Columbia, Vista/USC area
Will be visiting Columbia SC several times this year. Our requirements; freshly made dishes.. Have eaten at Motor Supply and Terra on last two trips. Enjoyed both but can't afford to eat at that price range every night. We like all types of food, even looking for non chain pizza suggestions etc. Lunch and dinner.
Keeping in mind your budgetary requirements, here is the lowdown:
I agree that Hunter Gatherer on South Main Street, two blocks from the State House, is a really solid choice. It's a neighborhood/university brewpub with much-better-than-you'd-expect food, a decent but tiny wine list, and excellent house-made beers. H-G is definitely one of my favorite places in town, and a place that I can see being a mainstay for years and years to come. I hope it's still open when I am a geezer.
I also agree that M Vista is excellent for pan asian food. Really nice, but I don't think it qualifies as bargain-basement. Blue Cactus is a quirky little spot in Five Points for foodies who want a bargain. I dig it.
Cafe Strudel in "Vista West" (i.e. across the Gervais Street Bridge - a few doors down from Terra) is a cool little joint with inconsistent but frequently excellent food, and a cool vibe.
I would also echo the recommendation of El Burrito in Five Points, particularly for lunch on a pleasant day. They have plenty of dollar beers to go with your fresh Tex Mex.
Now, as for Al Amir - excellent, awesome, fantastic ... but no alcohol (the owner, Mo, is a devout Muslim, super-friendly guy, who is not going to play in the world of alcohol). Still, Al Amir is a fantastic choice for Lebanese food and unbelievably awesome pizza, hummus, etc.
El Burrito on Harden - lots of fun, sometimes have live music, they serve alcohol and the food is extremely fresh and amazingly delicious.
Hunter Gatherer - I second that one.
Blue Cactus - ditto.
Granville's Cafe - a new place on Devine - more upscale than those others but the prices are lower than others ($15 was the most expensive entree, some apps were $5)
Cock N Bull on Rosewood - great pub, great food.
Publick House on Devine Street - also great pub, great food.
Devine Foods - Greek place on Devine Street, excellent family-owned place.
Al Amir - Mediterranean on South Main - no alcohol license but the food is heaven.
For lunch I like Nice 'n Natural about 2 doors up from Hunter Gatherer. Also Immaculate Consumption around the corner on S. Main. Cafe Strudle is across the Gervais St. bridge on State Street. Goatfeathers in 5 points has pretty good pizza. I like El Burrito on Harden street, especially their salad.
Three places came to mind:
Hunter Gatherer is a brewery at Main & College that has good and reasonably priced fare -- be sure to check the specials.
Camon on Assembly is my favorite sushi place in town.
M Vista on Lady Street is a good looking Asian restaurant that serves good Americanized Chinese food.