With its towering church spires, candy-colored Georgian homes on Rainbow Row, and cobblestone streets, Charleston is a top destination for travelers. Visitors don't just flock to this city on the South Carolina coast for its charm and beauty, though: They come here for the food.
From white tablecloth dining to no-frills fish shacks, family-owned soul food spots, and Asian-fusion fare, Charleston's culinary scene offers options for every budget and taste. Whether you're seeking Low Country classics like she crab soup and Frogmore stew, coastal specialities like oysters and lobster rolls, or down-home meat and threes, Charleston offers a range of must-try foods. Here are 12 of the best foods to try during your next visit to the city.
The secret of Carolina barbecue is in the sauce: a mixture of yellow mustard, vinegar, brown sugar, and spices. Get it—along with whole hog 'cue, spare ribs, pit-cooked chicken, and classic sides like macaroni and cheese, baked beans, and collard greens—at James Beard award-winning postmaster Rodney Scott's namesake restaurant on Upper King Street.
Whether you call it Frogmore Stew (from its origins on St. Helena Island near Beaufort) or Lowcountry boil, there's no disputing that this South Carolina specialty tastes like summer in a pot. Get the stew made with corn, shrimp, crab, potatoes, smoked sausage, onion, and a generous dash of Old Bay seasoning at Bowen's Island Restaurant.
Shrimp and Grits
One of the Low Country's signature dishes, a duo of tender shrimp and savory grits is satisfying day or night. For a classic take on the combo, head to Poogan's Porch, located in an elegant Victorian townhouse on Queen Street.
Housed in a renovated 1920s bank, The Ordinary on Upper King Street is a haven for seafood lovers. The restaurant specializes in East Coast bivalves, served up at a stunning, customer-facing raw bar. Don't miss happy hour Tuesday through Friday from 5 to 6 p.m., where you can grab a seat at the counter to watch chefs shuck your dinner and enjoy $1.50 oysters.
She Crab Soup
Similar to the lobster bisques of New England, this Holy City classic is made with crab roe, Atlantic crab, dry sherry, and heavy milk or cream. Find this creamy, slightly sweet Southern speciality at 82 Queen in Charleston's Historic District.
Chicken and Waffles
Early Bird Diner in West Ashley serves all-day breakfast, including some of the city's best chicken and waffles. Their pecan-fried chicken is nestled in a cinnamon waffle and topped with syrup and honey mustard for the perfect savory-sweet combo. We promise it's worth the wait.
Meat and Three at Bertha's Kitchen
You'll feel right at home at the family-owned, soul-inspired spot Bertha's Kitchen in North Charleston. The James Beard award-winning restaurant specializes in Southern style meat and three, dished out cafeteria style. Choose from fried chicken, fried pork chops, oxtails, okra stew, macaroni and cheese, collard greens, and white rice—all served with a wedge of cornbread and sweet tea or equally sweet lemonade.
167 Raw, a Nantucket import with a Charleston outpost on East Bay Street, offers some of the city's best seafood, including crudos, po' boys, raw clams, and oysters. But the real star is the lobster roll: fresh pieces of New England lobster tossed in aioli, sprinkled with chopped chives, and wrapped inside a toasted, buttered bun. It comes served with a side of potato chips.
Charleston's food scene isn't just battered and fried Southern classics. Case in point: Xiao Bao Biscuit, an Asian-fusion spot on Rutledge Avenue. Along with Pad Kraw Pow, fish curry, and other shareable small plates, the restaurant serves a delicious okonomiyaki. This Japanese-style pancake is made with crispy cabbage, kale, and scallions topped with sriracha and mayo. Add an egg or bacon for $2 each, or "pork candy" (think sophisticated bacon bits) for $1.
Fried Green Tomato Po' Boy
Piled high with fried green tomatoes and house-made pimento cheese atop thick French bread, the po' boy at The Glass Onion in the West Ashley neighborhood combines all the best of Southern ingredients for a thoroughly modern classic.
Champagne and Caviar
Fancy a splurge? Head to Camellias at the Hotel Bennett on Francis Marion Square. The pink-hued restaurant's egg-shaped design was inspired by Faberge jewel boxes, the perfect setting to sip a champagne cocktail while dining on caviar, house-made cakes and pastries, and other decadent treats.