This post has taken me a bit of time to compile, mainly because how does one encapsulate the best dining in all of Charleston in a single highlights reel? It’s merely impossible. Instead, I’m going to give you a rundown of all the meals we ate throughout our recent five days in South Carolina’s tastiest city and what we found to be the best restaurants in Charleston.
On our first full day in town, we were up bright and early—well, 8am, which is early for us—for a walking tour of downtown with Bulldog Tours. Now, I’m not usually one to engage in a whole lot of organized tours, but two things made me sign up for Savor the Flavors: 1) earlier this summer, I met a lovely gal Kim who works for South Carolina tourism and could not speak more highly of the company, and 2) I had such a blast with Walk Eat Nashville that now I’m more eager than ever to check out food tours in my travels.
While I could name a dozen celebrity chefs and James Beard-winning restaurants in Charleston prior to this trip, I couldn’t have told you that Hurricane Hugo was a boon to the food scene when the city really needed something to boost its economy and drive tourism.
I couldn’t have told you that the city’s culinary makeup was infused by the French, the Spanish, the Native Americans and Afro-Caribbeans. And I would have never known that Charleston is home to the country’s only tea plantation. (I still don’t like sweet tea, though; that part I already knew)
On top of a couple restaurants like Dixie Supply Bakery & Cafe where we stopped for a bite, we also paid visits to artisan shops like Charleston Cooks! and the ultimate spice market, where SVV couldn’t resist stocking up. I’m glad one of us likes to cook! I’d starve if I hadn’t married him. (Or rather, go broke eating out for every meal!)
For those of you who aren’t foodies, let me say first of all, how are we friends? and second, Bulldog does offer options beyond culinary tours that include jail and dungeon walks, graveyard tours, and haunted pub crawls—though next time you’ll definitely find me signing up for Charleston Desserts, because YUM. Have I mentioned I have a sweet tooth?
In the four days that followed, we crammed in as many meals as possible, but even that wasn’t enough, as evidenced by the awesome suggestions people sent me via Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. I visit Charleston every year or two and this time put some parameters on our dining: 1) They had to be relatively new-ish (within the last handful of years) and 2) I couldn’t have eaten there before. This eliminated fan favorites like Macintosh, Cypress, Magnolias and Poe’s Tavern (though I highly recommend all of these, as well!). In a nutshell, here’s what we did accomplish:
The experience: Our first night staying at the Vendue, we grabbed drinks on the rooftop then retreated to the lobby level fine dining room for a journey through taste and textures. This was easily my favorite meal in Charleston, which speaks volumes.
The experience: This casual sandwich shop was already on my radar, and to be honest, I couldn’t see how a sandwich shop could be as amazing as everyone claimed it would be. And yet it was! I had the roast beef, and I’m craving more just reliving the experience. I’m not hating the fact that we’re getting an outpost in East Nashville this fall!
The experience: After going out on the boat with my sister’s in-laws, we all migrated to Fat Hen on Johns Island for dinner. This Lowcountry restaurant whips up Southern staples like fried oysters and shrimp and grits, and I was impressed we were able to book a table for 14 on a Saturday night just days in advance (you could never do this in Nashville—not even with a month’s notice!). That said, we got there and it was nearly an hour and a half until the table before us was done. The staff felt horrible though and sent out some complimentary appetizers. And it was really nice that the Fat Hen now has a beer garden out back so we were able to sit and sip and chat while we waited.
The experience: Have you been to City House in Nashville? That’s exactly what the Obstinate Daughter on Sullivan’s Island reminded me of, food-wise—only with a nautical theme. And since City House is indeed my favorite restaurant in all of Music City, you know I loved me some Obstinate Daughter. Especially because they had a fig pizza, and fig on anything is pretty much a slam dunk. In City House style, there were also plenty of seafood and pasta dishes on the menu, but personally I can only vouch for the pizza. Oh, and the cocktails, because you know I tried plenty of those.
The experience: None of the Obstinate Daughter’s desserts appealed to us, but luckily there was an ice cream shop in the ground floor of the building. Olive oil gelato? I need more of this in my life.
The experience: Now, we may like our calories but we love our healthy food, too. The day we biked all over Charleston, we were starving and so happy to find Freshii, a grab-and-go stop with juices galore and healthy wraps, as well. It’s a Canada-based franchise, but we don’t have them in Tennessee, so it was new to me.
Meal: Sunday brunch
The experience: Fantastic, delicious, grade-A service—I can’t say enough good things about our brunch at Cannon Green. Luckily, it got its own dedicated blog post, so you can read more about it here.
Meal: breakfast, cheese-and-wine pairing
The experience: We only had the continental breakfast at the cafe (oh, and afternoon cheese service) while were guests at Zero George, but I wanted to throw this in here as the dinner looked remarkable, and I’m dying to go back and try it. If you’re heading that way, do me a favor and let me know how it is!
The experience: This is one of those unmarked restaurants that doesn’t take reservations and only serves a handful of diners a night. My college suitemate knows the chef and managed to get us into this somewhat exclusive experience. For a four-course meal, it’s only $25 and bottles of wine average $15 to $25 (only beer and wine is served here). The food was delicious, and the experience was cool, but we had some of the worst service we’ve had in a long time. I guess if you’re just paying $25 for a full meal, you expect as much?
The experience: This was an impromptu stop on the way to the airport Monday when we couldn’t find anywhere on Folly Beach that was open mid-afternoon. And what a cherry on top of a fantastic Charleston weekend it turned out to be. The mixed drinks (like the Red Wedding) were on point, but I’m glad I finished with a beer as Edmund’s brews its own, and they have a PBJ stout that tastes like my childhood. So good! Oh, and the food was all tasty, too (SVV and I split the peach bruschetta and the burger, which was a bit too salty for my preference).
Our first night out, we also had drinks at FUEL—an old gas station-turned-restaurant that I hear has a great weekend brunch with bottomless mimosas—and SVV had an amazing lunch at hole-in-the-wall taco joint Garcia’s Tortilla House while I was at the bridal luncheon. There are plenty of other Charleston restaurants that I still want to try: Fleet Landing, Tavern & Table, SNOB, Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit, Caviar & Bananas and Closed for Business to name a few. But the good news is, the Holy City isn’t going anywhere and I’ll be back dozens of more times in the future—particularly now that I have quite a few new family members there to go see.
Now, off to the gym as I counteract all the damage done last month…
Looking for more travel tips for Charleston?
- Where to Eat in Charleston: The Best Restaurants
- Another Boutique Hotel in Charleston
- Charleston by Bike: Pedaling Around the Holy City
- Where to Stay in Charleston: Zero George
- Where to Stay in Charleston: Vendue Inn
- Where to Stay in Charleston: The Spectator Hotel