For some, it takes a lot of courage to leave your hometown, especially when your home is New York City. Where do you go from there? But for Queens native Shuai Wang, leaving the NYC chef life behind was easy—it was the only way he could get a break. After graduating from the Art Institute of New York in 2007, Wang spent just under a decade working his way up the ladder at restaurants around Manhattan before deciding to move to Charleston, South Carolina, in the fall of 2014. The following year, he opened Short Grain, a nontraditional Japanese food truck with his wife, Corrie.
It’s been two years since Wang moved south and he seems to be falling more in love with the up-and-coming city every day. We spoke to him over the phone while he was on a short road trip to Asheville. He had just stopped at Bojangles for a breakfast pit stop. “If someone tells you that they’ve found a better Cajun chicken and biscuit sandwich, they’re a liar,” Wang said, laughing. “If you’re visiting Charleston, you have to try Bojangles; it’s just really good fried chicken. I like to get a Cajun chicken biscuit then add egg and American cheese to it. It’s a Southern classic.” For Wang, however, Low Country living is about more than just fried chicken and biscuits. Here, he shares his favorite places to eat charcuterie, drink whiskey, and more in Charleston.
“This place is insane—it has the best charcuterie program in town. All of the charcuterie is made in-house: braunschweiger, coppa, lardo, head cheese, country ham, basically every kind of meat and sausage you can think of. The best option there is to go for happy hour. It’s from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. every day, and you can get a huge meat board of homemade charcuterie and a bottle of wine or four draft beers for $30. I just love it. It’s not pretentious; it’s just really good. Make sure you try their Korean mustard too. One of the guys who runs it, Bob Cook, makes this mustard that’s basically a play on a Chinese hot mustard, with Korean chili paste, sesame oil, and fish sauce. It goes with everything.”
“When we first moved here, our friend told us that we had to try FIG. Chef Jason Stanhope cooks these really classic French dishes with tons of Southern pride. The first time I met him was at one of our pop-ups; he was super supportive in the beginning and came back the next night with giant loaves of chicken liver pâté. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. I love that his food is never over the top or complicated but the flavors are just always mind-blowing. Last week he had this simple lightly pickled melon dish with olive oil and salt, and it was just so good.”
“Bertha’s is in this bright-blue house in the middle of nowhere. The decor is super simple, almost cafeteria-like, with plastic tables. It’s hard to find that cooking around here. There are plenty of Southern restaurants, but they’re all fancied up. This is just classic Southern home cooking. You choose a meat and you get three sides with it. I usually get the fried pork chop, braised cabbage or stewed okra, lima beans, and cornbread. I get the sweet tea too, of course, but I have to wait for the ice to melt so it dilutes the drink a bit because otherwise it’s just like drinking brown simple syrup.”
“Bar Mash is pretty new and it’s in this renovated old cigar factory. It’s a craft cocktail bar with a great selection of whiskey, and the bartenders make these really creative drinks. When we first moved here it was hard to find a good craft cocktail. Sometimes you miss having a fancy cocktail. Bar Mash has a really cool vibe—it’s super laid-back. They recently started doing tiki Tuesdays with awesome frozen tiki drinks. I like to get daiquiris then, but most of the time, I’ll get a short pour of an awesome whiskey. They have so many bottles of whiskey there that it’s impossible to get to all of them anytime soon.”
“I know it’s kind of touristy, but I’ve never seen anything like Angel Oak before. It’s this gigantic, breathtaking, magnificent tree. It takes up so many acres of land and the branches extend out so far that they need rods to support them. It’s like a giant wooden octopus. It’s crazy. It’s in a small park, so you can kind of hang out around there, but it’s near downtown so it’s really easy to get to.”
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