This is a completely personal, eminently biased guide to dining in Charleston, S.C.
Over the past two decades, Charleston has not only become a major tourist destination but has also earned a national reputation as one of America's up-and-coming culinary cities. Gourmet magazine, for instance, recently called us "a lovely port city that’s fast on its way to becoming a serious food capital."
I would argue that we arrived several years ago.
The restaurants included on this site are my (current) favorites in town. There are tons of restaurants not on this list, many of which I suppose are pretty good, but for some reason or another I just haven't found them appealing enough to make them regular haunts. I draw no particular line between high and low: you'll find both roadside hot dog stands and high-end restaurants that rival the best that NYC or San Francisco have to offer.
The hardest part is that new restaurants keep opening all the time--just about the time you think you've finally caught up on your list of "must-trys", six new places crop up. But, that's a good problem to have.
Here are my current list of highly recommended establishments,
Low-to-Medium Prices, Kid Friendly
Markets and Other Food Related Destinations
Low-to-Medium Prices, Kid Friendly
US17 (West Ashley), Downtown, North Charleston, and Mt. Pleasant locations http://www.andolinis.com/
A great independent pizzaria. Makes New York-style thin crust pies. You can get two slices of cheese pizza and a draft PBR for six bucks.
1602 Savannah Highway/US 17 (West Ashley
Though they are a barbecue joint and have great barbecue, my wife and I usually end up getting cheeseburgers because, without a doubt, Bessingers has the best cheeseburgers in town, hands down. If you're from out of town, though, I would recommend trying their barbecue. You can get a good cheeseburger almost anywhere; Bessinger's is an exceptional example of the mustard-based style, a variety unique to South Carolina. I also recommend getting one of the plates with hash and rice, for hash is the uniquely South Carolina side item. It's pork and various pork parts (don't ask--you're better off not knowing) minced up fine with a lot of spices and served like a very thin stew over rice: fantastic.
Bessinger's Barbecue on Highway 17
A heaping plate of mustard-based barbecue with hash from Bessinger's
Charleston's best cheeseburger
G&M Fast French
98 Broad Street, Downtown
The real name of this little spot is "Gaulart and Maliclet Cafe", but no one in Charleston seems to be able to remember and/or pronounce that name, so most people just call it "Fast French". I love to stop in for a croissant and coffee on Saturday mornings.
Dixie Supply Bakery & Cafe
62 State St.
Not to be missed. An unassuming looking little spot next to the Little Cricket on State St. They cook up some of the best biscuits, croissants, patty melts, and meat-n-three grub in town. Perfect for breakfast, and not bad for lunch or just some mid-morning snacks, either. Dixie is a gem.
More: My CP review of Dixie Supply.
The Glass Onion
1219 Savannah Hwy., West Ashley
The Glass Onion serves up good, solid Southern cooking with a slow-food sensibility. Top-quality items like Anson Mills grits and Benton's bacon are regulars on the menu. From the authentic New Orleans-style po-boys to the massive braised Pork Shank, you won't be dissapointed.
207 Rutledge Ave., Downtown
Robert Stehling's top-notch "neighborhood restaurant," which features classic southern recipes cooked from scratch with fresh local ingredients. This may well be the best Southern cooking in the world. Stehling took home the 2008 James Beard Award for Best Chef in the Southeast.
Iacofano's Italian Bar & Grill
626 Coleman Blvd.
I'm a huge fan of John Iacofano's low key Italian deli and restaurant. The meatballs--whether served up on a hoagie or sliced in the middle of their cra-za-zy lasagne--are sublime, and everything is done up with just a little extra touch of quality, even as the restaurant remains calm and unassuming. Definitely a favorite haunt.
More: My CP Review of Iacofano's.
Jack's Cosmic Dogs
2805 Highway 17 North, Mount Pleasant, SC
Open 7 days a week, 11 am to 8 pm.
Jack's Cosmic Dogs is a Lowcountry joint that was created as a throwback to the old roadside hotdog stands of earlier years. The building is retro-cool, with cinder block walls painted bright yellow outside and bright red inside. The 1960s-style tables come with mismatched metal and vinyl chairs, and you order at a stainless steel-fronted counter with wooden top. An old-school ice bin offers Sundrop and RC Cola in real glass bottles, and there's a Galaga machine in the corner. It even has a screen door.
The hot dogs are sizzled up fresh on a flattop griddle and served not on a plain old bun but on a big seeded roll For a classic chili dog, try the Atomic dog--chili, onions, spicy mustard (pictured below). If you're more adventurous, there are several dogs with a great blue cheese coleslaw on them, including the Cosmic dog with the slaw and Jack's homemade sweet potato mustard. The french fries are hand-cut from fresh potatoes, which is the only way fries should be made.
Long Point Grill
479 Long Point Rd, Mount Pleasant
The Mustard Seed
1036 Chuck Dawley Blvd, Mount Pleasant
I'm cutting corners grouping these two together, but they are both operations run by Mount Pleasant's Sal Parco, and both offer similarly solid but sophisticated fare for reasonable prices. From risotto and polenta to fried chicken and burgers, the hardest part of eating at Long Point Grill and The Mustard Seed is trying to choose from a menu crowded with intriguing options that always seem to pay off. Both server dinner, but they are great spots for lunch, too.
Moose's Famous BBQ
1440 South Live Oak Drive (Hwy. 17-A)
With barbecue chicken, pulled pork, and hands-down the best beef brisket to be found in the Lowcountry, Moose's is a carnival of eating. Pay as you enter, cash only, the buffet is not only loaded with tasty smoked meats but some damn good side items, too. Wear your eatin' pants with the extra-elastic waist. You'll need 'em.
More: My City Paper review of Moose's
2210 Middle St.
When I have friends in from out of town, Poe's is an old standby for lunch. Their burgers--hand-ground on premises, cooked to order, and served with fresh-cut fries--are out of this world, and with a zillion great beers on tap it's a perfect place to while away a beach afternoon. When I think Sullivan's Island, I think Poe's.
More: my CP blurb on the Hop Frog Burger.
2366 Ashley River Road/Highway 61 (West Ashley)
Don't understimate this small, unassuming looking restaurant in the corner of an shopping plaza off Ashley River Road. It looks like it would be a standard pancake-breakfast, meat-and-three lunch kind of place. But, the food is really fantastic.
The breakfast menu boasts a series of eggs benedict variations (including crab cakes and fried-green tomatoes), rich omlets, beignets, and french toast. For lunch, there's steak sandwiches made not with some cheap cut but tender filet(!), plus chicken and crabcake croissants, and a range of fresh salads.
The Sunflower is off the beaten path--way down Highway 61 past I-526. But, if you are heading out to Drayton Hall or Middleton Place, drop in and give it a try for breakfast or lunch (they close at 2:30 PM). It's one of my West Ashley favorite.
The Wreck of the Richard and Charlene
106 Haddrell St, Mount Pleasant--off Shem Creek.
Definitely call and get directions--you'll never find it on your own, since they don't even have a sign. A complete dive, with plastic lawn tables and chairs and canned beer. And also the best, freshest mounds of fresh shrimp and scallops you'll ever eat. Not really high-end, but not cheap either. Takes cash only, so be sure to bring a pile of it.
39 Rue de Jean:
39 John St., Downtown
French-style brasserie. Great atmosphere, great mussels, and really good food. There's nothing particularly Charleston about Rue de Jean, but I don't care. There's such a relaxed, European feel about the place that I just enjoy sitting inside the place, watching all the people and action going on around me. A great bar, too, if you just want to stop in for drinks and appetizers.
Al Di La
25 Magnolia Road. West Ashley.
A great trattoria-style Italian restaurant with fresh pasta, homemade bread, and slow-cooked meats. Located in the West Ashley's funky Avondale district. Open for dinner Tuesday - Saturday.
976 Houston Northcutt Blvd.
This is a Mt. Pleasant gem. If the roasted olives and housemade mozzarella aren't enough to make you swoon, the gnocchi will finish the job. And, for such good, authentic Italian food, it's very reasonably priced.
232 Meeting Street, Downtown
The home of Mike Lata, one of Charleston's celebrity chefs, FIG is a delightful bistro-style spot in the heart of downtown. Lata is a devotee of fresh, seasonal food, and all the dishes on the menu are uncomplicated and focus on the quality of the ingredients. The menu varies by season, but entrees include a range of fresh local fish along with meat selections such as roasted chicken, flat-iron steak, and veal sweetbreads. The stylish interior and friendly, well-informed wait staff make it a great spot to enjoy a really good meal.
432 King St.
Serving Dinner, Mon-Sat
La Fourchette is unapologetically French and doesn't care if you like it or not. But, with pomme frites double fried in duck fat, old-school French favorites like cassoulet and coquille St. Jacques, and the best French wine list this side of Paris, you're bound to like it.
More: read about La Fourchette's fries
2 Unity Alley (just off of East Bay Street), downtown
The atmosphere is a mix of old-Charleston and new-restaurateur-slickness: a couple of old buildings dating back to the 18th Century, linked together with the old brick and hardwoods preserved and a lot of fancy features like soaring skylights added. Altogether, they are nice rooms to eat in. The food is excellent, too: try the venison.
Markets and Other Food Related Destinations
Marion Square Farmers Market: (Corner of King and Calhoun Sts., downtown) This is a must visit. Every Saturday morning from the months of April until December, local growers, artists, and food vendors set up shop under tents in Marion Square Park. Like most farmers markets, some of the vendors are simply reselling produce from all over that they bought at wholesale markets. But, many of the stands specialize in fresh, locally-grown vegetables, herbs, and other foods--including my favorite, where Celeste and George Albers from Green Grocer Farms on John's Island sell shrimp caught the previous day from their own boat along with a a small selection of rotating items grown on their farm, such as fingerling potatoes and sweet onions.
There's plenty of ready-made food for a late breakfast or early lunch (I'm particularly partial to the homemade pretzels and lemonnade), and entertainment for the kids as well. For locals the market is a perfect start to the day--seeking out the fresh ingredients for the evening's dinner; for tourists, it offers not only a fine sampling of Lowcountry food but also a great place to pick up local-themed artwork and souveneirs. (8:00 am through 1:00 PM from April to December)
Mount Pleasant Farmers Market: (Moultrie Middle School on Coleman Blvd., Mount Pleasant). If you miss the Marion Square market on Saturday, you can always catch the Mount Pleasant version on Tuesday nights. Located in front of the Moultrie Middle School, the Mount Pleasnat market features many of the same vendors as the Marion Square version, and it's an equally good spot to pick up fresh local produce. Starts at 4:00 PM and runs through dark, April through October.
This posting is a work in progress and is regularly updated.