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Columbia MO

Columbia MO

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).

General

Convention and Visitors' Bureau
City of Columbia Web Site

Chamber of Commerce

Food

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.

Shakespeare's Pizza1
Trattoria Strada Nova2 (deceased)
Chim's Thai Kitchen
3
-
both down on the river at Cooper's Landing but new downtown location too
CJ's4
CC's City Broiler5
Sycamore6
Booches7
Murry's8
The Wine Cellar and Bistro  
(aka Cherry Street)9
Curries India ToGo Restaurant10
Cafe Berlin11
Tonanzio's12
Buck's Ice Cream1
3
 

The Close-by Lunch Places (downtown but close to campus)
   -
Addisons

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."
     - Casablanca
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 and Brewing
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.
   - The Rome
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.      -
   - Main Squeeze
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 it's ok

Smokin' Chicks (maybe my very favorite but see D. Rowe's)
Buckingham Smokehouse BBQ
Bandana's BBQ
(not bad for a chain)
D. Rowe's 
(we recently did a blind taste-test, this place won!)*****

Favorite Ethnic Restaurants

Chinese - 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. ABC Chinese 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.

Korean -
Kojaba Bar Korean Japanese BBQ. Note, there's a new place in town Kui Korean Barbecue, right downtown on 9th street. I like it!

Japanese - Osaka (but Sake  for lunch or drinks)

Thai -
Bangkok Gardens (downtown)

Vietnamese
- Saigon Bistro (downtown)


Indian -
Taj Mahal (downtown)

Panasian -
Jina Yoo's (pricey for dinner but lunch is very reasonable)

Mexican -
Rio Grande but there are many similar places you can go to. Note that LaSiesta is downtown. The general opinion is that La Terazza is the best at present. It probably is.

Middle Eastern -
Casablanca ("of all the falafel joints, in all the towns in all the world, I walk into theirs...")

Italian - Nothing that good, sorry.
There are certainly places I regularly frequent including The Rome  and  Bambino's. And, as noted above, Shakespeare's has 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 the  Italian restaurant chains  (e.g., Olive Garden, Fazzoli's). Anyway, Columbia needs a good Italian restaurant.

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

Another Big List of Restaurants
- this list is great for finding a place that will meet your special needs (e.g., free Wi-Fi, gluten challenged, kid friendly).

Some other guy's "top ten" list of Columbia restaurants (it's a pretty decent list although a bit dated now)

Food Inspection Reports14

Why go to Columbia, MO?

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" and Forbes 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 (2/3/09) on 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 other column). A new musical event is Roots and 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, John Mayall, among many others . To get view clips of the artists and see who's performed in prior years, check out the website.

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 MO-X which 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. (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, the School House B&B, that B&B aficionados are sure to enjoy. (Rocheport also hosts the Yates House and Amber House B&Bs.) 

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.

Music

Upcoming shows
The Blue Note
Mojo's
Full List of Music Venues

Radio Stations
--Numerous stations to suit a variety of musical tastes (and political and religious bents). My three favorites are...

KBXR
KBIA
KOPN
- 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 Broadcasting served 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.

Newspapers
 
 - No, Columbia doesn't need two daily papers and the Missourian really has little to offer. Both are available online.

Columbia Missourian
Columbia Daily Tribune

Magazines
 
- Columbia boasts a number of scholarly and trade magazines (Sheep Breeder and Sheepman, anyone?) but also has several general interest mags. I've listed a few below.

Inside Columbia
Vox

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 here.

Footnotes:
1
Truly 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 Missouri River.  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 sweltering occasion.

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.

10OK. 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? Hope not.

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.