For a town of its size, Columbia has a surprising number of upscale and memorable dining options, ranging from authentic Italian and Thai to traditional steakhouses.  Leading options include the following.

$ = Inexpensive.  $$ = Moderate.  $$$ = Expensive.

DOWNTOWN

Bangkok Gardens is the place to be in Columbia now that it has moved to one of the city’s best addresses (just off Ninth Street).  While it has always offered exceptional Thai cuisine, Bangkok now has a stunning restaurant venue to match.  The second floor balcony is a particularly interesting architectual feature that easily lends itself to people watching.  And while you are waiting for that hard-to-get second floor table, you won't mind cozying up to the main bar for a well-made cocktail or Thai beer.  But ultimately what still makes a trip to Bangkok a rewarding – and now transporting – experience is the impeccable Thai cuisine.  811 Cherry Street.  (573) 874-3284.  $$  

CC's City Broiler offers the best steaks and seafood in Columbia in a cozy little restaurant located just off of Ninth Street.  While the atmosphere is inviting, the star here is clearly the cuisine.  CC's uses high-quality ingredients, serving USDA prime beef from Chicago and seafood flown in daily from both coasts and the Gulf of Mexico.  The extensive wine list focuses mainly on California varietals.  While CC's isn't cheap, you get what you pay for at this smart, upscale cornerstone of Columbia's culinary scene.  And if the weather is nice, make sure you enjoy a cocktail before dinner at the tiki bar.  131 S. 10th Street.  (573) 875-2282.  $$$

The Pasta Factory.  Located in the heart of downtown on Broadway, The Pasta Factory serves up reasonably priced and delicious St. Louis style Italian dishes.  The specialty of the house is the Mostacholi Con Salsiccia, which is made with spicy Italian sausage imported fresh from the Hill in St. Louis.  And if the weather is nice, regulars rave about dining in the delightful New Orleans style courtyard.  1020 E. Broadway.  (573) 449-3984.  $$

Trattoria Strada Nova flawlessly captures the feel of a Florentine neighborhood restaurant.  The exposed brick and plaster walls create the perfect ambience for authentic northern Italian cuisine.  The menu, which changes daily, is both innovative and well executed, providing diners with a truly memorable experience.  Not to be forgotten, the wine list features dozens of excellent Italian offerings at fair prices.  21 N. 9th Street.  (573) 442-8992.  $$$

SOUTHWEST COLUMBIA

Murray’s, known for its live jazz most nights of the week, serves up Columbia’s most consistent food at astonishingly low prices.  Here you’ll find old stand-bys such as New York Strip steaks and pan seared ahi tuna mixed in with newer creations like fried green pepper rings topped with powdered sugar.  The wine list is small but thoughtfully chosen and purposefully inexpensive.  If Murray’s has a downside it is that it is too popular; plan on waiting for a table at least 30 minutes on weekdays and up to an hour on weekends.  3107 Green Meadows.  (573) 442-4969.  $$