10 Best Restaurants in Columbus

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

The Crave 10 The Best Restaurants in Columbus Yes, this is only Crave's second issue, but our writers have an awful lot of experience reviewing restaurants in Columbus-not to mention eating at them. So yeah, we're going there. We're declaring the 10 best restaurants in Columbus. As we narrowed down our choices, our editorial board considered atmosphere, general vibe, wine lists, cocktail menus, attentive and knowledgeable service. But first and foremost was the food. We wanted menus that are not only filled with delicious dishes, but that are creative and always changing, that incorporate local and seasonal ingredients, and that are infused with the chef's personality. When we sat down to hash out this list, I was expecting a knock-down, drag-out fight. But we came to a consensus pretty quickly. These are our very favorite places to eat in the city, the places that make us most proud to call Columbus home. So let us tell you about our top 10 restaurants, and why we're so crazy about them. --Shelley Mann

1. Rigsby's Kitchen

698 N. High St., Short North


Hours: 1 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 5:30-10 p.m.

Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 5:30-11 p.m. Friday, 12-3 p.m. and 5:30-11 p.m. Saturday

Story by Shelley Mann | Photos by Will Shilling

Amazing, isn't it, how Rigsby's has been making it look easy for 25 years. In the decades since the Short North trailblazer opened, dozens of other, more exciting restaurants have come and gone. But Rigsby's hasn't flinched. This place has managed to define fine dining in Columbus: a refined but relaxed ambiance, fantastic food without much fuss.

The neighborhood that's now home to the city's swankiest restaurants wasn't so desirable when Rigsby's Cuisine Volatile opened its doors in 1986. But Kent and Tasi Rigsby's restaurant, centered on food inspired by summers spent in Greece and Italy, drew people to the arts district.

It's never stopped quietly evolving and improving, and that's why it gets our top honors.

I first ate at Rigsby's on a date as a college student. We ended up there because somebody told me it was the nicest restaurant in Columbus. We were flat broke, and so I skipped appetizers and dessert and ordered the cheapest thing on the menu. And yet, I still think back fondly on that first Rigsby's meal-butternut squash ravioli, a simple dish made special with high quality, locally sourced ingredients.

I've been back many times since, and every time I find something new to fall in love with. The bread, baked right down the street at Rigsby's own Eleni-Christina bakery. The cocktails, shaken with care behind that stunner of a backlit bar. The artwork, oversized pieces that feel right at home on towering exposed-brick walls.

And so many dishes. Deviled eggs with truffle oil, an unbelievably indulgent twist on a suburban staple. Roasted beets with skorthalia, an addictive Greek garlicky potato dip. The most amazing gnocchi you'll ever taste, tender potato pillows tossed in a rich Bolognese. Apple tart tartin, a sweet little dessert incorporating caramelized Lynd's Fruit Farm apples set off by a cinnamon-caramel sauce.

Here's to 25 years of doing it right. Let's hope for 25 more.

2. G. Michael's

Bistro & Bar

595 S. Third St., German Village


Hours: 5-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday,

5-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday

Story by Brian Lindamood | Photos by Jodi Miller

The Chilled Cucumber-Buttermilk Soup is transcendent. Call it the Official Flavor of Summer in Columbus-the crisp and cool taste of local produce tingles on the tongue, and the creamy finish is as soothing as a lazy summer afternoon on the patio.

Oh, and it's topped with a dollop of Watershed Gin whipped cream. Yeah, you read that right: Watershed Gin whipped cream.

The soup may be one little thing on a menu full of bold flavors, but that's the point: G. Michael's does all the little things right.

Executive chef David Tetzloff keeps the menu moving through the seasons, using local ingredients whenever possible in the frequently changing lineup. The constant is the creativity Tetzloff brings to his unique combination of Midwestern and Lowcountry influences. (We should all be grateful that the chef returned from culinary school in South Carolina with a taste for pork in all its indulgent forms.)

His whimsy was on full display in a dish I enjoyed recently, part of the Duo of Fowl: Buffalo-style quail with Maytag-celery root slaw. With a knowing wink to the sports-bar favorite, and fine preparation of the delicate bird, it was as fun to eat as it was to order.

Tetzloff's innovative touches have been a G. Michael's hallmark for more than a decade. That longevity says a lot about the restaurant's excellence and its beloved place in German Village. Regulars gather around the long wooden bar in the cozy front room, while diners in the bistro-like dining room celebrate special occasions-or any occasion at all.

It's not easy to become an institution in a 200-year-old neighborhood, but this restaurant is as much a part of the landscape as the brick sidewalks leading down Third Street to Schiller Park.

3. Kihachi

2667 Federated Blvd., Dublin


Hours: 6-10 p.m. Monday-Saturday

Story by G.A. Benton | Photos by Will Shilling

As a veteran professional eater, I'm rarely overwhelmed by every single bite of any dinner from start to finish. But that happens nearly every time I dine at Kihachi. When lining up adjectives to capture that food, the candidates pushing forward are: elegant, spare, thrilling and poetic.

Yes, Kihachi's very special. In fact, I bet if you questioned the other chefs on this list about their favorite culinary magicians, most would reverently mention master Mike Kimura.

Thus his dazzling dishes transcend lesser features like a shrug-inducing wine list (beer and sake work great anyway). As for ambiance, though Kihachi features nifty tatami-matted chambers, this strip-mall temple of no-training-wheels Japanese cuisine might best be described as a blank canvas for Kimura's artistry.

Said artistry is catalogued on two menus, one containing udon, teriyaki, tempura and such and another with more rarefied, tapas-type preparations. I recommend latching onto the latter, where huge pleasures arise from small plates.

Recent knockouts include: a basket of crunchy, deep-fried lotus root wedges crammed with a delightful shrimp filling-water-derived gifts with celestial textures and flavors. Stunning, lime-scented sea bream sushi patterned, wallpaper-style, with sancho leaves, served with an explosive grapefruity sauce (Kihachi's not a sushi restaurant, but you'll find none finer in Ohio). Insanely intense Berkshire pork cheeks presented with bare vegetal accoutrements-a porcine haiku.

Kihachi's my preferred special occasion restaurant, and I highly recommend splurging on its mindblowing omakase (multi-course magnificence). Insider tip: from October into November, Kihachi's matsutaki mushroom-packed omakases are especially majestic.

4. Dragonfly Neo-V

247 King Ave., Victorian Village


Hours: 5-10 p.m. Tuesday-Friday,

11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. and 5-10 p.m. Saturday

Story by Robin Davis l Photos by Jodi Miller

I don't go to Dragonfly just because it serves vegan food; I go because it's good food that happens to be vegan.

The unassuming restaurant sits on a bare-bones strip of King Avenue near Victorian Village. Inside, pressed-tin ceilings and fresh flowers are nice touches in an otherwise simple space.

In comparison with the sleek and simple surroundings, the plates coming out of the kitchen are intricate works of art. When it comes to the food, it's truly Chef Magdiale Wolmark's vision. His frequently changing menu is filled with quirky veggie-based inventions, including some dishes that replicate ones made with meat.

He uses hon-shemeji mushrooms to make faux calamari, coating them in a light batter and frying them till crisp. The tender nuggets sit on a bed of well-seasoned tomato sauce, and somehow even have a taste of the sea.

Customers don't mind waiting the 25 minutes it takes for the mushroom risotto-it's made from scratch to order-because it's something of a masterpiece. Studded with vegetables and infused with a deep, earthy flavor, it's purely satisfying.

The same is true of the mac 'n' cheese, a dish the restaurant can't take off the menu. Unsurprisingly, the best part of this comfort-food classic isn't the orzo tossed with a full-flavored vegan cheese sauce. It's the vegetables-sauteed collard greens and crisp breaded mushroom-that are really the stars.

Dragonfly specializes in fun mixed drinks, too. The Jezebel is a flirty, colorful concoction of orange vodka, cranberry and Goldschlager. And for those not imbibing, a glass of Raenfall-a fruity lavender punch-is light and refreshing.

5. Basi Italia

811 Highland St., Victorian Village


Hours: 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. and 5-10 p.m.

Monday-Thursday, 5-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday

Story by Shelley Mann l Photos by Will Shilling

Eat a meal at this tiny gem hidden deep in Victorian Village and you come away feeling like part of the family.

For one thing, the Basi space is actually an old house, so it really does feel like you're eating dinner at the home of some old friends. Namely, husband-and-wife owners Johnny Dornback and Trish Gentile. And if you sit inside, you'll be close enough to your fellow diners that you'll quickly become old friends.

But it's more than that. It's plates of food that feel like they came from a home kitchen rather than a gourmet restaurant-albeit a home kitchen with an outstanding cook. It's a waitstaff filled with people who have obviously become part of the extended Basi family-they're having fun even as they hustle and bustle and do what it takes to keep a restaurant running efficiently.

Johnny is the chef behind Basi's Italian-inspired menu. It changes seasonally but is typically heavy on unfussy pastas and flavorful seafood. Trish is in charge of the wine-and she has a big hand in planning the menu, too.

The Basi menu is short and sweet. On the Primo side, seasonal salads join favorite appetizers like the Zucchini Pronto-a present of sorts featuring a pile of roasted zucchini and toasted almonds wrapped in thin sheets of pecorino-and the magical Parmesan Creme Brulee, a cheese custard with a crispy, caramelized crust.

The main courses change up more frequently, plus there are always tantalizing specials detailed on chalkboard menus.

This summer's offerings included a delightful Veal Ravioli entree, with velvety ground veal tucked inside thick pockets of pasta that resembled mini pope hats. They sat upright with some charred cherry tomatoes and wilted arugula in a pool of thick, fragrant parmesan broth.

What a welcome and unexpected treat in a world of red-sauced, rubbery-noodled Italian food.

6. Sage American Bistro

2653 N. High St., Old North Columbus


Hours: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and 5-10 p.m.

Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday

Story by Brian Lindamood l Photos by Jodi Miller

Sage may be the single best illustration of all that's right with the local restaurant scene. Everything I love about dining in this city is served up inside the bistro's exposed brick walls with a personality that is uniquely, deliciously Columbus.

It starts with indie-minded chef/owner Bill Glover, a rising star who can claim his place beside the other young artists and entrepreneurs in the city's creative community.

Glover's small, carefully curated menu of local and seasonal flavors elevates American entrees-Bistro Steak, Braised Pork Cheeks, Grilled Salmon-with spot-on execution and tastebud-twisting additions like fried chive dumplings, truffle-cauliflower puree or shitake-leek bread pudding.

Glover even makes his own ketchups, including a rich, smoky chipotle and a sweet, tangy blackberry. Those sauces take center stage during lunch, which is a fun (and affordable) way to taste the chef's creativity in sandwich form.

Sunday brunch is just as rewarding, transforming morning favorites into indulgent and unexpected delights (Sage Benedict swaps out traditional ham for duck confit).

Sage's intimate atmosphere is perfect for Columbus. It's a neighborhoody place in a city that loves its neighborhoods, casually embracing its eclectic North Campus surroundings with a welcoming smile.

My favorite perch is at the small bar, which offers friendly conversation with the bartender, a peek into the buzzing open kitchen and a full view of the narrow dining room flanked by local artwork.

The stylish setting would seem at home in any big city, but it wouldn't be the same anywhere but here.

7. The Refectory

Restaurant & Bistro

1092 Bethel Rd., Northwest Side


Hours: 5:30-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 5-9:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday

Story by Shelley Mann l Photos by Jodi Miller

Alpaca and antelope. Sweetbreads lasagna and seafood strudel.

Stuffy French stereotypes be damned, I had one of the most exciting meals of my life at the Refectory.

Sitting on the more relaxed bistro side of the restaurant helped. My pal and I might have been the youngest people dining that night, but we were far from the most boisterous.

The Refectory has all the upscale touches you expect from what Columbus' finest dining experience-white tablecloths, fine china, tuxedoed waiters brushing away bread crumbs, water glasses never less than 80 percent full and, of course, flawlessly executed dishes.

Richard Blondin is the Lyon-born, Paul Bocuse-trained chef behind the delectable food, while Kamal Boulos, the owner, is responsible for establishing Refectory as the city's special occasion destination. The setting certainly can't be beat. Housed in a converted church, Refectory has exposed brick walls, neat stained-glass windows and steep beamed ceilings.

Sitting on the bistro side doesn't mean you have to order from the prix-fixe bistro menu. That three-course dinner is a great deal, but if you want to splurge, look to the regular menu served in all the dining rooms.

We started with several small plates-the much-talked-about Alpaca Terrine, a bacon-wrapped pate incorporating pistachios, black olives and cranberries; a delightful Seafood Strudel made with big chunks of fresh shellfish; and the Sweetbread Lasagna, intensely flavored organ-meat nuggets nestled between thin layers of pasta.

My main was Texas Antelope medallions, brined in bourbon, encrusted with sage and bacon, then roasted until fork-tender. They were accompanied by some roasted asparagus spears, a dollop of mashed potatoes and honey-kissed jus.

And dessert was the jaw-droppingly stunning Pear Tart Frangipane, a sunburst of thinly sliced pears ringed in rays of vanilla-almond frangipane and raspberry sauce and topped with a small scoop of pistachio ice cream.

Every single bite that night was divine.

8. M at Miranova

2 Miranova Pl., Downtown


Hours: 5-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday,

5-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday

Story by Robin Davis l Photos by Will Shilling

M can be whatever you want it to be.

Looking for a special occasion spot? With striking two-story ceilings hung with diaphanous white curtains and simply stunning views of the Downtown skyline, M is it.

Want a sophisticated cocktail lounge? That's M too, with a dramatically blue-lit bar that has to be the prettiest in the city, manned by mixologist extraordinaire Cris Dehlavi.

The cocktails alone are reason to visit. Take the Black Orchid. The black raspberry vodka and St. Germain drink is garnished with an actual orchid frozen into a ball of ice. The Marquee is just as pretty, a mix of citrus vodka and blood orange puree with a spritz of bitters forming the letter M on top.

Chef Jay Cotrell whips up food to please a variety of palates. Kobe beef slider appetizers are a homey snack served with fries and spicy ketchup and aioli for dipping.

Diners looking for more celebratory fare can feast on seafood dishes with an Asian influence. Poke-cubed raw tuna with bits of pineapple, peas and tiny taro root chips-is an appetizer that's meant to be shared. A shrimp tempura dish comes with three fat shrimp, sweet potato slices and shitake mushroom caps, all coated in an ultra-crisp batter and served with a sweet-spicy chili sauce.

For entrees, listen to the specials. On a recent visit, I loved the seared Scottish salmon served over baby bok choy with a soy-butter sauce.

Don't pass up dessert, especially the Root Beer Float. This beaut combines root beer granita with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, all doused in root beer and served with warm chocolate chip cookies.

9. Alana's

Food & Wine

2333 N. High St., North Campus


Hours: 5-9 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday,

5 p.m.-close Friday-Saturday

Story by G.A. Benton | Photos by Jodi Miller

Alana's name is literally bent into a little fence that's the entrance to her restaurant and party-time patio. This is certainly fitting, considering Alana Shock's personality is stamped all over her terrific place.

Alana's taste shows up on her walls, which are awash in brash and humor-splashed local art. It's in the music, which weaves a path from voodoo-soaked New Orleans (where Alana trained under Emeril Lagasse), to Piaf's Paris, to a nutty place in America where someone dreamed up a zippy big band version of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame."

And of course Alana's touch is all over her menu, which she composes daily after shopping for the freshest and best ingredients available. See, Alana's been flying the eat-seasonal and go-local flags as long and as vehemently as any restaurant in Columbus.

Still, it's her worldbeat creativity that most distinguishes her eatery. Here, handmade Thai curry pastes share menu space with Moroccan flavors, Colombian arepas, zingy African piri-piri sauces and Indian spice-kissed Ohio-raised pork and steaks.

Vegetables are special too. They're liable to refreshingly brighten an all-cold item menu served on a hot summer night, starring Alana's famous locally grown tomato and peekytoe crab stack and a virtually fatless grilled tomatillo gazpacho.

And holy bacchus if the giant globe-spanning wine list isn't one of the best and best-priced ever printed in Ohio. Toss in creative cocktails concocted with local fruits and local hooches plus pretty housemade pastries and you'll understand why every night could be Mardi Gras at Alana's.

10. Worthington Inn

649 High St., Worthington


Hours: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and 5-9 p.m.

Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and 5-10 p.m.

Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday

Story by G.A. Benton l Photos by Will Shilling

Time curves in on itself at the Worthington Inn. Here amid quaint old paintings and elaborately carved woodwork, you step into the past to dine in the present.

Inside the delightfully preserved 19th-century country mansion, pink and tender spring lamb chops are lavished with a multi-culti artichoke and harissa ragu straddled by the yin and yang of a sriracha-based sauce and housemade tzatziki.

Or a Sunday-style chicken dinner is elevated with succulently roasted, locally raised poultry graced by a demi-like morel gravy (when in season).

If the Inn's ingredient-driven homemade cuisine seems to defy expectations of its museum-like 1800s setting, actually scratch cooking with local ingredients hearkens back to its Victorian-era roots.

Overseeing the everything-old-is-new-again deliciousness is the freshness-obsessed and versatile chef Thomas Smith, who uses (when available) herbs and vegetables grown in his own garden. Smith has also added several casual touches to loosen up this fine dining institution-like grilling up a great, grass-fed, Ohio-raised hamburger and starting a breakfast-all-day policy on summery Saturdays during the Worthington Farmer's Market.

Weather permitting, the burger and breakfast are best enjoyed on the Inn's scenic patio with an icy cocktail or glass of wine from a fine vino list. Plan B is definitely lounging in the vintage barroom, where "cheffed-up" pubby munchies are offered and great (free!) jazz bands play on weekend evenings.

Ending with intensely fruity Inn-made sorbets or ice creams is a revivifying warm-weather finale and a fittingly contemporary old-fashioned treat.