Summer in the city: Eat your way through the warmest, longest days of the year

From barbecue to taco trucks, ice cream to soul food, these local spots are sure to satisfy as the mercury rises in Columbus

G.A. Benton
Bean salad, ahi tuna and pickled vegetables with a Palooma cocktail at Understory, a lounge and restaurant located in the Open Air building on Neil Avenue in Old North Columbus.

Memorial Day, the unofficial beginning of summer, is just around the corner. Cue the soaring expectations for fun-in-the-sun activities packing the longest days of the year. Before smearing on sunscreen, though, consider this evergreen quote from the late, great M.F.K. Fisher: “First we eat, then we do everything else.”

So let’s eat … and enjoy summer!

Ribs and beer at Ray Ray's Meat + Three in Granville.

Summer and smoke

Barbecue and summer are a well-matched couple. Unfortunately, barbecue often hooks up with disappointment, too, especially for home cooks. On those days when you’d rather not deal with such possibilities — and a big open flame — let the top professionals in the land handle the smoky work at Ray Ray’s Hog Pit, a stellar local mini-chain.

With its extended menu, fashionable space and Nashville-inspired framework (choose one meat and three sides for a great price), Ray Ray’s Meat + Three — the newest, most ambitious Ray Ray’s branch — is absolutely worth a drive to Granville for its signature “whole hawg” meat, zesty sausages and great proprietary sides like German potato salad.

The company also offers excellent food-truck-style outlets in Powell, Westerville, Franklinton and in the Ace of Cups parking lot in Old North Columbus. If you visit the latter, let me know if I have greens and rib meat decorating my face (again) at Ace's nice patio.

Ray Ray's Meat + Three

1256 Columbus Rd., Granville


Ray Ray’s Hog Pit

multiple locations 

Emmett's Cafe at the Open Air building on Neil Avenue in Old North Columbus

Fresh Air

The best new cafe and best new cocktail bar with a related brewpub are located in the nearly century-old Open Air building. Adjacent to nature-and-bike-path trails and offering scenic views, the stylish Open Air is a wonderfully repurposed old brick school in the University District. Those aforementioned businesses newly residing in it are the second branch of hip Emmett’s Cafe (love the Meat + Tato breakfast sandwich and Hudson burger) and Understory — a multi-pronged operation from Wolf’s Ridge Brewing that includes Understory Lounge (recommended: ahi tuna, every cocktail) and the patio-equipped, beer-centric Understory Commons (try the Firecracker Chicken bowl).

Emmett's Cafe at Open Air 

2571 Neil Ave., Old North



2571 Neil Ave., Old North


More:Emmett’s Cafe expands to Open Air, continues to excel

Mississippi Fried Fish (catfish) with black-eyed pea salad and red rice along with the three-piece barbecue spice chicken dinner at Modern Southern Table in the Budd Dairy Food Hall.

Buddy and soul

Budd Dairy Food Hall — a marvelously renovated facility whose outdoor seating includes a bar-equipped rooftop — houses several good eateries. None is better than Modern Southern Table, a game-changing soul food operation. 

Modern Southern Table does its warm-weather-evoking name proud with sensational takes on “Alabama'' fried chicken and its spiced-up “Low Country” cousin, as well as the best fried catfish you might ever eat. There’s no drop-off with sides like superb collard greens, candied yams and a downright revelatory, gazpacho-esque black-eyed-pea salad.  

Modern Southern Table

1086 N. 4th St., Budd Dairy Food Hall


More:Small menu packs big flavor at Modern Southern Table

Al pastor and chorizo tacos from the Los Agavez food truck on High Street in Clintonville

Keep on Taco Truckin’

Summer is peak taco truck season. Eating mobile taqueria fare outside in the summer is a simple but singular, seize-the-day pleasure whose memory can be comforting when the weather again turns freezing. 

Two high-achieving operations are helping Clintonville become a taco truck destination: reclaimed-from-theft, rehabbed and recently reopened La Poblanita (get tinga anything; tamales are a Friday-special must) and Los Agavez Taqueria (terrific pork al pastor and birria).

The West Side is still the de facto taco truck capital of Greater Columbus. That’s where you’ll find Los Guachos, the business that helped kickstart the local taco truck trend before launching three impressive dine-in Los Guachos Taquerías (get a gringa: al pastor, melted cheese, flour tortilla).

La Poblanita

3825 Indianola Ave., Clintonville


Los Agavez Taqueria

3166 N. High St., Clintonville


Los Guachos taco truck

3990 Sullivant Ave., West Side


More:Following theft, temporary closure, La Poblanita continues to serve stellar fare

Double Happy

Hot eats, cool treats

If a dairy bar is calling, you can’t beat independently owned Double Happy on the Southwest Side. Preparing irresistible fast-food-style fare (target the Double Happy burger and “waffle fry” — waffle-iron-pressed hash browns) and soft-serve-based delights (like first-rate milkshakes), this quirky little drive-through place comes by its name honestly.

More:Double Happy will put a smile on your face long after summer fades

Ice cream is the frosting on the cake of summer, and Columbus is home to a world-class operation: Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams. Haven't had a Jeni’s fix lately? A Memorial Day weekend festival presents a great chance to get reacquainted. On Saturday and Sunday, May 28 and 29, Jeni’s and Land-Grant Brewing will host “Strawberry Jam,” a season-celebrating shindig held at Land-Grant featuring live music, plus strawberry-themed food and drinks.

Double Happy

1280 Brown Rd.


Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams

multiple locations