If you’ve been looking for a city to plan a girls’ getaway, romantic weekend, or foodie escape, please allow me to introduce you to…Columbus, Ohio.
That’s right! Little did I know that a vibrant city filled with cute shops, killer breweries, and one of the most epic selections of outstanding food I’ve come across in a long while was located right here in the Midwest.
Columbus is affordable, its residents are warm and friendly, and its list of gem neighborhood eateries is longer than any one girl could tackle in a single visit, despite, as you will certainly see, her best efforts.
A few weeks ago, Experience Columbus invited me out for a “Taste of Columbus,” but the description wasn’t entirely accurate.
The organization should have called it “Nonstop FEAST of Columbus.” In three days, we ate and drank in 16+ different places, each of which dazzled me in its own unique way. All of the restaurants were locally owned, their owners took time to meet with us and share their stories, and, despite being very, VERY full, I still walked away hungry to return.
Ready for the highlights? Here’s a list of each place we visited, a few spots I found on my own, and everything you need to know to plan a Columbus foodie escape of your own!
COLUMBUS, OHIO: What to Eat, Drink, and Where to Stay
Where to Stay:
Let’s start with the accommodations.
Our home base for the trip was Hotel Leveque, a super stylish boutique hotel in the heart of downtown Columbus. The location was ideal (we were able to walk to many of the top neighborhoods), the service topnotch, and the rooms PALATIAL. The shower was large enough to double as a walk-in closet, and the bed was so fluffy and comfortable, I felt like a princess.
I loved Leveque’s overall vibe. It felt modern but welcoming. The hotel also included a number of special touches for guests, my favorite being the bedtime truffle delivery.
Even if you don’t stay at Hotel Leveque, be sure to stop by its sleek bar, The Keep, for a drink. Over the course of the trip, our group collectively worked its way through The Keep’s entire cocktail list, and we enjoyed every sip.
Where to Eat:
Are you ready for this?
A few notes before we begin:
- Yes, I ate absolutely everything on this list (and sometimes more than one serving).
- Yes, I was quite full.
- My only regret? I couldn’t eat more!
We began our trip with dinner at The Kitchen, a combination event and cooking space. Right when we stepped in, we were greeted with a cheeseboard the size of a small continent, a round of cocktails, and an overall atmosphere that made me feel like I’d stepped into the pages of a Bon Appetit article titled “Where and How to Throw Your Next Party.”
Part of dining at The Kitchen is that guests collaborate to cook the meal. I’ve done a variety of different cooking classes, but what made this one special was how relaxed it felt. The chef guided without micromanaging, the ingredients were premeasured, and we didn’t have to wash a single dish. It was basically my ideal cooking scenario, and the meal—a summer picnic theme complete with pan-fried chicken, a fresh twist on potato salad with pickled beets (my favorite), and the most gorgeous garlicky grilled zucchini—was outstanding.
Our first full morning kicked off with a five-stop brunch tour, led by local blogger and brunch aficionado Nick of the blog Breakfast with Nick. Any single one of these places would have been a dreamy way to start my morning.
Kolache Republic. This was my first real introduction to kolaches, a traditional Czech pastry. Imagine little pillows of soft, brioche-like dough with all manner of creative sweet and savory fillings nestled in the center. My favorites were the butterscotch pear, caramel pecan, and the savory bacon, egg, and cheese.
Fox in the Snow. Little did I know that the idyllic neighborhood coffee shop I’ve been waiting for my entire life is located in Columbus. This airy, friendly space offers outstanding coffee, an incredible selection of scratch-made pastries, and heartier breakfast options too. Fox in the Snow intentionally doesn’t have wifi, because the owners want their patrons to focus on conversation instead, and it works. Their cinnamon roll was the best I’ve ever had (dare I call it life changing? I believe I do), and after tasting the creamy ciabatta bacon + souffled egg breakfast sandwich, I didn’t want to leave.
The Market Italian Village. Between the selection of Italian wines and grocery imports, butcher counter, brick-oven-fired cuisine, and bar, The Market Italian Village will leave you wondering if you actually need to spend your time anywhere else. We tried their take on shakshuka, one of my all-time favorite breakfasts dishes. It’s a deeply aromatic tomato sauce with poached eggs and chickpeas, best dipped with bread. In our lucky case, that meant fluffy triangles of The Market’s wood-fired pita.
Buckeye Donuts. The very definition of old school. This hallowed shop, located steps from Ohio State’s campus, has been open since 1969, literally. It NEVER CLOSES. Their owner doesn’t even know where to find the key to the front door! Rather than churn out hundreds of donuts with the help of automation, Buckeye Donuts makes every donut by hand. I tried more flavors than I should admit (including a croissant donut, blueberry, and apple fritter), but my undisputed favorite was the shop’s signature buckeye, a fluffy yeasted donut filled with chocolate and peanut butter.
The Table. Quite possibly the nation’s most Instagramable café. In an eclectic, homey setting, The Table offers a small, seasonal menu and is committed to sourcing its ingredients as locally as possible. The menu changes often, and I am so happy that we were there on a day when we could catch the Akoori (Indian-spiced) Eggs and the Sour Cherry Brioche French Toast, both of which take advantage of the ethereal bread that the restaurant bakes in house. While I loved everything we ate our entire trip, these dishes were two of the most memorable.
If you’d like to take a guided Columbus food tour of your own, be sure to check out Columbus Food Adventures. Nick leads the brunch tour, and there are many other tempting tour options as well. Including…
NORTH MARKET FOOD TOUR
The North Market is a collection of permanent food stalls under one roof, and on certain days of the week, you can catch a farmer’s market outdoors too. After brunch on our second morning in the city, we headed over for another tour with Columbus Food Adventures.
As a testament to the deliciousness of the food you’ll find at the North Market, I didn’t realize that we were eating again immediately after finishing our first brunch, and thus didn’t pace myself accordingly. Guess what? I STILL managed to eat at every stop. It’s that good! Here’s a list of the places we tried, and if you visit, you’ll find many more tasty options.
Hot Chicken Takeover. Nashville-style hot fried chicken, with all the appropriate sides. I’m picky about my slaw, and this one was crunchy perfection. Don’t miss the homemade banana pudding with brown butter vanilla wafer crumble on top.
Brezel. Real deal Bavarian-style pretzels (and pretzel sticks) in all sorts of fun flavors. My favorite was the Asiago Garlic and Herb and the Jalapeno Cheddar.
North Market Cheese. In addition to a wide selection of affordable wines from around the world, North Market Cheese has a great beer list and an epic cheese selection. We did a flight of different local beers, each paired with an Ohio cheese. If I lived in Columbus, this would be a go-to stop with friends.
Little Eater. For some much needed dietary reprieve, check out Little Eater, where vegetables are the undisputed star of the show. Chef, owner, and author of the cookbook The Vegetable Butcher (which will teach you to properly prep, store, and cook every type of vegetable), Cara Mangini had a vision to open a restaurant and grocer where vegetables were thoughtfully placed center of the plate. She chose to chase her dream in Columbus, where she found outstanding access to local farms and produce. It was a joy to listen to Cara speak, and as a fellow lover of veggies, I found myself wanting to be her apprentice…and to eat every single one of the gorgeous seasonal salads, quiches, and produce baskets behind her counter!
North Market Spices. I could have spent hours wandering the aisles, smelling all of the unique spice blends North Market Spices offers. I took home a packet of their Sazon, a Southwest spice blend, which I intend to use for many Tex-Mex inspired meals to come.
Pistachia Vera. A little piece of Europe right in Columbus. From flaky croissants to stunning cakes to a rainbow of macarons, this friendly shop made me feel like I was back in Paris. If you are a fan of macarons, be sure to try the buckeye (peanut butter chocolate) and pistachio (the house signature flavor).
JENI’S SPLENDID ICE CREAMS
I’m going to say it: I’m an ice cream snob. Let it be creamy, may the flavor be intense and pure, and don’t even think about skimping on my scoop.
Whenever I travel, I like to try the city’s top-rated ice cream shop, and while I can’t say that the places I’ve visited are ever bad (I mean, it is ice cream), it takes a lot to blow up my skirt. The moment I tried Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams a few years ago in Charleston, I knew I’d found something special.
In Columbus, not only did I get to hang out at a Jeni’s and sample as many flavors as I wanted (I lost count at 10 or 11), but I MET JENI. Despite her celebrity status in the culinary world, she was one of the warmest, most down-to-earth, and inspiring people I’ve had the pleasure to meet. Her commitment to sourcing the best possible ingredients to create the best possible ice creams is obsessive, in the best possible way. She also inspired me to believe that, if I put my mind to it, I could make anything.
Jeni’s has expanded to these cities, but if there isn’t a shop near you, you can also make her ice creams yourself! She wrote the cookbook Jeni’s Splendied Ice Creams at Home (Brenda owns and loves it), and her pints are available for shipping and at some grocery stores too.
My favorite flavors: Brambleberry Crisp, Cream Puff, Lemon and Blueberries Buttermilk, and anything chocolate.
FLOWERS & BREAD
I wouldn’t have thought to combine bread making and flower arranging under the same roof, but now that I’ve experienced the two together at Flowers & Bread, I can’t imagine a better match. This bright and welcoming combo bakery and flower-arranging shop offers cooking and baking classes, a charming café, a gorgeous area for private events (it would be a dream for a bridal shower), and flower-arranging courses too. After a lovely brunch, we learned to stencil and cut fluffy rolls (see my handiwork above) and made the most stunning flower necklaces too (finished product below).
If you’d like to try making homemade bread but are feeling intimidated, check out One Dough Ten Breads by Flowers & Bread co-owner Sarah Black. It teaches the foundations of making basic white bread, then expands that base recipe to different varieties and flavor twists.
Basi-Italia. If I lived in Columbus, Basi-Italia would be my date-night (or any night) go-to. It’s located in a charming old house, and home is what you feel immediately upon entering. The restaurant has a large, lovely back patio space and is ridiculously well priced, and the owner is wildly passionate about the food he serves. Every bite from the ravioli to the trout to the bacon flatbread was fabulous, and the wine was excellent and affordable too.
Where to Drink (and, OK, eat more):
Rockmill Brewery. Less than 30 minutes outside the city, you’ll find this peaceful, scenic space. A horse farm that was repurposed into a brewery, Rockmill quite literally puts the “farm” in “farmhouse ale.” In addition to an excellent tap selection, Rockmill offers stellar beer and food pairings and treated us to four enormous charcuterie boards. I could happily have sat on the back patio staring out at the rolling green fields, nibbling cheese, and sipping excellent brews for days. Plan on staying a while. You won’t want to leave!
Watershed Distillery. The place to enjoy a gourmet twist on homestyle fare with a craft cocktail in hand. Watershed distills six of its own liquors. My favorites were the barrel-aged gin (so different!) and the Nocino, a special Italian walnut liqueur that I want to pour over vanilla ice cream, mix into my coffee, and sip with friends after a special dinner. In addition to a tour of the distillery, which is located on site, we enjoyed a stellar dinner.
Mouton. This craft cocktail bar wasn’t an official stop on our tour, but while wandering the charming Short North area of town, a small group of us grew a little thirsty, so we popped in for happy hour. The drinks were well priced, tasted fantastic, and, if you don’t drink alcohol, Mouton offers a nice selection of mocktails too.
Other Columbus Favorites:
In between all that eating, we did have some time to explore the city. I loved checking out the different neighborhoods, including the German Village and Brewery District, Italian Village, and the Short North, a cute, eclectic shopping and dining area.
Running enthusiasts will be delighted to find a long, scenic path along the river (I ran 3 miles without hitting a single stoplight), and the city is also full of nice parks to stop and have a picnic, such as Goodale Park, pictured above.
I can’t thank Experience Columbus enough for inviting me out for this special trip. I truly enjoyed the city, and if you like great food and local gems, I know you will too!
My food and hotel room were complimentary, but I did not receive any other compensation to write this post. As always, all opinions are my own. Thanks for reliving this foodie adventure with me!