2008 DISH Winter Dining Guide » Dining Guide

The Dish: Restaurant Guide

The City Paper's essential guide to dining out,from the dives to the divas of Charleston's food scene

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39 Rue de Jean
French
Entrées $15-$25
Downtown. 39 John St. (843) 722-8881
Lunch, Dinner, Late Night, and Sunday Brunch

We have trouble classifying Rue de Jean, as it can be so many things, depending on the occasion. That happens when you wrap an exceptional French bistro around one of the most splendid bars in town. "Rue," as some call it, has been around for years, but it retains all of the glamour that made it a star in the first place. Set among the now trendy shops along John Street and within walking distance of Marion Square, it makes for a convenient gathering spot — very Parisian indeed. Whether you go for the outstanding mussels or just to watch the passersby while sipping champagne at the bar, Rue de Jean is a one-stop shop for an entire evening of revelry.

A.C.'s Bar and Grill
Pubs/Taverns
Entrées $5-$10
Downtown. 467 King St. (843) 577-6742;
Mt. Pleasant. 1035 Johnnie Dodds Blvd. (843) 849-2267
Lunch (Mt. P: Mon.-Fri.), Dinner, Sunday Brunch, and Late Night

A.C's is more than just a funky bar on upper King Street. It has all the requisite components of such — the ratty pool tables, the smoke (at least until the ban went into effect), and the beer-soaked upholstery — but it also serves up some of the tastiest bar grub in town. We are especially fond of the cheesesteaks, which sport authentic Amorosa's rolls from Philly and a bevy of options, including a spicy version that will knock your socks off. Their downtown Sunday brunch has become a popular hangover cure for the masses, with such incredibly hearty combos as chicken and waffles and hashbrown casserole.

Al di La
Italian
Entrées $10-$15
West Ashley. 25 Magnolia Road. (843) 571-2321
Dinner (closed Sun. and Mon.)

You don't have to fly to Italy to live la dolce vita — just trot down to John Marshall's perennially popular trattoria and wine bar and spend a temperate evening on the patio with any number of outstandingly authentic interpretations of the old country. From the luscious handmade pastas to the braised meats that melt at the touch of a fork, Al di La delivers some of the most honest fare in the city for an incredible value.

Amazon Grill
Steakhouse
Entrées $15-$20
Goose Creek. 1316 Redbank Road.
(843) 569-6275
Lunch and Dinner

You like meat? Amazon Grill is for you. An all-you-can-eat Brazilian rodizio owned by Brazilians, run by Brazilians, and frequented mainly by Brazilians; the place is for real. The spit-roasted meat makes the rounds, freshly carved onto your plate until you say uncle. Ribeyes, sirloins, lamb legs, even chicken hearts fly off the fire — and the accompanying buffet tables showcase authentic South American fare. It is very family-friendly and, at under 20 bucks a head, a fine place to feed an army.

Amuse
Tapas
Entrées $5-$10
West Ashley. 1720 Sam Rittenberg Blvd. (843) 573-8778
Dinner (closed Sun. and Mon.)

An emphasis on interesting wine and diverse menu selections keep this hidden gem at the top of the West Ashley scene. One taste confirms that they intend to stay there. Amuse expanded its menu last year to include both the requisite tapas, for which it is widely revered, and a new full Italian menu featuring very creative and delicious pastas and entrée selections. The wine list still features some outstanding values, and occasional live music livens up the strip-mall space. For a quick weeknight dinner when there's no room at your regular inn, the guys and gals at Amuse can make you a true believer.

Andolini's
Pizza
Entrées $5-$10
Downtown. 82 Wentworth St. (843) 722-7437;
West Ashley. 1117 Savannah Hwy. (843) 225-4743;
Mt. Pleasant. 414 W. Coleman Blvd. (843) 849-7437;
James Island. 967 Folly Road. (843) 576-7437;
North Charleston. 6610 Rivers Ave. (coming soon)
Lunch and Dinner

The original remains very much the best; thousands of College of Charleston students cannot be wrong. They pack this scruffy downtown legend nightly, sucking down cold beers with huge slices of pie and fat, steaming calzones. If the college crowd gets you down, you can always head out to one of the other Andolini's locations in Mt. Pleasant, West Ashley, James Island, and a new one in North Chuck. The pie is still divine, and with more room to spread out, you can even bring the kids.

Anson
Southern/Lowcountry — Upscale
Entrées $20 and up
Downtown. 12 Anson St. (843) 577-0551

Anson's been around for a long time, and still turns out a decent plate of food. You may have to fight the tourist crowd down at the Market for a seat, though. They specialize in Lowcountry favorites, with all the old standbys, including an excellent she-crab soup replete with the traditional splash of sherry. They also feature an excellent array of seafood, often infused with Asian flavors, and have a knack for incorporating fresh local ingredients in season.

Arlaana
American/Eclectic — Upscale
Entrées $15-$20
Daniel Island. 259 Seven Farms Dr.
(843) 471-2400
Lunch (Tues.-Fri.), Dinner (Tues.-Sat.), and Sunday Brunch (closed Mon.)

You know this place represents a unique experience as soon as you spy the trees out front. Lighting up the night sky with multiple hues of iridescent color, the creative lighting scheme continues into the dining room, revealing a tiled space reminiscent as much of a spa as a fine dining restaurant — and with the unrivaled personable attention of Arlaana (the eponymous owner) and staff, one will feel just as pampered. The menu features some unique samplers of charcuterie and cheese as well as an innovative and well-prepared entrée selection.

Art's Bar and Grill
More Than a Sandwich
Entrées $5-$10
Mt. Pleasant. 413 Coleman Blvd.
(843) 849-3040
Lunch and Dinner

Art's is not a fancy joint, but that's just the point. They serve lunch and dinner specials seven days a week in an atmosphere that mixes local musical talent and classic arcade games in the same quirky, well-worn space. Great fried fish baskets and big burgers can satisfy the largest of appetites. The people are cool, the beer is cold, and the location is convenient — all good reasons why this Coleman Boulevard establishment has been a favorite for years among locals.

Atlanticville Restaurant
American/Eclectic — Upscale
Entrées $20 and up
Sullivan's Island. 2063 Middle St.
(843) 883-9452
Dinner and Sunday Brunch

A nice spot for dining on Sullivan's, Atlanticville takes the seafood traditions of the coast and crosses them into a Lowcountry and Southeast Asian hybrid cuisine. Interesting, exotic flavors inform the classics; seared tuna is served in a carrot-ginger curry and fried calamari gets dressed up in a spicy gastric concoction. Grits are piled high with new twists on old ideas, making the trip a guaranteed adventure.

Basil
Asian/Indian
Entrées $10-$15
Downtown. 460 King St. (843) 724-3490
Lunch (Mon.-Fri.) and Dinner

For years, on any given night, people have lined the sidewalk on Upper King, jostling for a seat in this Asian hot spot. It is the favorite lunch counter of food critic Jeff Allen's 84-year-old conservative grandmother, who likes her ham boiled and her oatmeal plain but her "Beef Basil" spicy and served over rice. Get there early and steal a spot at the bar overlooking all the hot wok action in the fast-paced kitchen. With success has come an increase in price, and Basil isn't the insane value of yesteryear, but it still offers plenty of great food at good prices. If you sit at the bar, which looks into the glass-encased kitchen, you have a front row seat to one of the best culinary shows in town.

Blossom
Seafood
Entrées $15-$25
Downtown. 171 East Bay St.
(843) 722-9200
Lunch, Dinner, and Sunday Brunch

New blood seems to only improve the food along East Bay Street. New chef Adam Close continues the traditions at Blossom while refocusing the seafood-heavy menu and bringing his own take on contemporary American cuisine to what is still one of the best places to grab a quick lunch on lower East Bay. Of course, they also serve a fine dinner, turning out innovative pizza from a wood-fired brick oven, but we go for the delectable fried squid, small and tender like they should be, never overcooked, perfect with just a squeeze of lemon and cold glass of white wine at the bar.

At Blend, you can have it all — a crisp salad for lunch, a pastry for breakfast, and an unforgettable crabcake for dinner - LESLIE MCKELLAR
  • Leslie McKellar
  • At Blend, you can have it all — a crisp salad for lunch, a pastry for breakfast, and an unforgettable crabcake for dinner

Blend
American/Eclectic — Upscale
Entrees $20 and up
Downtown. 170 Ashley Ave. (843) 724-3391
Closed Sun.

Blend is the only place where you can get a bagel and coffee for breakfast, a grilled vegetable panini for lunch, and a four-star steak for dinner — all under the same roof. They have a delightful patio area outside of the downstairs coffee and sandwich shop, and if you can't make it down from your corner office at MUSC next door, then they will deliver all that delicious flavor right to your door. They also have in incredible crabcake, with huge unbroken lump crabmeat, just held together by an ethereal crust — worth the trip alone.

The Kitchen at the Blind Tiger
Pubs/Taverns
Entrées $10-$15
Downtown. 36-38 Broad St. (843) 577-0088
Lunch and Dinner (kitchen closed on Sun.)

The kitchen at this old speakeasy has been remodeled and rented out to Chef Mitch Wyman whose cuisine is as unpretentious as the place itself. He proffers classic French bistro fare, a small but excellent menu that obviously borrows heavily from his experience at 39 Rue de Jean. The offerings here make for great bar grub on a weeknight jaunt — spicy cilantro corn fritters, shrimp salad, burgers, mussels, and a nice slab of beef dubbed the "Butcher Steak." It's great food at an excellent price.

The Boathouse
Seafood
Entrées $15-$20
Downtown. 549 East Bay St. (843) 577-7171;
Isle of Palms. 101 Palm Blvd. (843) 886-8000
Dinner and Sunday Brunch

The Boathouses — both of them — are popular spots and offer something more than a reliable seafood menu that will make those in search of simple fried shrimp as happy as those who prefer a more sophisticated approach. The IOP location's perk is a killer view on the top floor, with a cozy bar and plenty of seats. IOP's city sister has a slightly different take on atmosphere, with a lovely covered porch that's heated in winter and offers live entertainment year-round. The interior sushi bar and "see and be seen" happy hour offer friendly, competent bartenders, a reliable selection of raw and steamed oysters, sushi, wine, cocktails, and weekly specials that can't be beat.

Boulevard Diner
American/Eclectic — Casual
Entrées $5-$10
Mt. Pleasant. 409 W. Coleman Blvd.
(843) 216-2611
Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner (closed Sun.)

Just out Coleman Boulevard sits a great little slice of Americana in East Cooper, a classic Alice's "Kiss My Grits!" type of place with food to die for. Big brawny breakfasts and filling dinners fly out of the kitchen for cheap, proving that steak and eggs in Charleston doesn't have to be overpriced. The next time you're broke and jonesing for that fried eggplant and blue cheese sandwich, this is your place — they've been featured on the Food Network, but the local crowd streaming through the door proves that this is no prima donna. She's as real as they come.

Bowens Island Restaurant
Seafood
Entrées $5-$10
James Island. 1870 Bowens Island Road. (843) 795-2757
Dinner (closed Sun. and Mon.)

Bowens is back, and they are slowly resuscitating the business they had before a fire left the oyster room in a charred heap last fall. With a couple of burners set up in the old oyster room, the burned out shell of the legendary place is slated for a good facelift and in the meantime, locals are packing it in on the covered deck outside. There will only ever be one Bowens and the Barber family's dedication to its preservation should inspire us all, or at least get us out there for our fair share of those tasty shellfish when the "R" months roll back around.

Capriccio's
Italian
Entrées $10-$15
Mt. Pleasant. 1034 Chuck Dawley Blvd. (843) 881-5550
Dinner (closed Sun.)

When we're in the mood for lip-smacking, family-style Italian fare, Capriccio's routinely fits the bill. This place has been serving up delicious Italian food for years and has become a neighborhood favorite, with food that draws a crowd from miles around. People from Meggett to Awendaw line up to experience the best baked spaghetti and lasagna in town, smothered in cheese just like your nonna made it. We go for the mussels — big, plump, and juicy with a fistful of fresh thyme on top and a rich butter sauce beneath — simple perfection.

Carolina's
Southern/Lowcountry
Entrées $15-$20
10 Exchange St., (Downtown)
(843) 724-3800
Dinner

Carolina's has been around for over half a century in one form or another, and more often than not, it's always been a good bet for a great meal. But with the addition Jeremiah Bacon, whose previous stints include work in establishments run by über-chefs Thomas Keller and Eric Ripert, the bar has been raised. They've still got classic shrimp and grits, but Bacon's creativity shines through, with fresh approaches to Lowcountry cuisine that keeps the culinary scene moving forward.

Central Grille
Southern/Lowcountry
Entrées $15-$25
Summerville. 114 Central Ave.
(843) 821-7151
Lunch (Tues.-Sat.), Dinner (Tues.-Sat.), and Sunday Brunch (closed Mon.)

This newest addition to the "short-central" street area of downtown Summerville brings a badly needed measure of upscale bistro food into the district. With a cool, modern interior and a well-prepared menu of eclectic offerings, the place can satisfy a wide range of tastes — perfect for family dining. With food like this, it seems Summerville may have finally turned the corner on the culinary front, with something besides The Woodlands worthy of a drive out from the city.

Chai's Lounge & Tapas
Tapas
Entrées $5-$10
Downtown. 462 King St. (843) 722-7313
Dinner (closed Mon.)

Chai's no longer holds the title as the trendiest or most expensive place to get a martini on Upper King, but it's still a fine place for drinks or a quick bite when out on the town. The interior has lost none of its cool, and the scene still hops on a late Saturday night. The Asian twist and the ultra-modern vibe will leave you with visions of a Tokyo rave bar. But would you expect any less from the geniuses behind Basil? They've been so successful that much of what came after on Upper King bears a strong resemblance to the trendsetting at Chai's.

Charleston's Café
American/Eclectic — Casual
Entrées $5-$10
Mt. Pleasant. 1039 Johnnie Dodds Blvd. (843) 856-7796
Breakfast and Lunch

We can't quite figure out what to call this place, but the former Bookstore Café, long a crowd favorite when it was downtown on King Street, got even better after a move to the strip mall landscape of Mt. Pleasant. Despite the downgrade in location, the food remains tops for a weekend brunch, with huge potato casseroles smothered in an assortment of delectable accoutrements as well as generous stacks of pancakes, French toast, and a great house-made corned beef hash.

Charleston Grill's tuna sashimi splayed out with pomegranate	molasses, lemongrass oil, purple potato chips, and sea salt - LESLIE MCKELLAR
  • Leslie McKellar
  • Charleston Grill's tuna sashimi splayed out with pomegranate molasses, lemongrass oil, purple potato chips, and sea salt

Charleston Grill
American/Eclectic — Upscale
Entrées $30 and up
Downtown. 224 King St. (843) 577-4522
Dinner

This is the place that started it all — proving that urban redevelopment is not as evil as some would have you believe. What is now the Charleston Place Hotel complex anchored the revitalization of the entire peninsula above Broad Street, which is to say that almost every fine dining establishment in town owes its very existence to the pioneering that took place in this location. That spirit continues to drive innovation at this hallowed dining spot. New drapes, a retooled dining room, and an innovative menu structured around flavor and style make Charleston Grill new again and once again a leader among the finest dining rooms in town. Manager Mickey Bakst's new focus on cultivating a more local crowd is paying off, while Executive Chef Bob Waggoner and Sous Chef extraordinaire Michelle Weaver dish up plates of inspired food. Their creative new menu categorizes food as "Lush," "Southern," "French," or "Cosmopolitan" — a bold move for such an established venture, but one that creates a renewed reason to check out the Grill.

Chez Fish
Seafood
Entrées $15-$20
Johns Island. 3966 Betsy Kerrison Pkwy. (843) 768-0753
Dinner

This quirky little number way out toward Kiawah and Seabrook serves up some deliciously honest food. A classic French bistro, Chez Fish is worn and weathered, a comfortable space perfect for tucking into a few briny mussels and one of the daily specials — which will undoubtedly come from the fresh catch being proffered in the seafood market next door. One of the best wine lists and a very competent kitchen make this little place worth every gallon of gas guzzled on the long trip from town.

Cintra Ristorante
Italian
Entrées $20 and up
Downtown. 16 N. Market St.
(843) 377-1090
Dinner (closed Mon.)

Cintra looks absolutely fabulous. After a full facelift, in which they cooled down the space and bathed it in subtle tones, the dining room now complements the food at this wonderfully eclectic little spot located at the end of the Market. Throw in the fantastic martini bar and you have a great place to hang out before catching a cruise ship to Bermuda or embarking on your own adventure through the very capable menu. As always, we get the beef tartare, which could make for an entire meal if they sold it by the pound. The place is under new ownership, but remains largely the same, for good reason.

Circa 1886
American/Eclectic — Upscale
Entrees $20 and up
Downtown. 149 Wentworth St.
(843) 853-7828
Dinner (closed Sun.)

Circa 1886 has been left out of our dining guide in the past due to a grave error on our part. Chef Marc Collins leads an award-winning effort with an emphasis on creative juxtapositions of flavor from around the world. The attached Wentworth Mansion makes the place worth the trip all by itself, but once you get a taste of the food in the old carriage house out back, you'll be hooked for sure. AAA gave Circa 1886 four diamonds and it's clear why: they serve some of the best food in the city with impeccable service in an intimate atmosphere.

Coast
Seafood
Entrées $10-$20
Downtown. 39-D John St.
(843) 722-8838
Dinner

This is perhaps the hippest place to eat seafood on the Peninsula. A wood-fired grill churns out nightly fresh fish specials while the bustling young professionals gathered around the bar sip on inventive cocktails. Coast is loud, boisterous, and sometimes the service is excruciatingly slow (they can get really busy), but for a fresh grilled fish, or a place to sip margaritas and watch the beautiful people file past, it fits the bill anytime. We especially like the ceviche, which comes in four different versions, and the icy fruit bombs that grace the mixed drinks menu. On a hot summer night, they get the job done well.

Coco's Café
French
Entrées $10-$20
Mt. Pleasant. 863 Houston Northcutt Blvd. (843) 881-4949
Lunch (Mon.-Fri.) and Dinner (closed Sun.)

Coco's may have changed ownership recently, but this little strip mall restaurant continues to pump out signature classic French cuisine perfectly true to its roots. The intimate Mt. Pleasant dining room is expertly run by Stephen Ollard, who has maintained the original, authentic French menu. Coco's also features a wonderful collection of cellared wine specials showcasing some very fine examples of French wine at fair prices. When we need our Gallic fix, we head over to Coco's for the best "Les Escargots De La Bourgogne" in town.

Cordavi
American/Eclectic — Upscale
Entrées $20 and up
Downtown. 14 N. Market St.
(843) 577-0090
Dinner (closed Sun.)

Who would think that an unassuming little bistro at the end of the Market would house some of the most innovative and delicious food in the entire city? Chefs David Szlam and Cory Elliot push the culinary envelope, earning rave reviews — Esquire named them one of the best new places in the country — and local applause. Their mission is to innovate and astound the audience through unexpected juxtapositions of taste, temperature, and texture. The chefs are close to Chef Sean Brock over at McCrady's, and the relationship proves fruitful, with Cordavi employing some of the same innovative techniques, if in a slightly less revolutionary manner. The diverse menu offers the best tasting options in town. Diners can select from multiple course pairings — the greater the number of courses selected, the smaller the plates — resulting in a steady stream of amuse-bouches and quirky offerings from the kitchen. Complimentary valet parking and one of the coolest bar scenes in town (featuring an outstanding weekly jazz group) make Cordavi a must-stop for serious foodies.

Cru Café
American/Eclectic — Casual
Entrées $15-$20
Downtown. 18 Pinckney St.
(843) 534-2434
Lunch and Dinner (closed Sun. and Mon.)

You could go to Cru Café for any number of reasons. Go for the breezy porch, the frenetic dance in the open kitchen during the lunch rush, or the delectably diverse, down-home entrées that showcase the uptown style at dinner; we go for the four-cheese macaroni. A huge, gooey mountain of lip-smacking goodness, it represents more than your average mac and cheese. They call it a side, but it's a meal in itself and worth every delicious gram of fat.

A Culinary Art Company
American/Eclectic — Upscale
Entrées $10-$15
Mt. Pleasant. 1035 Johnnie Dodds Blvd. (843) 375-5988
Dinner (closed Sun. and Mon.)

If you thought the circus came to town only once a year, then you've never watched Tim McCusker knock the top off a bottle of champagne with a meat cleaver, arcing it — cork and all — over the entire dining room, then pour a glass of bubbles for your table, a table that happens to be a glass cube containing a fully functional, dazzlingly colorful aquarium. The two-person operation, consisting of McCusker and his lovely wife, pumps out some of the most innovative and outlandishly creative tapas-style food in the city, a total confluence of trend-setting scene and futuro-grub that will leave you happy and full for a very reasonable price.

Cypress
American/Eclectic — Upscale
Entrées $20 and up
Downtown. 167 East Bay St.
(843) 727-0111
Dinner

This downtown destination has changed over the years, but the architecture alone draws a crowd. The menu features a "classics" section, as well as a seasonal array of Chef Craig Deihl's innovative dishes. Drop in to see the spectacular two-story glass wine "cellar," sample the splendid selection of single malt scotches at the upstairs bar, or just pick up a copy of the recently-released eponymous cookbook, but stay for the food. Where else are you going to get seared foie gras with cornbread, peaches, and Tahitian vanilla?

D'Allesandro's
Pizza
Entrées $5-$10
Downtown. 229 St. Philip St.
(843) 853-6337
Lunch, Dinner, and Delivery

They may be off the beaten path, but these guys have developed a cult following of people who love their perfectly crusty pie, homemade sauce, and fresh toppings delivered lickety-split to locations as far-flung as the upper Peninsula. If you choose to eat it there, you can hang out at the bar and enjoy the camaraderie of the great staff, who turn out some of the most respectable pie in town, along with piping hot calzones and some damn good hot wings.

Dave's Carry-Out
Southern/Lowcountry
Entrées $5-$10
Downtown. 42-C Morris St.
(843) 577-7943
Lunch (Tues.-Fri.), Dinner, and Late Night (closed Sun. and Mon.)

Dave's constitutes the original late night 'hood location for grease bombs and flying bullets. Tucked way up in the emerging fringe among college flats and a gentrified landscape, they serve a splendid array of breaded items from both surf and turf. Perhaps the ultimate catch is the hot and spicy fried pork chop sandwich — because when your pork chop sandwich has a bone hanging out the side, you've found the right spot.

El Dorado
Mexican/Southwestern
Entrées $10-$15
West Ashley. 1109 Savannah Hwy.
(843) 763-0699
Lunch and Dinner

Every restaurant guide needs to tout a cookie-cutter Mexican-American place. El Dorado makes that job easy. They serve all the standards that you have become accustomed to wolfing down with cold beer or frosty margaritas, but if you hit it for a weekday lunch, they have a buffet. That's right — you can score repeated plates of just about everything offered on the regular menu for less than eight bucks. Tostadas, enchiladas, tacos, taquitos, even hot wings and celery sticks for the bubbas. So good and cheap, it could make a college kid cry.

El Mercadito
Mexican/Southwestern
Entrées $10-$15
Johns Island. 3575 Maybank Hwy.
(843) 559-7216
Lunch and Dinner

This former taco stand and grocery may have turned into a cliché of a Mexican restaurant, but some vestiges of the old place remain. We still like the excellent tacos: beef cheek, pork, steak, and chorizo sausage served on fresh tortillas and accompanied by the fiery sting of chiles. The chilaquiles rock, and the coctel de camaron (shrimp cocktail) is fresh, light, and tangy.

EVO Pizzeria
Pizza
Entrées $5-$10
North Charleston. 1075 E. Montague Ave. (843) 225-1796
Lunch (Tues.-Fri.) and Dinner (closed Sun. and Mon.)

Devotees of the Charleston Farmers' Market need no introduction to EVO Pizzeria. For years, Ricky Hacker and Matt McIntosh have been setting up their mobile wood-burning oven at the Charleston Farmers Market and selling pizzas inspired by local ingredients. Now, you can sit down and enjoy such a treat in their new North Charleston location. Hacker and McIntosh renovated an old law office into a stylish lunch and dinner spot that brings to mind much larger cities' swank eateries. Rest assured that EVO will continue their allegiance to local farmers in an expanded format. Their garden salad features hydroponic lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumbers from Moncks Corner, and their soup du jour is seasonally inspired. With the growing season in full swing, you can see the bounty of the Lowcountry on their pizzas and panini.

Fat Hen
French
Entrées $15-$20
Johns Island. 3140 Maybank Hwy.
(843) 559-9090
Dinner (Closed Mon.)

The old St. Johns Island Café has metamorphosed into a trendy Southern/French bistro that pays homage to the Charleston-Huguenot connection with a Franco-fried take on Lowcountry traditions. There's something for everyone at the Fat Hen, from the standard fried platter of fresh local seafood, to more eclectic favorites, like Chef Fred Neuville's signature mussels, brought over from his stint at Rue de Jean and served in a variety of preparations.

Fiery Ron's Home Team BBQ
BBQ/Ribs/Wings
Entrées $5-$15
West Ashley. 1205 Ashley River Road. (843) 225-7427
Lunch and Dinner

They may not win any awards for regional authenticity, but Home Team BBQ can put out some damn fine 'cue. These guys slam together influences from across the Americas — from white mayonnaise-based sauce to ribs so tender you'll swear you've landed in Memphis or Kansas City. The sides are luscious and the atmosphere combines the best in high-definition sports with a weekly revue of great live blues and rock. Welcome to the best smoked pork west of the Ashley. One taste of this stuff and you'll realize why the parking lot is perpetually full.

FIG
American/Eclectic — Casual
Entrées $20-$25
Downtown. 232 Meeting St.
(843) 805-5900
Dinner (closed Sun.)

If you have to take an unfamiliar visitor to one place and want to be sure that they leave duly impressed, FIG (which stands for Food Is Good) is your best bet. Chef/owner Mike Lata's dogged determination to exact flavor from the best local ingredients results in an inspiring seasonal array of delicious, well-executed cuisine. Flavors as fertile and pure as the local soil from which they spring are treated with the deftest touch in Lata's hands. He's the kind of guy who serves five baby beets with a sprinkle of sea salt and a drizzle of olive oil or runs from the kitchen with a plate of heirloom kale, just limp and dressed in a bit of garlic and oil, declares it the best crop of kale he's ever tasted, and leaves you to wonder how he packed in all that flavor. Ask him, and he will laud the farmer who grew the produce, telling you all about the land from which the food came, how it was grown, and about the family who grew it. Chef Lata's passion for freshness and his support for local sustainable farm production make each meal at FIG a foray into the streams, fields, and forests of the Lowcountry. We may not all be able to get our food from the surrounding countryside, but his delectably honest meals make a compelling case for trying.

Fish
Seafood
Entrées $15-$20
Downtown. 442 King St. (843) 722-3474
Lunch (Mon.-Fri.) and Dinner (closed Sun.)

Fish led the charge in revitalizing the upper King Street district and owners Charles and Celeste Patrick continue to support the cause, renovating the American Theater and the William Aiken house in a part of the city that now throbs with energy. Newcomers have produced stiff competition, but Executive Chef Nico Romo continues to dish out exciting food, focusing more than ever on delivering exemplary seafood preparations that showcase the freshest fish available on the market. Don't miss the nightly "naked fish" selection, featuring an impeccable product perfectly cooked and dressed only in a touch of sea salt.

Fishnet Seafood
Seafood
Entrées $5-$10
West Ashley. 3832 Savannah Hwy.
(843) 571-2423
Lunch (closed Sun.)

There is fried seafood and then there is Fishnet fried seafood. This run-down little shack next to the Dodge's Fried Chicken gas station down in Red Top serves their fried seafood with a side of religion, offering "Jesus Crabs" rather than "Deviled Crabs" and a room full of inspirational messages, but we go mostly for the soft-shells. Get there in season and they will cut the eyes off a live crab and plunk him down in the grease right before your eyes. Two pieces of white bread later and you'll swear you're in heaven.

Five Loaves Café
More Than A Sandwich
Entrées $5-$15
Downtown. 43 Cannon St. (843) 937-4303;
372 King St. (inside Millennium Music). (843) 805-7977;
Mt. Pleasant. 1055 Johnnie Dodds Blvd. (843) 849-1043
Lunch and Dinner (closed Sun.)

This hippie-dippy spot on the corner of Spring and Cannon streets replaced the venerable old Latasha's Taste of New Orleans a few years back. It took us a while to forgive them, but their creativity, quality, and freshness have made it easy for us. The place has become so successful that they now sport two other locations, one in Millennium Music on King Street and another across the bridge in Mt. Pleasant. We like their daily special, which pairs a host of freshly prepared soups, large salads, and interesting sandwiches — pick any two for $7.75 ($8.50 at dinnertime). That's a deal we like, and judging from the lines, we are not alone.

Fleet Landing
Seafood
Entrées $15-$20
Downtown. 186 Concord St.
(843) 722-8100
Lunch, Dinner, and Weekend Brunch

What happens when you convert a huge industrial port building into one of the best places to while away an afternoon on the Peninsula? You'll create a place people flock to. Add in the free parking (when you can get it), proximity to the boatloads of cruise passengers streaming into the City Market, and a nice selection of appetizers, entrées, and libations, and you've got a recipe for a very successful business venture. Belly up to the bar, enjoy the sea breeze and the encompassing view of the Harbor, order a bucket of steamed oysters, and lose yourself in the fact that life doesn't come much finer than in the Holy City.

La Fourchette
French
Entrées $15-$25
Downtown. 432 King St. (843) 722-6261
Dinner (closed Sun.)

This tiny Upper King Street dining room commands a loyal clientele who return time and again for authentic French fare — the lobster bisque, the signature cassoulet — plus a great wine list featuring distinctive French regional selections. Always packed and lively, the tight seating and loud conversation exemplify the Parisian ideal. You might just think you've arrived on the left bank of the Seine when you venture inside. If that doesn't convince you to go, did we mention that the "French" fries get golden and crispy in pure duck fat?

Gaulart and Maliclet/Fast and French
French
Entrées $5-$10
Downtown. 98 Broad St. (843) 577-9797
Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner (closed Sun.)

Quirky, entertaining, shoulder-to-shoulder, and delicious — the place with the funny name heads up the Broad Street lunch scene, packing in customers like sardines at the communal tables with just enough room for an Orangina and a crusty baguette between. While the food is not always so authentically French, they serve a good meal at a fair price. If you go for lunch, be prepared to wait — locals may not be able to pronounce the name, but they line the walls during the midday rush, and they have good reason to do so.

George's Sports Bar and Grill
Pubs/Taverns
Entrées $5-$10
West Ashley. 1300 Savannah Hwy.
(843) 763-0605
Lunch and Dinner

Georgie the Greek serves up a fantastic array of Greek specials, American bar grub, and a never-ending stream of live sporting events on so many TVs that his power bill must dwarf the food cost. It's not fancy food, it's a low-down, gut-busting, pig-out joint. The "Nachos Humongo" come topped with chili, cheese, jalapeños, lettuce, tomato, sour cream, and salsa; the chili cheese fries will take you back to your last visit to the state fair; the buffalo wings are certified snot-drippers. Big-screen TVs make this the place to kick back for college football and NASCAR races. And if you're a nerd who doesn't like sports, the television trivia network at every table will give you something to do while you wait for your friends.

Granville's
American/Eclectic — Casual
Entrées $15-$20
Downtown. 730 Rutledge Ave.
(843) 577-0486
Lunch (Mon.-Fri.), Dinner, Saturday Brunch (closed Sunday)

This neighborhood joint may not have a swanky address, but the food and the atmosphere are the most exciting thing to hit the Hampton Park area since Moe's Crosstown Tavern redefined the "key" bar notion almost a decade ago. Filled nightly with outstanding food and eager diners, Granville's reverberates with a local character all too often missing from the tourist trade further south on the Peninsula.

Grill 225
American/Eclectic — Upscale
Entrées $20 and up
Downtown. 225 East Bay St.
(843) 266-4222
Lunch, Dinner, and Sunday Brunch

Serving USDA Prime steaks and chops smack in the middle of the Market Pavilion Hotel lobby, Grill 225 promises one of the fanciest dinners and consistently delivers just that. From the curbside valet parking (which costs a whopping $10) and the white-jacketed formal dinner service to the three-foot high menus, feasting here will make even the most demure of diners feel like an instant sophisticate. The dark wood interior, starched white tablecloths, and jacketed waitstaff ooze with the grandeur of a bygone era. Despite the pomp, the minimalist menu focuses on the meats themselves, with sauce served on the side and sides served in separate dishes altogether. It is simply some of the finest — and priciest — food in town, but worth every penny.

Barbecued chicken with yellow rice and string beans from Hannibal's Kitchen in the East Side - LESLIE MCKELLAR
  • Leslie McKellar
  • Barbecued chicken with yellow rice and string beans from Hannibal's Kitchen in the East Side

Hannibal's Kitchen
Southern/Lowcountry
Entrées $5-$10
Downtown. 16 Blake St. (843) 722-2256
Dinner (closed Sat.-Sun.)

Hannibal's rules the heart of the East Side soul food scene, producing a steady lunch crowd just behind the Trident Tech campus. It is true soul, pushing the envelope, so to speak, with new-age Lowcountry versions of fried chicken wings and fried rice indicative of changing tastes among the clientele. On weekends they offer an abbreviated menu of local favorites, and the fried fish sandwich should not be missed. It ain't pretty, but it's definitely real.

Hank's Seafood Restaurant
Seafood
Entrées $15-$25
Downtown. 10 Hayne St. (843) 723-3474
Dinner

Once the headstrong new guy on the block — self-proclaiming "world-famous" status from day one — the venerable old warehouse raw bar and seafood palace has weathered nicely over the years to become Charleston's trustiest fish house. We go for the "Grand Seafood Castle," a stupendous assortment of iced shellfish from around the globe, and the perfectly seared tuna. They also serve a fine half-shell plate, usually featuring a distinctive West Coast selection, brilliantly focused on a wide geography of taste and origin. When the entrance alcove is jammed and seats are impossible to obtain, a flute of champagne and sampler tray of iced shellfish at the bar can provide the perfect start to a night on the town. They may not be truly world-famous yet, but Hank's has certainly made a name for itself in Charleston.

The Hickory Hawg
BBQ/Ribs/Wings
Entrées $5-$10 <
Johns Island. 2817 Maybank Hwy.
(843) 557-1121
Lunch and Dinner (closed Sun.)

The Hickory Hawg, located in a strip mall out on Johns Island, serves Central North Carolina 'cue. Now, that just means "Yankee" to a lot of folks around these parts, but one taste and you may become an instant convert. Chopped meat, an acceptable hash, and an interesting slaw top the list of things to eat here, but the ribs are sublime. Succulent baby backs, slathered with the house sauce — signature N.C. vinegar and pepper sauce with a touch of tomato — fall from the bone, putting other local rib shacks to shame.

High Cotton
American/Eclectic — Upscale
Entrées $20 and up
Downtown. 199 East Bay St.
(843) 724-3815
Dinner, Saturday Lunch, and Sunday Brunch

High Cotton headlines the Maverick group's offerings downtown as a Southern fried steak and seafood house with a classy edge. Tourists and locals pack the place and make for a difficult reservation, so get your requests in early or you will be hanging at their splendid bar for an eternity. If you get inside, you will not be disappointed. Aside from the crowded environs, High Cotton serves delicious food in an elegant yet surprisingly comfortable atmosphere.

High Thyme
American/Eclectic — Casual
Entrées $15-$25
Sullivan's Island. 2213-C Middle St.
(843) 883-3536
Dinner (closed Sun.-Mon.)

Out on Sullivan's Island, High Thyme brings creative bistro flair to coastal specialties. With an emphasis on seafood, the kitchen turns out good food at a reasonable price in a great location. The always boisterous atmosphere and cold white wine make it a perfect place to meet friends for a late nibble after a long day at the beach.

Hominy Grill
Southern/Lowcountry
Entrées $10-$15
Downtown. 207 Rutledge Ave.
(843) 937-0930
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, and Weekend Brunch

Writing about Hominy Grill, New York Times writer Richard B. Woodward stated that, "the neighborhood has been up-and-coming for years and still hasn't come up." Well, the neighborhood has certainly changed in the last few years, and it looks like owner Robert Stehling was right on. One wonders whether the neighborhood has come to him, or if his resourceful marketing brought in the crowd. Hominy does one thing: they serve authentic Southern food and they do it well. They have become increasingly popular, and you sometimes have to fight for a seat, but at such a reasonable price, one wonders why you would ever go elsewhere for grits ... or shad roe ... or chicken 'n' a biscuit. If you want to eat true comfort food in an upscale environment, this is the only game in town worth your time.

Il Cortile del Re
Italian
Entrées $15-$20
Downtown. 193-A King St. (843) 853-1888
Dinner (closed Sun.)

Il Cortile was pumping out real, homespun Italian cuisine before real, homespun Italian cuisine was cool. They call themselves an enoteca (wine bar), but the food has been the star from day one. Formerly tucked away and hidden in the antique district along lower King Street, expansion onto the street front brought increased capacity and a classic bar scene. It may not be the secret gem of bygone days, but it still ranks up there with the many imitators who have followed. The front bar is a picture-perfect place to hang out with a bottle of wine, a cheese plate, and a few friends. We like to go on an early weeknight, when the crowds are low and the kitchen calm enough to put out their finest meal.

JB's Smokeshack
BBQ/Ribs/Wings
Entrées $5-$10
Johns Island. 3406 Maybank Hwy. (843) 557-0426;
Goose Creek. 521 Redbank Road. (843) 572-3311
Lunch and Dinner (closed Sun.-Tues.)

The cute little country shack on Johns Island features both a buffet and a selection of plates for ordering in a cozy little one-room space with plenty of pig paraphernalia adorning the walls. The chopped pork is good, with several sauces featured, but they have won multiple awards for the beef brisket, competently smoked and sliced­— it is not featured on the buffet, but worth the extra expense. A second location spreads the smoke and sauce to the fortunate residents of Goose Creek with a more extensive menu that features catfish, ribs, and burgers.

Jim 'N Nick's Bar-B-Q
BBQ/Ribs/Wings
Entrées $5-$10
Downtown. 288 King St. (843) 577-0406
Lunch and Dinner

If you are stuck downtown and need a true barbecue fix, this King Street location serves up an acceptable plate right in the middle of the shopping corridor. It seems that the thousands of women flocking to the shoe stores and designer pocketbook boutiques drag their husbands along, creating a massive demand for quality urban barbecue. The place is routinely packed, but the beer always comes cold, and the cheese biscuits are a can't-miss accoutrement.

Joseph's Restaurant
More Than A Sandwich
Entrées $5-$10
Downtown. 129 Meeting St.
(843) 958-8500
Breakfast, Lunch, and Sunday Brunch

Joseph's little storefront location next to the Gibbes Museum of Art on Meeting Street serves a delicious assortment of breakfast and lunch specialties, as well as brunch all day on Sundays. From delicious homemade pancakes to creative salads, they dish out big portions of freshly prepared food in the well-appointed dining room and in the splendid outdoor garden during good weather. You will have no trouble finding the place — just look for the line outside the door.

Joy Luck
Asian/Indian
Entrées $5-$10
West Ashley. 1303 Ashley River Road. (843) 573-8899
Lunch and Dinner

If you're ordering Chinese take-out from any other location in West Ashley, you're probably getting ripped off. Where most have little puny shrimp in big puffs of bread, they have plump juicy ones in a crispy fried shell. Where you often get heat-lamp preparations that taste as if they are made of cardboard, Joy Luck gives you food so fresh that the brown paper bags they bring it in are soaked with the hot grease.

The Kickin' Chicken
American/Eclectic — Casual
Entrées $5-$10
Downtown. 337 King St. (843) 805-5020;
Mt. Pleasant. 1119 Johnnie Dodds Blvd. (843) 881-8734;
James Island. 1175 Folly Road. (843) 225-6996;
Summerville. 800 N. Main St. (843) 875-6998
Lunch, Dinner, and Late Night

What started as a ghetto lunch delivery outfit has morphed over the years into a veritable sandwich empire in the Holy City — because these guys make one hell of a sandwich. The signature Kickin' Chicken sandwich is an artery-clogging sub that piles crispy bacon over fried chicken tenders and tops the whole thing with layers of melted cheese. Eating a whole one with a couple beers will send you home for a nap. At night, the Chicken turns into a rocking bar scene with live music and happy customers eating wings and hanging out.

Lana
Greek/Mediterranean
Entrées $10-$20
Downtown. 210 Rutledge Ave. (843) 720-8899
Lunch (Mon.-Fri.) and Dinner (Closed Sun.)

With great food, good wine values, and an out-of-the-way location, Lana is truly a gem. It's a little French, a tad Mediterranean, with a bunch of fresh local ingredients, and it's worth every penny for a great weeknight dinner or a lavish Saturday night feast. Lunch here has become a regular stop for powerbrokers, doctors, neighborhood residents, and politicians like Fritz Hollings. They come for the upscale food, the easy parking, and the comfortable setting.

Langdon's Restaurant and Wine Bar
American/Eclectic — Upscale
Entrées $20-$40
Mt. Pleasant. 778 South Shelmore Blvd. (843) 388-9200
Lunch (Mon.-Fri.) and Dinner (closed Sun.)

One could drive right past Langdon's Restaurant and never even know it was there. Tucked away in a nondescript BI-LO shopping center, even the sign is hard to see — but don't let that dissuade you from trying this exceptional menu. They produce truly memorable food and wine — particularly the lamb chops napped with a jalapeño-mint gastric and a perfectly seared tuna. Combine this with a very well-designed wine selection available in multiple pour sizes, featured food pairings, and expert bar service (Riedel glasses are the bomb) and you have yourself some top-notch stuff that's worth fighting the traffic for.

Laura Albert's Tasteful Options
American/Eclectic — Casual
Entrées $10-$15
Daniel Island. 891 Island Park Dr.
(843) 881-4711
Lunch (closed Sun.)

"Mama" Rose Durden, who made her name at Carolina's, is back in action at this trendy little lunch café out in Daniel Island. They serve delectable crab cakes, spreads, sandwiches, salads, and reinterpreted American classics like a deconstructed chicken pot pie. In addition to the food, the operation offers a quality selection of wines, a weekly dinner to go, and in-house catering service for private dinner celebrations. We can only hope that they ultimately expand into a full dinner service, 'cause Mama Rose sure can cook.

Long Point Grill
American/Eclectic — Casual
Entrées $10-$15
Mt. Pleasant. 479 Long Point Road.
(843) 884-3101
Lunch and Dinner (closed Sun.)

Sal Parco's newest project, situated just outside the edge of the industrial port operation at the end of its namesake street, offers a delicious option for both weeknight drop-ins and weekend splurges. They excel at producing delicious stick-to-your-ribs fare with a creative twist at a price that allows the entire family to tag along. All of this comes with great service in a welcoming casual atmosphere without the slightest pretense. Take your mother-in-law and the persnickety old gramps — hell, take the dog and leave him in the car. The generously oversized portions will leave plenty for the pooch as well.

Madra Rua
Pubs/Taverns
Entrées $5-$10
North Charleston. 1034 E. Montague Ave. (843) 554-2522
Lunch and Dinner

Hands down, this is the best Irish pub in town. Hidden up in the Park Circle area of North Chuck, Madra Rua got ahead of the Noisette curve and has led the way ever since. Comprehensive soccer coverage, some very tasty fish and chips, and the only shepherd's pie around here worth eating make this the ideal location to suck down a pint or two while watching all the exciting World Cup action. Of course, the World Cup will not be back for another three years, but we're sure there'll be plenty of other games in the meantime.

Manny's
Greek/Mediterranean
Entrées $5-$10
West Ashley. 1680 Old Towne Road.
(843) 763-3908
Lunch, Dinner, and Late Night

Everybody loves Manny's. They have great Greek-American fare mixed with American and Italian-American standards that, in all their greasy glory, express what a true neighborhood joint should be all about. You don't go there to be impressed with the wine list or to watch beautiful people. You show up expecting cold beer, good times, and some excellent, satisfying grub, and that's exactly what you get.

McCrady's
American/Eclectic — Upscale
Entrées $30 and up
Downtown. 2 Unity Alley. (843) 577-0025
Dinner

If Mike Lata at FIG is the slow food maverick of Charleston, then Sean Brock is the rebellious rock star of its cuisine. At McCrady's, a location so ancient and venerable that it once served dinner to George Washington, Brock juxtaposes its legacy with cutting-edge "molecular gastronomy," a combination that proves to be one hell of a concept. Charleston's mad scientist stocks his kitchen with exotic implements and futuristic food. Laboratory-grade heated water circulators cook vacuum-sealed meats for days, powders and potions turn liquids to gel at high temperatures rather than low ones, vats of liquid nitrogen cool plates of metal that become ultra-cold "anti-griddles," foams and froths abound. Brocks added a custom chef's table (starting at $2,000 for a maximum of 12 seats) that promises an unforgettable culinary experience with only the best ingredients around.

Magnolias
Southern/Lowcountry
Entrées $15-$20
Downtown. 185 East Bay St. (843) 577-7771
Lunch, Dinner, and Sunday Brunch

A leading light from the old days, Magnolias has gone the way of the tourist throng, but locals who brave the crowds or sneak in during the dead of winter can be rewarded with quality interpretations of Southern cuisine. It seems that all those tourist dollars have not totally relegated the kitchen to churning out mediocre fare in high volume. We particularly like the fresh, handmade potato chips that come blanketed in an aged blue cheese, which can make a downtown shopping trip bearable.

Martha Lou's Kitchen
Southern/Lowcountry
Entrées $10-$15
Downtown. 1068 Morrison Dr. (843) 577-9583
Breakfast and Lunch (closed Sun.)

We still get up on Sundays and cry sometimes because Alice's Fine Foods no longer graces the soul food kingdom. But when we need our greasy fried chicken fix, Martha Lou's comes to the rescue. For years, she's been serving some fine, tasty chicken right out of the skillet, and tea so sweet it would become rock candy if you left it in the sun. Finding it is easy. Head up East Bay Street until you see "Martha Lou's" plastered in blue across a bright pink cinderblock building and hear the melodies of African-American church gospel. The stuff's so good you'll wanna kiss your mama.

Mellow Mushroom
Pizza
Entrées $5-$10
Downtown. 309 King St. (843) 723-7374
Lunch and Dinner

Mellow Mushroom is an amusement park of pizza with a huge oven in the back, an expanded bar area upstairs, plenty of beer, and a menu of sandwiches that will satisfy just about anyone. The creative assortment of toppings makes pizza new again, and the crispy whole wheat crust underneath provides a delicious base for it all. Whether you keep it simple with pepperoni or get fancy with pesto, Mellow Mushroom will put it in the oven for you.

Mercato
Italian
Entrées $20 and up
Downtown. 102 N. Market St. (843) 722-6393
Dinner and Late Night (closed Sun.)

If you want to experience what must be considered the most beautiful dining space in the city of Charleston, Mercato's is your next stop. The latest aquisition in the burgeoning Hank Holliday empire, Mercato's space was put through an extraordinary renovation at great expense. Holliday tapped the considerable talents of Chef Jacques Larson, who excelled at Cintra before moving out for the bright lights. The bar is second to none, and the gnocco, a hot semolina porridge topped with molten cheese, is perhaps the best late night tummy-filler in town. The menu hits all the standard stuff like thinly pounded veal and osso bucco.

Mia's Café
American/Eclectic — Casual
Entrées $15-$20
West Ashley. 3669 Savannah Hwy.
(843) 769-7433
Lunch (Mon.-Fri.), Dinner (Wed.-Sat.), and Sunday Brunch

People make a pilgrimage to this location down Highway 17 every Sunday for an astounding brunch deal. Fresh raw oysters, crab legs, roasted legs of lamb, hams, and did we mention a chocolate fountain with fresh strawberries? As if that weren't enough, they offer a very good "soul food" lunch daily and at night turn into a respectable French bistro with incredible value and handmade food. Mia's is a winner in more ways than one.

The Mikasa Room at Trident Tech
American/Eclectic
Entrées $5-$10
North Charleston. 7000 Rivers Ave. (843) 820-5087
Hours vary

Need to score a cheap date on a broke wallet? The students at the Culinary Institute of Charleston lay down an unbelievable lunch value. Here, you'll set three courses, which are so good this might as well be served downtown. How about "Trio of Butterflied Shrimp Stuffed with Crab, Tomatoes and Feta Cheese on Creamy Grits with Pepper Gravy" for $4? ...or "Grilled Swordfish Steak with Basmati Rice, Grilled Asparagus, and Mango Salsa" for $8? You just can't go wrong for that price, and for two more bucks you could score something like "Meyers Rum Flambéed Bananas with a Chile Chocolate Sauce and Housemade Vanilla Bean Ice Cream," done tableside, in the old way. You have to call ahead for reservations, so plan ahead, but if you want to see the future chefs of Charleston, they're ready to practice on your palate for half price.

Moe's Crosstown Tavern
Pubs/Taverns
Entrées $5-$10
Downtown. 714 Rutledge Ave. (843) 722-3287
Lunch, Dinner, and Sunday Brunch

Moe's serves such good bar food that we shouldn't even call it bar food. Burgers, wings, and appetizers reach new levels at this bona fide neighborhood location. You don't have to have your own key to get in the door anymore, and that's a good thing, because on a busy night the door will barely budge for all the people gathered there. The goat cheese and poblano burger and hand-cut French fries are big, greasy, and delicious, and the wings (served "Moe Hotter") will make you cry. If you can't make it all the way up to the original location, you're in luck. They just bought out the old Jimmy Dengate's downtown and will be serving the same burgers and fries, surely wowing the tourist crowd on Cumberland Street.

Momma Brown's
BBQ/Ribs/Wings
Entrées $5-$10
Mt. Pleasant. 1471 Ben Sawyer Blvd.
(843) 849-8802
Lunch and Dinner (Tues.-Sat.) (closed Mon.)

This mainstay of Mt. Pleasant has such a loyal following that people drive from West Ashley to eat lunch at the packed tables that line the buffet steam bar. Serving authentic Pee Dee/Eastern North Carolina vinegar and pepper on some very good hog, the team at Momma Brown's sticks to tradition and serves up the real thing. It's no wonder, since they are part of the ancestral lineage of Browns that made the Kingstree area famous for slow-cooked pork. If you're looking for old-style country barbecue with a spicy tang, this is your next stop.

Mondo's Delite
American/Eclectic — Casual
Entrées $10-$15
James Island. 915 Folly Road. (843) 795-8400
Lunch (Mon.-Fri.) and Dinner (closed Sun.)

This shopping center bistro, tucked behind the endless chain establishments of Folly Road, has been serving some of the best value cuisine on the west side of Charleston for years. Fresh, homemade breads and great pasta dishes make it a weeknight favorite, and one that won't break the bank — a solid choice when you just need to eat something good.

At her little Mediterranean spot, Muse, Beth Ann Crane specializes in a stunning selection of wines by the glass - LESLIE MCKELLAR
  • Leslie McKellar
  • At her little Mediterranean spot, Muse, Beth Ann Crane specializes in a stunning selection of wines by the glass

Muse
Greek/Mediterranean
Entrées $20 and up
Downtown. 82 Society St. (843) 577-1102
Dinner (closed Sun.)

With over 100 wines by the glass and some of the best Mediterranean fare this side of Morocco, Muse owner Beth Ann Crane has put together a space that is already becoming a cult classic. We especially like the emphasis on wine, with a wide selection and a rather knowledgeable staff on hand. It's a place where wine professionals go to hang out and a regular Joe could learn an awful lot just by sitting at the bar. Housed in one of the most beautiful dining spaces on the lower peninsula, and blessed with Chef Jason Houser's creative foray into the multiple cultural traditions that inform Mediterranean food, Muse is poised to become a true gastronomic star. Their menu swoons through the exotic, from the olives of Greece to the heat and sweet spice of the North African Maghreb. It is at once a lesson in the history of flavor shaped by world trade and a lovely setting to enjoy a romantic candlelight dinner.

The Mustard Seed
American/Eclectic — Casual
Entrées $10-$15
James Island. 1978 Maybank Hwy. (843) 762-0072;
Mt. Pleasant. 1036 Chuck Dawley Blvd. (843) 849-0050;
Summerville. 101 N. Main St. (843) 821-7101
Lunch and Dinner (closed Sun.)

Just like real mustard seeds, Sal Parco's health-conscious yet delicious offerings have sprouted throughout the greater metro area, reaching all the way to Summerville. With a menu that can appease meat eaters, vegetarians, and the cost-conscious, the casual atmosphere and relaxed service make The Mustard Seed an excellent choice for a quick lunch or a weekday dinner no matter what side of town you happen to inhabit.

Oak Steakhouse
Steakhouse
Entrées $20 and up
Downtown. 17 Broad St. (843) 722-4220
Dinner (closed Sun.)

Chef/owner Brett McKee commands one of the most dedicated followings in the city. His patrons, it seems, come not only for the exemplary food (the espresso-rubbed prime steaks are absolutely divine), but also to support a man who raises mountains of cash for aid organizations and community causes. Attend any charitable event in town and you are likely to sample some of the Oak Steakhouse's great grub. From his signature lobster-laced mac 'n' cheese to a meltingly tender veal osso buco, Oak delivers the goods in style.

The Ocean Room
American/Eclectic — Upscale
Entrées $20 and up
Kiawah Island. 1 Sanctuary Beach Dr.
(843) 768-6000
Dinner

The centerpiece of Kiawah Island's newest extravaganza, The Sanctuary, The Ocean Room portrays all of the grandeur one has come to expect on the resort isle with a price to match. Staid surroundings envelop you in luxury as servants attend to your every need; jackets are required for men, and opulent food and wine grace the tables. As the old commercial goes; if you like The Woodlands, you're going to love The Ocean Room.

The Old Village Post House
Southern/Lowcountry
Entrées $15-$25
Mt. Pleasant. 101 Pitt St. (843) 388-8935
Lunch, Dinner, and Sunday Brunch

Tucked away among the quaint homes and friendly streets of Mt. Pleasant's most livable neighborhood, the Post House anchors the historic commercial strip of the Old Village. Set inside a charming wood frame structure that also houses a top-flight inn, the small dining room showcases some of the best food that the Maverick restaurant group (High Cotton, S.N.O.B.) puts out. New chef Tim Armstrong continues to improve an already outstanding establishment, focusing on creative interpretations of local favorites with a contemporary style.

Olympik Restaurant
Greek/Mediterranean
Entrées $10-$15
West Ashley. 1922 Savannah Hwy. (843) 556-9359
Lunch and Dinner (closed Sun.)

This little spot down Highway 17 in West Ashley serves good Greek food at a great price. They have all the standard items, with some really good tzatziki and a small shop for finding authentic imported Greek foods. Family-owned and run, they serve a great quick lunch or a weeknight dinner.

Pa Pa Zu Zu's
Greek/Mediterranean
Entrées $5-$10
Downtown. 370 King St. (843) 534-1666
Lunch and Dinner

This may well be the tiniest downtown restaurant ever to serve such great food. Ultra-fresh veggies, thick garlicky yogurt sauces, and creamy hummus show up next to "gyros as big as your head." The Greek salad is so big, fresh, and crunchy you can graze on it for days. Take-out is the best way to go, especially on a spring day with Marion Square just 100 yards away.

Pane e Vino
Italian
Entrées $10-$15
Downtown. 17 Warren St. (843) 853-5955
Dinner (closed Sun.)

They brought you Il Cortile del Re, the original old-school Italian of Charleston, and then moved up north to serve lots of wine and some pretty decent food on their quaint little garden of a spot off upper King. The floating sounds of jazz accompany a diverse menu of traditional favorites, including some great cheeses and charcuterie, and the easygoing service won't leave you wondering which fork to use.

Parson Jack's Café
American/Eclectic — Casual
Entrées $5-$10
West Ashley. 3417 Shelby Ray Ct.
(843) 769-7775
Lunch, Dinner, and Sunday Brunch

A funky little joint out off the Glenn McConnell Parkway, Parson Jack's comes in somewhere between a country bar and grill and a suburban Hooter's location. Despite its relative youth, the place feels like an old favorite with a whimsical theme (including church pews for seats) and a happy hour bar crowd of regulars who seem to know everyone who walks in the door. You could go for all of that, or you could venture out there for one of the best burgers in town and bar food that will turn you into an instant regular.

Pavilion Bar
American/Eclectic — Upscale
Entrées $15-$20
Downtown. 225 East Bay St. (843) 266-4218
Lunch and Dinner

This swank open-air diva dresses up the rooftop of the Market Pavilion Hotel with an extravagance that makes it a destination for any serious downtown bar crawler. Winter heaters, glass windbreaks, sun-shading umbrellas, and one of the coolest swimming pools we've ever seen make it a prime beautiful people-watching perch. The drinks are expensive, the food excellent, and the atmosphere so South Beach/Miami Vice that you expect to see Crockett and Tubbs sprint by and tackle some dude into the pool at any moment. While watching the cavorting flesh stroll past, one can nibble on an equally erotic assortment of tuna tartare, deep-fried lobster tails, duck confit over nachos, Kobe beef burgers, or our favorite, the Lobster Thermidor and Portobello Pizza.

Pearlz
Seafood
Entrées $10-$15
Downtown. 153 East Bay St. (843) 577-5755
Lunch (opens at 2 p.m. on Sat.-Sun.), Dinner. and Late Night

Pearlz is a great raw bar. An abundant daily selection of fresh mollusks graces the chalkboard, shucked before your eyes and served up with your choice of cold beverage, from champagne to beer. It's a perfect place to stop in for a bite and an oyster shooter before hitting the town or for ending a bit of carousing when the late night munchies attack.

Peninsula Grill
American/Eclectic — Upscale
Entrées $20 and up
Downtown. 112 N. Market St. (843) 723-0770
Dinner

Chef Robert Carter's classic downtown spot attached to the Planter's Inn has been honing its perfect edge for years and shows no sign of slowing down. Carter headlines this delicious Southern belle where Lowcountry influences intertwine with contemporary preparations in a symphony of flavors that lead flawlessly from arrival to dessert. Start at the champagne bar (which serves six selections by the glass), perhaps indulge in a few oysters, a tartare dish, or one of the most scrumptious foie gras plates in the city. Move on to your table, where the signature "Wild Mushroom Grits"— still amazing in a town overrun with coarse ground hominy— can start the meal; order up the classic lamb chops encrusted with sesame seeds. Peninsula focuses on perfect consistency and serious service, with professional training for its wait staff including daily wine instruction. To eat there is to experience one of the most well-oiled machines in the business, but if you have to save up, don't worry, we're pretty sure they're going to be around for quite some time.

Pho Bac
Asian/Indian
Entrées $5-$10
Mt. Pleasant. 1035 Johnnie Dodds Blvd. (843) 849-6752
N. Charleston. 7671 Northwoods Blvd. Ste. J (843) 863-8552
Lunch and Dinner

The untimely demise of Binh Mihn a few years ago left us gasping for our cheap East Asian fix, but just when we thought the strip mall spring roll was dead, along came this beauty, serving acceptable rolls, the occasional sushi plate, and the best pho bac (that's Vietnamese beef noodle soup, for those out of the loop) in town. Owner Tom Phan takes a personal interest in each steaming bowl that leaves the joint, laboring over the long-simmered broths and thinly sliced accoutrements (chicken, shrimp, beef, and even meatballs) for inordinate amounts of time. You may have to wait a while, but some things are worth the time they take.

Poe's Tavern
American/Eclectic — Casual
Entrées $5-$10
Sullivan's Island. 2210 Middle St.
(843) 883-0083
Lunch and Dinner

We tried to count the number of references to Edgar Allan Poe at this beach bar on Sullivan's and gave up after two beers. No matter the time of day, this is the perfect place to weather that freak thunderstorm that ruins your beach excursion. You can sit inside, out on the patio, or on the porch — either way the beer is cold and the respectable pub food can quell a grumbling belly. Chips with guacamole and a killer soft-shell crab sandwich top the list of good eats at this island institution.

Raval
Tapas
Entrées $5-$10
Downtown. 453 King St. (843) 853-8466
Dinner

Raval's exotic nature makes it immensely compelling, but the Spanish-style tapas and great wine list keep this place packed. It's a great place to start your evening with selections like spicy grilled shrimp, cool salads, fried potatoes, and trendy Spanish wines. The front window frames the visible kitchen and a splendid bar while the rear space transports visitors into a couch-laden fantasy, complete with a thumping DJ on the weekends— sort of like a Turkish harem with great Spanish food.

Red Drum Gastropub
American/Eclectic — Upscale
Entrées $15-$20
Mt. Pleasant. 803 Coleman Blvd. (843) 849-0313
Dinner (closed Sun.)

Need a great meal after work in Mt. P., a place to take the office out for crowd-pleasing drinks and dinner? This is your place. The Gastropub serves up a delicious blend of Southwestern-inspired cuisine, microbrews, and classic French bistro fare in a gorgeous, laid-back atmosphere. It is a synergy that has wowed a plethora of regulars who now inhabit the bar, swilling killer margaritas and munching on Chef/Owner Ben Berryhill's awesome chicken enchiladas with red mole and some of the best ceviche that we have ever tasted; if you are lucky, you will get to eat it all in the cozy little wine cave. It dresses down like a pub, but serves fine cuisine like a grande dame of the restaurant scene — hence the moniker Gastropub. We don't really care what they call it — it's just plain good.

Red Orchids China Bistro
Asian/Indian
Entrées $10-$15
West Ashley. 1401 Sam Rittenberg Blvd. (843) 573-8787
Lunch (Mon.-Sat.) and Dinner

Ask for Tony, the proprietor, and prepare yourself for a sake adventure. No other restaurateur in Charleston can produce the knowledge of sake's history, with off-the-cuff tasting notes. Sure, Red Bistro is technically a Chinese restaurant, but you won't want to do take-out. You sit down here and you eat well for a great price. Of course, ordering is easy. The crispy fried red snapper served with a spicy sweet and sour pepper sauce is one of the best dishes to be found in the city at any price — and one order will serve two people. By the second flask of sake, little details like ordering won't matter too much anyway.

"Singing Chef" Robert Dickson has abandoned the stove at Robert's of Charleston, but he still serenades guests while his daughter MariElena and her husband Joe Raya run the kitchen and front of the house - LESLIE MCKELLAR
  • Leslie McKellar
  • "Singing Chef" Robert Dickson has abandoned the stove at Robert's of Charleston, but he still serenades guests while his daughter MariElena and her husband Joe Raya run the kitchen and front of the house

Robert's of Charleston
American/Eclectic — Upscale
Entrées $20 and up
Downtown. 182 East Bay St. (843) 577-7565
Dinner (closed Sun.-Tues.)

If you had to pick one "legendary" restaurant in downtown Charleston, it would be Robert's. Still going strong after 30 years, the small, intimate dining room has witnessed countless birthdays, engagements, and anniversaries — it's the original "special occasion" place. Robert's still packs them in for live show tunes and opera every night and with Robert's daughter MariElena and her husband Joseph Raya now running the show, Robert is free to perform better than ever. Wine pairings have branched out to embrace some of the best emerging regions in the world, and the five-course prix fixe menu has achieved a new level of accomplishment. If you have not been in years, it's time to rediscover this old standby on East Bay Street.

Rosebank Farms Café
Southern/Lowcountry
Entrées $20 and up
Seabrook Island. 1886 Andell Bluff Blvd. (843) 768-1807
Lunch and Dinner

Bohicket Marina is the home of Rosebank Farms Café, and it's run by local character Julie Limehouse. Her fun, carefree spirit reigns in old-fashioned Southern touches like "Drunk Butterbeans and Rice," "Black Strap Molasses BBQ Sauce," and "Tobacco Fried Onions." The dining room is comfortable and sophisticated without trying too hard, and her hardcore Lowcountry spirit and accent infuse the whole café with an authenticity that has earned a cadre of faithful followers. If for no other reason, the brilliant sunset over the marsh, a cool maritime breeze, and the swaying of masts as you wait outside for a table is worth the drive from town.

Santi's
Mexican/Southwestern
Entrées $10-$15
Downtown. 1302 Meeting St. (843) 722-2633
Lunch and Dinner (closed Sun.)

Fresh, delicious, and fast. Santi's has won over a legion of downtown diners with reasonable prices, authentic fare, and friendly waiters. The open kitchen area of the old Huddle House space bustles as Santi and staff stuff burritos full of cheese, beans, beef, and whatever else you want crammed in there. The enchiladas verdes are fat and tasty, and Santi's mole sauce is scrumptious. A lush patio provides a buffer from the rumbling trucks and a cozy spot for drinking margaritas and eating chips and salsa.

Seel's Fish Camp
Seafood
Entrées $5-$10
Mt. Pleasant. 536 Belle Station Blvd. (843) 856-8545
Lunch and Dinner (closed Sun. and Mon.)

This relatively new Mt. Pleasant fish camp should weather just fine in the coming years. They put out an impressive array of crawfish, catfish, shrimp, and oysters in several preparations. They also have fine soups and some of the most delicious collard greens east of the Cooper.

Sesame
American/Eclectic — Casual
Entrées $5-$10
North Charleston. 4726 Spruill Ave.
(843) 554-4903
Lunch and Dinner (closed Sun.)

From the owners of Five Loaves Café comes this out-of-the-way roadside hamburger joint. Fearlessly plopped down off Spruill Avenue — a bold wager on the success of the Noisette project — Sesame blows most visitors away, because most people have never had a handmade hamburger before. Sure, you may have patted down a pound or two of meat in your life, but we're talking house-made buns, ketchup, mustard, mayo, relishes, even pimiento cheese — the whole nine yards. Get the fresh-ground meat cooked as bloody as you like, kind of like Southern tartare with white bread. Yum.

Shem Creek Bar and Grill
Seafood
Entrées $10-$15
Mt. Pleasant. 508 Mill St. (843) 884-8102
Lunch and Dinner

Those looking for an authentic raw bar experience need go no farther than the touristy gulch of Shem Creek. Shem Creek's back bar, suspended over the creek on the way out to the docks, remains a worthwhile destination. Behind weathered wood and overflowing mounds of ice and oysters stands 20-year veteran of Shem Creek and barman extraordinaire, Albert LaPrince. With forearms the size of battleship guns, LaPrince can keep pace with a thirsty crowd as they swill and slurp long into the night. He has won the Boone Hall oyster-shucking contest so many times that he quit entering and has no problem popping a dozen cold ones on ice in under a minute. A one-man, sweat-laden whirlwind of a show unto himself, he mixes a mean Manhattan, keeps the cold beer flowing, and plops down icy shellfish at a rapid-fire pace.

Shi Ki
Asian/Indian
Entrées $10-$15
Downtown. 334 East Bay St. (843) 720-8568
Lunch (Mon.-Fri.) and Dinner (closed Sun.)

This little downtown Japanese sushi house is tucked away beside the Eckerd on East Bay Street. The sushi is excellent, but we go mainly for the fat selection of noodles — plump udon noodles that come surrounded by tempura-fried seafood, vegetables, and some delicious dashi broth creations. Traditional Japanese tempura appetizers are also good, and with enough non-sushi fare to make ordering easy for the sushi-averse, you can get your raw fish fix even when your landlubbing relatives are in town.

Six Tables
American/Eclectic — Upscale
$85 prix fixe
Mt. Pleasant. 664-G Long Point Road (Belle Hall Shopping Center). (843) 971-8850
Dinner (closed Sun. and Mon.)

Sequestered away from the din of the Boone Hall Shopping Center in Mt. Pleasant, Six Tables presents a surreal environment in which to sample food from Chef Jeremy Holst, who recently joined the staff. Outrageously authentic French preparations come served in a rococo space worthy of a medieval château. The prix fixe, multiple-course menu includes a prelude of champagne and an encore of inventive sorbets and lavishly rich desserts, resulting in a perfect "special occasion" place.

Chef Ken Vedrinski serves a poached skatewing at SiennaA trio of hot tacos at Taco Boy - LESLIE MCKELLAR
  • Leslie McKellar
  • Chef Ken Vedrinski serves a poached skatewing at SiennaA trio of hot tacos at Taco Boy

Sienna
Italian
Entrées $15-$20
Daniel Island. 901 Island Park Dr.
(843) 881-8820
Lunch (Mon.-Thurs.) and Dinner (closed Sun.)

You can't consider yourself a Charleston foodie and not have eaten a meal at Sienna. Who would've thought the culinary mastermind behind the original diamonds and stars at The Woodlands' Dining Room could go out and open an even better establishment — by returning to his grandma's Italian roots — in suburban Daniel Island, of all places? Well, it happened, folks, and Sienna continues to dazzle diners with wonderful food and hand-picked Italian wine (server/wine enthusiast Robert O'Neil has forgotten more than we knew existed on the subject). Ken Vedrinski's robust talent can best be sampled with the chef's "Ultimate Tasting," a $100-plus extravaganza pairing seven courses with expert wine selections in a gut-busting adventure through a culinary wonderland that features rare ingredients from around the world.

Slightly North of Broad
Southern/Lowcountry
Entrées $15-$20
Downtown. 192 East Bay St. (843) 723-3424
Lunch (Mon.-Fri.) and Dinner

S.N.O.B., as it is affectionately known, still produces a steady, reliable stream of classic food from its open kitchen. While the new guys on the block in the East Bay corridor have stolen some of its former glory, S.N.O.B. can still be counted on for a dependable quality lunch or dinner in a charming atmosphere. Chef Frank Lee is a downtown institution and his interpretive Southern fare explores interesting textures and combinations of flavor while remaining true to the culinary traditions of the Lowcountry.

Social
American/Eclectic — Upscale
Entrées $15-$20
Downtown. 188 East Bay St. (843) 577-5665
Dinner and Late Night

The kitchen seems to be a bit up in the air these days over at Social, but this newcomer to the downtown wine bar scene certainly packs in the excitement. The food can be outstanding at times and the wine selection ranks as one the best in the city. From a raucous Friday night party full of young revelers to a quiet Tuesday night with a romantic bottle for two, Social can be a perfect setting for a range of occasions. The coolest feature, as far as we're concerned, is the flights of wine designed around flavor profiles. A great way to sample interesting varieties without popping the cork on a boner that costs way too much.

Sticky Fingers
BBQ/Ribs/Wings
Entrées $5-$10
Mt. Pleasant. 341 Johnnie Dodds Blvd. (843) 856-7427;
Downtown. 235 Meeting St. (843) 853-7427;
Summerville. 1200 N. Main St. (843) 871-7427;
North Charleston. 7690 Northwoods Blvd. (843) 797-7427
Lunch and Dinner

Three guys, post-college bums by their own account, decide to create a rib joint in Mt. P., expand into Summerville and the heart of the historic district, then get some college friends to open franchises in a budding empire that stretches across five states. It sounds like a recipe for disaster in the ultra-competitive world of Charleston cuisine but is exactly how Sticky Fingers got its start. Now a successful franchise chain, with even more corporate expansion on the horizon, these local transplants have gone national to bring their fine ribs and barbecue to the rest of the country — spreading Memphis-style pork with Lowcountry flair across the land.

Sushi Hiro
Asian/Indian
Entrées $10-$15
Downtown. 298 King St. (843) 723-3628
Lunch and Dinner (closed Sun.)

From the friendly banter of the sushi chefs to the diversity of the impeccably fresh catch, the "Hiro" is the place for raw fish. Traditional Japanese décor and a convenient location in the heart of King Street make it a great meet-up spot or simply a perch from which to watch passersby from a front window table while enjoying any number of creative, signature makizushi rolls and expertly prepared Edo style nigiri-sushi. When in season, the ultra fatty "Toro" tuna, a rare and expensive cut from the underbelly of the fish, should not be missed.

A trio of hot tacos at Taco Boy - LESLIE MCKELLAR

Taco Boy
Mexican/Southwestern
Entrées $10-$15
Folly Beach. 15 Center St. (843) 588-9761
Lunch and Dinner

The latest addition to the Folly Beach beer-swilling scene, this bar-cum-Mexican taco stand offers a great selection of semi-authentic Mexican-American grub and a cool bar scene at the beach. After a long day of sand and sun, you can load up on fresh corn tortillas with a variety of fillings — and of course, you'll need plenty of bitingly sharp margaritas to wash all that flavor down.

Taste of India
Asian/Indian
Entrées $5-$10
West Ashley. 851 Savannah Hwy. (843) 556-0772
Lunch and Dinner

Tucked away in a nondescript brown building a few yards from the Coburg cow sits the Lowcountry's best passport to Northern India. Taste of India's freshly-prepared daily lunch buffet (it offers menu service at both meals) can serve as a wonderful introduction to curries, biryanies, mutters, and naans (breads) for Indian cuisine neophytes. Brunch on Sundays features some Southern Indian specialties, too, like the potato-filled pancake dosa made from scratch right in front of you. Several international and domestic beers are served, if the mango lhasa isn't enough to put you into a Ghandi-like trance.

Ted's Butcherblock
Gourmet Groceries/Wine Shops
Entrées $5-$10
Downtown. 334 East Bay St.
(843) 577-0094
Lunch and Dinner (closed Sun.)

A hybrid of sorts, Ted's stated mission is to provide the best ingredients for those who love to cook, and gourmet fare for those who lack the time (or skill). In this they excel, proving that they are far from your standard neighborhood butcher. In one trip to the butcherblock you can pick up a "Kobe"-style (Wagyu) beef ribeye, some 8-year-old farmhouse cheddar, a great bottle of red wine, fresh kielbasa for the grill, aged gouda mac and cheese, and a whole smoked duck, ready to eat. They also have fresh salads made to order and a selection of side dishes and entrées that showcase a different world region each month. Remember your wallet, because they're not giving anything away, but the duck is some of the best we've ever tasted.

Tristan
American/Eclectic — Upscale
Entrées $20 and up
Downtown. 55 S. Market St. (843) 534-2155
Lunch, Dinner, and Sunday Brunch

Ciarán Duffy has been a busy man, jet-setting across the pond for a gig learning the new "progressive cuisine" at the legendary Fat Duck. If you're a big fan of Tristan already, don't let that worry you. All of the requisite classics remain — getting rid of the lamb ribs, smothered in the now retailed chocolate barbecue sauce, or the "Tomahawk Ribeye" would be sacrilege. If you don't believe us, you can watch them all lovingly prepared on Ciarán's "chef cam," which he attaches to his noggin and streams live on the internet Thurs.- Sat. nights. For all the fanfare that other places in town seem to enjoy, Tristan quietly steams ahead, serving inventive and memorable food. It might be the best open secret in town.

Trusted Palate
American/Eclectic — Casual
Entrées $5-$12
Downtown. 563 King St.
(843) 564-6149
Lunch, Dinner (Mon.-Sat.)

The Trusted Palate has evolved from a specialty retail wine shop into a full-service dining room with a varied selection of cheeses (goat Bijou, Saint Andre) and meat (rabbit-ginger, wild boar, smoked trout), along with accompaniments like honey comb, sweet white garlic, and green abruzzo olives for a create-your-own appetizer plate. The knowledgeable proprietors will help you select the perfect varietal to complement your choices, and the rest of the menu strikes the perfect note for a light meal with salads, soups, and panini. The setting is relaxed and cool with cushy leather couches, big wooden tables, and a comfortable bar.

Turtles Kitchen and Raw Bar
Seafood
Entrées $15-$20
Mt. Pleasant. 660 Long Point Road.
(843) 849-3056
Lunch (Mon.-Fri.) and Dinner (closed Sun.)

The Belle Hall Shopping center is a far cry from the salt air of the beach, but it hides all sorts of surprises. From the street, Turtles looks to be a hip, contemporary dining space replete with the ambient glow of translucently backlit architecture. Hidden in the back, you'll find a brilliant space, a full bar, stacked with cold libations, a separate mini-kitchen dedicated to its patrons, and at least a half-dozen selections on the half-shell. They cater to a steady crowd of regulars who come not only for the shellfish shucked before their eyes, but the plasma screenings of Iron Chef as well.

Uni Bar
Asian/Indian
Entrées $5-$10
West Ashley. 9 Magnolia Road.
(843) 766-7837
Lunch (Mon.-Sat.), Dinner, and Late Night

We were sad to see ol' Marie Laveau's go (since Charleston lacks a decidedly flavorful New Orleans' Creole spot), but if you fancied the "World Famous Duck Club," Uni Bar's red curry with duck confit might be even better. They have fried sea urchin roe, bowls of hot steaming noodles prepared any way you like them, and an extensive sake menu. The crazy chickens have given way to psychedelic China men, but the owners of Voodoo have added another flavorful spot to the family.

Vallarta Grill
Mexican/Southwestern
Entrées $5-$10
North Charleston. 6907 Dorchester Road. (843) 207-7966
Lunch and Dinner

We no longer have to mourn the closing of La Playita, the former Mexican fish house over on Remount Road, because we found the Vallarta Grill— not quite as authentic (or as grungy) as the latter, but every bit as good. They call themselves a marisceria and the emphasis on seafood is evident in the menu, which features a perfectly crispy whole fried fish. They also have the standard array of Mexican-American dishes for the gringos and a quaint little watering hole tucked away in the back of the joint.

Vickery's
Caribbean/Cuban
Entrées $10-$15
Downtown. 15 Beaufain St. 577-5300;
Mt. Pleasant. 1313 Shrimp Boat Lane. (843) 884-4440
Lunch, Dinner, and Sunday Brunch

You can never go wrong with a trip to Vickery's. Black bean cakes and the turkey and brie sandwich are favorites for lighter diners, and there are plenty of burgers and fried stuff for those interested in junk-food snacking. A sampling of Cuban specialties— like the Cuban sandwich— keeps things spicy. It's one of the few places to dine outside in the shade downtown, and the Shem Creek location has a gorgeous view of the water.

Wild Wing Café
American/Eclectic — Casual
Entrées $5-$10
Downtown. 36 N. Market St. (843) 722-9464;
Mt. Pleasant. 644 Coleman Blvd. (843) 971-9464;
North Charleston. 7618 Rivers Ave. (843) 818-9464
Lunch, Dinner, and Late Night

The Wild Wing restaurant chain — an empire that grew out of Hilton Head and remains based in Charleston — hit on a surefire winner of a concept. They serve the best chicken wings ever and douse them with enough different sauces and flavors to captivate a crowd. We like to order our beer by the bucket and then get a sampler platter of wings so we can taste some of the 33 different flavors. Our top five? Ragin Cajun, Ranchilada, Pollo Loco, Red Dragon Wing, and the Red, Hot, and Bleu. They've got other stuff on the menu here, and it's good, too, but the wings are why people return again and again.

The Dining Room at Woodlands Resort & Inn
American/Eclectic — Upscale
Entrées $20 and up
Summerville. 125 Parsons Road.
(843) 875-2600
Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner

The Dining Room at Woodlands can be summed up in one word: perfection. Everything they do here is well thought out, perfectly executed, and still, after all these years, delivers the same exemplary meal that we have come to expect, no matter what's on the menu, which changes daily. Despite its considerable distance from downtown, Woodlands remains a strong contender in the uppermost echelon of the Lowcountry's restaurant scene. Executive Chef Tarver King clearly understands his role in continuing the past success of this legendary spot while spurring innovation that keeps the menu fresh and engaging.

Workmen's Café
Southern/Lowcountry
Entrées $5-$10
James Island. 1837 North Grimball Road. (843) 406-0120
Breakfast (Sat.-Sun.) and Lunch (Mon.-Fri.)

If you're riding around looking for a good place to hurt yourself with a gluttonous overload of greasy goodness, then head on over to Workmen's Café on the backside of James Island. They serve up heaping plates of fried chicken, butter beans, macaroni, and all the other favorites at a great price, and they do it in the unpretentious surroundings that scream soul food authenticity. You don't have to be a workman to enjoy the food, but you do need to turn off your cell phone at the door.

The Wreck of the Richard & Charlene
Seafood
Entrées $10-$15
Mt. Pleasant. 106 Haddrell St. (843) 884-0052
Dinner (closed Sun.)

Welcome to some of the finest platters of fried seafood you will find anywhere. The Wreck has the crispy crunch, the impossible-to-find location, that authentic shabby milieu, and the tattered shrimp boat just off the creekside rail. You go to The Wreck for one thing only — deep-fried seafood (they serve other stuff, but who orders that?). They've been doing seafood since Hurricane Hugo grounded the eponymous trawler on the site and they've been doing it well. The actual shipwreck is long gone, but the remembrance lives on at the end of the world along Shem Creek. We keep worrying that the shrimpers will disappear, and along with them, The Wreck, victims of another gentrifying condo project. Until that day, you can bet that the fryers will be hot, dispensing shrimp, scallops, oysters, flounder, and other local fish. Get good directions before you go; we still get lost trying to find the place in the dark.

Your Place
More Than A Sandwich
Entrées $5-$10
Mt. Pleasant. 217 Lucas St. (843) 388-8002
Lunch and Dinner (Fri. and Sat. only)

With a move across the river and some brand-spankin' new digs, the old "This is Your Place" has aspired to greener pastures. You won't find the beloved, grease-laden miasma of old, but the burgers are almost as good as before and the health department is a whole lot happier these days. We still go for one of the best slabs of beef in the city and a realization that driving across town is worth it when your burger comes topped with bacon and jalapeños.

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