photo credit: Justin Singer
The Best Restaurants In Columbus, Ohio
A Bengali-American daytime cafe, plant-based fine dining, a cocktail bar with $5 mini martinis, and other spots we love in Ohio's capitol.
Columbus has long been a food city on the rise, though it often gets overshadowed by Ohio’s other “C” cities to the north and south. The state capital has it all: Ohio State University, the headquarters of big brands like Wendy’s and Victoria’s Secret, and arguably the best ice cream in the world. The mix of native Midwesterners, coastal transplants, college students, and immigrants has resulted in a diverse food and drink scene that has evolved far beyond fries dipped in Frostys (though we love that, too).
But you need to know where to look: Go to Bethel Road in Northwest Columbus for excellent immigrant-owned Chinese, Korean, Mexican, and Pakistani restaurants. Check out walkable neighborhoods like Short North and Italian Village just south of Ohio State; cheer for the home teams, NHL’s Blue Jackets and MLS’s Columbus Crew, in the Arena district; and definitely stroll around historic German Village with its old architecture, quaint brick streets, a maze-like bookstore, and several notable dining destinations.
In this guide, we’ve broken down several of our top Columbus picks by category, whether you’re visiting the Arena District for an anime convention or just want to seek out the city’s newest hotspots.
photo credit: Justin Singer
Chapman's Eat Market
Chapman’s is one of the hardest tables to get in town, and we get why: the service, cocktails, and food are consistently excellent. Even though the menu jumps all over the place with dishes like General Tso’s cauliflower, fried wings, khao soi, red snapper with heirloom beans, and excellent housemade ice cream, everything is well-executed. Once home to the original Max & Erma’s (a one-time Applebee’s competitor), the Chapman’s interior is now a mix of rose pink, sage green, and loud wallpaper that feels nothing like the original. Reservations are released on the first of the month, or you can try snagging a spot at the bar for dinner and a top-notch cocktail.
photo credit: Robb McCormick
If you’re celebrating something big, or just find yourself in the mood for a proper terrine, Refectory has been a special occasion go-to for more than 40 years, and is pretty much the only place in Columbus that does classic French food. Plates are artfully composed and swirled with sauces in that fancy French way, but the menu is seasonal and changes often. The rack of lamb and duck confit are perennial favorites, and make sure to leave room for the vanilla crème brûlée. The restaurant is housed in an historic 19th-century church and schoolhouse (hence the name), with a dining room spread out over a couple of dimly-lit spaces with white tablecloths, plus stained-glass windows and a fireplace. Definitely plan on ordering wine—they have a cellar of more than 700 bottles, including some rare dessert wines.
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It’s always a good time of year to eat at Lindey’s, an upscale bistro in charming German Village. In summer, everyone wants a table on the large leafy patio (it’s first come, first served), and during the winter, the cobblestone streets, copper bar, tin-tiled ceiling, and red-leather banquettes are the perfect setting for dinner with your parents before seeing The Nutcracker. Servers still wear ties and the menu is pure ‘90s bistro: French onion soup, beef tournedos, and angel hair pasta with shrimp in a spicy Cajun sauce. Take a picture outside the historic front entrance on the corner of Beck and Mohawk—the valet guys won’t judge.
photo credit: Brian Kaiser
Columbus contains multitudes—both Wendy’s and White Castle were founded here, but so was the excellent plant-based, fine-dining spot Comune. “I don’t feel like I’m in Columbus,” is a common sentiment heard around the intimate bar and dining room that feels straight out of a Scandinavian design catalog. It’s always a solid choice for date night, and the menu is a pretty big departure from traditionally meat-heavy Midwestern restaurants, instead focusing on seasonal dishes like a summertime watermelon carpaccio and a peach-cucumber salad bathed in green goddess dressing. Luckily for us though, the housemade pita with dips and the perfectly crispy tahdig never leave the menu. They also have a great list of natural wines, along with cocktail options like the effervescent O Sweet Spontaneous with vanilla-infused gin, rhum agricole, pineapple, and bubbly.
photo credit: Sam Kendall
Veritas has been one of the city’s top dining experiences for the last 10 years, and after taking a pandemic break to regroup, reopened with new energy. The dining room, decorated with hanging herbs and flowers from the ceiling, looks into a glass-walled kitchen. Meanwhile, the multi-course dinners celebrate ingredients and dishes from specific countries and regions like Spain and Scandinavia. Compared to what you’d pay in larger cities, the $85-per-person tasting menus here are a steal, and even though the service is more on the formal side, the staff still creates a breezy, easy-going atmosphere. Save time for a nightcap at Veritas’ sister cocktail bar, The Citizens Trust, located just upstairs in an old bank building.
Head to charming Old Worthington to check out this laid-back daytime Bengali-American cafe. Beverages range from milk chai to coffee from local roaster Thunderkiss, but the short combo breakfast and lunch food menu is really the highlight. We love the simple breakfast sandwiches with bacon, soft eggs, and herb chutney, but the bigger dishes are also worth getting—especially fried rice with crispy chicken and Joya’s take on the kati roll with lamb on griddle-fried roti. After ordering at the counter, try snagging a seat in the narrow dining space (which gets crowded on the weekends) or head out front for a sidewalk seat.
Jiu Thai Asian Café
There’s simply too much good food on Bethel Road, whether you’re searching for Korean barbecue, al pastor tacos, falafel, or a memorable bowl of Chinese noodles. One of our favorites is the family-run Jiu Thai, a Shaanxi-focused spot in a strip mall (the “Thai” in the name refers to a sacred Chinese mountain range), where the move is to order bowls of delicious hand-pulled biang biang noodles tossed with cilantro, chile oil, and vinegar. Other highlights include the Xi’an-style cold noodles, pork-and-cabbage steamed dumplings, and the rou jia mo, an excellent $5 Shaanxi-style pork sandwich. There are just a handful of tables, but it’s one of the area’s best spots for a casual meal.
The Polaris area isn’t exactly restaurant row, which could be why Kitchen Social has been so popular since it opened in 2019. Even on a Tuesday night, the airy dining room and bar (which opens up to a big patio on warm days) is crowded with suburbanites who would rather starve than eat at a nearby chain—but also don’t want to trek 20 minutes downtown for decent seared salmon. The menu skews sophisticated but still has broad appeal, with shareable plates like cheddar scallion biscuits and Korean BBQ cauliflower, so it’s good for groups with varying tastes and budgets. They also have a newer Dublin location in Bridge Park, a walkable retail development with lots of bar and restaurant options.
Nothing warms you up after that big Ohio State football rivalry or Columbus Blue Jackets faceoff faster than a steaming bowl of ramen from Fukuryu. Get the spicy Red Dragon, where rich chicken bone broth is brimming with noodles, braised pork belly, chili pork crumbles, a jammy egg, and housemade chili paste. You can adjust the heat index, but even level one might lead to full-on face sweat—thankfully, the refreshing Nihon Gin and Juice made with yuzu-ginger lemonade cools things down. Round out your meal with some Japanese fried chicken, which is great for picky eaters and/or younger kids in your group. While they have many locations, the Upper Arlington spot is a five-minute drive from the Shoe (where the Buckeyes play) and not much farther from Nationwide Arena where the Jackets chase the puck.
IF YOU'RE DOWNTOWN FOR A CONVENTION OR BLUE JACKETS GAME
Wario’s carryout window is right across from Nationwide Arena, and makes for one of the best options if you’re not trying to eat a Skyline chili dog during the game. Their take on a Philly cheesesteak, featuring eight ounces of quality rib-eye and house-made whiz on a soft semolina roll, is a clear standout. So are the chicken cutlet, roasted pork and broccoli rabe, and Italian cold cut subs. Wario’s sizable sandwiches run $13-19, but they’re gigantic and there’s no way you can sneak these behemoths into a Blue Jackets game. Just know that Wario’s closes at 7pm.
Brassica is a fast-casual, Mediterranean spot with a focus on organic, artisan, and local ingredients. You customize your order as you go down the line, but everything here is a notch better than other places of its kind. Choose either a bowl of greens and grains or a handheld pita, a main (we like the housemade falafel the best), and toppings like hummus, baba, feta, pickled cucumbers, marinated eggplant, and roasted carrots. They offer a limited selection of wine and beers but it’s hard to beat their minty pink lemonade (you can add booze to that too). All of it travels particularly well if you’re on the go. The original downtown location is just a few blocks away from the convention center, and the newer Easton location is great for a quick lunch while shopping. The same owners are behind Northstar Café, another local order-at-the-counter favorite with multiple locations.
This crowded public market is home to at least 30 independently-owned food counters, which makes it a great place to eat and shop with a group. While your friend wanders off for a slice of pizza or giant Bavarian pretzel, you can get in line for Himalayan dumplings at Momo Ghar or a Somali spread from Hoyo’s Kitchen. Reconvene at a table outside or upstairs, then end your meal with cones of Brambleberry Crisp or Salty Caramel at the original Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream. Before you leave, you might as well stock up on locally made olive oil, coffee beans, a few Ohio cheeses and artisan fruit preserves from Black Radish Creamery, or a bag of cinnamon pecans from the American Nut Company. The downtown location has been around for nearly 150 years, and is an easy walk from the convention center.
BREAKFAST & BRUNCH SPOTS
After launching as a pop-up focused on community and inclusivity, Parable Coffee finally have their own space in Downtown Columbus. The cafe has a ton of houseplants, wood elements, tall ceilings, and light from large windows facing High Street, making it great for one-on-one meetings or, better yet, a quick daydreaming session before you start your day. Go for espresso drinks like a sesame miso latte and excellent baked goods from Columbus’ Three Bites Bakery. While the shop’s $7-$9 lattes might seem expensive, it’s done to pay employees a liveable wage—not to mention they have a "pay what you like" program.
photo credit: David Powers
Inspired by Australian coffee culture, Emmett’s is our top pick for morning hangouts with a flat white or cold brew. This laid-back spot recently opened a second, much larger and brighter location at the Open Air building, a renovated school building in Old North. Open until 2pm during the work week, the cafe offers wifi and plenty of space to spread out with a few coworkers. Food options go far beyond pastries, with options like overnight oats, filling breakfast sandwiches, grain bowls, wraps, and even a wagyu burger. In the afternoon, be sure to check out Emmett’s neighbor, the Commons, with its patio overlooking the Olentangy Trail and tasty palomas.
Fox in the Snow Café
You need to order the souffléed egg sandwich at Fox in the Snow—this sandwich is a thing of beauty with fluffy eggs, candied bacon, and swiss cheese on toasted housemade ciabatta. Make sure you pick up some other sweets as well, like laminated biscuits with jam, rustic tomato tarts, and gigantic cinnamon rolls. You can get coffee from Maine’s Tandem Roasters at all three Central Ohio locations, but check out their original shop in Italian Village, housed in a former auto repair shop and located within walking distance of Budd Dairy Food Hall.
photo credit: Abby Dillon
The Lox Bagel Shop
With pale wood tables and muted blue wallpaper depicting the sea, this contemporary Short North cafe is a bagel shop that combines New York and Montreal styles: their options are boiled and then baked over a live fire for a crispy exterior. You can get flavors like plain, everything, sea salt and herb, and sesame, and while there are plenty of sandwiches to choose from, the housemade pastrami, egg, and cheese sandwich paired with crispy fried potato wedges is a sure bet. For something lighter, opt for The Lox’s namesake sandwich with capers, onion, cucumber, and cream cheese. We also love stopping by for lunch when they serve Cubans, egg salad sandos, and weekly specials such as a spiced Moroccan lamb sandwich. Another plus: they have dedicated parking, a rare thing in the Short North.
Walk through the doors of Pistacia Vera and you’ll be greeted by a glass case of pastel macarons, shiny eclairs, golden croissants, and other treats. Opened almost 20 years ago, this cafe and bakery has long been a Columbus institution. While the desserts are pretty special (including a show-stopping, domed chocolate mousse bombe), don’t skip brunch items like the croque monsieur and the city’s best quiche. They don’t have any indoor seating, so you’ll have to grab your coffee and pastries and head out to the handful of sidewalk-straddling tables, where you’ll feel suitably European as you watch neighbors and tourists wander by.
A GREAT NEW BAR TO CHECK OUT
Upon walking into Law Bird, your eyes immediately fix on a pink neon sign that reads “Not Governed By Reason.” This is the sign that confirms you’re in the right place, whether you’re meeting friends for Happy Hour or grabbing a negroni after a long day. Law Bird is part neighborhood cocktail bar and part restaurant hospitality industry hang, with plenty of delicious bar snacks, a color palette that will definitely remind you of Miami Vice, and some extremely rad Prince-themed bathroom wallpaper. They opened four months before the pandemic shut down bars in Ohio and did to-go cocktails for a while, but now they’re one of the best new bars not just in Columbus, but the country. Start your visit with the excellent $5 mini martini, which buys you time to look through the rest of the well-organized menu. We’ve already made their “bougie” hot dog Wednesdays a regular tradition.