Folly Beach/James Island/Charleston trip in Aug.
I am heading to Folly Beach in Aug. with my family (children ages 5 and 8) and my parents. We are looking for inexpensive, casual, fun, kid-friendly restaurants with food that won't make us wish we'd paid more or waited longer. I've read lots of reviews for Charleston and intend to avoid all the "tourist traps". We'd like to drive into Charleston to have at least a couple of early dinners. The oldest daughter wants to try Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. Any info on that? Any info. on the "hole in the wall" looking joints on Folly Beach? I've always heard those places usually have the best food. We aren't interested in wine lists or dressing up for dinner. We'd like to enjoy what the locals have.
The Tomato Shed, inside the Stono Market on Johns Island, is my favorite casual lunch spot. Also, my main supplier of pimento cheese to take home and nosh on with crackers and cold drinks. Very casual, more of a lunch spot, and perhaps more of a trek from Folly than you want but not far from Kiawah and something to consider if you are headed down Maybank for any reason, like to visit Angel Oak or the Charleston Tea Plantation.
I know this post is old, but I'll add my 2 cents from 2012 to it.
To the point: Bubba Gump's is a chain-restaurant tourist trap--Hyman's is another trap (only popular because of their nonstop marketing). If you want a REAL hole-in-the-wall DIVE experience--head out toward Folly Beach to Bowen's Island. This local seafood shack (and I DO mean "shack") has been around forever. This place is not for the prissy or dainty. Think newspaper on tables...think PILES of seafood dumped on your table. It's the real deal and the food is really, really good. It has kind of started to catch on with tourists as routinely appears in glossy magazines such as Southern Living and Coastal Living. Recently they've enlarged it and I heard they now accept cards. I live like 5 minutes away...I need to get there more often.
Another place to hit if you're out toward the beach with the Family is Rita's. Every place out there claims to have the best burgers in the world...Rita's actually comes darn close to it. They're right a cross the street from the beach, so they cleverly have an outdoor shower that you can rinse off with before coming in.
Downtown: a good tourist trap that the locals actually like is The Noisy Oyster down at the end of Market Street. In season, they have huge windows that they open up and the whole place is inches from the hustle and bustle of the downtown market. The interior has a pretty cool nautical vibe. The roof over the bar is an overturned boat. The ceiling fans don't spin, they wave. When I have guests from out of town and I'm trying to make everyone happy and not break the bank, I go to the Noisy Oyster. Try the fried alligator tail appetizer--tastes just like chicken. As a rule: with Southern seafood restaurants--stick with either fried or steamed seafood. We don't usually do grilled seafood very well. My wife (who is half Asian) wasn't impressed with the grilled tuna. I would almost liken Noisy Oyster to a local take on a more fun version of a Red Lobster (and I don't mean that in a bad way.)
It gets hot downtown in the summertime (understatement of the year), so you might want to take a break for a frosty adult beverage. Check out the wall of frosty daiquiris at Wet Willies on East Bay Street (take a right at the end of the Market.) It's a tourist bar, but locals hit it up too sometimes. During the day it's just frozen daiquiris. At night it's frozen daiquiris, loud, thumping music, and bachelorette parties. On that same block of East Bay is The Brick...which is just a bar...but it's a bar that has the best beer battered onion rings I've ever had. When I say beer-battered, I mean that when I ordered a batch, a girl came from the kitchen, went behind the bar and filled up a pitcher of Yeungling to make my onion rings with. THAT good. For a lunch and drinks break that you can feel more comfortable bringing kids along--I recommend T-Bonz or Wild Wing Cafe. T-Bonz has local microbrews on tap and decent food at a reasonable price. Wild Wing has piles of delicious wings and whatever you want to drink. Both are family-friendly bar & grill joints located on Market Street.
Breakfast: A little off the beaten path downtown is Hominy Grill. This place has been hit multiple times by Food Network (Rachel Ray, etc.) and by the "anti-" Rachel, the great Anthony Bourdain. If you're wanting try grits for the first time, this is a good place to do it. All grits are not created equal and Hominy Grill does it best. FYI: Shrimp & Grits is not a traditional Southern Dish (trust me: native Southerner over 30 here)...that said, it has really taken off in the past decade or so. Hominy Grill is a great place to try shrimp & grits for the first time...or the 10th time ;-) Also, ask about The Big Nasty (a pile of deliciousness on a biscuit.) It's worth a stop.
Another superb breakfast joint is the Lost Dog. This has become one of the most popular places on Folly Beach. People cram into it wearing flip flops, swim trunks and pajamas (they used to give free coffee on Sunday if you showed up in pajamas). Dogs are the theme--TONS of pictures of people's dogs line every square inch of the walls. It's pretty fun, mixed with the constantly loud environment. Expect to wait about 20 minutes to get in (yes, to a breakfast joint!) if you aren't there when they open. Now, I know I said to try the Shrimp & Grits at Hominy Grill....and you should--their grits are the best grits I've ever had (the texture is just amazing--and texture is half of the grits experience.) HOW-EVER...Lost Dog has the best Shrimp & Grits I've ever had...I dunno...something they put in it is like liquid awesome. Just try it and thank me later. Oh, and you are welcome to bring your well-behaved dog with you to Lost Dog to dine outside on the front porch or out back in the patio. Water bowls are provided.
If you want to take the Husband or Wife out one night and you aren't afraid to dress up (DO dress up--real Charlestonians love to dress up when they go out) and drop some SERIOUS coin, make reservations at Grill 225. White tablecloth, full table settings and everything is à la carte, and very expensive, but TOTALLY worth it. At dinner for two, with a $20 bottle of wine and a shared dessert, expect exceed $100-$125 before tip. Also, it's a good idea to brush up on your fine dining such as which fork is for what, etc. Expensive, yes, but also some of the best food and service you will ever have. Their steaks are a life-altering experience. They only serve the top grade USDA Prime beef sourced from an exclusive cattle farmer--ask, they'll tell you all about it. Their goal is to be the best steak house in the world and they aren't kidding about it. They're so much more than that, though...I also had the best fried shrimp I've ever had there. I had some really tasty prawns, too. Afterwards, head upstairs to get a view of The Bridge from the rooftop bar. (OR head a couple blocks down the street to the less-pretentious Vendue Inn, hop in the elevator and ride it up to the top floor and relax at that rooftop bar.
If you want something super healthy and have an adventurous palette, try the 'Wich Doctor on Folly Beach. Really top-notch experimental ethnic-fusion cuisine--salads, pizzas, and sandwiches. You can BYO beer or wine. The owners are nice, too.
Most people stay in at least one night when they vacation--if you do, and you're staying in the James Island or West Ashley area, consider ordering a pizza from Paisano's on Camp Road. Best delivery pizza in the area. They're also a very family-friendly place to dine-in with free games and stuff for the kids.
If you want some REAL Southern barbecue try Bessinger's in West Ashley...a great buffet. You WILL be full when you leave. Down here, it's a mustard-based sauce and pulled-pork barbecue. That's the way we do it. Southerners take barbecue personally, so don't get into a debate with them over the right way to do it...lol.
Sadly, The Hideaway at Folly Beach is gone...that was one of those places that someone had to show you how to find it--right on the water...you could come from the beach all wet and sandy and have fresh seafood. Awesome.
Good luck and enjoy eating. This is an awesome town to eat in and I've barely uncovered the tip of the iceberg for you.
Nice post but I must take exception to at least two points:
Shrimp and Grits IS a traditional "home" Southern Dish except it used to be called Breakfast Shrimp and wasn't quite as "fancy" as it is now served in restaurants.It was a much more humble dish and in my opinion quite delicious.
While Bessingers is probably the best BBQ in the CITY, I would head on out to Hemingway to Scotts which is SOUTHERN BBQ at its best.
Excellent post, I agree Miss LaLa.
While shrimp and grits may not be native to other parts of the South (over 30?, lol) it's certainly native to here. If you talk to the old people you might hear about fish and grits as well. It's what people had.
I like Bessinger's for fast food, but I'll drive to Scott's, Brown's, or McCabes anyday.
I have a dear friend who grew up in a North Charleston blue collar neighborhood in the 40/50's.She recently made me breakfast shrimp and eggs.I still smile thinking about it.For her the dish is all about the roux which is bacon fat and flour and fresh local shrimp.
Folk's, please don't mention Bessinger's and Scott's in the same breath.All I can figure is that the interstate funnels folks from IL and OH through Columbia on their way to Myrtle Beach.Bessinger's has big signs on I26.Mostly only locals know about Scott's.Thats all I can figure.
I second all of the views expressed so far.
Taco Boy is capable of fantastic food but they are at the mercy of their staff. Food is hit-or-miss but worth the gamble. Eleven Center Street is not very good and over priced IMHO. Have not been impressed with Woody's, Lil' Mamas, Seashell, Planet Follywood, or the restaurant on the opposing corner to Eleven Center Street. Avoid Locklear's on the pier. Local chain with the most consistently bad food I have ever had. Bowen's Island is an institution. Since the demise (or, rather, disappearance) of The Anchor Line this is the only good seafood on that side of Chas.
Mondo's is very good but a little pricey for kids. Andolini's is great pizza and fun for kids. Sweetwater is a great place for Sunday brunch. Jasmine has some of the best Thi, generous portions, and good prices. Daily Dose is a must. They just re-opened off of Folly Road. Completely unique hippy joint with great food and a fun atmosphere for kids of all ages. Twizt is really good but a bit fancy for kids.
Al di La and Amuse are really the only two good restaurants in West Ashley IMHO. Both great reasonably priced places with better food than they should at their modest price points. Great wine selection too.
J.B.'s Smoke Shack is very good. Everyone raves about the BBQ but I love their hash. Southern hash is usually the accumulation of every miscellaneous inedible pig part that should go down the drain. Theirs is not only delicious but proudly made with recognizable pig parts.
Mustard Seed is the place I take out-of-town guests. Food is always good plus there is something on the menu (or special board) for everyone. Sal Parco owns this as well as Boulevard, Sette, Long Point Grill, and some new Southwestern restaurant. All of his restaurants are very good. Mustard Seed and Sette are my favorites. Plus mMustard Seed is just in front of the Terrace Theater (great independent film theater). In the same shopping center is Lulu's. This is a mixed bag but I do like it.
El Sol is another gem. Simple Mexican sandwiches. Dirt cheap and delicious. last time I was there the owner said that she was probably going to close though. She owns several Mexican grocery stores in Chas and didn't feel she had the time to run the restaurant too.
Gotta go to Five Loaves. One of the owners helped start the Mustard Seed. Very good soups, salads, and sandwiches. True Mom & Pop that has been very successful. They have two satellite locations and a burger restaurant (Sesame).
Moe's Crosstown Tavern has really good food too. In the daytime it has a kid friendly atmosphere if you don't mind one or two drunks.
The original Andolini's downtown is a fun place with better pizza than the satellite locations.
Bubba Gump is a tourist trap but fun for kids.
Cru Cafe is a must for lunch. The kids (and likely yourself) will love the generous portion of mac & cheese.
Charleston has so many good restaurants that you should not have to wait anywhere (too many good alternatives). All of the restaurants mentioned should be happy to accommodate a party of 5-6 including kids (I would make a reservation at Cru, Mustard Seed, Al di La, Amuse, or Mondos). Find a copy of the City Paper and keep it in the car. If you get to your restaurant and find it lacking, flip through to the next one on the list.
Good luck and enjoy your vacation!
check out bowen's island for sure, fleet landing is a fun place, carolina's and high cotton are both serving really solid food right now.....go to cru for lunch....if you want some great fried seafood don't miss the wreck.....super cool place. al di la is really, really good, I have dined there around 30 times (my wife used to work there), every time it was super delicious, also try mercato, jacques larson is an amazing chef....try the octopus..charleston is a great food city, enjoy....I do
Wow - I'm really excited by this extensive list. Thank you so much for taking the time. We're going at the end of the month. We go to Folly just about every year with friends, but we missed last year. I had read about the Bowen's Island fire and am happy they're making a comeback. I hadn't heard about the Anchor Line, but honestly, I wasn't too crazy about it. Is Planet Follywood still the sleeziest diviest place on Folly. I really miss the Hideaway. Sigh. It was such a great location.
Agreed: Follywood is sleazy (and not in a good way that Bowen's Island is sleazy, lol). Planet Follywood is only popular because they're so visible right there on Center Street. It's all old men and biker chicks and tourists from New York & Ohio in Charleston T-shirts. Also, the demise of the Hideaway is still sad. I have a good memory of that place when a college buddy took me there one weekend while I was visiting from Columbia. We came straight from the beach, still wet and sandy and had some good ol' Southern fried seafood and sweet tea. Never made it back to the Hideaway. Sadness.
Recently dined at Mustard Seed on Maybank Hwy on Johns Island after reading reviews on this board. We were very disappointed. The service was terrific, but the atmosphere was downright tacky & the food very mediocre. Plastic tables, paper napkins ....Huge menu, but nothing that we had was done very well.
I'm sorry that I don't have much info on Bubba Gump. What I can tell you is they have a lot of outdoor seating so you could at least get some good people watching in, but I don't personally know any local that has eaten there.
As far as hole in the wall places, it doesn't get much more hole in the wall than Bowen's Island. After a fire about 6 months ago, I am not sure if they even have walls. Last I heard they were serving food out on their deck. I know it is not oyster season, but it is shrimp season, and they mainly serve fried seafood. I think it would be a good place to go, if I were you I would just call to get their hours, menu and directions.
As far as Folly itself goes, I can't be too much help. I have had brunch at the Seashell, and it was just okay. I haven't been to Taco Boy, but I have heard really good things.
On James Island, I agree with the Mustard Seed. Others I could add are Sweetwater Cafe, good breakfasts and decent lunches, but I have no idea for dinner. Andolini's does a good pizza, and I have heard good things about Mondo's Delight. On John's Island there is a good BBQ place called JB Smokeshack, again I haven't been but I have heard good things. Hope this helps.
I'm excited to see the replies you get. I have not had much luck on Folly Beach. The only place I've tried has been the wine bar with the upstairs outdoor dining area. I think it's called One Center Street or something similar. It was OK food, obviously good wine selection (which I see you're not interested in) and a FANTASTIC location to sit. One which I though made up for a lot of the food's mediocre-ness.
I frankly haven't bothered looking for food on James Island. Folly is only 15 minutes (a few minutes longer at a high-traffic time) from downtown Charleston, so I just haven't seen the need to limit myself.
Al Di La is a great Italian place that is in West Ashley, which is not James Island, but it's on the Folly side of downtown.
The rest of my suggestions are hearsay, I apologize. I hear Mondo Delight is good ...I think that's on James. Bowen's Island on Folly appears to be the kind of local's dive you are looking for, but I haven't made it there because they specialize in oysters and I'm always in Chas. during non-R months. I think you could search up both of those restaurants and see what others have had to say.
Great. Will do the same. Are you visiting Folly and other surrounding areas or strictly staying in Chas? I have heard some really bad reviews for 82 Queen. It's been called a touristy place, so we are skipping it. Were told to skip Hyman's too. I have read many many wonderful reviews of the Boulevard Diner in Mt. Pleasant. Also Mustard Seed on James Island. Jestine's seems to have mixed reviews. From most locals it's had negative reviews so we'll skip it too.
One I am considering is Five Loaves in Chas. Sounds like it could be a kid-friendly place.
Most of our dining will be on Folly and James Island so those "dives" are the ones I'd really like to get some comments on. There seems to be plenty of "mom and pop" restaurants, but with only six days to eat I don't want to waste a meal on bad food. Any info you can gather would be great!