Charleston is an absolutely enchanting place. With over 30 people moving to the city everyday, it’s a no brainer that it charms anyone who is lucky enough to spend time there. It is a tourist destination full of families, bachelorette parties, honeymooners, and just about anyone in between. For those obvious reasons, it has become a renowned foodie capital in the southeast, hosting annual events for Charleston Wine and Food and Garden and Gun. I’ll save you the 45 hour lecture on why Charleston is the best place in the world because if you’re reading this, you’re probably already on the same page. I was fortunate enough to live on the corner of King and Broad for about a year, and with a shoebox kitchen, I ate out almost. every. meal.
HOWEVER – and it’s a big one… Because you’ve been to Charleston, or done research, does not mean you know Charleston. And truly, I hate to sound snobbish, but you’ll benefit from it so bear with me. Your upcoming trip is about to go from good to unforgettable. So without further adieu, here is my list of all of the spots the locals love. Spoiler: It isn’t the “staples” (Magnolia’s, High Cotton, Hall’s, Husk, Poogan’s Porch, etc. etc. etc.) I know I’ve already offended half of you. I’m not sorry.
Let’s just roll thru this like a regular day, I’ll try to keep it short for each category so not to overwhelm us all. They aren’t in any particular order so go with what sounds great to you and don’t get hung up on rankings.
Breakfast and Brunch
- Queen Street Grocery: It’s a hole in the wall, funky neighborhood crêperie that serves up some unique crepes, both savory and sweet, named after the local areas. They have a great selection of smoothies as well and truly won me over by serving cheerwine in glass bottles. Coffee, crepes, art, specialty grocery, and probably stoned college kids making the food, what else do you need? Oh, your dog, because it is pet friendly.
- The Macintosh: A little more mainstream and only serving brunch on Sundays, this is your place for some dirty fancy southern food. I highly recommend grabbing a carafe of mimosas and ordering the garbage plate. You’ll want to get there early though because they stay packed. While you’re waiting, pop next door for some handcrafted donuts.
- One Broad: One Broad’s menu is… eclectic. But its got a great, euro-style cafe feel to it and the most amazing breakfast sandwiches you can imagine. A great morning spot to hit before your stroll down Rainbow Row. Grab the Pork Roll or the Scrapple Hard Roll.
- Hannibal’s Kitchen: Dirtayyy. Southern. Food. Hungover? Go. Hungry? Go. Not Hungry? Go.
- Lost Dog Cafe: This one is actually located on Folly Beach. They have you’re staple breakfast/lunch items as well as some more creative items like the S’mores latte or a lump crab eggs benedict. It fills up quick so have a plan. FYI: They have pictures of dogs all over the walls too.
- The Fat Hen: This is the last one I’ll mention. It is out on John’s Island and was voted the best brunch spot in town. It’s been a staple in my family for years in regards to their dinner menu but they crush it for brunch as well. It is a French inspired southern coastal concept and they offer hand-crafted cocktails, outdoor seating, and dishes that range from omelettes to apple and duck sausage gratins. If you’re staying out towards Seabrook or Kiawah, this is a great place that isn’t quite as far in as the city.
- Second State (Formerly Black Tap Coffee): Ok I lied… This is really just a coffee house but it is located a block or two away from the Old Charleston Jail and it is really a nice little hole in the wall. But the moral of the story is this: They have a lavender infused latte. They have some others too but I only have eyes for the lavender.
- Basic Kitchen: Oozing West Coast vibes, this spot is a healthy and very flavorful option for anyone searching for something light to carry them through the afternoon. They have vegetarian and vegan options but offer meat add-ons to any dish.
- Beech: A spot for poke and açai bowls that will ruin your life they’re so good. You’ll find a West Coast/Asian flare here as well as a ton of college students. It’s right on King street so it’s a great stop for a quick and refreshing bite while out shopping.
- 167 Raw: Oysters. Oysters. Oysters. More Oysters…. and some super buff eye-candy to serve you. This is a great hole-in-the-wall seafood spot that has been recognized by countless publications as some of the best seafood you’ll find in the city.
- Leon’s Fine Poultry and Oyster Shop: This is a hip spot on upper King. It’s really lovely without all the bullshit. It’s fun, it’s relaxed, but you’ll find the best fried chicken sandwich (ever) and some fantastic oysters. Finish your meal with some soft serve ice cream.
- The Tattooed Moose: This place is a heavy hitter in the sandwich game. It’s a semi-grungy spot further up East Bay and is covered floor to ceiling in writing, skateboard stickers, beer signs, and crude handwritten jokes. If you’re ok with you’re kid learning the word “tits” then you could call it a family place. But really, you’ll want to haul up there with some friends, grab a PBR draft and the world’s best Reuben. (Don’t worry, the one on John’s Island is more family friendly.)
- The Workshop: This is a great find for those who are willing to travel up north from the city bit for some great food. Uber. Don’t walk. It is like a food court but serving the farthest things from school lunches. It is full of pop-up restaurants that span every cuisine globally and any creative cocktail or offering you could never think of. Their instagram is one of my favorites (@workshopchs).
Dinner: Disclaimer- this is a dinner city. You could swing a dead cat and hit 15 restaurants without even looking. These are some of my favorites but no where near all of them. To save us all some time, I’ll list some others at the bottom of this section too.
- Oak Steakhouse: So I’ll be 100% transparent here. I’m very biased to the Indigo Road’s restaurants in Charleston. But in all fairness, so is the rest of the city. Oak is their flagship restaurant and has been crushing it for over 10 years. I’m not even a steak lover really, but I’d do unforgivable things for any of their offerings. But don’t worry, steak isn’t all you’ll find on their menu. They have incredible seafood, the best oysters Rockefeller in town (that isn’t biased, that is a cold. hard. fact), and they can accommodate pretty much any dietary restriction. It’s located on Broad Street in a historic bank building. Swoon.
- Indaco: Another heavy hitter for the Indigo Road and their first Italian concept. They have a super cozy setting on upper King in the middle of all the action. We love their burrata, housemate pastas, and the pizzas, dear God the pizzas. Counting down the days until their Charlotte opening.
- O-Ku: You only thought you knew what good sushi was until you tried O-Ku. Then your life got ruined because it is handcrafted by angels in heaven and sent directly to Charleston. It’s got a nightclub vibe a little later in the evening, a super cute waitstaff, and creative sushi dishes that incorporate ingredients like truffles. I’m salivating while writing this.
- The Establishment: This is a newer spot in town. If you’re looking for chef-inspired small plates, oozing with that “pinky-up” flare, this place is for you. They have a baby grand piano in the dining room.
- Bowan’s Island: Alright, you aren’t going here for gourmet food. It’s out towards Folly Beach and has a very fish camp vibe. Bowan’s is an old school spot full of fried seafood, bud light, and absolutely killer sunsets over the marsh.
- Taco Boy: Ah so many fond memories here. Cali-style Mexican food with two locations, Folly and downtown Charleston. The Mexican Street Corn is my guilty pleasure here and they have wild fun tacos that range from kimchi to hamburger! The whimsical lighting will have you dreaming of your college trip to Mexico. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a second dinner here after trying some vegetarian place.
- Zero George
- The Macintosh
- Wild Olive
- Witch Doctor Pizza
- R Kitchen
- Butcher & Bee
- Chez Nous
- Xiao Bao Biscuit
- Jack of Cups
- Cocktail Club: Speakeasy style bar, down to the studs and located above The Macintosh. Trés cool.
- Felix: This is a little further up King and the cocktails are very French.
- The Belmont: A vintage vibe with a lounge feeling. You can sit right in the windows which is a lot of fun for people watching.
- Vintage Lounge: The food options are pretty limited to charcuterie boards (though who is complaining about that?!) and the wine list is fabulous. The back patio is cozy and if you do the wine lamp, you may black out.
- Bin 52: Near the intersection of King and Queen, this is a low-key wine bar that is great for an older crowd or those who aren’t trying to drink their faces off.
- Blind Tiger: This is a dive. It is right across from Oak Steakhouse so you’ll see a lot of waitstaff when they get off work. The bartenders will take shots with you and the outdoor patio is big, historic, and usually packed. We always liked to bring our dogs up here for a beer.
- Burns Alley: This is more of a dive than the Tiger. It’s on the backside of the shopping district of King St. It’s gnarly but a ton of fun. I even bummed a slice of pizza from one of the bouncers.
- Graft: Great little wine shop that has tastings. Grab a bottle and drink in your hotel room.
- Trio: Need to go out dancing? This is the place. Bottle service, a back patio, loads of young people.
- The Market Pavillion Hotel: Ugh I’m begrudgingly putting this on the list. But be warned. The food sucks, the service sucks, it’s all overpriced. But the view. The view is unmatched. Worth it for a late afternoon cocktail and a great city view, but much more than that, you’re wasting your money.
Markets: This one I felt like I needed to include because Charleston is booming with local producers and so many restaurants benefit, you should too.
- Bert’s Market: “We may doze but we never close” is their slogan and boy is it accurate. It’s a funky little beach grocery out on Folly with an in-house deli, wellness goods, beers, and more.
- Crosby’s Seafood: Another Folly favorite; it is located over the bridge on the right, before you hit the little beach town and has some of the best selection of seafood you can find without going through a distributer. It’s family owned and one of the sons went to culinary school so if you have questions, they can answer them.
- Marion Square Market: This is a farmers market held on Saturday mornings during the summer months in, you guessed it, Marion Square. There are food trucks, groceries, dogs (not for purchase… people just bring their dogs), and all sorts of other producers.
- Sunday Brunch: This is a sweet little hippie market located off of the main peninsula behind a place called the Pour House. It only runs on Sunday mornings during the spring/summer months There is a school bus turned grocery store, local kombucha, crafts, homemade pickles, handmade pastas, honey, and live music.