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driving to Charleston from Tampa this March...any suggestions along the way and while in Charleston?...thanks...SSS

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  1. Hi Sandra. I'm a native South Carolinian and have lived in Charleston for several years. Do NOT miss Jestine's Kitchen for great "lowcountry" food. It's at 215 Meeting Street, just blocks from the Market. For once, inexpensive translates to filling, delicious, and better than you'd expect from "regular" Southern food. You'll wish your Mamma was a Charlestonian! Be sure to have the corn cakes. Very surprising and delicious.


    Enjoy Charleston and feel free to email me with any questions. I love playing tour guide.

    Link: http://charleston.diningguide.net

    6 Replies
    1. re: Tricia Pate

      my vote is Hominy Grill for any of the 3 meals in a day! Best combination of low-country, Southern food with a modern update for great prices!

      I personally did not like Jestine's Kitchen. Maybe it's because I did not grow up on overcooked veggies. I thought I could cook better tasting food than them.

      For high end dining, Charleston Place is one our favorites!

      For a great local coffee shop, go to Port City Java. They have the most divine honey and (blanking on the 2nd ingredient) shakes. I haven't been able to find anyone else in CA who makes it!

      1. re: daantaat

        Jestines has never been that good. They have a good dish or two, but for the most part it is dry, flavorless and bland.

        It is pretender on how LowCountry Food should be pre-pared.

        1. re: daantaat

          Port City Java is not local coffee shop. It is a chain based in Wilmington, NC.

          1. re: joshuahmel

            I went to a Port City Java while in Wilmington, NC. (while I was having my tires rotated). It was okay, but nothing special. I think I went to THE main one, as they had their training "university" in the same strip mall.


            1. re: TexasToast

              Yeah, that location was hit by car last year and it burst into flames. They quickly rebuilt it. I prefer the three downtown Wilmington locations.

        2. re: Tricia Pate

          Tricia, one of my favorite places for just hanging out is Red's Ice House. I had a spicy shrimp dish there once and cannot remember its name. Do you know it?

        3. So many restaurants to choose from - So little time.
          A short list:
          Hominy Grill
          82 Queen
          The Bookstore Cafe (breakfast)
          Peninsula Grill
          As for along the way. It's just 7 1/2 hrs. Take a sandwich to leave more time in Charleston

          1. Jestine's is a tourist trap. Good Lowcountry cooking in downtown is near impossible. Drive seven miles up Spruill to Aunt Bea's. I've always thought of Magnolia's and 82 Queen as tourist traps as well. Cru Cafe, Carolina's, Peninsula Grill and Charleston Grill are good choices downtown - the rest are all overrated.

            1 Reply
            1. re: coryphaena

              Welcome to the board, Coryphaena. It's always good to get another perspective.

            2. True, true. Wasn't trying to step on your toes, but I think a lot of places downtown have been surviving on reputation for a long time. Forgot to mention SNOB - wife and I had a great - surprisingly great - meal there a couple of weeks ago...


              1. I've always thought Jestine's was overated as well. As someone who was raised in South Carolina I know a good meat and 3 and Jestine's would not make the cut in my top 25. I feel the same way about Hominy Grill. For breakfast they do ok but their biscuits aren't that good and that is an unforgivable sin for any restaurant in the south that serves breakfast.
                I wonder if those two have some folks on this board on the payroll. That or these folks didn't grow up eating the real thing. If you think about it, for the uninitiated transplant those places are pretty good but for those of us who know the difference they don't make the cut. For all of you who just don't know any better, keep your eyes open for a diner or meat and 3 with a bunch of old pickups in the parking lot like Aunt Bea's. If you see more Pennsylvania tags than pickups you're better off going somewhere else.

                6 Replies
                1. re: GrillMaster

                  Heh. If this board has people "on the payroll", so does the New York Times. I agree. Hominy serves a nice breakfast, ex the biscuits, but it doesn't knock me over. Maybe I'm missing something because I haven't been for dinner...but I'm not willing to risk a dinner at this point.

                  I had dessert from Jestines, and that made me not bother to go back for a meal. Seriously, though, can you get good Southern home cooking ANYWHERE? maybe those of us who can cook the stuff at home are just too hard on the restaurants.

                  Someone asked me on another thread who does make a good biscuit in Chas, and I had no answer. What do you think?

                  1. re: danna

                    >Hominy...I'm not willing to risk a dinner at this point.

                    A wise decision. I had dinner there last summer. It was the worst meal I can recall ever being served, school cafeterias included. Crunchy, half done fried eggplant. The grouper special was cold and tough and had the texture of pressed sawdust. It was served with a tomato and smoked bacon sauce. I'm _certain_ the tomatoes were served straight from the can without even being heated much less actually cooked. Also on the plate was some cold, dry and tough macaroni and cheese, sans cheese. I also sampled their fried green tomatoes, and although they were fried, they were not green. To top it off the service was indifferent at best.

                    1. re: Cpt Wafer

                      They must have put crack in William Grimes' grits.

                      1. re: danna

                        If they hadn't, perhaps they should've. And speaking of their grits, I tasted some that evening; extraodinarily ordinary.

                    2. re: danna

                      Best biscuit ever. Ever. Poogan's Porch.

                      Oops. I see I had already answered. Sorry, must be the wine. *hic*

                      1. re: Ellen of SC

                        Perhaps, but everything else is horrid

                  2. The same goes for Paula's place in Savannah where tourists wait for hours & pay $16 for lunch buffet.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: beteez

                      Hate to be picky, but the lunch buffet is $12.99 (plus tea)and dinner buffet is $16.99. Locals don't go. It's just for the tourists to look for Paula and buy some T-shirts.

                      1. re: beteez

                        I would totally avoid The Lady & Son's....wait in the hot sun for HOURS for a mediocre buffet. Too much hype, & too much tourist business...not worth the wait and discomfort.

                      2. I think you can get good southern cooking but generally not in a city that caters to tourists. We southerners have to remember that a toned down version of some of our favorites are more palatable to people from other parts of the country. One of my all time favorite foods is a fried liver a gizzard plate from the Burger Chic in my home town. I can't imagine too many folks from above the mason dixon line partaking.
                        Rather than go into it here I'll start a post for recommendations for good southern cooking in SC.

                        1. Lightest, fluffiest, most flavorful biscuit I ever ate was at Poogan's Porch.

                          Hands down my favorite biscuit of all time.

                          1. That's a good point and I hadn't thought of that one. Poogan's does make a mean biscuit.

                            1 Reply
                            1. http://www.poogansporch.com

                              It's tucked away at 72 Queen Street. Must admit I haven't eaten there in many years.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: Ellen of SC

                                Thanks for the info. I'm going to be visiting Charleston next week and am looking for good places to eat. Maybe I'll give it a try.

                                1. re: albini

                                  Stay away from Poogans Porch!! I was there two weeks ago and sent every item I ordered back. Food was poorly cooked and freezing cold. Service was ridiculously slow. It is a horrible tourist trap. Our server actually said, after asking where we were from - "Oh your locals? I never wait on locals!" Very bad sign, unfortunately we were too far in at that point to just get up and walk out. The biscuits are good, but that cannot save the restaurant.

                              2. Another vote here for you to try the biscuits at Poogan's Porch. Very good, very warm, and very foodgoody. I also had the shrimp & grits and had no complaints. My co-eater had the crab cake eggs benedict. Enjoy.


                                1. Any thoughts on "Gullah Cuisine"?
                                  And how about great BBQ in Savannah?
                                  I'll be there later this month for an overnight and I'd like to squeeze at least two meals in.

                                  1. Two words: COCOCNUT CAKE!

                                    Okay, I suppose I'll have to add that you simply HAVE to try the coconut cake (even if you hate coconut like I did) at the Peninsula Grill in Charleston. It's quite famous, and rightly so.



                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: TexasToast

                                      Seond on the coconut cake, just try to ignore that you are paying 10 dollars for a piece of cake. It is fantastic, rich, but not overly so, coconut infused, but not too much, it is a delicious piece of cake.

                                    2. best coffee house: Kudu Coffee (http://www.kuducoffee.net/
                                      )best cheap lunch: Five Loaves Cafe (http://www.fiveloavescafe.com/) - really good soups, sandwiches, and salads

                                      If you're willing to venture out of downtown a bit for good eats, hit James Island for dinner at Mustard Seed or Mondo's Delight (italian). Hit Mount Pleasant for Boulevard Diner for breakfast or lunch - not sure what others on this post think about Boulevard Diner, but i think it's better than Hominy and Jestine's for that southern breakfast or lunch you might looking for.

                                      all of my previous recommendations are pretty cheap. For more upscale, avoid 82 Queen and Garibaldi's - these two may have been good at one point, but it seems as if their menus have not been updated since the 80s. Their food lacks flavor in my opinion. Try High Cotton or Magnolia's. There is another place in Mt. Pleasant that would be my top recommendation for an upscale meal - Langdon's (http://langdonsrestaurant.com/index.php) - this is one place i can guarantee you won't be disappointed.

                                      Oh, and if you get a hankerin' for good sushi/japanese while you're in town, head to Osaka on Folly Road in the South Windemere Center in West Ashley. It's the best Charleston has to offer in this cuisine. Only hit this if you're craving that cuisine though... Obviously, most people don't come to Charleston for japanese food... :-) - I just crave it about once every week or so, and that's the best place to get it in Charleston in my opinion.

                                      5 Replies
                                      1. re: mdatwood13

                                        My husband and I at lunch at Magnolia's and, if I were to eat there again, I would ask lots of questions about saucing/plating. For example, I ordered a small plate of fried green tomatoes. The menu reads "Fried green tomato with white cheddar cheese and caramelized onion grits with country ham and tomato chutney."

                                        What arrived on the plate was three slices of fried green tomatoes on mound of cheese grits surrounded by a river of thin sauce that tasted quite similar to Chinese duck sauce. I was utterly mystified by the presentation. There were some chunks of tomato that I could have considered chutney on the top of the mound, but the chutney was overwhelmingly a thin liquid. The liquid touched and dominated all the other elements in the dish. I sent my order back to the kitchen and asked them to replate it without the sauce. (The kitchen made up a completely new order.) What I ended up eating was absolutely delicious and needed no embellishment from anything, much less a sauce that masked the other flavors.

                                        1. re: Indy 67

                                          I was completely "underwhelmed" by our dinner at Magnolia's...As they say...maybe we went on an off night....

                                        2. re: mdatwood13

                                          mdatwood 13 -

                                          I lived in Charleston for 5 years as a broke student, and you definitely have the best recommendations on here. Mustard Seed, Boulevard Diner and 5 Loaves are owned by the same group and are definitely some of the best in town. (Thought the last time we at at Mustard Seed on Maybank, something just wasn't right - but I won't judge it from one bad experience against dozens of great meals!) Mondo's and Osaka are great picks as well. Unfortunately, visitors to Charleston miss out on some of the best seafood since Folly Hideaway was knocked down...That was a sad day!

                                          One fabulous place downtown on Broad Street that I have not seen mentioned here is Fast & French (Gaulart et Maliclet Cafe or just G&M) Great (and cheap) french wines by the glass, delicious (and different) lunch and dinner menus. Communal tables, local art. Also open for breakfast.

                                          1. re: sarahyla

                                            Thanks for the props, sarahyla! I just feel bad that most of the recommendations on here are for places that are either very expensive or just not that good for all the hype they receive. I also realize that for someone visiting and staying downtown, it might not make sense to venture to james island or mt. pleasant. I did see someone recommend Basil (the thai place). Although it's not the best thai food i've had, it is very good and the food is high quality - also a very reasonable price. That and Coast are the two best sort of off the beaten path places I've been to in Charleston. Oh, and for all the Jestine's bashing that goes on in this post, I am somewhat surprised. While it's not worth a wait of more than 15 minutes, I think the food is good - you can get a tasty good quality lunch at a fair price, and that can prove difficult in that part of downtown. You'd think it was terrible though based on what some folks report on here - and that is not the case. At least no one is recommending Hyman's though!!! For anyone visiting Charleston, don't go to Hyman's. People all over town recommend the place to tourists, but it is not good food. Go there only if you want to escape the heat and have a drink at their bar...

                                            1. re: mdatwood13

                                              Once again, I agree with you mdatwood - whenever we wanted a cheap, filling meal, we'd get Jestine's to go to avoid the waiting and tourist crowd. It helps to have friends who work there to get a free dessert! I always like the pecan crusted fried chicken. I managed a B&B downtown when I was there, and we would always steer guests FAR away from Hymens!!! Not only is the food sub-par, but everyone I've known/met who has worked there at some point hated working there, and that says a LOT about a place!

                                        3. Oh, I forgot... Coast is a very good seafood stop. It's a bit pricey, but it's a cool, lively spot. I've sampled a good bit of the menu, and I haven't been disappointed yet.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: mdatwood13


                                            Thanks for lending some credibility to this discussion, especially with your recommendations about Kudu Coffee on Vanderhorst Street and Five Loaves Cafe at Coming and Cannon Streets (Five Loaves is also in Millennium Music on Calhoun Street and across the river in Mt. Pleasant ). The only addition to your excellent recommendations would be Pane e Vino for a wonderful, hospitable, intimate splurge (but not too big of a splurge) on Warren Street. Your mention of Langdon's spoke volumes about your knowledge of the local dining scene,

                                          2. The best Charleston breakfast is the Marina Variety Store & Restaurant at the City Marina on Lockwood Blvd. (this was seconded by their recent award for the best breakfast in Charleston by the Post & Courier). On top of the great food, it is on the water. The Bookstore Cafe, which has now relocated to Mt. Pleasant in the Anna Knapp Shopping Center on Hwy 17, is also very good.

                                            1. 82 Queen was an enormous disappointment for me and my family (December 2006).

                                              While the menu promised wonderful things, the product was indifferent at best (I am sure the bouilabaisse stock started in a can) and inedible at worst (Until 82 Queen, I thought you couldn't make inedible fried okra -- but that's before I met their raw, woody, bread-encrusted corndog sized version).

                                              Bad night? Maybe. I'd have to see a great many rave reviews here, though, before going back. (Of course, had I checked here first, I wouldn't have ended up there.)

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: Allan Jenkins

                                                I too was disappointed with 82 Queen on last visit. I won't go back.
                                                Too many other better places.

                                              2. Tourist traps: Magnolia's, 82 Queen, Poogan's, Jestine's, Garibaldi. With the exception of Peninsula Grill and Mercato, every other restaurant on the Market is a tourist trap. True local food is very rarely served within sight of t-shirt or ice cream shops.

                                                Marina Variety Store Restaurant was not named "best breakfast in Charleston" by the P & C, but rather one of several of the best. It's cheap and greasy, but it's a good value and served over a nice view by nice people.

                                                Love Boulevard Diner. Wouldn't call it "Classic Southern", but I'd rather have a glass of warm tapwater there than a lifetime of free meals at Jestine's.

                                                2 Replies
                                                1. re: coryphaena

                                                  Not a fan of Jestine's either... Doesn't Garibaldi have the crispy flounder entree? Garibaldi in Columbia does and I know they at least used to be related. That's the only thing I'd recommend though. I like Mistral okay - isn't that on the Market? I rarely get to go to places like Peninsula because of my broke-status... lol. I do the finer dining on my expense account, but even then I've had to "under-report" the meal cost at McCrady's, for example (well, the wine cost might have factored into that... lol). Then again, I'm pretty much a hick from Columbia... lol. But I definitely can use more recommendations for places in West Ashley/Mt. Pleasant - our client that used to be downtown moved to West Ashley so staying downtown is hard for me to justify on my expense report (plus, my friend who used to work at the Embassy Suites is no longer there - no more discount!!). Now lunches are no longer walking around downtown, but at the nearby TGI Friday's or Red Lobster! Sigh...

                                                  1. re: coryphaena

                                                    I agree with your list of tourist traps except for Garlibaldis. I love that Crispy Flounder ! I've had one or two other things in the dozens of times I've eaten there, and they have been good too. Not cutting edge or anything, but quality. I have never ordered off the actual menu, which seems to be from a totally different restaurant, but everything I've tasted from the "specials" board is good.

                                                  2. The Marina was one of two restaurants named "best of" by the Post & Courier for breakfast. The other, the Sea Biscuit, is on the Isle of Palms and is not in Charleston. It is not a fancy place, but it is definitely not greasy -- it does classic, and some more locally inspired inventive, breakfast dishes. The view and the people are top notch.

                                                      1. I just got back from a week in Charleston, and I'll throw in my two cents. We were travelling from Canada with two young boys, and managed not to have a single bad meal anywhere. Here are some highlights:

                                                        -SNOB - we managed to have dinner there the night before the New York Times raved about it in an article called "36 Hours in Charleston". Good timing. I loved their beef tenderloin, and the caramelized pear salad and crab and corn chowder were delicious. Not a very child-friendly place ($6.95 for some pasta shells tossed with butter and parmesan: Yikes!), but that can be a good or a bad thing depending on your perspective.

                                                        -Hominy Grill - Had a marvellous lunch there. Best mac and cheese ever (the recipe is in their self-published cookbook), and the okra and shrimp beignets were very tasty.

                                                        -Uptown Finer Diner - Just opened a couple of weeks ago, and around the corner from the excellent Children's Museum of the Lowcountry. The food was delightful! I had a fried oyster salad with bacon and a maple vinaigrette; my wife loved her grilled vegetable sandwich; and they accommodated my picky younger son by making him a beautiful cheese omelet (not on the menu, and they only charged us $2.50 - big kudos!!)

                                                        -Bowens Island - I took my older son to visit the "new" Bowens Island Restaurant. They have pledged to rebuild the old place that burned down last year, and for now they are steaming the oysters in pots in the "dining room". Best damned oysters I've ever had, but be warned that at this time of year, the gnats are fierce at night.

                                                        -Vickery's - This was more about the location (overlooking the shrimp boats at Shem Creek) than the food, but the latter was just fine. I had a mix of shrimp. scallops, crab, and fried oysters served over grits that was very tasty.

                                                        -Jestine's Kitchen - I know there is a fair bit of knowledgeable dissing of this place on this board, but we simple northern folk loved it. The cornbread served with honey-drizzled butter was outstanding, the fried green tomatoes were crunchy and good, the fried chicken basket with okra was great, and the Coca-Cola cake and Pineapple bread pudding were equally popular desserts.

                                                        -I'll mention it here, but this is road food: North of Charlotte, NC at Lake Norman, we had a great lunch at a place called McAlister's Deli. As far as I can tell, it is part of a chain, but the sandwiches were fresh, tasty, even Chow-worthy.

                                                        Charleston is truly a magical place, and I can't wait to go back!

                                                        1. Just got back from a weekend in Charleston. Here are my highlights:

                                                          FIG - Had some appetizers and wine at the bar. Well priced, eclectic wine list and great food. Not really low country flavor, but very intelligent market driven cooking. All in all, a very good restaurant with fair prices. I would eat here regularly if I lived in Charleston, but not if I was looking for Charleston flavor.

                                                          Peninsula Grill - Great wine list and surprisingly great food. The menu is a little strange with mix and match options on grilled fish and meat, but the food on the appetizer and chef list was great. One of the best dishes we had in Charleston was wild mushroom grits with low country stew. Would recommend trying to get a tasting menu if possible.

                                                          McCrady's - I love the space and the wine list was good, although not as good as last time I'd dined there. The food waffled between cutting edge and great, and contrived and ok. All in all, a very good and expensive restaurant. We got the tasting menu and at least four dishes were great, highlighted by the lobster sous vide.
                                                          The Woodlands (in summerville) - Very elegant and very expensive. Great wine list with some good buys on the top end. This was a fabulous meal. We had their grand tasting menu and, although expnesive, was awesome. Inventive, but not overworked. If you go prepared to throw caution to the wind, it's a landmark place to dine. If you're looking for value or a one to three course meal, it should not be considered.

                                                          One finale note on Jesine's Kitchen - I've eaten there in the past and thought the food was good. Outside of some forgettable vegetables, other side and mains have been very good. Perfect pecan crusted catfish and coca cola cake were highlights.

                                                          Hope this helps

                                                          4 Replies
                                                          1. re: square

                                                            Thanks. I'll be in Charleston three weekends from now, and we're hitting up the exact same places (except doing Hominy Grill instead of Peninsula Grill - my dad and I had a truly awful meal at the latter a good number of years ago, but I still haven't forgiven them). Anyway, sounds like I've put together a good itinerary.

                                                            1. re: mikeh

                                                              I'd be interested in hearing about your upcoming meal at Hominy. I had the absolute worst food I have ever been served there a year and a half ago. I suppose any restaurant is capable of serving a bad dish but from start to finish everything was horrid.

                                                              1. re: Cpt Wafer

                                                                I'll definitely report here in full on all the places I visit in Charleston that weekend. I have especially stringent standards for Southern cuisine, so if it's not up to snuff, you'll hear about it for sure!

                                                            2. re: square

                                                              McCrady's: what is up with the wine list? I went to the "wine bar" and there were fewer wines by the glass than your average decent restaurant. And very unadventurous, repetitive selections too. I had a half-marathon to celebrate and a DD, so I was very disappoint there was not more wine to tempt me.

                                                            3. I was in Charleston last weekend. Two dinners are worth noting:

                                                              Hominy Grill: Perhaps because we came in very early (before the dinner rush), our meal here was absolutely superb. My shrimp and grits was well flavored, and the buttermilk pie is what you wish southern mama cooked, but alas did not. My parents -- who have different food tastes than me -- also loved the fried snapper that they ordered and the lima bean side orders. The main thing -- everything was very fresh, and it showed. The flavors were also subtle.

                                                              Basil's: This is good Thai food (the noodle dishes were quite nice), and if I were a Charlestonian, I would likely be in love with this place. I prefer the Thai in Atlanta, however. If you WANT Thai, however, this is a good place to go. The only disappointment you might have in hot weather is that they do not do Thai Iced Coffee.

                                                              3 Replies
                                                              1. re: alonzo

                                                                You must tell which Thai place you like in Atlanta. The only one I've tried is that place in Mid-town, on the overpass right at I-85. Not a very good experience....

                                                                1. re: uptown jimmy

                                                                  For Charleston i recommend Blossom. Great seafood and easy going atmosphere.

                                                                  THAI in Atlanta - off of 285 at Shallowford is a little place called Simply Thai. They make amazing Nam Sod; and Panang. AND, they actually have an OK wine list.

                                                                  1. re: uptown jimmy

                                                                    I like Little Bangkok on Cheshire Bridge as my Thai hole in the wall and Thai Chilli on Briarcliff for something a little more upscale. For an experience like the one at Charleston's Basil, Surin of Thailand is good.

                                                                2. Actually my very favorite bite while in Charleston was the coconut cake at the Pennisula Grille...Don't miss it...Unbelievable!!!!

                                                                  1. Alluette's Cafe at 80 A Reid Street has some of the best food in Charleston. She uses fresh local and organic products. Are you a shrimp lover? Her fried fresh local shrimp are the best I have ever eaten - hands down. Just a short walk from the visitors center. She also has vegan and vegetarian choices daily. No pork used in cooking at this little treasure.

                                                                    1. I don't understand the folks who don't like Jestine's Kitchen. I had the absolutely best Pecan Crusted Whiting I'd ever eaten before. Their Coconut Creme Pie could not be beat. What I didn't like was their Mac n Cheese and their Fried Okra. The entrees were great, as were the desserts but the sides were lacking. I also loved their corn bread. The Coca Cola Cake was delicious too.

                                                                      So, where did you go while you were there?