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Global Food

Written by Zahir Janmohamed   
Photos by Maddie McGarvey

Columbus has one of the most vibrant immigrant food scenes in America. Here's proof:

Imagine this: you find yourself living in a country you have never been to before. You’ve read about it in the news, maybe learned a bit about it from movies, but for the most part, it’s all very foreign to you. And then suddenly, a few years in, you find yourself missing the things from back home you did not think mattered to you: the beer you once dismissed as being watered down; the potato chips you swore were too salty; the biscuits you passed on at family meals because they were too sugary. And now, in this new place, it’s all you want, not because your opinion of these items has changed, but because they transport you to somewhere familiar, somewhere comfortable, somewhere that feels, well, like you.

At Saraga International Grocery in Columbus on Morse Road, I witnessed this myself when I watched a Korean family, who had driven in from a small town in Pennsylvania, almost burst into tears when they discovered that the candies they used to cherish back in Seoul—candies that they had not been able to find elsewhere in the US—were available in aisle eight. 

If you want to experience magic like this, of people finding the communities and the treasures they have long been searching for, spend a weekend in Columbus. Even if you have never lived outside the US and cannot relate to this feeling, it’s hard not to be touched by the warmth of Columbus’ burgeoning, and I would argue, unparalleled immigrant food scene.

This past August, I spent three days crisscrossing around Columbus, eating far more food than I thought humanly possible. I found myself bowled over by the hospitality and the eagerness of businesses not only to welcome me in, but to teach me about their cultures through food.

It was not my first visit to the city. I moved to Columbus in the fall of 2017 when my wife was a one-year visiting professor at Denison University. I had previously lived in Portland, Oregon and while I loved my time there, I was often frustrated by how Portland’s food scene often excluded women, immigrants and people of color. Those frustrations led me to starting a podcast, Racist Sandwich, that explored the intersection between food and identity.

When I moved to Columbus, I expected to be bombarded with similar stories of exclusion within the food industry. Instead what I heard was the opposite: of immigrants singing the praises of Columbus and of foodies saying, rightfully so, that Columbus is doing pretty damn good for itself, punching way, way above its weight.

Consider the following: in 2017, when I moved to Columbus, the number one restaurant on Yelp was Momo Ghar, a dumpling restaurant started by a Tibetan-Nepali woman. The number one ice cream place, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, was started by a woman, Jeni Britton. Even when Momo Ghar was knocked off its perch, it was only because a new fried chicken place had opened called Hot Chicken Takeover—a restaurant known for its good labor practices, including hiring formerly incarcerated individuals.

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How I came to love Columbus

I did not expect to be so bowled over by Columbus. I am a Californian, born and raised in Sacramento to Indian parents from Tanzania. And while I am not proud to admit this, I approached the city with some of my coastal biases. But all of those misperceptions were shattered my very first month in Columbus when my wife and I attended a concert by Youssou N’Dour, the Senegalese singer who is often rightfully called the voice of Africa. The arena was packed, and I found myself incredibly moved by the fact that of the very few cities N’Dour chose to visit in the US, Columbus was one of them.  

And for good reason: according to the latest US census, there are 100,000 sub-Saharan African immigrants in Ohio, many of them who live in Columbus. Of the 900,000 residents in Columbus, 11.8% are foreign born, according to the latest US census. This is in large part because Ohio is a very welcoming state. The Refugee Processing Center, which tracks refugee intake, said that Ohio accepted the third highest number of refugees in the US in 2017, behind California and Texas.  

By all indications, immigrants and refugees are making Columbus a better city. According to the Columbus based Community Refugee and Immigration Services, as well as a recent study, “immigrants are now more than twice as likely to start businesses than native-born citizens.” 

Many of the businesses they start are in the food sector. However, with so many new restaurants opening seemingly each week, where does one begin? 

I approached my recent three-day trip to Columbus the way the New York Times does its 36 hours series: arrive on a Friday and leave on Sunday morning. Of course, you can—and should—spend longer if you have the time. But what astonished me was that within just one weekend in Columbus, I was able to travel around the world several times over, in the process making countless new friends who were eager to tell me about a city that they, and I, have come to love.  

Better still, I tried one dish in Columbus that might have been the best thing I ate in all of 2019. But more on that later.  

Here are a few ways to approach the city’s food scene. 

Take a tour

I am usually not a fan of food tours. The way I tend to pick restaurants is by obsessively combing through online reviews and articles or going by word of mouth. I was surprised then to see how much I loved—and truly learned from—the Columbus Food Adventures. In fact, it was easily the highlight of my three-day trip to the city and I can’t recommend it enough.  

The company—which offers around a dozen tours, including brunch tours, coffee tours, and a Short North tour—began in 2010, the brainchild of the UK born Bethia Woolf and Ohio native Andy Dehus. Woolf told me that what she loves about offering tours is that it is the best way to explore the world without needing to grab your passport.  

During the summer season, Dehus estimates that they run anywhere between 12-20 food tours a week. One of their most popular excursions is a Friday night tour of immigrant owned establishments called the Alt Eats tour, which Dehus said has only become more popular since the 2016 election—a statistic that itself is a testament to Columbus’ spirit. 

Dehus was our guide on the night I attended. About ten of us boarded a luxury bus and he began by explaining that in the short drive to our first destination, we would pass restaurants owned by 17 nationalities. It’s these little bits of information, as well as Dehus’ sense of humor, that made the tour so memorable. He also has a visible affection for the restaurant owners we visited and they in turn clearly love him.  

At Panaderia Guadalupana, for example, Dehus walked into the employees-only section of the Mexican bakery and then walked out soon after holding a tray straight from the oven with fresh baked goods that we could sample. It’s this kind of access that made the tour worthwhile. 

In all, we visited five different places—a Salvadoran place, a Mexican bakery, a Yemeni restaurant, a Vietnamese place, and a Somali restaurant. At each stop, Dehus had pre-selected the items we would eat and then explained to us the history behind these foods. At the Vietnamese place, for example, he spoke about French colonial rule on Vietnam, which helped us understand how Vietnamese cuisine has changed through time.  

In between stops, Dehus kindly tolerated my unfairly massive list of questions about where to eat next and his encyclopedic knowledge of the Columbus food scene is itself worth the price of admission.  

I recommend starting with a Columbus Food Adventures tour and then once you get a flavor for the options available within the city, you can branch out on your own. During my trip, I tried to visit at least one place from each of the major geographic areas represented in Columbus: Asian; African and Middle Eastern; and Latin American. And remarkably, I was able to visit all of these regions on less than a quarter tank of gas.   

Columbus Food Adventures - Alt Eats Tour - Global Food

America's best Nepali food might be in Columbus

Nepali Food Guide to Columbus - Google Tour Builder LinkIt’s been written about again and again. Called one of the best restaurants in Columbus by Food and Wine. Even been hyped about by the Columbus-born celebrity chef Guy Fieri. I am, of course, speaking about Momo Ghar, the Tibetan-Nepali dumpling place that has two locations in the city, one in the North Market and the other in the Saraga International Grocery store on Morse road. Any exploration of Asian food, or any food for that matter in the city, should include a stop at Momo Ghar at least once.  

Momo Ghar, which translates to “dumpling house,” is dedicated to serving the pillow soft dumplings that are often filled with chicken, pork, potato or cabbage. The real star, though, is their special tomato based spicy sauce that covers the dumplings called “jhol” which is loaded with garlic, cumin, red chilies and soybean seeds.   

The founder, Phuntso Lama, who is Tibetan, was born and raised in Nepal and came to Columbus after a stint in New York. What she loves about Columbus, she told me, is its welcoming spirit, as well as its vibrant immigrant communities. When I met her at her North Market location, she pointed toward her staff—a diverse group of employees, some of whom are refugees, some of whom are native Columbus residents—and noted with delight that these connections were made possible because of her food.  

Momos - Tibetan dumplings at Momo Ghar in the North Market

One of America's best international grocery stores is in Columbus. Seriously.

If you have never been, I recommend going to Momo Ghar’s original location, if only because it will allow you to experience the wonder that is the Saraga International Grocery store. Saraga—which means “living” in Korea—was started in Indiana in 1992 and has since expanded to Columbus. A second Saraga opened on Cleveland Avenue, and a third location in Columbus, just south of Interstate 70 and across from Eastland Mall, will be opening soon and will be 100,000 square feet—Saraga’s largest store in Ohio.  

It can be a daunting place at first. After all, most international grocery stores are small but Saraga is located in a space that used to be a Toys-R-Us. In fact, there are whole sections in Saraga for frozen fish and entire aisles of things I have never seen before. If you find yourself getting lost—as I always do, despite my numerous visits there—a good piece of advice is to check out the middle aisles, where they tend to stock sweets from countries all over the world.  

For example, have you ever tried the Japanese soda called Ramune? It’s basically like drinking a lollipop. It might not be your thing but it will only set you back a dollar or two and even if you do not like it, you can marvel at the Japanese engineering of using marble to seal a bottle (trust me, you have to see it to believe it). That’s on aisle eight, in case you are wondering.  

Feast on Pakistani kabobs

From there, if you aren’t too full, go to Tandoori Grill just down the street. Tandoori Grill actually grew as an expansion project as part of Apna Bazaar, a South Asian grocery store next door which was started by a Pakistani immigrant to the US named Syed. Apna Bazaar sells a wide range of halal (Islamically butchered) meat and one of their specialties is their pre-marinated chicken tikka which you can just throw on your BBQ or kitchen stove.  

Syed kindly offered me a sample, and I was impressed by how tender the chicken was, as well as how complex the flavors were. South Asian food is often incorrectly described as consisting of only curries. But where the cuisine really shines, at least in my estimation, is in what are called “dry items,” or non-sauce based items like chicken tikka. The pieces Syed served had just the right amount of lemon juice to cut through the paprika. 

Food plates at Tandoori Grill, an Indian, Pakistani, Halal restaurant in Columbus.

Forget Subway. Try a Vietnamese banh-mi sandwich instead.

If sandwiches are more your thing, you can’t go wrong at Mi Li Café, a Vietnamese place that serves some of the tastiest banh mi sandwiches I have ever had in Columbus. The key to a great banh mi is the bread—a nod to the French baguette. The difference, though, is that a banh mi should be more hollowed out and lighter so that the pickles shine through. This place gets it perfect and the prices are astonishingly affordable, at about $5 a sandwich. According to Dehus, there are 12 Vietnamese restaurants in the greater Columbus area, some specializing in pho, others focusing on pastries and coffee.  

Trust me: This is the city's best Chinese food and maybe the city's best dish.

Once you stock up on groceries that you need, and let’s be real, on groceries that you don’t really need, I recommend going to Jiu Thai, where I ate the best thing I have had in all of 2019—and that too, by a long, long shot.  

The name, Jiu Thai, threw me off at first. I thought the place serves Thai food, but the staff said the name is an homage to the mountainous regions in northern China called Jiuzhaigo. On the recommendation of Andy Dehus of Columbus Food Adventures, I ordered the beef biang biang noodles which is popular in the Shaanxi Provence in China. The name biang biang comes from the sound the noodles make when they are twisted and bent into shape. Some biang biang noodles can be so long that it is possible to have a bowl with just one long, massive noodle.  

So, what does it taste like? In a word: transcendent. It’s the hot and cold combination in this dish that I love most, the way the hot noodles balance with the cold vegetables and the heat from the spicy oil. The restaurant itself might not be fancy but this dish was perfectly plated and served by a wait staff who kindly helped me navigate their menu.  

Jiu Thai - Chinese Restaurant - Global Food

Indian ice cream? Yes, and it's incredible.

If you left room for dessert, which I hope you did, I recommend checking out Mardi Gras, an Indian style ice cream parlor. What exactly is Indian ice cream, you ask? It’s similar to American ice cream, albeit with flavors that are more fruit-forward. My favorite flavor is known as the kesar pista, which contains a blend of saffron, cardamom and pistachio.  

The owner of Mardi Gras, a woman by the name of Mita Shah who hails from India’s western state of Gujarat, created the place because she missed the flavors she had growing up in India. So far, the place is doing well and has been a hit among Columbus’ large Indian population, which numbers around 24,000 residents—an 80% increase since 2000.  

Explore Columbus' Japanese community

Another significant diaspora in Columbus is the Japanese American community. About 2% of the city trace their origins to Japan and that number is expanding, in large part due to the Honda’s North American headquarters based in Marysville. My favorite place to immerse myself in Japanese culture is at the Japan Marketplace in Northwest Columbus. There, you can purchase Japanese groceries at Tensuke Market, or shop for Japanese imported goods like paper supplies at J Avenue or dine at Akai Hana Japanese restaurant. The star of the place is a small bakery called Belle’s Bread, a sort of Japanese-French fusion place, that sells everything from macarons to matcha madeleines which are butter cake cookies with matcha powder made from green tea leaves.  

Tensuke Express - Japanese Restaurant - Global Food

Best Date Night Spot

But my absolute favorite place to eat in Columbus is actually a spot that does not really neatly fit in the Asian category or in any category for that matter. When I met Avishar Barua, the Executive Chef at Service Bar, the restaurant connected to Middle West Spirits, in the Short North and I asked him how he would classify his food, he simply said, “it’s good food, I hope.”  

He is, of course, being modest—the food is exceptional, and it is my favorite destination when my wife and I are back in the city and doing date night. Barua, whose family hails from Bangladesh, has been influenced by a wide range of cuisines. He worked with the industry-changing Wylie Dufresne at his celebrated, award winning WD 50, as well as at the groundbreaking restaurant Mission Chinese.  

Middle West is famous for its in-house made spirits, but it also has a jaw-droppingly beautiful restaurant and bar: Service Bar. Barua and I met in a nearly all glass private dining room with a clear view of the distillery. Often when we think of immigrant food, we think of some tiny place in a strip mall with plastic flowers on the table. But the Columbus born and raised Barua subtly and cleverly weaves in ingredients and flavor profiles from his Bangladeshi heritage which makes a meal at Service Bar like nothing you have ever tried before.  

Take one item on his menu, my personal favorite, the cheesy brisket crunch. The dish itself is a culinary trip around the world, the brisket itself a nod to the American south. It is served with queso, salsa and Bengali fry bread—all of which is made fresh in house.  

Barua told me that the secret to getting diners to try something they might know little about—like Bengali fry bread—is to make it familiar. He does this with all of his dishes and his cuisine perhaps best sums up the spirit of Columbus: a place that can and does contain multitudes.  

Two Cheesy Brisket Crunch tacos on plate at Service Bar, piled high with meat and cheese

Go here for the best Mexican food.

Chicago often draws attention as having the best Mexican food in the Midwest, but Columbus should be regarded as being not so far behind, especially if you are willing to venture out to the suburbs. My favorite place—and the favorite place of many taco lovers in Columbus—is Los Guachos, which currently has three locations, one in Dublin, another in Gahanna and the third in the city.  

According to Vince Fasone, who handles public relations and food safety for Los Guachos, the owners Carlos and Edith Nonato hail from the Mexican state of Michoacán and came to the US in hope of a better life. When they arrived in Columbus, they worked at various fast food and Mexican joints before saving enough money to start their own taco truck. Most Mexicans in the greater Columbus area hail from Michoacán, with some from Oaxaca and others from Jalisco. 

What made their food truck a hit was that they served food that was unabashedly authentic, exactly as one might find in Michoacán. Eventually the taco truck grew in popularity and they opened their first brick and mortar establishment.  

Their specialty is al pastor which is juicy pork that has been roasted with pineapple on a spit. I ended up trying something different, on Fasone’s recommendation, which is huaraches. Los Guachos translates that word as a Mexican pizza, but the literal translation is a sandal, because huaraches is oblong shaped like a sandal and made with masa dough with smashed pinto beans in the center. It was every bit as delicious and as unique as I hoped it would be. 

Fasone, who was born and raised in Ohio and comes from an Italian American family, currently works with a number of Mexican restaurants all across Columbus, mostly in food safety. He said that when he started out, in the early 2000s, most Mexican restaurant owners requested food safety manuals in Spanish. These days, many of the restaurants are being staffed by Mexican Americans whose parents came from Mexico. Now, they want to read the safety materials in English, he said.  

It represents a significant demographic shift: because of current immigration policies, fewer new Mexicans are coming to Ohio. And while Fasone notes that there is some fear in the community, especially with the 2020 elections approaching, he added that one thing he loves about the Mexican community in Columbus is that it is very tight knit and supportive.  

For example, there are WhatsApp phone groups within the Mexican community where you can post requests for help and Fasone believes that these informal channels of support and mentorship is what helps many Mexican business owners thrive in Columbus.  

Indeed, one success story is Los Potosinos, a popular taco truck in the city whose founder, Lidia Labra, recently wrote a Facebook post explaining how all her years running her food truck have paid off as she was recently able to put her daughter through college. 

Fasone said that this is one misperception of the Columbus food scene: that every food truck business wants to be a brick and mortar business. Sometimes a business can be more successful if it decides to remain a food truck because costs are lower. This explains, in part, why Columbus has an estimated 45 taco trucks alone. 

Los Guachos - Mexican Restaurant - Global Food

But wait - there's still more Latin American food to savor.

If Salvadoran food is more of your thing, you can’t go wrong at Ranchero Kitchen. I went there on a Friday night as part of Dehus’ tour and loved it. Mexican food, at least the American variety, is usually doused in cheese. What I love about Salvadoran food is it use of yuca as well as their pupusas, which are thick breads often made with cornmeal. Ranchero Kitchen is one of three Salvadoran restaurants in the city and its décor has nice little touches and souvenirs from El Salvador. It actually started as a food stand at Saraga International Grocery store and then branched out to become a successful brick and mortar—a fact that testifies to Saraga’s power to help small business incubate and launch.  

For Venezuelan food, I love Arepazo Tapas and Grille in the Brewery District, in particular their arepas, which are made from ground maize dough.  

One of the fun things in trying so many places in such a short period of time is that you begin to see linkages between the cuisines—the way corn flour is used, the similarities in salsas, even in the décor. But there are also subtle and key differences that make each of these places a worth their own. 

Haven't tried Somali food? You're missing out.

There’s perhaps no better ambassador for African food in Columbus than Abdullahi Hasan, a man known throughout the city’s food scene simply as AB. His family owns and operates Hoyo’s Kitchen (“Hoyo” means mother in Somali). When we met in late August, AB had just opened up their second location in the North Market.  

Somali food, for those who have not been lucky enough to try it, takes its influence from East African, Arab, Turkish, Indian and Italian cuisines (Somalia was once a colony of Italy). One of my favorite dishes is the Somali version of spaghetti, often known as suugo suqaar, which has a blend of spices such as cumin, coriander, black peppercorns, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and turmeric. 

Your Somali Food Guide to Columbus - Google Tour Builder Link

To make their food more accessible to non-Somali diners at the North Market, Hoyo’s Kitchen took their menu and sort of turned it into a Chipotle style ordering process. You start by picking either long-grain basmati rice or injera bread (a sourdough-risen flatbread with a slightly spongy texture). Then you pick your protein (goat, beef, chicken or vegetarian). Goat meat is actually the specialty of Somali cuisine, but I opted to try the beef and chicken options, both of which were amazing. I preferred the chicken because the pieces soaked up the spices more than the beef, at least in my opinion.  

On the day I visited at their North Market location, AB’s press-shy mother was quietly supervising the kitchen staff, many of whom are her children or nephews or nieces. When I asked her about what makes her food so good, she said “passion.” 

AB, on the other hand, who was born and raised in the US, is more talkative and there is nothing he loves to do more than to be an ambassador for his food and culture. 

“Somali food is everything to me,” AB said. “It’s family, it’s life, it’s my history.” 

Indeed, it’s hard not to state what a huge deal it is for Hoyo’s Kitchen to open in the North Market, which is arguably the most well-known and prestigious food hall in the city. By most estimates, there are around 40,000 to 50,000 Somalis in Columbus, making the city the second most populous home for Somalis in the US. (Minnesota, in contrast, has around 100,000 Somalis, mostly in Minneapolis.) While many Somalis struggle financially, a growing number are rising in the fields of business, politics, as well as the academic sector, such as teaching at The Ohio State University.  

Hoyo’s Kitchen—as well as a brand new mural of a Somali woman on the side of a hotel in the Short North—testify to the city’s growing acceptance of the Somali community, as well as of the Somali community’s growing interest in engaging with the broader Columbus community.  

On the day I visited Hoyo’s Kitchen in the North Market, it was just after Ohio State defeated Florida Atlantic. Several football fans, wearing OSU’s distinctive red shirts, were standing in line to try Hoyo’s Kitchen. A few moments later, a Somali friend pulled me aside in disbelief.  

“They are eating Somali food?!” my friend said with a wide smile on his face. “I guess we are finally cool now.” 

Storefront and counter space at Hoyo's Kitchen Somali restaurant in North Market

One of the best buffets in Columbus is at a Ghanaian restaurant. You have to try it!

But Hoyo’s Kitchen is not the only African food available in Columbus. Another great spot is Drelyse Kitchen, which modestly calls itself “the best African restaurant in the city” on its website and specializes in Ghanaian cuisine. They recently started a Saturday mid-day buffet lunch service which has been a hit, drawing in African and non-African customers.  

“Americans love my food,” Lisa Bannerman, the owner and head chef, told me.  

When I visited on a Saturday morning, Bannerman came out of the kitchen and stood by the cash register and pointed to a wall of photos—one of Nelson Mandela, another of her giving a speech at an event attended by Michelle Obama. She pointed to her culinary degree and said that she takes extra care to make sure her food is fresh, clean, and most of all, true to her Ghanaian roots.  

Some Ghanaian dishes include “red red,” which is black eyed peas cooked with garlic, tomatoes and ginger. And in case you are wondering, the dish gets its name from the red palm oil that it is cooked in. Other standouts include kontomire stew, which is a spinach or cocoyam soup, served often alongside fish or meat. My personal favorite, though, is a deceptively simple dish known as kelewele, a popular street food in Ghana, which consists of fried plantains topped with ginger, hot pepper and salt.  

Bannerman said that one of the keys to her success is in subtly modifying the dishes she grew up eating back home in Accra. She noted that Americans tends to smell their food before they eat it, something that is frowned upon in Ghana. To adjust for American customers, she modified her recipes, bringing out the smells of her dishes.  

Whatever she is doing is certainly working. In the short time I spent interviewing her, she fielded several requests for catering jobs and was often interrupted mid-sentence by one of her customers telling her how much they loved her food.  

“You see that,” she said. “I told you they love my food.” 

One new exciting entry to Columbus food scene is a South African food truck called Hisham’s. The founders, Hisham Omardien from South Africa and Olivia Clark from Ohio, were professional ballet dancers for many years and worked for BalletMet. At Hisham’s, they specialize in food known as Cape Malay, which is food from the South African coastal city of Cape Town that blends together Malaysian, Indonesian and Indian food.  

Serving food at Dreylse Africa Restaurant

My newest food crush: Yemeni food.

If you are looking to be more adventurous, check out Yemeni Restaurant. I went to Yemeni Restaurant as part of the Columbus Food Adventures and we tried an absolutely memorable dish: a slow cooked, tender lamb dish called fahsa. It’s best eaten with their naan style bread, which is made on site.  

One of the staff members there is a 20-year-old Yemeni American named Hisham who spends part of his year in Dearborn, a city with a high concentration of Arabs. He told me that he actually prefers Columbus to Dearborn. The reason? “It’s way more diverse here. We get Chinese customers, Indian customers, black customers, white customers—everyone loves our food in Columbus,” he said.  

It’s something I heard again and again during my three-day trip: that immigrant communities are not as siloed off from each other in Columbus as they are in other cities in the US. 

Other standout Middle East restaurants include Lavash in Clintonville, which specializes in Lebanese food and Jeddo, which focuses in Iranian grilled kabobs. And there is always the celebrated Brassica from the family that owns Northstar Café in the Short North. Brassica serves a sort of fusion Mediterranean fare which pays homage to the family’s Lebanese roots and is deservedly one of the most popular restaurants in the city.  

Yemeni Restaurant - Global Food

And then there is still more to discover!

Of course, there are many more places I could have included. At each stop during my three-day tour of Columbus, diners, wait staff, and restaurants owners directed me to other immigrant owned businesses that I had not yet been to. A few of the names that came up include Sunflower and Fortune for Chinese, Lalibela for Ethiopian, Dabakh for Senegalese, Bonifacio for Filipino, Bangkok Grocery and Restaurant for Thai, The Table for Indian, Dulce Vida for Mexican style ice cream, and far too many others to list here.  

Sure, Columbus is not perfect. It too has its problems with wealth inequities between communities, as do most cities in the US.  But I can’t think of any other city of its size that boasts this many immigrant owned businesses, many of which are beloved favorites across all demographics.  

It’s too easy to say that Columbus’ immigrant communities thrive because of the relatively affordable housing. Of course, that plays a part, as does the relatively high number of jobs in the area compared with other cities of its size. But there is a certain Columbus spirit to defy expectations, to show outsiders what this city in, say, a seaside, it more than makes up for in generosity, spirit, and tenacity.  

At the end of Columbus Food Adventures food tour, the ten of us debated which was our favorite place among the places Andy Dehus took us.  

One person, I think, had the best answer. He explained that the charm about Columbus is that it doesn’t really have a single thing that towers above all others. Each piece could shine on their own.  

“It’s all pretty great,” he said. 

Dulce Vida - Mexican Desserts - Global Food

A meal-by-meal guide to spending 36 hours in Columbus.

Here’s a sample itinerary for how I would spend three days eating some of the best food in Columbus. 

Friday Lunch 

Start at the North Market and check out either Hoyo’s for Somali food or Momo Ghar for Tibetan-Nepali (both located in the North Market).  

Address: 59 Spruce St. Columbus, OH 43215 | Phone: 614-463-9664 
What to order: At Hoyo’s, get the chicken suqaar with basmati rice; at Momo Ghar, try the chicken or the vegetarian dumplings. Afterwards, get a cup of coffee from Stauf’s or ice cream from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, both of which are also in the North Market.  

Friday Dinner 

Go on a Columbus Food Adventures tour. Or if you want to venture out on your own, splurge at Middle West Spirits. They have a wide range of meat and vegetarian options, as well as world class cocktails. My favorite menu item is their cheesy brisket crunch and their lamb dumplings.  

Address: Middle West Spirits, 1230 Courtland Ave., Columbus, OH 43201; Phone: 614-947-1231

If you want a more casual meal, check out Ranchero Kitchen for Salvadoran food. You can’t go wrong with any of their papusas, their yuca frita or their sandwiches.  

Address: Ranchero Kitchen, 984 Morse Rd., Columbus OH 43229; Phone: 614-985-0083 

Another great option is Yemeni Restaurant, where the slow cooked lamb stew known as fahsa can’t be missed.  

Address: 5426 Cleveland Ave., Columbus OH 43231; Phone: 614-426-4000 

Breakfast on Saturday 

If you want to start your day with a serious boost of caffeine, go to Dang Coffee which specializes in Vietnamese coffee.  

Address: Dang Coffee; 5742 Kathy Run Lane, Columbus, OH 43229. Phone: 614-423-7464 

Alternatively, you can check out a great Mexican bakery down the street called Panaderia Guadalupana 

Address: Panaderia Guadalupana; 1979 E. Dublin Granville Rd.; Columbus 43229. Phone: 614-844-4444 

Saturday Lunch 

Jiu Thai is an absolutely must-try, especially their biang biang noodles.  

Address: Jiu Thai; 787 Bethel Rd., Columbus, OH 43214. Phone: 614-732-5939

Another great option is the Saturday buffet at the Ghanaian restaurant Drelyse.   

Address: Drelyse; 1911 Tamarack Circle N, Columbus, OH 43229. Phone: 614-430-3350 

Saturday Dinner 

Tandoori Grill serves some of the city’s best South Asian food and I can’t think of a better way to spend a Saturday night than with a plate full of chicken tikka from this place.  

Address: Tandoori Grill; 808 Bethel Rd., Columbus, OH 43214. Phone: 614-326-3777 

Another great option is Los Guachos, which is famous for its al pastor tacos.  

Address: locations vary; check their website for the location that suits you best. 

Sunday Brunch 

One of my absolute favorite places to eat brunch in Columbus is Table in the Short North. The chef, who is Indian, serves incredibly tasty dishes like Indian style scrambled eggs and Bombay burgers. The staff is wonderful, and I have loved each and every one of my visits there.  

Address: The Table; 21 E. 5th Ave. #101, Columbus, OH 43201. Phone: 614-291-4555 

One Last Stop 

Pick up Groceries at Saraga for the road. And remember—aisle eight is where the sweets are.  

Address: Saraga; 1265 Morse Rd., Columbus, OH 43229. Phone: 614-447-8588 


Zahir Janmohamed is the co-founder of the Racist Sandwich podcast which explores the intersection between food and identity. In 2019, the podcast was nominated for a James Beard award. He currently lives in Ann Arbor where he is pursuing a graduate degree in creative writing at the University of Michigan.