Best bets if you are on a budget

Charleston boasts an array of dining options that will excite the taste buds and make you put your credit card in ice water. Here are some great options if you want a satisfying meal but don't want to break the bank.

1.) A C's Bar and Grill on upper King
Street for Sunday brunch or cheesy fries and a Philly Sub anytime
2.) Big Johns Tavern for a $5 hamburger
3.) Bon Banh Mi for sandwiches, salads and tacos
4.) D'Allesandro's Pizza for you guessed it…pizza
5.) Dave's Carry out is a great little fish shack

Restaurant Recommendations

Visitors often ask for local advice as to enjoyable places to dine. Suggesting restaurants can be a challenge in Charleston, where we have so many good choices and interesting venues, so it can be difficult to narrow down to the select few. For various categories there are some eateries whose names seeming come up on a regular basis, so here goes.
For ambience, one of the most delightful is Fulton Five at 5 Fulton Street just off King Street. This cozy little restaurant has a small, single dining room and a few seats at its attractive bar. Tucked away on a shaded street in an historic building, the white linens and classic décor make for an exquisite atmosphere, and is reminiscent of old Europe. High Cotton Restaurant at 199 East Bay Street is much more commodious in size, but is tastefully arranged to feature an extremely comfortable décor. Located overlooking a busy restaurant section along historic East Bay, the restaurant gives the feeling of being part of the zesty public scene while at the same time elegantly situated. Hank's Seafood at 10 Hayne Street offers a dazzling first glance with its classic hardwood paneling, flooring and alluring wrap-around bar. The look and feel of Hank's conveys a mood of elegant openness, and is a place one feels comfortable to see and be seen.
For flavor and food, Blossom Café at 171 East Bay Street offers a great selection that includes spicy seafood dishes and hand-tossed pizza from brick ovens. Over at Cru Café on 18 Pinckney Street, sensational southern flavors include poached pears and buttermilk fried oysters. At Trattoria Lucca at 41 Bogard Street, Tuscan dishes are all the rage in Charleston these days, and just the name Gorgonzola Creamafacia suggests that the meal will be a treat. Southern tradition is the basic ingredient at Jestine's Kitchen at 251 Meeting Street, where collard greens and okra gumbo still have a decidedly strong appeal. Authentically French cuisine is always irresistible, and at Gaulart et Maliclet at 98 Broad Street, the flavors of France simmer in a cozy downtown setting.
For just plain old good times, it's hard to beat Cypress Restaurant at 157 East Bay Street, where the upstairs restaurant/bar is a great place to start an evening with appetizers such as the ginger half-shell oysters and a glistening seating area that uplifts the spirit. Side by side at 432 and 434 King Street are La Fourchette and Hall's Chop House, each with a markedly different appeal. Both Chef Perig at La Fourchette and the Hall family at the Chophouse are very personable and welcoming to all who enter. The Chop House has live jazz and an upbeat atmosphere of well-heeled aesthetes, while La Fourchette is romantically filled with music from old Paris in a candle-lit atmosphere that seems to fit a Bogard movie. The name gives away the location at 82 Queen Street restaurant, which has long enjoyed a reputation as a pleasurable locale, with its cozy room seating inside the historic 1870 structure, and a lush garden seating area ideal for those wonderful nights in Charleston.

Hidden Restaurant delights


At one of Charleston’s well-known restaurants prior to the Civil War, a popular saying was “big columns outside, tough steaks inside”. Much has changed in the look and quality of city dining since then, and at many of the fine restaurants around Charleston today, the exterior façade is as unpretentious as the food inside is exquisite.
 There’s a distinct European flavor in a growing number of small, comfortable restaurants that have flourished in areas not traditionally known for dining. On Bogard Street in quiet Elliottborough, Trattoria Lucca offers a taste of Tuscany with sumptuous pastas, meat and fish dishes enlivened with “old country” olive oil, goat butter, and mushrooms. Chef Ken Vendrinski has masterfully prepares such entrees as Italian duck sausage, Trigger fish and Hangar steak, complemented with Italy’s most renowned vintages. The corner restaurant is compact and cozy, and adorned with banquettes and small tables, it blends in to a very residential street scene.
 On Warren Street, Pane e Vino brings another hearty slice of northern Italy with a variety of meat and seafood dishes flavored with traditional Bolognese sauce and hand-made pasta. Almost hidden on a small street off of busy King Street, the little restaurant features a pleasant handful of linen-draped tables and wine shelves reminiscent of romantic eateries in Europe.
At La Fourchette restaurant on King Street, chef Perig Goulet has rekindled classic sparks of the Parisian Marais with a charming little dining room sensuously decorated. Such specialties as beef tartare and hangar steak are delightfully prepared in classic French fashion with garnishing of cauliflower and pommes de terre that melt in the mouth. Patrons rave about the wonderful atmosphere of romantic French music, excellent service and moderate prices. The small façade is almost hidden along busy King Street, but inside, the aromas of fine foods and wine certainly catches the attention.
At FIG on the corner of Meeting and Hasell streets, the simple building exterior looks much the same as it did when a Western Union office called it home, but the dining experience inside has been widely-hailed as one of Charleston’s most noteworthy. Chef Mike Lata is dedicated to incorporating the bounty of coastal Carolina produce into his complex menu, with the finest in local fish, vegetables and meats highlighting such entrees as sautéed white shrimp and radicchio, farm lamb carne cruda, sweet potato soup and coddled sea island farm egg. A separate small bar area is ideal for building an appetite with a fine selection of international wines complementing the scent of fresh garnishings.    

Oak Steakhouse

 Chef Brett McKee of the Charleston’s Oak Steakhouse has recently displayed his exceptional talents on South Carolina Educational Television, as a featured segment of the show “Carolina Stories”.

 McKee established the New York style steak house five years ago in an historic 1848 building at 17 Broad Street, where the delightful aroma of steaks adds a distinctive flavor to dark wooden paneling and an elaborate Italianate façade that were added during remodeling the early 1870’s.   
 In the television segment, McKee shows various methods of preparing the thick slabs of steak. He cooks one steak on a grill, another is singed “Pittsburgh style” in a heavy iron frying pan, while a third is caramelized with onions, peppers and shallots in a double-skillet method.
 McKee expertly works the three preparations simultaneously, while explaining in detail the various ingredients used for marinades and rubs, the timing of heat sources, and the nuances of the targeted taste. He says that numerous steak orders will often come at the same time on busy nights, and that the restaurant professional must be able to multi-task while making sure each entrée is cooked to perfection.
 As McKee evidences in the TV show, his ability to handle this steak challenge is masterful. The Oak Steakhouse has won such culinary awards as the “Best New Restaurant” from the Charleston City Paper; recognition in the New York Times and Bon Appetit magazine, while he was among the five finalists in Chef magazine’s national “Chef of the Year” competition in 2007, and was given the Culinary Legend Award and Charleston’s 2008 Wine and Food Festival.     



   Aw shucks, everybody's gettin' steamed up over big batches of bursting bivalves again this month. It's the 27th annual Lowcountry Oyster Festival, Sunday January 31st at Boone Hall Plantation, hosted by the Greater Charleston Restaurant Association. If you haven't been to one of these, it's a merry mob of thousands who descend on the marshfront areas of Boone Hall, where hundreds of tables are set up, and the steamed oysters(65,000 pounds give or take a shell or two) keep comin' for hours.

  Gates open at 9am and it's $12 per person – children under 12 free – at the gate, but you can pre-purchase tickets from any Association member restaurant for $10 prior to the event. No pets or coolers, but you can buy beer and wine and bark or howl all you want as the savory slivers of salty oyster slide from the gaping shells. It's also advisable to bring gloves and oysters knives, which can also be purchased at the event, although a personal recommendation is a screwdriver(not the drink), becuase the best oyster-opening wedge is one that is flat, and strong.

Winter Victuals

A long-standing New Year's Day tradition in Charleston is a meal with localy-grown collard greens, which is legendary as a symbol of potential wealth and good fortune.  Another January 1st favorite is Hoppin' John, which is an Anglicization of the French "pois pigeons", meaning pigeon peas, when mixed with rice makes this dish delish. Winter also signals oyster roast season across the coastal plain, with single and clusters of the tasty shellfish being steamed for a singularly-satisfying slurp from the half-shell. Most oysters eaten at outdoor roasts are actually steamed, prepared as simply as throwing a flat pan over an open fire and covering oysters with a wet croaker sack until they pop open.

day-time dining

Downtown Charleston has dozens and dozens of fine restaurants to chose from, and it's easy to pick a different exceptional place each night of the week. Lunch time is a little different, considering most people are ready to eat and don't want to linger by the bar waiting for a table. I recommend Blossom Restaurant on East Bay Street as a great midday break. It's located in the historic French Quarter, and within a few blocks of many of the Charleston's most historic sites; there's free parking right next door in a spacious lot; and the menu is good blend of sandwiches, and medium-sized entrees for filling up without wanting to take a nap. I really like the cozy, stylish feel of the dining room, and there's outdoor seating in a courtyard as well. During tourist season, which is really from February through October, you might want to call about an hour ahead to reserve a table at 722-9200.