Charleston, South Carolina is well known for its rich history, undeniable beauty, and all around charm, but if you think this Southern gem is merely about the sights and scenes you are most certainly mistaken. Home to a plethora of nationally recognized restaurants, Downtown Charleston is an epicurean delight, which will absolutely awaken your taste buds and fulfill all your foodie fantasies. The cuisine alone is sufficient reason to visit this city.
As you may have noticed from my Instagram (@thebrunchbelle), I recently spent a weekend in Charleston on a quick couples getaway. Food is an important aspect of travel for me and Charleston definitely over delivered. In this post, I recap our culinary experience in the Lowcountry while highlighting my favorite dishes and must-try places.
We settled in at Leon’s Fine Poultry & Oyster Shop for a leisurely lunch on our first day in Downtown Charleston. Famished and tired after only 5 hours of sleep from our overnight drive, we were merely in search of a hunger cure and a place to satiate our oyster cravings. We certainly didn’t expect to hit the food jackpot on our very first stop, but Leon’s proved to be the perfect place to kick-off our foodie adventures in Charleston.
As the name implies, Leon’s is popular for its oysters and fried chicken, so naturally we had to give them both a try. We indulged in their market oysters on the half shell as well as their char-grilled oysters, which were both delightful. Their fried chicken (brined in brown sugar and hot sauce, and coated with cayenne pepper and a blend of spices), gave us all the Southern fried chicken feels which we enjoyed with some super delicious scalloped potatoes and fried Brussels sprouts. #YUM!
Although primarily a fried chicken and oyster shop, the “Whole Fish” in my opinion, was the real star at Leon’s! This dish consisted of a beautifully plated grilled B-liner (i.e. Vermilion snapper) served with a turnip purée and topped with chimichurri and a frisée salad. It was a pleasant surprise! As a Caribbean girl and snapper snob, I must admit that I had minimal expectations for the dish. I had yet to taste a whole snapper outside of the Caribbean that impressed me, but Leon’s snapper was anything but basic. It was very well seasoned and extremely flavorful. It left such an impression on both of us that it set a very high bar right from the start.
If you’re ever in Charleston, make it a priority!
Leon’s Fine Poultry & Oyster Shop
698 King Street
Charleston, SC 29403
STOP 2: BELGIAN GELATO
Gelato is always a good idea… especially on a hot Charleston day! Conveniently located along the shore at Water Front Park, Belgian Gelato was a delightful discovery after an afternoon of walking around the Charleston Historic District. It was a great way to cool down and take in the sights and scenes along the waterfront.
The shop offers an assortment of handcrafted gelato, a number of which are inspired by Belgian chocolate flavors. I ordered the pistachio and coconut cream, which were a delicious combination. I ditched the traditional cup/cone and opted for the Belgian style cone (gelato dipped in Belgian chocolate topped with whipped cream and a cone) because… “go hard, or go home!” It was definitely the way to go. If you ever find yourself at Belgian Gelato, be sure to do it the Belgian way!
6 Vendue Range
Charleston, SC 29401
STOP 3: PAVILION BAR
Pavilion Bar is a trendy rooftop space at the top of the Market Pavilion Hotel. It serves up a remarkable variety of champagnes and wines with a side of stunning city views. The drink menu is truly impressive! It’s certainly the most exhaustive drink menu I’ve ever seen. The bar also provides casual fare such as seafood appetizers, salads, sandwiches, pizzas and flatbreads.
We arrived shortly after 8:00p.m. just in time to catch the Charleston sunset. We declined on the food, and went straight for the “libations,” a bit of a “pre-game” before heading to dinner at nearby Magnolias. It was an amazing time experiencing the Charleston scene from their rooftop. If you’re looking for a beautiful outdoor space with “dope” views of both the water and cityscape, Pavilion Bar is the spot!
225 East Bay Street
Charleston, SC 29401
STOP 4: MAGNOLIAS
As one of Charleston’s most popular fine dining restaurants, we decided on Magnolias for a chic upscale Southern dining experience on our first night. Reservations were almost impossible even though I called ahead of arriving in Charleston, and so we got stuck with a late 9:45p.m. dinner.
The service at Magnolias was absolutely impeccable; the food however, was slightly disappointing. We started out with the “Down South Egg Roll” at the recommendation of our waiter. This was a mixture of collard greens, chicken, tasso ham, red pepper purée, spicy mustard and peach chutney. These were tasty but definitely fell short of the mind-blowing experience I had conjured up after the waiter’s two-minute-long rave about how incredible they were. In keeping with the Southern fare, we also ordered the “Pan Fried Chicken Livers” appetizer. They were good, but not great.
The “Shellfish Over Grits” was the most disappointing. I wanted so badly to love this dish. After all it was the very dish that drew me to Magnolias. Creamy white grits topped with sautéed shrimp and sea scallops and smothered in a lobster butter sauce… surely sounded like the holy grail of grits to me. But sadly this dish left me underwhelmed; it just wasn’t as flavorful as it sounded and may actually have been a bit bland. To the contrary, we enjoyed the “Pan Roasted Duck Breast.” It was our favorite meal of the night.
Perhaps it was the fact that we started on such a high note at Leon’s, but for me Magnolias is highly overrated! Our food was just average and forgettable. There are too many exceptional dishes in Charleston to spend your time over ordinary ones.
Although Magnolias is a popular Downtown Charleston restaurant, Brunch Belle recommends that you skip this spot.
185 East Bay Street
Charleston, SC 29401
STOP 5: 167 RAW
This fish market turned restaurant is definitely a culinary experience you do not want to miss out on when in Charleston. Every… single… menu item we tried at 167 Raw exceeded our expectations!
The restaurant serves up a mouthwatering array of oysters from various regions, and other succulent raw dishes. Our server put together a surprise selection of oysters for us, which went down like an ice-cold beer on a scorching summer day. They were super refreshing, and just what we needed after our walk along The Battery. The ceviche, made of halibut was an explosion of flavors in the mouth. It was the best ceviche I’ve ever had. The tuna burger topped with avocado was phenomenal, and the lobster roll was a decadent concoction of claw meat and light mayo.
Getting to indulge in this amazing food however comes with a little patience. The restaurant space is extremely tiny and operates on a first come first serve basis. We arrived at around 1:00p.m. on Saturday and were told there was an hour wait. After some serious debate, we decided to wait and forget about our plans to drive out to Magnolia Plantation and Gardens. When a patron walked out and uttered… “all I can say is wow” I immediately knew we had made the right decision.
167 Raw is a seafood lovers haven with a super cool vibe. I am so happy we were able to experience it while in Charleston. The wait was 100% worth it! It is required dining; no trip to Charleston is complete without the 167 Raw experience!
289 East Bay Street
Charleston, SC 29401
NOTE: 167 Raw also operates a fish market, raw bar, and food truck in Nantucket.
STOP 6: FIG
Saturday night’s dinner at Fig was a last-minute decision. We were hoping to dine at Husk, but we heard so many great things about Fig while in Charleston that we decided to alter our plans. Sans reservation, we walked in around 9:00p.m. At that time, even the bar had a 45-minute wait. The host offered us a communal table, which we reluctantly decided to take. Yes you read that right… “communal table”… it’s exactly what it sounds like… a large round table of strangers eating together! #AWKWARD! The irony of it all is that everywhere else we ate, we were super engaged with our fellow diners, but at the “communal table,” everyone pretty much stuck to their party… Go figure! The mood got livelier towards the end, but I’d sit at an awkward table any day if it means that I get to delight in such extraordinary food!
Fig offers an authentic Lowcountry dining experience. The dishes are masterfully put together with a number of ingredients sourced by local farms, like the “Suckling Pig, Carolina Gold Rice & Peas” dish made with pork from John’s Island and a combination of Southern peas I’ve never even heard about (zipper, Dixie Lee, crowder, and white acre peas). The dish was served with a summer salad. All the ingredients blended beautifully.
My favorite entrée, was the “Slow Baked Black Bass.” This filet of fish was baked to perfection with heirloom tomatoes, olives, freshly dug fingerling potatoes, and topped with fine herbs. It was packed with flavor and ended way too quickly for my liking. I usually avoid olives, but let me tell you, I ate every last olive on the plate!
Just when we thought dinner couldn’t get any better, out came our dessert. We shared the “Butterscotch Pot de Crème,” and it was heavenly! I think everyone at the table heard the sound of satisfaction rolling off my tongue as I took my first spoon full. It was a custard-like dessert topped with butterscotch and whipped cream, and served with delicious amaretti cookies. We did not expect to enjoy it as much as we did; it was the perfect way to end the night at Fig.
Fig is another must-try spot when in Charleston. Saturday was indeed a good food day!
232 Meeting Street
Charleston, SC 29401
STOP 7: POOGAN’S PORCH
Poogan’s Porch is a super cute and quaint restaurant serving up Southern dishes in a restored Victorian house. I decided on this spot for Sunday brunch because, well it had me at… porch! There are very few things that I love more than dining alfresco, and this converted home with two porches and a beautiful patio space is truly an oasis for the outdoor dining aficionadas of the world.
When we got there for our 1:45p.m. reservation, the restaurant was still bustling considering it was the latter end of brunch and it was a pretty stormy day in Charleston. The rain was torrential, which made for a great late morning in, but certainly not for our anticipated outdoor brunch experience! Our server was unable to seat us on the porch, so we got an indoor table on the second floor. After we finished up with our appetizers, the rain ceased and the sun reemerged (insert praise dance here). We requested to move outside and our server was very accommodating.
The restaurant’s indoor space is quite beautiful, but a seat on the porch is the true prize! It was a necessary transition. We enjoyed the remainder of our meals on the top porch overlooking the beautiful Queen Street as we took in the sights and scenes of charming Charleston on our last day.
In addition to the amazing ambience, Poogan’s Porch also delivers on the Southern fare. We started off with their fried green tomatoes. These were peered with goat cheese and a seasonal chutney; ours was a peach and blueberry chutney. This trio offered a unique experience and made for a slightly sweet and tasty summer appetizer. Their homemade buttermilk biscuits are absolutely delectable and went down well with the crab soup. The pulled pork benedict with BBQ hollandaise was flavorful, but I can’t say that it stood out from any other pork benedict I’ve had. We decided against the traditional chicken and waffles and shrimp and grits and opted for the shrimp étouffée omelet instead. It was a great choice.
Dining at Poogan’s Porch is the quintessential Charleston experience. Be sure to grab yourself a spot on your visit to the Lowcountry.
72 Queen Street
Charleston, SC 29401
Christophe Artisan Chocolatier-Patissier was the final stop on our culinary adventure. This French bakery and chocolate café whips up some rather exquisite artisan chocolates, and we needed a few sweet treats to take home so that we could savor Charleston for just a bit longer. There were so many handcrafted beauties to choose from with quite a number of unique flavors like mango rum, bleu cheese, strawberry marshmallow, star anise… We got the 9-piece assortment of chocolates and some macarons; the macarons were just okay, but the chocolates were quite decadent. The coconut, pistachio and hazelnut truffles and vanilla bean hand-painted chocolate were my favorites.
The café also offers a daily selection of baked goods, and has the cutest little patio with Paris-inspired wall art that makes for a totally “Instagrammable photo-op,” which is another great reason to stop by.
Christophe Artisan Chocolatier-Patissier
90 Society Street
Charleston, SC 29401
All in all, I absolutely loved my time in the Lowcountry. Our 72 hours in Charleston were filled with so many memorable foodie moments. I am so happy that we were able to fit in such vastly different experiences to be able to share with you.
PRO TIP: Charleston is an extremely popular destination. It has been consistently rated as the #1 city in the United States and was recently voted the #2 city in the world (Travel+Leisure). Therefore, same day reservations are difficult, and you’ll definitely want to plan your dinners ahead of your trip. If you plan to dine at any “first come first come first serve” places (such as Leon’s or 167 Raw) it’s best to get there slightly before noon or between the hours of 3:00 and 5:00p.m. in order to minimize wait times.
Wondering what to do in Charleston? Read my other post here.
Until next time,
Love, Peace, and Mimosas