Dining in the Discovery City: Where to Eat in Columbus, Ohio
Embark on a food-fueled adventure through Ohio's capital city.
Photo By: Katalina's
Photo By: Raquib Ahmed
As the capital city of Ohio, Columbus expertly reps some of the state’s most-beloved staples — including scoops, suds and smoke-kissed meats. But that’s not all you'll find if you explore this city’s burgeoning food scene. Global inspiration abounds, including Asian and European influences. Ready to delve into the Discovery City’s wide swath of dining options? Read on!
Watershed Kitchen & Bar
The vodka, gin, bourbon and other spirits made at the Watershed Distillery are artfully showcased at its sister establishment, the Watershed Kitchen & Bar, where seasonally-inspired drinks beckon from the extensive (and ever-changing) cocktail list. The kitchen works in tandem with the bar, so seasonal ingredients also figure prominently into the food selection. Executive Chef Jack Moore turns out a hearty, meat-centric menu billed as “honest Midwestern food” that features regional classics playfully tweaked with the chef’s own personal touches. Get a taste of his favorite snack with the whimsically named Pickadillies: dill pickles and cream cheese wrapped in prosciutto.
Ray Ray’s Hog Pit
Follow the siren call of the smoke to Ray Ray’s Hog Pit. They load the freshest meats from local farms into the smokers, then cook them low and slow over hickory and white oak hardwoods for up to 16 hours. In addition to smoke-kissed ribs, they serve massive sandwiches stuffed with brisket, pulled pork and other kinds of ‘cue. Round out your plate with classic sides like macaroni and cheese, collard greens, potato casserole and homemade banana pudding (with the requisite vanilla wafers and freshly whipped cream). Find it all at Ray Ray’s food truck parked just north of Ohio State University Campus. You’ll know you’ve reached the right place when you see the line, which is sometimes more than 100 people deep on weekends.
A steady flow of customers stream into this quirky cafe owned by a creative director with a keen eye for design. Kathleen Day has transformed a century-old gas station into a cool and colorful spot serving Latin-inspired dishes shot through with Southern flavors. The signature pancake balls stuffed with sweet fillings are the most-well known menu item at Katalina’s, but the black bean soup may well be the sleeper hit. The beans are locally sourced, as are many of the cafe’s ingredients, and the soup comes festooned with a tangy flourish of sour cream.
The craft suds churned out at Rockmill Brewery figure prominently into the menu at its sister restaurant, the sprawling Rockmill Tavern in Columbus’ Brewery District. To wit, all the dishes are designed to go with the beer. Comfort food options abound, but don’t miss the chicken sandwich. A crisp, thick hunk of chicken comes topped with fresh pickles, a pepper and umami-rich mayo, all nestled inside a soft brioche roll slicked with spicy honey butter
Gallerie Bar & Bistro
Creativity takes center stage at the Gallerie Bar & Bistro, where imaginative eats are served in a sleekly artistic space tucked away in the Hilton Columbus Downtown. Chef Bill Glover transforms solidly regional ingredients, such as beef, pork and chicken sourced from local farms, into innovative riffs on familiar dishes. He looks to Europe for culinary inspiration, with Italian and French touches woven throughout the ever-evolving menu. The offerings change up regularly, but local favorites have included the Gallerie Egg with sous-vide yolk, Yukon gold puree, tarragon crème fraiche, bowfin caviar and sherry-maple gastrique. Upscale yet comfortable, the restaurant has a large bar area as well as private dining options.
Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams
Crowds line up at this Columbus institution to get their licks of silky scoops that favor fresh, locally-sourced ingredients. Mounds of ice cream in decadent flavors like Darkest Chocolate and Brambleberry Crisp glisten inside the glass-front cases. But ice cream isn’t the only frozen treat to tempt customers. To wit, the buttermilk frozen yogurt may well be the shop’s sleeper hit. The combination of tart fruits, fresh cultured buttermilk, organic yogurt and cream makes for a frozen yogurt that is creamy in texture and tangy in flavor. Orange Blossom, Key Lime and Pink Grapefruit are perennial favorites. Jeni’s frozen treats have proven to be so popular that the operation has expanded from the first Columbus location in 2002 to more than 30 scoop shops in 10 states today.
Flowers & Bread
Get all wrapped up in Himalayan dumplings (aka momos) at this spot serving Tibetan and Nepalese delicacies. Momo Ghar’s signature dumplings put the restaurant on the map, even earning co-owner Phuntso Lama an appearance on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. Meat and veggie options abound, but the Johl Momo is the ever-popular pick. They wrap hand-rolled dough around a spicy mixture of minced chicken, onions and scallions, then steam the dumplings to puffy perfection and serve them with fresh cilantro and a super-spicy sauce with just a hint of curry. The wait at this tiny joint is often long, but snag a spot and you’ll get a front-row view of Momo Ghar’s staff expertly crafting the dumplings by hand.
Though part of a multi-locale operation, the Northstar Cafe in the Short North neighborhood is far from your average chain restaurant. Floor-to-ceiling windows add to the light and airy feel of this family-owned and -operated spot tucked along the main drag. Cozy nooks throughout provide the perfect setting to linger over a cup of coffee, a homemade pastry and one of the many magazines available to browse. Looking for a heartier breakfast? One satisfying dish that sings with festive flavors is the Sweet Potato and Turkey Hash. This morning meal channels Thanksgiving dinner via a breakfast hash made of Applewood smoked turkey, red peppers and sweet onions. Two sunnyside up eggs perched on top add an extra punch of protein.
Slice into Italian tradition at Tommy’s Pizza. First opened in 1952, the Columbus institution still follows the same family recipe brought over from Italy by founder and namesake Tommy Iacono. The pies feature cracker-thin crusts crisped into light layers and slicked with fresh sauces. And in the style associated with Columbus since the 1930s, the pizza is cut into squares. This old-school approach continues to pay off for the no-frills pizzeria, which has expanded into several locations that still hold their own against fancier spots featuring newfangled toppings. As for the salad, Tommy’s is an arugula-free zone, so expect crunchy iceberg lettuce dressed with good olive oil, loads of garlic, salt and pepper, and a tiny pinch of sugar.
Soft and fluffy doughnuts coated in candy-colored glazes brighten up this food stall nestled inside North Market. Columbus native and pastry chef Heather Morris keeps Destination Donuts stocked with an ever-changing array of options in far-out flavors like raspberry hibiscus, buckeye, maple sausage, mojito and ginger peach wasabi. Grab a doughnut and meander through the maze of market stalls. And if you find yourself back at Destination Donuts to snag another round for the road, we promise we won’t judge.