Ten bang-your-fist delicious dishes, each $10 or less and every one so rare you can get it only from a single restaurant in Columbus? Yes, that’s the delectable menu I’ve prepared for you. And I’m not just highlighting a bunch of weird stuff only thrill-eaters like me will appreciate. What kind of approachable but “nowhere-else” delicacies does a wad of chump change purchase locally? I think you’d be surprised.
Pizzas, burgers and wings are commonplace, right? Well, in the skillful hands of imaginative chefs, those staples are reborn with rejuvenating twists. And cheesecake — old hat, right? Not unless you’ve tried on a savory makeover that hangs a seafood-motorboated left turn. So check your expectations at the door, and bite into these unique, cheap and wholly wonderful treats.
Yak Burger ($9)
The Coop at Hey Hey Bar
361 E. Whittier, German Village
One of the most elite burgers in Columbus might have an unfortunate name, but get over it, OK? Because like homely ass cows, yak are just cattle — lean and delicious cattle with bison-like, heart-healthy omega-3s, but beefier flavored. This juicy beauty — I’m having a Big Yak Attack just thinking about it — arrives clad in designer accessories like gooey Havarti cheese, arugula, a fried local egg, bacon and chivey aioli. It’s paired with a kicky side, such as crunchy homefries brightened with splashes of vinegar.
Lobster and Crab Cheesecake with Pickled Fennel Coulis ($8)
2333 N. High St., Campus
Here’s a wedge issue that’ll unite both sides of the aisle in oohing and aahing. Decorated with snowflakes of shaved Parmesan plus pimento and scallion confetti, Alana’s dreamy, savory appetizer cake seamlessly combines sour creamy cheesiness with chunks of meaty seafood. Adding to the reverie-inducing spell are smoky tasso, salty, peppery and chili accents. The pretty, mayo-rich coulis also hits high notes that further counter an overall lavishness so this shareable starter (or veritable full meal) never, ever seems like too much of a good — make that truly damn great — thing.
1717 Northwest Blvd., Grandview
Mustard and sour cream “sauced” pizza topped with ... tuna? Hellz yeah! Though under new ownership, this unassuming pizzeria in the back of a (not so) convenient mart still sets the local standard. This surprising pie with clean-flavored fish is said to be popular in Southern France — heresy never tasted so terrific. Whatever its background, the lovely thing delightfully dances on your tongue. Sweet-hinting fresh basil and grape tomatoes plus salty capers and shaved Parmesan all gracing Bono’s singularly elegant, chewy yet delicate crust choreograph that pas-de-deliciousness.
Stuffed Wings ($8.25)
375 Georgesville Rd., West Side
Instead of slathering these wild flappers in a volatile sauce, this cute West Side newbie does something far more distinct — it deftly separates their exterior from their deboned interior. Then a fragrant and sausage-y (“larb”-esque), Southeast Asian-style blend is made with the meat, lemongrass and cellophane noodles; it’s laboriously tucked back in, and the whole shebang is dusted in chili powder and expertly fried. These mutant-looking but un-greasy and crazy-great, spicy munchies retain what true foodies love about wings — they’re rife with crispy skin, the best part of chicken — yet add on tons of blindsiding zing.
Mimosa Eggs ($8)
Till Dynamic Fare
247 King Ave., Campus
Deviled eggs? Been there. Pickled eggs? Munched that. Eggs both deviled and pickled that craftily resemble the beautiful flowers they’re named after? You must be visiting Till. Plated with Japanese-like elegance, these smoked paprika-dusted, blooming crimson ova are the latest (and my favorite) version of a lovely ensemble that now includes peppery roasted turnips, a clever pumpkin seed “cheese” sauce and a recursive nod to beets, which so vibrantly color the eggs. Sweet, earthy, rich and tart, it’s a heady bouquet that overstimulates in a want-it-again-soon way.
Beet Sliders ($9)
889 Oak St., Olde Towne East
Sliders are a dime a dozen, but at this overachieving enclave in Olde Town East, they’ve got the beet. Thickly sliced, grilled and plopped atop crunchily toasted rolls that go above-and-beyond the usual mini-bun, the ruby-hued slabs are ignited with contrapuntal red onions and enriched with retro ranch-y green goddess dressing — splashes of which decorate the plate. Biting into these three surprisingly “meaty” burger-ettes will remind mindful diners that beets are a major ingredient in Northstar’s groundbreaking veggieburger.
Chengdu Soft Bean Curd ($3.50)
Fortune Chinese Restaurant
2869 Olentangy River Rd., Campus
Columbus is packed with Sichuan fakers, but divey Fortune brings the authentic heat. This addictive, scallion-flecked and garlic-kissed dish — which takes its name from the Sichuan Province capital — bathes two iterations of soybean (silken tofu and toasted edamame) in a genuine mala sauce. That gob-knocking soaker administers the telltale Sichuan numb (from lip-tingling, citrusy Sichuan peppercorns) and sting (from glugs of shimmering chili oil) rarely seen — or excitingly tasted — around these parts.
Green Pea Dip ($6)
79 S. 4th St., Downtown
Defying and exceeding expectations, this inspired, healthy and creative flavor- and texture-fest isn’t a “dip” per se, but actually three mini-pita pocket sandwiches. It’s a trio of cute, toasty whole wheaters pre-stuffed with chunky, warm crushed peas teamed with pureed yellow lentils. The rich-tasting yet practically fatless Middle Eastern-leaning centerpiece receives Far Eastern-leaning flourishes from a Sriracha-y sauce and a tiny salad tossed with a Thai-like pepper jam.
Chicken Paprikash Palacsinta ($6)
1586 S. High St., Merion Village
Why easy-to-love chicken paprikash is so denied to Columbus diners is beyond me. Fortunately, this Hungarian burrito does much to right that wrong. Stuffed inside a crepe that’s huge and sturdy — yet light and delicate — is a stewy mix of tender white meat chicken, skillfully fashioned spaetzle (think supple, Eastern/Central European gnocchi) and a tangy sour cream and paprika gravy. One bite into this super-comforting meal-in-itself, killer deal will have you gushing, “To hell with Chipotle.”
Foie Gras Dessert ($10, uh, plus $2)
Sage American Bistro
2653 N. High St., Campus
OK, sue me for breaking my own $10 rule, but I’m not gonna let a lousy $2 keep this luscious little stunner off my you-gotta-eat-this list. It’s a decadent and brilliant collision of charred, steaky foie with a decked-out carrot cake slice that, though only inches high, delivers miles of flavor. Below the intensely moist and dense cake is a “salty cashew caramel” — think sticky and buttery, melted nut brittle. Above is thick apple butter, that block of foie and, finally, a couple counterpoints of chewy, candied ginger wisps. To eat this is to be keelhauled.