West Columbia is not a really big place, but it has some high-profile restaurants, along with some iconic eateries that have become landmarks.
From the elegant Al’s Upstairs and the down home deliciousness of Zesto, to the must-have fare at Cafe Strudel, West Columbia attracts a wide variety of palates.
Al’s Upstairs Italian Restaurant
The restaurant opened in March of 1979. It was founded with the very simple operating philosophy of providing the finest cuisine, with impeccable service and atmosphere at the best possible prices, according to Al Loftis, owner.
Al’s has been in business for more than 35 years. Al credits Clair Bouknight, general manager for helping with the success of Al’s. “She has been integral,” he said.
While the reviews about the food at Al’s are excellent, Al’s offers another advantage that very few of its competitors are capable of. At 304 Meeting Street, the restaurant sits in a 100-year-old building, a block from the scenic Gervais Street Bridge.
From the windows of Al’s, diners rave about the view of the Columbia skyline. Al stresses that not all tables are at a window, but nowhere is the view better. And Al’s clientele attests to its ambiance and quality food.
“Amazing service, a beautiful view while eating and very romantic. My husband and I went (to Al’s) on our third anniversary and we loved it,” said Janet Quattlebaum in her June review of Al’s.
Rick Ackerman wrote: “We had one of the best dining experiences we’ve ever had anywhere: food and 11Aservice beyond outstanding. We were greeted by Al and from then on every staff person we encountered called us by name. We had a great table overlooking the city–a great view……Thank you Al and your staff.”
The praise of Al’s is not by accident. Al said his staff “strives daily to provide the finest product to our customers.”
Als’ has been voted Columbia’s most romantic and best Italian restaurant. It is also one of the most popular sites for special occasions.
Zesto is under the giant ice cream cone, in Triangle City in West Columbia. It is known as a timeless place, that spans generations.
It was opened at its present location in 1960 by Gus Manos. It was nothing more than an ice cream and hot dog stand when Gus started Zesto in West Columbia. It has become one of the most iconic locations in the Midlands.
Pete, the son of Gus, runs Zesto. But Gus still comes in to work every day. Gus is a proud American and veteran who immigrated from Greece when he was a boy.
Gus was inducted into the Greater Columbia Restaurant Association’s Hall of Fame in 2014. He has been honored by West Columbia City Council, too. Sherry, the wife of Gus, is also a well-known face at Zesto.
Throughout the many years Zesto has been in business, it has received countless recognitions. Zesto fried chicken is known as the gold standard and its dipped in chocolate shell ice cream cones are famous. The Zesto cheeseburger has also received its share of accolades.
In her review, Cynthia L. Eley said: “I love you, Zesto. My mom took me there as a treat. I took my girls there as a treat. Now my grandchildren go there as a treat. Please keep up the good work. We love you.”
Cheryl German wrote: “I’m from Columbia SC and love this place. I live in Florida now but every time I come home to visit, I make this one of my must eat places. The best fried chicken ever.”
Judy Aughtry wrote: “Love Zesto’s, been going there since I was a kid . Now…. at least once or twice a week. Gus, Sherry, Pete and the whole staff are awesome.”
Trip and Marila Turbyfill opened Cafe Strudel on October 3, 1997 (Marila’s birthday) at 134 State Street.
Trip said he is loves the feel of West Columbia’s State Street and its good to do business there. Cafe Strudel started in a space of 600-sq. ft. with about 10 tables. It has evolved into one of the most-popular dining destinations in the metropolitan Columbia area.
“We do our best and we are consistent,” said Trip. He also said you have to love what you do and have a 8Apassion for it to succeed.
Trip, over the years, said he has seen the gradual revitalization of the State Street area.
“It has been a long road, but it’s great to see things getting done,” he said.
He welcomes the development of the $40-million Brookland project being constructed across from his restaurant.
Cafe Strudel first moved to 118 State Street, a former bank and New Brookland Town Hall. Trip said he respects the city’s history and loves being an extension of its roots.
In September 2012 Cafe Strudel purchased and extensively renovated 300 State Street. It’s a 1920s-era building, that added 1,400 sq.-ft. of space to the restaurant, including a private dining room and covered patio.
Trip and Marila’s son, Kyle, has joined the Cafe Strudel team after cutting his teeth in the food service industry at other fine restaurants. Kyle became the restaurant’s General Manager and Executive Chef in January of 2015.