On an all-carb diet? Can’t eat Taco Bell? Luckily for you, the greater Columbia area has noodles galore with unique, national and international influence — and all for under $15. The options are endless, so grab your forks and dig in.
Menkoi Ramen House
Menkoi Ramen House is the only ramen noodle establishment in the downtown Columbia area. They offer a variety of styles, but I went for a standard favorite: chicken ramen. The meal includes homemade broth accompanied by noodles, chicken, seaweed, spinach, bean sprouts, an egg and narutomaki (that adorable, swirly fishcake we all know and love). The portion is huge and perfect for taking home leftovers for that hangover lunch. If that’s not enough, they have a myriad of appetizer options to pair with your meal, like traditional rice balls or gyoza. They also have vegetarian options for your ramen toppings and broth. They’re open late on the weekends, so the next time you’re having a wild night out, be sure to tell your Uber driver to make an extra stop before you head home.
It’s amazing how much variation is found in Asian cuisine. Pho Viet, located in Five Points across from Moosehead Saloon, is a Vietnamese restaurant with an extensive menu offering everything from curry to spring rolls and even bubble tea. Pho Viet’s signature is the soup from which they derive their name. Pho follows the same basic structure as ramen, but in place of wheat noodles, pho uses rice noodles and thin slices of meat. The most popular dish at Pho Viet is the number 11, which is filled with thin slices of rare steak that cook in the hot broth. Pho’s uniqueness comes from the toppings included on the side. Cilantro, bean sprouts, lime and jalapeño make for a mix of texture, heat and flavor that is sure to please the pallet — and clear those sinuses.
Mama Tronco brought her recipes to Columbia over 75 years ago, but they taste as fresh as ever. Whereas many Italian restaurants seem to try too hard, seeking to make the next most interesting dish, Villa Tronco knows what exactly what it is — the charm of your grandmother’s homemade spaghetti — and does it with confidence. The classic taste of Italy shines through in the simple but satisfying linguine with meat sauce. The aroma of garlic, basil and oregano are so tantalizing, you won’t be able to wait to get a taste. If you’re seeking alternative, diet-friendly options, they also have gluten-free noodles and vegetarian options. They may be Columbia’s oldest Italian restaurant, but they’ve certainly still got it.