Planning a restaurant-centric weekender to Charleston can be a tad daunting. The three-time, “America’s Best City” award-winner has gained international renown not only for its historic charm, but also for its phenomenal food scene.
To eat well in a city that offers so much, it’s good to enter with a few ground rules:
1. Accept that you aren’t going to eat it all. That’s what return trips are for.
2. Bring a large list of restaurants to work from. This is especially helpful when the restaurant you want to visit is over-booked or unexpectedly closed. The restaurants bolded in this article all came highly recommended by locals.
3. Dine at the bar. Go for small plates or shared dishes. You’ll be able to hit twice the number of restaurants.
Kick off your getaway with drinks and appetizers at Edmund’s Oast in North-Central Charleston.
The space is low-lit with large communal style tables, an open kitchen and the comfiest bar chairs ever. It also offers a sprawling patio out front if you can score a place at one of the picnic tables. Opt for a beer brewed in-house, or a craft cocktail like the Old Thyme Punch (bourbon, rum, madeira, lemon shrub, nutmeg, thyme). Then, share the lemony picked shrimp heaped over grilled toast.
After, sidle up for Greek eats in the cute and modish Butcher & Bee a few yards away. Go with the mezze to share (a bargain at $18 for four generously sized plates) and choose from bites like bacon-wrapped dates, whipped feta with honey and house-crafted pita, outstanding jalapeno field peas and falafel.
Still thirsty? Uber, take a horse-drawn carriage or rickshaw it over to FIG for one of its famed cocktails (and another appetizer if you’re still hungry). The James Beard award-winner consistently churns out delectable eats, so the grub (and cocktails) are bound to meet your expectations.
Pay attention to brunch times. Several places are restricted to Sunday brunch only, or offer early breakfast times (read: over by 11 a.m.). With that in mind, head for Southern staples at Bill Murray’s Harold’s Cabin or score handsome views and fresh seafood at the whimsically named The Darling Oyster Bar. If you’re considering something lighter, grab a lemon blueberry tart from Sugar Bakeshop (they open at 11 a.m. on Saturday and are closed on Sundays).
Charleston is a walkable town chockablock with picturesque boutiques, horse-drawn carriages and a beatific coastline. Take in the sights and rack up those Fitbit steps (this writer hit 15,000). You’ll work up an appetite in no time.
When you’re ready for a snack, head for Leon’s Fine Poultry & Oysters for an addictive dozen of the chargrilled oysters, a sizzling plate of comforting hushpuppies and a glass of one of the rosés on tap. The restored service station hits a winning combo of hipster-cool and dependable neighborhood hangout. Plus, the food’s amazing.
The restored service station hits a winning combo of hipster-cool and dependable neighborhood hangout. Plus, the food’s amazing.
Mosey on over to Warehouse before it gets too packed (according to locals, it’s a madhouse come 9 p.m.). Get the onion dip and scoop up the addictive stuff with pork rinds; pair it with a beer from local brewery, Westbrook Brewing Company.
As your appetite and evening plans permit, head back out late night (but before 10 p.m.) to the edgy-chic Asian eatery, Xiao Bao Biscuit. Hang with the stylish set and scarf down salty spicy tofu over rice or peppery shrimp dumplings. Not feeling a cocktail? Sip pretty on one of the restaurant’s house sodas instead.
If you’ve got it in you, take your crew a few more blocks to FUEL to end the night. With its huge garden-style patio seating outback, Caribbean-style grub (fish tacos, shrimp salad) friendly staff, and its robust Pain Killer, it’s understandable why this place comes highly recommended.
Sundays are reserved for brunching, so do so with gusto. After your night, you’ll want to go to The Grocery, where the lighting is low and the surrounds are lovely. Admire the canned goods and house-cured meats while digging into the clever “green eggs and ham” done with fried poached eggs, smoked ham, cheddar griddle cakes and a mustard vinaigrette. The sweet-toothed will find a worthy opponent in the monstrous vanilla mascarpone-stuffed strawberry French toast.
Since you came to the city to eat, get some treats to take back home (or devour on the road). Keep careful track of the time at brunch and make sure you hit WildFlour Pastry for a strawberry jam scone (and dog treats for the pups!) before it closes at 1 p.m.
Have you been to (and eaten in) Charleston? Where did you love?
Images via Jason Jordan