City Guides

Eat Like a Local in Charleston

Where those in the know snag a seat most often

Photo: Courtesy of Brown's Court

Pastries at Brown's Court Bakery.

Between a constant rotation of new restaurant openings and dining destinations that have endured for decades, visitors to Charleston, South Carolina, can have a hard time deciding where to book a reservation when in town. Perhaps take a cue from the locals instead: Those in the know return time and again to these neighborhood haunts and hangouts, drawn by inventive meals, standout sips, and atmospheres that make them feel like old friends. 

Babas on Cannon

Modeled after the owners’ fondest memories of neighborhood bars in Italy, where they studied gastronomic science, Babas pulls espresso in the morning and mixes low-alcohol cocktails by night. In between, the café offers salads, sandwiches, and loaves of the best bread in town. 11 Cannon Street;

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Brown’s Court Bakery 

The classics—pillowy brioche, crusty baguettes, tangy sourdough boules—are well represented. But it’s head baker David Schnell’s creations such as Sriracha croissants, benne seed hamburger buns, and porter pretzel breads that you won’t find at just any bakery. (The pizza is a local favorite.) 199 Saint Philip Street;

Chubby Fish

A staunch supporter of local seafood, chef James London writes his menu each day based on what the boats bring in. But a few preparations make frequent appearances in the compact Cannonborough-Elliotborough dining room, including chili garlic shrimp and roasted whole fish. 252 Coming Street;

Daps Breakfast & Imbibe

It’s no accident that breakfast comes before beer in the name of this much-loved corner restaurant: The most important meal of the day gets its proper due at Daps in the form of standout egg sandwiches, rich chorizo gravy, and magnificent pancakes that get their color and cheer from pulverized sugary cereal. 280A Ashley Avenue;

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Gaulart & Maliclet 

Both suits and slackers find a steady flow of French-pressed coffee and croissants at Gaulart & Maliclet, also called Fast & French. Fondue was once a weekly special, but customers were so infatuated with the inherently romantic service that it’s now a menu fixture. 98 Broad Street;

Graft Wine Shop

Graft comprises a tasting counter and retail store, with an impressive inventory of natural and other right-now Old World wines, but savvy drinkers know it’s also a magnet for the area’s top food trucks. Sunday night supper with a glass from the bar is a neighborhood ritual, although Graft releases a playlist each month for fans who miss the on-site fun. 700 King Street, Suite B;   

photo: Margaret Houston
Co-owner Femi Oyediran at Graft.

Hannibal’s Kitchen

One of the last Black-owned restaurants in peninsular Charleston, Hannibal’s motto is “feeding the soul of the city.” The neighborhood favorite has been making good on its promise for four decades, particularly when putting out plates of fried pork chops with red rice, shark steak with yellow rice, and white rice with lima beans. 16 Blake Street;

The Harbinger Café & Bakery

Harbinger is forthcoming about what it doesn’t have, such as gluten in its ginger cookies or animal products in its sriracha oat bars, but loyal fans of the sweet little shop are too taken with its rustic aesthetic and attractive ceramics to notice what’s missing. Regulars are devoted to the Jam Sesh, a tahini-and-sweet-potato coffeecake that’s both vegan and gluten-free. 1107 King Street;  

High Wire Distilling Co.

Known across the Southeast for its spirited experiments with heirloom grains, High Wire is recognized in downtown Charleston as a fine place to get a good drink. The distillery pours cocktails, such as iced Irish coffee featuring the distillery’s sorghum whiskey and an old-fashioned built around its Jimmy Red Bourbon, in a massive new venue along the forthcoming Lowcountry Lowline park. 311 Huger Street;

The co-owner of High Wire Distilling Co., Ann Marshall.

Marina Variety Store

While Charleston visitors make beelines for brunch, longtime Charlestonians are still partial to breakfast. Marina Variety Store specializes in the genre, serving up fried fish, shrimp and grits, and crab-meat omelets starting at 7:00 a.m. And you don’t have to be from the Lowcountry to appreciate the Ashley River view. 9 Lockwood Drive;

photo: Peter Frank Edwards
Marina Variety Store Restaurant’s Lowcountry hash browns, with shrimp and eggs.


Sightsee is quite possibly the only café in town where the coffee is always ready too quickly. Baristas aim to create lattes and other espresso drinks within five minutes, which doesn’t leave much time to browse the smartly curated retail shop that shares space with the coffee counter in Sightsee’s tiny white cottage. 125½ Line Street;

Xiao Bao Biscuit

Unlike New Orleans, Charleston doesn’t have a lively lunch tradition: Most of the city’s chefs save their fireworks for dinnertime. But Xiao Bao Biscuit provides a welcome exception to the rule, offering creative takes on pan-Asian comfort food at midday. 224 Rutledge Avenue;

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