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8 dining destinations in Columbus worth the drive

At the beginning of the summer I offered up a Cincinnati dining guide of solid spots to grab a bite when you are headed to a Reds game. The list could double for just about any event — concerts, performances, festivals and other downtown Cincinnati happenings.

With the summer concert season in full swing, it’s time to take a look at our capital city to explore some of the options available there.

Here’s a list of some of my go-to spots when I find myself in Buckeye central.

BARCELONA

263 E. Whittier St., Columbus | (614) 443-3699

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www.barcelonacolumbus.com

Boasting my favorite patio in all of Columbus, Barcelona is the place to go when you have some time to sit and savor the food and the day. The menu features a large selection of Spanish small plates as well as six different kinds of paella in addition to a few large plates if you don’t feel like sharing with the group. This German Village restaurant will transport you out of Ohio for a few hours with flavors and scenery that will both relax and excite at the same time. It bills itself as a “culinary fusion of metropolitan chic and old world European charm” for good reason. The Paella de Marisco ($32) with fried soft shell crab, scallops, shrimp, mussels, clams, piquillo peppers, peas, mushrooms, onions, aioli verde and calasparra rice is just one of many special dishes that can be found on the menu.

BLUE DANUBE

2439 N. High St., Columbus | (614) 261-9308

Located near Ohio State University, there is no better late night spot for my money than the Blue Danube in Columbus. Operating since 1940, this iconic mainstay feels like a time warp in all the best ways. You can eat and drink like a king or queen for $10, although they do offer the Dube Dinner Deluxe — a bottle of Dom Pérignon with two grilled cheese sandwiches for $175 if you’re feeling particularly fancy. I almost always order a bow of their savory lentil soup packed with carrots, celery and onion that never disappoints. This is my go-to spot when it’s late at night after a concert and I’m feeling famished.

NADA

220 W. Nationwide Blvd., Columbus | (614) 715-8260

www.eatdrinknada.com

Located within walking distance to Nationwide Arena, EXPRESS LIVE! (formerly Lifestyle Communities Pavilion), A&R Music Bar, The Basement and the Big Bang Dueling Piano Bar is a restaurant that will warm you up before the show. Owned by the Boca Restaurant Group out of Cincinnati, this restaurant is contemporary, hip and delicious. Nada’s tex-mex menu puts modern twists on traditional Mexican dishes. It’s a relatively small and simple menu, but with 10 varieties of tacos to choose from including a fantastic grilled salmon taco, there’s enough there to find something to like.

THE PEARL

641 N. High St, Columbus | (614) 227-0151

thepearlcolumbus.com

This relatively new concept from Cameron Mitchell is an upscale gastropub complete with an Oyster bar. The short north tavern pairs traditional pub fare with innovative ingredients and cooking techniques. Dishes like the pineapple marinated hanger steak ($26) served with kimchee fried rice and a fried egg, the southern fried chicken served with a cinnamon sticky bun and cider braised greens ($19), the N’awlins style baked oysters (3 for $11) and the Great Lakes fish n chips ($17) served with malt vinegar fries and coleslaw will fill you up before or after an event. In addition to beer, wine and a cocktail lists, customers can also enjoy housemade seasonal punches served tableside in classic punchbowls.

SCHMIDT’S SAUSAGE HAUS UND RESTAURANT

240 E. Kossuth St., Columbus | (614) 444-6808

http://schmidthaus.com

When you help run the largest festival in Dayton — (The Dayton Art Institute’s Oktoberfest happening Sept. 23-25), it’s very atypical to follow vendors to their place of business after the fact to order more food from them. I am in front of Schmidt’s all weekend long and the only alternative that makes more sense and provides more comfort is their 1886 German Village restaurant. If you get a chance, this German Village staple located south of downtown is one worth a visit to, if nothing else for the bevy of conversations you will have with friends and family after the fact. “The Original” Bahama Mama platter ($11.75) spicy beef and pork hickory-smoked sausages that are exceptionally good.

TIP TOP KITCHEN & COCKTAILS

73 E. Gay St., Downtown | (614) 221-8300

http://tiptopcolumbus.com

It’s not so much that the food is exceptional here — it’s good but never seems great — but that it’s open late into the evening. Open seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m., this comfort food watering hole serves food later into the evening than most places do. It also has PBR on tap for $2 day or night. The restaurant’s vegetarian spicy corn chowder topped with tortilla strips, cheddar-jack cheese and green onions ($5) is a staple. The food is priced right and comes out relatively quickly and sometimes when you are hungry late into the evening that’s enough to make it a tip-top idea.

THURMAN CAFE

183 Thurman Ave., Columbus | (614) 443-1570

http://thethurmancafe.com

Featured on the Travel Channel and the Food Network, this family owned tavern opened in 1942 in the German Village. It has wings and pizza and other bar food, but make no mistake, this restaurant is known for its burgers.The Thurmanator ($21.99) is the baddest, biggest burger of them all with a bottom bun, mayo, lettuce, tomato, pickle, banana peppers, 12-ounce burger, bacon, cheddar, another 12-ounce burger, sautéed mushrooms & onions, ham, mozzarella and American cheese, top bun and served with fries and a pickle spear. More manageable burgers fall in the $12-14 range. Even with a regular burger, you will feel like a nap is in order, so proceed with caution and consider sharing with a friend.

WOLF’S RIDGE BREWING

215 N. Fourth St., Downtown | (614) 429-3936

http://wolfsridgebrewing.com

My favorite Columbus find in the last year is without question Wolf’s Ridge Brewing — a relatively unassuming spot that you would probably only come across if you were seeking it out specifically. The menu is made for foodies, and the beer is a satisfying bonus. The open dining room featuring communal seating is chill and relaxed, and the focus is definitely on what’s coming out of the kitchen. Brunch is served Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m.-3 p.m., but it’s the dinner hour that you really want to get there for. The menu is exceptionally friendly to vegetarians and those that are gluten free without compromising flavor. Dishes like the pea heavy scallops ($39) featuring pea coulis, fresh English peas, pea sponge cake, pea tendrils and bowfin caviar and the lamb chops ($29) served with roasted garlic mashed potatoes, grilled vidalia onions, Luxardo cherries, green garlic, pea tendrils and a cherry balsamic drizzle are heavenly creations that will leave you wishing you could try everything on the menu.

Dayton Eats looks at the regional food stories and restaurant news that make mouths water. Share details about menu updates, special dinners and events, new chefs, interesting new dishes and culinary adventures. Do you know of new exciting format changes, specials, happy hours, restaurant updates or any other tasty news you think is worth a closer look? E-mail Alexis Larsen at alexis.e.larsen@hotmail.com with the information and we will work to include it in future coverage.

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