Those looking for staples of Charleston’s culinary scene, take notice. This is a roundup of food that defines the city’s cuisine. From okra soup to country captain to oyster stew, relatively new to old standbys, these are the 16 most iconic dishes in the city. Seek out these single food items and eat them often. These are the dishes that define Lowcountry cuisine. The food reflects the environment of the rich oceans and lands of Charleston.Read More
Charleston's 14 Most Iconic Dishes
The dishes that define Charleston
Bowen's Island Restaurant
Folks can't seem to agree if it's Frogmore Stew, Beaufort Stew, Beaufort Boil, or Lowcountry Boil, but the heady combo of shrimp, sausage, corn, potatoes, and Old Bay seasoning garners plenty of interest among Charleston visitors. If you don't have Southern family to cook for you, take a car out to Bowen's Island for its version.
Early Bird Diner
Shrimp and grits has long since been a staple in Lowcountry kitchens. The combination was eventually adapted by restaurants, and can now be found in almost every establishment claiming to serve Southern fare. Perpetually packed diner Early Bird gives patrons a choice of shrimp sautéed with tomato bacon gravy or fried with sweet and spicy jelly — that is, if customers can resist the famous chicken and waffles.
The Glass Onion
The Lowcountry has a lot of classics, from tried-and-true dishes that rose from the field hands of yore, to more modern dishes that, for one reason or another, are now thought of as part of our culinary DNA. With the right care and a practiced hand, these classics can sometimes be combined to make something greater than the sum of their parts. Case in point: the fried green tomato po’ boy with pimento cheese from West Ashley's Southern food stalwart The Glass Onion.
The Pork Trifecta at Park Circle's EVO Pizzeria practically has a cult following. Fans of the pepperoni, sausage, and bacon pie swear by it. Pair it with a local draft beer.
Established in 1979, iconic soul food stop Bertha's Kitchen is known for their its chicken and fish, but what you're really going for is the okra soup.A cousin of Creole gumbo, okra soup is stewed okra and tomatoes Everyone from famous chefs and food writers to locals and tourists make the trek to Bertha's to take in the now-famous dishes created by the late founder Albertha Grant.
Martha Lou's Kitchen
The tiny pink restaurant on Morrison Drive is home to some of the best fried chicken in the south. Wash it down with a glass of iced cold sweet tea for pure Southern bliss.
Nana's Seafood and Soul
There are many Gullah classics on the menu at Nana's. Mother and son team Carolyn and Kenyatta McNeil create Lowcountry classics, with local products, in their small Line Street restaurant. For $10, patrons can score a giant piece of perfectly-fried whiting, fried cabbage on rice, lima beans, and a sweet piece of cornbread — really, it's enough for two people. The trick is to keep up with the restaurant's Instagram feed to check when crab rice or garlic crabs are on the menu (two of the most popular classic dishes).
Dave's Carry Out
Stop by Southern soul spot Dave's Carry Out for Charleston icon devil crabs. Emptied crab shells are stuffed with a combination of picked crab meat, breading, and other secret spices. And it's only $3.
Hannibal's Kitchen serves up some of the best crab rice around. The presentation is simple — it’s picked local crabs, lightly pan fried, over white rice. It's a humble dish but one born of deep Lowcountry roots.
When they are in season, soft shell crabs make Charlestonians go crazy. As the short-season delicacy makes it to local menus, they are soon everywhere. This year, The Grocery served a variety of soft shells presentations.
Seafood house Hank's serves a chowder-style stew of oysters, leek, potato and bacon. Oyster stew is a super-classic Lowcountry dish with recipes dating back hundreds of years.
Chef Sean Brock's burger has reached cult status in Charleston. No one would ever want to deny themselves a chance to eat a meat patty with the bacon ground in. Two slabs of beef, American cheese, and a pillowy bun make the burger worth trying once, twice, maybe 400 times.
Tourists love, love, love to visit 82 Queen for she crab soup. An almost too-rich combination of cream, crab meat, roe, and sherry, she-crab soup is said to be a throwback recipe from 1920s Charleston.
The chicken liver pâté from FIG will ruin any meat lover from all other pâtés. This version is super smooth and usually served with a bit of mustard, buttery toast pieces, and an interesting, seasonal pickle.