Charleston's Uptown Funk: North Central And NoMo Neighborhoods

Where would I live? I ask this question each time I touch down in a new town. This query isn't based on fact (I don't actually have the means to purchase property everywhere I travel) but more a desire to find the local, the quotidian, the vibe that appeals to my tastes. In Charleston, I found my home beyond the crosstown expressway.

Quick geography lesson: Downtown Charleston is on a peninsula nestled between the Ashley and Cooper Rivers. The crosstown expressway connects to bridges that lead to Charleston's outer neighborhoods. South of this freeway is the historic district: Charleston's central core. Downtown is home to postcard-perfect buildings, restaurants, shops, residences, and college students. As pretty as a Southern belle, downtown is where most visitors spend their days, but since Charleston is so compact—only 3 miles across at the widest point—Uptown is just a short cab, walk, or bike ride away from downtown hotels.

Eager to find the less polished, more diverse, and, dare I say, hipster 'hoods, I headed north. Here in the Uptown/Upper Peninsula area, I found North Central, a gentrified neighborhood of fixer uppers near bucolic Hampton Park. To the east, NoMo, at the northern end of Morrison Street, is an industrial, commercial zone that boasts some of the city's best eateries. Following is my uptown guide of where to sip, nibble, and roam:

North Central
Leon's Oyster Shop
Keeping with the hipster aesthetic of repurposed old buildings, Leon's is housed in a former auto body shop, from which it got its name. The garage door opens onto a convivial patio which shares the stylishly rustic décor of the inside space. Opt for the eponymous eats: oysters, especially those char-grilled with butter, lemon, and parsley. Chef Ari Kolender's fried chicken is extraordinarily juicy and crisp thanks to brining and a buttermilk bath. The affable bar staff serves local brews, bubbly, and cocktails, cleverly divided cheap, decent, and fancy. Don't miss the quirky bathrooms.

Recovery Room
After hovering at 2nd place since 2013, this popular dive bar became the number one seller of PBR cans in the U.S. of A this February. This beloved haunt clinched the trophy thanks to a steady stream of loyal customers who come for wings, pool, and the hipster suds, just $1.25 at happy hour. Savor warm nights on the lively patio, which boasts expressway views.

Saint Alban
This charming café is co-owned by Brooks Reitz, an amiable North Central resident and restauranteur who can be credited with upping the cool factor of his 'hood. Saint Alban's delights with swoon-worthy design—floral wallpaper, glass lamps, smoky mirrors—as one would expect from part-owner of the hospitality design firm Neighbourhood. Modeled after European cafés, Saint Albans is open day and night, enticing visitors to breakfast on buckwheat waffles and La Colombe coffee, lunch on cauliflower quinoa salad, or sip an Italian aperitif post-work. 

Diggity Doughnuts
To the delight of Charleston's doughnut lovers, popular food truck Diggity Doughnuts opened an adorable brick & mortar shop last December. Owner Ambergre Sloan's vegan doughnuts are wonderfully wholesome, thanks to a blend of whole wheat and white flour. Flavors range from classic, the chocolate frosted Old Skool, to creative, the spicy Sirracha and peanut butter Nutty Rooster. Plus, there's always a mix of seasonal offerings, like springtime's strawberry and jalapeno. Note: the shop is only open Thursday through Sunday, but check their truck's Facebook page for hours and location.

Edmund's Oast
More than your average brewpub, they offer 48 smartly chosen taps of craft beer in addition to the house-brewed offerings, including the toasty Edmund's Oats. The creative cocktails are some of Charleston's tastiest. In the kitchen, chef Andy Henderson's thoughtful fare—think pickled shrimp on rye and Carolina Gold rice porridge—highlights the local bounty. The in-house charcuterie is piggy pleasure. With a stunning, loftlike interior and an expansive patio that jams with live music, Edmund's Oast is the handsome hub of NoMo.

Tattooed Moose
One of the first eateries to set up shop in NoMo, the Tattooed Moose now boasts four locations around Charleston. Sandwiches are the draw at this upbeat, watering hole. The famous duck confit club tops the hearty menu, which is stuffed with ham, pâté, and other carnivorous goods from local Meathouse Butcher Shop. There are duck fat fries, natch, plus you can choose your own beer adventure with suds from near and far. For late-night grubbers, the kitchen stays open until 1 a.m. every night.