Find everything from shrimp grits to French gourmet in this southern culinary capital in South Carolina.
Charleston has been knighted as the Foodie Capital of the South by some people in recent years, and with good reason: Not only can you get the official dish of the Lowcountry—shrimp and grits—interpreted in as many ways as there are chefs in Charleston, but everything else under the sun is available, culinarily speaking. From barbecue to contemporary cuisine to some of the best French cuisine outside of Paris, the chefs of Charleston take advantage of a wide variety of locally produced vegetables and meats to put their unique spin on Lowcountry cuisine.
The main restaurant drags in downtown include East Bay Street and King Street, which run north to south, and Market Street, which runs east to west, but feel free to wander down a few alleys and side streets. One thing’s for sure: Besides shrimp and grits, you can’t leave Charleston without trying she-crab soup and roasted oysters.
Poogan’s Porch is the place to go for old-time Southern cuisine, from gumbo to she-crab soup (blue-crab meat in a rich, milk-based broth). Poogan’s is named for a local dog that frequented the kitchen door looking for scraps, and some say the pooch’s ghost still haunts the restaurant. 72 Queen St., tel. 843-577-2337. Hours: Mon. to Fri. lunch 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., dinner 5:30 to 9:30 p.m.; Sunday brunch, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. www.pooganporch.com
Across the Cooper River in Mount Pleasant, you can get your fill of okra, collard greens and the best Gullah Rice—a close cousin to paella—in Charleston at Gullah Cuisine. 1717 Highway 17 N., tel. 843-881-9076. Hours: daily, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. www.gullahcuisine.com
For some reason, two of the best restaurants in the city have acronyms for their names. Don’t let the name SNOB mislead you; it stands for Slightly North of Broad—as in the street—charcuterie, barbecued tuna and sautéed gnocchi with a sprinkling of very un-Lowcountry cilantro. 192 E. Bay St., tel. 843-723-3424. Hours: Mon. to Fri. lunch, 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.; dinner nightly from 5:30 p.m. www.mavericksouthernkitchens.com/snob
FIG could actually be called SNOSAOBO—Slightly North of Snob and One Block Over—but it merely stands for Food Is Good. And boy is it. With a focus on using local sustainable ingredients, Chef Mike Lata has been racking in the accolades from Gourmet to Southern Living to the title of 2009 Southeast Chef of the Year from the venerable James Beard Society. 232 Meeting St., tel. 843-805-5900. Hours: Mon. to Thu. 5:30 to 10:30 p.m., Fri. and Sat. 5:30 to 11 p.m. www.eatatfig.com
Fish injects its dishes with a combination of Asian and Lowcountry. At lunch, sandwiches rule except for the daily special Naked Fish, where the catch of the day arrives sans bread but with two sides. Dinner proves that chef Nico Romo has other fish to fry in the form of pan-seared duck breast and braised North Carolina short ribs. 442 King St., tel. 843-722-3474. Hours: Mon. to Fri. lunch, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; Mon. to Sat. dinner starts at 5:30 p.m. www.fishrestaurant.net
Halls Chophouse is a recent arrival on the Charleston restaurant scene, debuting in spring of 2009, a precarious time for any new dining establishment to debut, let alone a high-end steakhouse, but the good news is that the place has been packed from day one. From the time you walk in the door, four members of the Hall family—experienced restaurateurs all—take you under their wing and, more importantly, feed you like family with dry-aged steaks from Chicago’s famed Allen Brothers butcher shop and traditional steakhouse sides that range from creamed spinach to monster sweet potato fries. 434 King St., tel. 843-727-0090. Hours: Mon. to Sun., 5 to 10 p.m. www.hallschophouse.com
Gaulart & Maliclet—aka Fast & French—is a favorite place for locals who prefer to dine communally at one of several long Formica counters and partake of everything from a simple charcuterie plate to escargot. Thursday night is Fondue Night: choose from beef, seafood, Swiss, or blue cheese. 98 Broad St., tel. 843-577-9797. Hours: Mon. 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tue. to Thu. 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., Fri. and Sat. 8 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. www.fastandfrench.org
Just across the Ravenel Bridge in Mount Pleasant is Coco’s Café, an authentically French Country bistro. Chef Stephen Ollard presides over a prix-fixe lunch menu that changes daily while the dinner menu remains the same. 863 Houston Northcutt Blvd., tel. 843-881-4949. Hours: Sunday brunch, 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. www.cocoscafe.net
39 Rue de Jean is a French bistro tucked between King and Meeting Streets that Charlestonians flock to for the clubby atmosphere. Try the braised beef sandwich with Gruyere, and splurge on the chocolate pâté with vanilla custard sauce for dessert. 39 Rue de Jean, tel. 843-722-8881. Hours: Mon. to Sat. 11:30 to 1 a.m.; Sun. brunch from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., dinner from 5:30 to 11 p.m. www.39ruedejean.com
Over in Mount Pleasant, Jack’s Cosmic Dogs is a throwback to the 1950s, with no-nonsense dogs to match. A nondescript cinder-block building greets you on the outside, but inside hot dog heaven awaits with 24 different kinds of dogs amid décor reminiscent of Fonzie’s garage. 2805 Highway 17 N., tel. 843-884-7677. Hours: open daily from 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. www.jackscosmicdogs.com
Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka has taken the city by storm since its launch in spring 2008. Ask for it at any local bar or restaurant, but be forewarned: it goes down very easily. www.fireflyvodka.com