The List: 110+ Restaurants & Bars that Opened in 2021
If you would have asked me at this time last year what was in store for the annual lists of restaurant openings and closing in Central Ohio in 2021….this is not what I would have expected.
While the dining scene lost some true long-standing gems (more on that here), our local restaurant scene showed some major resilience with over 100 new spots cropping up across the region despite the ongoing pandemic.
Just shy of two years in, the pandemic continues to shake up the industry, creating staffing challenges and forcing bars and restaurants to get creative in the face of a changing landscape.
But from neighborhood bars, to true wining and dining experiences, plus pizza, so much pizza (always), there’s plenty of new spots to explore for every taste.
With such a vibrant restaurant and bar scene, it can be hard to catch everything…but dear readers I trust you will let us know any spots we missed in the comments below!
What’s still on your list to try? What were some of your new favs in 2021? (Read on to see what restaurant was voted the best new spot of 2021!)
Now, as with any day, let’s start with coffee!
2021 saw the rise of a very specific format of coffee shop: the mobile coffee trailer! Park Service Coffee, Rising Sun Coffee Co. and Sunny Sips (which also offers a lineup of fruit smoothies) all started rolling this past spring.(Follow them on social to find where they’re set up!) Honey Cup Coffee also has wheels, but is (generally) permanently parked at the corner of Hudson and Summit…and will make things permanent, permanent when neighbor Lovebirds opens in 2022.
Markets & Food Halls
Both North Markets welcomed a collection of new vendors. First up, Downtown, which saw a trio of new additions: vegan eatery Willowbeez Soul Veg, sweets shop The Pastry Factory and from the owners of existing vendor Park Street Poultry, Moroccan-inspired Tajine House.
Up at North Market Bridge Park, previously-announced vendors The Pitt BBQ Grille and Hoyo’s Sambusas & Juices joined the lineup. Two new purveyors were also announced and opened within the calendar year: Gallo’s Pizzeria and grocer/butcher/restaurant Saddleberk.
In the land of food halls, the much-anticipated Budd Dairy Food Hall finally made its debut in Italian Village. Three bars and a rooftop patio compliment chef partners Alphabetical, Boni Filipino Street Food, Borgata Pizza, Cluck Norris, Cousins Maine Lobster, Modern Southern Table, Pokebap and Tacos Rudos. Stauf’s started in the lineup, but subsequently closed and the space was turned into rotating desert pop-up, Sugar, which has seen the likes of Mrs. Turbo’s Cookies and Fourteen Twenty Nine come through its ranks. The other rotating kitchen space, Hatch, has seen The Cheesecake Girl, Zaytoon Mediterranean Grill, Red Rabbit Ramen, Pablo’s Havana Cafe and The Pit BBQ Grille spend time in the space.
A few names had the rare distinction of opening not one, but two locations in 2021. And fast-casual was the name of the game. First up, Agapé Mediterranean’s pair of eateries appeared in Gahanna and Westerville offering a build-your-own spin on Mediterranean fare. FUSIAN brought its fast-casual sushi to Dublin and Westerville. Build-your-own hibachi concept GENJIGO targeted Westerville and Downtown for locations six and seven. (Westerville winning big with all three!)
Moving out of fast-casual and into BBQ, in addition to its appearance at North Market Bridge Park and temporary residence at Budd Dairy Food Hall, The Pit BBQ Grille opened its next standalone eatery in Clintonville.
Pizza, Pizza, Pizza!!
You can never have too much of a good thing, right? Which is why Central Ohio introduced over a dozen new spots in the calendar year to score some ‘za.
CBC added pizza at its Valleyview/Hilltop taproom, and CU’s own Aficionadough Jim Ellison gave us an extensive explanation of why it’s awesome. DiCarlo’s Pizza and its post-bake provolone came to Italian Village (with Westerville joining the party next year). After a pandemic hiatus, Rockmill reemerged in the Brewery District, slinging pies and now going by the name Bandit.
Pizza Cottage inched closer to the outerbelt with its latest location in Powell/Lewis Center. Franklinton had to do without its beloved Josie’s Pizza for a few months, as the long-standing location closed and relocated itself just a block away. Off Center Patio & Pub recently made its debut in Hilliard, wrapping up its soft opening to prepare for an expanded experience in the new year. Chicago’s Sono Wood Fired made its way to Columbus via Easton with a menu that includes pizza and much more.
There was also a healthy dose of pizza inception: pizza spots within an existing operation or entity. Jet’s and its Detroit-style goodness headed for Downtown via the Columbus Convention Center. Also in the land of Detroit ‘za, Yellow Brick outpost Pie of the Tiger settled in at Short North Tavern while Square Slice Pizzeria took over the kitchen at Old North Arcade. Mikey’s Late Night Slice is now feeding pizza to the Casino-going masses. And finally, somewhere over the rainbow ended up being Clintonville for Wizard of Za, which found a permanent home for its cult-following pies inside of FUSIAN.
Not *Quite* a Restaurant…
While these three locations are responsible for many, many delicious meals, the eats don’t always come via a traditional restaurant format…
On the West Side, La Plaza Tapatia moved around the corner and built a mecca for Mexican and Latin American cuisines. The store does offer grab-and-go food through a hot and cold bar, but also features its own candy shop, ice cream counter, bakery, coffee shop, bar, specialty meat counter and much more.
Carfagna’s combined its operations into one Italian market experience near Polaris. The famed butcher shop and restaurant are under one roof, along with a bar, liquor store and expanded market experience with Italian staples like fresh-made pasta and fresh-made cheese.
Finally, The Hungarian Butcher made a fall debut in Linworth, offering house-made sausages, prime cuts of meat and other Hungarian specialities.
Something had to be sweet about 2021 and it was the addition of a whole lotta places fueled by sugar to the Columbus dining scene. Let’s start with ice cream, shall we? The build-your-own game took a sweet twist with ice cream sandwich shop S’wich Social in Italian Village (note: the shop’s on a winter break but promises to be back in early 2022). Meanwhile, food truck Little Ladies Soft Serve made a permanent post for their sundaes in Westerville. Not quite ice cream but close enough, speciality milkshake and coffee shop Shake No. Eight open in the University District.
Two more established bakeries debuted new digs: Happy Little Treats made its move in the Short North, heading one block south, while Pattycake Bakery moved itself a few blocks north to stay in Clintonville.
Honorable mention to the juice/tea/smoothie outfits – two more, both taking over former Native Cold Pressed locations. Blended & Blessed opened in German Village, and First Corner Bubble Tea Shop in Bexley.
Who You Gonna Call? Ghost Kitchens!
Gaining some steam before the pandemic, last year saw a major surge in virtual brands and ghost kitchens: delivery-only concepts operating inside of existing restaurant operations. And this year brought more of these unique takes on restaurants to the Columbus dining scene.
YouTuber MrBeast made a big, ghosty splash unleashing MrBeast Burger at 300 plus locations nationwide, including several in Columbus. On a more local level, Sunny Street Cafe kitchens became the foil for chicken sandwich operation Fried Chicka Bang. (Chicken is currently on a holiday hiatus but a comeback is promised.) Budd Dairy’s Cluck Norris also went ghost, teaming up with Rusty Bucket kitchens.
And not technically a ghost kitchen, but living largely in the delivery world, Wings Over added its second Central Ohio location in Worthington.
Yes, there’s more. Much more. Let’s rundown some new spots by neighborhood starting with the two areas that saw the most activity in 2021: Downtown and Short North.
In addition to GENJIGO, Downtown got another option for hibachi with the aptly named Mr. Hibachi. (Hibachi seemed to be a big thing this year, no?) Sushi claimed space with Oshio Station taking over Hair Poke’s former digs. Freedom a la Carte opened its long-awaited cafe offering breakfast and lunch noshes. Two spots took up residence on South High Street – Lola’s Kitchen + Bar and virtual brand turned brick-and-mortar Tasty Dawg. Aroma Restaurant started serving Mediterranean fare for lunch and dinner from Lynn Alley. Appropriately named The Cave Bar & Lounge recently took up residence below Main Street’s Sidebar, offering cocktails and live music.
Downtown (very recently) welcomed new brewery Holy Trinity Brewing Company and its lineup of mostly Jesus themed beers…(Cherry Poppin’ Coco Berry…). Prefer wine? Downtown got that, too, with wine and tasting shop Accent Wine, courtesy of the minds behind Veritas.
Over in the Arena District, Moran’s Bar & Grille is whipping up American fare and happy hour specials on Front Street. On Park Street, a piano bar made a comeback to the neighborhood with the debut of Howl at the Moon. The district’s other new addition took things up, eight floors to be exact, with new AC Hotel rooftop speciality Lumin Sky Bar & Kitchen.
Finally, Uptown 51 quietly came and went on Gay Street.
Chris Corso and One Hospitality had a busy year in Short North. The completion of Luxe 23 included three new spots under the company’s umbrella – Terrace Bar with its water feature side drinking and rentable cabanas on the second floor (currently closed for the season), and ground floor additions Whiskey Lounge and Urban Chophouse, the second partnership with the former OSU (and Jaguars…) coach. And finally, the storied Short North Food Hall and its lack of food shuttered to make way for music venue and Standard Hall expansion, Standard Live.
Other restaurant groups with existing stakes in the neighborhood also expanded their footprints. Peerless Management Group debuted Galla Park Steak (with Parlay soon to follow in the New Year), and Cameron Mitchell Restaurants added El Segundo Mexican Kitchen to its lineup.
After many delays, TownHall finally made its debut. Pandemic pop-up Boxwood Biscuit Co. found its permanent home on Russell Street. The neighborhood recently got an authentic taste of Jamaican cuisine with Jerky’s Jamaican Grill.
A couple of new sandwich spots appeared. Moody Trudy’s also moved into the realm of brick-and-mortar in partnership with BrewDog Short North. And, the owners of Fox in the Snow picked Second Avenue for their new venture, Icarus Sandwich Shop.
Short North also claimed home to some of the best new restaurants of the year according to CU readers. The winner, [‘plas], took over the former home of The Table with a seasonal menu of modern, rustic cuisine in an approachable, fine-dining atmosphere. Up on King Avenue, Pelino’s Pasta and its fourth best new restaurant ranking made its debut with an Italian menu featuring fresh, house-made pasta and divine desserts. (Icarus and El Segudno were two and three respectively.)
Easton had another busy year of food additions at the shopping center that was named the #1 Retail Experience in the Country. Last year’s hot spot the Easton Expansion saw two more newcomers join its ranks: LemonShark Poke + Makai Grill and local love Pins Mechanical Co. (there’s a slide, have you seen the slide?).
Another in local expansions, Brassica brought its fast-casual, build-your-own eats to the shopping experience. Fay’s Crepes traded Polaris for a new setup at Easton, serving sweet and savory crepes. Cleveland’s Black Box Fix added some cajun flair to the lineup with their first Central Ohio location. Wrapping things up, the namesake pho along with other Vietnamese fare can now be found at Pho Social.
Catching up on the rest of Clintonville’s new additions…Gallo’s on High made an appearance on High Street early in the year with an accessible French and Italian inspired menu. The neighborhood also got another spot for barbecue – Hank’s Texas BBQ to be exact, which took over the space that was Old Skool. Just up the plaza, Basil made a brief appearance before the owner transformed it into fast-casual, build-your-own Thai joint Buddha Bowl.
After wowing with their locations at Saraga and North Market, Momo Ghar branched out to a brick-and-mortar of its very own in Dublin. Old Dublin welcomed worldly-themed Getaway Brewing, the latest expansion from the minds behind Seventh Son and Antiques on High, while across the river at Bridge Park, Kitchen Social recently opened its second area location.
Rounding Up the Rest
No, I’m still not done! There’s more…
Some neighborhoods didn’t see as many new additions, but still found themselves to be home to many welcome new spots in the Columbus dining scene.
In the University District, Playa Bowls made its Ohio debut with its lineup of bowls and smoothies, while dueling piano bar Big Bang made the jump from the Arena District to the space formerly inhabited by Chumley’s.
Over in German Village, The Sycamore made a welcome comeback, aiming to create a gathering place for the neighborhood morning, noon and night. Meanwhile, the restaurant group behind Local Cantina took an Asian-fusion turn, giving German Village a spot for classic Chinese takeout with Běndì Wok N’ Bar.
Heading to Grandview, Balboa said goodbye and in its place Grandview Cafe offshoot Round II appeared with its barbecue and whiskey focus. Grandview Yard welcomed the expansion of Hilliard-based Habaneros Mexican Grill.
Italian Village got a bit boozier with the addition of two new bars, both on Fourth Street: bar and dance club The Go Go and neighborhood hangout and CU readers’ favorite new bar of 2021, The Daily Bar.
And finally, a smattering of new spots from suburb to urban core. Bexley traded Aab India for Khaab Indian Kitchen & Bar. Chocolate Cafe Express graced the Brewery District with its expansion, offering more than just sweet treats but a savory lunchtime cafe menu. Over in Franklinton, Bleu & Fig moved into Jubilee Market, taking over its cafe space.
More breweries! Crafted Culture opened in Gahanna, becoming Central Ohio’s first black-owned brewery. BrewDog continued to expand, this time setting up shop in a massive space in New Albany offering beer, food, games and plenty of patio space.
There was another reason to make the drive out to Granville, with Ray Ray’s Meat + Three marking the first permanent, dine-in location for the barbecue master. Also in the world of meat-centric eateries, Barrel & Boar BBQ Factory expanded to Lancaster by acquiring The Smoked Food Factory.
Meanwhile, Martha’s Fusion Kitchen and her wide array of birria dishes made their mark in North Linden. Old North also got a taste of Mexican cuisine (well, more Tex-Mex) with the addition of Crunchwerks.
We’ve all heard of brunch, but a new restaurant decided to tackle the drunk munchies with Drunchies, feeding bar-goers at The Quarry Co. Bar & Grill. And lastly, Mikey’s wasn’t the only new, local addition to the casino as the West Side got its Dirty Frank’s back inside Hollywood Casino.
All photos by Susan Post