The Best Restaurants and Food Experiences in Charleston
When I planned my trip to Charleston, I basically planned it with comfort food on my mind. Every time I asked people what I should see in Charleston everyone basically told me the same thing–ooh, well you have to eat here, and here and here. I had enough restaurant recommendations to last me for about two weeks! So I was left with no choice but to spend a large portion of my days, nights (and late nights) sampling the best food experiences that Charleston has to offer. When I search for the best food, I don’t only look for the fanciest restaurants. I want to try what the locals consider the BEST. For hotels, I can only do Five-Star but for food, I do enjoy some casual eats as well. So after much diligent research, all in the name of journalism of course, here are my favorite restaurants and food experiences in Charleston that you must try if you’re in town.
Sweet Tea and Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka
My first stop the morning I arrived in Charleston was at the famous, Hominy Grill. Every time I read an article about the city’s best restaurants, this place always seemed to pop up. The food was phenomenal. I think it’s absolutely worth the wait. Food is served at lightning fast speeds so tables open up super fast. Plus, while you wait you can enjoy a cocktail from a small service window outside. I opted for the John Daly, which is made of Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka and lemonade. This spirit, Sweet Tea Vodka is a must try in Charleston, as is just a plain ole Sweet Tea (un-spiked).
Big Nasty Biscuit @ Hominy Grill
The food at Hominy Grill was absolutely fantastic. I had some of my favorite dishes in Charleston here. I highly recommend the Big Nasty Biscuit, which is fried chicken on a billowy, homemade biscuit with sausage gravy. I don’t usually like sausage but this was divine.
Shrimp and Grits @ Hominy Grill
And you must try the Shrimp and Grits, Hominy Grill is widely understood to serve up the best in the city so they’re definitely worth a try here. The critics weren’t wrong–these grits were by far the best I had in all of Charleston.
Marion Farmer’s Market
My next spot that I would recommend to quash your cravings would be Marion Market. Every Saturday (and a few Sundays) during the summer, there is a grand market that sells delicious bites like BBQ, Indian, Vietnamese, Juice, Popsicles and more at an outdoor market. There are also local artists selling artwork and crafts. You can sit in the park, take a jump in the bouncy castle all while listening to live music. You can also browse beautiful, fresh produce, which makes a great afternoon snack. I loved King of Pops (chocolate sea salt). It was so refreshing!
My next recommendation is a Charleston delicacy: Pimento Cheese. It sounds kind of gross to think that cheddar cheese, mayonaise and pimentos would make a tasty treat when blended together (and I was as wary as the next New Yorker) but it was surprisingly yummy! I figured anything these Charlestonians put together couldn’t be half bad since everything I had tasted so far had been amazing. I really find that sampling the local delicacies is one of my favorite parts of traveling so if something is a local favorite, I must try it.
Chicken and Waffles @ High Cotton
One dish I was really looking forward to trying in Charleston was Chicken and Waffles and it did not disappoint. I saved this meal for my brunch at High Cotton, which is really the most incredible brunch in the city. The dish was perfect–as was everything else we sampled, which was ALOT. Definitely get the breakfast Donut Holes with bacon maple glaze–out of this world! The Crab Cakes Benedict was delicious as well. Lastly, be sure to try the Espresso Martini to perk you up after all the food! Did I mention that they have a live jazz band playing? The ambiance here is everything I wanted. It’s exactly what I pictured my stereotypical brunch in Charleston to be: live jazz, chicken and waffles, shuttered windows and plantation-style ceiling fans slowly rotating as you leisurely sip your sweet tea (ahem, and vodka). Heaven. This is a must-see experience in my opinion.
Deep Fried Lobster @ Oak Steakhouse
I had heard great things about Oak Steakhouse and my friends weren’t kidding. This steakhouse is everything you want a steakhouse to be. It’s comfortable and richly decorated but has some southern flair in both the decor and the menu. There are a few dishes you won’t find at other steakhouses–like the deep fried lobster! When I saw this on the menu I simply couldn’t resist. It’s an entire lobster, in its shell, breaded and deep fried! It cooked the lobster so perfectly, it wasn’t chewy at all, it was perfectly tender and served with a side of butter. Can you believe it? I put something already deep-fried into butter? Well I did! When someone gives you melted butter in Charleston, you dip. If you’re coming here for a romantic night be sure to ask them for the romantic table on the 3rd floor–they’ll know what you’re talking about. The cocktails here were fantastic. The creative minds here are also the geniuses (geniusii? haha) behind Cocktail Club so you know you’re going to get something good.
Fried Chicken @ Magnolias
If you haven’t noticed the common thread of the weekend, it’s gluttony. Luckily I have a husband to split these indulgent dishes with otherwise I don’t know how I would have fit into my plane seat on my way home. But, when in Rome, err, Charleston… Magnolias has been around for a while now and its known for its authentic comfort foods. I actually already owned the cookbook believe it or not! They have a wide-selection of every delicious southern dish you can imagine but always try to put a creative twist on everything. For instance, instead of the traditional shrimp and grits, they serve seafood and grits and include lobster and scallops in the mix. But when I saw fried chicken on the menu with all the fixins, including potatoes, corn and collard greens I had to go for it. I highly encourage you do the same. This place is a staple in Charleston and its no wonder why. Also, don’t forget to sample a piece of the Pecan Pie here! It’s outstanding.
Snob luckily stands for Slightly North of Broad Street and not the rude servicepeople. Everything here is delicious! The dishes are inventive and sure to impress even the most advanced palate. This restaurant really shows that Charleston’s restaurant scene is thriving!
Another acronym, FIG stands for Food is Good. This casual, local favorite is in the heart of downtown and serves up dishes that are inspired by local and seasonal ingredients. Everything is absolutely delicious and lighter than many of the other Charleston restaurants, which can be a welcome break from the heavier meals everywhere else.
Restaurants to Try if There is Time
Jim ‘n Nick’s BBQ– Definitely the best BBQ in the city. And how can you not have BBQ when you’re in the South?