Welcome to our guide to the best restaurants in Columbia. This covers everything from date night-worthy restaurants to pizza places, local bake shops and the best southern food around.
These Columbia, SC restaurants are our most recommended eateries. Of course, we love trying new restaurants, but there’s something about the tried and true ones that are worth sharing. And it’s those that made up our list of delicious restaurants in Columbia.
Map of awesome restaurants in Columbia, SC
Columbia, SC Restaurants We Love
And now onto our list of great restaurants in Columbia, SC. This is where you’ll find our go-to restaurant for a date night out, where we typically take our kids and our top place to take any out-of-town visitors. Enjoy!
A local Columbia restaurant for a casual date night out
Starting this list off with one of our favorite restaurants in Columbia! We adore Mr. Friendly’s. Not only is their Southern-inspired food incredible, but the ambiance is spot on. It’s like an elevated bistro/cafe vibe– brick walls, great art and friendly service await.
Mr. Friendly’s is a favorite for Columbia locals not only as a causal spot to grab a bite, but also as a date night restaurant. It someone skirts the line between both!
Our number one entree recommendation is their meatloaf special. Ok, I know that doesn’t sound like something that would typically be a go-to dish. But WOW, is it amazing.
It’s actually called “Mr. Friendly’s Famous meatloaf”, so you know it has to be good. The dish consists of house-ground beef tenderloin & ribeye, blue cheese bbq sauce, fried onion rings, roasted garlic mashed potatoes and country ham stewed Bradford collard greens. It’s often a special so make sure to try it if it’s on the menu.
the North Main area
Gourmet pizza in a pizza parlor-style shop in Columbia’s Cottontown
Il Focolare is a small but mighty Columbia pizza joint in Cottontown with a large brick oven and killer pizzas.
One of our favorite pizzas at Il Focolare is their brussels and chevre pizza with, yes, brussels sprouts. Roasted brussels sprouts, that is, along with goat cheese and a white sauce.
They also have a classic pepperoni pizza, of course, and a chopped pepperoni pizza with basil if you want to fancy it up a bit. You’ll also find salads, garlic bread (made with smallSUGAR sourdough) and dessert. SmallSUGAR and Il Focolare share the same owner, by the way.
A laidback Mexican spot with great food and margaritas
Cantina 76 is a Mexican-inspired restaurant known for its tacos, margaritas and great atmosphere. They have a ton of tacos on the menu, as well as a quesadilla, enchiladas, chimichanga and nachos.
Though we love dining in at Cantina 76, they make great to-go food and it has become one our go-to takeout spots in Columbia. We love getting queso, a chicken quesadilla and their fried chicken salad to go.
You can’t order online but they are great about answering the phone and having it ready when they say they will. It’s always hot, fresh and ready to go. Everything I want in a takeout meal!
Delicious BBQ joint in Five Points with great food and a cool atmosphere
Home Team BBQ is such a great addition to Five Points. They have several Charleston locations so you may already be familiar with them. If not, Home Team is a great, laidback spot for the whole family to enjoy delicious BBQ in Columbia.
As far as the meat menu goes, you can get pulled pork, pulled chicken, brisket, smoked turkey, jalapeno cheddar sausage, ribs, smoked chicken and smoked wings. So, everything. We typically opt for the pulled pork and wings! And the nachos! Start with the nachos!!
And they have a ton of great BBQ sides! Choose from mac & cheese, slaw, collards, baked beans, hash & rice, brunswick stew and cucumber & tomato salad. I typically opt for the mac & cheese and collards. But they also have a “side plate” with 4 sides, house pickles and a King’s Hawaiian Roll.
The best bang for your buck is the board, which comes with wings, sausage, ribs, pulled pork and turkey along with three pint-sized sides. It’s great if dining with a hungry family or a group of friends. Home Team Is one of our top picks for family-friendly restaurants in Columbia.
The best restaurant for an intimate date night
There’s a reason Hall’s wins every award in the area for fine dining restaurants— it’s fantastic! The service, the food, the ambiance. Everything.
Halls Chophouse is a great place to celebrate something special like a birthday or anniversary. It’s the perfect cozy atmosphere for a cold winter’s night. We especially love it when the Christmas tree at the State House is lit up!
If you go, don’t miss their Halls Chop Salad (Smoked bacon, peppers, celery, tomatoes, black-eyed peas, feta cheese, green peppercorn-buttermilk dressing) and their fried green tomatoes are always a treat. And the wet-aged filet mignon!!
A must-visit casual cafe with gourmet pastries and bites
An absolute favorite of ours! SmallSUGAR is a must-visit restaurant in Columbia. The owners used to run a great restaurant in NYC before coming back to their hometown of Columbia, SC. We are so glad this happened!! They also own Il Focolare pizza parlor.
The seasonal and locally-driven menu at SmallSUGAR is sure to delight. For lunch, we especially love their tartines and the turkey melt (mozzarella, caramelized onions, herb aioli, rosemary-grits sourdough.)
Not only do they take pride in their food, but they also have a unique business model with the goal of providing opportunity and culinary training to non-college-bound youth. They pay a living wage, with gratuity built into the prices.
Apart from a great lunch, they have an amazing breakfast menu and pastries. We definitely recommend checking that out, too. Maybe make a whole day of it– start with breakfast and stay through lunch!
SmallSUGAR is a literal hidden gem, tucked away between Lady and Gervais St. It’s behind City Grit (same owners!) but we typically park on Lady Street and come up behind it. There is some parking right next to the entrance as well.
A perfect cafe in Five Points that feels out of a Nancy Meyers movie
Five Point’s Gourmet Shop is our go-to destination when we want to share something authentically Columbia. This restaurant is right at home in Five Points.
We especially love sitting outside when the weather allows. It’s a first-come, first-serve thing outside, and you can get your name on a list inside if it’s full.
I don’t mind waiting there because the Gourmet Shop has an awesome marketplace full of fun kitchen and pantry finds. You can find everything from fancy crackers for your charcuterie board to a french press and specialty ingredients.
They also have a deli area with various salads, cheeses and meats. We typically grab a container of their famous chicken salad and a baguette to go on our way out. It’s the perfect thing to snack on during the week. They also have their various salads/pasta available for purchase, like their tomato basil pasta and delicious pesto pasta.
Their food is excellent, the decor is perfect and the marketplace is definitely fit for a movie. I would definitely recommend it for brunch with parents over a UofSC football weekend.
An excellent coffee shop with some of the best food in Columbia
Though we love all of Columbia’s coffee shops, there is something extra special about Drip. It has such a great, authentic feel, great coffee and equally great food. They are on our best lunch restaurants in Columbia list.
Not only does Drip have some of the best coffee and espresso drinks in town, but they also have a quintessential coffee shop feel. It’s somewhere I want to spend hours and I don’t think the feel is matched anywhere in Columbia.
Apart from the great coffee, they also somehow have the best breakfast sandwiches in Columbia. And their breakfast menu is available all day! We can’t get enough!
Drip’s food menu changes seasonally, but you can count on sandwiches like prosciutto, egg and fontina with roasted garlic aioli on a biscuit, egg, roasted red peppers, gruyere and avocado pesto on focaccia and even pancetta, cheddar, garlic aioli on cinnamon raisin bread.
As you can tell, their sandwich combinations are interesting and unexpected. But trust me, they are ALL delicious.
A local gem of a restaurant with a James Beard-nominated chef
Spotted Salamander is a great cafe perfect for those who appreciate food that is taken up a notch (think: house bacon jam on their burgers.)
Their original location is tucked away on a quiet tree-lined street in Columbia’s historic district.
Spotted Salamander is only open for lunch on weekdays. We can highly recommend their desserts and their Friday burger special.
A great restaurant for epic breakfast in West Columbia
Though Café Strudel is actually across the river in West Columbia, it is by far one of the best breakfast spots in the Columbia area! Everything from the awesome food to the laidback vibe made this one a no-brainer.
Cafe Strudel is somehow both a great restaurant to take kids for breakfast and a fun breakfast date place.
Their hangover hashbrowns are my go-to order. They come topped with tomatoes, banana peppers and sour cream and are so flavorful and delicious.
Other great menu items include cinnamon pancakes, breakfast quesadilla, a breakfast bowl and even a crab cake benedict.
A perfect Sunday brunch in Columbia
Though there are several awesome spots for brunch in Columbia, Motor Supply Co is our number one pick always.
We love the big windows that let the light in and you can’t beat their fresh, seasonal menu. Their brunch menu is available on weekends and they also have lunch on weekdays as well as a nightly dinner except on Mondays.
My go-to at Motor Supply is the M.S.C. Breakfast Plate because you get a little bit of everything — grits, eggs, bacon and a biscuit. Paired with a great jam, it can’t be topped! Their Shrimp and Grits is also a great option.
If you are looking for a great drink to go with your brunch, they are known for their bloody mary! They also have fresh peach bellinis when in season that are divine.
A great Mediterranean restaurant in downtown Columbia
We always tell people to try the chicken burger and, if it’s on the menu, the feta pimento cheeseburger. It’s one of the best burgers in Columbia.
Pitas is located downtown on Taylor Street and they have a ton of parking out front and on the side. It can get busy during lunch, though.
A local deli with delicious food and several locations around SC
Though there are a ton of great delis in Columbia, Groucho’s is kind of the original for us. You can get any kind of deli sandwich, they have a great secret sauce and awesome sweet tea with crushed ice.
There are several locations around town (and the state) but we really like their Five Points one. We love stopping in for lunch and then walking around the area when it’s nice out.
Our go-to order is their Apollo or STP dipper with their famous 45 Sauce and a half sweet / half unsweet tea. If you are looking for something not on a sub roll, try the international dip! It comes on pumpernickel bread.
An authentic Mexican restaurant in Columbia worth the drive
Without a doubt, Real Mexico is our favorite Mexican restaurant in Columbia. Their food is fresh and authentic and no matter what you order, you can’t go wrong.
We especially love their steak + chicken fajitas and the birria quesotacos (3 tacos with cheese + beef birria.) They also have great salsa, queso and guacamole. Even their beans and rice are worth mentioning!
Real Mexico is a bit out of town on Bush River Rd, but it’s less than 15 minutes from downtown Columbia. It’s a popular spot, so expect a wait, but trust me– it’s for a good reason!
A hidden gem Italian restaurant on Devine Street
Il Giorgione is a great neighborhood Italian restaurant located on Devine Street. Though it has been there forever, it still has a hidden gem quality about it.
It’s perfect for a date night out because it’s not too expensive but still feels special. We love sitting outside when the weather allows! And their food is top-notch. Whether you go for a pizza, pasta or maybe their caprese salad with homemade mozzarella, you won’t be disappointed!
We love Il Giorgione’s local feel, delicious recipes and outdoor seating. They are listed on our best lunch restaurants in Columbia.
West Columbia restaurant with awesome Thai food
This local favorite restaurant for Thai food is actually in West Columbia, but it’s definitely worth the drive! We typically order it to go when we are in the area. They have some of the best takeout food in Columbia!
One of our favorite dishes from Mai Thai is the drunken noodles (stir-fried flat noodle with chili paste, basil, red bell pepper, carrot, snow pea, mushroom, baby corn, zucchini and onion.)
We also love their various curries (Massaman curry, green curry and red curry are great!) and soups (coconut soup!!). And we can’t forget their great bubble tea and a fun bakery section filled with a ton of delicious treats.
Like Saky, Mai Thai is another that seems to only exist through word of mouth. We have even had people not from the area mention it to us, so you know it’s good!
near Cross Hill Market
Awesome Columbia restaurant for classic Chinese takeout
An oldie, but goodie! If you are looking for classic Chinese takeout food, look no further than Eggroll Chen. It’s definitely one of our favorite takeout restaurants in Columbia.
They have all of the crowd favorites (chow mein, lo mein, fried rice…), duck sauce, spicy mustard.. you know, the works.
We like to get a few entrees and try to switch it up each time. Some of our go-tos are the spicy Taiwan beef, sweet & sour chicken, general tao’s chicken and their moo goo guy pan. We also love their egg drop soup, lo mein and egg rolls.
Though we all love a good online ordering system, you’ll have to make an exception for Egg Roll Chen. Plan to call in your takeout order!
But they are quick and you can swing around to the drive-thru window when you arrive instead of going in. They’ll have it packed up in plastic bags and, if your order is big enough, a cardboard box. It’s nostalgic and delicious!
the North Main area
Amazing vegan food in Columbia
If you are looking for delicious vegan food in Columbia, head to A Peace of Soul Vegan Kitchen! Their food is ridiculously good, whether this is your first vegan dish or you eat entirely plant-based.
Don’t miss their famous fried ‘chicken’ sandwich! You can order online ahead of time and they’ll have it ready for you. A Peace of Soul is a takeout-only restaurant.
Our go-to brewery in Columbia
Of all of the various craft breweries in Columbia, Hunter-Gatherer at Owens Field Airport is our favorite. It’s such a cool concept with awesome beer and wildly good pizza.
You can watch airplanes take off from the rooftop deck or sit inside and admire the architecture of the converted airport hangar.
They have various IPAs, sours and their extra special bitter amber ale (ESB) that they call Columbia’s original craft beer.
Hunter-Gatherer is Columbia’s oldest craft brewery, this location being their second. The first opened in 1995.
Darling bakery on Devine Street with weekly pre-orders
When we think about the best bakeries in Columbia, Silver Spoon on Devine Street is top of mind.
Pre-2020, Silver Spoon was open pretty much daily. You could plan on swinging by pretty much any day of the week and getting delicious goodies. Especially on Mini-Cinni Wednesdays where you could get the best cinnamon rolls in town.
Today, Silver Spoon operates on a different model but their baked goods are so great that they still get our top bakery spot.
To snag some treats, follow them on Instagram so that you can stay in the know on their weekly pre-orders. These typically happen on Wednesday evenings with pick up on Friday.
The menu changes weekly but you can always count on something delicious. They have even added delicious ice cream to their menu that is filled with cookies, etc. from their bakery cases. It’s a must!
We hope this list of the best restaurants in Columbia is helpful for your next meal out. It was really fun to put together and will hopefully provide you with a couple of new spots to try.