Why I Love Free Times’ Best of Columbia


I like calamari at Baan Sawan.

Do I love it because Olive Garden gets voted best Italian, year after year? No, no I don’t. I could go on, cursing my fellow Columbians (if the people who vote really have addresses here) for their sad allegiance to chains. But I’m not going to. I want to tell you what I love about the Best of Columbia, aside from the amazing party they throw every year. (I couldn’t make it this year. Were you there? Was it great? tell me more and let me live vicariously!)

I live for the Free Times Best of Columbia Writers’ Picks, because they’re written by people who live here and love it, or at least make a concerted effort to try everything they can.

So here’s what I want to know: What are your favorite locally owned places? And maybe they aren’t 100 percent locally owned. Maybe one of the owners lives elsewhere in South Carolina, Charlotte even. What places do you love that are owned by humans? Here are a few of mine:

  • Best Thai: Baan Sawan, because not only is their food out of this world, the wine list is always interesting and the service is top notch.
  • Best Women’s Clothing Store: Revente, because why not get a fat discount on expensive stuff? Besides, if something’s from a past season, you look even more stylish, because it doesn’t look like you bought it yesterday. The goal is to look like you aren’t trying too hard.
  • Best Movie Theater: The Nick Just saw “Florence Foster Jenkins” yesterday. You should go! Full disclosure: I’m on the board, but only because I think the Nick is awesome and they keep letting me on the board.
  • Best Italian: Il Giorgione, because it reminds me of so many neighborhood restaurants I went to in actual Italy and their house-made limoncello is the bomb. And the mozzarella. And the pasta. Also, the pizzas. And if you happen to be there on meatloaf night? Call me, because I hate to miss it. They also teach the staff to pronounce “bruschetta” the right way and I like effort.
  • Best News Website: Free Times Full disclosure: I occasionally write for them. But I go there at least once a day to look at the news, and their emails have something interesting to read more likely than not.
  • Best Late Night Food: The Whig, because everything they make is delicious and you should go.
  • Best Kid-Friendly Restaurant: Il Giorgione, where the portions are reasonably sized and reasonably priced and Monica and George Kessler are the most personable and welcoming hosts in town. Y’all? Give your kids a little more credit. They can do better than fast food. I also love Eva Moore’s suggestion of Yesterday’s. Also (and go ahead and get mad), if you think most restaurants aren’t kid-friendly, it might be your kids, not the restaurant. /harshjudgement
  • Best Burrito: El Burrito, and not just because one of my kids works there. They do it right and if you aren’t in the mood for a burrito, their salads, tacos, and white chili in cooler months are delicious.
  • Best Barbecue: Doc’s on Shop Road. To be fair, the reader picks on this one were solid (Shealy’s and Hudson’s), but I’d just like to give a shoutout to Doc’s, because their buffet is excellent. The barbecue is great, but don’t miss the fried catfish nuggets!
  • Best French Fries: The Whig, you idiots
  • Best Steak: J. Peters, all of the steaks. A lot of local restaurants have excellent steaks — Mr. Friendly’s comes to mind — but for steak night? I’m headed to J. Peters for the choices.
  • Best Neighborhood Bar, Five Points: Goat’s, because new owner Opie Patterson is doing it right. The drinks are fantastic, the wine list is solid, I’m sure the beer list is good (don’t touch the stuff myself, but I haven’t heard any complaints), and the food is great. This is hands down Columbia’s best cocktail bar. I was there last night with a friend and had drinks, duck pâté, and mussels. Fun and delicious! Bonus points for the variety of seating options, from the large communal table and gorgeous bar, to long low tables for groups, small tables for conversation, and booths that are just the right size, so you don’t feel greedy for taking one for a party of two, but you can fit four.

I like duck pâté and cocktails at Goat’s.





I’m not listing all my favorites, and I skipped all the close seconds and thirds, but I hope you enjoy the handful of great places.

Now, tell me your favorite local places. I know you have some good ones!




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13 comments on “Why I Love Free Times’ Best of Columbia
  1. MP Baldauf says:

    Michael’s, DRIP, Yesterday’s

  2. Colleen Bozard says:

    My favorite in all of Columbia is Hampton Street Vineyard. Love Il Geo’s too

  3. Bud Ferillo says:

    Fully agree with all of your observations and favorites, Ms. Tart. Maybe that is why we see you in these locations as often as we do. I do not know J. Peters but will take your word for it. The masses who frequent chain restaurants are not doing themselves or our community any good when they make food choices based in their waiter’s question: “Are you full?”
    Filling up is not dining; it’s disgusting, unhealthy and unsupportive of our community’s locally owned, far better establishments. See you guys at Il Giorgeone’s soon.

  4. Terri Hartley says:

    Momma Rabbit’s Nibble & Sips for lunch and brunch. Totally family owned in Lexington. Great family that is sooo much fun. Kid friendly. And, great food…not just saying this because they named a sandwich after my husband, The Lewie. Give it a try…you won’t be disappointed.

  5. Beth says:

    I could go on and on…

    Best salad: Rosewood Market Garden Salad! The fresh tomatoes, sunflower seeds and homemade dill vinegarette make it simply, quietly, the best in Colatown (which, in my opinion, is bereft of decent salad options).

    Best mexican: Real Mexico (ties with El Burrito) Authenticity goes far. Not stuffy or trendy! The shrimp tacos and queso hit the spot.

  6. Two Gingers near Decker Bkvd. I used to have to go to Charlotte for Indian cuisine this good. Chicken Korma. Garlic Naan.Yum!
    The International Corridor (Decker Blvd) has some great spots to try out. El Salto makes the best shrimp tacos – if you request the shrimp cooked to bright pink and a side of avocado, they’ll know who sent you!

  7. Oh. And The Shop Tart. Love that girl!

  8. Mary Sparrow says:

    I am shamelessly putting a plug in for The Oyster Bar. No need to ask why, (since by loyalties are clear) but for 15 years we have been hanging in the same little place in the Vista… before all the chains and the other guys got here.Thanks for the support from you , Shop Tart, and all our other friends! Son John and the Mother Shucker are glad to have a chance to say thank you!

  9. Megan P says:

    Making me miss Cola so bad! Love all these places and hope to run into you at one of them on my next visit back.

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Anne Postic

The Shop Tart

Local arbiter of all that is fresh, fashionable and flavorful in Columbia, the Shop Tart has been blogging about shopping, eating and having a great time since 2008.

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