By Helen Mitternight
White tablecloths or butcher paper – you can dine high or low in the Charleston area. Here are 10 places that satisfy any appetite.
Peninsula Grill: The entry makes you feel like at last you get to wander into one of those courtyards you’ve glimpsed past wrought iron in the historic district. The dining room and menu are classic and polished – this is where you want to bring that casual date you want to turn into something more. Don’t leave without ordering the famous coconut cake – a tower of flaked coconut Anglaise atop light, fluffy cake. No one will look askance if you order an extra slice for later. 112 North Market St., Charleston | peninsulagrill.com
Vincent Chicco’s: You might think you have to stay away from “concept restaurants,” but this Italian place named after one of Charleston’s defiant anti-Prohibition characters, does a terrific job with the sauces, which really is what defines a good Italian restaurant. Plus, the pasta is homemade. The atmosphere is comfortable with enough nods to its namesake that you might find yourself whispering when you order your hooch. 39-G John St. (in Hutson Alley), Charleston | holycityhospitality.com/vincent-chiccos
Kaminsky’s Dessert Café: Face it, sometimes the protein and greens are just too much and all you want is something sweet. Kaminsky’s is perfect for that, with oversized desserts or milkshakes, and, if you want to be more grownup about your sweet tooth, dessert martinis, hot toddies and other creations. Pastries are created in-house and change daily. 78 North Market St., Charleston | kaminskys.com
5Church: Yes, this is inside a beautiful old church. And, as a contrast to all that peace and holiness, Sun Tzu’s Art of War is written on the vaulted ceilings. But you may never need to look up, either to pray or read, because the extensive menu may hold your attention. The menu has burgers, chops and fish elevated by innovative treatments. All sides are served family style, so you don’t have to narrow it down to just one. Try the Viper cocktail, a blend of Patron Silver, orange liquor, lime juice, cucumber water and cayenne pepper, and you may feel your prayers are already answered. 32 North Market St., Charleston | 5churchcharleston.com
Zero Restaurant + Bar: This jewel of a restaurant is tucked into a boutique hotel that Conde Nast Traveler named a “top 5 foodie hotel in the world,” and one visit will confirm that designation. This is fine dining at its best. The menu changes all the time, but “snacks” such as eggs and caviar or beef tartare only hint at the creativity the chef brings to each dish. The bar provides seasonal cocktails that complement the dishes, and you can sneak a peek at the restaurant cooking school if you want to see the chefs of the future. 0 George St., Charleston | zerorestaurantcharleston.com
Meeting at Market: If you want a break from all that genteel history so you can cheer on your home team, Meeting at Market has you covered. This new addition to the Market Street area is pure sports bar all the way. You can see the huge flat-screen TVs from the sidewalk at City Market, but come on in for elevated pub fare like smoked seafood mousse or duck confit sliders and for the 20 rotating craft beers. Finish off with chocolate bourbon bread pudding because it will take the sting off if your team loses. Meeting and Market streets (in Belmond Charleston Place) | belmond.com
West Ashley/James Island/Johns Island/Folly Beach
Al Di La: If you don’t look too closely at the West Ashley traffic, you’ll think you’re in Italy while sitting on the patio of this Avondale restaurant. You can add to the illusion by sampling the rich gnocchi made with ricotta and mascarpone and served with garlicky shrimp, grape tomatoes and basil. The risotto changes by season – in the fall, for instance, you can find risotto with butternut squash, brown butter, sage and seared scallops. You can also hope that the daily specials include the impressive tomahawk pork chop, mellowed with roasted Brussels sprouts. Tiramasu is almost a cliché for dessert, but order it here anyway – you won’t be sorry. 25 Magnolia Road, Charleston | aldilarestaurant.com
Triangle Char + Bar: This West Ashley outpost of the Triangle Trio (there is one in Mount Pleasant and one in Summerville) prides itself on knowing its beef – all beef for the juicy burgers is sourced locally. You can get burgers that include bacon jam, truffle mayo or other customizations that help Triangle claim best burger titles with regularity. If burgers aren’t your thing, stop by on Taco Tuesday for some of the best, freshest tacos around. 828 Savannah Highway, Charleston | trianglecharandbar.com
Lost Dog Café: What’s better than breakfast for breakfast? Breakfast for lunch, of course. Lost Dog Café serves breakfast until mid-afternoon each day. After your morning stroll on the beach warm up with locally roasted coffee or an espresso, latte and chai tea. The breakfast menu serves up everything from muffins and cinnamon rolls to breakfast burrito, shrimp and grits and pancakes drizzled with real maple syrup and fresh fruit. And, on Mondays, enjoy $3 Mason Jar mimosas all day (hey, you’re at the beach so why not?). 106 West Huron Ave., Folly Beach | lostdogfollybeach.com
Mt. Pleasant/Isle of Palms/Sullivan’s Island
Crave Kitchen and Cocktails: Don’t be put off by the entrance to this retail enclave. The sign says Seaside Farms and it looks like the entrance to a suburb. Once you pass the stone entry, however, Crave sits at the beginning of a cute little street of shops. The energy is lively and the food is good, but there’s a reason Crave keeps winning Charleston’s Mac Off and that Esquire Magazine calls out “the most life-changing mac ‘n’ cheese in America.” The mac ‘n’ cheese, a generous serving of smoky, creamy cheeses over Cavatappi pasta, can be topped with anything from scallops to pulled pork. It’s a good dish to share, but if you want it all to yourself, it just gets better left over. 1968 Riviera Drive, Unit O, Mount Pleasant | cravekitchenandcocktails.com
Helen Mitternight is a former AP reporter and current freelancer living in downtown Charleston. Her lifestyle blog, “Stilettos Not Required,” can be found at helenmitternight.com.