3 days in Charleston: The Post and Courier food editor’s 2022 dining itinerary
May 24, 2022
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This three-day itinerary is the culmination of the curated lists I’ve sent to friends and family (and friends, coworkers, and acquaintances of my friends and family), meaning it’s based on where I spend my time eating and drinking in and around Charleston.
Charleston is a sprawling city with high-quality cuisine throughout, but this list assumes that visitors want to spend most of their weekend near downtown Charleston.
For those making their second or third trip, consider checking out my Folly Beach favorite Jack of Cups Saloon; Istanbul Shish Kabob and Daddy’s Girls Bakery in North Charleston; or Estuary Beans & Barley on Johns Island, conveniently located next to Charleston Distilling Co.
A couple items to note while reading my three-day itinerary. The busy schedule starts Thursday evening and concludes midday Sunday. Most importantly, it assumes you’re here to eat.
This itinerary is in no way an all-encompassing guide to dining in the Charleston area, but it’s a great place to start.
DRINKS (Option 1): Little Palm Bar
Many want to escape to a Charleston rooftop the second they arrive. Little Palm Bar, anchored by a long indoor-outdoor poolside bar overlooking Meeting Street, has been my first choice since the consulting arm of Death & Co., a popular New York City-based cocktail bar, helped design and open it inside the renovated Ryder Hotel in 2021. Refreshing cocktails like the gin and coconut Talking Bird will instantly put you in vacation mode.
DRINKS (Option 2): The Tippling House
Experienced sommelier Matthew Conway brought his wine knowledge to Charleston in October 2021 when he opened The Tippling House with fiancé Carissa Hernandez. Tucked inside a 151-year-old Charleston single in the Cannonborough-Elliotborough neighborhood downtown, the quaint wine bar is steps away from some of downtown’s top restaurants, including Bistronomy by Nico, Chez Nous and Chubby Fish.
Most of the wine bottles are under $50, making this an affordable pre-dinner stop that doesn’t feel like one — especially if you order chef Alex Yellan’s Tarvin shrimp toast or Carolina Gold Rice arancini to nibble on.
DINNER: Chubby Fish
Witnessing the skill it takes to transform quality ingredients into well-manicured plates makes dining in elite Charleston restaurants dinner and the show. Chubby Fish offers that theatrical flair, but in a different way; the fleeting favorites on chef James London’s menu can completely change guests’ understanding of seafood.
Sustainable, rarely seen types of fish are a nightly standard, and London uses the whole fish. Come ready to share so you don’t miss out on silky mackerel curry; bright, citrusy octopus and avocado salad; shrimp tempura-topped bone marrow; and crab tagliatelle.
The name may read “Fish,” but don’t let that dissuade you from ordering the fall-off-the-bone lamb ribs with romesco sauce. Finish off with some locally made Life Raft Treats from Cynthia Wong.
BREAKFAST: The Harbinger Cafe & Bakery
The Harbinger Cafe & Bakery (and sister shop Harken Cafe) is filled with wholesome house-made treats, quiche and loaded toasts in the morning, seven days a week. Set up shop inside the cozy cafe that will be filled with locals working on their laptops or socializing over cortados and turmeric chai tea lattes. At least once a week I stop in for a Cha Cha Cha Chia Bar (cinnamon, ginger and apricot-spiced oat bar) and iced maple latte.
LUNCH (Option 1): Hannibal’s Kitchen
Descendants of enslaved Africans who brought their cooking techniques to coastal plantations continue to pay homage to their ancestors’ cuisine at Gullah-Geechee restaurants like Hannibal’s Kitchen, which opened in 1985.
No trip to Charleston is complete without trying fresh fried whiting, okra soup, red rice and other essential Gullah dishes. Hannibal’s Kitchen is an exceptional place to do just that.
The downtown Charleston restaurant was named one of the Top 50 restaurants to visit in the United States by The New York Times, and for good reason. Start with the famous crab and shrimp rice before diving into pork chops, ribs and oxtails with rice.
Charleston’s pitmaster prowess is well documented, with names like Rodney Scott and John Lewis bringing national attention to South Carolina barbecue. One size does not fit all, however, when it comes to barbecue flavors, meats and cooking techniques.
Barbecue must earn a spot on your itinerary, but the place you choose depends on what you’re after.
For famous whole hog cooked over live coal direct-heat, Rodney Scott’s BBQ is the place to be.
Those in search of Texas-style beef barbecue will want to sample Lewis Barbecue’s famous brisket.
Home Team BBQ, a block away from Lewis, has all the chef-inspired spins on traditional barbecue, along with pulled pork nachos, smoked chicken wings and boozy frozen drinks (Home Team also has locations in West Ashley and Sullivan’s Island if you find yourself outside of downtown Charleston).
It’s time for an afternoon pick-me-up, and Babas is the spot to go for espresso, matcha (perhaps with Babas’ house-made peanut milk) and strong iced coffee. With one location on Cannon Street and another north on Meeting Street, this European-style café puts time and effort into every aspect of its menu, from steeped-to-order chai tea lattes to “very tall” quiche and pickled shrimp salad. If the afternoon calls for cocktails, check out Babas’ espresso martini, which takes 24 hours to make.
DINNER (Seafood): The Ordinary
Meals at the steakhouses big city business moguls frequent are worth cherishing. The wine is flowing, and sizzling steaks cut tableside are met with a celebratory response. Conversation echoes throughout what tends to be a buzzing environment. The Ordinary offers these elements, but Charleston’s seafood is the star carrying the festivities.
Sky-high seafood towers arrive with local oysters, clams, pâté, shrimp and caviar, while the rest of the menu is made up of cold and hot plates from executive chef Tori Schumacher. King mackerel with Carolina Gold Rice, okra gumbo with blue crab and, of course, the crispy oyster sliders are just a few of my favorites.
DINNER (Seafood Option 2): Bowens Island Restaurant
It’s hard to argue with an evening at Bowens Island Restaurant, five minutes from Folly Beach. Enjoy cold beer and fresh oysters picked from the waters surrounding the 13-acre island daily while watching the sunset.
The 75-year-old James Beard Foundation American Classic is an essential introduction to steamed oysters, but don’t expect white tablecloth service. At Bowens, piles of oysters are dumped onto half or full trays, and guests are handed oyster knives for self-shucking. This and the unmatched setting makes a meal here an immersive experience and prerequisite to a classic Lowcountry oyster roast.
DINNER (Land): Maison
It took me far too long to visit Maison for dinner. It’s possible I was distracted by the Brooks Reitz empire (Melfi’s, Leon’s and Little Jack’s) surrounding Maison’s unassuming Upper King Street building, or maybe I just missed the mark. Either way, I eventually made it in for composed plates of roasted chicken, rabbit and steak frites.
I’ve spent a mere four hours in France after missing a train to Brussels, but Maison’s atmosphere is what I imagine a Parisian bistro would feel like inside. At Maison, moderately loud chatter can be heard at roundabout booths and tables where enthusiastic servers spill dish details before dipping out at just the right moment.
French onion soup croquettes and escargot laced with garlic, parsley and Dijon mustard-infused butter warm up your palate for what’s to come with the main course; roasted chicken with Brussels sprout farci and black truffle, steak frites au poivre or a gorgeously plated daily special.
Finish off your elegant meal with chocolate mousse or powdered sugar-dusted honey orange madeleines, served fresh out of the oven.
BREAKFAST: Daps Breakfast & Imbibe
Saturday brunch is less common than you might assume, even downtown, but Daps Breakfast & Imbibe brings the breakfast noise six days a week. From whimsical Fruity Pebbles pancakes to hearty egg sandwiches and burritos, there’s something for everyone at Daps, which also cans and distributes the mimosas sold in the West Side restaurant. Be sure to check out the chickpea sandwich, served with sweet sorghum Duke’s Mayonnaise inside a fluffy English muffin.
LUNCH (Option 1): Bertha’s Kitchen
Albertha Grant’s legacy lives on at Bertha’s Kitchen, where you’ll find some of the best soul food in Charleston. Fried pork chops, lima beans, okra soup and cornbread are just a few Bertha’s staples.
Bertha’s was named an American Classic by the James Beard Foundation in 2017, 11 years after Bowens Island earned the same honor. But that’s not why you must eat here. Go for the inviting, energetic atmosphere and affordable homestyle cooking that’s served Charleston’s Neck Area for four decades.
LUNCH (Option 2): Xiao Bao Biscuit
Spring Street in downtown Charleston has become a hub for varying types of cuisine. Heading southwest, starting at Pink Bellies (Vietnamese) at the corner of Spring and King streets, you’ll run into Malagon (Spanish), Bistronomy by Nico (French Asian fusion), Pink Cactus (Oaxacan), Estadio (Spanish) and Bon Banh Mi (Southeast Asian).
Each of these eateries earn my stamp of approval, but I’m sending you to Xiao Bao Biscuit, located in a repurposed gas station, for food from China, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam and other Asian countries owner Josh Walker and his wife Doulan Walker-Li have visited together in the past 12 years.
Xiao Bao Biscuit’s okonomiyaki (savory Japanese cabbage pancake) might earn a spot on the Mount Rushmore of top dishes in Charleston. Order one for the table before diving into Sichuan pork and tofu-laced Mapo Dou Fu, Sri Lankan crab curry or, my personal favorite, lamb kofta with roti.
HAPPY HOUR (Beer): Revelry Brewing Co.
Revelry Brewing Co. opened in 2014 when breweries were still relatively new to downtown Charleston. Setting itself apart with a dog-friendly rooftop and drinkable craft beers has made the brewery a staple among locals.
While downtown development starts to crowd Revelry, it’s still one of the top spots in the city for a picturesque sunset view.
HAPPY HOUR (Cheap Beer): The Royal American
Weekends away can get expensive. Stop by The Royal American for $6 pitchers of Miller High Life while sitting on the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge-facing patio.
DINNER (Option 1): Jackrabbit Filly
Jackrabbit Filly is my go-to gift card purchase for food lovers, the place my family requests when visiting, the Chinese American cuisine that’s unlike anything else I’ve experienced in the South.
Spawned from Shuai and Corrie Wang’s wildly popular Short Grain food truck-turned-pop-up, Jackrabbit Filly is more than worth the drive to the Park Circle neighborhood of North Charleston.
Shuai’s genius daily specials — a recent Zapp’s Voodoo potato chip-topped smoked Miss Paula’s shrimp salad with buttermilk wasabi and ikura comes to mind — are a reason to visit with an open mind, but there are a couple must-haves. Karaage, Japanese fried chicken doused in lemon-scented Duke’s Mayonnaise aioli and dusted with togarashi, should be shared with the table alongside the market fish tartare or corn fritters. You’ll also want a plate all to yourself; I suggest the special, Dan Dan noodles or perhaps the spicy stir-fried gnocchi.
Go hungry, leave happy.
DINNER (Option 2): Chasing Sage
When people ask where to take their vegetarian companion to dinner in Charleston, I send them to Chasing Sage. But that doesn’t mean the downtown restaurant doesn’t excel in the meat department.
Juicy whole young chicken is served with paprika sauce, and a 48-hour short rib factors into the large plate portion of a frequently changing menu that features items ranging in price from $12-$21.
Those plates are fantastic, but I suggest sampling a vegetable-forward dish that might stray from your comfort zone, like the smoked butterbean cassoulet that gets an umami punch from roasted tomatoes and a foraged Lion’s Mane mushroom conserva.
Chef’s Walter Edward and Forest Brunton’s heirloom squash and carrot terrine with apple sage mustard offers a refreshing take on a classic meat-based terrine, while the baby beets with pistachio and goats cheesecake are downright delicious, whether ordered as a starter or grand finale to your meal.
With impeccable service, a creative cocktail program and cozy, lively ambiance, Chasing Sage is fit for any occasion.
AFTER DINNER DRINKS: Vintage Lounge
If you’re dining downtown, you might want to venture over to King Street for cocktails. My pick for a place with an energetic atmosphere that’s not overbearing is Vintage Lounge. While Vintage is known for its wine selection, the cocktails are fantastic — check out the New York Sour, French 75 or rotating cocktail of the week.
If you want to stay out in Park Circle post-dinner, Stems & Skins offers a lengthy natural wine list, and Paddock & Whisky is the place to go for bourbon and craft cocktails, including one inspired by Notorious B.I.G.
BRUNCH: Post House
At least once a month you’ll find me in Mount Pleasant at Post House tucking into chef Nathan Hood’s fish sandwich. The convivial feel inside the recently renovated seven-room Post House Inn makes brunch here a Sunday morning slam dunk (brunch is also served on Saturdays).
Fish might not come to mind when you envision brunch, but Hood’s tempura-fried daily catch with shredded lettuce and green tomato tartar sauce is an all-hours delicacy. The morning menu also features quiche, shakshuka and a bodega-style egg sandwich, among other options.
After brunch, take a stroll through the Old Village to the Pitt Street Bridge for views of Sullivan’s Island and downtown Charleston.
FAREWELL DRINKS: Graft Wine Shop
I almost kept this Sunday spot a secret, but I just couldn’t leave one of my favorite places to spend a weekend afternoon in Charleston off the itinerary.
“Good Neighbor Sunday” at Graft Wine Shop (3-6 p.m.) is the coolest parking lot party you’ve ever attended. It’s the place to try a new and exciting wine from Femi Oyediran and Miles White’s expansive list. It’s the place to have one last meal from a local pop-up, like Dough Boyz Pizza.
I know it’s been a busy weekend of eating and drinking, but you won’t regret making this your last stop.