Charleston, South Carolina, has always been known for its Southern charm, but over the last few years has also become one of the top food destinations in the country. My friend and I had been planning a weekend foodie trip to Charleston for a while, and we finally got around to doing it. We basically spent the weekend eating and walking around the beautiful city.
(Warning: Don't judge, we ate a LOT in 48 hours)
1. Oyster sliders at The Ordinary – There really was nothing ordinary about this seafood and oyster bar, set in a historic bank building. The soaring space is massive, but was packed to the hilt on a Friday evening. The menu has a few different sections – hot, Cold, Oysters, Vegetables, and we enjoyed what we tried. The oyster sliders were delicious, served on a homemade roll, with a crunchy slaw that cut the heaviness of the fried oyster. Other dishes we loved – crab toast, and roasted strawberries on a sweet biscuit for dessert.
2. Biscuits at Callies Hot little biscuit - It is a very small store, with about 6 seats, and the most amazing biscuits. The daily special was a buttermilk biscuit with sausage, eggs, and pimento cheese – and was a fabulous breakfast combo. They also have a good deal on their mini biscuits (3 for $5), so we got the cheese and chive, the blackberry jam (AMAZING), and the buttermilk. Hot, flaky, delicious – this is a must stop if you are in Charleston.
Pro tip: The space is small, so go early and for breakfast to avoid long lines. On Fridays and Saturdays they serve fried chicken and biscuits late night!
3. Oysters and fried chicken at Leon’s Oyster Shop - Once an auto repair shop, this location is a little off the beaten path and is a short walk away from the historic area, but was one of my favorite stops in the city. The atmosphere is lively and casual, the oysters are fresh, and the fried chicken is moist and delicious. We spent the entire afternoon here, drinking prosecco, eating delicious food, and catching up.
4. Ricotta Gnocchi at FIG – This neighborhood restaurant is a Charleston institution. It’s packed on a daily basis, and I can understand why. The menu also changes daily, but the ricotta gnocchi, which literally dissolved in my mouth, is a mainstay and was one of my favorites. I also enjoyed the triggerfish (related to the grouper/red snapper) which you see on a lot of Charleston menus. A fun way to enjoy dinner at FIG is to opt for the community table, you get to spend some time with other diners and make new friends for the evening.
5. Shrimp and grits at Husk – Husk is one of the superstar restaurants of Charleston and has made an appearance on many “Best of” lists. It is set in a 2 story house and has beautiful interiors. The shrimp and grits are perfect – juicy shrimp and tasty grits served with a preserved tomato broth in a pretty bowl. Do not miss that, but the pigs ear lettuce wraps were also damn tasty. They are crispy and savory, and not too heavy in the pork belly kind of way. If they are on the menu and you are feeling adventurous, definitely order them. Pro tip: DEFINITELY make reservations but if you don't, stop by the Husk bar and lounge, which is in a separate “house” just outside the main restaurant for a drink and bar snacks.
6. Fried catfish taco at Minero - Mexican food with a Charleston twist by Sean Brock? Count me in! Chef Sean Brock’s long-time obsession with dried corn lent itself perfectly to making tortillas, the backbone of Mexican cuisine. The catfish taco was fabulous, with the fish perfectly fresh and crispy. The tacos have a bit of crunch from benne seeds (which I came to find out later were sesame seeds as they are called in Charleston). Minero is a great combination of Sean Brock’s local food philosophy, great food and casual atmosphere. Pro Tip: No reservations, but head to Pearlz next door for oysters if you have a wait.
7. Pastries at Wild Flour Bakery – This is a small café that we just stumbled onto, but glad we did when we realized in there that the baker was nominated for a James Beard award for Outstanding Baker! They make all their pastries in house, and also have really good coffee, but we learned that their cinnamon buns and sticky buns are the bomb. Those are only available Sundays, so we did not try it (although I'm not a fan of cinnamon so probably would not have tried it anyway), but we LOVED the chocolate-caramel tart.
8. Okonomiyaki at Xiao Bao biscuit – An old gas station has been turned into this gem that is also off the mainstream downtown/historic area of Charleston. The okonomiyaki (cabbage pancake) with the additional pork candy is the way to go here - it’s a work of art and is super flavorful. We also loved the spicy hot mapo tofu, which was perfect washed down with a cold beer. Xiao Bao is not really BS “fusion”, but has an eclectic mix of Asian favorites, which they pull off really well!
9. Beer at Edmunds Oast – We stopped by this brew pub only for drinks (see above for reasons we could not eat any more). They have over 45 beers on tap, some brewed in-house, an impressive wine list, and a fabulous and huge outdoor area to enjoy those drinks. Oh, and it’s not for me, but they have a PB&J beer. Yes, PB&J beer. People around us also seemed to be really enjoying the chicken and rice porridge, which I will have to go back to try next time!
Places that we did not get to: Butcher and Bee (killer sandwiches), The Gin Joint (cocktails and small plates), The Macintosh (New American), and Chez Nous (French - came highly recommended by locals), Martha Lou’s kitchen (fried chicken). These have been saved for a future trip!
What we realized is that food in Charleston is more than just the stereotypical Southern fare of fried chicken and biscuits. Standard menus in Charleston are rare. Most restaurants change their menu so frequently that the daily menu is put up on a chalkboard! This city has seriously earned its reputation as a cult destination for foodies.
It will take you weeks to eat your way through this charming city, but remember to loosen your belt and indulge when you are in Charleston, however long you are there! Also, as my friend said, make sure to take 3 stomachs and a back up liver!
Here is a map of all these places to help you start planning your trip to Charleston! Also, check out Travelabulous to keep track of all your planned spots in one location!