Over the past two decades, Charleston has become a culinary destination. Years ago, the culinary establishment sneered at Low Country food—okra was called slimy, shrimp n’ grits strange, and anything fried was considered lowbrow. But soon outsiders began tasting grits and marveling at their creamy texture. Next, “she-crab soup”—a chowder/bisque made with blue crab meat, crab roe, and a requisite shot of sherry—caught the attention of palates outside the region. Soon, top chefs, appreciating the Charlestonians’ sophisticated palates and the city’s laidback atmosphere, began moving there and local chefs started using traditional Low Country recipes and elevated them to international gourmet standards. Today visitors now make dinner reservations as quickly as they organize their hotels.
Eat & Drink in Charleston SC
Today, while Charleston has top-ranked fine dining establishments like the Peninsula Grill and the Charleston Grille on Market Street or Sienna on Daniel’s Island, there are so many high-quality restaurants that there’s no need to break the bank for fine food.
Charleston is famous for its BBQ, soul food, and seafood—all of which are cheap and bountiful. But Charleston dining isn’t limited to just these typical foods; chefs have been flocking to Charleston over the past few years, elevating Low Country food to gourmet heights, and now the city is constantly ranked among top U.S. dining destinations.
Gaulart and Maliclet
A Charleston favorite, Gaulart and Maliclet, known by locals as “Fast and French”, serves inexpensive high-quality French food at busy communal tables. Check out the well-priced lunch special of the day—usually a salad, sandwich and drink ($8.75)—and Thursday night’s fondue specials from $15. Dinner for two, $60. Mon 8am-4pm. T, W, Th 8am-10pm. Fri-Sat 8am-10:30pm. Closed Sundays. 98 Broad St, (843) 577-9797, website
Pane e Vino’s
Pane e Vino’s rustic northern Italian cooking and vast selection of wines by the glass ensure the dining room is always busy. Its lovely outdoor patio and small plates are perfect for an early evening meal. Dinner for two is around $75, less if ordering the smaller plates. Mon-Sat 5:30pm-10pm. Closed Sundays. 17 Warren St, (843) 853-5955.
Well-known chef Ken Vedrinski (Sienna) recently opened Trattoria Lucca (41 A Bogard Street, 843-973-3323) and it’s been packed ever since. The Italian flavored menu is well-priced and the staff extremely knowledgeable. Expect to pay around $125 for dinner for two.
Hominy Grill has been written up hundreds of times since it opened in 1996, which means you’ll be competing for a table for brunch. But its popularity is for good reason—it serves some of the most flavor-packed Low Country food in the city. Be sure to order the famous shrimp n’ grits ($14.95)—a Charleston special—or the pimento cheese sandwich ($6.50). Dinner for two is around $65 (11:30am-8pm), brunch for two $35 (M-F 7:30am-11:30am, Sat&Sun 9am-3pm). 207 Rutledge Ave. (843) 937-0930, website
Lana Restaurant & Bar
And if Hominy Grill is too busy, Lana Restaurant & Bar across the road serves elegant Mediterranean food at good prices. Dinner for two is around $60. Dinner (Mon-Sat) starts at 6pm. Lunch (Mon-Fri) 11am-3pm. Closed on Sundays. 210 Rutledge Ave. (843) 720-8899, webisite
Locals head to Cru Café for gourmet comfort food in the quaintly small rooms of an 18th century single-style Charleston home. When the weather is nice, snag a table on the porch and enjoy the views over historic Pinckney Street. Open lunch (around $30 for two, Tue-Sat 11am-3pm) and dinner (around $65 for two, Tue-Sat starting at 5pm). Closed Sundays. 18 Pinckney St (843) 534-2433, website
For seafood and views over the harbor, Fleet Landing is near the Customs House. Try Charleston favorites like the pimento-cheese burger ($9.50), a crab cake sandwich ($10.95) or classic Charleston she-crab soup ($6.50). Lunch (seven days a week, 11am-4pm) for two is $30; dinner (starting at 5pm) for two is $55. 186 Concord St. (843) 722-8100, website
Jim N Nicks Barbeque
BBQ is a southern tradition and Jim N Nicks Barbeque (a south-east chain) cooks up meltingly tender ribs near downtown Charleston. 288 King St. Open everyday starting at 10:30am. (843) 577-0406, website
Melvin’s Southern BBQ & Ribs
You’ll need a car to visit Melvin’s Southern BBQ & Ribs, but this Charleston-based BBQ restaurant with its famous mustard-based sauce created in 1933 is worth the trip. Order the little Joe Pulled Pork sandwich ($5.50) to taste Melvin’s golden sauce. Open Mon-Sat starting at 10:45am. Closed Sundays. 538 Folly Rd (843) 762-0511, website
A favorite for any meal, but especially brunch is Poogan’s Porch (72 Queen Street, (843) 577-2337, website). This local favorite, housed in an old wood house, serves lowcountry dishes such as shrimp and grits, gumbo, crab cakes and fried alligator.
For two picks further afield, try the Glass Onion for inexpensive soul food and perfectly fried chicken (1219 Savannah Highway, M-F 11am-8pm, Brunch 10-3, (843) 225- 1717, website)
Fat Hen, a neighborhood restaurant combining French and southern cooking with often spectacular results (L: 11:30am-3pm, D: 5:30pm-10pm, Sunday Brunch 10am-2:30pm, 3140 Maybank Hwy, Johns Island (843) 559-9090, website)
While the restaurant at the Market Pavilion Hotel is expensive, the view of downtown Charleston from the elegant roof bar, Pavilion Bar, is worth the $7.50 cocktails. Arrive early when the weather is warm as the hotel limits the number of people in the bar. 225 E Bay St (843) 723-0500, website.
Johnson’s Pub and Pizzeria
Locals hit Johnson’s Pub and Pizzeria for a laidback evening of live, local music and drinks on the outdoor patio. 12 Cumberland St. (843) 958-0662.
If you venture toward the barrier islands, you’ll see farmstands stocked with lush, juicy peaches and sweet Vidalia onions lining the roads, alongside shrimping boats docked in the creeks behind small roadside stores. Be sure to stop when you see a sign for “boiled peanuts”—these traditional Charleston snacks are perhaps an acquired taste, but it’s hard not to love these soft, briny nuts when you’re kicking back on the porch with a cold glass of sweet tea.