- South Carolina
- Stephanie Chang Avila
From budget hole-in-the-wall eats to James Beard award-winning five-star restaurants, Charleston is one of the top dining destinations in America. Whether you fancy southern comfort food, dining on the cheap or authentic Lowcountry cuisine, these ten restaurants offer the best food experiences in Charleston.
Charleston Farmers Market
Charleston’s Farmers Market is a brilliant place to spend a Saturday morning – the only day that it’s open -browsing through its selection of locally sourced produce, which is seasonal, varied and undeniably fresh. Fill up with tasty free samples along the way: nuts, cheese, olives, cakes and more are on offer. Whilst many Charleston locals come here to pick up their weekly fruits and vegetables, visitors can browse through the numerous arts and crafts stalls by local craftspeople as well as stopping by for a quick bite from the many food vendors that make for a great breakfast, lunch or dinner.
Opening hours: Sat 8am-2pm
Hominy Grill is a local favorite and one of the best places for Charleston cuisine in a city that prides itself on food. Shrimp and grits is a Charleston breakfast staple: a fluffy bed of cheesy grits is topped with a healthy dose of shrimp sautéed with savory bacon drippings and mushrooms that make a mockery of supermarket instant grits. The big nasty is another dish that makes Hominy Grill memorable: a southern-style biscuit is laden with fried chicken, cheddar cheese and dribbled with delectable sausage gravy that gives the big nasty a savory and moist kick.
Opening hours: Mon-Fri 7.30am – 9pm, Sat 9 am-9 pm, Sun 9 am-3pm
Watch out for: the big nasty
New Southern is all the rage as southern chefs pay homage to the foods and flavors of their childhood whilst integrating non-traditional cooking techniques and ingredients. Enjoy a laid-back, slow-moving Sunday brunch at High Cotton where Lowcountry favorites are paired with local jazz. Whether its dohnut holes, crab cakes or chicken and waffles you try, dining at High Cotton is a fine way to get a taste of the Lowcountry with a modern twist.
Price: mid-range to fine-dining
Opening hours: Mon-Fri 5.30pm-10pm, Sat 11.30am-2.30pm and 5.30pm-10pm, Sun 10am-2pm and 5.30pm-10pm
Watch out for: High Cotton shrimp and grits
Another excellent brunch option, Magnolias often goes head-to-head with High Cotton in the battle of the Charleston brunches, but ultimately it’s all down to taste. Magnolias specializes in southern soul food that stays faithful to the flavor profiles of the Lowcountry whilst bringing in the fine-dining experience, with an eye on marrying high-quality food with tasteful presentation. The menu is true to the south through and through, and its array of beautifully prepared comfort food can warm the heart of any southerner. Fried green tomatoes, grits, apple fritters, collard greens and country fried steak and eggs all make a welcome appearance.
Opening hours: Mon-Sat 11.30am – 10pm, Sun 10am-10 pm (brunch is served until 3.45 pm)
Watch out for: Locountry bouillabaisse
Eating local is at the heart of FIG’s focus on creating a food experience that melds quality flavours with an eye on sustainability. Headed by chef Mike Lata, FIG offers a five-star dining experience in the comfort of a laid-back diner atmosphere. It goes without saying that, in order to bring the freshest ingredients to the table, the menu at FIG changes on a regular basis according to seasonal availability.
Price: mid-range to fine-dining
Opening hours: Mon-Thurs 5.30pm-10.30pm, Fri-Sat 5.30pm-11pm
Watch out for: the fish stew
Mind of a Chef, in its first season, followed the foodie exploits of Korean-American chef David Chang of New York City’s celebrated Momofuku restaurants. So it was with particular excitement and expectation that that Season 2 of Mind of a Chef would feature James Beard award-winning Southern chef Sean Brock, whose Charleston presence is massive. Husk Restaurant by Brock has been amongst the most talked about restaurants in town, ever since it first opened its doors in late 2010, for its respect for good Southern cooking. Having generated huge waves amongst foodie bloggers and writers in 2010 when news of Husk broke out, the restaurant has settled comfortably into Charleston’s rich food scene with a dedication to southern ingredients that’s unmatched anywhere in the city. As Brock says, ‘If it doesn’t come from the south, it’s not coming through the door.’
Opening hours: Mon-Thurs 11.30am-4.30pm and 5pm-10pm, Fri-Sat 11.30am-4.30pm and 5pm-11pm, Sun 10am-2.30pm and 5pm-10pm
Watch out for: the cornmeal dusted catfish
Jeremiah Bacon is a Lowcountry native who brings an impressive restaurant resumé with an intimate knowledge of the Charleston food scene to Oak Steakhouse – and it has paid off. Travel + Leisure magazine gave Oak Steakhouse the nod for its ‘Best Steakhouse in America 2013’ list, and Oak is repeatedly listed as one of the best places for steaks in Charleston. You can’t go wrong with steak at Oak; its lesser known specialty, however, is the Oak burger with grilled onions, tomato, bibb lettuce and fontina cheese all piled atop a challah bun and served with a side of hand-cut truffle fries. Juicy and delicious, the burger is one of the best in town.
Opening hours: Sun-Thurs 5pm-10pm, Sat 5pm-11 pm
Watch out for: the Oak burger
Oysters are the centerpiece at The Ordinary, chef Mike Lata’s restaurant concept. Housed in a converted former bank building, the seafood hall and oyster bar is one of the top places to visit for Charleston seafood at its best and draws hordes of locals and visitors alike who are united by a shared passion for all things seafood. Oysters are, of course, the highlight. Opt for the raw fresh oysters for a briny starter or dig into an oyster slider. Other seafood delights include The Ordinary’s signature lobster roll, American caviar, an excellent grouper schnitzel or, for the true seafood lover, a shellfish tower that comes in three different sizes.
Opening hours: Tue-Sun 3pm-11pm
Watch out for: the shellfish towers
Xiao Bao Biscuit
Asian soul food may sound like an oxymoron, but Xiao Bao Biscuit is Asian fusion at its best and pulls off this union of flavors spectacularly. Housed in a former gas station, Xiao Bao Biscuit brings a creative and quirky approach to its food. This restaurant takes the staples of Asian comfort food and the classics of southern comfort food, and joins them together in a perfect union. The results are ‘dishes from China, Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam prepared locally and inspired by kick-ass grandmothers everywhere’ – in Xiao Bao Biscuit’s own words.
Opening hours: Lunch on Mon-Fri 11.30pm-2pm; Dinner on Mon-Thurs 6pm-10pm, Fri-Sat 5.30pm-10pm
Watch out for: the yu xiang
Jack’s Cosmic Dogs
Jack’s Cosmic Dogs is a local favorite and an excellent place to duck in for a quick bite as an alternative to Charleston’s traditional Lowcountry and seafood fare. That said, Jack’s Cosmic Dogs is nothing like what you’ll find up in New York or Chicago. Each dog and topping combo is a labor of love, with house-made sauces, chilli, coleslaw, locally made sausages and hand-cut fries. For a mere $2.95, grab yourself a cosmic dog which is topped with Jack’s original blue cheese slaw and house sweet potato mustard. According to food guru Alton Brown, the cosmic dog is the quintessential slaw dog and most certainly a must-eat on the Charleston food map. Otherwise, choose from any of Jack’s 14 hot dog options, including the atomic dog (homemade chilli, freshly diced onions and spicy mustard). Jack’s Cosmic Dogs also offers some throw-back fun with its selection of vintage soda pops and fountain drinks, as well as Old Dominion Brewery Draft Root Beer.
Opening hours: Mon-Sun 10.30am-8pm
Watch out for: the cosmic dog
By Stephanie Chang Avila