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September 6, 2012 | 12:00 a.m. CST
You never know what you're missing unless you’re looking for it. Vox explores the menu and mood of four of Columbia’s tucked-away eateries.
Where: 220 I-70 Drive SW
When: Tues. through Sat., 5:30-10 p.m.; closed Sun. and Mon.
Expect to spend: Bring the credit card
Rustic and romantic, Churchill’s Restaurant is located in the winding corridors of the Holiday Inn Executive Center. Don’t be intimidated by the white napkins and waitstaff in black slacks and button-downs. Your high-brow anxiety is relieved with a server’s welcoming smile and suggestions of wine and food pairings. The restaurant changed the menu exclusively to Italian cuisine in February, and server Amber Pyse recommends beginning with the restaurant’s signature mussels and a glass of Verdicchio, a wine similar to a Sauvignon blanc. For dinner, feast on tortellacci emiliani, a veal-stuffed pasta in black truffle oil cream sauce, or the Chilean sea bass with eggplant fondue and escarole. Entrées are generous and extravagantly flavorful, but make sure to check your pocketbook before ordering that second glass of Nero D’Avola.
Where: 2518 Business Loop 70 E
When: Tues. through Sun.: 4-9 p.m.
Expect to spend: Hit the ATM
When you step inside Curries Indian Cuisine, that’s as far as you can go. The customer waiting area isn’t any larger than a standard elevator shaft. The limited space and Hindi labels fade into the background as the overpowering scent of coriander and chili powder takes over. Curries has been owned and operated for three years by a single chef, BJ Bhakta, and his eager-to-please nephew, Monty Bhakta. The Bhakta family has kept its guests coming back for its 92-item menu, especially the chicken, lamb and vegetarian entrées. One of Curries’ most popular dishes is the chicken kebab masala, which is a chicken dish broiled and mixed with bell peppers, onions, tomatoes, green chili, ginger and garlic. The goat korma, another favorite, is spiced goat in a cream sauce with cashews, almonds and raisins. The mixed vegetable vindaloo, assorted vegetables in a spicy tomato and onion sauce, is another hit. Patrons can pick up curbside to-go dinner orders Tuesday through Sunday.
Where: 603 Orange St.
When: Feb. to Oct. (Weather permitting) Mon. through Sat., 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Expect to spend: Spare Change
It’s too bad Mugs-Up’s hours don’t accommodate all-night partiers, because it could easily be the best guilty pleasure food in town. Avoiding healthy alternatives, the classic burger joint has been serving Columbians its secret-recipe Zip Burger, homemade chili atop cheddar-slathered franks and fresh brewed root beer, since 1955. The outline of a building resembling a one-car garage with an odd roof can barely be seen from Business Loop 70 East. You might have more luck following the scent of spiced beef and butter than navigating the residential streets in search of this tucked-away drive-in. Whichever way you decide to get there — by car or on foot — these full meals barely break a $5 tab and are well worth the effort. For easiest access to Mugs-Up, cut through El Maguey’s parking lot off of Business Loop 70.
Where: 3605 S. Providence Road, Suite 1
When: Mon. through Thurs.: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.;Fri. and Sat.: 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.; Sun.: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Expect to spend: Hit the ATM
With more than 10 restaurants offering Mexican cuisine in Columbia, it’s not difficult to get a taco salad and a margarita at a bargain price. Tequila is situated in the shadowed alley behind Gerbes on Nifong Boulevard. For seven years, owner Raul Alderete and his kitchen staff have crafted a darn good chimichanga and traditional carnitas, slow-cooked spiced pork chunks, served with rice, beans, guacamole and pico de gallo. The restaurant’s $6 margarita pitchers on Tuesdays and Thursdays keep students and office-dwellers celebrating mid-week. Tequila’s spacious floor plan accommodates larger parties, and a full carry-out menu lets you dine at home.