As the culture of “southern hospitality” trends throughout the United States, few cities can carry that banner as well as Charleston, South Carolina. The beautiful, coastal city is filled with rich history, and exceedingly friendly locals, but the reason I chose to visit Charleston was simple: food and drinks. The booming food scene in Charleston is probably no longer a secret, but I wanted to taste it for myself. With the help of two locals to show me Charleston, I was able to expertly navigate the city’s best local hangouts and restaurants.
One of my guides was a former food service worker and maintained great relationships with some of Charleston’s best restaurants and their employees. While eating my way through town, I saw that Charleston’s commitment to fresh ingredients was taken seriously. Each staple item I ate proved to be the best I had anywhere. I sampled the decadent fresh-shucked oysters at Leon’s Oyster Shop, I tasted luscious duck fat fries at The Tattooed Moose, and I had the best Old Fashioned of my life at Stars Restaurant.
But the most transcendent experience was that of the famous Martha Lou’s Kitchen, where Southern-style comfort food is king. Martha Lou’s is a tiny roadside restaurant is the definition of “hidden in plain sight.” Had I been on my own, I would have driven right past it.
The restaurant is a small, freestanding brick building with a colorful exterior, but the inside is where the treasure is. The dining room is small, but the food is big and bold. It features a no-frills “meat and three” menu where diners choose a meat (fried chicken, fish, pork chops, and more) plus three sides (rice, collard greens, baked macaroni, corn bread) I chose the fried chicken, corn bread, collard greens, and baked macaroni; it was delicious from the first bite to the last. I had high expectations after hearing of its reputation, but my first bite was as if I saw color for the first time, or better yet – in this case – as if I tasted food for the first time. The food was truly delicious and Martha Lou and her family were some of the sweetest people I had ever met.
I covered a lot of ground in three days and being able to see the city as a local during that time opened my eyes to how truly inspiring a city can be. Charleston offers a wide range of cultural, historic, and culinary experiences. If you are heading to Charleston, here are our restaurant hotspots not to miss:
Restaurant Hotspot Guide
Leon’s Oyster Shop. Leon’s Oyster Shop is an award-winning restaurant in downtown Charleston, South SC serving fried chicken, oysters, beer, champagne and good atmosphere. leonsoystershop.com
The Tattooed Moose. Upbeat watering hole serving elevated bar food & craft beer in unfussy digs late-night. tattooedmoose.com
Stars Restaurant. American eatery with a seasonal menu & mid-1930s vibe boasts a rooftop bar & wood-fired oven. starsrestaurant.com
Martha Lou’s Kitchen. This snug shack lures locals with Lowcountry soul food favorites & sweet tea. marthalouskitchen.com
Photography by Michael Marmora