms and other goodies.