As Southern cities go, Columbia South Carolina ain't too shabby when it comes to unearthing a sparkling handful of gastronomical gems. While we lack the tourism and flash of Charleston or Savannah, Columbia has its own special brand of river-cloaked historical charm that I've grown to love over the last few years. You won't find restaurants graced with a celebrity face with lines round the block, but if you're willing to dig, you can find some truly divine places in which to savor and imbibe.
Braden and I have become unashamed and (mostly) unpretentious foodies, and we pride ourselves on finding/trying the most fabulous & interesting places to eat in any city we visit. So we've decided to start writing down our blissful, full-bellied observations, starting right here in our current home-town.
Menkoi Ramen House
When we heard a few days ago that a brand-new ramen restaurant had opened on Gervais, we knew that it simply had to be a part of our weekend agenda. We walked toward the noodle-house with bated breath, praying that this might be a rare exception to "The Vista Rule:" A phenomenon that seems nearly inescapable in this part of Columbia's geography. Dining establishments in the Vista almost exclusively fall into only 3 categories: chain joints, bars, or independent places with decent but grossly overpriced food. The rare exception, (like the sorely missed Peace, Love, & Rocky Roast), tends to quickly fade away, driven into poverty and ruin by the Vista's insanely high operating costs. The Ramen house is located next to Mojitos, where Z-Pizza used to reside. We walked in and were greeted by fabulous smells and a super-friendly staff. The menu is short and straight-forward; 7 different kinds of ramen, and a small handful of other dishes, everything under $8.50. We ordered the spicy ramen and the miso ramen (requesting that it be quite spicy as well.) We wanted to try a rice ball, but they were, apologetically, all out. (Next time.) The food arrived very quickly - two enormous, steaming bowls of noodles and broth.
Loaded with bean sprouts, vegetables, seaweed, and a few tender slices of pork, these noodles were out of this world. The broth was perfectly spicy, (kicky and sinus-clearing without being tongue-numbing), and the flavors were complex, fresh, and vibrant. I devoured my entire bowl and enjoyed each bite more than the last. (BTW, there is no elegant or lady-like way to eat a bowl of noodles with chopsticks. Perhaps skip this place as a first-date destination.) Overall, we were extremely impressed; Menkoi Ramen House has definitely carved out a spot on our permanent rotation. Especially for late-night munchies - they're open until 3am! We can only hope that the swarms of noodle-loving, nocturnal college students that will descend on the city this fall will help keep this place in business, and that "The Vista Rule" will finally be proven wrong.