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Looking for great food in Columbia, SC

Help! My parents live in Columbia, and I make it there a few times a year. Unfortunately, I've become spoiled with the restaurants available to me in Manhattan, and I can't seem to find a decent meal when I visit them (except, of course, my mother's cooking!).

Can you kind folks on this board recommend good restaurants in Columbia? I'm open to all price ranges and all cuisines. Atmosphere is a consideration, as my parents are octogenarians and have trouble hearing in loud places.


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  1. Aw, that is so sweet!

    Well, it ain't Manhattan, but Mr. Friendly's is good, not to be confused with Friendly's. The website blogs the daily specials.


    1. Well, if we had an idea of where you've eaten and what you didn't like we might be able to more easily recommend a few places.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Cpt Wafer

        Honestly, it's not a case of having eaten at places that were recommended as good and not liking them. I probably just don't know the good restaurants, and there aren't exactly a lot of immediately available sources like Zagat or Michelin to refer to.

        I've been to Harper's in Five Points and some awful "New Orleans" restaurant (don't remember the name) on the river in W. Columbia, just over the Gervais St. bridge. Also, Sunday buffets at the Marriott on Main St. So not really places that chow hounds would probably consider good.

        So I'm open to all your suggestions for "not to be missed" dining!

        1. re: edwardspk

          Gotcha. I know the places you mentioned and understand your opinion. I'll recommend Terra on Meeting St. one block west of the "New Orleans" restaurant. Locally sourced, seasonally adjusted and well prepared food. They have valet parking which may or may not appeal to your parents, IDK.


          Motor Supply may work but the room is somewhat small, often crowded and acoustically "bright". Wouldn't be my first choice given your parameters. They have a valet as well.

          Soltice in the Northeast section of town has some good food and is laid back with a pretty good wine selection.


          The Ristorante Divino is solid and quiet but in no way reaches the level of Italian available in Manhattan. They have a valet as well.

          Your parents would not like Hunter Gatherer. It has a beer hall atmosphere and a decidedly young crowd, It's on the edge of USC campus.

      2. I've only had one meal in Columbia- that was at Di Prato's for lunch. And it was very good.

        1. Have you tried doing a search on here...there are several threads that mention Hunter Gatherer, Terra, Motor Supply and others.

          1. Blue Marlin - upscale southern cuisine www.bluemarlincolumbia.com/
            Gervais & Vine - tapas (smail and quiet) www.gervine.com
            Not a Columbia institution but Ruth's Chris has come to town
            Ristorante Divino - italian www.ristorantedivino.com

            Most places are smoke-free (not sure about Gervais & Vine) and have a quiet atmosphere. Good food and great service.

            1. Yes, searched here first and Hunter Gatherer and Motor Supply seemed to be the recommended ones, but the descriptions sounded more like they were for my age group (or younger!) and not my folks.

              You've all given me very good suggestions. I'll be there this weekend and hope to try out one or 2 of them.

              Thanks to all of you!

              4 Replies
              1. re: edwardspk

                I hope you get something decent to eat. If you make it to Terra ask for Donna to serve you (I am not related to her and derive no benefit whatsoever from this recommendatioin). She can be a lot of fun.

                1. re: Cpt Wafer

                  Cool to hear the recommendation for Donna. I'm friends with her and I'll definitely let her know - she will be excited to know that she has fans online!

                  1. re: deibu

                    She's only served us once but I'll be asking for her from now on.

                2. re: edwardspk

                  i think Lizard's Thicket may appeal to your folks; not chow fine dining but solid.simple country cooking in an octogenarian-friendly atmosphere...fried chicken; green beans southern style (over cooked w/some kind of pig bacon? in them; mac & cheese; cheese fries; good breakfasts

                3. I really enjoyed Gervais & Vine the one time I visited Columbia. It is non-smoking. It gets crowded so a reservation would be suggested. Also, it's not very quiet when they have live music. When I ate there, they had a jazz singer and guitarist playing standards. We sat at the bar and got to watch the two chefs prepare EVERYTHING at a tiny station behind the bar. It was a really nice evening of good tapas and entertainment.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: buckeye.mary

                    FYI - everything in Columbia is now smoke free! Hooray!

                  2. I'm going to throw out the names of two places I've never been to, but may be worth checking out. I'd be glad to get the input of fellow chowhounders on this.

                    The first is Hampton Street Vineyard, an upscale place with a decent looking menu. This place has been around for decade or so, I believe.

                    The second is Granville's, on Devine Street. It is a new outpost of the Charleston restaurant of the same name, and seems to focus on local food. It has been getting a lot of buzz lately but I haven't had the opportunity to try it out.

                    If you try them, please report back.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: north2south

                      I had plans to go to Granville's tonight but plans fell through. I've heard great things though! Website is www.granvillescafeandcatering.com - check out the cafe menu to get a glimpse at some of the menu. One of my friends recommends the burgers & fries, chorizo pizza with house-made chorizo & queso fresco, the local trout if it's the "fish of the day" special and the mussels & frites. Plus, it's supposedly pretty affordable - entrees $15 and less. There's even a "dog special" you can order for your pet on the outside patio. Free Times review here: http://free-times.com/index.php?cat=1...

                    2. One more post here... Sorry I'm kinda long-winded... lol.

                      I have to second Sue in Mt. Pleasant's recommendation for Mr. Friendly's. The name, and the atmosphere may not seem too impressive. Those things haven't changed from when it was a basic sandwich shop 15 years ago. The regular menu is pretty good, but it leans towards "New Southern" things like shrimp & grits, so I doubt you'd be too impressed. But, what makes the place really shine is the daily specials - so check out the blog to see what is on the menu. They also own a wine shop-by-day/bar-by-night next door, Cellar on Greene, that has some decent light tapas and unique bottles, and they own Solstice in the NE.

                      Also I definitely love Gervais & Vine as a few others have mentioned - great tapas menu that changes everyday, and you can watch them cook at the bar right in front of you. Louder on the weekends usually. They also own Rosso at Trenholm Plaza - I haven't been yet but I've heard it's good.

                      Motor Supply is loud later at night on weekends, but its certainly not earlier in the evening and at lunch - they have a fantastic lunch menu as well as the best Sunday brunch in town! The weekday lunch crowd is businessmen & politicians, and the Sunday brunch attracts the older "Columbia elite" after-church crowd just as much as the younger crowd that goes for the Bloody Marys. They are supposedly the best in town, but I'm not a fan of them - they add clam juice (which I don't like) so they are really more like Caesars.

                      Also, next door to Mr. Friendly's, there is Garibaldi's... appeals to the older crowd of so-called "Columbia elite" as well, so your parents might enjoy it, but the crispy flounder is the only thing on the menu I'd really recommend.

                      Columbia doesn't shine in world cuisines really - but I would recommend Al-Amir (2 locations - downtown & St. Andrews Rd - St. Andrews has the brick oven so it's more recommended) - friends from Lebanon & Kuwait say Al-Amir has some of the best Middle Eastern food they've found between Atlanta and D.C.

                      Sorry you ended up going to New Orleans - I last went when they opened in 1996 and it was bad then. I only know 2 people who have been since then and they both said it was still awful, so I don't know why that place is still open! One of those 2 friends moved here a couple of years ago, and the local restaurants she had visited (through recommendations by others)were New Orleans, and two older but popular and VERY mediocre pseudo-Italian restaurants that are way past their prime. No wonder she thought Columbia restaurants sucked!

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: deibu

                        You're right about Motor Supply at lunch. Good call. Speaking of Garibaldi's, I had some killer polenta fries there a while back. I'd go just for those.

                      2. Thanks, everyone. As it turns out, Granville's is only 3 or so blocks from my parent's place, so we gave it a try.

                        Since I was asked to provide thoughts if I went there (since it's only been open 10 weeks), I'll do that. First, I have to say I PROMISE that it's not impossible to please me, but overall the experience is not one I would rush back for.

                        The place was very popular and full on Saturday night about 7:30PM, so clearly it's appealing -- at least once -- to a lot of folks. Unfortunately, I think they're still working out the service and kitchen kinks, and they weren't really able to effectively handle the customer volume.

                        After sitting at our table for about 15 minutes without any acknowledgement from our server (no hello, no menus, no water), I let the person who seated us know. From there, the service was pretty good (mains were very slow to come out, and although we didn't say anything about it, the server volunteered that the kitchen was backed up). The only other service issue was that the check was delivered to us half-way through the main course while we were still eating. That soured us on ordering dessert or coffee and although she said "no rush", I couldn't help but feel the opposite.

                        As for the food, we enjoyed a couple of shared appetizers (panko crusted chicken served with 3 dipping sauces and a goat chees and sundried tomato spread). Unfortunately, the mains didn't fair as well.

                        The best of the 3 dishes was a pork chop (a special that night) served with a sweet potato gratin and lentils. It had a very nice "Fall" flavor as a dish, but the pork chop was overcooked and the lentils were undercooked. The sweet potatoes were just right!

                        Another dish was Thai red curry duck over jasmine rice. The duck breast was cooked perfectly and the rice was fine. But the red curry sauce was thin and didn't have much depth of flavor. It could have used more kaffir lime (I didn't taste any at all), and palm sugar would have helped round out the dish.

                        The third dish (also a nightly special) was mahi mahi and mussels with tomatoes, black olives, capers, etc over angel hair pasta. The dish sounded great -- unfortunately, somehow with all those intense ingredients, it lacked any flavor at all. On the plus side, the mahi mahi was cooked perfectly - it just lacked any seasoning.

                        So overall, based on this experience, it's not a place I would recommend.

                        I'll be back in Columbia for Thanksgiving, so will continue the hunt and try some of the other suggestions on this list. Keep them coming! :-)

                        9 Replies
                        1. re: edwardspk

                          Thanks for your informative, detailed review. You set a good example: let us not shy away from high standards for fear of appearing too hard to please.

                          1. re: edwardspk

                            I actually have been to Granville's numerous times, including when they first opened. I admit the service leaves something to be desired but the food is actually very good and reasonably priced. I would recommend going there, especially for lunch. I've only been once for dinner and it was kind of a hit and miss but the lunch is really good there. It's less crowded and the service is better. Give it another chance. It's still a fairly new restaurant.

                            1. re: edwardspk

                              I'm curious if edward has been back to columbia to try anything else. I, too, am looking for a nice dinner in Columbia, and I'll have 2-4 inlaws/parents along. My Mom has an ear condition and has a hard time w/ noisy spaces.

                              Additionally, If it were easy to find near-ish the interstate and casual clothes were acceptable, that would be plus. We'll have left Charleston that morning, toured Mr. Pearl's garden, and be on our way back to Greenville...so rumpled and tired ;-)

                              1. re: danna

                                Feel like sushi? Inakaya is good and is about a block out of your way on St. Andrews Rd. near I26 W

                                If you feel up to a little authentic Mexican, Taqueria Jalesco is more or less across the street in Ashland Park shopping center where Ava D's used to be MANY moons ago. Their tortilla soup is wonderful!

                                655 Saint Andrews Rd, Columbia, SC 29210

                                1. re: danna

                                  Pearl's! Lucky you. I bet if you ask him what's good close by he'll tell you. He is really nice.

                                  1. re: danna

                                    If I'm not too late, I'd like to throw in my recommendation for Solstice in NE Columbia. The food is consistently great (try the smoked gouda & bacon mac n' cheese) and the service is always wonderful. Even when packed, the restaurant is never too loud, so it should be fine for your mother. The cuisine is New Southern which may seem a stretch for an older crowd (not sure how old your inlaws/parents are), but I've gone with my in-laws and they loved it.

                                    1. re: sethacke

                                      thanks! looks pretty good, but unless I'm just missing it, they have one of those annoying websites with no info on hours or location. :-(

                                      1. re: danna

                                        Perhaps you have the wrong website? If you do, here is the correct one: http://www.solsticekitchen.com/

                                        The hours, location, and menu are on the main page.

                                        1. re: sethacke

                                          weirdly, on my work computer that window was opening up with the bottom cut off and I didn't think to scroll. shows up perfectly at home. thank you for your reply.

                                2. it's been since 1992 since i've been back and this is probably not a "CH" worthy rec. but I always enjoyed the down-home simplicity of lizard's thicket... if i remember correctly, two sides and an entree for one very reasonable price... i was a poor seminary student so it worked for me... fried chicken salad was great, southern style sides were a treat for me since i am originsallyt from upstate ny, a nc friend loved their gravy or cheese fries, mashed potatoes, okra, etc...

                                  1. Just wanted to mention Goatfeathers in 5 points, downtown Columbia for when you come back. It's a great place to go for an after dinner drink and dessert. Try the Chocolate Love Cake!!!