I've lived here for more than 30 years...more
than half my life
(yikes!) and started writing reviews of the
best and worst things in this place I call home. All-in-all, Columbia is a swell place
to live and not a bad place to visit. You might want to check
out the following sites to get a feel for this burg.
Oh...one more thing. I use a "hit counter" for my web page
that provides information on how visitors to this page (and my other pages) get
here. It is humbling to see that most of my visitors stumble across this page
looking for Thai food in a place called Columbia (which, in addition to
Columbia, MO, includes Columbia, SC, Columbia, SA, District of Columbia, the
neighborhood around Columbia University, etc.). So, if you are one of these lost
souls...I sincerely apologize in advance. However, you might want to read
further anyway. It's not beyond reason that something about this page will
prompt you to visit (e.g., you're driving cross-country on Interstate 70 and you
see a Columbia exit and you'll remember something you read here that will prime
you to stop for the night here rather than forge ahead to the Isle of Capri
Casino in Boonville).
For a town its size, Columbia has a large selection of restaurants and
food stores. There is a wide range of ethnic restaurants (including Thai,
Indian, Korean, Chinese, Japanese, and Middle Eastern), traditional
midwest-greasy-spoon places, and steak joints. There are also ethnic food
stores that stock imported goods that are hard to get in the mainstream
supermarkets. Below are a few of my (currently) favorite eateries.
The Close-by Lunch Places (downtown but
close to campus)
I really don't know why I eat there so much; I'm such a
creature of habit. They also charge Denis 25 cents for crushed red pepper
which outrages all of us greatly. Still, we like the variety and friendly
service. Also, no relation to the adrenal gland disease of the
same name. (As a matter of principle, eateries should not share names with
diseases. Who'd eat a place called Typhoid's or Elephantiasis's?? They
really shouldn't charge Denis for crushed red pepper. I should just get
over this indignation.
Bleu A nearby place to drink with nice
atmosphere. Highly recommended. My colleagues do like their burgers though
(which on the weekends is topped by an egg).Note that they've recently moved
to the former digs of the Boone Tavern. It still works. ***Actually, last
couple of times there were disappointing. Need to rethink my "rating." -
Just moved adjacent to campus after
being in a really crummy place on the south side of town. Great addition to
the places within a one or two minute walk. -Flat Branch Pub
When the weather is nice, it's
great to sit outside and eat at Flatbranch. The food is "eh" but the
atmosphere is good and every so often a handcrafted beer is nice to have. -
I eat there when I want a change of scene
from Addison's. They now have a gluten-free menu (which is
interesting for a pasta place) and my wife says the gluten-free offerings
are reasonably palatable. -
I don't eat here too often since I'm a meat-type-guy but do go there when
hanging with the vegans who universally like it lots. I really should eat
there more. That will be my New Year's resolution.
Favorite Barbecue Restaurants
"when in Rome"...this part of the world
is really good for barbecue...definitely check it out if your doctor says
House of Chow
(HoC has really grown on me over the
years. I eat dinner here more than any other place in town. Try the
Steamed Fish with Sizzling Platter (huo pan zheng yu)
if you are sharing.
Chinese Wok Express,
this uninspiring storefront on Broadway at the edge of "downtown" is highly
regarded by some, especially for the Chinese and Vietnamese soups.
is my favorite new restaurant in Columbia in years. If it were closer to my
house I'd eat there more than House of Chow.
Middle Eastern -
("of all the falafel joints, in all the towns in all the world, I walk into
Italian - Nothing that good, sorry.
There are certainly places I regularly
The Rome and
Bambino's. And, as noted above,
Shakespeare'shas a great,
distinctive style of pizza. With the exception of
Shakespeare's, they are hard to recommend to out-of-towners. But there are
many so-called Italian restaurants in town; just none are that great. But
Columbia is a college town and there are more pizza joints than you can
shake a stick at and the major chains are well represented. There are also
Italian restaurant chains (e.g.,
Olive Garden, Fazzoli's). Anyway, Columbia needs a good
n.b. A few of the restaurants listed
above (House of Chow, Osaka, Kojaba, Jina Yoo's, Rio Grande, ABC Chinese) are in strip malls. Means
that it's less fun to go for a nice after-dinner stroll from the restaurant.
For this reason, I prefer the downtown Columbia restaurants.
Big list of restaurants
My friends from both coasts think of me as stuck in the hinterlands,
devoid of culture and basic amenities. To them, St. Louis and Kansas City
are part of the American outback and Columbia is the outback's outback.
Well, it ain't so bad and those of us who have made our home here feel
pretty fond of
the place. Although I'm always skeptical of rankings by magazines, the fact
that Columbia often pops up as a great place to live provides some
ammunition to shoot back at skeptics' assaults. In 2006,
Money magazine ranked Columbia in the top 100 "best places to live"
magazine ranked Columbia at #16 in "best small places for business."
Outside magazine recently (July 2008) ranked Columbia, MO at #10 "best
places" (mainly for the bicycling I think) and as (not so) recently discussed
CNBC,holding up reasonably well
during the current economic downturn.
Apparently, the folks here in Columbia are very hard workers and in 2012
we were just named the USA's "Hardest Working Town"by
Parade Magazine. Parade also
noted that the US Dept of Education says the town has "more exemplary public
schools per capita than any other city in the nation" and that we rank 2nd
highest in the nation in hospital beds per capita (which I think is a good
thing but it probably means we rank #2 in bedpans as well).
For a town its size, Columbia boasts a good music scene (although many
top acts tend to perform mid-week; see music venues at the bottom of the
A new musical event is
Blues and Barbecue Festival that was inaugurated in 2007. The 2012 Festival
was held on
September 21st and 22nd with Al
Green, Del McCoury, Sam Bush,
among many others . To get view clips of the
artists and see who's performed in prior years, check out the
In recent years, the
True/False (Documentary) Film Festival has become another
major cultural event for the town. This year, it will be held from Feburary
28 - March 3, 2013. Should be fun although I'll be giving a Grand Rounds in
Jackson, MS that weekend; hate that I'll miss it.
Getting to Columbia from Far Away
Columbia is a wonderful place
to live and work but convenient air travel is simply not to be had. Many members of
the community wish the university, other large employers, and the cities of
Columbia and Jefferson City would get it together and recognize how poor air
service compromises the region's cultural, intellectual, and commercial
interests. Unfortunately, up until recently they've lacked the vision and
will to be effective. In my opinion as a frequent air traveler and
resident kvetcher, the City of Columbia's
Airport Advisory Board
has failed to provide effective leadership on this persistent problem.15 OK,
rant over. Columbia's current air service is with
American Airlines (American Eagle technically but who wants to quibble) and
it's only been in place for about two weeks as I write this. There are
two r/ts between COU and DFW and one between COU and ORD. I just recently
checked out the COU/DFW route and all went pretty smoothly (although my bags
didn't show up at my final destination in Jackson, MS). The planes are
RJ-145s and so a little cramped but not too bad. I'll know more about
reliability after a while and will update this. I'd feel better about the
whole thing if there were two flights/day to/from ORD. Too easy to get
stranded at a hub with only one flight a day in or out.
If you don't want to fly American,
your best bet is to fly to St. Louis
(STL)or Kansas City (MCI)
where you'll have many more airline options. (Note that they neither St.
Louis nor Kansas City are what they once were; dehubbings and the economy
have taken their toll on both airports but they are both fairly big airports
with multiple flights/day to major hubs. From STL or MCI, either rent a car or take a ground shuttle run by a company called
offers convenient service between the two airports and Columbia. The
distance between Columbia and STL is shorter than between the distance
between Columbia and MCI and the MO-X runs are more frequent to/from STL.
So, all other things being equal, choose STL. However, depending up the
route and carrier, flights from MCI are often less expensive so do your own due
diligence. If you get claustrophobic or bromidrophobic, hope
the van you're in isn't full; MO-X sometimes really packs them in and it can
be unpleasant, so pray for a light passenger load if taking the MO-X
shuttle. (On some occasions MO-X runs buses with much more comfortable seats
and more room. Be nice if they did that all the time.)
Places to Stay
The sad truth is, there is no great place to stay in Columbia except my
house and you probably can't get a reservation there as we're "restricted"
to our family and friends. The good news is there are a lot of places to stay and most are
pretty reasonable even if uninspired. One B&B that is reasonably well
located is the
(Gathering Place is very well situated if you have business on the MU
campus.) Also note that there's a very popular B&B in the nearby town of Rocheport,
School House B&B, that B&B aficionados are sure to enjoy. (Rocheport
also hosts the Yates Houseand
Click here for a link to a big ol' list of places to stay. What
we lack in quality and innovation we make up for in quantity and price. Note
that the closest place to stay near campus, hotel-wise, is the
Hampton Inn. I'd recommend staying there if
you have business on campus (esp. at the MU Medical Complex including the VA
Hospital) since you can get around without a car. Potentially even
better, the old
Tiger Hotel has been undergoing
renovation and has a couple of floors open now for guests. Initial reports
are that it's great. If I
had to choose, the Tiger Hotel is definitely where I'd stay on the basis of location and ambience.
Radio Stations --Numerous
stations to suit a variety of musical tastes (and political and
religious bents). My three favorites are...
- With respect to more "small world" stuff, KOPN was founded
over 35 years ago with the support of folks like Lorenzo Milam (the "Johnny
Appleseed" of community radio) and Jeremy Lansman who, together, founded KRAB-FM in
Seattle in the early 60's. One of my early "co-op jobs" at Antioch College
was at KRAB-FM in 1971 where I had opportunity to work for three months in
the center of the so-called KRAB Nebula. Milam's
Sex and Broadcastingserved as the bible
for developing grassroots community radio stations for many years and can
still be purchased at Amazon. Although KRAB-FM is no more, former outposts of the KRAB Nebula still thrive and KOPN is one.
No, Columbia doesn't need two daily papers and the Missourian really has
little to offer. Both are available online.
Help make this page better: Please let me know if you find
dead links or if you feel something "essential" is missing. I really do want
this page to be helpful for visitors to Columbia. Just send me an email
1Truly great distinctive pizzas (and
sandwiches aren't bad). Unfortunately, any pizza joint is a major challenge to
low-carb dieters who must carefully reflect upon what they're missing here.
Update: they now have a gluten-free alternative for you celiac-ers out there.
2 This stalwart of downtown
Columbia is officially no more. It really is sad. For more than 15 years,
this was my favorite place to dine (and drink) in Columbia. When friends would
come in from out of town, this is where they would want to go. The fact that I
once had an item on the dessert menu named after me there is not the reason for
my enthusiastic endorsement; it's really good! Their wait staff was among
the best in town too.. The loss of the Strada Nova's bar is especially
great. No other drinking establishment in this town came close to the ambience
of the bar which was in the back...where it should be...with a rear door to slip
in and out without the hubbub of the dining crowd to pass through. This place
will be sorely missed. The closing of my alma mater, Antioch College, and
Trattoria Stada Nova in one summer was almost too much to bear. My hope is both will rise again some day.
3 Unlike less classy places like Aureole, Le
Cirque, or one of those increasing numbers of signature chef places (e.g.,
Emeril's or Puck's diasporic creations), there is a
"dog policy" there
so leave the pooch at home (unless it's a service dog of course). A drive through the country on rural roads with the
convertible top down on a summer's day or evening is the best way to travel to
this spot on a rural stretch of the
Sitting on a picnic table and watching the sun set over the Big Muddy while
eating Chim's fare is a local pleasure. However, be forewarned...it's a strange,
eclectic crowd. Also, eating outside in the summer in Missouri can be a
4 This is a place for wings, beer, chili, etc. It warrants special
mention because dining there on any given night is a side of Columbia that I
would never see otherwise. Not good, not bad...but a parallel universe. Wings
are ok (though exalted by some).
5 Still, in my opinion, the best steak place in Columbia. Not related to CJ's
and, important, do not confuse the CiCi's...a chain pizza place. Unfortunately,
CC's original place downtown is now deserted but their place on Forum Boulevard (part of a strip mall which kinda sucks)
is still plugging along and the atmosphere
inside remains pleasant. I just hate to see more upper-end downtown dining
places disappear. Many of us like downtown and hate strip mall dining.
6 Best place to eat in the heart of downtown (while recognizing the
lungs of downtown are pretty damn close...it's a small town). Also good happy
hour with reasonable appetizer menu at the bar.
7 Read the linked Wikipedia entry. In the small world department, the
co-owner/manager, Rick Robertson, was a housemate of mine when I was a grad
student in Bloomington, IN and he was an undergraduate in the School of Music.
He was then known to us affectionately as "teen-age Rick" after an infamous
character in a 1960s underground comic
8 You know the thought experiment..."if you could only eat one food
for the rest of your life..."? Well, if someone were to ask me, "if you could
only eat at one Columbia restaurant for the rest of your life, what would it
be?" my answer, without a doubt, would be Murry's. Eclectic and broad menu,
great wait staff, consistent, open late, music, lots of ala carte dishes,
wonderful desserts. Only problem from my perspective is that it is not walking
distance from my office or my house. However, it's only a five minute car ride
(we Columbians are spoiled).
9I actually get quite a few hits on this page from people
looking for places to eat in Columbia but I was still surprised when I was
contacted by "Cherry Street's" owner asking me why I hadn't listed their
establishment. I noted that I typically don't go there and the few times I had
gone (albeit some time ago), I found the place "OK" but that I never really
enjoyed the place because it was too acoustically bright (i.e., loud) and just
never grabbed me. Well, since then I've been back several times and the
unfavorable acoustics have been effectively dampened, the food excellent, and
the atmosphere as nice as any place in this town. If i do have a gripe is that
the mains are a bit steep for what you get. I took my daughter, future
son-in-law, and toddler grandson out to dinner recently and had a bit of sticker
shock considering we had only one appetizer, three mains, three desserts, two
coffees, and a milk and no booze.
I was very skeptical when my friend Andrew told me about a good Indian take-out
restaurant based in a pretty sleazy looking motel on the east side of town. As a
general rule, motels that are close to "gentleman's clubs" tend not to be places
good decent Christians (and speaking for myself, not-so-decent atheistic Jews)
want to hang out. But Curries is great!! Their korma dishes are crack-like
addictive and I don't think I've ever had as good a samosa as I have gotten
there. Don't let the environs scare you off, pick up your meal there...then
skedaddle home pronto.
11 I used to complain about the service being slow
but since they moved into their new digs...not a problem! Also, gluten-free
bread (which can be made into French toast of course) for you celiacs out there.
I really like this place. No other place comes close with respect to breakfast
fare. Also, they are really good about buying local. But they have common sense
too. For example, an incredible selection of breads...all local, except, their
English muffins which are Thomas's. Let's face it, nothing comes close to
Thomas's in the English muffin department. If you're gonna stray from your
principles, do it judiciously; these guys do.
12 Weird, weird, weird. Definitely unique if not bizarre. Best place to eat endangered species
while surrounded by the work of a vast number of taxidermists (of which some
must have been in training). It's worth a trip
just so you can say you've been there. It is a good half hour drive from
Downtown which, in these parts, is quite a haul.
13 Buck's isn't really
a restaurant but it's so unique that I thought I had to mention it. MU is a
land-grant school and the College of Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resources
maintains an ice cream parlor with home-made ice cream. There's something very
50s about it that makes me think that this is where Wally and the Beav might go
if Ward Cleaver worked on campus and the boys came to visit him after school was
out. I have no idea why the Tiger Stripe ice cream, MU's signature flavor, is so
touted by some; to me it's ugly looking and so-so tasting. But, the place does
have its charm. This is
despite the fact that I personally find the "Ag School" annoying. Not that
there's anything wrong with it and I'm sure it's fine as far as ag schools go.
But there is a good ol' boy legacy on this Campus, indeed in the entire UM
system, and that unit gets way more in the way of resources (beyond an ice
cream place) than it should based on any objective metric of eminence. And don't
get me started on why they need their own Division of Applied Social Sciences
with Departments of Agricultural and Applied Economics, Agricultural Education,
Science and Agricultural Journalism, and Rural Sociology when there are
Departments of Economics and Sociology in A&S and Schools of Education and
Journalism. It is hard to imagine that those other units couldn't be expanded to
include the ag specializations to the benefit of all. Relatedly, extension is
anachronistic and lives on only by virtue of
strong political influences.
The University is hurting in so many ways and this kind of
waste in a time of scarce resources is infuriating. Should it continue, I
predict we'll go the way of the University of Nebraska and be politely asked to
leave the AAU. And like the University of Nebraska, we really won't comprehend
why it happened and think it's unfair. Having spent more than 30 years on
this Campus the one thing that continues to be demoralizing is that there is lip
service to a meritocracy but the goodolboyacy system always seems to win out. Nobody reads footnotes, right?
14 You want to know how clean the place is and whether the employees
wash their hands after using the WC (or doing "whatever?"), this is the place for you!
15 A few years ago, I ran into an old acquaintance at a coffee
shop who spontaneously told me she was on a city-wide commission involved in
improving air transportation to/from Columbia. Note this committee is not the
Airport Advisory Board but a different committee tasked with future planning and
community improvement. Anyway...she told me that the Airport Advisory Board is,
by charter, totally impotent. So, I should not imply that the members of the
board are incompetent but, rather, that the committee is basically worthless
independent of the membership. I hope that clarifies things.