Charleston, South Carolina, is certainly one of the tastiest cities in North America. Known as “lowcountry” cuisine, you’ll find an abundance of seafood, grits, biscuits, and other delicious regional foods to explore. This Colonial-era city was the richest in the new world in the mid-1700s. That wealth helped create a vibrant food culture that lives on today. When you visit Charleston, you’ll be tempted by fine dining restaurants, hidden strip mall hot spots, tiny food shacks, and touristy restaurants too.
As good as lowcountry food is, if you are going to be in Charleston for more than a couple of days, you might want to try some other types of cuisine in this food mecca. In this list you will find a couple of non-lowcountry eateries to add some spice. Come along and see what Kurt Jacobson, a former restaurant chef, deems worth visiting.
1. Circa 1886
Executive chef Marc Collins will take you for a culinary history tour showing how four cultures shaped lowcountry cuisine. First on the menu is a taste of native American fare with items like preserved rabbit or venison served with acorn squash and a puree of potato and parsnip. Paired with one of their excellent wines, this is a meal to remember. The menu features a nod to Africa with shrimp and grits, berbere sweet potatoes, Tankora spiced hen, and a delicious milk tart that has to be tried to see how a simple sounding dessert can taste so good.
The last two categories on the menu cover European influences and modern influences. From these two sections try the paprika grouper, sea scallops, Southern grilled cheese with paddlefish caviar, and to finish, don’t miss the apple rum soufflé with a scoop of candied praline ice cream. A meal at Circa 1886 is one you’ll remember fondly for a long time.
2. Virginia's On King
King Street will dazzle you with dining and shopping choices. Try Virginia’s On King for local food at a reasonable price. The restaurant is inspired by Virginia Bennett, who regularly held family dinners on Sunday after church serving her own recipes like shrimp and grits, collard greens, and other tasty dishes to family and friends. Before entering Virginia’s, look to the left of the front door to read what Brennan Bennett, one of the grandkids, wrote about lima beans and smoked ham at grandma’s house. After reading young Brendan’s account of this classic lowcountry dish, at least one person at your table should order it and share it so you can form your own opinion. The shrimp and grits in Charleston vary at each restaurant, and at Virginia’s On King they serve it with a fabulous Creole sauce and creamy grits. Great for breakfast and lunch, Virginia’s is a top choice for a casual meal in Charleston.
What started as a food truck offering a mix of Asian and Latin cuisine around town is now a stand-alone restaurant in North Charleston. Serving Asian favorites like ramen soup, yakitori, and dumplings, will please those wanting something different than lowcountry fare. The duck ramen is a hit with flavorful duck bites, kimchi, and a golden egg on top. The shrimp stir fry is also a delicious Asian-style item to consider with a gorgeous bowl full of noodles and shrimp. Dig into the Latin side of the menu with veggie or seafood paella, a burrito stuffed with fried rice, gouda cheese, pickled sweet peppers, broccoli, and your choice of protein. Dashi puts a spin on shrimp and grits by flavoring it with curry, chorizo, and broccoli, then top it with rich Sriracha hollandaise. Wine is affordable at Dashi and bottles are displayed in the middle of the restaurant.
Peruse the white and red selections, then take the number from around the bottleneck to the bartender. After you pay for the wine, the bartender will deliver it with wine glasses to your table. A good bottle of chardonnay from Chile sells for a mere 12 USD! A selection of beer, mixed drinks, and a cider or two will add to your meal. Check out the local artist poster series with the first edition called Ramen Surf on sale. Whether you dine at the restaurant or their food truck, this will be fun and delicious.
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4. Miller's All Day Breakfast
It’s unusual to see a grain mill when you walk into a restaurant. At Miller’s All Day Breakfast, they grind their grits and other grains on site. Pop into this King Street eatery and get ready for a feast. Start with the banana bread topped with hazelnut and chocolate cream cheese mousse and banana slices. Move onto the main course with pancakes, waffles, biscuits and gravy, braised okra and tomatoes, or one of their tasty sandwiches. Don’t miss their unicorn grits or cheese grits. The shrimp and grits is made unique by the house-ground grits and local mushrooms. Whether it’s for breakfast or lunch, a Lowcountry favorite is fried chicken and biscuit. At Miller’s they spice it up with sorghum mustard and pickles. You can also try a biscuit sandwich with Bologna, pimento cheese, or ham. Drinks at Miller’s All Day Breakfast include a variety of coffee choices, juices, kombucha, mimosas, bellini, or mixed drinks. Before leaving, check out the grains for sale. Stock up on unicorn grits, Carolina Gold Rice, cornmeal, farro, indigo popcorn, and Sea Island red peas to take home.
5. Jalisco Taqueria & Tequila
Located out of the downtown area on Folly Road, try this South of the Border restaurant for creative salsas, mouth-watering snacks, taco, and entrees. Their chicharrones & queso are delivered crackling hot. The queso is made in-house and features a beer reduction to give the cheese a delicious and unique flavor that keeps you dipping and munching until it’s gone. Be sure also to order a few of their excellent salsas to accompany the chicharrones. The margaritas are made special by using their own sweet and sour mix. Upgrade the tequila by asking for Herradura or other premium brands. If you come during happy hour, Monday-Friday 4-7p.m., the snacks are half off and a classic margarita will cost only 5 USD. Try one of their 12 kinds of tacos that come with cilantro and chopped onion on top. If you order three, five, or ten tacos, you’ll save a buck or two. Try the taco la lengua, aka tongue, if you’re feeling adventuresome. Vegetarians will like the avocado or frijoles tacos.
6. Florence's Lowcountry Kitchen
This hidden strip mall eatery serves lunch, dinner, and Saturday/Sunday brunch. Florence is a real person and her story and recipes are on display at this casual lowcountry restaurant. Florence’s she-crab soup is a favorite and this award-winning recipe is written on the wall behind the bar. She-crab soup is a Lowcountry favorite that’s thick and rich. If you love crab, try Florence’s recipe at the restaurant or home for one of the best ways to enjoy she-crab soup.
The fried green tomatoes are a staple of the South and Florence’s version is a tower of goodness topped with a sweet red pepper jam. The base for the fried green tomatoes is stone-ground grits that pair well with the pimento cheese in between the stacked tomatoes. Local’s favorites are crispy fried flounder sandwich, crab cake sandwich, and fried bone-in chicken. Add sides like butter beans, Charleston red rice, mac & cheese, fried okra, or butter beans to complete your Lowcountry dining experience.
Any conversation of Charleston’s fine dining scene will usually include Fig; such is its fame. Jason Stanhope is a James Beard award-winning chef who knows and loves Lowcountry food. Fig sources seafood, meats, produce, and grains as close by as possible. One of the local’s favorites menu items is ricotta gnocchi alla Bolognese with finely shaved parmesan cheese piled on top.
The menu changes daily to highlight what’s in season; like triggerfish, grouper, red snapper, wahoo, and farm-raised chicken or pork. The pork schnitzel features a cut so tender; chef Stanhope doesn’t tenderize it with a meat hammer as other chefs would. The result is some of the most delicious small farm-raised pork you will ever have. The wine list is exceptional, and the wait staff can help you pick a winner. Desserts are also a highlight of dining at Fig, so save room for a special pudding or tart. Reservations can be difficult to get and must be made well in advance to reserve a table. But, if you can’t get a reservation, try standing in line out front before they open to secure a seat at the bar to order dinner.
8. Callie's Hot Little Biscuit
Callie’s is a Charleston success story with two locations in Charleston, one in Atlanta, one in Charlotte, and a food truck. Biscuits are a big part of Southern food culture and Carrie; Callie’s daughter, grew up having biscuits with virtually every meal. Carrie took her mom’s biscuit recipe and has made the humble baked good a household name in the South and beyond. Visit Callie’s in the historic Charleston City Market, where some days you’ll have to wait in line for these famous biscuits. For a great grab-and-go breakfast, try Callie’s bacon, egg, and cheese biscuit, a mouth-watering hunk of Southern goodness. For those who can’t make up their mind, try a few of the miniature biscuits with flavors like black peppercorn, blackberry, cheese and chive, gingerbread, and more to tickle your taste buds.
Gluten-free versions are also available. Customers can also order online for delivery to your home. The Biscuit Bash Box comes with 30 of Callie’s best-sellers like buttermilk, sharp cheddar, iced blueberry, cinnamon, and cheese and chive. Callie’s biscuit mixes are available on-site or online if you’d like to bake your own.
Finding your Lowcountry favorite in Charleston
Charleston is one of the most historic, friendly, and accessible food cities in the USA. The historic district is pedestrian-friendly and even has a free shuttle bus called DASH to take you around the town. Use this guide or follow your nose to discover some of the best Lowcountry eateries on your culinary journey through Charleston.
Disclaimer: My stay was hosted by Explore Charleston, C&R PR, and Charlotte Berger PR but my opinions are my own.
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