Nick’s Guide to Columbus

February 8, 2024

Updated 2/26/24

Hi, it’s me, Nick. Or you can call me Dr. Breakfast. Either way is fine.

Listen, I don’t always like playing favorites… but we DO have favorites. There are the spots in Columbus we visit frequently, that we introduce to out-of-town visitors, that we talk about to anyone who will listen. So I’m compiling them into my personal guide to Columbus!

I’ll update the guide as restaurants open and close, as our tastes change, as new favorites enter the fold. I hope it helps inspire some of your own explorations. Enjoy!!

What are your favorite breakfasts?

Joya’s Cafe

I listed Joya’s under breakfasts, but it’s a favorite coffee and lunch stop, too. Chef Avishar Barua and his team have transformed this tiny storefront in Old Worthington into a delightful little spot serving Bengali-American breakfast dishes. If you’re visiting for breakfast, try the breakfast sandwich Bobby’s way, order a cortado or a Joya’s latte, or get the kati roll and cheesy double crunch.

Read more: Chef Avishar Barua’s Joya’s Cafe is a Gem in Old Worthington

Fox in the Snow

Lauren Culley’s and Jeff Excel’s four coffee shop/bakeries are beloved for a reason. They offer great coffee with beautiful, scratch-made pastries. Order some coffee (I like their cappuccinos, Beth likes their New Orleans iced coffee), get a couple of egg sandwiches, then peruse the displays to pick out some baked goods. Our favorites: the blueberry galette, tomato tart (in season), ham and Swiss croissant, chocolate morning muffin.

Read more: A Love Letter to Fox in the Snow’s Italian Village Shop

The Lox Bagel Shop

Not only does The Lox make some of the best bagels in town (a hybrid NYC/Montreal style), but they put them to use in some pretty amazing sandwiches. Favorites of ours include the pastrami sandwich or a lox sandwich with an egg – on their everything or sea salt & herb bagels.

Read more: The Lox Bagel Shop

Starliner Diner

One of our favorite diners in the city, Starliner mixes classic American dishes with Cuban and Mexican favorites, served in a dining room decorated with murals, clocks, and other kooky decor. Split an order of Cuban French toast, and don’t miss the chilaquiles with chorizo.

Read more: Starliner Diner

The Pancake House

This family-run diner features two locations, one in Lewis Center on Powell Road and a tiny one in Westerville on Schrock Road. Their breakfasts are solid, the pancakes top notch (get the cinnamon roll pancake!), and don’t miss their Venezuelan breakfast dishes.

Read more: The Pancake House in Lewis Center and The Pancake House in Westerville

South of Lane

South of Lane is deceiving. It could be passed off as a simple little cafe in Upper Arlington, but their breakfasts are no joke. Founder Catherine Vonderahe, who passed away in 2019, had a fun sense of humor (I mean, the place’s initials are SoL), and that translated into well executed and playful breakfasts. Their omelets, waffles, and hash browns are the best.

Read more: South of Lane

Tommy’s Diner

In a city with some great diners, Tommy’s stands out. It’s a Columbus institution, operated by the Pappas family for over 30 years. The decor screams classic diner, and the breakfasts follow suit. You can’t go wrong with the daily specials, although the omelets and the crispy, golden Belgian waffle are my favorites.

Read more: Tommy’s Diner: One of Columbus’ Best Diners

Emmett’s Cafe

Emmett’s is styled after Australian coffee shops that pair expert coffee service with thoughtfully prepared breakfasts. Their original cafe on South High Street is cute, but it’s hard to beat their Old North location in the historic Open Air School building. Order up an Aussie cap, try the handheld breakfast sandwich, or go bigger with their breakfast burrito loaded with tater tots.

Read more: Emmett’s Cafe on South High Street or Emmett’s Cafe in Old North

What are your favorite lunches?

See also Favorite International Eats below!

Wario’s Beef & Pork

Now with two locations, Wario’s serves up monster East Coast-style sandwiches. Think cheesesteaks, roast pork, chicken cutlets, cold cuts. What sets them apart is the locally baked semolina sticks from Matija Breads and the great care to each ingredient. Yes, the pricers are higher, but you can easily get two meals out of one sandwich. My personal favorites: the cold cut and the cheesesteak Wario’s Way.

Read more: Wario’s in the Arena District and Wario’s in Clintonville

Cravings Cafe

This little family-run cafe downtown is open for weekday breakfast and lunch, and they assemble some terrific sandwiches and sides, often using house-made brioche. I’m partial to their breakfast roll and their downtown smashburger, but watch for daily specials.

Read more: A Ode to Cravings Cafe’s Sandwiches

Freedom a la Cart

Freedom a la Cart’s downtown cafe is also a social enterprise, providing employment, training, and resources to survivors of human trafficking. On top of this amazing mission is a superb storefront serving breakfast, lunch, and coffee. Their breakfast burrito and breakfast sandwich are top notch, but don’t miss the bacon quiche or the Don’t Judge Me sandwich.

Read more: Great Breakfast for an Even Better Cause at Freedom a la Cart

CM Chicken

All we have to do breathe the words “CM Chicken” and were destined to eat lunch there – that’s how hooked we are. This Korean fried chicken chain serves up absolutely craveable meals. We like getting tenders in spicy garlic, soy garlic, curry, and for a good kick, the red hot pepper. Go for lunch when you can get three tenders + fries + cole slaw for only $10!

Read more: CM Chicken

Ray Ray’s Hog Pit

Some of Columbus’ best barbecue, in our opinion! What started as one truck has grown to four plus a brick and mortar in Granville. I’m partial to their Carolina pork and jerk chicken sandwiches.

Read more: Ray Ray’s New Truck at Aardvark Wine & Beer

Way Down Yonder New Orleans Finest Restaurant

We don’t get here often enough, but we’ve had some terrific lunches from chef Yonder and her crew. Originally hailing from New Orleans, she serves up some of the city’s best seafood gumbo, crawfish etouffee, and po’ boys (get the hot honey shrimp!).

Read more: Way Down Yonder Serves Some of Columbus’ Best New Orleans Fare

What are your favorite bakeries and desserts?

Three Bites Bakery

Isabella Bonello makes some of the best pastries in Columbus. From her King-Lincoln bakery she produces beautiful tarts, croissants, bombolini, cakes, and breads.

Read more: Filipino and Italian Flavors at Three Bites Bakery

Kolache Republic

This little bakery sits inside The Daily Growler in the Brewery District. For over a decade they’ve been producing Czech kolaches: fluffy squares of dough with different fruit, nut, and cream cheese fillings. They also wrap the dough to make breakfast sandwiches – my personal favorite is the chorizo, jalapeno, egg, and cheese sandwich. (Also, the weekend before Thanksgiving KR does a Thanksgiving kolache and it is one of my favorite things of the year.)

Read more: Kolache Republic

Belle’s Bread

Belle’s Bread has rightfully earned national recognition for its mix of Japanese and French pastries. Just grab a tray and load up on all their stunning baked goods. Belle’s is also part of the Japanese Marketplace, which includes Akai Hana and Tensuke Market/Express.

Read more: Belle’s Bread

Tous Les Jous

Tous Les Jous is a chain near campus that’s similar in style to Belle’s Bread. They’re based out of Korea and feature a fun variety of sweet and savory pastries.

Read more: Go On a Pastry Tour at Tous Les Jours Cafe and Bakery

Little Ladies Soft Serve

I don’t know what Little Ladies puts in their soft serve, but it’s simply the best. It’s the creamiest and most wonderful tasting soft serve I’ve ever had. My first love was their Aggie sundae, with puppy chow, chocolate, peanut butter. But watch for their seasonal specialties. I’ve had some amazing ones build around ginger bread, pumpkin, and blueberries.

Read more: Sundaes and Cones at Little Ladies Soft Serve’s Westerville Shop

Your favorite donuts?

Buckeye Donuts

The campus location of Buckeye Donuts will always be near and dear to my heart. They were a stop on my breakfast tour for more than six years. They’re family-run since 1969. They’re open 24/7/365. And they still make all their donuts from scratch daily. You can’t go wrong with anything they put out, but our favorites include the fresh glazed donuts, red velvet with cream cheese, chocolate longjohns, custard-filled donuts, and the devils food cake.

Read more: The Best Way to Celebrate the Buckeyes is with Buckeye Donuts

DK Diner

A close contender for best donuts in the city, Grandview’s DK Diner is not only a great bakery but a great breakfast spot. Go their for the longjohns and apple fritters – and their sour cream old fashioned may be the best donut in town.

Read more: What’s Better at DK Diner: The Breakfast or the Donuts?

Rose Dough Donuts

Rose Dough Donuts works out of 1400 Food Lab and produces some excellent donuts using brioche dough. Look out for her regular seasonal specials.

Read more: Get Some of Columbus’ Most Creative Flavors at Rose Dough Donuts

Favorite international eats (aka more favorite lunch or dinner spots)?

Hoyo’s Kitchen

Fast casual Somali fare in both North Markets and Bubbly Hall. My favorite is their safari chicken over Somali rice with cabbage and lentils, plus injera bread.

Read more: Hoyo’s Kitchen

Los Agavez

The truck that introduced Columbus to birria tacos! They still do some of the best! But don’t sleep on their al pastor. Find it parked at Pacemont and High in Clintonville.

Read more: Birria Tacos at Los Agavez Taqueria

Addis Restaurant

Our favorite spot for Ethiopian fare (although a close second is Lalibela). Very casual. Go with a group and get a mixed platter so you can sample a bit of everything.

Read more: Addis Restaurant

Huong Vietnamese

Our vote for some of the best Vietnamese in town. You can’t beat their pho and their banh mi sandwich.

Read more: Huong Vietnamese Restaurant

ChiliSpot

Our family loves Chinese food, and ChiliSpot is the most requested. We love the spicy Sichuan wontons, dan dan noodles, Chongquin spicy chicken, string beans.

Read more: ChiliSpot

New India Restaurant

We love Indian food, too, and New India tops our list. The family-run spot is always warm and welcoming, and everything is top-notch. Don’t miss the Afghani naan! It’s smells savory but tastes sweet.

Read more: Old Favorites at New India Restaurant

Arepazo

Arepazo is a long-time favorite for its Latin American fare. Their Venezuelan arepas are the most popular, although I’m a sucker for their chilaquiles. Their cilantro sauce is also popular – I prefer the spicy version!

Read more: Arepazo Tapas Grille & Bar

Main Moon

Along with ChiliSpot, Main Moon is another go-to for Chinese. Get the Chengdu cold noodles, dumplings in chili oil, spicy chicken, dan dan noodles.

Read more: Main Moon Chinese Restaurant in Linworth is a Family Favorite

Everest Cuisine

Everest in Old Worthington is another go-to for Indian fare. We love the Everest platter, chicken tikka masala, palak paneer, navrattan korma.

Read more: Our Go-To Indian Spot is Everest Cuisine

Kirin Noodle Bar

We have a lot of great ramen spots in Columbus, and we’ve been going back to Kirin Noodle Bar a bunch. Great ramen and sushi!

N.E. Chinese

N.E. Chinese specializes in dishes from the Dongbei region of China. We don’t see as many eateries like this in Columbus. Try the cumin potatoes, green beans with garlic, hot and sour fern root noodles, twice-fried fish.

Read more: N. E. Chinese Restaurant

Bonifacio

Wonderfully creative modern Filipino fare, with an excellent bar program to boot. Book a table on Sundays and Thursdays between 4-9 p.m. for their kamayan nights, communal dinners where rice, proteins, and veggies are poured out on the table on banana leaves, so you can eat with your hands.

Read more: Brunch at Bonifacio

Los Guachos

Los Guachos started as a food truck and has grown to multiple locations. They’re still some of our favorite al pastor in the city, especially on their gringas. Experts know to visit on Mondays when al pastor tacos are two-for-one or on Wednesdays when al pastor gringas are $2.

Read more: Los Guachos Taqueria, Columbus’ Best Tacos Al Pastor

Favorite coffee?

Brioso Coffee

Brioso is my most regularly visited coffee shop in Columbus. My day job is just a couple blocks down the street from their Long Street shop and roastery. The staff are friendly, and I love their espresso and the Ohio maple latte. If you brew coffee at home, I recommend their Espresso Milano blend and Costa Rican Tarrazu.

Read more: Brioso Coffee on Long Street and Brioso Coffee on Gay and High

Roosevelt Coffeehouse

Roosevelt has three locations around central Ohio; my personal favorite is their licensed spot inside Olentangy River Brewing Company in Lewis Center. I love how they do honey cinnamon lattes.

Read more: Roosevelt on Long Street, Roosevelt in Franklinton, Roosevelt in Olentangy River Brewing Company

Florin Coffee

The family-run Florin is a lovely little shop in Linden that roasts amazing coffee. I’m especially partial to their Ranger blend.

Read more: Florin Coffee

Parable Coffee

I’d put Parable downtown as one of the city’s best coffee shops. It’s a beautiful location in the former Lazarus building, and they not only whip up excellent espresso and pour overs, but their seasonal drinks and their pastry program are always a knock-out. Parable also opens late on weekends as a cocktail bar, Parable After Dark.

Read more: Parable Coffee

Ramble Coffee

Ramble doesn’t have a storefront, but appears at markets and shops across the city. I love their Mexico Chiapas and Ethiopia Natural Guji.

Read more: Ramble Coffee

Favorite places for a cocktail?

The Bottle Shop

The Bottle Shop is a cozy, Bohemian enclave in Victorian Village. We’ve always loved the eclectic vibe and the unique cocktails, and I think it’s only gotten better as owner Gregory Stokes (who runs Accent Wine downtown) has taken the helm.

Read more: The Bottle Shop

Law Bird

Law Bird was earning accolades before they even opened a couple years ago. Their cocktail selection is always fascinating, the staff knowledgable, and the playful food menu ranges from elevated bar snacks to fun nights like hot dog Wednesdays.

Read more: Law Bird

Watershed Kitchen & Bar

Watershed has always had a superb cocktail program. Their menus are thoughtfully constructed and beautifully designed around themes like World Tour or Choose Your Own Adventure. I love sampling the latest, but I also love their barrel-aged Manhattan.

Read more: Watershed Kitchen & Bar Launches New Happy Hour

The Bar at Echo Spirits

Echo produces some of Columbus’ more unique spirits, and head bartender Derek Reno creates a dynamic cocktail menu to match. Plus, the side street space is always a cool hangout. (It was the former home of Four String Brewing, for those who remember.)

Read more: Your New Favorite Watering Hole Should Be The Bar at Echo Spirits

The Citizens Trust

I love hanging out at The Citizens Trust, in the upper level of the former bank building that also houses Veritas. The gigantic bank lobby, with lots of seating and tall ceilings, is an excellent backdrop for expert cocktails.

Read more: Veritas and The Citizens Trust

Favorite places for beer?

Seventh Son

Seventh Son Brewing is one of the OGs of the new wave of Columbus craft beer. What started as a small setup in a garage has blossomed into a full-scale brewery with food trucks, events, and two sister breweries. I love their Italian Village bar with two levels, the patio with firepits, the taproom with long concrete bar. I can always go for their IPAs and stouts, like the Proliferous double IPA and Oubliette stout.

Read more: Seventh Son Brewing

Zaftig Brewing

As our neighborhood brewery, Zaftig is near and dear to my heart. They go big with their beers, and I love the results. I’m partial to their Heavy Hearted Amber, Juicy Lucy IPA, Wee Heavy Scotch ale, and Big Barleywine. And if you can catch the Ol’ Rugger or ZBS stouts in season, they’re fun to sip.

Read more: Zaftig Brewing

Columbus Brewing Company

CBC has been on a long journey over the decades, from the growth of its brand to winning national awards for its IPAs to a production space, taproom, and beer hall. They consistently produce excellent beer. I love their Columbus IPA and their most famous offerings, Bodhi and Creeper.

Read more: Check Out Columbus Brewing Company’s New Beer Hall

Nocterra Brewing

Nocterra has built itself into a humming community center in Powell. They converted an old train depot to a taproom and beer garden that produces great beer and events, and is home to two food trucks.

Read more: Nocterra Brewing

Wolf’s Ridge Brewing

Wolf’s Ridge does it all: they’re one of the city’s top breweries, they’re an award-winning restaurant, and they have a killer taproom.

Read more: brunch at Wolf’s Ridge Brewing

Favorite easy nights out?

Understory

Understory has it all: a laid-back lounge, a giant patio surrounded by trees, creative food, great cocktails, beer from Wolf’s Ridge Brewing – all in an historic building.

Read more: Why Aren’t We Hanging Out at Understory Bar and Lounge More Often?

Rooh

Rooh in the Short North offers dynamic modern Indian fare paired with one of the city’s most interesting cocktail lists.

Read more: Delightful Modern Indian + Cocktails at Rooh in the Short North

El Camino Inn

The newly reopened El Camino Inn downtown, close to some more easy favorites like Little Palace, Dirty Frank’s, and Late Night Slice, features a relaxed vibe amongst vintage decor – the perfect backdrop for margaritas, tortas, and tacos.

Read more: Tacos, Tortas, and Margaritas in a Vintage Setting at El Camino Inn

Dirty Frank’s Hot Dog Palace

We’ve loved Dirty Frank’s ever since they opened in 2009. They’ve grown from the cartoon-decorated dive bar downtown to their pop-up and stadium locations across the city. My favorite dogs: the Cowgirl Carmen (which hearkens back to Surly Girl Saloon), the Ohioana, and the Picnic Table.

Tip Top Kitchen & Cocktails

It makes me happy that Tip Tip keeps kicking. The Gay Street dive with no windows still features cheap cocktails, a solid beer selection, and hearty fare like Ohio nachos, pot roast sandwiches, mac and cheese.

Favorite pizza?

Terita’s Pizza

I’m a sucker for old school Columbus-style pies, and Terita’s is one of my favorites. I love the Terita’s Special, their version of the supreme pizza with house-made sausage.

Read more: Columbus-Style Pizza at Terita’s Pizza

JT’s Pizza & Pub

JT’s pies always feature a crispy crust and generous toppings. The more we try them, the more we fall in love.

Nicer nights out?

Stories on High

Stories on High is the 28th floor eatery in the new Hilton Tower. You can’t beat the views, and the small plates, cocktails, and wines pair nicely with them. Visit from 4-6 p.m. for their Sunset Hour menu, for special deals on select small plates, cocktails, wine, and beer! And don’t miss FYR downstairs.

Read more: Cocktails, Sushi, and Small Plates at Columbus’ Highest Rooftop Bar

Speck Italian Eatery

Speck Italian Eatery is chef Josh Dalton’s (owner of Veritas and 1808 in Delaware) modern Italian eatery. Head there for great pasta, cocktails, and wine.

Read more: Discover the Modern Flavors of Italy at the New Speck Italian Eatery in Downtown Columbus

Chapman’s Eat Market

In its short few years, Chapman’s has received multiple nods from the New York Times, and rightfully so. But you’ll have to work to snag reservations!

Read more: Chapman’s Eat Market

Agni

Chef Avishar Barua opened Agni in early 2023. It’s a live-fire eatery in the Brewery District that runs on a tasting menu only. Avishar’s food is always playful, fun, and surprising.

Read more: Chef Avishar Barua Opens His Much-Anticipated Live Fire Restaurant Agni

Veritas

Veritas originally started in Delaware before moving downtown. They do tasting menus and a la carte dining, and offer one of the more accomplished menus in the city.

Read more: Veritas and The Citizens Trust

Favorite Columbus activities?

Here are a few of the places we like to go in the city!

Movies at Studio 35

Studio 35 in Clintonville is one of my favorite places in Columbus. The historic theatre has been renovated into a modern movie house with two screens, excellent pizza, lots of beer, and fun community events. I go every year to the Dude-a-Thon, a Big Lebowski screening and beer tasting.

Read more: The Studio 35 Trifecta: Pizza, Beer, & Movies

Columbus Crew Games

With their new stadium and freshly minted MLS Cup win, the Columbus Crew is our favorite local team to cheer on.

Hiking one of our 20 Metro Parks

We’re fortunate to have 20 metro parks scattered around the region, with walking and biking trails, dense forests, riverfronts, and more activities.

The Columbus Zoo & Aquarium

It would take you three days to visit everything at the award-winning Columbus Zoo.

The Columbus Museum of Art

We’re fortunate to have an institution like the Columbus Museum of Art, with great permanent collections and world-class special exhibitions.

Strolling the Scioto Mile

I love the views from the Scioto Mile, the riverfront park in Columbus. You can hit the trails, enjoy the cityscape, cross the bridges, watch trains.

The Nest Theatre

I grew up doing improv in high school and college, so I love that we have dedicated improv theatres with dozens of shows and classes.

Hanging Out in Old Worthington

I’m of course partial to our neighborhood. I love how it looks during the holidays. It’s home to Joya’s, the Worthington Farmers Market (April to October), nice dinner spots like Whitney House and the Worthington Tavern, coffee and pastries at La Chatelaine or Kittie’s.

Spread the Word!

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FOOD + TRAVEL WRITER

I go by Dr. Breakfast, but in addition to restaurants and recipes, I write about family travel, breweries and distilleries, the arts, outdoor fun, and so much more.

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