We enjoyed one mouth-watering, belly-filling meal after another during our recent trip to Charleston, South Carolina. And we are still in recovery.
I knew before our arrival in the Holy City that we had to taste all the stars of Low Country Cuisine…think shrimp and grits, she-crab soup, and Charleston red rice. What I didn’t know was that this region has experienced a food renaissance over the last 30 years, transforming itself into a world class food destination. Depending on which local you ask, you will get a completely different top 10 restaurant list. And they will probably all be equally delicious.
So here is a run down of 6 Standout Restaurants in Charleston, South Carolina. To hear more about our whirlwind culinary tour of low country cuisine, listen to the upcoming episode of RV Family Travel Atlas (#87), and look for our article in an upcoming issue of Trailer Life Magazine.
Poogan’s Smokehouse, 188 East Bay Street, Charleston, South Carolina
I’ll start with Poogan’s Smokehouse since it was our very first meal in Charleston, and I think it got us so excited about the local cuisine that we didn’t stop eating for the rest of the week. Funny enough, we did not actually plan on eating at Poogan’s. Our itinerary called for a stop at the famous Magnolias, which pops up in virtually every article ever written about the Charleston culinary landscape.
However, we had just completed a two-hour walking tour and our three year old was about an hour past nap time. We took a look at the white tablecloths and listened to the muffled conversation in the Magnolia’s dining room, then headed across the street to Poogan’s.
And boy were we happy with that decision.
The friendly bartender was quick with drink recommendations, and served me the perfect Italian American in Paris, extra tart because I told him I like it that way.
The boys ordered cheeseburger sliders off the kiddie menu, and I’m going to be honest–I was shocked at how flavorful the burgers were. Max and Theo both wanted to order another round…a good sign since they are basically professional cheeseburger tasters.
More recommendations from our bartender buddy led us to order the Pimento Cheese Fritters and Buffalo Pork Rinds. And now I know that all pork rinds should be consumed topped with crumbled blue cheese and pickled celery. Mind blown. The tender pork belly sliders came with a house-made Kimchee that delivered the perfect dose of peppery vinegar crunch.
Smoke BBQ, 487 King Street, Charleston, South Carolina
I’m going to be honest. I ate here twice. The first time was on a culinary tour of Upper King Street, when I was served the very best chicken wing I have ever eaten in my life. Period. The end.
I brought the whole family back the next day because when a person finds perfection in in the form of a wing, the experience must be shared. We also tried the pastrami reuben and Cuban sandwich on recommendation from chef and owner Roland Feldman. If your pastrami can knock the socks off of lifelong New Jersey residents, you’re doing something very, very right.
We loved the food at every one of the restaurants on this list, but Smoke BBQ is the one that we will dream about on those cold northeastern nights next winter.
Hominy Grill, 207 Rutledge Ave, Charleston, South Carolina
Along with Magnolias, Hominy Grill was recommended to us countless times as we planned our visit to Charleston. This is where we came for the staples of Low Country cuisine, upcycled by the award-winning chef and owner, Robert Stehling. The she crab soup was a family hit, and five spoons emptied the bowl right quick. The shrimp and grits was the other star of the show, prepared with mushrooms, scallions, and bacon.
Unless you are asking the boys, who would swear they never tasted anything so good as those boiled peanuts.
We apologize for the mess.
Early Bird Diner, 1644 Savannah Highway, Charleston, South Carolina
While the adults in this family are dreaming about Smoke BBQ’s wings, the boys will be dreaming about the pancakes at the Early Bird Diner. In fact, this is the first restaurant our kids have ever begged to return to on our travels.
You will have to drive out of downtown Charleston and find the Early Bird Diner in a sea of strip centers and car dealerships, but if you leave the area without eating here, you have made a grave error in judgement.
The Country Scramble and Chicken and Waffles will teach you everything you need to know about a great southern breakfast. An added bonus is the truly warm and hospitable staff and friendly locals.
SeeWee Restaurant, 4808 North Hwy 17, Awendaw, South Carolina
Located north of Charleston, the SeeWee Restaurant is recommended in our favorite food bible, Roadfood by Jan and Michael Stern. We ate here after our visit to the Center for Birds of Prey, and you can read about our failed family dining experience here.
It was our children that were the problem, though, not the food. This is one of those places where you would probably be best off ordering a whole bunch of sides and calling it a day. And the fried oysters. And the hush puppies. And the crab cakes. And the…you get the point.
Page’s Okra Grill, 302 Coleman Boulevard, Mount Pleasant, South Carolina
If you take a day trip out to Sullivan’s Island, Page’s Okra Grill is a great option for casual dining when sandy and sticky after a day on the beach. We had planned on checking out Poe’s Tavern, which has great reviews and literary allusions (#FTW), but the horrifying parking situation led us to Page’s Okra Grill in Mount Pleasant, which prides itself on being a local’s favorite dining spot.
It might have been a result of too much sun, but this was the first restaurant in Charleston where the food was almost too rich for us. The chicken livers were buttery and delicious, but I could only eat a handful before giving up. My pimento cheese, bacon, and fried green tomato sandwich packed a ton of flavor, but I had to cry uncle after eating less than half.
Thanks to all of our listeners and readers for giving us the inside scoop on where to eat in Charleston. And a huge thanks to Bulldog Tours for bringing me to Smoke BBQ, which has officially ruined every other chicken wing in the world.
Seriously. They are dead to me.
If we didn’t get to visit your favorite spot, don’t worry. We are already planning our Charleston Comeback Culinary Tour. Leave your recommendations in the comment section below!!!!