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Charleston without breaking the bank.

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Long time lurker here. This is the first trip to Charleston for my wife and I. We are planning on going the week of thanksgiving mon-thurs, but will be leaving to come home on Thanksgiving day. We love all kinds of food and are adventurous eaters. We would like to experience whatever is local (low country) and eat some damn good food. I don't want to spend $200+ on every dinner, however. We will be there for 3 nights and 4 days. We love sitting at the bar and chatting with our servers, and find the experience to sometimes be better than the dining room. Basically, we are not opposed to eating tapas style and sharing an entree at the bar. We love NOLA, and are able to do it on the cheap with numerous happy hours and lunch deals at some of the cities finest restaurants. Is there anything like that in Charleston? I'm fine with one $200+ meal, but would like to experience Charleston's best without going crazy. The restaurants on our radar are Husk, FIG, and McCrady's. I have heard Pearlz, High Cotton, and Social have good Happy Hours, but we are interested in both great food and drink. Any thoughts? Thank you so much!

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  1. You can easily do that in Charleston. FIG, Husk and McCrady's all have nice bars. Husk's is in a separate building that's really interesting, but the menu is not the same as in the restaurant. McCrady's bar area is much bigger than the one at FIG. FIG will get crowded so go early.

    Also look at Butcher and Bee. Interesting lunch and late night menu items, BYOB. Walk up King Street (it's way up) and check out some of the new places on Upper King for cocktails and a snack.

    You should also consider Bowen's Island for oysters this time of year.

    Pearlz, HC, and Social have good happy hours, Pearlz and Social have bigger bar areas. You might also look at Gin Joint.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Sue in Mt P

      Thanks for the reply! I imagine you can order off the regular menu at the Husk bar correct? Do you have any other recs in terms of what would be considered a great deal? I will check out the other places you had mentioned. Thanks again!

      1. re: mridealism

        You cannot order off the regular menu at the Husk bar. It's two different buildings so they can't have servers toting food across the alley that separates them. We always enjoy Pearlz happy hour for a great deal on fresh seafood also - check out their website for the menu.

        1. re: miss piggy

          Correct. Husk has a bar menu and that's all you'll get in there.

          I'm not sure what you mean by great deal. Just getting a reservation at FIG is a great deal to me. Lunch is cheaper than dinner at the nice places (SNOB has excellent lunch for $10, only open weekedays). I also like Fast and French for lunch.

          1. re: Sue in Mt P

            "Great deal" is exactly what you mentioned with SNOB for lunch. We ended up making a ressie at FIG, but may opt to sit at the bar if there's room. I also made a ressie for Husk since I want to order off the regular menu. Do you think they'd be ok with us ordering a couple apps and splitting an entree? I know some restaurants encourage that, while others don't.

            Restaurant August (John Besh) in NOLA offers a 3 course lunch for $20. It is a steal to say the least. There's a restaurant here in Orlando called Luma, that has a chef's tasting menu for $65 that not many people know about. It's usually 6-8 courses. It's that kind of thing we're looking for.

    2. Cross the Ashley River and try the Glass Onion or Al di La in the West Ashley area. I would definitely go to FIG for the ultimate dinner. The bar at McCrady's serves small plates and has great cocktails. Bowen's Island has good oysters and a great sunset view and Fleet Landing has good seafood. Basil is the best for Thai if that is what you like. Charleston Grill has phenomenal food and Mickey will the most gracious front man you will ever meet $$$. My best suggestion is just to wander around town the first day and check out the menus, but remember that around the market can be a tourist trap. Go get a cocktail at the Gin Joint and ask the staff their favorite places. Charleston really has a lot of hidden gems just off the beaten path.

      6 Replies
      1. re: scbeachnuts

        Thanks for the suggestions! We're definitely in the mood for oysters so Bowens island sounds great. We made a ressie for FIG and are excited to go. Hopefully we can make it out to West Ashley for lunch one of the days we're in town. Can you order off the regular menu at the bar at McCrady's? Thanks!

        1. re: mridealism

          Maybe. Call first and ask.

          Glass Onion is excellent:exceptional food at a great price since they don't have the downtown overhead. If you go on a Tuesday night, make reservations. It's fried chicken night and they sell out early.

          Do follw scbeachnut's advice and avoid the places that have people hawking tourists on the street. You know that if you've been lurking.

          1. re: Sue in Mt P

            Thanks very much. I called Husk and they encourage sharing everything. I figured as much, since the menu reminded me of Cochon in NOLA. I'm not sure if we have enough to time to do everything, but as of right now, we have McCrady's, Fig, and Husk for dinner. Lunch options include Fleet, SNOB, Bowens, Glass Onion, etc. Thanks again! Let me know if I'm missing something or I should omit something.

            1. re: mridealism

              Bowens Island is only open for dinner and they are not open on Sunday or Monday. To me, a trip to Bowens is a great low country experience, but it is the complete opposite of McCrady's, FIG, and Husk. I don't know that I would give up one of those for Bowens, unless you just want to get out and see the countryside. The view off the deck at sunset is glorious. If you really like oysters, you might try to fit it in, but otherwise, I would save it for another trip.

              1. re: BetsyinKY

                Most of our ressies aren't until 8, so we could easily do some sunset oysters than head back. Thanks for the tip!

                1. re: mridealism

                  Sunset oysters and then a light dinner sounds like a pretty good plan to me (of course, i'm a bit of a pig). To elaborate on McCrady's, they have a 4 course for $60 option that I've done a couple of times lately...it's been very good. As we were leaving, I glanced at the chalkboard over the bar and the bar bites sounded fabulous.

                  Another place you might want to look at is Butcher and Bee. they post a photo of their menu on facebook every day. They are normally just open for lunch and late night (like after 10 i think),but very often they have special openings for dinner. It's BYOB so you save a little there. We managed to order half the menu so it wasn't all that super cheap when we went, but still, $50 for dinner is a lot less than some places.

                  Please report back!

      2. My wife and I just returned from a trip to Georgetown & Charleston for a few days. We had the usual foodie suspects in our sights, such as Fig, McCrady's, Husk, and Peninsula Grill etc. We found Peninsula Grill rather pretentious and expensive and decided to forego their vaunted coconut cake dessert. We've found that the best way to nor break the bank is to go to those more pricey places for lunch rather than dinner....you reap some delightful surprises that way. We had a terrific lunch at Husk, for instance....perfectly sauteed NC catfish over a bed of corn, peppers etc. and a nice white wine and the bill was quite reasonable, even with a quirky dessert of sweet potato pie and bacon ( yes, bacon ) ice cream, which we split. If you do this, then you can go to some of these places at night and have a couple of appetizers in the bar and some good wine. Peninsula Grill is not open for lunch. Magnolia's is always good. One of our best finds was Monza's Pizza. They use imported Italian flour and make their own sausage etc. and cook in a 1000 deg. wood oven. Sit at the bar, if possible. If you like Italian food, Il Cortile del Re is good....they have hard to find pastas such as wild boar sauce over pappardelle. Another interesting lunch spot is Jestine's Kitchen......Southern Soul Food. Lines can be famously long there at lunchtime, so you might want to go a bit late. Pearlz looked like great fun to us and was right around the corner from our inn, but the night we tried to get in with a young friend, it was full with a half-hour wait, so we hit McCrady's instead for drinks and appetizers.

        3 Replies
        1. re: Gene 1206

          I would be interested in your georgetown eats too

          1. re: LaLa

            The Georgetown scene is much smaller, of course. We enjoyed the River Room on the wharf for dinner. There are several places along the waterfront for a good lunch and a brew, such as Buzz's Roost....the food is so-so, but the view is awesome. A good breakfast place is Thomas's Cafe on Front Street. The Humble Crumb gets high marks for Italian, pizza & organic stuff. If you are interested in staying a night there in Georgetown on the way to Charleston, I can highly recommend Mansfield Plantation....a real and very well preserved rice plantation about 5 miles out of town. A unique experience and not too pricey. It's operated now as a B & B....incredible breakfast! Google it.

            1. re: Gene 1206

              I spend a lot of time in Georgetown since my husband works there (we live in Murrells Inlet) but always enjoy hearing others picks. You missed the best place there though....LImpin Janes!
              I do adore the breakfast at Thomas Cafe...they do an awesome shrimp and grits!
              I have been to an event at Mansfield...lovely!

        2. Go to Hanks for Seafood if you want something special (almost Relais caliber but not as expensive). Pearlz is good for simpler fare. High Cotton I thought was over-rated. It is a chain you know. The Peninsula Grill is a Relais caliber restaurant of which there are only a few in SC. Check out their menu beforehand. That may be the place to go to get your $200 meal. Go to McCrady's for the history. I believe George Washington used to eat there.. 39 Rue de Jean may be worth checking out. I haven't eaten there but wished I had before leaving Charleston. Don't bother with Hymans. It used to be good but no longer is anything consistently outstanding. The okra-shrimp beignets at the Hominy Grill are outstanding and they've been written up in many national publications. They are less expensive and much more informal too.

          11 Replies
          1. re: Emilybh

            I've been to High Cotton numerous times and never been disappointed. It's owned by the Maverick Group but I wouldn't call it a chain because there are 2.

            I haven't been to Peninsula Grill since Robert Carter left so I can't speak to how good it is now. I've heard mixed opinions.

            There was a banquest in the building of the Long Room in the McCrady's building for George Washington.

            39 Rue de Jean is ok, but it's loud and is a popular local bar scene. I like the mussels there.

            Did anybody mention Hyman's? I always recommend people keep walking if a restaurant has kids outside hawking.

            1. re: Sue in Mt P

              I've eaten at Hyman's and liked it the first time I went ....and later thought it paled in comparison to Hanks when I went back to Hyman's the second time (hoping it would be like the first) after trying Hanks.

              Glad I didn't bother with 39 Rue de jean then...

              I just was studying the menu at McCrady's and wasn't all that wowed by it. It seems you have to be a big meat eater in a lot of these places. The description of the dishes at McCrady's seems to be pretty plain (no special sauces or seasoning mentioned). I think that is why I never bothered trying it when I lived in Charleston. I still have to say I wasn't wowed by High Cotton and I know they are owned by the same people that also own Magnolias and for that reason I won't bother with any of their restaurants. It wasn't that High Cotton was bad. It just wasn't worth the price. I'd rather go to Pearlz than High Cotton for the same quality of food at a better price..
              Hanks on the other hand really was special every time I went. Everything I tried was special.

              1. re: Emilybh

                Nope. Wrong. High Cotton is owned by the same people who own SNOB and OVPH. Magnolia's, Blossom's and Cypress are owned by another group.

                1. re: Sue in Mt P

                  Perhaps I'm mistaken. I ate at High Cotton 4 years ago. I knew they owned two or three others and as you'd imagine, after not being awestruck by the food, studying up on their background and affiliations with other restaurants wasn't on the top of my priority list.

                2. re: Emilybh

                  have you been to high cotton lately? Because the chef that has been there since the Spring used to work for Eric Ripert. I used to think it was Blah but the new chef , Joe Palma, is AMAZING.
                  As for McCrady's you are so far off base I am not really sure how to reply. Plain is not a word I would ever use for McCrady's.

                  1. re: LaLa

                    I never said I'd eaten there. I said the menu didn't make the food sound very interesting. Sorry. It is just my observation. I've read lots of menus and been to lots of excellent gourmet restaurants here and abroad and experienced many different cuisines.

                    I know what is considered plain food by someone like myself might be considered excellent by someone who grew up in the South. My palate is oriented towards more complicated flavors than a palate used to Southern BBQ, Shrimp and Grits and Fried Oysters.

                    1. re: Emilybh

                      Shrimp and grits, when well crafted, is a nuanced and even delicate dish, impressive to any discriminating palate.

                  2. re: Emilybh

                    I'm guessing it has been a good while since you lived in Charleston, no?

                    1. re: danna

                      This string of comments is beginning ti sound like the partisan sniping of the recent election campaign! Geez, people.....there are serious "foodies" everywhere. And there are culinary philistines everywhere as well. I mostly gave up "Southern" food decades ago in favor of food I thought was more interesting, such as North Italian, Szechuan Chinese, Greek, etc. All these things and more can be found and enjoyed in the
                      Charleston area, and opinions will abound as to which ones are the best, and the "best" is always a moving target, so I think it's great that we can share these opinions in such a convenient forum as this.

                      1. re: danna

                        danna, sue in mt p and carolinadawg,

                        I have not been on CH southeast much lately but this must be what a hijacking feels like.

                        tee

                        1. re: Tee

                          Lol, yup!

                3. Just wanted to give a quick thanks to all of the recs you guys gave me. We had a great time in Charleston and plan on returning. We did not have a bad dish or experience. Here's a quick rundown of what we were able to do.

                  Fig - we went for dinner here once, and ended up back at the bar for some apps late night after mccrady's. The food and service were top notch, but the vibe/decor left a bit to be desired. I feel like this restaurant could be in any major city in the USA. While the menu focused on local products, the preparations weren't very "southern." Highlights include the gnuddi with lamb ragu and flounder crudo.

                  McCrady's - We sat at the bar for dinner, ordered some snacks, and split the 4 course. The vibe there is incredible. It has to be one of the most beautiful restaurants I've ever had the pleasure of dining in. The food was a bit more nuanced and forward thinking. It is definitely a departure from Husk. Once, again though, while they like to use local ingredients, I found the food did not echo much of the south, or at least as much as Husk. The aged duck roasted on the bone was brilliant.

                  Husk - We had both dinner and lunch here and it was probably our favorite restaurant. I am still thinking about the carolina gold rice "risotto." Lunch is a great way to experience the restaurant without spending a bunch.

                  SNOB - What a great lunch option. We sat at the table peering into the kitchen. It will definitely be a must do every trip.

                  Bowens Island Restaurant - Probably the most memorable experience we had. We only had oysters, but the sunset and vibe is one for the history books.

                  Pearlz - Great happy hour with fresh seafood. We got there at 4 and the bar was full within 15 minutes, by mostly locals. Thanks for the tip on this one.

                  Gin Joint - A little too hipster for me, but great hand crafted cocktails nonetheless.

                  High Cotton - We stopped in for a Happy hour cocktail prior to our dinner at Fig. While every other person we met in Charleston was unbelievably friendly, our server here was far from it.

                  Toast - We needed somewhere to eat for thanksgiving lunch, and nothing was open besides Toast, and some restaurants with crazy expensive pre fix menus. It did the trick.

                  Glass Onion - Wasn't overly impressed with this place. We went during lunch and the ordering setup was a bit off putting. I have no clue why they just wouldn't have table service. The shrimp po boy was good however. I found the menu owed more to NOLA than the low country.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: mridealism

                    You nailed it pretty well! If you go back I would also include Cru Cafe and Hominy for good bang to the buck food experiences.

                    1. re: PeterB

                      I suggested Hominy Grill a while ago. Too bad they didn't go there instead of the Glass Onion.

                  2. I know you've come and gone and hit some of the great, great restaurants in Charleston. There are more good ones per square foot than in cities much larger than Charleston.

                    But sometimes, don't we all want something cozy and delicious that doesn't require resevations and a big commitment of time and money? I sometimes just want to get back to our hotel or B&B by 9:00 after a day of sightseeing or work, which we combine on our Charleston visits.

                    My husband and I hit the Osteria la Bottiglia, which we've gone to a bunch of times during or annual month-long visits to Charleston. It's on King Street, just one block away from the Hampton Inn where you stayed.

                    The Osteria is a wine bar and Italian restaurant that will not break the bank--not even close. It's a cozy drop in kind of place with wonderful wines and a creative Italian menu--just like Italian osterias where you stop in for a lighter meal rather than a multi-course blowout. This place is like that. (Not that you couldn't do a blowout here as well, but that's not why we go there.)

                    We've eaten at all the wonderful places you ate in--FIG, Husk, McReadys, Bowen's Island. But our default is something cozier, smaller scale, and affordable where we can feel like locals. Tonight was one of those nights. So we tucked into the Osteria la Bottiglia. My husband had the duck confit, with out of sight raviolis that were so creamy and light. (Yeah, I poached one when he wasn't looking!) I had the North Carolia goat cheese salad since I'd had a huge lunch out with friends. But you couldn't go wrong with the lamb and polenta. Oh, and a couple glasses of their excellent Italian wines really paired well with our dishes. Tonight we did Chianti.

                    The owner as well as the bartender are friendly but not instrusive. Really, on a cold night, the Osteria satisfied our appetites as well as our desire for a local meal that didn't break the bank. Every bite and sip of wine felt just right. We'll probably drop in a couple more times before we leave Charleston in two weeks.