One of my very best dining-while-traveling experiences came last year when my husband, Sean, and I hit Los Angeles for two weeks. Why? Because we didn’t rely on just the standard published “Top 10” or “Best” places to dine in L.A. – we got great and real recommendations from friends and people we met.
So I’m not unaware of the irony that by putting together my recommendations for “don’t-miss” dining in Augusta, I’ve now created a “standard published list,” but trust me: These are the places I’d tell my friends and family, “If you come to Augusta, you have to try this place!”
I also surveyed my friends and neighbors (some of whom are surprisingly foodie!) for their faves, too.
So when you’ve had your fill of pimento cheese and egg salad (as a longtime Augustan and Masters Tournament diner, I hit my wall at about day four), check these out. You may just find that you’ve discovered a new Augusta tradition.
If you count coffee as breakfast (which I know many of us do), get your fill at Buona Caffe (1858 Central Ave.). The coffee shop got its start when co-owner John Curry started roasting beans as a hobby.
The shop is known for its “pour-overs” and its incredibly friendly staff (don’t be alarmed if some of them start singing) and just opened an outdoor patio.
Consider this: I’m not a coffee drinker, but thanks to Buona Caffe and its iced coffees and lattes, I’m a convert.
DINING ANY TIME
Chef Sean Wight has opened a hallowed trifecta of restaurants in the 1200 block of downtown Augusta – yes, hallowed, even though the latest, Craft & Vine, is only a couple of months old. The longtime local chef seemingly can’t go wrong, with each restaurant offering a different flavor.
Trust Frog Hollow for an intimate fine-dining experience (definitely get the upscale mac and cheese as a side!); nosh on burgers and high-end milkshakes at Farmhaus (my choice: the turkey burger) or nibble inspired tapas in between sips of craft cocktails or wines at the stylish Craft & Vine.
Alternately, head up the Hill to Summerville for Sheehan’s Irish Pub (2571 Central Ave.). I have literally never had a bad meal at Sheehan’s, and it’s my go-to whenever I’m stumped on where to eat (and a favorite for girls’ night). It’s refined dining, but in a fun and casual atmosphere. Try the grit cake appetizer or the fisherman’s stew entrée.
Augusta has its share and more of Mexican dining, so if you’re looking for a Speedy Gonzalez, you don’t have to go far. But for my pick, head out to Columbia County for El Alazan (3851 Evans to Locks Road). This Mexican fare packs in the flavor and it’s at least two steps above the typical. I’m a cheese dip mega-fan, so my husband and I always order the mariachi’s platter, a hefty bowl of cheese-and-beef dip with a crown of shrimp, seasoned beef, chicken and cheese quesadillas. The shrimp burrito also kills it.
This isn’t a restaurant, but why not get a flavor of life in Augusta by heading down to the Augusta Market at the River (Eighth Street Plaza, downtown Augusta)? Open every Saturday from 8 a.m. into the early afternoon, you can shop for food-related gifts, plants and more – and enjoy breakfast or lunch.
Get there early enough and you might be able to score a chocolate croissant from Manuel’s Bread Café’s booth. Lunchwise, your choices are many: hummus, gyros, fried fish sandwiches, fried green tomatoes, Asian noodles or even a mysterious corndog-like concoction known as a “puppy.”
After Mexican and Chinese, what does Augusta have the most of? Tapas! Try the multicultural appetizers at the eclectic (and mostly vegetarian) Bee’s Knees (211 10th St.).
The newest addition to the Hill’s Surrey Center, Finch & Fifth (379 Highland Ave.), is loud and warm, with an awesome cheese and charcuterie selection.
In the mood for something a little fancier? La Maison on Telfair (404 Telfair St.) is my regular choice for anniversary dinners, featuring sophisticated international fare prepared by Chef Heinz, who always stops by the dining room to say hello to his guests.
Another favorite? Bistro 491 (491 Highland Ave.) – I recently had some of the best oysters I’ve ever tasted there, as well as some of the best service.
For good ol’ Southern home cooking that warms your heart and your belly, check out the buffets at Honey From the Rock (2621 Washington Road) or Madison Day Kitchen at the United House of Prayer (1269 Wrightsboro Road). Both are church affiliated, so you know they’re good. For good ol’ barbecue, BBQ Barn in North Augusta (that’s in South Carolina, y’all, at 605 Atomic Road) serves it up, tomato-based-style.
For great deli sandwiches in an old-style grocery store setting, try Hildebrandt’s (226 Sixth St.).
The best froyo? Tutti Frutti (1141 Agerton Lane), or for a different spin, head a few doors down to Whoa-Nuts, doughnuts that you top yourself from a buffet bar.
A local burger dive is the Sports Center (594 Broad St.) – cash only please, and be prepared to walk out smelling like grease.
Whiskey Bar Kitchen (1048 Broad St.) has a huge selection of whiskeys by the glass.
A great day trip is downtown Aiken, for shopping plus a stunning variety of lunch and dinner options.
My friends also recommend: Indian at Taj of India (502-7 Fury’s Ferry Road); The Snug (240 Davis Road), Osaka Sushi (4437 Washington Road – a hidden gem, says one admirer); Rhinehart’s Oyster Bar (3051 Washington Road and 305 North Belair Road); and Freeman’s Bar-B-Que in Beech Island (1060 Sand Bar Ferry Road – best in the universe, say fans).