These markets and food halls allow diners to take a culinary tour, all under one roof.

With literally thousands of restaurants in Central Ohio, the abundance of unique and satisfying dining selections can overwhelm even the most intrepid online food sleuths, let alone the more casual explorer. There’s so much to try, but where to start? And, when dining in groups or even pairs, cravings often differ such that no single restaurant can cater to every culinary desire. When variety is called for, the selection conundrum grows.

Fortunately, Columbus is blessed with a wide range of one-stop shops—markets, food halls and vendor cooperatives—that can concentrate a visitor’s focus while simultaneously providing a welcome diversity of dining choices. Offering up to 35 distinct options each, one of these destinations is sure to provide the perfect starting point for a Central Ohio culinary adventure.

None holds a dearer place in the hearts of Central Ohioans than the North Market. Founded in 1876, the North Market distinguishes itself as the last of the four major public markets around Columbus. It provides convenient destination shopping and dining for more than 1 million locals, conventiongoers and visitors to the Short North and Arena District neighborhoods each year.

The North Market’s selection is tremendous both in quantity and in quality, with some of the most nationally lauded food purveyors around calling it home. A quick stroll reveals Diners, Drive-ins and Dives darling Momo Ghar (more on it later), revered “Vegetable Butcher” cookbook author Cara Mangini’s Little Eater, artisan cheesemonger Black Radish (don’t miss its raclette) and Hot Chicken Takeover, whose delicious spin on Nashville hot chicken and unique social mission have garnered the admiration of NBC’s Today show, Food & Wine and USA Today. A broad selection of beer and wine are available by the bottle, glass or pint at Barrel & Bottle, and alcohol may be consumed anywhere within the North Market’s 44,000-square-foot environs.

Dessert selections are deep here, too, from the beautifully displayed edible art of French pâtisserie Pistacia Vera to the intriguingly innovative flavor combinations at Destination Donuts to the most “Columbus” of Columbus institutions, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams. Jeni’s array of improbably delicious flavors invite sampling, and even the James Beard Award-winning Jeni Britton Bauer herself would encourage you to do as the locals do and ask for as many free tastes as it takes to make a selection.

Farther afield, the bustling Saraga International Grocery on Morse Road quickly became a default destination for international shoppers and subsequently evolved to include an array of immigrant kitchens preparing the signature foods of their homelands. Here, Bulgogi Korean Restaurant offers not only its namesake marinated beef preparation, but a significant range of authentic dishes that even includes a rendition of the ever-trendy and crunchily craveable Korean fried chicken. Mexican is represented by Los Tizoncitos La Joya, whose menu offers a wide variety of regional dishes, including the irresistibly messy pambazo (a chorizo and potato sandwich dipped in guajillo sauce and flat-top grilled). Beautifully displayed Mexican pastries made fresh daily to satisfy the marketgoer sweet tooth are found at the counter of Panaderia Mi Puebla.

And finally, do not make the common mistake of overlooking the least prominently located food vendor in Saraga, Momo Ghar. Its modest, 10-seat lunch counter, serving Nepali-Tibetan dumplings, launched the brand into the national spotlight just one year after its debut. When she’s not at her aforementioned North Market location, you can still find the owner, Phuntso Lama, delicately hand-pleating dumplings with pride in preparation for her deliciously savory signature dish, jhol momo (eight substantial dumplings in a subtly spicy jhol sauce).

Columbus’ Northwest Side is home to a significant Japanese population, and Japan Marketplace is its culinary hub. This complex, tucked into the Kenny Centre strip mall at Old Henderson and Kenny roads, offers five food options plus J Avenue, the most adorable of Japanese novelty gift shops.

For a full-service dining experience, the marketplace’s Akai Hana is among the best restaurants in the city for Japanese-style noodles, grilled izakaya dishes, sushi and much more. Feeling more like a quick ramen, Japanese curry or rice box meal? Join the lively throngs at Tensuke Express, and keep an eye out for the daily specials. The takoyaki appetizer (savory octopus pancake balls) are also a favorite. For quick-service sushi, chirashi or even poke, Sushi 10 offers plenty, and your order may either be eaten there or taken into Tensuke Express. If that’s not quick enough, pop into the bustling Tensuke Market, where case after case of the best premade sushi in the city shares an aisle with other prepared Japanese meals. While there, take a moment to peruse the vast range of Japanese soft drinks, bottled teas and canned coffees.

Finally, don’t skip what Food & Wine called “one of the best Japanese bakeries in the United States,” Belle’s Bread. The French-inspired Japanese pastries include decadent choco cornets, taro buns, red bean rolls and peach Danishes, and the mouthwateringly beautiful cakes (the mango mousse is a favorite) can be ordered by the slice. Both the savory and dessert crêpes make for trendy French-Asian fusion snacks that are popular with Belle’s younger customers, and the green tea soft serve ice cream also has a dedicated following. 

Note that Kenny Centre also features other international stops, including Ichiban Bakery (Japanese), Mr. Pot (Chinese hot pot) and Kung Fu Tea (a local site of the national bubble tea chain).

If your preference leans toward drinks, then the centrally located Short North Food Hall offers three kitchens serving up better-than-bar-snack dishes to complement an extensive cocktail and beer menu. Within, Vinny’s Italian serves solid pizzas and some of the best meatballs in town. Burger Bar elevates the average sandwich with quality sourcing and gourmet toppings, while El Hefe serves corn-tortilla-based tacos with fillings such as barbacoa, carne asada and blackened mahi.

Reprinted from Columbus Monthly City Guide 2019.