DISH DINING GUIDE ‌ The Essentials 

City Paper’s bi-annual guide to dining out in Charleston

click to enlarge Chef Robert Carter produces one satisfying dining experience at Peninsula Grill
  • Chef Robert Carter produces one satisfying dining experience at Peninsula Grill

Charleston is a city of restaurants. Few places in the world boast as dense a concentration of food purveyors as our urban areas. This means, of course, that competition for the dollars that fuel the industry is fierce, and the qualities that can guarantee survival abound. In such an environment, being good is often not good enough — survivors in the Charleston scene must be unique or downright delicious, or both. When we eat out, these are the places that turn us on; they are the stalwarts of the current gastronomic landscape. Some are classics, some are newcomers, but all are delicious. Each represents the efforts that collectively make Charleston the best spot for food lovers in the South.

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.

Amuse
Tapas
Entrées $5-$10
West Ashley. 1720 Sam Rittenberg Blvd. 573-8778
Dinner (closed Sun. and Mon.)
With a new tapas bar springing up seemingly every month back in 2005, it was amazing that Amuse could compete in an out-of-the-way, Sam Rittenberg location. That it continues to persevere in 2006 testifies to the skill and delicious performance of Joe and James Trez, the brothers who run the place. An emphasis on interesting wine and diverse menu selections keeps this hidden gem at the top of the West Ashley scene. One taste confirms that they intend to stay there.

Andolini's
Pizza
Entrées $5-$10
Downtown. 82 Wentworth St. 722-7437; West Ashley. 1117 Savannah Hwy. 225-5200; Mt. Pleasant. 414 W. Coleman Blvd. 849-7437
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 Andolini's other locations in Mt. Pleasant, West Ashley, and James Island. The pie is still divine, but with more room to spread out, you can even bring the kids.

Atlanticville Restaurant
American/Eclectic — Upscale
Entrées $15-$20
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; tuna tartare piles mangos and chilies into the mix, 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 and Dinner
On any given night, people line the sidewalks on upper King, jostling for a seat in this very reasonably priced 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 bucks, there's no better show in town.

Blossom Café
Seafood
Entrées $15-$20
Downtown. 171 East Bay St. 722-9200
Lunch, Dinner, and Sunday Brunch
Locals and tourists alike return often to sample this classic "nouveau Southern" cuisine. For lunch or dinner, its expansive offering boasts delightful seafood entrées and hand-prepared pizzas with the freshest of ingredients and a Lowcountry style. A favorite for business lunches or a dinner out with friends, Blossom remains a steady choice.

The Boathouse
Seafood
Entrées $15-$20
Downtown. 549 E. 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 view that won't quit 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 "Eat 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 cost an arm and a leg. The next time you're broke and jonesing for that fried eggplant and blue cheese sandwich, this is your place.

Capriccio's
Italian
Entrées $10-$15
Mt. Pleasant. 1034 Chuck Dawley Blvd. 881-5550
Dinner
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, juicy mussels with a fistful of fresh thyme on top and the perfect butter sauce beneath — simple perfection.

click to enlarge Enjoy Sweet Charleston Summers at Circa 1886
  • Enjoy Sweet Charleston Summers at Circa 1886

Carolina's
Southern/Lowcountry
Entrées $20 and up
Downtown. 10 Exchange St. 724-3800
Dinner
Chef Tin Dizdarevic has kept the ball rolling at this South of Broad favorite. His focus on sourcing the freshest local food (some fish are delivered to the restaurant still alive) breathed fresh life into the stylishly remodeled space. Precise execution and a clearly evident love of the ingredients make Chef Dizdarevic's creations, like the "Warm Squid Salad with Baby Arugula Greens and a Cardamom Aioli," some of the finest in the city. Our favorite, "Perdita's Fruits de Mer," puts together "Roasted Palmetto Bass with Fennel and Blood Orange, Grilled Day Boat Scallops and Sautéed Spinach, Grilled Wild Shrimp, Poached Maine Lobster finished with Lobster and White Truffle Bisque" for one fabulously luxurious plate.

Cintra Ristorante
Italian
Entrées $20 and up
Downtown. 16 N. Market St. 377-1090
Dinner
Italian restaurants usually come in two flavors: down-home or dressed-to-the-nines. We find that Cintra strikes a great balance between the two. It offers sophisticated food in a convenient downtown setting and, while the grub sings as stylish a tune as the rest of downtown, the high-energy dining room (replete with an open kitchen) provides a great place to chow on creative creations without the jacket and tie. It's serious food without the serious attitude.

Circa 1886
American/Eclectic — Upscale
Entrées $20 and up
Downtown. 149 Wentworth St. 853-7828
Dinner
If you've never been inside the renovated Wentworth Mansion, you're missing a wonderful treat. The inn and garden are some of the most beautiful spaces in all of Charleston and the renovated outbuildings on the grounds house a small restaurant and bar befitting its grandeur. The atmosphere and demeanor of this AAA four-diamond restaurant frames the classically inspired, yet innovative cuisine of Chef Marc Collins in a very formal style that rarely disappoints.

click to enlarge One swanky plate of seared diver scallops with blue polenta cakes and sun-dried tomatoes at Chais Lounge & Tapas
  • One swanky plate of seared diver scallops with blue polenta cakes and sun-dried tomatoes at Chais Lounge & Tapas

Chai's Lounge & Tapas
Tapas
Entrées $5-$10
Downtown. 462 King St. 722-7313
Dinner
Perhaps the swankiest addition to the downtown tapas tsunami that overtook the city in 2005, this Upper King hot spot offers a wide variety of Asian-inspired plates and one of the hippest bar scenes in town. An upscale sister to its popular predecessor Basil, the Thai restaurant next door also owned by Henry and Chai Eang, at Chai's one can munch on tuna sashimi, Cambodian-style steak tartare, and green papaya salad while sipping champagne in an overstuffed leather sofa or out on the fabulous new outdoor patio beside the trend-setting people that tend to gather here.

Chez Fish
Seafood
Entrées $10-$!5
Johns Island. 3966 Betsy GarrisonPkwy. 768-0753
Lunch, Dinner, and Sunday Brunch
This quirky little number way out toward the Kiawah/Seabrook beaches 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 undoubtedly will come from the fresh catch being proffered in the seafood market that operates 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.

Coast
Seafood
Entrées $10-$15
Downtown. 39-D John St. 722-8838
Dinner and Sunday Brunch
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. Live music often warms the bar and drifts into the exotically appointed dining space. With a sharp focus on seafood the menu dances among genres, serving excellent versions of ceviche, fish tacos, fried crawfish, and Lowcountry classics. Even the obligatory shrimp and grits is not all that bad. A nice wine list can complement any of the chef's fare, but the mixed drinks, like the "Dark & Stormy" and "Watermelon Cooler," are worth a visit in themselves.

Coco's Café
French
Entrées $10-$15
Mt. Pleasant. 863 Houston Northcutt Blvd. 881-4949
Lunch and Dinner
An oldie but a goodie in a futuristic, space-age world where chefs are starting to cook in liquid nitrogen, Coco's continues to pump out classic French cuisine perfectly true to its roots. The intimate Mt. Pleasant dining room was recently sold by chef/owners Alain Saley and Francois Rivalain to Stephen Ollard, but he promises to maintain the original, authentic French menus. When we need our Gallic fix, we head over to Coco's for the best "Les Escargots De La Bourgogne" in town.

click to enlarge John Zuckers mac and cheese is made with lots of love at Cru Caf
  • John Zuckers mac and cheese is made with lots of love at Cru Caf

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 that it imparts.

Cypress
American/Eclectic -- Upscale
Entrées $20 and up
Downtown. 167 East Bay St. 727-0111
Dinner
This downtown destination has changed over the years, but the architecture alone draws a crowd. What originally premiered as a classic 1960s throwback, complete with tableside Caesar salad preparation, lobster Thermidor, and jacket requirements downstairs now infuses a decidedly Asian feel. Drop in to see the spectacular two-story glass wine "cellar" or sample the splendid selection of single malt scotches at the upstairs bar, but stay for the food. Where else are you going to get seared foie gras with cornbread, peaches, and Tahitian vanilla?

The Dining Room at Woodlands Resort & Inn
American/Eclectic — Upscale
Entrées $20 and up
Summerville. 125 Parsons Road. 875-2600
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, and Sunday Brunch
The Dining Room at Woodlands can be summed up in one word: perfection. Everything they do here is well thought out, perfectly executed, and still, after all these years, delivers the same exemplary meal that we have come to expect, no matter what's on the menu, which changes daily. Despite its considerable distance from the downtown area, Woodlands remains a strong contender in the uppermost echelon of the Lowcountry's restaurant scene. New Executive Chef Tarver King clearly understands his role in continuing the past success of this legendary spot while spurring innovation that keeps the menu fresh and engaging.

Fish
Seafood
Entrées $10-$15
Downtown. 442 King St. 722-FISH
Lunch and Dinner
Fish led the charge in revitalizing the upper King Street district and owners Charles and Celeste Patrick continued to support the cause, resuscitating the American Theater and the William Aiken house in a part of the city that now throbs with energy. Newcomers have produced stiff competition, but Executive Chef Ryan Herrmann continues to dish out exciting food. The seasonal menu showcases exciting combinations of seafood flavors and a commitment to creating wine specials offers some extreme value at times.

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 hippy-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 gentrification is a regrettable fact of life in downtown Charleston. 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 the original and their daily lunch specials, which pair a host of freshly prepared soups, large salads, and interesting sandwiches — pick any two for seven bucks. That's a deal we like and, judging from the lines, we are not alone.

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. They have good reason to do so.

click to enlarge White-jacketed service and impressive plates at Grill 225
  • White-jacketed service and impressive plates at Grill 225

Grill 225
American/Eclectic — Upscale
Entrées $20 and up
Downtown. 225 E. Bay St. 266-4222
Lunch, Dinner, and Sunday Brunch
Serving some of the finest steaks in town, 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 and starched white tablecloths ooze with the grandeur of a bygone era. Despite the pomp, the minimalist menu focuses on the prime meats themselves, with sauce served on the side and sides served in separate dishes altogether. It is simply some of the finest food in Charleston, and some of the priciest, but worth every penny.

Hank's Seafood Restaurant
Seafood
Entrées $15-$20
Downtown. 10 Hayne St. 723-FISH
Dinner
Home of Charleston's most impressive communal table, Hank's is a place to see and be seen. Once the headstrong new guy on the block — self-proclaiming "world-famous" status from day one — the venerable old warehouse raw bar and seafood palace has weathered nicely over the years to become one of Charleston's trustiest fish houses. We go for the "Grand Seafood Castle," a stupendous assortment of iced shellfish from around the globe and one of the best seared tuna dishes around. They may not be truly world-famous yet, but Hank's has certainly made a name for itself in Charleston.

High Cotton
American/Eclectic — Upscale
Entrées $20 and up
Downtown. 199 E. 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 steaks and seafood 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
Way out on Sullivan's Island, High Thyme brings creative bistro flair to coastal specialties. With an emphasis on seafood, the kitchen turns out good food at a reasonable price in a great location. The always boisterous atmosphere and cold white wine make it a perfect place to meet friends for a late nibble after a long day at the beach.

Hominy Grill
Southern/Lowcountry
Entrées $10-$15
Downtown. 207 Rutledge Ave. 937-0930
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, and Sunday 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, then 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.

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.

The Kickin' Chicken
American/Eclectic -- Casual
Entrées $5-$10
Downtown. 337 King St. 805-5020; Mt. Pleasant. 1119 Johnnie Dodds Blvd. 881-8734; James Island. 1175 Folly Road. 225-6996; Summerville. 800 N. Main St. 875-6998
Lunch, Dinner, and Late Night
What started as a ghetto lunch delivery outfit has morphed over the years into a veritable sandwich empire in the Holy City — because these guys make one hell of a sandwich. The signature Kickin' Chicken sandwich is a gut-busting, artery-clogging sub that piles crispy bacon over fried chicken tenders and tops the whole thing with layers of melted cheese. Eating a whole one with a couple beers will send you home for a nap.

click to enlarge The hearty cassoulet at La Fourchette comes in a Le Creuset crock
  • The hearty cassoulet at La Fourchette comes in a Le Creuset crock

La Fourchette
French
Entrées $15-$20
Downtown. 432 King St. 722-6261
Dinner
Serving the most authentic French fare in town, this tiny upper King Street dining room commands a loyal clientele that return time and again for the lobster bisque, the signature cassoulet, and a great wine list featuring distinctive French regional selections. Always packed and lively, the tight seating and loud conversation exemplify the Parisian ideal. You just might think you have arrived on the left bank of the Seine.

Lana
Greek/Mediterranean
Entrées $10-$15
Downtown. 210 Rutledge Ave. 720-8899
Lunch and Dinner
When our favorite panini place vacated its Cumberland Street address a few years ago, we never dreamed that what was once a perfect little lunch spot in that bourgeois part of town would transform into a formidable fine dining establishment way up in the 'hood. That's exactly what happened, though, to the delight of all who loathed its predecessor's passing. Lana presents an adroitly-prepared, contemporary Mediterranean palette of flavors — French steaks, Italian pastas, Greek lamb, and Spanish tapas all commingle on the diverse menu. With reasonable prices for excellent food and a romantic setting, Lana is one of the best date spots in town.

Langdon's Restaurant and Wine Bar
American/Eclectic — Upscale
Entrées $10-$15
Mt. Pleasant. 778 South Shellmore Blvd. 388-9200
Dinner (closed Sun.)
One could drive right past Langdon's Restaurant and never even know it was there. Tucked away in a nondescript BI-LO shopping center, even the sign is hard to see — but do not let that dissuade you from trying this exceptional menu. They produce truly memorable food and wine — particularly the lamb chops napped with a jalapeño-mint gastric and a seared tuna that is the best we've ever had. Combine this with a very well-designed wine selection available in multiple pour sizes, featured food pairings, and an expert bar service (Riedel glasses are the bomb) and you have yourself some top notch stuff that's worth fighting the traffic for.

Magnolias
Southern/Lowcountry
Entrées $15-$20
Downtown. 185 E. Bay St. 577-7771
Lunch, Dinner, and Sunday Brunch
A leading light from the old days, Magnolias has gone the way of the tourist throng, but locals that brave the crowds or sneak in during the dead of winter can be rewarded with quality interpretations of Southern cuisine. It seems that all those tourist dollars have not totally relegated the kitchen to churning out mediocre fare in high volume. We particularly like the fresh, handmade potato chips that come blanketed in an aged blue cheese. Take note guys, on a cool autumn day, with a glass of decent wine, these beauties make the downtown shopping trip bearable.

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 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.

Mondo's Delite
American/Eclectic — Casual
Entrées $10-$15
James Island. 915 Folly Road. 795-8400
Lunch 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. 1026 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 the meat eater and the vegetarian without breaking the bank, the casual atmosphere and relaxed service make them an excellent choice for a quick lunch or a weekday dinner — no matter what side of town you happen to inhabit.

click to enlarge Meats the thing at Oak Steakhouse
  • Meats the thing at Oak Steakhouse

Oak Steakhouse
Steakhouse
Entrées $20 and up
Downtown. 17 Broad St. 722-4220
Dinner
Brett McKee consistently defies the typical image of a successful Charleston restaurateur and that makes him all the more compelling. A carpet-bagging Yankee from Brooklyn, he opened his first establishment in 1991 on the hurricane ravaged Isle of Palms and called it Hugo's, of all things. He is brash, bold, and hung a giant oil portrait of himself in his latest, and most accomplished, endeavor, Oak. The steakhouse blends classic style with McKee's Italian-American roots to produce an exemplary result. From the "Lobster Macaroni and Cheese" to the unique blend of fennel, red pepper, and espresso beans that comprise the house rub, the great food and gorgeous renovation to a former bank keep the diners piling in and Brett McKee's career on the rise.

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 and comes 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.

click to enlarge The Old Village Post House
  • The Old Village Post House

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. With a new chef entering the picture, the future is uncertain, but we feel sure that they will keep the fried calamari, which, when available, are the tastiest around.

Pane e Vino
Italian
Entrées $5-$10
Downtown. 17 Warren St. 853-5955
Lunch (Fri. and Sat. only) and Dinner(closed Sun.)
If you think Al di La has the market cornered on affordable Italian classics and great wine values, then you need to get 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 E. 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 Crocket 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."

click to enlarge Oysters Rockefeller, pretty as a picture at Pearlz
  • Oysters Rockefeller, pretty as a picture at Pearlz

Pearlz
Seafood
Entrées $10-$15
Downtown. 153 E. Bay St. 577-5755
Lunch and Dinner
Pearlz is the best little raw bar that you probably haven't even been to yet. 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 makes a great place to stop in for a bite before hitting the town or, for ending a bit of carousing with that late night munchies attack, the kitchen throws out delicious crab cakes and sliders.

Raval
Tapas
Entrées $5-$10
Downtown. 453 King St. 853-8466
Dinner
Raval's quixotic nature makes it immensely compelling, but the Spanish-style tapas and great wine list are what keep this place on the top of our lists. Two rooms, aligned in shotgun style, play host to some of the unique offerings on upper King Street. The front window frames the kitchen and a splendid bar while the rear space transports visitors into a couch-laden fantasy, complete with a thumping DJ on the weekends.

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

Robert's of Charleston
American/Eclectic — Upscale
Entrées $20 and up
Downtown. 182 East Bay St. 577-7565
Dinner (Wed.-Sat. only)
If you had to pick one "legendary" restaurant in downtown Charleston, it would be Robert's. Still going strong after 30 years, the small, intimate dining room has witnessed countless birthdays, engagements, and anniversaries — the original "special occasion" place. Robert's still packs them in for live show tunes and opera every night and, with Robert's daughter MariElena and her husband Joseph Raya now running the show, Robert is free to perform better than ever. Wine pairings have branched out to embrace some of the best emerging regions in the world, and the five-course prix fixe menu has achieved a new level of accomplishment under her command. If you have not been in years, it's time to rediscover this old standby on East Bay Street.

click to enlarge Sesames mini-burger sampler
  • Sesames mini-burger sampler

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 buns, ketchup, mustards, relishes, even pimiento cheese — the whole nine yards. Fresh ground meat means that you can get yours cooked as bloody as you like, kind of like Southern tartare with white bread. Yum.

Sienna
Italian
Entrées $15-$20
Daniel Island. 901 Island Park Dr. 881-8820
Lunch and Dinner (closed Sun.)
Who would've thought the culinary mastermind behind the original diamonds and stars at The Woodlands could go out and open an even better establishment — by returning to his grandma's Italian roots — in suburban Daniel Island, of all places? Well, it happened folks, and Sienna continues to dazzle diners with wonderful food. Ken Vedrinski's robust talent can best be sampled with the chef's "Ultimate Tasting," a $100-plus extravaganza pairing seven courses with wine in a gut-busting adventure through a culinary wonderland that features rare ingredients from around the world.

Slightly North of Broad
Southern/Lowcountry
Entrées $15-$20
Downtown. 192 East Bay St. 723-3424
Lunch (Mon.-Fri. only) and Dinner
S.N.O.B., as it is affectionately known, still produces a steady, reliable stream of classic food from its open kitchen. While the new guys on the block in the East Bay corridor have stolen some of its former glory, S.N.O.B. can still be counted on for a dependable quality lunch or dinner in a charming atmosphere. Chef Frank Lee is a downtown institution and his interpretive Southern fare explores interesting textures and combinations of flavor while remaining true to the culinary traditions of the Lowcountry.

Sushi Hiro
Asian/Indian
Entrées $10-$15
Downtown. 298 King St. 723-3628
Lunch and Dinner (closed Sun.)
The "Hiro" is our favorite place for sushi. From the friendly banter of the sushi chefs to the diversity of the impeccably fresh catch, this 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 the 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.

Ted's Butcherblock
Gourmet Groceries/Wine Shops
Entrées $5-$10
Downtown. 334 East Bay St. 577-0094
Lunch (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 "Butcher Block" 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 food 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.

St. Johns Island Cafe
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.

click to enlarge The remarkable rack of lamb at Tristan
  • The remarkable rack of lamb at Tristan

Tristan
American/Eclectic — Upscale
Entrées $20 and up
Downtown. 55 South Market St. 534-2155.
Lunch, Dinner, and Sunday Brunch
There are two good reasons to go to Tristan: Chef Ciarán Duffy's lamb ribs with chocolate sauce and the Tomahawk ribeye. They represent two of the most astounding dishes in the entire city, the ribs for their delectably creative composition and falling-off-the-bone texture, and the chop for its outlandish size, sizzling crust, quality flavor, and super-size "frenched" bone. After you have stuffed yourself with several pounds of beef and lamb, you might try some vegetables or such — we hear that they're delicious as well...


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