Columbia SC Dining: Baan Sawan

Baan Sawan Thai Bistro
2135 Devine Street, Columbia, SC

Web Site:

I’ve been backlogged for weeks on content — I haven’t even completed my posts on Raleigh and Cape Cod, but I wanted to share with you with what I think is one of the best Thai restaurants I have ever eaten at in my entire life. The crazy thing about it is that it seems to exist in a place where it clearly shouldn’t.

Let me start off again. For the past few weeks, I’ve been working on assignment in the town of Columbia, South Carolina. Suffice to say that Columbia, while it is the largest city in the state and the capital, isn’t exactly the most progressive town in the South from a culinary perspective — it boasts very few quality Asian restaurants — well, let me rephrase that — few quality restaurants, period, and is about as meat and potatoes as you can possibly get. However, it is also the host to the University of South Carolina (USC) which is considered one of the better research universities in the region, so some diamonds do thrive here. The college kids and academicians need good places to eat.

Against all odds, Baan Sawan thrives. Click on the “Read the rest of this entry” link below for more.

One such diamond is Baan Sawan, a small, hip, Thai restaurant that has been in business for 13 years. Against all odds, in a city that lacks a sufficient Asian population and few Asian markets, it has survived and is producing some of the best — although adapted — Thai food I have ever eaten. The restaurant is run by a team of two brothers, Sam and Alex, who own the restaurant with their parents.  Sam is the renaissance man, poet, hospitality expert and beverage director, while Alex is the hardcore creative chef and runs the back of the house.

Sam, the renaissance man.

Chef Alex.

Main Dining Room

Dining Room

Baan Sawan’s menu is very focused — it’s probably got one of the shortest lists of main dishes that I’ve seen at a Thai restaurant, but what they lack in diversity they make up in quality and flavor. Alex and Sam grow some of the herbs and vegetables locally, and some specialty items have to be driven in from Atlanta. But everything is made fresh.

The second page.

Make sure you look at the specials board.


Don’t overlook the beverage service.

And be sure to read Sam’s poetry that goes along with it. This guy should do a book of beer Haikus.

Sam is also very particular about his wines, and he’ll be happy to do a tasting for you and match your bottle with your food.

This cider really helps to put out the chili fire.

Tom Kha Gai soup, ordered extra spicy. Are we starting to see a trend here?

Of course, if you are a NORMAL person, you’ll order it like this.

Larb is a benchmark dish for any Thai restaurant. This is a beef larb, ordered extra spicy. Sam and Alex know well at this point I can tolerate serious heat, as I’ve dined at this restaurant so much in the last month.

Here’s the Chicken version of the Larb, ordered about two weeks later. The first Asian Basil of the season from pop’s garden is just starting to come out.

Shrimp with Tamarind.

A pair of Thai Curries destined for another table.

Tofu Soup with Glass Noodles

Braised Pork Shoulder in Panang Curry. Outstanding. If they happen to have this dish on the night you are there, make sure you order it.

Seared Tuna with Chili Basil. Another killer special.

Tod Mun appetizer — these are fried patties of ground shrimp and chicken with Thai spices, served with a spicy chili garlic/cucumber dipping sauce.

Tod Mun cross-section.

A peanut curry destined for another table.

Shrimp in Panang Curry.

Chilean Sea Bass in Tamarind Sauce,

And here is the Sea Bass in a spicy Keow Wan green curry. Probably my favorite preparation. Yes, I realize this appears to be a red curry, but its because I ordered it ultra-spicy.

Looks like someone ordered the Pad Thai.

Beef with Garlic and Pepper. Sounds simple, but a bold dish.

Spring Rolls which my dining companion ordered.

Happy guests at the bar.

If you’re lucky, Alex might give you something to much on. These are fried chicken skins.

With a chili dipping sauce.

Closing time.

5 Responses to Columbia SC Dining: Baan Sawan

  1. Robert says:


    Would you rate Baan Sawan as better than Lotus of Siam in Las Vegas?

    If so, that is pretty impressive. As a side note, I see Lotus of Siam is going to be closed for a few days in July for “renovations.” Let’s hope they aren’t expanding, changing, and otherwise ruining a good thing.


  2. Given what Sam and Alex have to work with, I would say that it is pretty much on the same level, despite supply shortcomings and such. Lotus of Siam has a substantial menu and access to a lot of ingredients from Asia, whereas Baan Sawan does not. But that doesn’t seem to stop Baan Sawan from making excellent Thai food.

  3. […] I inquired about other good Asian restaurants in the Columbia area, the folks over at Baan Sawan suggested that I check out the Blue Cactus, another Five Points restaurant for […]

  4. suphakij suaudom says:

    สวัสดีครับพี่เบิ้ม ผมต้อยนะครับ เข้ามาชมร้าน
    สวยดีนะ เป็นไงบ้างสบายดีกันทุกคนมั้ย

  5. […] Included in the photo set: Taqueria Mi Pueblita II, Paul’s Philadelpha Eatery, Taqueria Jasmine, and Baan Sawan. Baan Sawan is the coolest Thai restaurant I’ve been to in a long time. The bartender and proprietor (and obvious wine geek), Sam, says he runs a “fine dining restaurant, that just happens to serve Thai food”. A comprehensive post on Baan Sawan can be found here. […]

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