The Hidden and Harder-to-Find Gems of Charleston

Staff Writer
Off the beaten path for some of the best eats in Lowcountry
Ella and Ollie's

Katherine R. / Yelp

We recommend the crispy quail at Ella and Ollie's.

One of the most common questions The Daily Meal Charleston is asked is not where the hot new restaurant is, but where the hidden gems are. Well, the secret is out! Some of the best meals and drinks can be found in these tucked-away locations.

 

Downtown:

Bar Normandy: Downtown scored big last year when chef Alex Lira took over the Normandy Farm downtown bakery. Lira and Phil Cohen are two great hosts and make everyone feel like a regular. Swing by after 3 p.m. for a change in atmosphere. What to order: anything on the daily menu, which is normally two or three dishes.

Bin 152: If you are looking for a great glass of vino, look no further than Bin 152. The menu features 40 wines by the glass and over 200 bottles. Best of all, it is open 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. every single day. What to order: a cheese and charcuterie plate to pair with the wines.

Cutty's: There is no shortage of great dive bars in town, but Cutty’s is made from a different mold. Maybe it’s the furniture nailed to the ceiling, or the fact that they sell $1 mystery beers. It is cheap and a great place to day-drink. What to order: the house-infused liquors.

Elliotborough Mini Bar: Best described as a “cooler version of your own living room”, Elliotborough Mini Bar feels like you are hanging at home, not in a bar. They have a small curated wine and beer list and often host pop-up dinners with local and visiting chefs. What to order: whatever is being offered by the featured pop-up.

Fast and French: There is something oddly romantic about Fast and French, a tiny, longstanding spot on Broad Street. The service or food might not blow you away but it is consistently authentic and comforting. What to order: the daily soup and specials of the day, such as a Ham & Blue Melt on Croissant with Soup Choice, or Fresh Fruit & a Glass of French Wine for $13.

Hannibal’s Kitchen: Sean Brock has long championed this soul food spot, so it is not too much of a secret (Hillary Clinton even visited on a campaign stop). But it is not bursting at the seams, probably because Hannibal’s is hard to find. It is typically filled with locals from the nearby neighborhood. What to order: the crab rice — and make sure to ask the staff about the special of the day.

Mr. B’s Private Club: We would share more, but it’s a private club. So just go! What to order: It’s a secret.

Trattoria Lucca: There really is no other restaurant in town as consistently good as Trattoria Lucca. A great place to go on a date, especially if you snag the corner booth for a comfy seat and view of the entire restaurant. The bar is also a great place to belly up, and if you are lucky, will find the owner-chef Ken Vedrinski there to take your order and share more details on the menu. What to order: everything! You cannot go wrong, and you’ll want to come hungry so you don’t miss a bite.

Twenty Six Divine: This restaurant/catering business looks more like someone’s house than a place to come eat. The back room at Twenty Six Divine, which resembles a sunroom, was recently converted into a Tea Room. Come to enjoy tea sandwiches, scones, petite desserts, and of course a variety of teas. What to order: Chef Enan’s favorite dessert to-go — a cookies ‘n’ cream cheesecake with chocolate cookie crust.

 

Mt. Pleasant:

Carmen y Juan Authentic Mexican: When a chef recommends a place, you listen (thanks, Kevin Johnson). At Carmen y Juan, you can find authentic Mexican food from owners Juan and Carmen. Don’t worry about your pronunciation as you order menu items including molletes, sopes, huarache — there are very few listed items of truly ethnic origin. What to order: deep-fried taquitos for a starter and pozole to share.

House of Brews: If you need your beer fix, House of Brews is a must-visit. Located in Mt. Pleasant, right before you go over the Ben Sawyer Bridge to Sullivan’s Island, the beer bar/store has eight hard-to-find beers on tap and one of the largest beer selections in the area. They have a fun outdoor space and host several events throughout the year. What to order: a growler to go and some loose-leaf teas.

Kanpai: If you want sushi, head to Kanpai. Sean Park is the master and has been a fixture in the local culinary community for quite some time. Ramen, various crudos, freshly made rolls, nigiri, and more — you cannot go wrong. What to order: the “Stonebowl Bibimbop” or yaki udon for something different from the norm.

See Wee Restaurant: You might feel like you are driving forever, and you are, but if you are looking for home-cooked Southern food, make the trek to See Wee. There is no website or way to make a reservation, so be prepared to wait if it is a busy day or time. What to order: the veggie plate and any of the daily seafood options.

The Wreck: It is easy to get lost trying to find The Wreck. Once you find the inconspicuous driveway and see the view, any frustration dissipates. There is nothing fancy about this place, and most everything offered on the menu is fried. Be sure to walk outside and see/smell the shrimp boats that are docked after a full day on the water. What to order: Henry and Skipper Shaffer’s deviled crab.

 

West Ashley:

Early Bird Diner: If breakfast is your thing, then you will want to go to Early Bird Diner. Breakfast is served from opening to close and the menu is filled with delicious options. Cornbread Benedict, country scramble, and the “Big Bowl of Grits” with fried chicken are all highlights. They serve lunch and dinner as well, and we recommend that you try it all. What to order: “The Mess” — a scramble of curried vegetables, served with potatoes and egg and topped with avocado.

The Glass Onion: There is something incredibly comforting about The Glass Onion. The food is reminiscent of what your mom or grandma would cook for Sunday dinner, and the vibe is chill and unpretentious. Lunch and brunch are often packed, and dinner is a great time for families to bond without dealing with the kitchen mess. What to order: a po’boy, deviled eggs, and “Captain Country” if it’s being served.

Red Orchid: Red Orchid is hands-down the best Chinese restaurant in Charleston. Located in a strip mall in West Ashley, the restaurant’s mission is “to serve delicious, affordable food that guests will want to return to week after week.” Loyal customers do just that, and Kelly and Tony Chu make everyone feel like family. What to order: red snapper or Indonesian lamb depending on your mood.

Voodoo Tiki Bar: Eclectic is an understatement at Voodoo Tiki Bar. The décor makes you feel like you’ve gone back in time. Oddities and tiki décor are the norm, and the drinks compliment the surroundings well. The menu is filled with great bites to enjoy with friends — tacos, sliders, wings, and more. What to order: a punch bowl in flames.

 

 

North Charleston:

Breck’s Steakhouse: Since 1961, this mom and pop steakhouse has been satisfying loyal customers in North Charleston with delicious, hearty meals. Breck’s Steakhouse staff cut their steaks by hand, and they try and make everything they can from scratch. What to order: aside from the steaks, “Mrs. Breck’s Spaghetti” has not changed its recipe since the restaurant opened 22 years ago.

Caribbean Delight: Authentic regional cuisines are few and far between in Charleston. At Caribbean Delight, you can get a taste of Jamaica with the “Jerk Ital,” salt and peppered prawns with fried rice, and oxtail stew, to name a few. What to order: a special main such as the Caribbean mango chicken, stewed lamb, or ackee and king prawns.

Luz’s Place: Owner Luz, a Philippine native, serves a menu that mixes her native cuisine with Southern fare. At Luz’s Place, they served shrimp and grits for breakfast and then pancit, sotanghon, and estopado pork ribs stew throughout the day. What to order: any of the eggrolls Luz rolls daily.

Stems & Skins: Stems & Skins has received some impressive national attention (Food + Wine Best New Wine Bar right after opening) but it is still a hidden gem. Matt and Angie Tunstall have curated an impressive wine list, and they pair it with some delicious small bites. What to order: One of the canned dishes offered on Tuesday nights.

 

The Beaches:

Ella & Ollie’s: Legendary local chef Philip Bardin helped open one of Edisto Island’s newest restaurants — Ella & Ollie’s — which serves as a great addition to the quaint beach town. Patrons can enjoy Lowcountry-inspired plates like pimento cheese and chicken skins, shrimp Louie, firecracker catfish, and more. What to order: crispy quail or shrimp and grits.

Jack of Cups: Folly Beach has a lot of hole-in-the-wall beach bars but is more limited on the food front. Jack of Cups fills the void with a made-to-order fresh menu. Open noon to “until,” the menu features salads, soups, tacos, and a few curry options. What to order: the Coconut Banana Bread Pudding.

Obstinate Daughter: Chef Jacques Larson is a master at cooking Italian food and his beach outpost — The Obstinate Daughter — is worth the drive. Pizzas are all insanely good and pair nicely with the salads and seasonal small plates. What to order: Go downstairs to sister establishment Beard Cats to get some house-made gelato

Woody’s Pizza: The beach and pizza go hand and hand, especially on vacation. Woody’s is an institution at Folly Beach and is the best place to hit when you are craving a pie. The “Meathead” with sausage, ham, pepperoni, and bacon is a home run, along with a pesto or veggie pizza. What to order: A sub if you don’t want pizza but need something substantial. The “Big Ball” features meatballs, tomato sauce, onions, green peppers, mozzarella, and provolone cheese and is served hot.

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