Where to Find Charleston’s Best Southern Cooking and Soul Food

Food-lovers and chefs flock to Charleston and many limit their visits to the dining rooms of the latest thing, the just-minted award-winners, but locals (and regulars to town) know that the true taste of Charleston can be found in restaurants that cook from old recipes, making dishes from memories of hot nights, small kitchens, and big flavor.

2332 Meeting Street Rd, Charleston, SC 29405, USA
Albertha Grant never set out to win a James Beard Foundation award and win the adoration of international magazines and patrons—she simply cooked good food and served it to people in her North Charleston neighborhood. But amidst the last decade’s gold rush around Charleston cuisine, Bertha’s shines in both its authenticity and flavor. It’s a classic soul food joint, with daily meat-and-three specials like fall-off-the-bone fried chicken, sumptuous pork chops, and collard greens that perfectly balance savory and sweet (there’s plenty sweet in the ice tea for everyone). The neighborhood is predominately African-American, and locals still line up here for lunch along with out-of-towners and Peninsula-based workers seeking Southern food done right. The late namesake’s daughters and granddaughters run the counter-service place now, efficiently taking orders to keep the line moving on busy weekdays.
1068 Morrison Drive
This tiny, pink soul food restaurant is a great spot to visit for fried chicken, fried pork chops, and, for the adventurous, fried chitterlings. Don’t let all that deliciousness keep you from trying the stand-out veggies, though, which range from lima beans and collards to mac and cheese—yes, mac and cheese is a vegetable in the South.
76 Queen St
At this Charleston hit, James Beard Award–winning chef Sean Brock reinterprets traditional Southern dishes with a steadfast commitment to local and regional ingredients—the restaurant even has its own garden. Constantly changing, the menu is filled with inventive new takes on Southern cuisine, such as pig’s ear lettuce wraps done up “buffalo” or “Kentukyaki” style.
162 E Bay St, Charleston, SC 29401, USA
Hotel restaurants rarely garner culinary nods, but the Vendue Hotel took steps to differentiate its 2018 opening, Revival. The airy, white-tablecloth room, overseen by suspendered waitstaff, is framed by brick walls and windows out to East Bay Street—potential diners may be drawn in without ever knowing there are high-end hotel rooms just above them. Most importantly, the classic cuisine stands alone. She-crab soup rivals shrimp and grits for Charleston’s signature dish, and the kitchen offers exemplary versions of each, featuring black rice grits in the latter. Entrees are pricey but impressive, including a pirlou, a rice-based staple of Lowcountry cuisine, that adds butter poached lobster and uses Carolina Gold rice. In its efforts to showcase historic Charleston dishes in fine-dining atmosphere, Revival fills a void that Hominy Grill left when it shuttered dinner service. And don’t head straight out after dinner—the Vendue’s ground floor also doubles as an art gallery, presenting rotating exhibitions that rival the upscale art galleries in the surrounding French Quarter neighborhood.
16 Blake St, Charleston, SC 29403, USA
This soul food joint thrived for two decades in its unassuming nook on the peninsula’s East Side before being discovered by diners outside the neighborhood. It’s managed its transition to Southern food darling well, retaining its modest checkered floor, plywood walls, and red leather booths while also embracing the new attention by launching a website. Fortunately—and most importantly—the family-run operation hasn’t altered their recipes for favorites like their heaping plate of crab rice, fried local shark steak, or savory lima beans stewed in smoked neck bones and pigtails. Daily specials feature harder-to-find items like oxtails and stew gizzards, but it’s not all offal—you’ll certainly leave smiling after a plate of fried chicken or a hefty baked turkey wing.
More From AFAR