39 Rue de Jean
A standard for the see-and-be-seen professional set, this brasserie is the uptown hot spot for casually elegant dining and late-night partying. Faves include Rue's Brasserie Burger, Onion Tarte, Mussels (in five choices of broth), Steak au Poivre with a cup of pommes frites, and an unexpected but exciting menu of sushi. (MS) 39 John St., 722-8881.
Chucktown's best pizza pies are served from this spicy dive that's popular with students and others looking to save a buck without skimping on flavor. The specials are unbeatable?$5.50 for a slice, salad, and a soda or $6 PBR pitchers. (MB) 82 Wentworth St., 722-7437.
Watch horse-drawn carriages meander through the historic Market from the chic dining room, where day-boat seafood, superb steaks, and local produce are served with classic Charleston charm. Not to be missed: Lowcountry Barbecued Grouper with Sautéed Greens and Grits ground right in Anson's own kitchen. (MS) 12 Anson St., 577-0551.
Clean, crisp Thai dishes set the tone for the sizzling scene on Upper King. High-octane red and green curries, crispy fried duck, hot and sour soups, and cool, soothing desserts with undertones of ginger draw Charleston's Asian cuisine cognoscenti. Be prepared to wait as they don't take reservations. (MS) 460 King St. (at Ann St.), 724-3490.
Brent's on Broad
Come to this dressed-down joint, popular with Broad Street worker bees and tourists, for basic American lunch fare (soups, salads, burgers, and sandwiches) served up fresh, fast, and in whopping portions. No reservations. (MB) 40 Broad St., 853-8081.
Magnolias' casual sister restaurant has swapped identities, trading the old Italian for a Lowcountry seafood-based menu. Look for a bounty of fish dishes, plus a handful of homemade pastas and their renowned wood-oven pizzas at this cheery, stylized joint. Opt for a seat outside and a gorgeous view of St. Philip's when weather permits. (MB) 171 East Bay St. (between Cumberland & Queen), 722-9200.
The Boathouse on East Bay
Part fun bar scene and part higher-end fish house, the downtown location rocks for happy hour and for dinner afterward in a warm nautical atmosphere. The raw bar's a hit with half-shell treats and sushi, but the standards (fresh seafood with blue-cheese coleslaw, collards, and grits) still rule. (MB) 549 East Bay St., 577-7171.
Forget about ambiance?we go to these comfy neighborhood digs for the hunka-chunka breakfast all day long. Dive into the mile-high biscuits, casseroles, and hang-town fry. Salads and sandwiches added at lunchtime include a super-cool fried green tomato and pimiento cheese Monte Cristo. (MS) 412 King St. (at Hutson St.), 720-8843.
Brasserie des Amis
Scrap the French angle at this fine dining establishment tucked away in the Renaissance Hotel. The menu is mainly Lowcountry?Fried Oysters over Arugula, Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes, and the Double-Cut Pork Chop with Carolina Peach Slaw?done with superb flair. (MB) 68 Wentworth St., 534-0300.
After a snazzy renovation at the start of 2004, this longtime local staple remains a fave. Chef Rose Durden's spin on Lowcountry dishes (Spicy Shrimp and Grits with Andouille Sausage and Tasso Gravy) and her Asian-influenced specialties (Spicy Stir-Fry of Shrimp and Beef over Asian Angel Hair Pasta) keep regulars coming back. (MB) 10 Exchange St., 724-3800.
Chai's Lounge & Tapas
Whether you're seeking a romantic night out for two or drinks with the gang, Chai's fits the bill. An extraordinary wine list is anchored by an equally impressive tapas menu including Thai fare such as plea, satay, and lotus root salad. Also on the something-for-every-taste menu: clams and mussels, tuna sashimi, shrimp ceviche, and quesadillas. (PR) 462 King St., 722-7313.
Top toque Bob Waggoner prepares local ingredients with French aplomb for the plush dining room at Charleston Place. Expect impeccable service, wonderful wine pairings, and luxury-class cuisine, like Lobster Tempura on Lemon Grits with a Yellow Tomato Tarragon Butter, that consistently ranks among food critics' bests. (MS) Charleston Place Hotel, 224 King St., 577-4522.
A martini bar welcomes diners to this brand new Market Street ristorante, headed by Executive Chef Jacques Larson, formerly of Union Hall. Try a speciality martini from the extensive menu?the British Gentleman, the Vanilla Fudge, and the Chocolate Kiss are all winners?then dive into Veal Marsala with Herbed Fontina Risotto Cake, English Peas, and Wild Mushrooms, or Spicy Linguine with Little Neck Clams and Pancetta. (HB) 16 North Market St. 377-1090.
Located in the charming carriage house of the grand Wentworth Mansion, Circa's cuisine reflects an intriguing mix of Lowcountry fare and colonial influences, spiced with classic West Indian flavors. Chef Marc Collins spins this combination into dishes such as Sautéed Crimson Cornmeal-Crusted Porgy with Carolina Gold Reezy Peezy, and Dandelion and Oyster Mushroom Salad with Papaya Vinaigrette. (MS) 149 Wentworth St., 853-7828.
COAST Bar & Grill
Take an instant vacation in this larger-than-life high-style fish camp with a laid-back feel. There's surf and turf, but COAST is about seafood?served roasted, grilled, fried, steamed, boiled, and on the half-shell?from Baja fish tacos to lobster and lump crab over linguini. A crowded bar, community table, and indoor-outdoor seating make this renovated warehouse a hopping joint. (MS) 39-D John St., 722-8838.
An eclectically surprising menu?the Chinese Chicken Salad and Ginger Seared Salmon with Lemon Risotto are drool-worthy?and the wonderful setting in a renovated Charleston single house draw fans to this off-the-beaten-path spot north of the Market. Small plates show why Cru's also the top caterer in town. (MB) 18 Pinckney St., 534-2434.
Cypress Lowcountry Grill
This member of the Magnolias family is high-tech glam with cerise booths, flying saucer lights that morph in color, and a three-story glass wall storing 4,000-plus wines. Shellfish-Glazed Truffled Grits with Lobster, Shrimp, and Scallops is an haute-cuisine version of the Lowcountry staple, and the Wasabi Tuna with Gingered Potato Galette spotlights Executive Chef Craig Deihl's Asian spin. (MS) 167 East Bay (at Queen St.), 727-0111.
Doe's Pita Plus
Simple, fresh ingredients and a heart-smart menu of stuffed pitas, salads, hummus, tabbouleh, and kibbeh make Doe's a winner with vegetarians, meat-lovers, and Middle-Eastern-fare fans alike. Tucked into a small shopping center, the place is a hot lunch spot for downtowners on the go. Amex only. (MB) 334 East Bay St. (at Ansonborough Square), 577-3179.
"Food is Good" in this hip hot spot that has made a name for itself among the downtown big boys. The understated design provides plenty of panache without interfering with FIG's real purpose?showcasing simple, super-fresh seasonal dishes, such as Roasted Half Chicken with a mustard and herb crust and watercress salad and Serrano Ham with feta and cantaloupe. (MS) 232 Meeting St., 805-5900.
For exquisitely prepared seasonal seafood, hit this jazzy Upper King spot where monkfish, snapper, tuna, wreckfish, salmon, flounder, catfish, and more get top billing, all served up in an 1837 single house. Crabmeat tops the meat dishes, and Gouda flavors the grits. (MB) 442 King St., 722-3474.
Five Loaves Café
A soup that sounds like a sauce bodes well. Some of this neighborhood café's most tantalizing bowlfuls include Red Pepper with Pine Nuts; Artichoke and Feta; and Tomato, Tarragon, and Crabmeat. Try the $7.25 soup, salad, and/or sandwich lunch combo, or come back for full-blown gourmet dinners. (MB) 43 Cannon St., 937-4303.
Located right on Charleston Harbor at the foot of Cumberland Street, this new seafood emporium serves up classics with Southern and fusion flair. To start, try the delicious Crispy Calamari with Apricot Glaze and Spicy Red Pepper Rémoulade dipping sauces or the She-Crab Soup with Blue Crab Roe and Sherry. But don't mistake this as just a dining destination?Fleet's industrial-chic atmosphere, large bar, and waterfront patio has already made it a favorite among the cocktail crowd. (ESM) 186 Concord St., 722-8100.
This intimate ristorante is off the beaten path but worth seeking out. The small but sophisticated menu is Chef Brett Maynard's riff on northern Italian fare, and when he gets to the piatti (entrées) the music goes modern. Hitting the high notes are Braised Rabbit and Zucchini in a Prosciutto-Vodka Cream and Porcini Rubbed Beef Fillet with Parmesan Polenta Cake. (MS) 5 Fulton St., 853-5555.
This great-for-dates southern Italian restaurant along the Market offers Tuna with Spinach and Tomato Balsamic Vinaigrette and Tiramisu as its keynotes. Look for a mix of tourists with deep pockets and locals in the know. (MB) 49 South Market St., 723-7153.
Gaulart & Maliclet
With its community countertop, imported owners, and straightforward menu featuring "Croq' Messieurs," pâté plates, and Thursday night fondues, G&M (a.k.a. Fast & French) provides an authentic bistro experience. Suited downtown business folk squeeze in alongside artsy types for one big happy family. (MB) 98 Broad St., 577-9797.
The swanky lobby restaurant of the Market Pavilion Hotel serves great steaks in luxurious high-backed booths. Think prime filets, strips, and ribeyes or the 40-ounce Prime Porterhouse for two. The food's terrific, the Market Street view is always hopping, and the service is impeccable. (MB) 225 East Bay St., 266-4204.
Ignore the cafeteria decor and enjoy authentic New York deli fare. Go for the house specialty, the International Dip, or nosh on bona-fide corned beef, pastrami, or the Reuben that's been a best-seller since 1969. Low-fat sandwiches and salads are available. (MS) 364-A King St., 534-1436.
Custom-built to convey the era of a classic 1940s Charleston fish house, Hank's serves several old-time favorites as well as raw bar selections, seared tuna, and grilled mahi-mahi. Chef Frank McMahon turns fried seafood platters into from-scratch specialties, which are almost as sinful as the bar scene that's a hit among preppy sophisticates. (MS) 10 Hayne St., 723-3474.
This handsome restaurant has a clubby bar and a posh dining room reminiscent of a fine plantation house. Menu highlights include lobster bisque, fresh South Carolina squab, seafood, game, and lots of large (read 44-ounce porterhouse for two) cuts of grilled steaks and chops?you pick the sauces. (MS) 199 East Bay St. (between Cumberland & Queen), 724-3815.
Visit this cozy restored barbershop where locals love the contemporary comfort-food menu of authentic Southern fare and Chef Robert Stehling's take on "New American": old-fashioned vegetable plates, stellar shrimp burgers, shad roe and grits when the shad are running. It's the New York Times' hands-down pick for breakfast and brunch. (MS) 207 Rutledge Ave. , 937-0930.
Il Cortile Del Re
Downtown's favorite romantic hideaway has grown up. Now with prime-time Lower King Street frontage, a sprawling, hopping bar, and tables aplenty, casual chic regulars head here for great Tuscan soups, ensalata, wine, and Old World specialties. The tiny back dining room with the fireplace still warms the heart, as does the unchanged bella-cool courtyard. (MB) 193 King St., 853-1888.
Comfort chow in what resembles a country crossroads café with a desirable downtown address, Jestine's "Southern food with soul" will remind you of your mother's: impeccably fresh pecan-fried whiting, signature fried green tomatoes, memorable meatloaf, meat-n-three, and award-winning desserts. Don't miss the Coca-Cola cake! No reservations. (MB) 251 Meeting St., 722-7224.
Fried chicken and okra in an Irish pub? A few bites into your meat-n-three and you won't give a wee hoot. Join worker bees for lunch or sports-bar hounds for brews, a down-home dinner, and the latest game. (MB) 5 Cumberland St., 722-1541.
A mountain of spinach in raspberry chipotle, tons of gorgonzola, and up to a dozen crispy, hot oysters?welcome to the best fried oyster salad downtown. On weekdays, low-key business folks eat here, while weekends find tourists and locals sampling the gourmet sandwiches, entrées, and salads. (MB) 129 Meeting St., 958-8500.
Juanita Greenberg's Nacho Royale
Any place that offers pitchers of margaritas and a double-meat option with their quesadillas, nachos, burritos, or taco salads has its priorities straight. Head to this hangout for a comfy, low-budget scene. (MB) 439 King St., 723-6224.
Enjoy guilty pleasures like hot wings, chicken fingers, and beer in this raucous King Street mecca. Solid food and sweet deals ($6.50 for a dozen wings) mean you can fill up alongside the college crowd without breaking the bank. (MB) 337 King St., 805-5020.
Kitty's Fine Foods
Greasy-spoon lovers searching for meat-n-three magic hit up Kitty's for lunch. Early risers wake up there with strong coffee and a breakfast of champions that could include anything from liver pudding and fatback to pancakes. No cards; no reservations. (MB) 1137 Morrison Dr., 722-9370.
Lana Restaurant & Bar
This charming neighborhood bistro is a welcome arrival to the Crosstown area?located across from the Hominy Grill on Rutledge, the new lunch and dinner spot is just far enough off the beaten culinary path to ensure an eclectic European menu and reasonable prices. Try the pear and gorgonzola salad to start, then follow up with the grilled tuna over pearl couscous with roasted onions, tomatoes, and olive caper vinaigrette. Casually intimate décor and a friendly waitstaff make this a great new date spot?or just a place to catch up with friends. (HB) 210 Rutledge Ave., 720-8899.
Little Thai Too
Look for a small Thai statue designating the entrance to this quiet, unassuming respite on bustling King Street. Settle in the cool and sweet Lycheetini, while perusing a menu filled with Thai must-haves. Sample the sweet and tangy Tom-Kha-Gai coconut soup, then dive into the crispy and tangy Duck and Shrimp Tamarind, all efficiently served by a gracious waitstaff. There are many vegetarian options as well. (DS) 350 King St., 723-4990.
Hand-forged wrought iron and large paintings carry the magnolia theme throughout the classy dining room. Donald Barrickman's "Uptown/Down South Cuisine," like the Coriander Grilled Yellowfin Tuna Fillet with coconut sticky rice and fresh mango, is an addictive contemporary take on traditional Southern cooking. (MS) 185 East Bay St. (between Cumberland & Queen), 577-7771.
Marina Variety Store
A killer view of the Ashley River, an easygoing setting with the service to match, hit-the-spot greasy-spoon-style breakfasts, and beach-town lunches and dinners make this joint a hit among boaters and business folks alike. (MB) 17 Lockwood Dr., 723-6325.
When soul food's all that will do, get thee to the pink cinder-block dive on Morrison Drive for fried everything and fatback-flavored greens that'll send you home happy. The service is from the heart, the fare's tops in its field, and the conversations are priceless. No cards. (MB) 1068 Morrison Dr., 577-9583.
This 224-year-old tavern houses a stylish bar and dining room, where Executive Chef Michael Kramer delivers exquisite seasonal, though not necessarily Southern, cuisine. Look for lamb, venison, and Moulard duck along with seafood dishes such as Black Sea Bass with Baby Leeks, Fennel, Golden Pea Shoots, and Carrot Emulsion, plus a mile-long wine list. For more casual dining, try their hip wine bar next door. (MS) 2 Unity Alley, 577-0025.
Moe's Crosstown Tavern
Barflies need not suffer bad food when they hit this favorite Hampton Park neighborhood dive. Goat cheese quesadillas, fried green tomato BLTs, and bombastic burgers washed down with beer and a ball game make this a popular spot with locals and college kids. (MB) 714 Rutledge Ave., 722-3287.
If you're craving a tender prime porterhouse or a succulent New York strip, get thee to chef Brett McKee's latest venture?a three-story love song to steak. Try the 36-ounce ribeye, or?if you're leaving room for dessert?a melt-in-your- mouth tender filet mignon. Sides are served à la carte; the steamed spinach and gorgonzola cottage fries both come highly recommended. (HB) 17 Broad St. 722-4220.
Old Towne Grill and Seafood
Nearly hidden in the midst of the King Street shopping district, downtown's top taverna serves up tasty avgolemono soup, moussaka, and split-roasted chicken in a subdued space perfect for families and comfort-food seekers. (MB) 229 King St., 723-8170.
Come lunchtime, Gucci and Godiva shoppers rest their weary selves at this swanky spot on the ground floor of the Charleston Place Hotel. Even the tuna melt gets special treatment here: seared ahi served on brioche with lobster and camembert. (MB) 205 Meeting St., 722-4900.
Pavilion Bar at the Market Pavilion
The view can't be beat from the top of the Market's newest high-end hotel, and thankfully the food's just as swellegant. Visit for a lighter version of the hotel's Grill 225 menu and a scene that'll probably lead into mojitos or martinis by meal's end. No reservations. (MB) 225 East Bay St., 723-0500.
Step into the sexy sophistication of the dining room at the Planter's Inn, where Chef Robert Carter delivers dishes like the Grouper, Shrimp, and Salmon Tart, as well as a design-your-own-dinner selection of meats and seafood. Don't miss his famous Seven-Layer Coconut Cake shipped to dessert-lovers all over the country. (MS) 112 North Market St., 723-0700.
Robert's of Charleston
Robert's is a Charleston institution. Master chef and operatic baritone Robert Dickson serenades his guests with Broadway tunes while he serves them a sumptuous five-course, prix-fixe dinner. Bathed in the shades of Tuscany, this intimate gem offers an evening of exceptional entertainment. (MS) 182 East Bay St., 577-7565.
A lively corner café perfect for people-watching, Sermet's offers large servings?with small price tags?of colorful, flavorful cuisine with a coastal Mediterranean twist. Chef Sermet's creativity shines in silky soups, giant panini, and the unique seasonings and sauces that elevate his entrées above everyday fare. (MS) 276 King St., 853-7775.
Slightly North of Broad
Eclectic in design and menu with an open kitchen that showcases Executive Chef Frank Lee and crew whipping up seasonal, fresh-from-the-farm food, the lively S.N.O.B. is always happening. Coastalina Shrimp and Grits and Grilled Barbecued Tuna share the menu with Pad Thai and fresh cheeses. (MS) 192 East Bay St., 723-3424.
Families come here for the pool tables, tunes, eight microbrews, giant Panther burgers, and pizza from the brick oven. The latter is made with ale-infused dough and topped with your choice of smoked chicken, barbecue sauce, chipotle sausage, roasted garlic, and more. (MB) 161 East Bay St., 853-4677.
This local barbecue chain has done gangbusters in the Southeast, and with good reason. The ribs and pulled pork are finger-lickin' good, especially doused in one of their many sauces?try the whiskey or vinegar-based version. Dine with the crowds or get the goods to go. (MB) 235 Meeting St., 853-7427.
Sushi Hiro of Kyoto
Skip the "scene" sushi joints and head to Sushi Hiro where native Japanese chef Hiro and his staff mean business. Served in comfortable digs complete with shoji screens, the offerings are seaside-town fresh and inexpensive enough to appeal to students and sushi snobs alike. (MB) 298 King St., 723-3628.
T-Bonz Gill and Grill
Beer fans do well to slide into the bustling booth barn that is T-Bonz. Sure it's on the Market, but after a giant fried onion, manly-style chops, and a couple of ice-cold drafts, it won't matter where your neighbor's from. (MB) 80 N. Market St., 577-2511.
The Terrace on Marion Square
A solid menu lineup gets buried in the hubbub at one of downtown's most well-attended happy hours. Hit the rooftop for chummy time with city prepsters and everything from house-smoked chicken Phillies and individual pizzas to Angus filet mignons and Sunday's $9.95 build-your-own Bloody Mary brunch. (MB) 145 Calhoun St., 937-0314.
Tucked into a corner of the French Quarter Inn near the Market, this architectural oasis beckons with cool, urban energy and vibrant local artisan pieces. Unwind in the azure-lit bar with a brilliant blue Tristini, then retreat to a cozy table near the exhibition kitchen to sample the tender pan-seared scallops finished with rich lobster coral sauce or the elegantly simple jumbo lump crabcakes. (PA) 55 South Market St., 534-2155.
Vickery's Bar & Grill
Just off the tourist radar, Vickery's feels like a neighborhood bar though few patrons actually live nearby. Belly-up for cozy times in the bar, the dining room, or the patio for Cajun- and Jamaican-influenced menu selections. (MB) 15 Beaufain St., 577-5300.
The polished mahogany bar in this slip of a restaurant is long on impressive wines by the glass?maybe the most offerings in town. In this happy haven for locals sipping vino at the bar or dining at one of the intimate tables, the creative cuisine is bistro fare tweaked with touches of caviar, foie gras, and truffles. Beef tartare is made from filet mignon and accompanied by crispy potatoes, arugula, and truffle-mustard vinaigrette. (MS) 14 North Market St., 577-0090.
Nobody beats Yo! when it comes to fresh salsas, fat burritos, and the best taco-n-beer deals around. Try the homemade lemonade or a margarita when it's hot outside, and expect a college crowd to fill the mile-high community tables when school's in session. (MB) 86 Wentworth St., 853-3287.
Get your burgers hot, sloppy, and supreme at this hole-in-the-wall haven. A tired looking place worn down by legions of fans and decades of floodwaters, its booths are always crowded when lunch is served from 10 am 'til 3 pm. No cards; no reservations. (MB) 6 N. Market Street, 722-8360.
Mount Pleasant (back to top)
More-spacious than the downtown branch?and with considerably more available parking?the Mt. P. pizza joint has the same great menu, plus a huge outdoor deck to boot. And of course, the specials are still unbeatable?$5.50 for a slice, salad, and a soda or $5.50 PBR pitchers.
Atlanta Bread Co.
ABC is a cookie-cutter chain with quality you can count on. Soups, sandwiches, salads, and super-sized sweets meet the need for fueling up for shopping or a quick supper before a show at the Palmetto Grande. Breads and bakery goods to go. (MS) Hwy. 17 North in Towne Center, 216-1611.
The family-friendly Boulevard Diner gives a nod to the 1960s both in its nostalgic décor and in its food philosophy?large servings and low prices. Retro selections include burgers, shakes, pot pies, fried chicken salad, and country-fried steaks. No reservations. (MS) 409 Coleman Blvd., 216-2611.
Although located in a shopping center, Coco's seems more like a snug café in a small French village. Thankfully, it's light on pretense and heavy on the real-deal French cuisine, concentrating on the basics?onion soup, escargot, Flounder Alain (co-owner Alain Saley's take on flounder meunière), crème caramel?all just as they should be. (MS) 863 Houston Northcutt Blvd. (near Staples), 881-4949.
Dough Re Mi
Head to this no-frills pizza parlor and adjoining bar for homemade pies either whole or by the slice, or have them delivered to your door. They also make generous Greek salads. (MS) 1220 Ben Sawyer Blvd., Sea Island Shopping Center, 881-6989.
Mellow with Tuscan-gold walls, classic black-and-white photos, and a communal bar table, J. Bistro is Mt. Pleasant's answer to downtown-style dining. The cutting-edge cuisine, which includes the first hot chocolate soufflé on either side of the river, definitely makes it worth a trip over the bridge. Head there after dark for the East Cooper late-night scene, or go with the whole family for the Sunday brunch. (MS) 819 Coleman Blvd., 971-7778.
Urban chic in the Bi-Lo shopping center, Langdon's thrills the palate with food that is simple, perfectly seasoned, and richly rewarding. Begin your meal with the fire-roasted tomato soup with fresh fennel, bursting with organic flavor. Intriguing entrées include the lightly fried duck breast, served with delicious sweet potato purée and finished with a red curry, garlic, and ginger cream sauce. (PA) 778 S. Shelmore Blvd., 388-9200.
Momma Brown's Barbecue
If you want good Lowcountry BBQ, you'll have to drive across the Cooper River Bridge to Mt. Pleasant. Amidst the typical paper-plate décor, Momma Brown's dishes up excellent vinegar-basted, pit-cooked 'cue on the buffet and in sandwiches, or fried chicken, if you prefer. The take-out window makes it really easy. (MS) 1471 Ben Sawyer Blvd., 849-8802.
One tiny Mustard Seed planted in Mt. Pleasant has multiplied into four: James Island, Summerville, and the Harper Student Center at MUSC. Fresh fish and vegetarian dishes anchor this quaint café, but there are chicken and pork options for meat-lovers. Come hungry for heaping portions of flavorful food in this family-friendly eatery; no loan from the bank required. No reservations. (MS) 1220 Ben Sawyer Blvd., 849-0050.
Old Village Post House
Choose a seat by the window or a spot in the cozy tavern and indulge in a cup of tender white bean and duck soup or the heavenly fried-oyster salad. Thrill to Chef John Scoff's Grilled Salmon Salad with greens, avocado, goat cheese, grapefruit, and citrus tarragon vinaigrette. But don't overdo it; you'll want to sample the cobbler with vanilla bean ice cream. (PA) 101 Pitt St., 388-8935.
The modest dining room and busy sushi bar buzz with activity; there's even a line at the take-out window. There are tempura and teriyaki items on the smallish menu, but most folks go here to crack open a Kirin and treat themselves to an assortment of some of the best and largest portions of sushi and sashimi around. (MS) 835 Coleman Blvd., 881-3765.
Red Drum Gastropub
The after-work happy hour crowd may have a new haunt, but they'll be battling discerning diners for a space at chef Ben Berryhill's sleek new spot. Defined as "a pub that puts at least as much thought into the food it serves as into the beer it dispenses," the gastropub concept has taken off?and with good reason. Choose between the elegant dining room?where you can try wood-grilled salmon with roasted red peppers and sweet corn pudding?or a table in the buzzing bar area, home to a slightly more casual menu of yellowfin tuna tacos and the quintessential "pub room" burger. (HB) 803 Coleman Blvd., 849-0313.
Those in the know see beyond the former Pizza Hut building for handmade, trattoria-style Italian. Skewered Prosciutto-Wrapped Shrimp with Melon Salsa over Mixed Greens is a conceit of coolness and crunch that demonstrates the kitchen's savvy. (MS) 201 Coleman Blvd., 388-8808.
When they say Sticky Fingers, they mean it. Chow down on Memphis-style sauced ribs, hickory-smoked wings, and pulled pork 'cue and wash it all down with some sweet tea at this locally-owned chain. Choose from tables tucked under the trees or high-backed wooden booths inside. (MS) 341 Johnnie Dodds Blvd., 856-7427.
T-Bonz Gill & Grill
Great for groups, the name of the game at this family-style chain is big?as in big burgers, even bigger steaks, and whopping big desserts made by Kaminsky's, T-Bonz's in-house bakery. Plus, this location brews seven kinds of beer. (MS) 1028 Johnnie Dodds Blvd., 971-7777.
Vickery's Bar & Grill
A party with a view, Vickery's at Shem Creek offers everything on the downtown menu and many wines by the glass on their short?but not shoddy?list. Order their signature Classic Cuban sandwich, chill out, and watch the pelicans dive-bomb the creek to catch their own dinner. No reservations. (MS) 1313 Shrimpboat Ln. on Shem Creek, 884-4440.
The Wreck of the Richard and Charlene
Find this dive behind the Shem Creek docks and you'll see its grounded shrimp boat namesake. Nosh on boiled peanuts while you ponder the menu, then write your own order. A seafood house from the fish stew to the fried shrimp, the Wreck's London Broil is its only nod to landlubbers. No cards. (MS) 106 Haddrell St. on Shem Creek, 884-0052.
West Ashley (back to top)
Al di La
This urban Italian restaurant is Avondale's crown jewel thanks to a menu that even the staunchest food snob will appreciate: homemade breads and mozzarella, meats that are slow-cooked with an Old World touch and a wine list that's tops. (MB) 25 Magnolia Rd., 571-2321.
Family-friendly is the name of that game at this Holy City mainstay. Slide into one of their retro-cool booths or grab an outdoor table and order up an amazing calzone or their one-of-kind pizza pies with everything on it. Also, their solid beer selection makes this West Ashley joint a place you'll want to linger longer. (PR) 1117 Savannah Hwy., 225-4PIE.
Vegetarians and free-range meat-lovers unite at the superb food buffet in this popular health-food store. Tofu stir-fries, sushi, fresh veggies, plus hot-and-heavy chicken are tops for takeout or dine-in. No reservations. (MB) 74 Folly Rd., 769-4800.
Pub lovers revel in Avondale's top neighborhood bar with its extensive line up of beer, burgers, and burritos. More than meets the eye, Gene's is sports-lovers central with darts, pool, and shuffleboard, and serves burger toppers like feta, fried eggs, portobellos, avocado, and more. No reservations. (MB) 817 Savannah Hwy., 225-4363.
The good times roll in the most understated way at Liberty Café. The mood matches the dressed-down décor, and regulars come for meaty fare cooked on the open grill out back. Burgers and fish sandwiches are particularly rave-worthy. No cards. (MB) 9 Magnolia Rd., 571-7255.
Sassy, saucy, and spicy sums up this cool spot. Slip into a booth and check out the funky paintings 'til your meal arrives or peruse the racks of wines for sale. At lunch, try the deli treats like liverwurst and onion, and for dinner opt for pastas like blackened shrimp and scallops in Asiago cream sauce. No reservations. (MB) 90 Folly Rd., 766-0323.
Middleton Place Restaurant
Chef Edna Lewis sets the standards at Middleton Place's newish restaurant. A cheery place perfect for lunching while touring the plantations, the best bets lean toward Dixie: corn casserole, fried green tomato sandwiches, fried chicken, and okra pickles. Others make the trek for a tasty dinner, including panned quail and the grilled-to-order New Zealand lamb loin, glazed with brown sugar and bourbon. (MB) 4300 Ashley River Rd., 556-6020.
One-half of the area's dueling Indian restaurants, Nirlep fans love their $7 lunch buffet (old standards done well-chicken in curry sauce; spinach in cream sauce; lentils in butter sauce). The food's traditional, and terrifically prepared. (MB) 908 Savannah Hwy., 763-9923.
Taste of India
One of two local Indian joints vying for king-of-the-mountain status, Taste of India wins folks over with an extensive menu and an attentive staff. Try one of their eight breads with the Kasmiri Dum Aloo?baby potatoes stuffed with cheese, almonds, pistachios, raisins, and spices in a tomato cream sauce. (MB) 851 Savannah Hwy., 556-0772
Kitschy cool is the name of the game at this hip West Ashley hang-out. Sip their namesake concoction (served on fire) or try a Coconut Kiss while sampling an eclectic assortment of gourmet tacos, such as BBQ Duck or Coconut-Banana Shrimp. (PR) 15 Magnolia Ln., 769-0228.
James Island (back to top)
Time and again, Athens gets voted best Greek restaurant in town, as they should for authentic dishes done right. Try the gyros, Greek pizzas, monster salads, and standards like spanikopita to get your oopah on. No reservations. (MB) 325 Folly Rd., 795-0957.
This hideaway endears itself to locals with its cool, unpretentious charm. Come to this graffiti-covered dive that offers up piles of fried seafood and steamed oysters by the truckload, plus the best seats in the house come sunset. No cards; no reservations. (MB) 1870 Bowen's Island Rd., 795-2757.
Charleston Crab House
Head out to this waterside happy hour haven and relax with a cold one and a plate of coconut shrimp, a Southern-fried seafood platter, or some fresh Charleston blue-crab claws, lightly fried and served with crab ranch dressing. Arrive in style by pulling up in your boat, or keep your sea legs to yourself and just people-watch from the dock. (HB) 145 Wappoo Creek Dr., 795-1963.
Candlelight and romance are the name of the game at fusion-central Cynthia's. Asian, Island, and Cali influences flavor the steaks and seafood line up served in the casually chic setting. (MB) 1956 Maybank Hwy., 406-4989.
The latest incarnation of Baan Siam, this old favorite has changed for the better, with a more extensive menu, longer hours, and a snap-to-it staff. The old raves (like the Spring Roll, Tom Kha Gai, and Pad Thai) still ring true, so come here for terrific Asian fare without the fanfare of downtown. (MB) 870 Folly Rd., 406-2978.
Juanita Greenberg's Nacho Royale
Islanders have reason to rejoice, as the downtown institution has set up digs in a former Chinese restaurant on Folly Road. Plenty of outdoor seating makes it a great pre- or post-beach hangout, where fantastic margaritas, quesadillas, nachos, salads, and of course, the quintessential one-pound burrito await. (PR) 967 Folly Rd., 576-6224
Although it's a little more family friendly with a separate dining room, the James Island counterpart to the downtown original offers the same great hot wings, sandwiches, and salads. (DS) 1175 Folly Rd., 225-6996.
Locals fill the seats at this marsh-front, low-key spot that serves up café fare. The back porch has a died-and-gone-to-heaven view, and brunch is always a winner with its stellar omelets, crab or salmon Benedicts, and biscuits and gravy. (MB) 1241 Harbor View Rd., 795-4090.
Like the best of James Island's restaurants, Mondo's gives up the goods without any of the fuss of similar caliber cafés found downtown. That said, join the many regulars at this sweet spot for primo pastas and fresh local bounty cooked up simply, but with gourmet flair. No reservations. (MB) 915 Folly Rd., 795-8400.
You can judge this charming book by its cute little cover, and step into the yellow house for service, setting, and a menu that delivers pasta, seafood, and specials dressed to perfection. Look for families, couples, and pals on the town, and know vegetarians do well here, too. No reservations. (MB) 1978 Maybank Hwy., 762-0072.
Sullivan's Island/Isle of Palms (back to top)
The hipster on the "Sullivan's strip," Atlanticville is seafood starring New American, except on Tuesdays, when by popular demand a Thai menu is also offered. (MS) 2063 Middle St., Sullivan's Island, 883-9452.
The Boathouse at Breach Inlet
Folks queue up an hour ahead for a waterside seat at this breezy island stop with its commanding views of Breach Inlet and the Intracoastal Waterway. Feast on a selection of grilled and fried fish in your choice of sauces and to-die-for Crab Balls with Green Tabasco Sauce, their signature Blue-cheese Coleslaw, and the towering Key Lime Pie. (MS) 101 Palm Blvd., IOP, 886-8000.
No trip to Sullivan's is complete without a visit to this island institution. Grab a seat at the bar or an inside table among memorabilia on the walls, or head out the screen door to take in the laid-back island lifestyle at the picnic tables. Drafts, deli-sandwiches, chicken wraps, burgers, and wings to rave about. (MS) 2213-B Middle St., Sullivan's Island, 883-9646.
A recent addition to Sullivan's Island, this is a cool spot on a hot evening. Simplicity is a specialty of this straightforward New American cuisine: Slow-roasted Chicken BLT with Blue-cheese Butter and sautéed shrimp, scallops, salmon, and tuna tossed with roasted peppers, tomato, garlic, herbs, and olive oil over linguine. (MS) 2213 Middle St., Sullivan's Island, 883-3536.
The lively scene at this locals-mostly tavern belies the morose tendencies of its namesake poet. Perch on the porch for a great people-watching spot and a guaranteed sea breeze. For a south-of-the-border treat, try Buddy's Nachos, a mammoth multicolored platter of chips, chili, cheeses, guac, salsa, sour cream, scallions, and cilantro, kicked up several notches by jalapeños. Burgers and salads for the less adventurous. (MS) 2210 Middle St., Sullivan's Island, 883-0083.
Sea Biscuit Café
Islanders and visitors looking for a down-home breakfast or hearty brunch head to this laid-back diner for homemade hash, omelets with fresh-off-the-boat shrimp, Eggs Benedict with sweet lump crabmeat, grits, gravy, and biscuits. And that's all before lunch. (MB) 21 J.C. Long Blvd., IOP, 886-4079.
Sea Island Grill
Pick up a pass at the gate of exclusive Wild Dunes and head to the Boardwalk Inn for a "secret" dining spot. This full-service restaurant strikes a nice balance between upscale Continental and American cuisine served in a casual no-tie-or-jacket-required tropical setting. (MS) Boardwalk Inn, Wild Dunes, 886-2200.
This landmark on the Sullivan's strip calls for "formal" beach attire (read wear shirts and shoes). Their menu includes both shrimp and grits and filet mignon. No reservations. (MS) 2205 Middle St., Sullivan's Island, 883-3355.
Daniel Island (back to top)
This elegant Chinese restaurant both surprises and charms. Don't miss the authentic dim sum?tiny steamed or fried house-made dumplings filled with shrimp, pork, and other sweet and savory delicacies. For the main course, try the colorful seafood "bird nest" filled with lobster, scallops, shrimp, and conch in gentle white sauce or the heartier beef Ho Fun with wide soft rice noodles and vegetables. (PA) 162 Seven Farms Dr., 388-8823.
Laura Albert's Tasteful Options
Heading to Daniel Island for a midday repast has never been so tasty. This cafe-style eatery serves up such homemade-but-light temptations as pimiento cheese with crackers, Rockville shrimp paste, and house-smoked salmon. Lunchers with a bigger appetite should try Laura's shrimp & grits, stuffed pork tenderloin, or grilled meatloaf sandwich. (PR) 891 Island Park Dr., 881-4711
Don't wait for a special occasion to try this stellar ristorante with its mouth-watering contemporary Italian cuisine. Request one of the curtained booths?the staff refer to them as their "bordellos"?for a truly intimate dining experience, and start with the endive salad with fried grapes, dolce gorgonzola gelato, and 25-year-old balsamic. A focus on fresh local produce means the menu changes daily?giving you even more reason to go back! (HB) 901 Island Park Dr., 881-8820.
Folly Beach (back to top)
Step out of the dirt parking lot into this roadside seafood shack and you're struck by an ever-present hissing sound. Nope, that's not the sound of the water rushing nearby; it's the fryer going non-stop. Order fried everything off the dry-erase board (including shark), and expect plates heaping with generous portions and sides like slaw and hush puppies. Slide into a booth at the back for a killer view of the marsh and sunset. (MB) 2293 Folly Rd., 795-7518.
French, Asian, and Lowcountry flavors come together to form an eclectic menu at this casual candles-and-white-tablecloths restaurant. Bouillabaisse; tri-peppercorn and herb coated beef tenderloin with shiitakes and goat cheese; salmon in puff pastry with mushrooms, spinach, garlic, and water chestnuts in lobster sauce; and red pepper pineapple chicken kabobs with ginger soy are some of the more interesting offerings. (MB) 4 Center St., 588-2101.
Whether you want a small snack, great lunch, or a casual dinner, this centrally-located Folly joint will satisfy. Evening highlights include Jack's Signature Snapper, pan-seared with sauteed vegetables and coconut rice and topped with a tropical fruit rum sauce. (PR) 10 Center St., 588-2362.
The Crab Shack
This best branch of the local chain, "Crab Shacktacular" anchors the Center Street scene. Patio diners are a raucous, mixed lot of families and happy-hour types, all scoping passersby and other patrons. Look for a barrel of peanuts, plastic utensils, a raw bar, buckets of steamed oysters, clams, mussels, and more, plus deviled crab, Frogmore stew, shrimp and crab casserole, and the requisite fried fare. (MB) 588-3080.
Lost Dog Café
Breakfast is served all day at this quirky and cute spot, which means the burritos with shrimp, sausage, bacon, or ham alongside cheese, onions, and peppers; homemade biscuits and sausage gravy; and a host of baked goods need not be a morning addiction only. Come lunchtime, stray and order the black bean burger with mango, black bean salsa, and ranch dressing; the Thai wrap with shrimp or chicken; or a hot-off-the-griddle quesadilla. (MB) 13 Center St., 588-7669.
The River Café
The prelude here (a gravel lot, hand-painted signs, and a thin path past a bizarre storage-slash-workshop) is Folly at its best?quirky, casual, and one-of-a-kind. Things normalize inside, where typical nautical trappings dress up the 40-year-old family joint. Menu stars? Duck eggrolls; fried green tomatoes; Portofino pasta di mare (shrimp, scallops, crawfish, and mussels in lobster brandy cream); and shrimp and grits. (MB) 86 Sandbar Ln., 588-2255.
RJ's Seashell Restaurant
A favorite among Folly's cleaned-up set, RJ's looks and tastes sharp. Ergo benches and strings of pastel floats accent the patio while jazzy neon touches light up the interior. Lunch means blue plate specials (meatloaf, fried pork chops, and Southern-style veggies). Dinner faves include grilled fish?tuna, dolphin, grouper, salmon?in key lime buerre blanc, shrimp gravy, charred tomato demiglace, or spicy pineapple-ginger sauces. (MB) 41 Center St., 588-9001.
A pizza joint bedecked in little white lights and beer-ad umbrellas, this kick-back place is Folly's best spot for tasty, cheap eats: pies, subs, calzones, and salads. Try the pesto pizza (pesto, artichokes, proscuitto, and tomatoes); the white pizza (Parmesan Reggiano, ricotta, provolone, mozzarella, spinach, garlic, and tomato); or your own blend with everything from tofu, Gorgonzola, and feta to meatballs, steak, and more. And savor your crusts?the delicious dough is from downtown artisan bakery Normandy Farms. (MB) 39 Center St., 588-0088.
Kiawah Island (back to top)
Pamper yourself with a three-course Sunday brunch amidst the cool ocean sounds on Kiawah Island. Boasting such dishes as fried green tomatoes with baby lima bean and corn succotash, jumbo shrimp with vodka cocktail sauce, or spicy blackened grouper benedict, the Jasmine Porch is an experience in four-star dining. Be sure to leave room for the dessert buffet, where such delicacies as polenta layer cake with fresh raspberries and whipped cream awaits. Reservations recommended. (PA) 1 Sanctuary Dr., 768-6253.
The Ocean Room
True indulgence can be found at The Sanctuary on Kiawah Island's Ocean Room. Start with Hudson Valley foie gras or a sampling of oysters on the half shell. The simple but delicious Kobe beef "flat-iron" paired with heirloom tomato salad, polenta, and basil pesto is Chef de Cuisine Chris Brand's forté, and for a recommended final the hazelnut gianduja chocolate semifreddo is a temptation unto itself. (PA) 1 Sanctuary Dr., (877) 683-1234.
Hollywood/Meggett (back to top)
Old Firehouse Restaurant & Pizza
No junket to Hollywood is complete without a stop at this former 1950s fire station, where wonderfully fresh seafood and mouth-watering wood-fired pizzas await. The whole roasted flounder or Lowcountry pizza (fried green tomatoes on a bed of rich sauce) are sure crowd pleasers, as are familiar favorites like shrimp and grits. (PA) 6350 Hwy. 162, 889-9512.
Edisto Island (back to top)
Old Post Office
With a passion for amazingly fresh fish, fowl, and meats and a deft knowledge of regional specialities chef-owner Philip Bardin knows Lowcountry cooking. From grilled onion sausage with spicy black beans and habañero firecracker sauce to local shrimp with stoneground grits to Vidalia onion and country ham stuffed pork tenderloin, the Old Post Office serves up delight after delight on this island paradise. (PA) Hwy. 174 at Store Creek, 869-2339.