For all the hype around Charleston, there’s something you should know: It’s all 100 percent true. It’s as beautiful as they say. It’s a hot as they say. And, most notably, it’s as delicious as they say.
The unofficial capital of the South Carolina Lowcountry—an area defined more by its rich cross-section of cultures than any literal borders—has long been home to a profusion of diverse foodways and flavors, making it one of the country’s best food and wine vacations. In the last few years, that melting pot has become more inclusive, expanding the city’s gastronomic scene to include new neighborhoods and fresh faces specializing in everything from barbecue to fine dining (and even barbecue fine dining). Come hungry, eat a lot, and prepare for a memorable travel experience. Your stomach will thank you.
There are many names you need to know when culinary hopping around Charleston. The first, and perhaps most important, one is Rodney Scott. Born and raised in South Carolina, the pitmaster may be known to some as the first chef to earn a James Beard Award for barbecue. But Scott, who also appeared on the acclaimed Netflix series Chef’s Table, is more famous around here for the simple reason that his barbecue is the absolute best. At his eponymous restaurant on King Street, order from his pit-cooked meats—the most famous are his whole hog plates—and pile on classic sides like collard greens and hushpuppies.
The new chef in town is Vivian Howard. Hailing from North Carolina, the award-winning PBS host and Southern gourmand now has Charleston covered from breakfast until dinner, thanks to a pair of new openings on Wentworth Street. In the morning, pop into Handy & Hot to indulge in sweet and savory hand pies and melt-in-your-mouth biscuits; come back in the late afternoon for a creative cocktail and a true Southern dinner at Lenoir.
Don’t miss out on some of Charleston’s modern classics either. Long reigning at the top of the lengthy list is Husk, one of the city’s pioneers in new Southern cuisine, serving classic Lowcountry fare sourced from area farms and the restaurant’s own garden. After dinner visit the Bar at Husk, set within an adjacent Victorian-era estate, and order the Charleston Light Dragoons Punch, a stiff cocktail using an 18th-century recipe uncovered at the Preservation Society of Charleston. The Ordinary is another hot spot nestled away in an old landmark: The bi-level seafood restaurant is located in a former bank—and it also serves some of the best oysters in town.
For a healthy(ish) twist on Carolina classics, make a beeline to Butcher & Bee, where dishes like squash “pulled pork” sandwiches and grilled eggplant with grit cakes are on the menu. And a few blocks away, Lewis Barbecue serves up a rare treat in this part of the country. Originally from Texas, pitmaster John Lewis combines a love of Tex-Mex food with perfectly smoked meats like brisket for a seriously delicious blend of flavors.
If libations are on your mind (and in this town, they should be) try Citrus Club—a retro-pink rooftop lounge with panoramic views over downtown Charleston—or Little Palm, another vibrant al fresco spot. For something you can take home, stop by Graft Wine Shop, which sommelier-owners Femi Oyediran and Miles White have stocked wall to wall with their favorite labels. If you find something you simply can’t wait to open, the shop also has a nine-seat bar—and a serious collection of tunes playing over the speakers.
Of course, where you stay should also be guided by your taste buds. Kiawah Island is one of the South’s most exclusive beach vacations, a top getaway for family travel experiences—and a culinary destination unto itself. Exclusive Resorts Members stay right in the middle of it all, in a collection of four-and five-bedroom residences located just a short distance from the Sanctuary Hotel, where Jasmine Porch serves some of the South’s most sought-after shrimp and grits (ask your concierge to make reservations). The resort is also home to the Ryder Cup Bar, another spot for Southern favorites like fried green tomatoes and she crab soup, all served with views of the award-winning 18-hole Ocean Course. And just a short drive away, on Johns Island, Hege’s and the Royal Tern are two more spots turning out fresh takes on local favorites.
Photos courtesy of Jackie Caradonio.