Best of Columbia 2013

By Free Times
Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Readers, we’ve heard you loud and clear.

Your votes have been counted, and we’re proud to present you with this year’s Best of Columbia award winners. Your choices pay homage to many of the individuals and institutions that make Columbia a great place to live.

First held in 1989, the annual Free Times readers’ poll is the real, original poll of local residents’ opinions on everything from Best Restaurant to Best Local Politician. This year marks the second in which we’ve added a nomination round and the fourth in which voting has been conducted exclusively online. Both changes have brought more readers into the process, and we appreciate your participation.

As always, in a few categories where we feel that a true gem has been overlooked, we’ve weighed in with Writers’ Picks. Also, a further word about the contest: Some newspapers actually ban chain restaurants and businesses from winning their readers’ polls, and some readers have asked Free Times to institute a similar policy. Our reply? We can and do encourage you to support local businesses in your voting, but it would be fundamentally undemocratic to tell you whom you can and cannot vote for.

Congratulations to all winners and runners-up: The people have spoken, and your crowns are well deserved. — Dan Cook

Local Media

Best Local TV News

Runner-up: WLTX (CBS)
Our own bias is toward the print media, but when you’re choosing among local TV news stations, WIS is still the go-to source for breaking local news. Whether it’s an impending storm, a missing child, a downtown shooting or a mesmerizing murder trial, WIS is consistently working to stay ahead of its competitors.

Best Anchorperson
Judi Gatson (WIS)

Runner-up: Dawndy Mercer-Plank (WIS)
In these days of social media, individual journalists can be almost as big of a brand as the stations for which they work. These two WIS heavyweights have both seen their share of Best of Columbia awards, but the 2013 trophy goes to Judi Gatson. Since joining WIS in 1995, Gatson has covered everything from hurricanes to presidential primaries. She’s also nabbed three regional Emmy awards, and in 2012 won a Reporter of the Year award from the South Carolina chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Health.

Best Weatherperson
Ben Tanner (WIS)

Runner-up: Jim Gandy (WLTX)
In 2012, Columbia set its all-time heat record when the mercury hit an unprecedented 113 degrees. This year, we’re breaking rain records. So, yeah, it’s an interesting time to be in the weather business. Ben Tanner, an Atlanta native who’s been with WIS since 1998, holds both the American Meteorological Society’s Television Seal of Approval and National Weather Association’s Seal of Approval. When he’s not predicting when the next storm will hit, Tanner might be found working on his house or playing sports with his kids.

Rick Henry WIS TV Columbia SC

Rick Henry is Best Sportscaster. Photo by Jonathan Sharpe

Best Sportscaster
Rick Henry (WIS)

Runner-up: Reggie Anderson (WLTX)
Personalities have come and gone at WIS, but for a quarter-century Rick Henry’s been constant. Who got to interview Hank Aaron on the field at Capital City Stadium? Henry, that’s who.

Best Local Website - News

You like us! More importantly, you like our newly redesigned website!

Best Local Website - Sports

With a great blend of local and national sports coverage, the WIS website keeps you up to date on all things athletic.

Best Local Website - Music and Entertainment

You really like us!

Best Radio Station
96.7 Steve FM

Runner-up: 104.7 WNOK FM
Sometimes you just want to hear something you know you’re going to like — or at least know. For that, you turn to your old pal Steve, who plays a mix of hits from yesterday and today.

Best Local Radio Personality
Jonathon Rush (97.5 FM WCOS, 100.1 FM WVOC)

Runner-up: Brent Johnson (106.7 FM WTCB)
To be a local radio personality, you have to have personality. And Jonathon Rush has personality, love him or hate him. And you, readers, obviously love him.

Best Local Twitter-er
Rick Stilwell (@RickCaffeinated)

Runner-up: @drinkblogrepeat
Known widely by his handle @RickCaffeinated, Rick Stilwell was a Columbia-based social media guru. After he died suddenly in January, his online pals and admirers paid tribute to him with a fundraiser to help out his family, using the #livelikerick hashtag to honor his memory. It seems a fitting honor that Columbia posthumously voted him best Twitter-er as well. 

Biggest Media Hog
Gov. Nikki Haley

Runner-up: Mark Sanford
Gov. Haley is smart enough not to say she’s eyeing a 2016 presidential run, but her actions do the talking. When your whole career is based on going to the mat with the feds and you’re just one election away from being a two-term, red-state governor, then it’s fairly obvious what the next logical career move is. Haley certainly isn’t the most popular governor around — in fact, there’s an outside chance she could lose her re-election bid — but there’s no doubt she’s proven herself adept at making headlines.

Politics and City Life

Biggest Improvement in Columbia
Continued revitalization of Main Street

Runner-up: Trader Joe’s coming to Columbia
Main Street is definitely on its way back up. Renovations are under way on several historic buildings, including City Hall, and the long-vacant Palmetto Center is being turned into student housing; Al-Amir is opening soon at the corner of Laurel and Main, joining a slew of good downtown restaurants; and the new Nickelodeon Theatre is quite simply awesome. Nice work, Columbia.

Best Use of Public Funds
Road repairs and improvements

Runner-up: Richland Library
We’re not sure which repairs you’re talking about here, readers: The replacement of the Broad River Road bridge? The traffic calming along Assembly Street near the new Moore School? The widening of I-20 east of town? ‘Cause none of those are quite done yet. Or maybe you’re just saying we should be spending public funds on road repairs and improvements? Let’s start with moving some of those railroad tracks.

Biggest Waste of Public Funds
Gov. Nikki Haley

Runner-up: Purchase of Palmetto Compress building
In 25 years of publishing the Best of Columbia survey, only one person has won this category. And now Gov. Haley has done it three times. Could it be a charm for her re-election bid? Sure, as long as her fundraising targets aren’t scared off by Best of Columbia voters.

U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson

U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson is Best Local Politician. Photo by Sean Rayford

Best Local Politician
U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson

Runner-up: S.C. State Sen. Vincent Sheheen
Although he’s best known as the guy who hollered “You lie!” at Barack Obama during the president’s 2009 address to a joint session of Congress, Republican U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson is also big on constituent services — and on making sure South Carolina maintains its starring role in military contracts and bases. Plus, he serves a mean hot dog.

Best Activist Group or Effort

Runner-up: Pawmetto Lifeline
The long-term solution to pet overpopulation, according to PETS Inc., is to spay and neuter. In 21 years, the organization has spayed and neutered about 55,000 cats and dogs. It has also rescued and placed more than 46,000 cats and dogs. To that, channeling Snoop, we say, “Bow wow wow, yippy yo yippy yay.”

Marcus Lattimore

Marcus Lattimore is Biggest Local Hero. Photo by Travis Bell/Sideline Carolina

Biggest Local Hero
Marcus Lattimore

Runner-up: Jadeveon Clowney
Really, you could switch these two and still be fair: Lattimore, the University of South Carolina’s star running back, kept his million-megawatt smile flashing during his trying recovery from his second straight season-ending, knee-wrecking catastrophe. As for Clowney: I hear Vincent Smith’s helmet is still rolling around Raymond James Stadium. #THEHIT

Biggest Local Zero
Gov. Nikki Haley

Runner-up: Lillian McBride

Best Charity
Harvest Hope Food Bank

Runner-up: PETS Inc.
If there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that people shouldn’t have to go hungry — and Harvest Hope served 28 million pounds of food to needy people last year.

City Roots Columbia SC Eric McClam

Farm manager Eric McClam of City Roots, named Best Green Business. Photo by Jonathan Sharpe

Best Green Business or Initiative
City Roots

Runner-up: Sustainable Midlands
For some, seeing a local farm was rare until City Roots opened in 2009. More than 40 different vegetable roots have been put down on this urban farm’s 2.75 acres. Not only is it a place to get fresh greens, it’s also a place to hang out. Mardi Gras Columbia, the Tasty Tomato Festival, Harvest Dinners and other events have been hosted there.

Mark Sanford’s election to Congress is Biggest “Our Dumb State” Moment. Photo by Sean Rayford

Biggest “Our Dumb State” Moment
Electing Mark Sanford to Congress

Runner-up: Department of Revenue hacking
Readers, you nailed it. Forget about the affair, forget about ideology, and just ask yourself one question: What has Mark Sanford ever done to improve the lives of average South Carolinians? Drop us a line when you think of something.

Best Place to Take Out-of-Towners
Riverbanks Zoo

Runner-up: The Vista
Have you been to the zoo in Atlanta? Ours is better. With gorillas, gardens, a climbing wall, a 3-D theater, a ropes course and, soon, zip lines, there’s always something to do at the zoo.

Best Neighborhood
Forest Acres

Runner-up: Shandon
The Shandon neighborhood had won this category basically since time immemorial, and at least for the past 10 years straight. You know how many times Forest Acres has won Best Neighborhood? Exactly zero. But with Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s moving in, plus the winner (Rosso) and runner-up (Pasta Fresca) in the Best Italian Restaurant category, plus affordable housing, plus good schools, plus, uh, trees … well, it was about time.

Best New Home Community
Saluda River Club

Runner-up: Lake Carolina
Built on 235 acres along the Saluda River, Saluda River Club integrates a wide range of home designs — everything from townhomes, cottages and single-family homes in a walkable village district to estate-style homes on large wooded sites — into a beautiful natural setting that includes nature trails, two clubhouses and a river launch.

Best Apartment Complex
Vista Commons

Runner-up: 42 Magnolia
With a pool, 24-hour fitness center and ready access to all of the Vista’s dining and entertainment options, it’s no wonder Vista Commons is a popular place to live.

Arts and Culture

South Carolina State Fair is Best Annual Event.

Best Annual Event or Festival
South Carolina State Fair

Runner-up: St. Patrick’s Day in Five Points
OK, something’s going on here: This is the second straight year that the South Carolina State Fair has won this category, historically dominated by the St. Pat’s in Five Points Festival. We could try to psychoanalyze you, readers, but instead we’re just going with our gut: It’s got to be the fair’s deep-fried Snickers.

701 Center for Contemporary Art is Best Art Gallery. Pictured: Stephen Hayes’ Cash Crop. Courtesy photo

Best Art Gallery
701 Center for Contemporary Art

Runner-up: City Art
The 701 Center for Contemporary Art keeps Columbia’s arts scene interesting, hosting cutting-edge exhibitions featuring at-times astonishing, at-times boundary-pushing, but always incredible art.

Columbia Museum of Art executive director Karen Brosius (at right) discusses upcoming exhibitions with senior development coordinator Brittany Gridine (left) in the museum atrium. Photo by Jonathan Sharp

Best Local or Regional Museum
Columbia Museum of Art

Runner-up: South Carolina State Museum
The museum’s permanent collection features works by Botticelli, Monet, Warhol, Jasper Johns and Frank Lloyd Wright. Traveling exhibitions from the past year have starred revolutionary artists Mark Rothko and Pablo Picasso; an upcoming exhibition focuses on Annie Leibovitz. Where else can you find art this excellent in all of South Carolina, let alone Columbia?

Columbia City Ballet is Best Dance Company. Courtesy photo

Best Dance Company
Columbia City Ballet

Runner-up: Southern Strutt
Columbia City Ballet takes a bold approach — in choreography, staging and costuming — to presenting contemporary and classic productions. It’s always evident, even in timeworn seasonal ballets like The Nutcracker. Even when a production writhes in campiness (see Dracula: Ballet with a Bite), one can’t help but appreciate the ballet’s imagination.

Best Dance Studio or School
Columbia Conservatory of Dance

Runner-up: Columbia Ballet School
The Columbia Conservatory of Dance, celebrating its 25th year of operation, offers classes from ballet to hip-hop and jazz. And classes are offered for young children to adults. William Starrett, Columbia City Ballet’s executive director, opened the school with Mariclare Miranda, a prima ballerina with City Ballet from 1997 to 2006. If one is pursuing a dance career, a school that feeds into a professional company is a good place to start.

Ernest Lee is Best Visual Artist. File photo

Best Visual Artist
Ernest Lee (“The Chicken Man”)

Runner-up: Blue Sky
While Blue Sky has made more recent headlines (the closing of his Five Points gallery and the search for a new home for his enormous Busted Plug Plaza sculpture), Ernest Lee is by far the most visible visual artist around town. His chicken-themed art hangs on walls in restaurants and homes, and it’s a rare day that you can pass the intersection of Gervais and Harden streets without seeing him painting or serving customers in the parking lot.

Trustus Theatre is Best Local Theater Company. Pictured: Five Lesbians Eating a Quiche. Courtesy photo

Best Local Theater Company
Trustus Theatre

Runner-up: Town Theatre
In its first season after Larry Hembree took over for founders Jim and Kay Thigpen, this Vista theater has maintained its high-quality and edgy standard. So the expected happened. Trust us, readers, you got this right.

Best Local Theater Production
Miss Saigon, Town Theatre

Runner-up: Next to Normal, Trustus Theatre
Miss Saigon, a modern story based on Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, ran to wide acclaim at this Sumter Street theater in May and starred Shelby Sessler and Lanny Spires, among others. The musical, directed by Jamie Carr Harrington with musical direction by Christopher A. McCroskey, was anchored by the scenic and technical design wizardry of the inimitable Danny Harrington. 

Best Movie Theater
Columbiana Grande

Runner-up: Nickelodeon Theatre
Regal’s Harbison-area Columbiana Grande theatre is big and clean. Its seats are comfortable. Its snack bar offers a bounty of tasty treats. It even occasionally brings in artsy independent movies. Best of all: Its air conditioning is powerful. Yeah, readers, it’s a pretty nice movie theater.


Best New Restaurant
Liberty on the Lake

Runner-up: The Oak Table
An offshoot of the popular Vista restaurant Liberty Tap Room — with a big deck offering stunning views of Lake Murray? Of course it’s the best new restaurant in Columbia.

Best Restaurant
Mr. Friendly’s

Runner-up: Motor Supply Company
Year after year, Mr. Friendly’s provides a classy but casual dining experience and gourmet takes on Southern faves.

Best Restaurant - Northeast
Solstice Kitchen and Wine Bar

Runner-up: Travinia’s Italian Kitchen
It was a risk for Mr. Friendly’s chef and owner Ricky Mollohan to expand his empire from Five Points out into the Northeast — but it’s paid off. Solstice is a lovely, warm space, with some of the best food and classiest cocktails around.

Best Restaurant - Lexington
Hudson’s Smokehouse

Runner-up: Mellow Mushroom
It’s quite a trek from downtown Columbia out to Hudson’s on Highway 378 (or the one on Lexington’s Two Notch Road), but once you’ve tasted Hudson’s exquisite pulled pork or its succulent ribs, you’ll know what Lexington locals have known for years.

Best Restaurant - Irmo
The British Bulldog

Runner-up: Copper River Grill
Kudos to you, readers, for voting the locally owned British Bulldog the best restaurant in Irmo, an area dominated by corporate feeding troughs like Olive Garden and Applebee’s. Double kudos for the nod to Copper River Grill — a chain, but a regional chain first opened in Seneca — as runner-up.

Best Chef
Tim Peters, Motor Supply Company

Runner-up: Kristian Niemi, Rosso Trattoria Italia
Tim Peters has talent and flair, and his charcuterie is among the best in the city — but it’s his respect for local farmers, and the way he celebrates their products, that really makes him great.

Best Place for a First Date
Gervais and Vine

Runner-up: Hunter-Gatherer
The key to tapas? Sharing. The key to a good first date? Sharing. The key to a great first date? Sharing new and exotic things — something you can do at Gervais and Vine, the menu of which is dotted with adventurous offerings.

Best Late Night Food
Waffle House

Runner-up: Cook-Out
It seems like you can’t turn a corner in Columbia without seeing a Waffle House. There are 15 in the metro area, and each is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Yes, Virginia, even on Christmas.

Best Place to Dine Outdoors
Liberty on the Lake

Runner-up: Pawleys Front Porch
Pawleys won this category last year, and it’s true that there’s plenty of appeal in watching the comings and goings on Harden Street while eating a fantastic burger. But now you can watch the comings and goings on Lake Murray while tossing back a beer, listening to music and enjoying Liberty’s classic American cuisine. And that view of Lake Murray is hard to beat. Seriously, you can’t beat this deck.

Best Take Out Food

Runner-up: Egg Roll Chen
If you live in Columbia, you’ve likely heard of Michelle Wang and the culinary empire she’s been building since she emigrated from China almost two decades ago. No matter which Miyo’s you live near, it’s a venerable take-out institution among legions of locals. Seriously: Everyone goes there. And why not? It’s delicious, and you can get it to-go.

Best Bang for the Buck

Runner-up: Moe’s Southwest Grill
Cook-Out’s biggest cheeseburger is a half-pounder. It costs $2.79. A foot-long hot dog? $1.99. A five-piece order of chicken nuggets? Ninety-nine cents. Science.

Best National Chain Restaurant

Runner-up: Bonefish Grill
Its chicken sandwiches are delicious, its waffle fries are legendary and its service is the best in the fast-food business. Now, if it could just get over that homophobia thing.

Best Kid-Friendly Restaurant

Runner-up: CiCi’s Pizza
Readers, we feel your pain. We know you’re conflicted about supporting a restaurant that has delicious food and great service but a homophobic CEO. But then you compare the cleanliness of the play set at Chick-fil-A with those at some other restaurants — and, well, you cast your votes accordingly.

Best Wine List
Gervais and Vine

Runner-up: Cellar on Greene
It’s right there in the name: Gervais and Vine is all about wine. But it’s not weird and snooty about it, either — whatever your level of wine experience and whatever your tastes, the staff will find something just right for you.

Best Coffee

Runner-up: Drip Coffee
A certain Drip employee swore to Free Times recently that if Starbucks won this category again, she would light a stack of our papers on fire in front of our office. So you might want to be careful around 1534 Main St. this week. As for Starbucks? Congratulations, the masses still love you.

Best Sweet Tea

Runner-up: Chick-fil-A, McAlister’s Deli (tie)
Bojangles’ is famous for its chicken and biscuits and, of late, former American Idol contestant Scotty McCreery’s brand loyalty. He loves the Big Bo Box, which is big enough to hold tea. It’s Bo time!

Best Breakfast
Café Strudel

Runner-up: Original Pancake House
Whether you’re nursing a hangover or hanging out with the kids, Café Strudel’s whimsical atmosphere, low price points, and diner-style breakfast platters make this Vista West institution a must-stop for the morning-hour munchies. And if you are nursing a hangover, make sure to order the Hangover Hash Browns.

Best Brunch

Runner-up: Café Strudel
There’s a reason DiPrato’s is packed on Saturdays and Sundays: The brunch is out of this world.

Best Deli/Sub/Sandwich Shop

Runner-up: DiPrato’s
The Groucho’s STP Dipper is a landmark Columbia food experience. If you haven’t tried one, just wait. You’ll see the light.

Best Vegetarian Menu
Blue Cactus

Runner-up: Good Life Café
Blue Cactus loves vegetarians. It loves them with massive quesadillas; it loves them with chop chae; it loves them with bi bim bap, hold the meat. And vegetarians love Blue Cactus right back.

Best Barbecue
Hudson’s Smokehouse

Runner-up: Shealy’s BBQ
Hudson’s tender, succulent pulled pork is truly something to behold. And Cheerwine-glazed ribs? That’s a stroke of genius.

Best Burrito
Moe’s Southwest Grill

Runner-up: Chipotle
When you want huge, fast, affordable, tasty burritos in convenient foil-wrapped form, you go to Moe’s. 

Best Pizza
Mellow Mushroom

Runner-up: Village Idiot
Even bad pizza is good pizza. But really good pizza is something special. And Mellow Mushroom’s pizza is really good pizza, built on fresh and flavorful dough and packed with delicious and delectable toppings. Try the Thai Dye or the Red Skin Potato Pie. They’re so good you might think you’re hallucinating.

Best Chicken Wings
D’s Wings Cayce

Runner-up: Wild Wing Café
D’s hot wings aren’t like anyone else’s wings. With a zesty, almost marinara-like sauce and perfectly crispy-fried skin, they’re good enough to eat by the bucketful. The many other flavors are pretty great, too.

Best Ribs
Hudson’s Smokehouse

Runner-up: Carolina Wings and Rib House
It’s one thing to make ribs; it’s another thing entirely to make them right. Hudson’s does ribs right, giving you yet one more reason to make the trek down 378 to check out this iconic local joint.

Best Hot Dog
Sandy’s Famous Hot Dogs

Runner-up: Rush’s
When you step up to the counter at Sandy’s to place your order, they actually write it down rather than punching it into a touch screen. The same old-school touch goes into Sandy’s hot dogs: Huge and grilled to perfection, a Sandy’s dog comes with as much slaw and chili as the Sandy’s crew can pile on.

Best Hamburger
Five Guys Burgers and Fries

Runner-up: Pawleys Front Porch
Anytime a made-to-order burger wins, we have no complaints. Each year since 2010, Five Guys has won the top spot in the Best of Columbia voting. And Pawleys has finished second each of those years. If we worked for Five Guys, we’d probably go to Pawleys just so we could “four bomb” any photo we could. Four bomb? Ask Clemson coach Dabo Swinney about that.

Best French Fries
Five Guys Burgers and Fries

Runner-up: McDonald’s
You could order just French fries at Five Guys and have a meal. It’s a beautiful sight to see the golden brown fries spilling out of their container and into the brown paper bag, making the sides greasy. But the best thing about Five Guys’ fries is that they are always hot.

Best Salad
California Dreaming

Runner-up: Olive Garden
The enormous salads at California Dreaming always win Best Salad. You know why? Because they’re really damn good salads.

Best Steak
Ruth’s Chris Steak House

Runner-up: Longhorn Steakhouse
This place can spoil you: After eating a steak here, you’ll always want your beef to sizzle when it’s placed in front of you.

Best Taco
Cantina 76

Runner-up: Moe’s Southwest Grill
Cantina 76’s tacos aren’t your abuela’s tacos. They’re upscale tacos. Fancy tacos. Sure, you can get your plain ol’ beef-lettuce-cheese taco, but Cantina 76 puts things like fried chicken, smoky brisket and Peruvian-spiced shrimp in its tacos, and tops it all off with fillings like jalapeño coleslaw, lime jalapeño aioli, roasted poblano tartar sauce, and sweet mustard ancho barbecue sauce. (Pro tip: Try the chimichanga.)

Best Asian Restaurant

Runner-up: M Vista
Certain Free Times staffers have a pet name for Michelle Wang’s fleet of upscale pan-Asian restaurants: The Wang Dynasty. But Wang’s empire is a benevolent one, and everything that comes out of the kitchen at Wang’s nine restaurants is delicious.

Best Mexican Restaurant
San Jose

Runner-up: Cantina 76
For tasty queso, cold beers and friendly service, hit a San Jose.

Best Chinese Restaurant

Runner-up: Egg Roll Chen
Miyo’s makes all kinds of good Asian food, but because owner Michelle Wang hails from China, the Chinese dishes on the menu have a special flair. From the Shanghai noodles to the ginger beef, this is some fresh, tasty fare — definitely a step or three above what people generally think of as Chinese food.

Best Italian Restaurant
Rosso Trattoria Italia

Runner-up: Pasta Fresca, Villa Tronco (tie)
Rosso is a wholly original Italian restaurant, with a menu built around grilled meats and seafood, creative pastas and local produce, plus a casually perfect list of Italian wines. If only they’d bring back the lobster spaghetti, we’d just go ahead and set up a tent in the dining room and live there.

Best Greek Restaurant

Runner-up: Mediterranean Tea Room
This longtime Columbia institution serves up fine versions of Greek classics, including some of the city’s most revered Greek salads and pizzas. Generous portions, family-friendly atmosphere.

Best Japanese Restaurant
Miyabi Japanese Steakhouse

Runner-up: Inakaya
We’re betting a lot of you voted for Miyabi not because it has delicious food — it does — but because the restaurant serves it teppanyaki style, with the chefs slicing, dicing, chopping, flipping, juggling and flinging the food right in front of you on an iron griddle. It’s OK. That’s why we like it, too. (We like it when the chef catches an egg in his hat!) It’s dinner and a show.

Best Southern Restaurant
Mr. Friendly’s

Runner-up: Lizard’s Thicket
So you’ve got some visitors who’ve never been to Columbia, and they want to try shrimp and grits, fried green tomatoes and pimento cheese. Trust them to the capable hands of Mr. Friendly’s.

Best Indian Restaurant 
Punjabi Dhaba

Runner-up: Bombay Grill
Deliciously rich, creamy Northern Indian foods pack out this big buffet, and the staff are always kind and eager to please. Plus, it’s in an old Howard Johnson, so that’s pretty cool.

Best Thai Restaurant
Mai Thai

Runners-up: Basil Thai Cuisine
When you want fancy Thai food, you go to Baan Sawan. (See Writers’ Picks.) But when you want excellent, inexpensive but still authentic Thai food, drop by this unassuming little joint in a Sunset Boulevard strip mall.

Best Latin/Cuban Restaurant
Blue Cactus

Runner-up: Mojitos
Readers, we get that Southwestern/Tex-Mex food is more or less part of the Latin food family, and part of Blue Cactus’ menu is devoted to Southwestern food, so we’ll allow you this one. (The other part of Blue Cactus’ menu is Korean.) And those beans are pretty tasty. So: Olé!

Best Middle Eastern Restaurant

Runner-up: Mediterranean Tea Room
With Middle Eastern restaurants, it’s the simple things that make a difference: perfectly seasoned hummus; golden-brown flatbreads; tender spiced lamb. Al-Amir nails them all.

Best Sushi

Runner-up: Inakaya
The competition in this category is stiff, what with such heavyweight contenders as Camon, SakiTumi and more. But when Miyo’s does something, it commits fully — and clearly sushi lovers have noticed.

Best Seafood Restaurant
Blue Marlin

Runner-up: Bonefish Grill
Consistently well-sourced and well-cooked fish from South Carolina and across the globe — not to mention pitch-perfect charm and splendid Adluh grits.

Nonnah’s is Best Dessert. File photo

Best Dessert

Runner-up: Cupcake
There are plenty of places you can go to grab a scoop of ice cream or yogurt. But what if you’re craving a cup of coffee and some white chocolate ginger cheesecake, raspberry cheesecake or a honey walnut tart? Then you go to Nonnah’s.

Best Frozen Yogurt/Ice Cream 
Marble Slab Creamery

Runner-up: Yoghut
There might be some hard-hearted person out there who can resist the appeal of creamy, delicious ice cream mixed together with peanut butter, Snickers, sprinkles or whatever else you might be into. But we have yet to meet that person.

Best Mobile Food
Pawleys Front Porch

Runner-up: 2 Fat 2 Fly
What could be better than a Pawleys burger? How about a Pawleys burger served from a truck parked across the street from your office?

Best Service

Runner-up: Mr. Friendly’s
Even the pope is coming to terms with homosexuality. Chick-fil-A? Not so much. But they do have good service.


Best Concert
Darius Rucker at Tin Roof

Runner-up: Kenny Chesney at Williams-Brice Stadium
The local-boy-done-good on a (relatively) tiny outdoor stage beat the crossover-country superstar at an 80,000-plus arena show. Hold my hand.

Best Music Venue
Colonial Life Arena

Runner-up: Township Auditorium
The perfect place to catch a concert with your friends — all 15,000 of them.

Best Blues or Jazz Club

Runner-up: Speakeasy
Speakeasy does it more often, and Conundrum does it better (if weirder), but the home of jazz in Columbia is still Thursday nights at Hunter-Gatherer, where first horn blower Skipp Pearson still holds court.

Best Karaoke
Linda’s Carraoke

Runner-up: DJ Ray’s Karaoke
It takes a lot of work to fill the shoes of Mr. B, who ran the Goodtime Karaoke Explosion extravaganza at Art Bar for close to a decade and swept the Best Of Columbia award nearly every year. That Linda Carr stepped into those shoes and won the category in her first year is easily indicative that she’s the best.

Best Local Band
Weaving the Fate

Runner-up: Say Brother
Weaving the Fate wins for the second consecutive year because the band knows how to make a crowd move, regardless of venue.

Best Local Solo Artist
Danielle Howle

Runner-up: Chris Compton
A haiku for Howle: “Pumping through our hearts / Your words spring truth and passion / Breathing thoughts of home.”

Best CD Store
Papa Jazz

Runner-up: Manifest
Really, Papa Jazz is the best place in town to buy music on any format.

Best Store For Vinyl
Papa Jazz

Runner-up: Manifest
The record industry is dying, but Papa Jazz is still alive and well. That must be because it kicks ass, especially when it comes to LPs and seven-inches, 45s and 78s.

Best Musical Instrument Store
Sims Music

Runner-up: Pecknel
Need a guitar? A keyboard? Some recording equipment? A bitchin’ light show? Sims has you covered.

Best Recording Studio
The Jam Room

Runner-up: Strawberry Skys
You need something recorded. Go see Jay Matheson. Tell him Free Times sent you.

Clubs and Bars

Best New Bar or Club 
Liberty on the Lake

Runner-up: The Kraken Gastropub
It’s a Liberty. On the lake. Of course it’s great.

Best Bar or Club
Tin Roof

Runner-up: Art Bar
Cats are dancing happy dances at the red-hot Tin Roof because the restaurant and club has extended its entertainment reach with indoor and outdoor shows. Country star Darius Rucker, of Hootie & the Blowfish fame, played a concert there in October. Dierks Bentley, Florida Georgia Line, Lee Brice, Luke Bryan and Josh Thompson have also performed at Tin Roof. But this isn’t just a place for neo-cowboys and cowgirls.

Best Bar to Go to with Only $10 to Your Name
The Whig

Runner-up: Uncle Louie’s
Monday: Dollar pizza slices and $2 drinks. Tuesday: Seventy-five cent tacos and discounted beer. Wednesday: Cheap pints. Every day: Dirt-cheap happy hour specials. A sawbuck could probably last you all week. Just don’t forget to tip your bartender, cheapskate.

Best Place to Pick Up Guys
Tin Roof

Runner-up: Art Bar
It’s all about social cues. Smile like it’s always happy hour. Or friend him on Facebook and send a message.

Best Place to Pick Up Girls
Tin Roof

Runner-up: Art Bar
The never-fail pickup line, adapted from the Florida Georgia Line song “Cruise,” always works. Just don’t sing it, though. Try it like this: “So baby … you a song. You know, you make me wanna roll my windows down and cruise the streets. With you.” Licking of the lips is only for the professional artist.

Best Bathroom Wall Wisdom
Art Bar

Runner-up: New Brookland Tavern
You’re standing there buzzed, reading the mad scribbling on the wall. A few lines came from horny idiots, another handful from stoned philosophy majors, and a couple are from grizzled veterans of the scene. You’re amused, you’re disgusted, you’re entranced ... and then you see that phrase that really hits you. Remember it, don’t let it slip out of your brain in the haze. That’s wisdom.

Best Bar Trivia
Flying Saucer

Runner-up: Publick House
Trivia, readers, is a lot like porridge. Sometimes, it’s too hot. (Read: Mental Floss lunchtime quiz-level hard.) Sometimes, it’s too cold. (Like, Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader easy.) Flying Saucer’s Tuesday Trivia Bowl is just right: Difficult enough to get a good mental workout, but simple enough so your sloshed cerebellum won’t be sore come morning.

Best Bar Service

Runner-up: World of Beer
Bartenders, Esquire opined in its recent Best Bars in America issue, have become more insular, less worldly. They think their sole job is to make drinks. But a good bartender should be talkative, attentive, masterful, in charge, quick. And friendly — but not too friendly. They shouldn’t bother you unless you want to be bothered — and vice versa. The dapper gents at Speakeasy fill each of those criteria. Go there enough, and your drink will be waiting for you before you have a chance to order it.

Best College Bar
Salty Nut Cafe

Runner-up: Jake’s
Being as close as it is to the University of South Carolina campus, and being an establishment that serves alcohol, it’s perhaps no surprise that Salty Nut would be named the Best College Bar. Truth be told, though, it’s also an excellent lunch spot with a relaxed vibe serving up sandwiches, fish and chips, burgers, steaks, salads and more.

Best Dance Club
The Woody

Runner-up: Art Bar
Here’s why The Woody is great: Everyone goes there. Old white grannies, young black college kids, big-belt-buckled country boys, shaggers, hipsters, first-daters and more. And with old-school Columbia legend Woody Windham behind the DJ booth, you’re sure to have a great time out there doing the Wobble.

Best Neighborhood Bar - Downtown/The Vista
Thirsty Fellow

Runner-up: Liberty Tap Room
Does the Greek Village count as a neighborhood? No matter, Thirsty Fellow provides a you’re-home-here atmosphere for all comers.

Best Neighborhood Bar - Five Points

Runner-up: Jake’s
The idea of the neighborhood bar is that it’s somewhere you can go where everyone knows your name, where you’ll always see someone you know, and you always know what you’re in for. In Five Points, that bar is Delaney’s. Great food, personable staff, live music and a vibrant atmosphere — but get there early, as it fills up fast, especially on pint nights.

Best Neighborhood Bar - Shandon/Rosewood/Forest Acres
Cock n’ Bull Pub

Runner-up: Henry’s
If you’re looking for a place to rest your elbows on the bar, suck back a pint of ale and watch some soccer (they call it football) on the TV, look no further than the Cock n’ Bull, which has just the right vibe for a neighborhood bar. The shrimp burger continues to enthrall.

Best Neighborhood Bar - Harbison/Irmo
The British Bulldog

Runner-up: Carolina Ale House
This little slice of London’s right Robin Hood, innit? If your Roger iron’s rusted, you can catch the end of your footer at this local battlecruiser while drinking an Aristotle of the most ping-pong tiddly this side of Barking and Dagenham.

Best Neighborhood Bar - West Columbia/Cayce
New Brookland Tavern

Runner-up: @116 Espresso and Wine Bar
The New Brookland Tavern is frequented by a flock of regulars who come there even when there aren’t bands playing — or even when they hate the bands. That’s loyalty.

Best Neighborhood Bar - Lexington
Mellow Mushroom

Runner-up: Wild Hare
We don’t usually think of Lexington as all that, you know, mellow. Maybe that’s why Mellow Mushroom has been such a hit out there: It filled a need, giving the town a place to gather and chill out. The fantastic pizza couldn’t have hurt, either.

Best Neighborhood Bar - Northeast
Solstice Kitchen

Runner-up: Polliwogs
When the good people of northeast Columbia relax, they like to do it with a Carpano Antica Manhattan or a nice glass of cabernet franc, apparently. Great bar eats and a warm atmosphere make upscale Solstice feel like home.

Best Outdoor Deck
Carolina Ale House

Runner-up: Pawleys Front Porch
With lovely views of the city, spacious seating and a huge bar open to both the inside and the outside, the second-floor deck at Carolina Ale House’s Vista location is just the right place to catch some rays and/or breezes and suck down a cold brew.

Best People-Watching Bar
Art Bar

Runner-up: Liberty Tap Room
On our not-so-scientific people-watching scale, only the mall and the South Carolina State Fair rival Art Bar.

Best Gay Bar
Art Bar

Runner-up: PT’s 1109
The following is an excerpt from a conversation in Art Bar’s bathroom. Me: “It’s so crowded in here tonight. You’re being bold.” Him: “Honey, the bathroom is always clogged on Friday night.” Laughter from others in the crowded bathroom. Me: “No, I meant the bar. And you’re wearing white shoes. That’s bold.” Him: “Ooh, you noticed! Yeah, they were too white so I had to wear them here. Who are you here with?” He gave me Paris Hilton eyes. Me: “My girlfriend.” Him: “You’re a straighty?! That’s cool. Still give me a hug.” We can all get along — and hang out together.

Best Adult Entertainment Venue
Platinum Plus

Runner-up: Heartbreakers
In “Bandz a Make Her Dance,” Juicy J announces with professorial assuredness the requirement of, uh, full female nudity to be considered a strip club. If that is universally accepted, then Platinum doesn’t qualify. But judging by your votes — and all the bandz of cash being spent there — Platinum does provide this city’s highest-quality adult entertainment.

Carolina Ale House Columbia SC

Carolina Ale House is Best Sports Bar and Best Outdoor Deck. Photo by Jonathan Sharpe

Best Sports Bar
Carolina Ale House

Runner-up: Thirsty Fellow
That gigantic pull-down screen at Carolina Ale House is the next best thing to being in Williams-Brice on a Saturday afternoon — and with a better beer selection, to boot. Sports bars live or die on the basis of food, beer and TVs; Carolina Ale House has you covered on all counts, not to mention having an awesome rooftop deck.

Best Happy Hour
Pearlz Oyster Bar

Runner-up: Cantina 76
Pearlz, the runner-up last year, is a winner this year because happy hour is about three elements of convenience: proximity to work and home; specially priced and tasty food and drinks; and good company. For a young professional, those who take off the tie and switch from heels to flats for happy hour, is there a better place? 

Best Beer Selection
World of Beer

Runner-up: Flying Saucer
No kidding: World of Beer has an absurd number of beers on tap, and an even more absurd number of beer in bottles to boot. Not only that, the selection rotates frequently. Somehow the well-trained bartenders and servers manage to keep it all straight, making World of Beer all the more impressive.

Best Craft Beer Selection
World of Beer

Runner-up: Flying Saucer
Fancy a Belgian strong pale ale? How about a nice lambic? Or an American-made kolsch? Your best bet is World of Beer, where the craft beer flows freely and the staff knows its stuff.

Cantina 76 Columbia SC

Cantina 76 wins Best Margarita. File photo

Best Margarita
Cantina 76

Runner-up: Monterrey’s Mexican Restaurant
Some days can only be solved by a margarita. The fine offerings at Cantina 76 are the best place to start.

Motor Supply Company boast Best Speciality Drink. Photo by Jonathan Sharpe

Best Specialty Drink
Motor Supply Company

Runner-up: The Oak Table
The brainchild of bar manager Josh Streetman, Motor Supply’s cocktail menu is consistently innovative, whether it’s incorporating barrel-aged liquors or housemade bitters.

Goods and Services

Best New Car Dealership
Jim Hudson Automotive Group

Runner-up: Honda of Columbia
Let’s face it: Most people dread shopping for a car. So when people like a car dealer enough to cast votes for it, you should listen. Founded in 1980, the Jim Hudson Automotive Group is a family-owned business offering a huge selection of vehicles and emphasizing customer service. “Automotive group” covers a lot of territory here: Buick, Cadillac, Ford, GMC, Hyundai, Lexus, Scion and Toyota, to be exact.

Best Used Car Dealership
Jim Hudson Automotive Group

Runner-up: CarMax
Offers a wide selection of models at affordable prices. Pro tip: Check the website — where you can see photos and look at Carfax reports — before you head to the lot.

Best Motorcycle Store
Harley Haven

Runner-up: Thunder Tower Harley-Davidson
Look, when you want a hog, you don’t want some namby-pamby, crotch-rocket dirt bike. No, you want a hog — a real, fire-breathing, Peter Fonda in Easy Rider chopper. So what do you do? You get yourself a freaking Harley. And where do you get it? Harley Haven, of course. Oh, and if you’re one of those mid-life crisis dudes who’s never flogged it down the big slab? They’ll teach you how to ride it, too.

Best Auto Repair
Nuttall Tire and Battery

Runner-up: Firestone
The auto-service shop on Millwood, in business for 30 years, is like the country music industry: It realizes that women are a key demographic. There are free oil changes on Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day. There are great posts on the Facebook page, including one that details the shop’s bathroom remodeling with purse and coat hooks and a baby-changing station.

Best Driving School
Columbia Driving School

Runner-up: Baldwin Driver Training
We get it: You’re nervous about your teen getting behind the wheel. That’s why there are pros who do this sort of thing.

Best Window Tinting
Mr. Tint

Runner-up: Palmetto Pro Tint
Mr. Tint is no fly-by-night window-tinting biz; it’s been attentive to all your glass-darkening needs since the Clinton administration and rates an A+ in the Better Business Bureau’s directory. It even sounds definitive: Mister Tint.

Best Hair Salon
Bombshell Beauty Studio

Runner-up: Urban Nirvana
Want to add life to your hair? Whether it’s a color, cut or curl, Bombshell will give you something striking, something that will make people pause. And they won’t have to ask, “What’s different about you?”

Bombshell Beauty Studio Columbia SC Robin Gottlieb

Robin Gottlieb is Best Stylist; Bombshell Beauty Studio is Best Hair Salon. Photo by Jonathan Sharpe

Best Hair Stylist
Robin Gottlieb, Bombshell Beauty Studio

Runner-up: Beth Dickerson, Capelli Salon
The distinction between a barber and stylist isn’t always clearly cut — until one gets a haircut from a stylist. Robin Gottlieb has earned the title of stylist.

Best Day Spa
Urban Nirvana

Runner-up: Occo Skin Studio
Urban Nirvana is massaging more than bodies; the spa is also stimulating minds. When you think of spa gift certificates, what place has the best name recognition?

Best Yoga Studio
City Yoga

Runner-up: Bikram Yoga Columbia
Smart, strong, well-centered instructors; a lovely space; and a great range of classes make City Yoga the most celebrated yoga studio in Columbia.

Best Tattoo Artist
Darcy Del Priore, Devine Street Tattoo

Runner-up: Shannon Purvis Barron, Indigo Rose
When you go into a tattoo parlor, you want to see that your artist has some ink. After all, if his tats are rad, then yours will be, too, right? Darcy Del Priore’s covered in ink, and will ink you up good.

Best Piercing Studio
Immaculate Body Piercing

Runner-up: Knotty Headz
Immaculate promises an experience in which “every piercing we perform is safe, beautiful and gentle.” To back that up, they’re members of the Association of Professional Piercers. You can’t ask for anything more.

Best Furniture Store
Whit-Ash Furnishings Inc.

Runner-up: Marty Rae’s
How big is your house — 2,000 square feet, maybe 2,500? Well, Whit-Ash’s store is 40,000 square feet. That’s a lot of space, and it’s filled with furniture, mattresses, rugs, lamps and other accessories, all at discount prices.

Best Pet Supply Store

Runner-up: Pet Supplies Plus
Shop smart. Shop PetSmart. Got it?

Best Kennel or Pet Boarding Facility
Camp Bow Wow

Runner-up: Wescott Acres
Kids like going to camp, right? Stands to reason, too, that your beloved Fido would dig palling around with other pooches at this doggy day care while you’re away. I mean, think of all the new butts he’d have to sniff!

Best Pet Groomer
Mill Creek Pet Food Center

Runner-up: Groomingdale’s
Friendly, professional, reasonably priced and located conveniently downtown. They’ll take care of everything: cuts, bathing, nail trimming, nail filing, facial scrubs, flea removal, teeth brushing, coat conditioning and more.  

Best Veterinarian Clinic
Four Paws Animal Clinic

Runner-up: Shandon-Wood Animal Clinic
Your pets mean a lot to you. Trust their care to someone who understands that.

The Barking Lot at Saluda Shoals is Best Dog Park. Photo by Austin Price

Best Dog Park
Barking Lot Dog Park at Saluda Shoals

Runner-up: City of Columbia Dog Park
After letting the dog run around the park, let him cool off in the Saluda River. It’s like a day vacation for your best friend.

Best Hospital
Lexington Medical Center

Runner-up: Palmetto Health Richland
We hope you don’t need a hospital, but if you do, it’s good to know what you’re getting into. From women’s wellness and heart health to an Alzheimer’s center and urgent care facilities, Lexington Medical Center offers comprehensive care. Its modern medical complex has 414 beds; its extended care facility is the largest in the Carolinas; and its comprehensive network boasts more than 600 affiliated physicians.

Best Urgent Care
Doctor’s Care

Runner-up: Lexington Urgent Care
Broken bone? Massive bleeding? Go to the emergency room. But for everything else — well, everything non-life threatening — go to Doctor’s Care, which has 18 minute-clinics in the Midlands. You’ll get speedy service, but you won’t sacrifice care.

Best Pediatric Care
Palmetto Pediatrics

Runner-up: Sandhills Pediatrics
When you’re sitting with your child in the waiting room at the doctor’s office, do you feel like there’s somebody competent and caring behind the desk? And behind the stethoscope? If you’re hesitating, it might be time to give Palmetto Pediatrics a call.

Best Dentist
Vista Smiles

Runner-up: Rice Creek Family Dentistry
The team of dentists at Vista Smiles will brighten your day — and your teeth.

Best Place to Work
University of South Carolina 

Runners-up: Lexington Medical Center, Palmetto Health
Folks in the know say the University of South Carolina — not local government — holds the real power in this town. So, naturally, it’s a great place to work. With a lovely urban campus, great health benefits (unless you’re an adjunct) and thousands of young minds to mold, USC is no surprise winner in this category.

Best After-School Program
Boys and Girls Club of the Midlands

Runner-up: Club EdVenture
If the Boys and Girls Club was good enough for actor Denzel Washington and home run king Hank Aaron, it’s good enough for you. And since you voted it Best After-School Program, you obviously agree.

Capital Karate is Best Martial Arts School. Photo by Sean Rayford

Best Martial Arts School
Capital Karate

Runner-up: Genova Family Karate
You will develop focus, intensity and discipline through your study of American freestyle karate. You will be an example of leadership, courtesy and respect for everyone you meet, and invite them to join you in your quest for black belt excellence.

Best Contemporary
House of Worship NewSpring Church

Runner-up: Shandon Baptist Church
NewSpring’s local campus (there are nine total in the state) on Bush River Road converted a 84,000-square-foot building that formerly housed a Kmart into a new church. The congregation has grown. If you build it, they will come.

Best Continuing Education Institution
University of South Carolina

Runner-up: Midlands Technical College
Yes, the University of South Carolina is home to thousands of hard-partying, football-loving undergrads. And, yes, it’s gaining in stature as a research institution and a home for innovation and technology. What you might not know is that USC is also dedicated to helping working professionals and other nontraditional students meet their goals; the latest evidence of that can be found at the university’s newly launched online Palmetto College.

Best Local Insurance Agent
Jimmy Sauls, Allstate

Runner-up: Larry Lucas, State Farm
So, it turns out that around the time Jimmy Sauls was getting nominated for a Best of Columbia award, he was also selling his celebrated Allstate insurance practice to Joe Johnston. Will Johnston take the top award in 2014? That’s up to you, Columbia — and to him.

Best Law Firm
Nelson Mullins Riley and Scarborough

Runner-up: McNair Law Firm
If you’re a big corporation worried about a massive product liability suit, you call Nelson Mullins. But if you’re worried about low-income children suffering the evils of our state’s crappiest public school districts, you also call Nelson Mullins. They’re so well regarded because they do so much.

Best Heating and Air Service
2nd Wind Heating and Air Conditioning

Runner-up: Kaminer Heating and Cooling
Columbia has been famously hot for a long time. And when the mercury starts rising, HVAC systems start sputtering. That’s when you call 2nd Wind, the place that’s been servicing all brands of heating and air conditioning equipment since 1985.

Best Plumbing Repair
Meetze Plumbing

Runner-up: Gene Love Plumbing
In The Simpsons episode “Homer the Great,” Homer calls Stern Lecture Plumbing to fix a leak in the basement. The plumber comes and says he has to order a new part and it could take weeks. He comes back and says that he hasn’t ordered the part yet, until Homer does the secret Stonecutters handshake with him and reveals that he, too, is a Stonecutter. The plumber then fixes the leak with one turn of a wrench. You don’t have to belong to a secret society to get great service from Meetze. It’s their calling card.

Best Landscaping Company
Blue Moon Landscaping

Runner-up: Hay Hill Services
Blue Moon, we saw you standing alone, with sod and grass and some mulch, with rakes and tillers and hoes.

Best Real Estate Agency
Russell & Jeffcoat

Runner-up: Coldwell Banker
Founded in 1965, Russell & Jeffcoat has become one of the largest residential real estate firms in the Southeast.

Best Home Builder
Mungo Homes

Runner-up: Essex Homes
Founded in 1954 and headquartered in Columbia, Mungo Homes builds new homes in South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia for a variety of tastes of lifestyles. In addition to being one of the largest builders in the country, Mungo supports the Oliver Gospel Mission, EdVenture Children’s Museum, Pawmetto Lifeline and other local organizations.

Best Retirement Community
Still Hopes Episcopal Retirement Community

Runner-up: Agape Senior Center
It sounds like something out of a Simpsons episode — Still Hopes, because your hopes are as stiff as your joints. But Still Hopes provides seniors with something few retirement communities offer: the opportunity to live on their own terms, in comfort and convenience.

Best Hotel
Hilton Columbia Center (The Vista)

Runner-up: Hampton Inn Downtown Historic District
If you’re in town for a football game, business or a concert, the Hilton is a good place to stay because there is plenty to see, do and buy within walking distance. And the best steak in Columbia, according to our readers, is at Ruth’s Chris Steak House, the in-house restaurant.

Sid and Nancy is Best Local Clothing Store. Photo by Jonathan Sharpe

Best Local Clothing Store
Sid and Nancy

Runner-up: Bohemian
Sid and Nancy has been outfitting the urban set in Columbi-Yeah! since 2007. The store also buys and trades clothes. And it’s the place where we stock up on our Columbi-Yeah! T-shirts.

Best Alternative Clothing
Loose Lucy’s

Runner-up: Sid and Nancy
For two decades, Loose Lucy’s has been defining hippie and bohemian style. From tie-dye T-shirts to sundresses to tapestries to essential oils, the Five Points shop isn’t stuck in the Flower Power movement. And the folks are nice. And you won’t get an incense headache.

Best Jewelry Store

Runner-up: Jewelry Warehouse
Affordable jewelry, friendly people and great sales? Yes, please.

Best Smoke Shop
The Cigar Box

Runner-up: Natural Vibrations
If you smoke cigars, you already know about the Cigar Box. With a great selection, friendly owners, and now two locations, it’s a great place to shop for a stogie.

Best Gift Shop
Just the Thing

Runner-up: Non(e)such
If you’re a last minute shopper, and you’ve got to bring a gift — birthday, wedding or baby shower, anything — but don’t know what to buy, stop in the store and they’ll have … yeah, you get it.

Best Pottery Studio
Mad Platter

Runner-up: Southern Pottery
Parties! Camps! Classes! Wedding showers! Baby showers! Mad Platter has a full range of options for getting you engaged with pottery, and it doesn’t stop there — there are also glass-fusing projects, where you can make jewelry, bowls and more.

Best Florist
Blossom Shop

Runner-up: Rosewood Florist
Everybody knows about Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day, but if you’re a flower shop you need to keep the business coming throughout the year, right? Blossom Shop advertised Friendship Day (it was Aug. 4) on its website. Why stop there? You could probably make up any occasion like, say, “My boss undermines everything I do, so screw them,” and they can put together a bouquet for you to send to your boss. 

Best Bakery

Runner-up: Cupcake
The bread? Soft and delicious. The cakes? Moist and delicious. The cookies? Chewy and delicious. The point: Publix’ bakery kind of kicks ass.

Best Place for Fresh Meat and Seafood
Ole Timey Meat Market

Runner-up: The Fresh Market
It’s thought that when humans discovered meat — that is to say, that we could eat other animals — it led to an evolutionary leap. Meat, higher in protein and fat than berries and vegetables, meant our stomachs didn’t need to act as a giant vegetable processor, and got smaller. As a result, our brains got bigger, and we got smarter. Point is: Eat meat and be smart. Better point: Be smarter and get it here.

Best Place for Fresh Produce
South Carolina State Farmers Market

Runner-up: Soda City Market
If you’re looking for tons of fresh produce, it stands to reason you’ll head for the biggest farmers market in the state. 

Best Natural Foods Store
Whole Foods

Runner-up: Rosewood Market
Best of Columbia? Try best in the world: Whole Foods was named the World’s Greatest Food Retailer by the British trade magazine The Grocer in 2006. The whole world. All of it.

Best Beer and Liquor Store
Green’s Discount Beverages

Runner-up: Morganelli’s
Need gin for that Rickey? Rye for that Manhattan? Wine for that book club? Beer for that tailgate? Green’s, with two convenient locations, has all of that and more, and is staffed with people who know way more about booze than you do.

Best Wine Store
Total Wine and More

Runner-up: Green’s Discount Beverages
How much wine? All the wine. 100 percent wine. Total Wine. Each location carries approximately 8,000 different wines. Eight. Thousand. Overwhelmed? The staff will be happy to help you out.

Best Store for Used Books
The Book Dispensary

Runner-up: Ed’s Editions
If you’re looking for a good book, The Book Dispensary has literally thousands of good-condition used paperbacks and hardbacks at bargain prices. Also offers book repair, binding and rebinding services.

Best Consignment Store

Runner-up: Once Upon a Child
Revente has vintage high-end designer labels but doesn’t charge high-end retail prices. Cinderella would shop here before going to the ball. And, of course, she’d be the most fabulous sight there.

Best Car Wash
Frank’s Car Wash

Runner-up: Constan Car Wash
When the weather’s nice, one of life’s greatest little pleasures is breaking out the hose and the sponge and the suds and giving your car a good wax-on-wax-off. But what with the go-go pace of the world these days, that’s a luxury we can’t always afford. Thankfully, there’s Frank’s, which will clean your car from top to bottom, dirt cheap.

Best Dry Cleaner
Tripp’s Fine Cleaners

Runner-up: Lexington Dry Cleaning
If you need your suits cleaned and pressed and back in time for that big court case, you’ll head to Tripp’s Fine Cleaners.

Best Pest Control

Runner-up: Home Pest Control
Only slightly more expensive than a can of Raid, and with way better peace of mind.

Best Home Security Provider

Runner-up: Sonitrol
ADT has more than six million customers. That’s six million people who sleep better at night.

Best Gamecock Store
Garnet and Black Traditions (Jewelry Warehouse)

Runner-up: Addams Bookstore
Gamecock T-shirts. Gamecock sweatpants. Gamecock glassware. Gamecock coolers. Gamecock flip-flops. Gamecock underpants. All of these and more can be found at Garnet and Black Traditions. Come on, Carolina’s primary colors are in the name. How could you expect any less?

Best Cycle Shop

Runner-up: Cycle Center
Columbia isn’t the most cycle-friendly city, but there is a thriving cycling culture here that deserves your attention. Founded in 1982, Outspokin’ was one of the first pro-level cycle shops in the Southeast and carries everything from top road, mountain and BMX bikes to starter bikes for children.

Best Car/Cab Service
Checker Yellow Cab

Runner-up: Capitol City Cab
As the largest cab company in the Midlands, Checker Yellow has plenty of experience and plenty of vehicles. So call your drunk ass a cab, dear reader.

the Backpacker Columbia SC

The Backpacker is Best Outdoors/Camping Gear Store. Photo by Jonathan Sharpe

Best Outdoors/Camping Gear Store
The Backpacker

Runner-up: Mast General Store
Locally owned and thoroughly stocked, The Backpacker has a wealth of experienced staff to help you find just the right lumbar pack or climbing shoe.

Best River Outfitter
Half Moon Outfitters

Runner-up: Adventure Carolina
Headed to the river? Get your personal flotation devices, dry sacks, paddles, kayaks and more at Half Moon Outfitters.

Best Sporting Goods Store
Dick’s Sporting Goods

Runner-up: Todd & Moore
Need running shoes? A tennis racket? A baseball bat? Some golf clubs? A tent? A hunting rifle? A kayak?  You get wh

Let us know what you think: Email

More cover Stories

Enter to win tickets to see the Harlem Globetrotters
Enter to win tickets to SCSM's Museum of Oz
Enter to win tickets to Columbia City Ballet's Gala with a Bite and Dracula
Free Times Now Hiring
Download the Free Times app
Subscribe to Free Times newsletters