South Carolina destination delights and satisfies epicurean travelers

In the central part of the Palmetto State, convenient to Interstates I-77, I-20 and I-26,
Capital City/Lake Murray Country has always been known for big-city attractions, small-town discoveries and water adventures. Now, adding to the list of reasons to visit, trends show that the area is attracting food travelers planning their own food trail for culinary adventure, from Southern to global flavors.

One dining mecca is Lexington, an up-and-coming town near Lake Murray that draws visitors in with its historic charm and the new and well-loved restaurants lining its historic streets. Two of the area’s chefs, Chef Jon Cooper of Alodia’s Cucina Italiana and Arif Rizvi of RF’s Corner Grill, were part of “Team Lake Murray” restaurant chefs who represented South Carolina against the world’s best at the 2021 World Food Championships’ Ultimate Food Fight in Dallas, Texas.

Experience your own version of the World Food Championships with these can’t-miss Capital City/Lake Murray Country dining destinations:

Alodia’s Cucina Italiana: Step back in time to Old Italy, with a menu featuring Chef Jon Cooper’s family recipes, where homemade sauces and Abruzzo pastas lay the rich and flavorful foundation. Try Bowtie Gratinate–a pasta with sautéed shrimp and rendered pancetta, in a creamy sauce, topped with Parmesan and then baked. Cut into the Duck Arrosta, a pan-roasted duck breast served over a blackberry noir sauce with a side of Asiago, mushroom and pancetta risotto. The menu also includes the classics–lasagna, manicotti and eggplant parmesan (101 West Main Street, Lexington, South Carolina 29072; (803) 520-4493; Also in Irmo: 2736 North Lake Drive, Columbia, South Carolina 29212; (803) 781-9814).

Bohdi Thai Dining: With an exotic menu that’s authentic, fresh and presented in a “Modern Thai” style, this upscale restaurant is housed in a former bank—the vault is now a wine cellar. Appetizers include five-hour Braised Baby Pork Ribs with a honey whiskey sauce and Fresh Rolls with shrimp, clear noodles and cilantro served with sweet chili. Main courses include traditional bowls like Shrimp Pad Thai and stir-fry variations, with heat set to individual palates. Additionally, the chef prepares innovative Thai takes on pork chops, salmon and chicken, not necessarily pepper-hot but with interesting spices and sauces like tamarind, chili lime and Massaman curry (126 East Main Street, Lexington, South Carolina 29072; (803) 957-1994).

Café Strudel: Famous for their Hangover Hashbrowns, this Southern gem serves up hearty delicacies morning, noon and night. For lunch, try the Stuffed Burger featuring pimento cheese, or the Portabella Sandwich with homemade horseradish mayo. Down-home cooking takes on a twist with items like Seafood Mac and Cheese, Pulled Pork Tacos and Duck Nachos (309 South Lake Drive, Lexington, South Carolina 29072; (803) 794-6634; and 300 State Street, West Columbia, South Carolina 29169; 803-794-6634).

That’s just the beginning of the reasons to continue a culinary tour of Lexington. RF’s Corner Grill is a “modern classic” with favorites like Duck Fat Fries, Gourmet California Tacos and more (712 West Main Street, Lexington, South Carolina 29072; 803-490-7800).

Griffin Chophouse serves steaks, brisket, barbecue, prime burgers and more. Brunch is served on Sundays. The Royal Butcher next door offers specialty meats and prepared heat and serve family-style meals (924 East Main Street, Lexington, South Carolina 29072; 803-957-0863).

Capital City/Lake Murray Country hosts even more distinct food districts. Closer to city center, West Columbia is home to some of the best restaurants (and views) in all of the Columbia Metro area, including Al’s Upstairs Italian (300 Meeting Street, West Columbia, South Carolina 29169; 803-794-7404), the newly renovated Terra (100 State Street, West Columbia, South Carolina 29169; 803-791-3443), Black Rooster (201 Meeting Street, West Columbia, South Carolina 29169; 803-724-2853) and a Cafe Strudel location. Round out a tour of West Columbia restaurants with bites like Duck Confit Baguette and sips at Savage Craft Ale Works (30 Center Street, West Columbia, South Carolina 29169; 803-888-6005). Soak in the views and a cocktail from the rooftop, grab a snack at the Jailhouse or enjoy live music from the beer garden at this Veteran-owned company.

Farther afield, enjoy fine dining with an eclectic Southern twist at Figaro the Dining Room, housed in a former bank (1117 Boyce Street, Newberry, South Carolina 29108; 803-276-0101). Chef Brandon and Jeanne Velie opened Juniper to a buzz in national culinary media outlets and have cooked at New York City’s famed James Beard House. (640 East Main Street, Ridge Spring, South Carolina 29129; 803-685-7547).

Not sure where to start? Rely on the experts: 2 Gals & A Fork Food Tours. Historic Columbia trained tour guides share notable anecdotes from the Capital City while indulging guests in tastings from five of the 60 area restaurants. The Vista Tour includes the revitalized downtown district’s history, as well as a variety of notable restaurants, including The Blue Marlin, Liberty Taproom, Pearlz Oyster Bar, Hickory Tavern, Kaminsky’s and more. Tours are available in nearby Newberry and in Lexington.

Capital City/Lake Murray Country pairs its delicious dining with wines from Newberry County, a small-batch distillery in Leesville, South Carolina, three craft breweries and two craft beer and growler shops. Sip and savor more details here.

If you’re in Columbia on a Saturday, you’re in for a treat at Soda City, Columbia’s Main Street market. This bustling rain or shine event offers a variety of internationally inspired cuisines. Sample everything from Columbian arepas, Belgian waffles, empanadas and gourmet doughnuts to local barbecue. Hydrate with a healthy and colorful beverage at the juice bar or sip on local craft brew suds. While you’re there, peruse fresh produce, meats and creative wares from local artisans.

For more details on places to stay, where to eat and all there is to do in Capital City/Lake Murray Country, go to LakeMurrayCountry.com

Photo: Combining culinary with culture, Two Gals and a Fork Food Tours give visitors the tastiest overview of South Carolina’s Capital City/Lake Murray Country area, one step, one bite, one morsel of history at a time. Credit: Capital City Lake Murray Country Tourism Board