For 30 years, Malia’s has maintained a standard of excellence and support for local farmers while the chef/owner partners have created a loyal following.
Location: 120 Laurens Street, Aiken, South Carolina
Menu: The lunch menu at Malia’s changes daily to reflect seasonal availability and the best sources at the time. A recent lunch menu featured tomato basil soup, short rib and vegetable soup, pork scallopini, curried chicken salad flatbread, shrimp and grits and a spinach mushroom quiche as examples. There are only about a dozen options, but the variety caters to a wide range of taste preferences.
The dinner menu also has a broad appeal. Appetizers include seared scallops, a fried green tomato stack and an upside down pot pie. For entrees, Malia’s occasionally reaches far beyond the local offerings. Salmon from Canada or grilled lamb chops from New Zealand are prime examples. The braised short ribs and salmon get constant rave reviews while chicken, beef and seafood options are also popular. Recently a fall squash risotto was a vegetarian choice.
Housemade desserts reflect the whims of the chef and might include ice cream, beignets, coconut pie or cheesecake.
Thoughts: Malia’s is located in the Alley, a pedestrian gathering place in the heart of downtown Aiken. The constantly changing menu keeps patrons returning again and again to sample more of the creativity generated by Malia Koelker and her stepson Matthew Shackleton, who are partners in the business as well as co-chefs and co-owners. They share a commitment to using ethically-produced ingredients and of bringing the flavors of the world to dishes many consider to be homegrown. Some of their repeat customers actually come from outside the United States.
Malia’s started with a very small location behind a dress shop. It was so small that Malia could go to the market in the morning, see what was fresh and caught her imagination, head back to the kitchen, and then start preparing for her guests. Several years later, the dress shop became available, so the restaurant was able to expand. They now have outside seating which is very nice when the weather permits.
The bar was installed in Malia’s in 2013 and has since been called one of the Great Bourbon Bars of America.
Malia’s is consistently rated as one of the best restaurants in Aiken. Considering the discriminating clientele coming through Aiken because of the vibrant equestrian activities as well as those living there year-round, that speaks well for an establishment that has continued to climb in popularity for over 30 years. The walls are lined with works of art. The lighting, music and arrangement of tables are conducive to celebrating a special occasion or having an intimate dinner. When you pair all of that with exceptional food, the formula for success is in place.
Price range: Lunch items range from $5-14. Dinner salads are appetizers are $6-13. Entrees are $22-32.