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Charleston Dining 101

Award-Winning Dining
Charleston Dining 101
With everything from Southern comfort classics to innovative cuisine, Charleston does dining right. Here, local ingredients dominate menus, as has been the tradition with Lowcountry cooking since its inception in colonial times.
By Susan Mason, AFAR Local Expert
Photo courtesy of Andrew Cebulka/The Ordinary
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    Award-Winning Dining
    Award-Winning Dining
    Over the years, four Charleston chefs have won the James Beard Award for “Best Chef: Southeast” for their innovative approaches to Southern cuisine. Sean Brock (Husk, McCrady’s) sources heirloom ingredients from his very own farm, which he opened to ensure access to the freshest possible produce. Mike Lata and Jason Stanhope take a similar approach at FIG, where they’ve focused on seasonal dishes and wine for more than 18 years. And the line frequently winds around the block for Robert Stehling's classic Southern cuisine at the landmark Hominy Grill, in a retro neighborhood setting.


    Photo courtesy of Andrew Cebulka/The Ordinary
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    Barbecue Pride
    Barbecue Pride
    In the United States, few foods are as bound up with local pride as barbecue. According to Charlestonians, the city boasts some of the South’s best spots for fall-off-the-bone meat, from Home Team BBQ (with its signature dry rub and slow-cooking skills) to Lewis Barbecue (a venture from Texas import John Lewis with world-class brisket) to Rodney Scott’s BBQ (get the famous smoked pork). Wherever you go, be sure to pair your meal with classic Charleston sides like corn bread, hush puppies, collard greens, and mac and cheese.
    Photo courtesy of Jim 'N Nicks
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    Brunch: A Sacred Weekend Routine
    Brunch: A Sacred Weekend Routine
    Brunch is such a big deal in Charleston that many restaurants change up their menus for the meal, adding comfort food classics to please the masses. The stylish Macintosh tops its usual bread pudding with pork belly, bone marrow, and a poached egg, while nearby A.C.’s Bar & Grill serves a massive fried chicken omelet. Also available all over town are Southern specialties like chicken and waffles, biscuits and gravy, and grits, either plain or with cheese and shrimp. For a spiritual experience, head to Halls Chophouse, where brunch is served alongside live gospel entertainment. If you’re planning a weekend beach day, stop at The Obstinate Daughter, on Sullivan’s Island, and enjoy some house-made sticky buns before hitting the sand.
    Photo courtesy of Andrew Cebulka/The Macintosh
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    Simply Southern
    Simply Southern
    Not only does Charleston welcome visitors with Southern hospitality, it also warms their bellies with down-home comfort food. Protein, whether from land or sea, is the centerpiece of any Southern meal. Typically, it comes with vegetables like collard greens, lima beans, okra, fried green tomatoes, or green beans, as well as hearty carbs like corn bread biscuits, hush puppies, mac and cheese, mashed potatoes, and grits. For a true taste of the city, visit Martha Lou’s Kitchen or Hominy Grill—and don’t forget to wash it all down with a glass of sweet tea.
    Photo courtesy of Squire Fox/Hominy Grill
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    Classic and Classy Dining
    Classic and Classy Dining
    In addition to the homey favorites and buzzy hot spots, Charleston offers several classic establishments. The Peninsula Grill charms with its elegant interior, lantern-lit courtyard, and sophisticated Southern cuisine (including sublime coconut cake), while the Charleston Grill welcomes guests with live jazz and a comfortable lounge. Also worth trying are the upscale spots Slightly North of Broad and High Cotton, as well as the more casual Poogan’s Porch, which serves down-home Southern food in a transformed Victorian home. For a fine-dining experience with creative, seasonal cuisine, FIG remains the standard-bearer in town.
    Photo courtesy of Peninsula Grill
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    The Art of Brewing
    The Art of Brewing
    A natural extension of the city’s artisanal food scene, Charleston’s craft beer movement makes the case that brewing should be as respected as cooking and farming. The oldest brewery in the state, Palmetto Brewing Company serves its refreshing pale ale, amber ale, and lager year-round. Newer microbreweries, including Edmund’s Oast, Westbrook Brewing Company, and Holy City Brewing, focus more on experimentation, creating unique brews like a Mexican cake stout and bacon porter.
    Photo courtesy of Chrys Rynearson/Holy City Brewing
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    From She-Crab Soup to Frogmore Stew
    From She-Crab Soup to Frogmore Stew
    Surrounded by estuaries, rivers, and oceans, Charleston is flush with seafood. When dining here, expect local staples like shrimp and grits, she-crab soup, and Frogmore stew (a one-pot mix of local seafood and veggies), all infused with Lowcountry flavor. Classy restaurants such as Hank’s and Coast serve deliciously cooked fish fresh from the boat, while 167 Raw and The Ordinary are known for their excellent raw bars. If you’re seeking waterfront views with your seafood, try Fleet Landing, which sits right on Charleston Harbor, or Bowens Island Restaurant, near Folly Beach.
    Photo by Ben Dearnley/age fotostock
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    International Flavor
    International Flavor
    Featuring everything from food trucks to fine dining, Charleston is alive with international flavor. While the city is known for its Southern cooking, Lowcountry cuisine is intrinsically multicultural, influenced by Africa, France, the Caribbean, and more. Charleston is also home to a diverse population, resulting in restaurants full of far-flung tastes. The self-described “Asian soul food” restaurant Xiao Bao Biscuit specializes in spicy Szechuan-style dishes, while the new food hall Workshop features authentic Mexican fare, Korean noodle bowls, and Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches.
    Photo by Melissa Hom/age fotostock