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Charleston SC: Okay, so where's the GOOD low country food?

Boy, you Charlestonian's do not make it easy! It seems like people either like or hate the less-expensive options in town for "low country" grub. (The only thing everyone seems to agree on is the coconut cake at the Peninsula Grill.) Jestine's, Poogan's, Hominy--what's an outsider to do? It seems like all of these places are geared for the tourist crowd. Where can I go to get the BEST shrimp and grits in Charleston? Aren't there any places that cater mostly to locals? Any other special dishes I should try? And where? Where do YOU GUYS go, other than "your mom's" for home cooking/comfort food?
I'll be there in August (I know--it's not oyster time) staying in the historic district, but I have a car and I'm willing to find my way to the less-touristy parts of town.

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  1. I'll avoid the topic of shrimp and grits altogether since that's a whole separate discussion in of itself.

    For great down-home Southern cuisine, the type that Charlestonians know and love but tourists for whatever reason don't tend to frequent much (perhaps because it's across the bridge), go to Gullah Cuisine in Mt. Pleasant. They have perhaps one of the best Southern buffet spreads at lunch that I've ever experienced. A lot of fellow Southerners concur. Dinner is a sit-down menu.


    A new place that opened up on the Charleston side, but north of the historic district, that has been getting rave reviews and acclaim from local publications all around, is Alluette's Cafe. Traditional Southern and Gullah recipes, but with an eye toward fresh, local, and organic ingredients. According to reviews by those with many local reviews under their belts, this may very well be the best place to get nonchalant Southern food on the Charleston side.

    Review: http://www.charlestoncitypaper.com/gy...

    Another review: http://charlestonchow.blogspot.com/20...

    You really can't go wrong with either of these places. It might just be the best down-home Southern food you've ever had. Both of these places thrive entirely off of word-of-mouth and local traffic, so go ahead and support one or both during your next visit. I know I will next time I'm down there.

    Gullah Cuisine Lowcountry Restoration
    1717 N Highway 17, Mt Pleasant, SC

    Alluette's Cafe
    80 Reid St, Charleston, SC 29403

    1. I'm a local and here's my two cents:

      Boulevard Diner in Mt. Pleasant is pretty darn good. It's VERY affordable and is sort of a meat-and-three (always have at least 10 veggies to choose from). Really good fried chicken, meatloaf, crab cakes. I even like their shrimp and grits.

      The best? I think it's SeeWee Cafe. Great seafood, great fried chicken. It's where you want to go for Sunday dinner! It's WAY out there, but totally worth the drive. Get on 17N, drive, drive, drive. When you're almost to Awendaw, you'll see it on your left. Everything is delicious.

      2 Replies
      1. re: chasfoodie

        Ahh, I had forgotten about SeeWee. Good call. Have never been to Boulevard. Will try it next time.

        SeeWee: http://www.seeweerestaurant.com

        Boulevard Diner: http://holycitystyle.wordpress.com/20...

        1. re: mikeh

          When I went to SeeWee on a Saturday night, they had live music. We missed it, but everyone seemed to have enjoyed it!

      2. I think the best Shrimp and Grits can be found at SNOB. I will second the recs for Boulevard Diner and SeeWee for good comfort food. I still enjoy Jestine's and Hominy, but I know they have gotten a little touristy for some people. I haven't yet tried Alluette's, but it is definitely on my to try list.

        3 Replies
          1. re: uoha

            SNOBs' "Maverick" Shrimp & Grits is consistently excellent.

          2. re: lizzy

            The shrimp and grits at the Variety Store at the City Marina is one of my favorites

          3. Dunno if it's up and running again after their fire from years ago (I'm assuming it is), but Bowen Island Restaurant is just one of those "must go" places...


            1 Reply
            1. re: Rand

              Up and running for four years now, but not so much "low-country", just low and country....

            2. As out-of-towners, my family loved the food at the Hominy Grill in Charleston. I'd call it updated Southern. The place was in inexpensive and there were no crowds. But that was just before the New York Times, last fall, featured the restaurant for four straight weeks on Page one of its food section - so they may have gotten more expensive or more crowded. They had things like buttermilk pie, sweet potato spoonbread, chocolate pudding, cheese grits, Mile High Biscuits, shrimp and grits, roasted butternut squash, collard grinds, ginger-pumpkin soup, a BLT in which the T was fried green tomatoes, Brunswick stew, a pimiento cheese sandwich, grillades (braised veal steaks) with grits, grilled tripe, hominy stew, sesame-crusted catfish, peach-blueberry cobbler, Carolina chicken bog. I don't really know for sure whether any of that is authentic low country grub or not, but it sure did taste good.

              1. I'm a local and have been eating at Poogan's Porch (brunch only) and Jestine's Kitchen on a regular basis for years. Also, I always run into people I know at both places.

                Whoever is telling you something is wrong with them may not be a local.

                I go to my mothers house for her food.

                4 Replies
                1. re: BlueHerons

                  Thanks to all! I've made a Google map of your recommendations. To those who wrote about Hominy, Jestin'es and Poogan'ts Porch--I was not impuning their food--I just wanted to get more of a local flavor. I ate at Jestine's six years ago, and enjoyed it. But last summer, I was amazed at all of the looooong lines at the places in and near the historic district. I just wanted to go a little farther afield this time. I'm still adding places to my map if you have any more ideas. This is definitely more what I'm looking for, though! Thanks again!

                  1. re: Lgalen

                    Good call on avoiding Poogan's Porch. Had the worst meal ever there at brunch a few weeks ago. Sent every single thing I ordered back including the "hot" tea. The biscuits are good, but that is not nearly enough to save and excruciatingly long meal of poorly cooked, bland food. Our waiter actually said "Oh, your locals? I never wait on locals!" Unfortunately we were too far in at that point to walk out. . .

                    1. re: mle17

                      Went to Poogan's Porch some years ago with the wife (girlfriend at the time) and had a wonderful dinner. We went again last summer and the place reeked of dirty dishwater and everything was cold (even the biscuits) and bland. Just to add insult to injury, the food was over cooked. Needless to say, we won't be going back. Too bad, we really enjoyed it the first go around.

                    2. re: Lgalen

                      Oh, I went to Alluette's on Thursday, and it was very good. However, don't go too hungry b/c it takes a while to get your food - she's the only one in the kitchen.

                  2. Another place you might try is Shem Creek bar and grill. Located on the left right past the Aircraft carrier entrance on Sullivans Island. Local kind of place, not to fancy. great bar.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: strangebob9

                      I haven't been in some years, but I always liked that place. They had a great oyster stew on the lunch menu.

                    2. The best place to go for authentic southern food is The Glass Onion in West Ashley. Other than the ubiquitous shrimp and grits, they have lots of indigenous specialties you ought to try: country captain, grits and grillades, grilled pimento cheese, and fried SC quail. Their seasonal menu changes, so you can preview it on www.ilovetheglassonion.com.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: valencay

                        For Shrimp Poor Boys the Glass Onion is the place to go to and
                        their french fries are rated highly enough to make the pages of Saveur.

                        Glass Onion
                        1219 Savannah Hwy, Charleston, SC 29407

                        1. re: valencay

                          Although I don't live in Charleston (my son and family live there) I visit frequently. I dream about the fabulous shrimp and grits they serve! Best I've ever had. Actually everything from there has been excellent and love that they have Coast beer on draft.

                        2. Not all tourist filled places are tourist traps. Many of them simply started out as local haunts that built a great reputation. Reputation leads to recommendations (this thread is a perfect example) and pretty soon they are filled with tourists as well as locals.

                          You've received some good recommendations (and some I don't agree with). I'll make one addition that I've not seen mentioned.

                          Paige's Okra Grill in Mt. Pleasant. Simple, good, downhome, nice portions for the Charleston area, not overly expensive, and not popular enough to be filled with anything but locals. The Okra Grill is a good place to stop for country food...lowcountry or not.

                          I've been to Gullah Cuisine and was not that impressed.

                          SeeWee Restaurant is a place that we gave the old "one & done". Mediocre food, tiny portions, and high prices. I just can not, in good faith, recommend the place.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: JayL

                            Slight Correction Jay L...........It's Page's Oakra Grill. Here's their website and address. I second your recommendation. Page's is outstanding. And I second Gullah Cuisine. I would rather have Page's food than the Gullah. Good luck.

                            Page's Oakra Grill @ 794 Coleman Blvd., Mt Pleasant, SC 843 - 881 - 3333.


                          2. For Shrimp n Grits I love Paige's Okra Grill on Coleman in Mt. Pleasant. There's something about those gently fried grit triangles with all their other perfectly paired ingredients. The Coleman Public House is a popular non-touristy place to go. I love their arugula and beet salad with the goat cheese cakes (okay so maybe arugula isn't comfort food but I'm telling you the salad should win an award). Coleman Public House's burgers, beer and the fries with parmesan and truffle oil are all so yummy. Mt. Pleasant locals also love Sesame. They have delicious healthy comfort foods (if there is such a thing). Believe it or not, the Reel Bar at the Charleston Harbor Hotel has great shrimp n grits and their spinach and artichoke dip is delish. Although the service lacks at the Reel Bar we love it anyway. There's no better waterfront view around.

                            PS. Everyone should stop eating on Shem Creek. None the restaurants serve good food.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: KingCHS

                              Fully agree on the Shem Creek statement. Every time I hear someone praise Vickery's I cringe. Can't believe folks think that's good food.

                              Water's Edge gets good remarks and I haven't been so that "may" be the one exception...but the same people tend to like Vickery's too which "should" discredit their opinions altogether. LoL

                              1. re: JayL

                                Thanks, Jay. Blows my mind that Red's fills up. Almost all their seating lacks a view and their food is the worst. RB's is a rip off and lame. Vickery's food is bad and their interior is dirty. I do love their outdoor seating and Guinness and it's a fun stop after biking on Shem Creek Park. Shem Creek Bar & Grill is lame; totally unmemorable. I've eaten at the Water's Edge a few times. It has the fanciest food on Shem Creek but it's not at all great. All the Shem Creek restaurants are coasting on their location. None of the owners have hired chefs with talent. Maybe you and I can start a moratorium for eating on Shem Creek. I'll let the Patch and city papers know and maybe something good will happen. Game?