Note: These restaurants/dishes are not listed by rank
1 Bowen’s Island Restaurant
Folks can’t seem to agree if it’s Frogmore Stew, Beaufort Stew, Beaufort Boil, or Lowcountry Boil, but the heady combo of shrimp, sausage, corn, potatoes, and Old Bay seasoning garners plenty of interest among Charleston visitors. If you don’t have Southern family to cook for you, take a car out to Bowen’s Island for its version.
Shrimp and grits has long since been a staple in Lowcountry kitchens. The combination was eventually adapted by restaurants, and can now be found in almost every establishment claiming to serve Southern fare. Perpetually packed diner Early Bird gives patrons a choice of shrimp sautéed with tomato bacon gravy or fried with sweet and spicy jelly — that is, if you can resist their famous chicken and waffles.
Writer Timmons Pettigrew makes the case for a fried green tomato po boy at the Glass Onion. “The Lowcountry has a lot of classics, from tried-and-true dishes that rose from the field hands of yore, to more modern dishes that, for one reason or another, are now thought of as part of our culinary DNA. With the right care and a practiced hand, these classics can sometimes be combined to make something greater than the sum of their parts. Case in point: the Fried Green Tomato Po Boy with Pimento Cheese from West Ashley’s Southern food stalwart The Glass Onion.” The sandwich hits all the best parts of Southern comfort food — salty, cheesy, and fresh products from the Lowcountry.
When visiting Charleston, Eater restaurant editor Bill Addison stopped by soul place Addielee’s for oxtails (only served on Thursdays). He explains, “Here, owners Ann and Charles Whitlock stew the oxtails to utter submission. The beef renders into pot-roasty hunks, and the bones drift in a broth enriched by their collagen. It comes over plain rice, though the staff will happily spoon the oxtails instead over tomato-tinted red rice: Its pluckier seasonings anchor the meal more firmly in the cooking traditions of the surrounding coastal land.”
Established in 1979, iconic soul food stop Bertha’s Kitchen is known for their its chicken and fish, but what you’re really going for is the okra soup.A cousin of Creole gumbo, okra soup is stewed okra and tomatoes Everyone from famous chefs and food writers to locals and tourists make the trek to Bertha’s to take in the now-famous dishes created by the late founder Albertha Grant.
There are many Gullah classics on the menu at Nana’s. Mother and son team Carolyn and Kenyatta McNeil create Lowcountry classics, with local products, in their small Line Street restaurant. For $10, patrons can score a giant piece of perfectly-fried whiting, fried cabbage on rice, lima beans, and a sweet piece of cornbread — really, it’s enough for two people. The trick is to keep up with the restaurant’s Instagram feed to check when crab rice or garlic crabs are on the menu (two of the most popular classic dishes).
Uniquely Charleston dish country captain can be found at Hominy Grill. According to long-time Charleston ambassador Frank Lee, the meal “is a curried chicken dish brought over from the East Indies, Portugal, Venice, with the connection to the spice routes through Arabia and China and India. Sea captains were bringing these incongruous combinations of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, cardamom, cumin, and things you make curry out of. That’s pretty unique to Charleston.”
Stop by Southern soul spot Dave’s Carry Out for Charleston icon devil crabs. Emptied crab shells are stuffed with a combination of picked crab meat, breading, and other secret spices. For only $3, this Charleston can be yours.
The first time you try crab rice you’ll wonder why you hadn’t heard of this simple, yet satisfying, dish earlier in life. Hannibal’s Kitchen serves up some of the best crab rice around. The presentation is simple — it’s picked local crabs, lightly pan fried, over white rice. It’s a humble dish but one born of deep Lowcountry roots.
When they are in season, soft shell crabs make Charlestonians go crazy. As the short-season delicacy makes it to local menus, they are soon everywhere. Last year, The Grocery served pan-roasted soft-shells with spring vegetable remoulade.
Chef Sean Brock’s burger has reached cult status in Charleston. No one would ever want to deny themselves a chance to eat a meat patty with the bacon ground in. Two slabs of beef, American cheese, and a pillowy bun make the burger worth trying once, twice, maybe 400 times.
Tourists love, love, love to visit 82 Queen for she crab soup. An almost too-rich combination of cream, crab meat, roe, and sherry, she-crab soup is said to be a throwback recipe from 1920s Charleston.