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Plate Tectonics: Take a look at Charleston’s Expanding Culinary Scene and new dining destinations found off the beaten path

Plate Tectonics: Take a look at Charleston’s Expanding Culinary Scene and new dining destinations found off the beaten path
February 2023

Find your new favorite eateries in the boroughs and the suburbs

In the past five years, the landscape of Charleston dining has undergone a dramatic shift. The old restaurant row on East Bay Street looks very different today, for many of the stalwarts that led the city’s first culinary boom—Cypress, McCrady’s, Blossom—have closed their doors. Upper King Street stole the spotlight from East Bay a decade ago, but that strip is now in transition, too, as local independents are supplanted by chain restaurants and retail shops catering to an ever-growing tourist trade.

That doesn’t mean Charleston dining is in decline—rather it’s on the move. As rents rise and demographics change, a centrifugal force is pushing the restaurant scene farther away from downtown. Some of the city’s most interesting culinary experiences can now be found along the tree-lined streets of old residential neighborhoods on the peninsula. Ambitious restaurateurs are increasingly moving up the Neck to Park Circle in North Charleston and out over the bridges to John’s Island and Mount Pleasant, too.

The migration has been driven, in part, by veterans of acclaimed downtown kitchens who decided to strike out on their own in more affordable, accessible locations. They’re joined by an influx of newcomers bringing their culinary talents and ambitions from out of state, drawn by the lure of the Lowcountry’s farm-fresh ingredients and long-running fine dining scene. Plate by plate and glass by glass, they’re redrawing Charleston’s culinary map.

Once the heart of downtown dining, East Bay Street has witnessed the loss of institutions such as Cypress, McCrady’s, and Blossom, while stalwarts, such as High Cotton, SNOB, and Magnolias remain.

Cannonborough / Elliotborough

A century ago, corner groceries dotted the streets of the Cannonborough/Elliotborough neighborhood, which stretches along the south side of the Crosstown Expressway from Upper King Street toward the MUSC campus. Most lapsed into disrepair in the 1950s and ’60s, made obsolete by supermarkets. Now, one by one, those old stores are being renovated and brought back to life as restaurants, prime settings for a new, more casual mode of Charleston fine dining.  >>LEARN MORE ABOUT RESTAURANTS ON CANNONBOROUGH/ELLIOTBOROUGH

Maybank Highway

A decade ago, if you headed out from Charleston down Maybank Highway, you could stop off for farm-to-table Italian at Wild Olive or hearty French plates at Fat Hen. After that, your best bet was to hit the gas for a 20-mile ride out to Kiawah Island. These days, diners have a lot more options for interesting meals along the increasingly busy James and John’s Island corridor.  >>LEARN MORE ABOUT RESTAURANTS ON MAYBANK HIGHWAY

Park Circle & Spruill Avenue

For more than two decades, East Montague Avenue, one of the eight spokes projecting off Park Circle, has been North Charleston’s main restaurant row. Long-running favorites like EVO Pizzeria, Madra Rua Irish Pub, and Sesame Burgers & Beer have drawn curious eaters to the neighborhood that has slowly but steadily evolved into a prime dining destination. 

The opening of Stems and Skins in 2016—a wine bar featuring natural wines from small producers—reflected an increasingly adventurous culinary spirit, and more recent arrivals are pushing south from Montague Avenue down Spruill, expanding the frontiers of North Charleston dining in the process.  >>LEARN MORE ABOUT RESTAURANTS ON PARK CIRCLE & SPRUILL AVENUE

Hwy. 17 Mount Pleasant

The six-lane stretch east of the Cooper has seldom been called a culinary corridor. A couple worthy local treats—throwback chili dogs at Jack’s Cosmic Dogs, mustard-sauced pork at Melvin’s BBQ—could be found along the route, and a few upscale gems were hidden away in strip malls, like Langdon’s from Patrick Owens and Sean Park’s exquisite sushi at Kanpai. Mostly, though, Highway 17 has been the domain of cookie-cutter franchises and national chains.

In recent years, as Mount Pleasant has grown from a bedroom community into South Carolina’s fourth-largest city, a new diversity has begun to sprout along this once-staid suburban strip. Locals and out-of-towners alike may find it worth their while to make the short drive over the Ravenel Bridge for an unexpectedly flavorful meal.  >>LEARN MORE ABOUT RESTAURANTS ON HWY 17 IN MOUNT PLEASANT



Photographs (2) by Andrew Cebulka, courtesy of Minero; (High Cotton & SNOB) Amanda Bouknight; (Cypress) Christopher Shane; (Blossom) Lizzy SMith; (Mccrady’s) Libby Williams; Courtesy of (1) Magnolias; Rudenko Studio; (Spring Street, Hominy Grill, R. Kitchen, & Chez Nous) Christopher Shane; (Wild Common) Lizzy Smith; (Malagón) Aleece Sophia; Courtesy of (Constantine Grocery) Historic CHarleston Foundation; (Chubby Fish) Mira Adwell; (Laurel) Hailey Morris; (Vern’s) Elizabeth Ervin; Courtesy of (2) the restaurants; (Wild Olive exterior) Amanda Bouknight; (Jaques Larson; (Wild Olive food) Andrew Cebulka; (Ocean Room) Christopher Shane; (The Royal Tern, Bar George, & Minero exteriors) Amanda Bouknight; (Minero chef) Andrew Cebulka & Courtesy of (2) the restaurants; (Paddock & whisky-2) Andre Hinds, (EVO) Andrew Cebulka; (Stems & Skins) Amy Luke;(Three Sirens) Maggie Wilcox; Courtesy of (3) the Restaurants; (Malika food) Shell Royster, (sushi) Christopher Shane; (Melvin’s) Jonathan Boncek & Courtesy of (1) Jack’s Cosmic dogs; (Savi Cucina) Justin Morris & (Nick’s German Kitchen-2 & Ville sainte Bistro) Shell Royster & courtesy of (1) Malika Canteen