Columbus is often thought of as a white bread town, territory of generic chains and home of the fast food giants White Castle and Wendy’s. Dig around though, and between the Olive Garden’s and Applebees you can find some fantastic independent restaurants and (the point of this post), some ethnic gems.
Last week in two days we ate Colombian, Korean and Vietnamese food and had some proper boiled bagels for breakfast. Stretch that time period out to a couple of weeks and you can add in Thai, Indian, Chinese, Japanese and Mexican. Columbus also has plenty of Middle Eastern and Greek offerings as well as a wealth of small Somali and Ethiopian restaurants. This winter I am hoping to start exploring Somali cuisine and would love any recommendations of places to start. The only cuisines I haven’t been able to find in Columbus are Sri Lankan and Moroccan. If anyone knows of any please let me know. In the mean time here are some recommendations of places that I love and you should try.
Yau’s Asian Bistro (1493 N. High Street) was recently reviewed by G.A. Benton in Alive. Conveniently close to campus it offers many of the standard ‘Chinese take-out’ offerings but lots of more interesting dishes as well. They also serve bubble tea and plenty of good vegetarian options. The dish pictured is the famous spicy salted squid, one of my favorites. Yau’s, as many of the restaurants in this list, is somewhere you go for the food and not the stylish interior and like most of these restaurants they do not have a liquor license.
Arirang Oriental Market (1526 Bethel Road) was recommended to me by a reader (Thank you Molly). You would never guess that it has a restaurant in the back. You order at the front counter and then find a seat and wait to be signaled to when your food is ready. The menu was mostly translated from Korean but we did ask for some guidance. It is extremely clean, good value and I am looking forward to going back and trying some more dishes. I ordered the hot and spicy beef soup with noodles and we also shared a Korean (mung bean) pancake. The soup was perfect for a frosty night and the pancake the best I have had. We were given three side dishes including the requisite kim chee. I had previously wondered why Korean restaurants give you the side dishes at the same time as your food (usually I would prefer them to nibble on while I wait). When my cauldron of soup arrived still at a rolling boil, I was glad to have sometime to eat while it cooled down.
Mi Li Cafe (5858 Columbus Square) is our go-to for Vietnamese food. Usually we head there when the craving for a bahn-mi sandwich hits but I have eaten everything on the menu including sam bo luong, a drink made with seaweed and ginko nuts. Friday was a pho dac biet day (noodle soup with beef, tripe and meatballs) although I was secretly coveting Donna’s bo kho (beef stew). I have heard great things about Indochine but I haven’t made it there yet. Soon.
The Columbian food I mentioned was from the taco truck El Manantial Latino which has just moved to a new location at Lane and High. On this visit we had the Colombian tamale – larger than a Mexican tamale with more meat and vegetables inside. It comes wrapped in a banana leaf rather than a corn husk. The menu offerings vary daily so it is best to ask what they have.
If I want to make an effort for Thai food I go to Bangkok on Refugee Road which also has an eclectic grocery store. Apart from the drive they also close early, so more often than not I find myself eating Thai food at Nida’s Thai on High. As well as being extremely convenient Nida’s has the advantage of serving cocktails and sushi. It is the most atmospheric of the restaurants I have mentioned. The dish pictured is the tasty appetizer Mee Krob.
I haven’t yet mentioned Mexican Food — and you know what I am going to say: yup, taco trucks. Many of these will stay open this winter serving steaming hot atole to go with your tacos. Don Pedro’s are currently offering a Thursday special $4 pambazo’s and the pambazos alone are worth the drive. Seriously craveable. My other favorite trucks include Los Potosinos, Los Guachos, Taqueria Jalisco and Taco Nazo, but there are over 30 to choose from. Closest to down town are Junior’s (on 5th Avenue) and Chapis tacos (near Broad and Souder).
I should also mention Japanese, of which my favorites are Sushi Bistro Masa and Kihachi. Both of these are in Dublin and whereas most of the other restaurants I have mentioned are places I would go on a weekday evening. The Japanese restaurants are for more of a special occasion, especially if you want to take full advantage of the more exotic offerings. Pictured are some fried salmon balls from Sushi Bistro Masa.
Last but not least bagels. Blocks Bagels, with two locations in East Columbus are the closest thing I have found to New York bagels in Columbus. Boiled before they are baked, Blocks have been making bagels in Columbus since 1967. They have over 20 flavors as well as a sandwich counter and the bagels are as dense and chewy as they should be.
So there you have it, plenty of places offering hot steamy bowls of soup, spice and carbs to keep you warm this winter. I know that this list is far from extensive, so please feel free to share other ethnic favorites and hidden gems.