Charleston Dining 101

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Charleston Dining 101
From home-cooked Southern comfort classics to esteemed and innovative cuisine, Charleston does dining right. Local ingredients dominate the menus, as has been the tradition with regional Lowcountry cooking since its colonial roots.
By Susan Mason, AFAR Local Expert
Photo courtesy of Andrew Cebulka/The Ordinary
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    Award-Winning Dining
    Three chefs in Charleston have the distinction of having won a James Beard Award. Sean Brock of McCrady's and Husk went so far as to open his own farm in order to source the freshest Southern heirloom ingredients. Food is more than good at Mike Lata's FIG (Food Is Good), which has been focusing on seasonal dishes and wine for over a decade. He's also opened a seafood and oyster bar, The Ordinary. Lastly, Robert Stehling of the landmark Hominy Grill serves classic Southern cuisine in a retro neighborhood setting; lines to get in frequently circle the block.
    Photo courtesy of Andrew Cebulka/The Ordinary
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    Barbecue Pride
    Few foods are as bound up with local pride around the United States as barbecue, and Charleston has some of the best spots in the South for fall-off-the-bone ribs. With their signature dry rub and slow cooking skills, Home Team BBQ, just off the peninsula, is recognized as one of the best rib joints in the country; it also entertains visitors with live music. Downtown, Sticky Fingers and Jim 'N Nick's are classic chains with a family-friendly atmosphere. While meat is king, sides are also important to a good barbecue meal. Traditional Charleston favorites include cornbread, hush puppies, green beans, mac-n-cheese, and collard greens.
    Photo courtesy of Jim 'N Nicks
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    Brunch: A Sacred Weekend Routine
    Brunch is a sacred weekend routine, and many restaurants switch out their menus for new twists on comfort food classics. The stylish Macintosh adds pork belly and bone marrow to its bread pudding and tops it with a poached egg, while the nearby dive bar A.C.'s Bar & Grill does a massive fried chicken omelet. Southern specialties like chicken and waffles, biscuits and gravy, and grits—plain or with cheese or shrimp—can be found throughout town. For a spiritual experience, Halls Chophouse serves brunch to the beautiful sounds of live gospel entertainment. From refined to rowdy, sophisticated to simple, brunch in Charleston is a social dining event to be experienced.
    Photo courtesy of Andrew Cebulka/The Macintosh
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    Simply Southern
    Not only does Charleston welcome visitors with Southern hospitality, the city warms their bellies with down-home comfort food. There's no kale or spinach on menus here. Instead, you'll find collard greens along with a plethora of other grass-colored veggies, including lima (or butter) beans, okra, fried green tomatoes, and green beans. Protein, whether from the land or the sea, is the centerpiece of Southern meals, but forget your diet because carbs are venerated too, with cornbread, biscuits, hush puppies, mac-n-cheese, mashed potatoes, and grits rounding out menus. Jestine's Kitchen and Hominy Grill are two classic spots in town, and a meal at either wouldn't be complete without washing it down with a glass of sweet tea.
    Photo courtesy of Squire Fox/Hominy Grill
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    Classic and Classy Dining
    Charleston has many classic and classy establishments that have served fine fare for years. The Peninsula Grill, at Planters Inn, charms with its sumptuous yet elegant interior—it also has an outdoor courtyard lit by gas lanterns—and its sophisticated Southern cuisine. Be sure to sample the coconut cake—it's sublime. Charleston Grill, at Belmond Charleston Place, is another sweet spot that manages to be grand without being stuffy. It hosts live jazz each night and has a comfortable lounge. Fine dining spots like Slightly North of Broad (S.N.O.B.) and High Cotton also give upscale takes on Southern cuisine, while the more casual Poogan's Porch serves a truly home-cooked Southern meal in a transformed Victorian home.
    Photo courtesy of Peninsula Grill
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    The Art of Brewing
    The craft beer movement in Charleston is a natural extension of the city's artisanal food scene, with several breweries making the case that the art of brewing should be just as respected as the art of farming and cooking. Palmetto Brewing Company is the oldest in the state and serves its refreshing pale ale, amber ale, and lager year-round. Newer microbreweries, including Westbrook Brewing Co. and Holy City Brewing, focus more on experimentation and have created unique flavors such as Mexican Cake Stout and Notorious P.I.G., a bacon porter. Join a Brews Cruise tour to go brewery hopping and sample a range of beers, or head to Closed For Business, one of the craft beer bars downtown, to enjoy their draught selections.
    Photo courtesy of Chrys Rynearson/Holy City Brewing
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    From She-Crab Soup to Frogmore Stew
    With a landscape of estuaries, rivers, and oceans, Charleston is flush with seafood. Lowcountry flavors give a bit of a kick to local staples like shrimp and grits, she-crab soup, and Frogmore stew (a one-pot mix of local seafood and veggies). Charmingly classy restaurants like Blossom, Hank's, and Coast serve deliciously cooked fish fresh from the boat, while Pearlz Oyster Bar and The Ordinary are riding the raw bar waves. For a side of waterfront views, Fleet Landing sits right on the Charleston Harbor, while a car ride away, Boathouse at Breach Inlet and Bowens Island Restaurant near Folly Beach provide serenity among the creeks and marshes.
    Photo by Ben Dearnley/age fotostock
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    International Flavor
    From food trucks to fine dining, Charleston is alive with international flavor. The city is known for its Southern cooking, but Lowcountry cuisine is intrinsically multicultural in terms of its influences. With the city's diversity, venues are opening all the time that bring new tastes to the city's foodies. Xiao Bao Biscuit describes its cuisine as "Asian soul food," and specializes in spicy Sichuan-style dishes. Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches are served from the AutoBanh food truck. Even the American restaurant Cypress is known for its global influences, exemplified in plates like crisp wasabi tuna.
    Photo by Melissa Hom/age fotostock