2007 DISH Spring Dining Guide » Dining Guide

The Dish

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

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If the recent visit by Anthony Bourdain is any indication, Charleston has arrived on the national food scene. A few months back, the high-profile chef, author, and television host came to town for a week to film an episode of his Travel Channel show No Reservations, and while he was here he made a point of eating at the places with the best word-of-mouth reputations. It's no surprise that he ended up at FIG and Cru Café for food that locals and critics alike drool over. This dining guide provides that sort of insider's approach to eating out in the Lowcountry. These places represent where we eat — from lowly fish camps in the East Side to highfalutin four-star fine dining establishments, and we recommend them all. When you're ready to try someplace new, the best place to start is this list. It's all you need to navigate the diverse and distinct dining scene of Charleston. —Stephanie Barna

The Dish Dining Guide was compiled by Jeff Allen with help from Sarah O'Kelley and Stephanie Barna.

39 Rue de Jean
French
Entrées $15-$20
Downtown. 39 John St. 722-8881
Lunch, Dinner, 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 restaurant around one of the most splendid bars in town. "Rue," as some call it, helped lead the upper King Street revitalization, but it retains all of the glamour that made it a star in the first place. Whether you go for the outstanding mussels or just to watch the beautiful people while sipping champagne at the bar, Rue de Jean is a one-stop shop for an entire evening of revelry.

Al di La
Italian
Entrées $10-$15
West Ashley. 25 Magnolia Road. 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 at a price that never breaks the bank.

Amazon Grill
Steakhouse
Entrées $15-$20
Goose Creek. 1316 Redbank Road. 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. 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. Perhaps the best hidden gem in West Ashley, 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. 722-7437; West Ashley. 1117 Savannah Hwy. 225-4743; Mt. Pleasant. 414 W. Coleman Blvd. 849-7437; James Island. 967 Folly Road. 576-7437
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, or James Island. The pie is still divine, and with more room to spread out, you can even bring the kids.

Arlaana
American/Eclectic — Upscale
Entrées $15-$20
Daniel Island. 259 Seven Farms Dr. 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 crowd, 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.

Atlanticville Restaurant
American/Eclectic — Upscale
Entrées $20-$25
Sullivan's Island. 2063 Middle St. 883-9452
Dinner and Sunday Brunch

A nice spot to munch 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 dresses 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. 724-3490
Lunch (Mon.-Fri.) and Dinner

On any given night, people line the sidewalk on upper King, jostling for a seat in this Asian hotspot. It is the favorite lunch counter of food critic Jeff Allen's 83-year-old conservative grandmother, who likes her ham boiled and her oatmeal plain but her spicy "Beef Basil" over rice. Get there early and steal a spot at the bar overlooking all the hot wok action in the glass-encased kitchen. For $15, there's no better show in town.

The Boathouse
Seafood
Entrées $15-$20
Downtown. 549 East Bay St. 577-7171; Isle of Palms. 101 Palm Blvd. 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 takes a slightly different approach to 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 Coleman Blvd. 216-2611
Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner (closed Sun.)

Just out Coleman Boulevard, on the right, 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 a song, proving that steak and eggs in Charleston don'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 — but after recently being featured on the Food Network, you're going to have to get there early to beat the rest of the crowd.

Capriccio's
Italian
Entrées $10-$15
Mt. Pleasant. 1034 Chuck Dawley Blvd. 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 spaghettis and lasagnas 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.

Central Grille
Southern/Lowcountry
Entrées $15-$20
Summerville. 114 Central Ave. 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. 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. But would you expect any less from the geniuses behind Basil?

Charleston's Café
American/Eclectic — Casual
Entrées $5-$10
Mt. Pleasant. 1039 Johnnie Dodds Blvd. 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.

Chez Fish
Seafood
Entrées $10-$!5
Johns Island. 3966 Betsy Kerrison Pkwy. 768-0753
Lunch, Dinner, and Sunday Brunch

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. 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 equals 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.

Coast
Seafood
Entrées $10-$15
Downtown. 39-D John St. 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 as inventive cocktails careen through the bustling young professionals gathered around the bar. Coast is loud, boisterous, 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-$15
Mt. Pleasant. 863 Houston Northcutt Blvd. 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 was sold last year by chef/owners Alain Saley and Francois Rivalain to Stephen Ollard, but the original, authentic French menu remains. 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.

Cru Café
American/Eclectic — Casual
Entrées $10-$15
Downtown. 18 Pinckney St. 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 trot out the uptown style at dinner; we go for the four-cheese macaroni. It represents more than your average mac and cheese, a huge, gooey mountain of lip-smacking goodness. They call it a side, but it's a meal in itself and worth every delicious fat gram.

D'Allesandro's
Pizza
Entrées $5-$10
Downtown. 229 St. Philip St. 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 Carryout
Southern/Lowcountry
Entrées $5-$10
Downtown. 42-C Morris St.
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 pump out 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. 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 go for the 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. It could make a college kid cry.

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

This former taco stand and grocery may have turned into a cliché of a Mexican restaurant, but some of the vestiges of old 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 chilis.

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

Devotees of the Charleston Farmers Market need no introduction to EVO Pizzeria. Owners Ricky Hacker and Matt McIntosh have been setting up their mobile wood burning oven at the Charleston Farmers Market for the past two years — selling pizzas inspired by local ingredients. Now, you can sit down and enjoy such a treat in their brand 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 just in an expanded format. Their garden salad features hydroponic lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumbers from Moncks Corner, and their soup du jour is seasonally inspired. As the growing season gets in full swing, you can expect to see the bounty of the Lowcountry on their pizzas and panini. And have no fear — the guys will still set up every Saturday at Marion Square.

Fiery Ron's Home Team BBQ
BBQ/Ribs/Wings
Entrées $5-$10
West Ashley. 1205 Ashley River Road. 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.

Fishnet Seafood
Seafood
Entrées $5-$10
West Ashley. 3832 Savannah Hwy. 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-$10
Downtown. 43 Cannon St. 937-4303; 372 King St. (inside Millennium Music). 805-7977; Mt. Pleasant. 1055 Johnnie Dodds Blvd. 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. 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.

Gaulart and Maliclet/Fast and French
French
Entrées $5-$10
Downtown. 98 Broad St. 577-9797
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.

Granville's
American/Eclectic — Casual
Entrées $15-$20
Downtown. 730 Rutledge Ave. 577-0486
Dinner

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, the place reverberates with a local character all too often missing from the tourist trade further south on the peninsula. It's definitely a place to visit before the secret gets out.

Grill 225
American/Eclectic — Upscale
Entrées $20 and up
Downtown. 225 East Bay St. 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 food in town, and some of the priciest, but worth every penny.

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

The Hickory Hawg
BBQ/Ribs/Wings
Entrées $5-$10
Johns Island. 2817 Maybank Hwy. 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 to die for. Succulent baby backs, slathered with the house sauce — signature N.C. vinegar and pepper sauce with a touch of tomato — fall from the bone in gelatinous glory, putting other local rib shacks to shame.

High Cotton
American/Eclectic — Upscale
Entrées $20 and up
Downtown. 199 East Bay St. 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 alike flock to 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 up delicious food in an elegant yet surprisingly comfortable atmosphere.

High Thyme
American/Eclectic — Casual
Entrées $10-$15
Sullivan's Island. 2213-C Middle St. 883-3536
Lunch, Dinner, and Sunday Brunch

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 prices 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. 937-0930
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, and Weekend Brunch

The greatest thing about Hominy Grill is that, as New York Times writer Richard B. Woodward puts it, "the neighborhood has been up-and-coming for years and still hasn't come up." Hominy does one thing: they serve authentic Southern food and they are the best in South Carolina at doing so. Every morsel comes so perfectly prepared, at such a reasonable price, that 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, this is the only game in town worth your time.

Il Cortile del Re
Italian
Entrées $15-$20
Downtown. 193-A King St. 853-1888
Dinner

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. 557-0426; Goose Creek. 521 Redbank Road. 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 in competition 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.

Jim 'N Nick's Bar-B-Q
BBQ/Ribs/Wings
Entrées $5-$10
Downtown. 288 King St. 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 seems routinely packed, but the service keeps up nicely, 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. 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. 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.

Laura Albert's
Tasteful Options
American/Eclectic — Casual
Entrées $10-$15
Daniel Island. 819 Island Park Dr. 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. 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.

Marie Laveau's
American/Eclectic — Casual
Entrées $10-$15
West Ashley. 9 Magnolia Road. 766-7837
Breakfast (Tues.-Fri.), Lunch (Tues.-Fri.), Dinner, and Weekend Brunch (closed Mon.)

The crazy mixed-up scene inside this Avondale favorite is as exciting as its food, a well-made assortment of reinterpreted Creole and Cajun standards that will have you jonesing for the bayou. And the home of the craziest chicken paintings in town can now be enjoyed for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The old standards still remain intact — the duck club drools with fat, the cornbread drips with molasses, and tender little medallions of veal melt into a fine bowl of grits — all in the coolest little district in town. With the Voodoo bar next door, you can spend an entire evening with hot lips and cold drinks and never leave the sidewalk.

Martha Lou's Kitchen
Southern/Lowcountry
Entrées $10-$15
Downtown. 1068 Morrison Dr.
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 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.

Momma Brown's
BBQ/Ribs/Wings
Entrées $5-$10
Mt. Pleasant. 1471 Ben Sawyer Blvd. 849-8802
Lunch (Tues.-Sun.) 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.

Mellow Mushroom
Pizza
Entrées $5-$10
Downtown. 309 King St. 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. 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 is your next stop. The latest jewel in the burgeoning Hank Holliday empire, the previous space underwent an extraordinary renovation at great expense and tapped the considerable talents of Chef Jacques Larson, who excelled at Cintra before moving out for the glitz and glamour of the big lights and then returning. 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. Rumor has it that Larson's time spent in the company of Mario Batali has also yielded a developing interest in charcuterie and, while not yet on the menu at Mercato, we can still hope for some tasty house-cured meats in the future.

Mia's Café
American/Eclectic — Casual
Entrées $10-$15
West Ashley. 3669 Savannah Hwy. 769-7433
Lunch (Mon.-Fri.), Dinner (Wed.-Sat.), and Sunday Brunch

People make a pilgrimage to this location down Highway 17 every Sunday for the best brunch deal in town. 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.

Mondo's Delite
American/Eclectic — Casual
Entrées $10-$15
James Island. 915 Folly Road. 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.

The Mustard Seed
American/Eclectic — Casual
Entrées $10-$15
James Island. 1978 Maybank Hwy. 762-0072; Mt. Pleasant. 1036 Chuck Dawley Blvd. 849-0050; Summerville. 101 N. Main St. 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 both meat eaters and vegetarians without breaking the bank, 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. 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 Dr. 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-$20
Mt. Pleasant. 101 Pitt St. 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 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. 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 where you can take home authentic imported Greek foods. Family-owned and run, they serve a great quick lunch or a weeknight dinner without breaking the bank.

Pa Pa Zu Zu's
Greek/Mediterranean
Entrées $5-$10
Downtown. 370 King St. 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. 853-5955
Dinner (closed Sun.)

If you think Al di La has the market cornered on affordable Italian classics and great wine values, you need to head over to Pane e Vino. This delightful café, which really has no sign to speak of, offers a diverse selection of cured meats, cheeses, antipasti, and entrées, all in the truest expression of a classic Italian trattoria. Live jazz and a romantic outdoor seating area make it a hidden favorite of the Upper King corridor and a place that no self-respecting Italophile should miss.

Pavilion Bar
American/Eclectic — Upscale
Entrées $15-$20
Downtown. 225 East Bay St. 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. 577-5755
Lunch (opens at 2 p.m. on Sat.-Sun.) and Dinner

Pearlz has established itself as the best little raw bar in town since it opened last year. 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 great place to stop in for a bite before hitting the town or for ending a bit of carousing when the late night munchies attack.

Pho Bac/Kim Long
Asian/Indian
Entrées $5-$10
Mt. Pleasant. 1035 Johnnie Dodds Blvd. 849-6752
Lunch and Dinner

The untimely demise of Binh Mihn last year left us gasping for our cheap East Asian fix and 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 for your grub, but some things are worth the time they take.

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

Ask for Tony, the proprietor, and prepare yourself for a sake adventure. No other location in Charleston can produce the knowledge of its history, off-the-cuff tasting notes, and free samples. Sure, it's 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.

Rosebank Farms Café
Southern/Lowcountry
Entrées $20 and up
Seabrook Island. 1886 Andell Bluff Road.
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.

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

Fresh, delicious, and fast. Santi's has won over a legion of downtown lunchers 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.

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

A newcomer on the block with a noticeable "new car smell," this Mt. Pleasant original 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 some fine soups and the best collard greens east of the Cooper.

Sesame
American/Eclectic — Casual
Entrées $5-$10
North Charleston. 4726 Spruill Ave.
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. 884-8102
Lunch and Dinner

For those looking to find the most authentic raw bar in the Lowcountry, they 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 the best in town. 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. 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
Entrées $20 and up
Mt. Pleasant. 664-G Long Point Road. (Belle Hall Shopping Center). 971-8850
Dinner (closed Sun. and Mon.)

Sequestered away from the din of the Boone Halle Shopping Center in Mt. Pleasant, Six Tables presents a surreal environment in which to sample Chef Colin Flynn's excellent food; he's a local boy whose travel and training in France were worth every penny. 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.

Social
American/Eclectic — Upscale
Entrées $15-$20
Downtown. 188 East Bay St. 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 deliver a range of occasions. The coolest feature, as far as we're concerned, are the flights of wine designed around flavor profiles. A great way to sample interesting varieties without breaking the bank or betting on a boner.

St. Johns Island Café
Southern/Lowcountry
Entrées $10-$15
Johns Island. 3140 Maybank Hwy.
559-9090
Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner

An out-of-the-way spot that isn't quite so out of the way anymore, the St. Johns Island Café serves a respectable lunch and dinner, with people driving from far away to partake of the contemporary bistro fare that comes from this competent kitchen. A nice complement of homemade desserts rounds out the offerings here, but do not miss the "Fish on Fridays," a Catholic special featuring fried tilapia that all denominations are sure to enjoy.

Sticky Fingers
BBQ/Ribs/Wings
Entrées $5-$10
Mt. Pleasant. 341 Johnnie Dodds Blvd. 856-7427; Downtown. 235 Meeting St. 853-7427; Summerville. 1200 N. Main St. 871-7427; North Charleston. 7690 Northwoods Blvd. 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. 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 very 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-zushi. When in season, the ultra fatty "Toro" tuna, a rare and expensive cut from the underbelly of the fish, should not be missed.

Taste of India
Asian/Indian
Entrées $5-$10
West Ashley. 851 Savannah Hwy. 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. 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 one of the best things we've ever tasted.

Turtle's Kitchen and Raw Bar
Seafood
Entrées $10-$15
Mt. Pleasant. 660 Long Point Road. 849-3056
Lunch 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, Turtle's 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.

Uptown: A Finer Diner
American/Eclectic — Casual
Entrées $10-$15
Downtown. 412 King St. 720-1433
Breakfast and Lunch

What used to be the old Bookstore Café has been retooled into a splendid, upscale bistro with the best breakfast shrimp and grits we've had in an awfully long time. They also have solid lunch specials and one of the coolest setups for drinking wine in the Upper King corridor. The wine list is arranged in a matrix, allowing multiple pours in a number of distinct categories arranged by type and taste. There is something for everyone, which is what diners are all about anyway.

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

You can never go too far 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. 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.

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

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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