M Cafe - 1417 Sumter Street

Posted by The LunchMen Thursday, June 3, 2010

If you have lived in Columbia or the surrounding area for any period of time, surely you have made your way to one of six restaurants that constitute Michelle Wang's local Asian cuisine empire. Miyo's is on campus, is in Irmo and the Northeast, and is arriving in Lexington. M-Vista is, well, right where the name suggests. Then there is the M-Cafe. The Lunchmen do not know if the M-Cafe has broken away from the empire or not - it is not featured on the website any longer - but even if it has, the food has not faltered.

Since it is summer, it is that special time of year when the Lunchmen get to have..."interns" of sorts. These "interns" are wonderful for many reasons, including 1) they are basically culinary guinea pigs, 2) they make an excellent excuse for long lunches, and 3) they are forced participants in eating challenges. Next week, we are going to have them go two-versus-two, Jules Winnfield and Pig-Pen versus Hot Pockets and Cupcake, on a taco eating challenge at Casa Linda that is sure to provide us with hours of laughs and entertainment.

For their first day on the job, we took the "interns" out to M-Cafe. We are always warmly received there, as the Dude basically covers the restaurant's monthly rent through his dedicated consumption of their healthy Asian fare. We had about twenty-four in attendance, so I will not bore you with the breakdown of who ate what. Instead, here are some of the highlights from my table.

The Highlander, left without an option containing mutton or haggis, went for some dish with tofu, the proper name escapes me. I'm not wild about tofu, but she seemed to dig it. If you happen to have a hankerin' for some tofu, M-Cafe is certainly generous with the portions it doles out. M-Cafe has plenty of options for the approximately 27 vegetarians and vegans that live in Columbia.

The Pewter Pirate ordered a more customary dish - Sesame Chicken with brown rice (shown up top). M-Cafe sets itself apart from many of the fast-food Chinese places in town with its preparation of familiar dishes. This Sesame Chicken, one of my go-to orders, is quite good.

I went outside of my normal order - sushi with a side of garlic green beans - and opted for the flank steak special. I still got my green beans, which might be my favorite single item on the menu. As you might expect, the flank steak is overcooked, but somehow I still liked it. Probably the gratuitous seasoning won me over, but whatever, I was still happy.

As a final note, I am going to make an admittedly controversial claim and say that the M-Cafe has my favorite sushi rolls in Columbia. No one at my table ordered sushi on this trip, but that is uncommon for the Lunchmen. Given the variety of menu options, the Lunchmen believe that the M-Cafe is the best option for Chinese, Szechuan, or sushi in Uptown Columbia.

- Tank

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1 Responses to M Cafe - 1417 Sumter Street

  1. HotPockets Says:
  2. In a startling twist, I will mostly agree with Tank in saying that the menu is vast but still executed well. I will also agree that M-Cafe is the best lunch option for Chinese, Szechuan, AND (possibly or) sushi in Upstate Columbia. That phrase allows M-Cafe for 3 loopholes:
    First, while they serve sushi, which is technically Japanese, they don't serve really any other Japanese food and if they do, they aren't known for it. However, I don't really know anywhere in Columbia that is know for their Udon and Soba dishes, rendering this point worthless.
    Second, the use of "and" instead of "or" allows for M-Cafe to fit the niche between people craving sushi and people looking for General Tao's. Call it Egg Roll Chen and Camon running each at 80%. I think any of the other Sushi restaurants in Columbia, except the Publix satellite office that is Sushi Yoshi, upstage the sushi choices. M-Cafe does offer a simple clean version of the standard sushi menu; nothing fancy, but then again most of the things filling the "specialty rolls" in other places aren't really sushi, but a Southern Fried Sushi perversion (Fry it and cover it in Unagi sauce and Japanese, only two minor ingredients from being straight, mayo). Further, everywhere else except for SakiTumi with the bold claim that their tuna, only the tuna, isn't frozen are all using the same "fresh frozen" fish.
    Third, we are talking lunch. Egg Roll Chen is a night-ending commitment, sacrifice a night to sweatpants and a case of sodium face. Tsunami, Camon, Saky, and SakiTumi are all more serious commitments as well, I am sure they can be done for lunch, but I bet they do substantially more business at night. Also, I don't feel obligated to drink at M-Cafe, whereas, I crave a carafe of Sake at any of the others.


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Rabbit, Tank, and The Publican are three dudes just trying to get through the work week here in Columbia. Rabbit is a Columbia native, Tank is from Charleston, and The Publican hails from Greenville. Rabbit's favorite lunch spot is the No Name Deli on Elmwood, where you may find him putting down a grilled chicken salad and a side of vinegar pasta. The Publican usually wants to find food to cure his all-too-common hangovers. Tank claims no favorite lunch spot - he lives for the thrill of the hunt.