click to enlarge Theyre number one: Best Restaurant Peninsula Grill boasts the Best Wait Staff and the Best Chef (Robert Carter) in Charleston
  • Theyre number one: Best Restaurant Peninsula Grill boasts the Best Wait Staff and the Best Chef (Robert Carter) in Charleston

Best 'New' Upscale Dining Experience
Ocean Room, The Sanctuary, Kiawah Island
1 Sanctuary Beach Dr. Kiawah Island 683-1234
Our dinner last spring at Kiawah's Ocean Room in the brand new Sanctuary was out of the park. The setting is fantastic, the staff is truly exceptional, and Chef Chris Brandt's food is better than both the service and setting. It's a bit far for us plebeians, but it's worth every minute of the trip, and every penny spent. --Scott Goodwin

Best 'Old' Upscale Dining Experience
The Dining Room at Woodlands Resort & Inn
125 Parsons Road Summerville 875-2600
The best meal we've ever had in the Lowcountry was at the Woodlands, shortly after Ken Vedrinksi had left to open Sienna and Scott Crawford took over. Now that Crawford's gone, we all wait in breathless anticipation for the next chef to fill those cavernous clogs, but rest assured that the good people in South Carolina's most vaunted dining room will not make a choice in haste. The staff is beyond reproach. The room is beautiful. We simply cannot wait to return to see who has been chosen to maintain such a high standard. --Scott Goodwin

Best New Date Place
Pane e Vino
17 Warren St. Downtown 853-5955
The cozy dining room lends itself to quiet chit-chat and meaningful glances. The menu encourages sharing and multiple courses, and the espresso machine means you'll be able to stay up all night talking (or, you know, getting to know each other). It's also pretty affordable, so you can splurge without breaking the bank. Oh yeah, and the food's got that sexy Italian feel to it, too. Ciao bella. --Stephanie Barna

Best New Restaurant in the 'Hood
210 Rutledge Ave. Downtown 720-8899
From one of the more decrepit eyesores on Cannon Street emerged an inviting dining room and some fabulous cooking. Chef John Ondo is turning out food every bit as good as when he was cooking at Il Cortile del Re, and that's saying something. It's Mediterranean mostly, but don't let that stop you from ordering the sublime hanger steak or the cured salmon. The pastas rock, the soups are great, and they actually make their own desserts. Linger over coffee and gaze out the windows at the world passing by and marvel at your good fortune. --Scott Goodwin

Best Hotel Restaurant
Brasserie des Amis
Renaissance Hotel 68 Wentworth St. Downtown 534-9054
This hotel restaurant is not what you might expect. Sure, the dining room lacks a certain "filled with locals and pretty folk" vibe, but the food (and the service) tells a different story. We're blown away by the staff's knowledge and sensitivity, and then twice again as much by the plates. It's amazing more people in Charleston don't know about it. Grab a Bibb salad in balsamic, grouper on white beans, hobnob with your server and your accomplices, and you'll forget that you're in a (gasp!) hotel restaurant. You'll just wonder why the place isn't booked solid and on a wait. --Scott Goodwin

Best Crazy Beach Food
Wolffie's Backyard Kitchen
114 East Ashley Road Folly Beach 442-1525
In some dude's yard that spans the block from East Cooper to East Ashley on Folly, sits Wolffie's Backyard Retreat. Now, to be honest, we've never eaten there. Further, we've never actually seen anyone eating there. But Wolffie has an impressive array of Christmas lights wrapped around palmetto trunks and a big tent-thing where, one could assume, food is made and served car side. We've also never seen Wolffie's open, so call ahead for reservations ... on his cellphone number. --Bill Davis

Best Addition to Lower King
Jim 'N Nick's
248 King St. Downtown 577-0406
Yeah, it's a local franchise of a chain restaurant. But, damn, if the 'cue here isn't enough to make you forget that little fact, then you just can't be helped. We're not the only ones who like this joint -- Jim 'N Nick's clocks in at No. 18 on Saveur Magazine's Top 100 foodie things of 2005. Sparing us from another half-hearted Irish pub or tourist boutique, we get a comfortable room redolent of hickory smoke, gentle enough prices, and brisket to die for. The ribs are sublime. Stop reading this and just go. Now. --Scott Goodwin

Best Old-School Breakfast
Piggly Wiggly Downtown
445 Meeting St. Downtown 722-2766
Hawwww, son! You can't do no better than a styrofoam box of biscuits and gravy, eggs, and smoke links. True, true. The line for this throwback, countrified morning meal is usually about 20 deep -- in contrast with the no-person line waiting for sushi at the Pig. The only drawback is that sometimes when we've gone up there early in the morning, the store doesn't open until 7 a.m. Now, how is a working man supposed to get his eat on so late in the day? --Bill Davis

Best Place for an Old-School Lunch
Pitt Street Pharmacy
111 Pitt St. Mt. Pleasant 884-4051
Much has been written about the yesteryear charm of the old Pitt Street Pharmacy, where Dr. Waddie Zeigler opened a drug store and soda fountain in 1938 (it's been in its present location since 1956), but enough praise can't be heaped on longtime staffer Linda Brackman. The amiable counter clerk makes a simple egg salad and features it as a main component in the house club sandwich (on white or wheat ... and sometimes rye). Served on a paper plate with a small bag of Cheetos and a real Cherry Coke -- it's an Old Village gem. --T. Ballard Lesemann

Best Reason to Go to Edisto
Old Post Office Restaurant
1442 Highway 174 Edisto Island 869-2339
An island institution since 1988, this eatery was once a combination post office/general store, as its distinctive architecture implies. Residents and visitors flock to this spot, where Chef Philip Bardin makes sure the seafood is fresher than fresh and the slow-cooked grits are among the best we've ever had. Worth the drive past the city limits, the Old Post Office is a true-blue Lowcountry experience. --Ida Becker

Best Place To Eat without Needing To Speak English
La Playita
1288 Yeamans Hall Road Hanahan 529-0080
There's nothing like piles of sour cream, guacamole, and cheap melted cheese to get you through that Sunday afternoon hangover, but the uniformity of Mexican-American restaurant cuisine can make even the most ardent fans of el-cheapo burritos yearn for authenticity. When you just can't take another lunch combo No. 17, head for La Playita. They sport all the usual combination platters, but as the name suggests, seafood is the specialty. From shrimp cocktails to ceviche, this ain't your mama's Mexico. Platters of fish and shellfish, prepared in ways you have never imagined, fly out of this hidden gem -- mostly to customers as bona fide as the food. --Jeff Allen

Best Way To Stuff Yourself with Seven Courses
901 Island Park Dr. Daniel Island 881-8820
Take a fat wallet and an empty stomach to Sienna -- and be prepared to put down some seriously good grub. Since leaving The Woodlands, Chef Ken Vedrinski has struck gold on Daniel Island. His seven course "Chef's Tasting Menu" will leave you moaning and wishing you could stuff in more. Vedrinski can be seen personally attending to your dishes in the open kitchen and the added attention is evident in the final preparations. Excellent wine pairings from its well-selected cellar only enhance the experience. It's truly a breathtaking experience, even for those watching their weight; what you accumulate in pounds is offset by a much lighter wallet. --Jeff Allen

Best Must-See BBQ Road Trip
Sweatman's BBQ
2113 Hwy 15 N. St. George 563-7574
When only the real thing will suffice, we head up the interstate to the backwoods of Eutawville. Only there, in an old house on a lonely ribbon of asphalt, will you find the best whole-hog, pit-cooked barbecue in the state of South Carolina. Forget this vinegar and pepper Tarheel stuff being peddled in some parts of Chucktown. Sweatman's does it the all-you-can-eat, old-fashioned way, devoid of the usual filler. You won't find chicken, greens, or beans in this establishment -- they only do pig parts. Sweatman's takes its oinkers so seriously that they serve two types of meat: succulent, juicy "inside meat" and smoky, brash "outside meat." Two types of mustard-based sauce are offered and the pork rinds could break a tooth. If you're lucky, you'll have room left for the homemade banana pudding. ­--Jeff Allen

Best French Meat and Three
Mia's Café
3669 Savannah Hwy. Johns Island 769-7433
Not only is Mia's Café a cute and cozy French bistro, it also completely changes personalities and serves a meat-n-three lunch for the workin' folks out Kiawah-way. It's rare to work both ends of the culinary scale well, but Mia's does it, capturing the hearts and loyalty of a wide variety of people. Perhaps a beef tartare plate the size of your head and a flawlessly delicious braised lamb shank have something to do with it. Maybe it's just the basic laws of good food and good hospitality. Anyway, it works. Kudos to the Mia's folks for pulling it off so well. --Molly Goodwin

click to enlarge A hot-dog eating contest ensues at Jack's Cosmic Dogs, voted the Best Hot Dog joint in Charleston
  • A hot-dog eating contest ensues at Jack's Cosmic Dogs, voted the Best Hot Dog joint in Charleston

Best New Sidecar
Al di La's Bacaro
25 Magnolia Road West Ashley 571-2321
Chef John Marshall has done it again. Al di La's little space next door has finally found its best self as a sophisticated but welcoming wine bar, a.k.a. bacaro, with high bar tables anchored by a gorgeous brick oven, a naturally fabulous wine list, and a menu full of brick oven pizzas, small plates, and pastas that can serve as a prelude to an Al di La dinner or take you right through to a deliciously wine-soaked Italian snackfest. He's also added outdoor seating, making the whole package even more attractive come spring. —Molly Goodwin

Best Chain Trend
Bakery-Style Sandwich Stores
These fresh-food lunch spots, such as Just Fresh, Rising High, Rising Roll, Panera -- and hell, even the Atlanta Bread Company -- combine all the convenience of a Subway, the class of a real café, and the versatility of a grocery store. You can take the whole group from work there, and the dieters will be as righteously satisfied as the gluttons will be stuffed. Some feature sushi, some pizzas, some big ol' stuffed potatoes, but they all have solidly good sammiches; they're perfect for take-out, comfortable and nice enough for a simple business meeting, and leisurely enough for a Saturday shopping break. And you can find at least one of them just about anywhere in town. --Molly Goodwin

Best Opening for an Entrepreneurial Chef
A German-Cuisine Restaurant
How many truly authentic German-cuisine restaurants are there in Charleston? At the moment, none. Until recently, the title holder was Max and Moritz, in the Village Point Shopping Center on Houston Northcutt Blvd. in Mt. Pleasant. Named after the famous cartoonish bad boys of 19th-century German literature, Max and Moritz owners Klaus and Karin Lapine opened their little neighborhood restaurant in 1996, specializing in German and other Central European dishes. The eclectic menu offered specialties like sauerbraten, käsespätzle, Hungarian beef gulasch, brathähnchen, wiener schnitzel, zwiebelkuchen, and plenty of other utterly unpronounceable but scrumptious dishes. But M&M closed last fall, and their absence is sorely felt. Somebody, please, step up and fill the schnitzel gap! --Patrick Sharbaugh

Best Pizza on Wheels
Mobile or not, these guys, uh, deliver the goods. The swiss chard pie is out of this world. Yes, swiss chard. Seriously, these folks will tow their wood oven to your event and then proceed to blow your guests out of the water with tour de force pizza making. Thin-ish, semi-individual pies make for making new friends as you queue to fight over the last slice, ignoring the fact that the next creation is a mere three minutes from coming out. Guys, please get a permanent space and give us these pizzas seven days a week. --Scott Goodwin

Best Good Food Bargain
Mustard Seed
1978 Maybank Hwy. James Island 762-0072
1036 Chuck Dawley Blvd. Mt. Pleasant 849-0050
101 N. Main St. Summerville 821-7101

When out-of-town friends and family with myriad tastes visit, a perfect solution is the Mustard Seed. Five people can enjoy appetizers, entrees, deserts, and even a couple glasses of wine for a wallet-cushioning $65. What more can you say about Sal Parco's empire but that the guy deserves it? --Scott Goodwin

Best New Ethnic Spice
Palais de Jade
1501 Hwy 17 N. Mt. Pleasant 216-0972
Finally, Mt. Pleasant gets a real Chinese restaurant. The room is most tastefully decorated, but the real beauty is on the menu. There's whole fish, Peking Duck, and abalone soup to have alongside your classic Mu Shu pork and General Tso's chicken. Bring a gang -- the VIP dinner is a bargain at about $20. --Scott Goodwin

Best Guilty Pleasure
Olive Garden Salad
2156 Northwoods Blvd. N. Charleston 764-0200
It doesn't happen often, but it does happen. Every once in a while we think, "You know what would be really good ...?" and minutes later we find ourselves at the Olive Garden, ordering up the bottomless salad and breadsticks. It's just lettuce, onions, and Italian dressing, but the salty-sweetness comes through in a way we can't reproduce at home, plus the people-watching is pretty awesome. All that for six bucks. --Scott Goodwin

Best Concept Lifted From NYC
1136 Hungryneck Blvd. Mt. Pleasant 216-7272
People say it takes five years for a concept to filter down from New York or Los Angeles to the South, and they're mostly right. In the case of Central, it just didn't take as long. The high-ceilinged, open kitchen is straight out of Manhattan, and that's a good thing. Happily, the food is excellent and keeps good company with the slick design -- more than enough to forgive a little borrowing from the Big Apple. --Scott Goodwin

Best Vegan Joint
Soul Vegetarian
3225-A Rivers Ave. N. Charleston 744-1155
For vegans, finding a reliable place to eat a meal out can be a daunting task, especially here in the South, where even the greenest vegetables are usually flavored with some kind of animal product. Even then, it takes years of practiced skill and taste-testing to create a truly outstanding vegan meal that doesn't leave one wishing for more food. Fortunately for Charleston vegans, we've got the only all-vegan restaurant in South Carolina right off Rivers Avenue in North Charleston. And their food is killer. Or rather, completely nonkiller (and cruelty-free) ... unless you count soybeans, which they use to make their own soy "dairy" products like cheese, milk, ice cream, etc. Owned and operated by members of the African Hebrew Israelities of Jerusalem, for seven years now Soul Vegetarian has been whipping up BBQ tofu, mac and cheese, collard greens, cornbread, lasagna, and even milkshakes (at the juice bar) so tasty you'll have difficulty believing they're healthy. And they take care to help serve the community, too -- manager Eliyahav Amiel reports that Soul Veg is getting ready to start providing vegan meals to two public schools in town. Viva la vegan revolution! --Sara Miller

Best Place to Eat With Your Dog
Lost Dog Café
13-A Center St. Folly Beach 588-9669
The Lost Dog has it right there in its name -- they're an animal-friendly operation, with a bulletin board usually stocked with notices about puppies and/or kittens looking for good homes and dog bowls situated just outside the Café, right next to the bistro tables. They open up early in the morning (perfect for surfers and commuters) and serve a smashing yogurt and granola, among other dishes. They're currently renovating a new space at 103 West Huron St., to which they'll move in the spring, just in time for beach season. --Sara Miller

Best Southern Veggie Spread
JB's Smokeshack
3406 Maybank Hwy. Johns Island 557-0426
JB's, although a bit of a trip for downtowners, is actually a straight shot from James Island -- just get on Maybank Highway and drive until you smell the wafting odor of seared pig flesh and see the charming country house that serves as the restaurant. While JB's offers truly tender ribs, the hungry should pony up their $8 and head straight for the buffet, which is stocked with so many traditional Southern vegetables it should be a required stop on every Charleston tour. Here's a sampling: hash and rice, okra gumbo, butter beans, sweet potatoes, collards, black-eyed peas, BBQ baked beans, macaroni salad, and each day, a new cook's choice (cross your fingers you happen to go on corn pie day!). There's also a never-ending supply of pulled pork and chicken and an open bag of Captain Derst's bread right next to a variety of sauces, all beckoning you to make yourself a nice little BBQ sandwich to accompany these sides. Welcome to hog heaven. --Sara Miller

click to enlarge Best Female Vocalist Cary Ann Hearst enjoys the Best Iced Tea and the Best Fried Chicken in Charleston at Jestines Restaurant
  • Best Female Vocalist Cary Ann Hearst enjoys the Best Iced Tea and the Best Fried Chicken in Charleston at Jestines Restaurant

Best Reason to Drive Past Mt. Pleasant
Sewee Restaurant
4808 Hwy. 17 N. Awendaw 928-3609
Don't think for a minute there weren't a lot of candidates for this honor -- vinyl-clad tract homes, garish signage, Myrtle Beach, etc. But the best reason has to be eating Sunday brunch at the converted country store, surrounded by old-timey signs while you munch on local shrimp or great omelettes. And, yes, those cakes you see sitting out are for sale. --Bill Davis

Best Reason to Drive Past Awendaw
T.W. Graham & Co.
810 Pinckney St. McClellanville 887-4342
Situated in the heart of old McClellanville, just past Awendaw on Highway 17 (about 30 miles northwest of downtown), seafood restaurant T.W. Graham & Co. serves the best local shrimp and crabs -- and some of the prettiest, flower-garnished homemade desserts in the Lowcountry. Chef Pete Kornack and his wife Claudia opened the place in 2002 in an old grocery store along the historic business district on Pinckney Street. He oversees the main kitchen, and she makes the desserts. The fried crab claws and oysters are popular, but you can't miss with the fried flounder sandwich. The causal atmosphere in the small dining room and side porch makes this a favorite among locals. --T. Ballard Lesemann

Best bit of SoCal in South Carolina
La Cocina
2013 Folly Road James Island 406-0098
If you wasted a good part of your youth, and a chunk of your adult life, chasing surf in Southern California and into Baja, you know the allure of a little roadside café and fish tacos. Well, you don't need to leave town anymore. Just head down Folly Road (Charleston's version of the Pacific Coast Highway) for La Cocina at Barrier Island Surf and Supply. The food's great, owners Lucas and James are good guys, but what you're getting is SoCal when Dale Velzy was shaping boards in his backyard and Bruce Brown was grubbing loose change to make movies. Hodads and gremmies always welcome. --Wayne Marshall

click to enlarge Martha Lous funky little restaurant is Charlestons Best Soul Food Setting
  • Martha Lous funky little restaurant is Charlestons Best Soul Food Setting

Best Soul Food Setting
Martha Lou's Kitchen
1068 Morrison Dr. Downtown 577-9583
Martha Lou's takes some getting used to. From the hot pink exterior to the giant fish painted thereon, to the bizarro-world decor inside, the place is a trip. Order up your meat-n-three on "mystery meat Thursday" (and don't you dare miss the lima beans) and have a look around. "Black Mount Rushmore"? Martha Lou serves up a kickin' breakfast and lunch in one funky soul food setting. -- Scott Goodwin

Best Place for a Cheap All-You-Can Eat Meal
Jimmy Dengate's
5 Cumberland St. Downtown 722-1541
Where can you get a never-ending plate of fried catfish or shrimp ($9.95) on Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday nights? Nowhere but Dengate's, a bastion of cheap in the midst of high-end East Bay Street eats. They're just off the main drag, and they're serving some of the best Southern fare in town, but the catfish and shrimp deal is where it's at. Stop by on one of these nights and you'll never know who you might run into -- port workers, the mayor, cops, writers, and the like. It's old school, just like we like it. And we're glad you don't have to have a key to get in anymore, like you did when they were in the old Moe's Crosstown spot on Rutledge Avenue. --Stephanie Barna

Best Way to Stretch Your Lunch Into Dinner
Pa Pa Zu Zu's
370 King St. Downtown 534-1666
For those of us who work downtown and need a quick lunch, but are also penny-pinchers, it's a real treasure to get something that will sustain you for not one, but two delicious meals. Pa Pa Zu Zu's has the city's best, freshest, and fattest gyros, but their menu also has plenty of options for vegetarians (or those skittish about eating lamb), like the Mediterranean plate with baba ghanouj, hummus, feta, olives, veggies, and a pita -- all with portion sizes fit for Oprah in her girthier days. A word of caution: due to the small size of the restaurant and the open cooking area, you will smell like a grill all day if you eat in ... but this is a miniscule price to pay for the joy of multiple meals. --Sara Miller

Best Chef Who Got Away
Jacques Larson
Peninsula Grill/Union Hall/Cintra
If you didn't get a chance to eat Chef Larson's commendable take on traditional Italian fare, you missed a helluva good meal. Larson left Charleston earlier this year for an opportunity to work for one of the highest-profile chefs in America, Mario Batali, in his New York City restaurants. Starting out at Lupa, Larson -- whose prosciutto-wrapped foie gras purée was the hit last year at special dinner at the James Beard House -- has since moved on to Batali's Otto. The good news is that Larson plans to come back to Charleston to cook someday; the bad news is that flights to New York got more expensive when Independence Air went bankrupt. --Bill Davis

Best Burger Joint That Got Away
Your Place
formerly of 6 and 40 N. Market Place
Ugh, this one really hurts. Your Place going out of business hit our office the same way the shuttering of Mr. B's Barbecue did. Lots of black clothing and rending of shirts. We'll be sitting shiva over this one for months. Those big-assed jalapeño bacon cheeseburgers took us one step closer to Jesus, and we loved every delectable dance of death the onion rings gave us. The only way we could possibly slip into the Lord's eternal embrace with a smile on our faces is if the rumors are true, that Your Place is looking at spots in Mt. Pleasant. Somebody ought to start a petition. --Bill Davis

Best Celebrity Chef
Bob Waggoner of Charleston Grill
It's a good thing to have local representation on Turner South's Off The Menu, and Bob Waggoner is ours. He's been at Charleston Grill for over six years, but that hasn't stopped him from popping up in all sorts of foodie media: Great Chefs of the South, Gourmet Getaways with Robin Leach, The Ralph Emery Show, and the Food Network's In Food Today. Look for him with Burt Wolf on CNN and the Travel Channel soon, too. When you're good, it's hard to keep out of the spotlight, no? --Scott Goodwin

Best Blue-Collar lunch
Art's Bar & Grill
413 Coleman Blvd. Mt. Pleasant 849-3040
While some spots in town claim to serve bona fide blue-collar lunch deals, the unpretentious Art's on Coleman Boulevard handles the real thing. Regulars and work crews settle into the tall red booths and lean into the L-shaped counter during a laid-back lunch hour (before things get smoky and crowded) and take advantage of the "Express Lunch" deal, featuring a sizeable sandwich, a Coke or iced tea, and two sides. The fried flounder sandwich -- four small, locally-caught filets piled on a poppy seed bun with lettuce and tomato with the sweet-tasting cole slaw and steak fries, is the deal of the year at $6.50. --T. Ballard Lesemann

Best Churrascaria
Amazon Grill
1316 Redbank Road Goose Creek 569-6275
Oh, god, eating at this Brazilian strip-mall restaurant is like dying and going to meat heaven. Skewer after skewer after skewer of grilled, seared meat is brought to your table for plate-side carving by confident waiters. Just point and pinch the slice with a pair of provided tongs, and soon you'll be sliding into an Atkins-induced coma. Go on weekend nights when there's a synthesizer singer augmenting the Telemundo-esque variety shows on the widescreen. Awesome! --Bill Davis

Best Broken Rice
Kim Long
7671 Northwoods Blvd. N. Charleston 863-8552
Ever heard the old saying, "the rich get richer?" Well, with each ownership change, Kim Long just gets better and better. Their broken rice dishes are standard stir-fries with the added nudge of nutty-flavored basmati. This is a great place to get your Umami on, and don't skip the beef tendon, tripe, and shoulder in a seasoned broth -- it rocks! --Bill Davis

Best Fried Fish Platter
Boulevard Diner
409 W. Coleman Blvd. Mt. Pleasant 216-2611
Every Tuesday night for the past few months, locals in the know have been flocking to this converted Dairy Queen for the best, and best tasting, fried seafood platter special. For a measly $12, diners get a hunk of grouper or catfish or flounder, depending on what they've got the most of, dressed up with various scallops, shrumps, and/or oysters. Throw in some French fries, remoulade, cocktail sauce, hushpuppies, and blue cheese slaw, and you'll wonder how any of the overpriced places on Shem Creek make it. --Bill Davis

Best Place to Get a Cookie Puss
1113 Market Center Blvd. Towne Centre Mt. Pleasant 216-3399
On top of the Beastie Boys name-dropping the ice cream cakes in one of their earliest tunes, there's no better way to buy your way into the heart of a native Jersey girl than with a Fudgie the Whale or a Cookie Puss. Seriously, get a Fudgie, tell the counter girl it's for a party, go home, draw the shades, hang your legs over the end of the couch, and stay put until you've downed the whole thing. You'll feel surprisingly well in the morning, once you come out of your sugar coma. Just don't ask for Cookie Puss' phone number. --Bill Davis

Best Onion Ring Substitute
Onion Bajji at Nirlep
908 Savannah Hwy. West Ashley 763-9923
536 Belle Station Road Mt. Pleasant 216-7979

Want to attain nirvana? Combine sliced onions, curd, coriander seasoning, and batter into small balls and then dunk them in boiling hot oil until crispy brown. Or just head over to one of the Banga family's restaurants at lunch and snarf down bajji off the buffet until your heart seizes. Mmmm ... nirvana! —Bill Davis

Best Cheese Plate
453 King St. Downtown 853-8466
With a growing number of artisanal cheese suppliers cropping up across the city, the art of fromage has hit a fever pitch. We keep returning to indulge in the cheese plate at Raval. The condiments are key: cherry and almond compote, quince paste, and fig jam offer the perfect complement to the cheeses' earthy composition. --Ida Becker

Best Bowl of Breakfast Cereal
Bluerose Café
652 St. Andrews Blvd. West Ashley 225-2583
Unless you're two years old -- or 80 -- breakfast is often overlooked. We keep our clocks ticking at the Bluerose Café, where five bucks and an Irish accent buy you the best bowl of granola and fruit in the Holy City. Top that with whole milk and hot joe and even twentysomethings can chase away a hangover without the help of that other popular Irish "brew." --Jeff Allen

Best Biscuits
Callie's Biscuits
Callie White, Charleston caterer extraordinaire, has been tempting us with her mouth-watering Southern cuisine for years. White recently ventured into the mail-order business and now ships her homemade biscuits around the world. Made by hand, biscuit flavors include country ham, cheddar cheese, cinnamon, and the classic buttermilk. With great packaging and speedy shipping, the biscuits arrive fully cooked and ready to be eaten. Who knew a mail-order ham biscuit could inspire such adoration at breakfast? --Ida Becker

click to enlarge The Best Cheese Biscuits in town are served up with a smile at Jim n Nicks on King Street
  • The Best Cheese Biscuits in town are served up with a smile at Jim n Nicks on King Street

Best Cheese Biscuits
Jim 'N Nick's
288 King St. Downtown 577-0406
Yeah, we already gave them the nod for their 'cue, but this place makes the finest cheese biscuits known to man. These little muffin-shaped delights are fluffy white with yellow specks of cheese scattered throughout, and perfectly browned and crispy along the outer edges. A half-dozen tiny trips to heaven can be had for just $2, and (as if they need a condiment of any kind) come with a bonus of homemade honey butter. Pray that you happen to walk in just as they're running out of a batch: you'd sell your soul for the ones fresh out of the oven. --Sara Miller

Best Greek House Special
Gyros at Luna Rossa Pizzeria
713 Coleman Blvd. Mt. Pleasant 884-1450
This old-school, neon-sign, wooden-booth pizza parlor should emphasize their Greek cuisine even more than they do already. Their zesty Greek gyro sandwich on pita is the best house specialty, with thinly-sliced, well-seasoned lamb, chopped white onions and Roma tomatoes, and a paprika-heavy yogurt dressing. The killer deal is the "gyro plate," served during lunch, with the sandwich, soft drink, bacon-heavy potato salad, and fresh Greek salad with fresh feta and cucumbers for just eight bucks. And that includes tax. --T. Ballard Lesemann

Best Menu Item for Men Who Drive Hummers
The Tomahawk Ribeye at Tristan
55 S. Market St. Downtown 534-2155
We've seen them on the roads, now we know where they eat. Inadequate men everywhere are flocking to Tristan for the massive "Tomahawk Ribeye." As if a steak the size of a small cat were not enough, this hot hunk of prime beef is "endowed" with a fully-frenched, 12-inch rib bone, and we do mean bone. Service only accentuates the impressive impact of the Tomahawk -- the bone protruding spectacularly from the edge of Tristan's largest serving platter, letting your woman know that you are the man. For the full impact, suggest she have a bite of your meat. --Jeff Allen

Best Chewy Cookie
Mosaic Café
1150 Hungryneck Blvd. Mt. Pleasant 388-1490
The Keebler Elves have nothing on Mosaic Café owners Steven Niketas, Mike Holland, and Laurette Torrence. The Mt. Pleasant restaurant's extra-thick, gooey, delicious cookies will make you laugh in the face of those gremlins and their generic store-bought confections. Variety is the key to Mosaic's success with choices like cappuccino white chocolate, Reese's Pieces, raspberry white chocolate, pecan chocolate chip, and coconut white macadamia nut. All cookies are roughly the size of a newborn and just as sweet. But a warning: be careful not to order one of these morsels pre-entrée, you'll have no belly room to spare. --Kinsey Labberton

Best New Sandwich
Chicken, Pancetta, and Avocado at Ted's Butcherblock
334 East Bay St. Downtown 577-0094
Ted's Butcherblock is our new favorite indulgent takeout. The star of the show is the chicken, pancetta, and avocado gourmet deli sandwich. While you wait and browse a lust-inducing array of cheeses, wines, cuts of meat, and prepared foods, the friendly staff will assemble this delicious combination of tender roasted chicken, crispy Italian-style bacon known as pancetta, perfectly ripened avocado, tomato, red onion, and garlic aioli. The side dishes change somewhat, but we've found the mac and cheese and potato salad to be dependably available and delicious. Hopefully, you'll get out of there with your wallet intact, but it'll take willpower. --Molly Goodwin

Best (Pumpkin) Pancakes
Bear E Patch Cafe
1980 Ashley River Road West Ashley 766-6490
Named for the bears on the walls of its original James Island location (now sadly defunct), the Bear E Patch is a restaurant with no frills, but no greasy spoons, either. It won't take ages for you to get served when the place is busy, and the shortest wait is worth it for the countrified specials, all-day breakfasts, toasted raisin bread, and fluffy pancakes. Drench those big, tasty manhole covers in syrup and you'll leave feeling full as an egg. The pumpkin varieties give local diners a reason to get excited when October comes around; as she tucked into a hefty three-layer platter, one hungry mother told us, "I've been waiting all year for this." --Nick Smith

Best Pimiento Cheese
Big Al's at Burbage's Grocery
157 Broad St. Downtown 723-4054
Omigod! From the chicken and rice soup (a must if you're coming down with the sniffles) to Big Al's Pimiento Cheese, the coolers in this little corner grocery store on Broad Street are full of special treats that you can't find anywhere else. Big Al's Southern cheese spread isn't like the processed gloop you find at the Pig, this stuff is a messy mix of shredded sharp cheddar mixed with the perfect combo of diced pimientos, mayo, and secret spices. Burbage himself won't go into any details, saying the recipe is "too simple to mess up." The stuff is just too addictive for that to be true. Buy a sleeve of saltines, take them somewhere private (so you won't have to share), scoop up as much cheese as you can, and be glad there's no nutritional information on the container to betray the calorie count. --Stephanie Barna

Best Pimiento Cheese Ribeye Steak
Fleet Landing
186 Concord St. Downtown 722-8100
Let's be honest. All of us hanker for a tasty piece of meat now and then. We all enjoy variety, too. Chef Jim Epper's pimiento cheese ribeye at Fleet Landing should satisfy on both counts. What goes into making this mouthwatering dish, surely the best such creation in town? It's gotta be the homemade pimiento cheese, the in-house Cajun seasoning mix, plus the burgundy wine glace for just the right density of brown gravy. Start with certified Black Angus meat that's low on fat, grill it to medium rare, and serve it up with grilled tomatoes and cooked-to-a-tee vegetable sides, and your eyes will glaze over as you blankly stare out to sea from your perch in Fleet Landing. Epper tells us that in 2005, the restaurant sold over 3,000 orders of their ribeye -- and this is a seafood emporium. Keep in mind that this carnivore's delight is served exclusively at dinner. --Roy Freedman

Best Sashimi
Yellowfin Tuna Sashimi at Chai's
462 King St. Downtown 722-7313
Watching the emergence and competition of the tapas eateries that sprung up over the last two years has been a gastric delight for those not afraid of high-priced "small plates." Of course, as anyone who has ordered the sashimi at Chai's will tell you, the plate it arrives on is anything but small. A giant section of crostini is laid diagonally across the plate, topped with the perfect blend of raw yellowfin tuna, micro sprouts, and a spicy aioli. The crunch of the crostini combined with the smooth, velvety texture of the fish makes for an explosive taste in every single bite. While you're there, do yourself a favor and try the duck scallopini with roasted pears, gorgonzola, and candied pecans. Are you drooling yet? --Sara Miller

click to enlarge eatingtuna.jpg

Best Tuna Bowl
Tekka Don at Shi Ki
334 East Bay St. Downtown 720-8568
If you can't get enough raw tuna in those meager two-piece sushi orders, then this is the dish for you. You get a big bowl of sweet, sticky sushi rice with slices and slices of perfectly pink tuna arrayed around the edge for $14.95. They also include a hunk of wasabi and pile of ginger to make the bowl complete. By the time you're done, you're completely satisfied. It's also quite economical, because we all know how fast a sushi bill can add up when you're looking to satisfy a tuna jones. --Stephanie Barna

Best Cheap Dog
Dollar Dog Guy
King and George streets
Terry O'Hora left a 12-year career with Hilton last year, moved to Charleston, and promptly started selling hot dogs at the corner of King and George streets. But these aren't just any hot dogs. These are dollar dogs. All we have to say is, this guy's a freaking genius. What's the best way to capitalize on the college crowd? Give 'em food that's cheap and good and readily available. He says kids regularly show up with handfuls of pennies, looking to get their hands on one of his all-beef wieners. He also says he's making more money now, peddling dogs, than he did in his previous career. Must be the volume sales. --Stephanie Barna

Best Sliders
King Street Grille
304 King St. Downtown 723-5464
While other restaurants have tasty sliders (we're looking at you, Chai's), King Street's are the bomb, not only because they're tasty and satisfying, but because they come four to an order. For $5.95, that's not a bad deal. Add another $1.50 and you can get all four of them loaded up with bacon, cheese, onions, and mushrooms. And since we don't have a Krystal or White Castle to satisfy our tiny little burger cravings when we're out carousing, King Street Grille offers the perfect solution for late-night noshing. --Stephanie Barna

Best Fat Injection
Double Duck Fat-Fried French Fries with a Side of Mayo
La Fourchette 432 King St. Downtown 722-6261
We were converted on the first bite. Carolina's "fingerling potatoes fried in duck fat" are awesome. Skin-on, whole, and more pan-fried than deep-fried, those seductively crisp spuds had us clamoring to grab the last bite. Now comes La Fourchette, offering pommes frites a la graisse de canard, but all you need to know is that these are the mack-daddy of the French fry world. Your heaping basket of twice-fried, square-cut joy arrives, steaming and beckoning, and then goes over the top with a classic side -- house-made mayo. Prepay your coronary bypass tab and dig right in. And don't you dare ask for ketchup. --Scott Goodwin

Best Small Plates
1720 Sam Rittenberg Blvd. West Ashley 573-8778
It didn't seem to be that great a place at first glance -- West Ashley strip mall and all -- but boy, howdy, is Amuse the perfect business for this spot. Innovative and excellent cooking shines from every plate, and service excellence radiates from the front-of-house staff. While a few dishes have strayed inevitably upward from the astonishing "all $5-a-plate and all $5-a-glass" initial concept, it's still a bargain, and you'll still leave immensely happy. These people are doing this "tapas thing" right. --Scott Goodwin

Best N. Charleston Burger
1042 E. Montague Ave. N Charleston 747-1841
On the peninsula, there is a ton of good burgers -- AC's, Rue de Jean, Vickery's, etc. In North Chuck, however, good food can be harder to come by. A good burger takes diligence to find. First you've got to seek out and try the small joints, that could very easily suck. But there are some treasures in the northern lands. And Johnny's on the main drag in Park Circle has a truly world-class burger. Grab yourself some sweet tea, watch Johnny sizzle up your sandwich, and dive in to the drippy, crispy, gooey, meaty celebration of life. It's that good. --Scott Goodwin

Best Cheeseburger Wrap
Brent's on Broad
40 Broad St. Downtown 853-8081
We know what you're thinking. "A cheeseburger in a wrap? Isn't that, like, a total oxymoron?" No! This lunchtime goodie has all the splendor of a burger (they slice up a cooked patty to fit it in the wrap) with cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, mustard, ketchup, and mayo put together in a low-carb wrap and then grilled. Not only do you feel a bit better about cheating on a diet, the aerodynamic design of the wrap means no messy drips falling out the back end of a burger bun and onto a lap or shirt -- always important when you have to appear in court after lunch. --Sara Miller

Best Cupcakes
Ed's Wannabe Famous Hot Dogs
54 1/2 Wentworth St. Downtown 568-1987
While the wild variations of hot dogs at Ed's are scrumptious, the real secret weapons at this tiny Wentworth Street shop are the cupcakes. They're made fresh daily by Jessica Grossman, who also does the baking for Jestine's Kitchen, and for a measly dollar you can pick up a moist, chewy Black Magic (dark chocolate) or Red Velvet confection, complete with rich, buttery homemade frosting. There's a rotating third kind of cupcake each day or weekend, with flavors including vanilla, raspberry, hummingbird spice cake, coconut, and the oft-maligned (but easily my personal favorite) carrot cake, which has a cute little frosting-carrot on top! --Sara Miller

Best Way to Blow Those Weight Watchers Points
Cake Batter Ice Cream at Cold Stone Creamery
364 King St. Downtown 577-0533
310 Azalea Square Blvd. Summerville 832-0550
644 Long Point Road Mt. Pleasant 388-9989
7250 N. Rivers Ave. N. Charleston 569-3101

OK, so it had a bit of a salmonella problem in early 2005 (they've since changed the recipe) ... and the smallest portion ("Like It") contains a ridonkulous 410 calories and 23 grams of fat. But holy hell, if you're a fan of yellow cake and ice cream, welcome to nirvana, in the form a few scoops of buttery, salty-sweet cake batter ice cream that'll take you right back to all those grade school birthday parties. Who wants to play Pin the Tail on the Donkey? --Sara Miller

Best Chicken Salad Sandwich
Rising High Bakery
480 East Bay St. Downtown 958-8596
Smooth, creamy, very lightly seasoned, this downtown bakery and cafe's best sandwich, which normally comes served on their housemade black bread, is even better on toasted house-baked focaccia with Swiss and tomato. Adding a crackle of fresh black pepper from the table-top pepper mill is all you'll need. --T. Ballard Lesemann

Best Rice Pudding
Taste of India
851 Savannah Hwy. West Ashley 556-0772
For the discerning fan of Indian cuisine with a sweet tooth, Taste of India's sweet and creamy rice pudding -- or "kheer" -- has a floral aroma, a smooth texture, and a spicy finish with plenty of cardamom and nutty-raisiny flavors. It's the perfect final act to their spectacular lunch buffet. --T. Ballard Lesemann

Best Mole Sauce
Red Chile Mole at Red Drum Gastropub
803 Coleman Blvd. Mt. Pleasant 849-0313
The chicken enchiladas is the dish to get at Red Drum. And that's because of the mole sauce served with it. Chef Ben Berryhill says the red chile mole is a classical interpretation of the Mexican sauce that takes three days to prepare. They start with a rich chicken stock, then four different chiles (ancho, ajillo, cascabel, and pasilla) are stemmed, seeded, soaked, fried in fat (to mellow them), and added to the stock along with a whole bunch of savory ingredients -- ripe tomatoes, onions, cilantro, garlic, cinnamon, allspice, cloves. They toast sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, and pecans and grind them into a paste to use as a thickening agent. Into this mix go whole chickens to be braised until the meat falls off the bone. Then, the chicken's shredded and used as the filling for the enchiladas. The sauce is finished with a rich, dark chocolate, the ingredient that comes to mind first when we think "mole." The end result is a fantastic, rich, flavorful dish that lives up to its reputation. --Stephanie Barna

Best Charity Food Event
Charleston Chefs for Hurricane Relief
Sept. 12, 2005, Charleston Place Hotel
If gluttony really is a mortal sin, then surely it can be forgiven for a good cause. Those who attended the Charleston Chefs for Hurricane Relief better hope so. Twenty of Charleston's best chefs turned out fabulous signature dishes for over 700 eager gastronomes, raising $184,000 for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. The all-you-could-eat bonanza, supplemented by excellent offerings from every significant wine distributor serving Charleston, delivered as advertised -- offering an evening of pure, unadulterated culinary excess. For $150, the benefit provided the easiest way to sample the fine cuisine of Charleston's food scene in 2005 and help our neighbors on the Gulf Coast. --Jeff Allen

Best Outdoor High-Society Dining
Yorktown Bridge-Opening Party
July 16, 2005 at the U.S.S. Yorktown
If you thought it was hot on the deck of the Yorktown in July, that's only because you hadn't been below deck yet. No matter, as Charlestonians -- like they always do -- smiled through the summer heat with their tuxes on to chow down and watch one helluva fireworks display. While black worsted wool is not our first choice for al fresco summer dining, the novelty and the vantage point made it worth the sweat. --Scott Goodwin

Best 2 A.M. Meal
Gilroy's Irish Pizza Pub
353 King St. Downtown 937-9200
1246 Camp Road James Island 762-1135

Is there anything that soaks up all that beer sloshing around in your belly after closing time better than pizza? The downtown Gilory's is smack-dab in the middle of King Street and open until 4 a.m., and is ever-ready to help prevent you from spending some quality time with the porcelain god when you get home. Their pies are not only cheap, they're fairly tasty, too, with the perfect hangover-busting ratio of cheese to sauce to bread. --Sara Miller

Best Deli Salad
Iacofano Deli
626 Coleman Blvd. Mt. Pleasant 881-2313
10 Windermere Blvd. #A West Ashley 225-3354

You could go for one of their stellar sandwiches -- meatball, chicken parmigiana, Philly cheesesteak. You could get a big old hand-tossed pizza. But if you're watching your middle and prefer a lighter meal, you won't be disappointed by the salads at this joint. Fresh field greens and chopped greenleaf lettuce are tossed with different combinations of roasted peppers, fresh mozzarella, carrots, and red onions. The seared salmon salad features a fresh filet cooked to temperature and placed on top of the greens. The big chef's salad has ham and turkey, while the antipasto is loaded with Italian meats like cappicola, salami, prosciutto, and mozzarella cheese (maybe this one's not so great if you're on a diet other than Atkins). Our favorite is the grilled portabella salad with roasted red peppers and artichoke hearts, topped with housemade balsamic vinaigrette. Fresh, tasty, and a fast option for lunch. --Stephanie Barna

Best Amenity
Complimentary Valet Service
When Brett McKee reopened Union Hall at the foot of the Market a couple of years ago, he knew parking would be a factor, so he offered complimentary valet parking. The service followed him to Oak Steakhouse on Broad Street. The recently opened Cordavi, next door to the old Union Hall, started off strong, providing this oh-so-important amenity. Even a couple of restaurants in Mt. Pleasant, where parking is plentiful, provide hassle-free parking, making J. Bistro and Red Drum an easy choice for lots of diners looking for a good place to go. In this town, parking will always be a factor, so it's nice when businesses acknowledge this and help us enjoy our evenings out.--Stephanie Barna

Best Lazy Man's Smorgasbord
Marion Square Farmers Market
Held on Saturdays mornings from April through December, the Charleston Farmers Market transforms Marion Square into an old-world bazaar where the just-picked produce and fresh-cut flowers beg to be taken home. The food fare includes all sorts of baked goods, fresh seafood, and canned chutneys, while the smell of breakfast and lunch items, cooked to order, waft through the park, and visitors debate crepe fillings and omelet toppings, depending on which way the wind blows. The best way to fully experience the Farmers Market is to grab a blanket and enjoy a casual picnic. And remember to snag a bag of kettle corn on your way home! --Ida Becker

Best New Foodgeek Fun
International Theme Months at Ted's Butcherblock
334 East Bay St. Downtown 577-0094
This might be the best damn idea we've seen in years. Ted's Butcherblock has started "theme months," with each month featuring the wines, cheeses, lunch specials, and prepared foods of a particular cuisine. There are wine tastings, the lunch choices line right up with whatever is the featured country, and the whole package offers a low-commitment opportunity to taste and learn more about each international offering. We've already missed Poland. February was France, with a swing south through Spain, the Mediterranean and Italy on the schedule for the spring months. We're sharpening our palates and updating our culinary passports for the trip. --Molly Goodwin

Best Food Trend for Busy Moms
Original Take and Bake
1200 Queensborough Blvd. Mt. Pleasant216-2082
Why is it that Mt. P always gets the most innovative places that cater to convenience? Oh, because Mt. P'ers can afford convenience? Yeah, well, whatever. We're anxious to try one of the new take and bake kitchens -- the concept sounds great. You show up, pay some money, and they give you all the ingredients, the recipes, and the kitchen. You don't have to grocery shop, you don't have to clean up, and you get enough food to feed your family for a bunch of meals. Once you leave, you've got a menu full of items that can be frozen and cooked later. Genius! Now why didn't we think of that? --Stephanie Barna

Best Place to Spot an Anarchist
Rutledge Coffee and Cream
511 Rutledge Ave. Downtown 723-2232
Every red state in the country has its share of radical hideaways, and Rutledge Coffee and Cream silently sticks its neck out as a haven of liberalism. The obscure little shack has been our city's anarchist-in-residence salon for just under two years, and their coffee and dinners are the perfect addition for that subversive brainstorming meeting. The café also keeps a modest library of nonconformist literature and is affiliated with the free book exchange known as Fight the power at Rutledge Coffee and Cream. --Neal Sakash

Best Bankruptcy
You have to admit, they created a fine-looking space for a restaurant. Maybe a bit too fine. Seems being the ground floor of a major law firm's new building and having a grand view of the harbor are not quite enough to pay off some serious debt. While the owners initially wanted to give the business a chance to recover, late in 2005 they decided to punt. Good thing legal help is only an elevator ride away! --Scott Goodwin

Best Wine List
Charleston Grill
224 King St. Downtown 577-4522
Charleston Grill's wine list is a treat. Verticals of big-name California Cabernet, hard-to-find Rhones, large-format bottles, bubbles -- if you can't find it here, you don't need it. Prices are high, but then again, building a cellar like this don't come cheap. --Scott Goodwin

Best Wine Guy
Stephane Peltier at The Dining Room at Woodlands Resort & Inn
125 Parsons Road Summerville 308-2115
Maybe it's the French accent, or maybe it's just his winning and enthusiastic knowledge of the wine cellar, but this guy's amazing. Take two diners with a limited knowledge of wine and send Peltier over. He'll wow them with explanations that take the mystery out of food and wine pairings, and he'll encourage them to explore their palates with winning combinations. Peltier became a sommelier in his native country at the ripe old age of 21, and in the ensuing years, he's found a home at Woodlands, where he manages the 900-bottle cellar and hosts regular wine tastings. When we ate there, we jealously listened to the diners next to us, who had opted for the fixed chef's wine-paired menu (while we went a la carte), as Peltier came by again and again to explain the wine selection and chat with the diners. The food here's such an exquisite adventure, it makes sense to let Peltier guide you through the wonderful world of wine too. --Stephanie Barna


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Classified Listings
Most Viewed

Powered by Foundation   © Copyright 2016, Charleston City Paper   RSS