I’ve probably written about Charleston, South Carolina, more often than any other city. I never get tired of strolling the streets soaking in the history, art, and architecture of the city that to me epitomizes southern charm. But with each visit, the thing I look forward to most is the opportunity to indulge in Charleston’s thriving food scene.
Over the years I’ve had the privilege of witnessing the city’s evolution into one of the premiere foodie destinations in the United States. Charleston’s culinary culture was once a well kept secret but is now frequently featured on Travel Channel and Food Network shows.
The question I am most frequently asked about Charleston is, “Where to eat?” So I decided to compose a menu of 10 sure-fire, can’t-miss restaurants. But to confirm my selections and help me narrow down my list of about 20 restaurants that I love, I decided to take my own travel advice and ask a local.
Viewfinder Tip: Make dinner reservations whenever possible to assure seating. You might also want to pack your stretchy pants.
My brother, Ron, has been a part-time resident of Charleston for nearly a decade and eats out almost every meal when he is in town. I emailed him to ask for a short list of his favorite restaurants. He replied with a list of 58.
I emailed back, “I want your short list.”
“This is my short list,” he replied.
Since every restaurant I had on my list was also on Ron’s list, I felt validated. I narrowed down my recommendations by only including restaurants where I have dined two or more times. Dining in Charleston can be pricey, so I tried to include a few lower priced options as well. This menu includes some of my personal favorite restaurants and menu items from each. You can’t go wrong with any of these selections so whatever you choose, your tastebuds will thank you.
Hominy Grill – 207 Rutledge Ave.
Rick’s Picks: The “Big Nasty” is a bucket list biscuit that you’ll need to eat with a fork. It’s deep-fried chicken breast, covered with cheddar and sausage gravy served inside a piping hot biscuit. The toasted Pumpkin Ginger Bread will haunt your dreams.
Toast – 155 Meeting Street
Rick’s Picks: I usually order two fried eggs (over easy) atop the made-in-house corned beef hash with a side of Carolina stone-ground grits. But occasionally when my sweet tooth gets the better of me, I go with the Deluxe French Toast stuffed with peaches and topped with peach cider syrup. If you like a Bloody Mary, I highly suggest washing your meal down with Toast’s famous bacon-infused, bacon-garnished Bloody Mary.
Husk Restaurant – 76 Queen Street
Rick’s Picks: Husk is the creation of James Beard Award-winning Chef Sean Brock. Since it is a farm-to-table restaurant the menu changes daily. The food is incredibly fresh and creative. Hopefully the Kentuckyaki Glazed Pig’s Ear Lettuce Wraps will be on the menu when you visit because they are off the chain! I’ve also delighted in Husk’s Honey Soy BBQ, Cornmeal Dusted Catfish, TN Cheddar Pimento Cheese, and Butter Bean Hummus and can recommend all. The changing menu makes Husk a fun place to visit again and again.
Magnolias – 185 East Bay Street
Rick’s Picks: The Fried Green Tomato BLT with smoked bacon and melted pimento cheese is unforgettable, as is the Fried Mac & Cheese with bacon jam and hot pepper relish. I can also recommend the Pan Fried Chicken Livers, the Boiled Peanut Hummus, and Shellfish Over Grits.
Amen Street Fish and Raw Bar – 205 East Bay Street
Rick’s Picks: I love raw oysters from the raw bar with just a dash or two of the restaurant’s house-made hot sauce. The fish and oyster menu changes daily according to what is fresh but there is always a decent selection. If you’re not into raw oysters, I recommend the Tuna Tacos or the Fried Flounder Sandwich.
Cypress – 167 East Bay Street
Rick’s Picks: The Motherboard consists of an assortment of dried artisan meats and charcuterie all cured in-house. The Crisp Wasabi Tuna is served over a bed of carrots, turnips, radishes, and shiitake mushrooms, topped with an incredible ginger garlic glaze. Cypress also has the most extensive wine selection in Charleston with a stunning three-story wine rack to prove it.
Hall’s Chophouse – 434 King Street
Rick’s Picks: Nothing has ever satisfied my inner carnivore like Hall’s well-marbled, dry-aged, bone-in Tomahawk Ribeye. The Lowcountry Fried Green Tomatoes with crab, shrimp, bacon, and succotash are the best I’ve ever eaten. I also recommend Hall’s Chop Salad, Lobster Mac n’ Cheese, Sweet & Sour Collard Greens, and of course the Whiskey Bread Pudding.
High Cotton – 199 East Bay Street
Rick’s Picks: Just about every restaurant in Charleston serves their version of Shrimp & Grits and they are all awesome. High Cotton’s version may just be my favorite as shrimp, andouille sausage, tomatoes, okra, corn, and garlic broth are served over a bed of extra creamy, perfectly cooked grits. For an appetizer, I’d go for the blue crab stuffed mushrooms with creole hollandaise and chives.
Peninsula Grill – 112 North Market Street
Rick’s Picks: For a bucket list dessert, order the trademarked, twelve layer, Peninsula Grill Ultimate Coconut Cake®. It has been featured in Bon Appetit, Martha Stewart Living, the New York Times, and Throwdown with Bobby Flay, just to name a few. Another personal favorite is the Banana “Panna Cotta” Pudding served on a home made vanilla wafer, covered with a chocolate ganache with caramel sauce.
Dixie Supply Bakery and Cafe – 62 State Street
Rick’s Picks: Dixie Supply Bakery and Cafe was one of those hole-in-the-wall, mom and pop places known only to locals until the Food Network got wind of it. Now its popularity has people waiting in line to get inside. The Bacon Bourbon Pecan Pie is as sinfully delicious as it sounds. You won’t find it on the menu but you will find it in the pastry counter—if they’re not sold out. If looking for something not quite as sweet, I recommend their signature Heirloom Tomato Pie—fresh tomatoes, basil, onions and cheese baked inside a pie crust and served with sweet cornbread.
What are some of your favorite places to eat in Charleston?