A Guide to Charleston: My Foodie Favorites
Travel Stories from Compass & Quill
On January 3, 2010, on a bitter, cold day in New Jersey, my best friend and I packed up our cars and left behind our homes to discover a new one in Charleston, South Carolina. I was 22 and barely had lived on my own. I didn’t know how to cook (still don’t), only slightly knew how to do laundry, and had no job lined up for when I got there. I had saved enough to cover bills and rent for three months, and hoped that things would pan out once I got to Charleston. After a lot of bumps and a whole lot of learning, it did.
I had to grow up in Charleston. I was forced to learn how to be responsible, make sure my bills were paid, and handle challenges (financial, unemployment, car accidents, and bad boyfriends) on my own. Although my parents were unbelievably supportive, it was important for me to make it work without relying on them. And from 2010 to 2014, I did. Charleston was home to me. I found a new career, had a solid relationship, found new friends, and made unforgettable memories.
However, after several years, I needed to move on for career development. So in 2014, I found myself packing a moving van and heading to Boston for a new chapter in my life. I remember pulling out of my townhouse complex that day and thinking, “This is it. I’ll never live here again.”
I thought that for the majority of the 2.5 years I lived in Boston. You could imagine my surprise when I found myself back in Charleston a few years later.
The things I took for granted are now things I love. I remember feeling like I had outgrown Charleston, and that there wasn’t much more for me here. But after living in a bustling, congested city, I came to appreciate the easy living found in the South.
Yes, Boston was amazing for my career, but I wanted a better quality of life. I missed the ease of getting together with friends, warm ocean water, quietness, and knowing where my “spots” were.
Most of my life, I'd never felt like I belonged anywhere. I always worried that I’d never find a home. But after coming back, I felt a sense of relief. I imagine it’s the kind of feeling people get when they come back home after a long vacation or after going away to college. I think that feeling was the reason why I decided to plant roots here. After being a nomad (I’ve had 12 addresses in 7 years), it was amazing to feel confident enough to invest and commit to somewhere for once.
I believe the relief I'd also felt was due to the sense of familiarity. The first day I moved back, I knew exactly where to go for groceries, where to grab a burger, and where to go to the gym. Sure, Charleston has changed tremendously since 2014, but majority of “my places” were right where I'd left them.
Over the course of the last few years, Charleston has been recognized for numerous things: top place to travel to, friendliest city, best place to live, best food, and more. It's bustling with people moving here and tourism. After moving back, I’ve had a ton of people reaching out to ask for suggestions for their upcoming trips here.
The main thing I tell people to do is to bring some fat pants, because it’s all about the food in Charleston. There really isn’t anything like it that I’ve come across so far. Sometimes it could be impossible to make a decision on where to go for dinner and drinks because there are many wonderful options.
I started keeping a running list of these options to pass on to people who were looking for suggestions. Here, I wanted to highlight my old favorites in downtown—the restaurants and bars I used to love to go to during my first run living here.
These are my favorites that have stood the test of time as the city grew and changed:
Poogan’s Porch – Southern food
My favorite aspect of this restaurant is that it’s in an older renovated home. My go-to is always their stuffed plantation fried chicken and their mac n’ cheese. Their biscuits with the sweet butter are also amazing.
One of Charleston’s rooftop bars. It gives you a nice view of the harbor and downtown. Perfect for those sunny days.
I haven’t eaten here yet, but I mainly come here for the rooftop bar and cocktails. It’s a nice option if you’re on Northern King. Note: it can get a little crowded later in the evening.
The Belmont – Small bites & cocktails
I love this place. The interior design is fantastic: exposed brick walls, tin ceilings, and black and white movies projected on the back wall. They have a great cocktail list. I tend to try something new every time. And if the list is overwhelming, you can tell the bartender/severs what you like and they’ll whip something up for you. They know their stuff.
Husk – Southern/French food & cocktails
The food here is amazing, and I hear it’s only gotten better. However, I think my favorite is the Bar at Husk. It’s located in a renovated stable/carriage house, complete with beautiful exposed beams. I love coming here for cocktails because they tend to have unique ingredients.
Bin 152 – Wine & charcuterie
A great place to stop if you want something cozy and intimate. The thing that drew me to this wine bar was the dim lighting and old music playing overhead. They have an extensive wine list and great meats and cheeses to choose from.
82 Queen – Southern food
I remember coming here for restaurant week right after I moved to Charleston and falling in love with their she crab soup. It was my first time having it, and it got me hooked! I recently stopped here with family and enjoyed some of their specials, including a great scallop dish, duck with a blueberry compote, and fried chicken. But seriously. Try the soup.
Hominy Grill – Brunch
The lines can be a little nuts, but it’s a must for breakfast/brunch. Some favorites here are their banana walnut pancakes, sweet potato home fries, and biscuits with sausage gravy. Don’t worry about the line though. They have a little bar section for you to grab a mimosa or bloody while you’re waiting.
Toast! – Brunch
I remember drawn in by their bottomless mimosas, but then kept coming back because of their food. I was all about their French toast and eggs Benedict.
Taco Boy – Mexican
Also located in Folly Beach, Taco Boy is a great place for a relaxed atmosphere and frozen screwdrivers (obsessed). They have a decent list for taco options, but I usually choose quesadillas and their queso dip. Yum.
Bay Street Biergarten – Beer
This bar has a nice little outdoor section with games and occasional live music, plus a decent beer list. However, I was all about their big soft pretzels. Give me #AllOfTheCarbs.
39 Rue De Jean – French
Want a Parisian experience? Sit in their little alleyway. I visited recently, and it was wonderful sitting out there with the French-inspired music playing. I got their chicken francaise, which had a delicious sauce, and also tried their scallops and penne with creamy sauce. Both were amazing.
Basil – Thai
Surprisingly, this was one of the restaurants that I missed the most. I used to dream about having their garlic chicken again. It’s my favorite dish here, but their ad Thai and basil chicken are fantastic, too.
Blind Tiger – Drinks
It’s a laid-back place to stop for drinks and pub food. Their courtyard is an awesome area to set up camp. I heard they recently renovated it, but haven’t been back since.
The Alley – Drinks and games
Although it’s nice to sit and sip at some of Charleston’s swankier places, The Alley is a great place for nostalgia and fun. It’s got an 80s vibe with some of their old arcade games and décor. It also has big screen TVs for any important sporting events and a bowling alley in the back.
Hank’s – Seafood
Once again, the she crab soup is amazing. And although they were rated best seafood for what seems like a million years in a row, even their fried chicken was to die for. You can’t go wrong with seafood here. Try it all.
Grill 225 – Steakhouse
Tender, juicy, and well-seasoned steaks can be found here. Afterward, you can head upstairs for rooftop drinks at the Pavilion.
Pane e Vino – Italian
Good Italian food is hard to come by in Charleston (especially if you’re from the North and are spoiled). Pane e Vino is a small, romantic spot tucked away on one of the side streets downtown. For Italian in the South, I was impressed. I've tried the seafood (shrimp, scallops, lobster) risotto and a creamy penne dish with sausage and mushrooms. So good.
Muse – Wine bar & Southern food
This is one of my favorite places to stop for wine. The bar area is tiny—it maybe fits about 10-12 people—but it’s also cozy and intimate. I typically come there for the wine, but stay for the people. Every single time I stop in, I end up having great conversations with the bartender and those sitting at the bar. It has a welcoming atmosphere that makes it comfortable to talk to complete strangers.
Fleet Landing – American/Southern
I love this place because it sits right on the harbor. If you're sitting outside on a beautiful day, you might be lucky and see a pod of dolphins swimming by. This is a great place to stop (especially for lunch) if you’re looking for good food without the fuss. I love the trigger fish sandwich, crab cake sandwich, and burgers. They also have great brunch options on the weekend.
Cupcake – Cupcakes
Have a sweet tooth? Stop by and get one (or several) of these gourmet cupcakes. They have new flavor every month and some boozy options later in the evening.
This is obviously not a comprehensive list, but just a quick snapshot of some of the many places I used to love to go to when I first lived here in 2010. Thankfully, they’re still here to enjoy.
Since moving back, I've discovered a ton of new restaurants and bars. I’ve been fortunate enough to explore a few, and can’t wait to check out more. I’ll definitely be sharing a list for that later.
About Compass & Quill:
Travel inspires many of my stories, opening me up to a world of new possibilities and perspectives. So, I'm sharing my travel stories here.
Travel is an opportunity to think bigger and find our place in the world. This blog is meant to inspire you to look beyond beautiful photos that make your heart race and consider what your story will be once you arrive.
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