Culinary Columbus: A Memoir


This evening, as I strolled along the beautiful streets of downtown Worthington with my daughter, I couldn’t fight the wave of nostalgia that overtook me.

“That’s where mommy and daddy had our wedding reception, “ I told her, pointing to the Worthington Inn. “And over there, along that stone wall, that’s where mommy sat in the summer and ate ice cream. I loved sitting on that wall and swinging my legs. My favorite flavor was Cookie Dough.”  

I looked over at my husband and he offered that HIS favorite flavor was Black Raspberry Chocolate Chip.  

We both looked at our daughter and simultaneously said: Graeter’s has the best ice-cream, and don’t let anyone try to convince you otherwise!”  

The thought of mommy once being a child must have been hilarious, because she couldn’t stop laughing.  

But the truth is, I was in fact, once a child. And a lucky child – since I got to grow up here in Columbus, surrounded by some amazing restaurants. I’ve always been fascinated with food.  Some people remember what they wore on special occasions, but me? I remember what I ate. And the more I thought about it, the more nostalgic I got. Some women write letters to “all the men they’ve loved” – but that’s not really my style.  

Instead, I invite you take a walk down memory lane with me as I recall a few of the restaurants I’ve loved.

Growing up, we rarely went out to eat.  Maaaaybe twice a year.  My parents always preferred to cook, but on the VERY rare occasion we’d go out to eat, we’d always go to Hunan House.  

This is still my favorite Chinese restaurant, and it is the standard by which I measure all Chinese meals.  We’d always get the same dishes – spicy chicken in soothing lettuce cups, Hunan chicken, hot pepper chicken, orange shrimp, and some seriously delicious shrimp fried rice.

Hunan House has the absolute best lettuce cups ever.  What I love about them is that unlike most lettuce cups, their minced chicken filling also includes crunchy vegetables and a tangy sauce with a spicy kick.  So good.

My favorite dish at Cameron’s – Braised Beef Short Ribs!

My junior year of high school, my Valentine’s date took me to Cameron’s American Bistro.  I was blown away! It was by far the fanciest restaurant that I’d ever been to at that time, and the menu was far more advanced than my high school palate allowed.  

My date and I split a plate of pasta, drank water, and filled up on bread.  While the boy has changed, this is still one of my favorite date night locations.

I have a hard time deciding which I like better, the food or the service, but suffice to say, that both are outstanding. This is the kind of place where you are compelled to linger over cocktails and eat slowly because the meal is so good that you just can’t bear for it to end.

My favorite cocktail is their Honey Vanilla Sidecar – made with Madagascar Vanilla.  My husband loves to sample the menu, but once I tried their Braised Beef Short Ribs, I was hooked.  It’s the only entree I order these days. Fork tender and the most delicious gravy.

Senior year, my friends and I used to haunt Restaurant Silla.  We thought we were SO COOL.  I mean, everyone ate Chinese or Mexican food.  No big deal.  But us?  We were eating KOREAN food.  So sophisticated! Plus, it was open until 2 a.m. on weekends and you could sing karaoke all night.  

The neat thing about Korean food is that when you order an entree, it comes with a half dozen little bowls of different accompaniments.  This was always part of the adventure as we never knew what anything was!  There are many delicious things to choose from, but if this is your first foray into Korean food, try something simple like a Beef or Chicken Bulgogi.  The more adventurous among us might want dip into a spicy hot pot stew.

Before I knew it – I graduated and was off to The Ohio State University. There was some kind of cult following behind Adriatico’s pizza which I never understood as I was squarely on team Catfish Biff’s from day one. It’s still the best pizza I’ve ever had. It’s served “Columbus-style” on a thin, crispy crust with a spicy, tangy sauce. Plus, they sold it by the slice!  

The love of raw fish must run in my DNA because our little one has loved it since age 2!

And then, I met my husband. I’ll never forget one of our earliest meals together at Sushi En. I was trying to play it cool and absolutely refused to mention that not only had I never eaten sushi before, but just the thought of raw fish turned my stomach.  I mean, come on, what’s wrong with cooking it?!  

I watched him mix his wasabi into his soy sauce. He dipped his roll in the sauce and then popped it into his mouth. When he picked up his second piece, I knew I couldn’t stall any longer. I was totally going to do this. I was going to put raw fish in my mouth! I took a deep breath and tasted my first spicy tuna roll. And, you guys, it was seriously the most delicious thing ever.

The love of raw fish must be part of my DNA because my daughter has loved sushi since her first taste at 2 years old.  When she celebrated her 4th birthday, we asked her where she wanted to go and she decided on a “fairy-tale fancy” restaurant, wearing a princess dress, and eating sushi.

Hmm.  It didn’t take us long to pick Ocean Club. While it certainly fell into the “fairy-tale fancy” category, I wasn’t quite sure how appropriate it would be to take a 4 year old there, but we crossed our fingers and promised ourselves we’d leave quickly in case she started acting like, well, a 4 year old. We shouldn’t have worried. She was so mesmerized by the views, ambiance and food that she never got bored. We read every item on the menu to her and let her decide on dinner.  

Cheesy fondue with soft pretzels, vegetables, and salami. Best birthday ever!

We were dying to know what a 4 year old would order. She decided on a cheese fondue starter (with pretzel bread!  And salami!).  Luckily for us, she was willing to share.  For her main course, none of the kids’ menu items included sushi. But we found something on their bar bites menu that fit the bill, and it was the perfect size for a 4 year old – Ocean Club’s fantastic Ahi Tuna tacos. (Or as she referred to them, “sushi tacos!”) We asked if we could order those at the table instead of only at the bar, and they were happy to comply.

For dessert, she was in awe of her Baked Alaska. I don’t think there’s a better dessert in Columbus. Ocean Club celebrates birthdays with a complimentary dessert, and the Baked Alaska is big enough to share. Just ask for a few extra spoons!

I’m forever grateful to live in such a foodie town. There are so many options for whatever stage of life you are currently in and whatever your budget may be. I could have listed memories from at least a dozen more places.  What are some of your favorite restaurant memories?  Happy Dining!


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Malini was born and raised in Worthington, OH. While it’s true that she has a raging case of wanderlust and takes every opportunity to travel far and wide, she and her husband can’t think of a better place to raise their 4 year old daughter and 10 year old Basenji dog, Sparky (aka - Sparks, Sparkles, Spark-a-licious, Sparkle-Pants). She works full time and spends her weekends tinkering around on a passion project that she and her husband have turned into a business. Malini’s favorite thing about Columbus is the amazing food scene - from food trucks to fine dining, Columbus has it all. Basically, she is obsessed with all things food + travel, and you can follow along with her family adventures on her blog Lakes and Lattes. She fell in love with her husband on a dance floor, and their daughter has certainly inherited daddy’s dancing genes! You can find them dancing around the kitchen, the living room, and the lawn. While it's painfully true that she has zero fashion sense, she can usually find her way around a kitchen. Her life goals include connecting with others and inspiring them to travel and eat good food!