What Columbia really needs is a good ____ restaurant.

Fill in the blank. I thought of doing this as a poll but decided to leave it open-ended. So what are we missing? What kinds of food do you make sure to catch when you’re on travel?

Author: Scott

I am a married father of two. I graduated from Rock Bridge High School and then Mizzou before spending six years in the Washington, D.C. area. We returned to Columbia, Missouri in 2006.

40 thoughts

  1. 1. down-home, heartland-based place for middle-of-the-country food. Something like Machine Shed, the small chain out of Iowa, would be a start. Lambert’s would not, since its main shtick is quantity of food (ok, the rolls are an exception, I think THE exception), not quality. Put another way…Cracker Barrel, but good, non-factory food instead.
    2. World-class BBQ. Lonnie Ray’s is wonderful, but it’s not that convenient. Alternatively, persuade Oklahoma Joe’s or Jack Stack to open a Columbia branch.

    I’m not (necessarily) arguing for branches of chains to open here, but good chains? You betcha.

    I think we’re ok for Chinese (just not enough people who realize that Mandarin House is the best) and Mexican (Taqueria el Rancho and Carlito’s are amazing finds for the midwest), and I still have hopes for Rome for Italian…and wouldn’t mind seeing something like Trattoria Strada Nova back here, to cover the northern Italian aspect.

  2. Springfield-style Chinese food. The Chinese food here is abysmal. Mandarin house is only slightly better. Their hot and sour soup is neither hot nor sour. And there chicken isn’t battered the proper way.

    Also, a good cheap sushi place. I’m talk $3.50-$5 6-8 piece rolls with more than just cucumber. For some reason Columbia’s sushi is often not that great and overpriced.

  3. I’d like to see a good French restaurant in town, especially with some delicious rabbit on the menu as we have found in Paris.

  4. Italian is the most glaring absence for me. The Thai situation is pretty bad. Same when it comes to bbq.

    I was also wondering if French would come up. If you ask me we already have a really good French brasserie. It’s called Sycamore. Not that I’ve seen rabbit on the menu there, but much of the menu would be right at home in a French place.

  5. I’d love to have a real Italian restaurant serving real Italian food (not italian-american, like the Rome, even if it is a good one). I also love Vietnamese food, so a nice Vietnamese restaurant would be a great addition.

  6. That’s true, but it’s still crummy takeout – Vietnamese or not. And have you had their Bahn Mi? Don’t. I’d like something a little more sophisticated, just like I’d like something more authentic from our Italian and Thai selections.

    And while I’m at it, what about some good pizza. I know that’s sacrilegious to say in the home of Shakespeare’s, but they wouldn’t last two months in better pizza markets. (Steps off soap box. Stays quiet so that the original conversation may resume.)

  7. Tapas

    Chinese (disagree with anyone who thinks we have anything even resembling good Chinese food in this town)

  8. bleu is hit and miss. i appreciate what they’re trying to do though.

    india house is actually surprisingly okay indian food (and i don’t like the other indian restaurant, though they do serve alcohol).

    i agree that taq. el rodeo is pretty decent, but we absolutely don’t have great mexican food here either. (i lived in texas for 10 years, and had no idea how spoiled i was in that department…even the crappy side dish of refried beans in your average dallas restaurant is manna from heaven compared to our sad sad choices here…)

    i like sycamore, but the menu doesn’t change frequently enough, imo. i’d give the edge on creativity to wine cellar. i had a veal dish there last year that i still fantasize about.

    sorry, i do go on!

  9. I love Shakespeare’s! However, upon further reflection, it really is the only “good” pizza place in town (good being defined as fresh ingredients, high quality meats, their own crust recipe, etc.). Perhaps it and G&D, although I don’t frequent G&D as much b/c their style of pizza is not my favorite, good though it may be. There is a lot of the “$10 any toppings” variety here. Am I leaving out a good pizza place?

  10. Canned? I’ve never had canned mushrooms from Shakespeare’s. I’ve only had fresh sliced mushrooms from them.

  11. Affordable meat lover’s kind of place – like Weber Grill Restaurant in Chicago. Also not arguing for chains, but something good quality like that.

  12. I do miss Trattoria Strada Nova!!!!. BBQ, Italian need to help. I would welcome anything along the lines of Sycamore with a different take. A good family style chicken place like AQ in Arkansas, or Chicken Mary’s or Chicken Annie’s in Pittsburg, KS.

  13. Real Italian, not American Italian, as identified by others. That includes Italian pizza, not American pizza (which is what Shakespeares is). Both of the latter are fine when well done, but are plenty represented already.

    Would have said brewpub with good food, but Broadway is working hard in that direction.

    Mainstream restaurants with viable and creative vegetarian options. Columbia is very, very meat-heavy despite a wide variety of attractive and interesting possibilities for vegetarian entrees that would fit on the menu of a mainstream restaurant. For me, this means no tofu or other fake meat substitutes, no mushroom/veggie burgers, etc. Too often the only option for a non-meat-chooser is salad or a fake meat meal or asking the server to leave the bacon off something.

    A good vegetarian entree is one in which an omnivore does not think of it as a “meatless” meal but simply a good, interesting dining option that they might not even notice doesn’t have meat. Nicely spiced lentils, creative pasta, souffles, etc. Sycamore’s gnocchi are a good example of the right way to do this right.

    I understand from talking to various restaurant folks that they feel the market doesn’t really support those options and it doesn’t make sense to have many of them. I see where they’re coming from. But I can go through the menus of most non-ethnic restaurants in the area and find almost nothing of interest to non-meaties, when we easily make wonderful non-meat meals at home most of the week. Is it lack of demand, or lack of options driving lack of demand from people who just stay away?

  14. Good Italian-Italian (not American Italian) and good Italian style pizza. I also wish India House would get a liquor license, either that or Taj Mahal get faster service. Good Thai. My husband said French, Brazilian, and Ethiopian.

  15. Yes, Italian pizza! Prosciutto + arugula pizza, I love it! There is nothing like that here, do you think the Broadway Brewery may include something like that?

  16. I was one of Broadway Brewery’s harshest critics, but they have really come around. The beer is great, the food is good. The place has become part of the regular rotation of dining/bar evenings. I am really enjoying it!

  17. I actually don’t have a huge problem with the Chinese food in town. Then again I stick to Mandarin House and Chinese Wok Express and think both of them are fine. A lot of people are high on House of Chow but I haven’t been blown away in two or three visits. Still, not our most critical need if you ask me.

    On pizza, I’m not a Shakespeare’s nut but enjoy it once in a while. Our go-to place is Kostaki’s, but it’s just really well-done Americanized pizza. Their Steak Del Malia pizza (with sundried tomatoes and honey) is an oddball thing of beauty: http://kostakispizzeria.com/#pizza

    I agree on Broadway Brewery and keep in mind it’s a local food restaurant that opened in September. They’re only going to get better.

  18. I’m going to go out on a limb here, folks, and agree with what everyone has to say. IMO, Columbia could improve in EVERY AND ALL cuisines. I’ve got my favorites in town, but to say there are just blow-away, knock-your-socks-off places in town, I’m not sure about that. I think we have a good representation of middle Eastern/Greek places in town, but I’m not sure that they are the best that can be found anywhere else. I am definitely not a chain person, but I’d like to see some “good and different” chains in the mix here (maybe PF Chang’s?, Claim Jumper, Bonefish Grill, Carabba’s, Maggiano’s, Ted’s Montana Grill, El Pollo Loco), but maybe the market here won’t support them. For the person who said try the Banh Mi at Chinese Wok Express, I’d like to, but I didn’t even know they served Banh Mi there. They told me it was too expensive to make and they wouldn’t sell enough of them. Heck, who knows…maybe I’m just bored with the offerings in Columbia? 😦 PS: If you have a hankering for rabbit, go to New Orleans… they serve a lot of it on the menus there. 🙂

  19. To be clear, I said DON’T try their Bahn Mi. If you want a decent Bahn Mi, try Uprise’s. That’s a good sandwich.

    I agree that we have nothing that’s really phenomenal. My partner and I refer to good restaurants as “Columbia good” as a qualifier. Chains won’t help, either.

  20. To also be clear, Chinese Wok Express does not have a banh mi sandwich on the menu, nor were they willing to considering adding one when I’ve asked. You must have “lucked” into one as a special or something.

  21. you’re funny, builderofcoalitions!

    i too will go out on a limb and declare that IF we got a pf chang’s it would instantly become the “best” chinese in columbia by far, imo. (and that is a sad story).

    (i will try mandarin house again on the strength of scott’s recommendation though….)

  22. I think Columbia needs a good dim sum restaurant.

    And in regards to banh mi’s… check out the Hong Kong Market mid-Saturday afternoons. They bring in fresh groceries & pastries from St. Louis that afternoon and banh mi is included. I think that’s about as authentic that you can get in CoMo. Get there early though… Usually when I go, there’s a crowd around the table waiting for the goods to get there and bahn mi is usually the first to get sold out.

  23. Hey, thanks for the tip on the banh mi being available at Hong Kong Market on Saturday afternoon (early afternoon). They are probably not getting it from Banh Mi So No. 1 on South Grand in St. Louis since that is truly a mom-and-pop operation, everything made to order, but it’s got to be better than what Columbia normally has to offer, which is nothing. Unless you count Bleu’s banh mi, and I truly don’t think it counts. Question: are the banh mi at HK Market already prepared before they arrive here, or is it just the ingredients of the sandwich and they prepare them here?

  24. Christine: The bahn mi comes prepared & wrapped up in a white paper. You can tell it had to have been prepared that morning because the bread is just perfect… chewy & crusty where it needs to be. If I remember correctly, it’s got fresh shredded carrots, cilantro, hot pepper slices, some sort of pate and sliced chinese bbq roast pork. I wish I had one now!

    They come from some vietnamese market in STL. I think if you ask HK Market, they’ll even tell you which store. You can also pre-order chinese bbq roast pork the day before and they’ll be sure to reserve a pound or 2 for you to pick up Saturday afternoon.

    They have a lot of tasty things there. Last time I was there, the truck didn’t get there till 1:30 or 2. I think it varies each Saturday. I was there last weekend about 4 and all the stuff was gone. Bummer!

  25. The bread is one of the key things for a Banh Mi. I do know that Banh Mi So No. 1 gets their bread from LaBonne Bouchée on Olive in St. Louis.

  26. Omigosh, you are making me so hungry, Carrie. And yes, you are right, Martha, about the bread making the banh mi, much as the correct bread makes a poor boy (or po’ boy) in New Orleans, or elsewhere. if it doesn’t have that crunchy, flakiness on the outside crust, and tender chewiness inside, it’s just not right. Leidenheimer’s is the bread of choice in New Orleans, but I know those French bakeries (like LaBonne Bouchee in STL) do a fantastic job, too. That’s why the product that the husband and wife turn out at Bahn Mi So No. 1 is the best. YUUMMM!!!!

    I will have to put HK Market on my list.

  27. Another vote for a great pizza place. Gourmet pizza. Real Chicago-style pizza. Italian pizza.

  28. I was in Bangkok Gardens about a month ago and they had a Banh Mi on the menu at that time. The server said it was something the chef wanted to try. Several people at a nearby table asked me to describe it and when I got to the pate, they said that was far enough. To each his own.

  29. okay, so we finally tried mandarin house tonight, and yes, it’s definitely the best chinese food we’ve had locally. the garlic eggplant was especially good. i still maintain that’s sadly not saying all that much, compared to other places i’ve had chinese (california, texas, dc.). will go back to try some more things. thanks for the rec.

  30. Slightly off-topic, but there is a new Mexican restaurant in town. It is called “La Terraza Grill” and is located in the former La Casa Grande (and Delena’s?) spot in the strip center off of Nifong. The menu offers many of the same items as Taqueria el Rodeo, including “street-style” tacos (w/asada, pastor, lengua, etc. offerings). I don’t know much about it, other than that last Friday was their first day. My sopes were good, as was the horchata. Some of the staff/principals looked familiar from stints at Taqueria (and later Los Cabos), but I don’t think there are any official ties.

  31. I really miss the spanish (not mexican) restaurant that we used to have in Columbia.
    If I remember correctly, it was called Dali’s

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