Charleston, South Carolina is famous for having one of the best food scenes in America where new restaurants pop up constantly. You’re going to want to try all the new hot spots as soon as they open. At the same time, you also have to balance your bougie taste for a lavish lifestyle with your not-so-bougie part-time job and your even-less-bougie tuition and living costs at College of Charleston.
Regardless of your rough financial status, a college kid’s gotta eat. Sometimes, you just don’t want to cook. And in a city like Charleston, there’s no reason not to treat yourself. This guide is gold for any Charleston rookie who doesn’t know where to eat or drink, no matter what situation you may find yourself in. May you never go hungry again.
1. When you need to grab lunch for under $10 between classes: Persimmon Cafe
Are y’all surprised? It’s no secret that Spoon C of C luvs Persimmon. Conveniently located on Calhoun, one block from the library and the science & math building, this is the spot to grab a quick lunch between bio lab and study time.
What to order: There’s a sandwich for everyone, from the tomato and mozzarella loaded caprese (pictured above), to the asparagus (my personal fave), which features a big slab of brie sitting on a bed of sweet fig jam. The best part? You’re only down that $10 bill you found on the floor earlier. If you wanna splurge, pick a side and a drink and make it a combo for $2 more.
Location: 226 Calhoun St., Charleston, SC 29401 (about a 5-minute walk from Addlestone)
2. When you’re cramming for exams and the library is full: Mercantile & Mash
Mercantile & Mash is a pretty new spot in Charleston’s old cigar factory that is now being repurposed for offices and retail spaces. If the historical value of the place doesn’t convince you, let their selection of donuts and coffee speak for themselves—they have a new donut flavor and coffee selection every day. They also have a lunch menu full of soups, sandwiches, salads, and pastries so you won’t be hungry when you pull an eight-hour cram session.
What to order: Go for the Steve Palmer, which is cold brew mixed with limeade. They up the ante on cold-brew-trendiness. When you get hungry, get their cup of soup and half sandwich deal for lunch.
Location: 701 E Bay St., Charleston, SC 29403 (10 to 15-minute bike ride from campus, or 5-minute drive. Yes, they have parking.)
3. When you’re craving munchies at 2 am: Gilroy’s
We all know it, and we all hate to love it. Many nights of freshman year ended here in the best way possible: eating a greasy pizza with your friends after a night out. We all outgrow it eventually as we discover better pizza places, but unfortunately, Gilroy’s is the only restaurant on King open past 2 am (it stays open until 4:20 am, to be exact).
It’s always your best bet for that late, late-night meal. Keep in mind that Gilroy’s is always gonna be slammed right after bars close, so plan accordingly.
What to order: Pepperoni pizza and french fries. Nothing too fancy, and you know it’s gross, but somehow, it’s still good af.
Location: 353 King St., Charleston, SC 29401 (about a 3-minute walk from the Cistern/center campus)
4. When you’re craving Asian: Xiao Bao Biscuit
Xiao Bao has a menu full of self-described Asian “soul food” influenced by the chef’s Southern roots. The menu changes seasonally, and they use local, seasonal ingredients, so everything is dang delicious. It’s in an old, converted gas station, which adds another element of cool to the experience.
What to order: Order okonomiyaki, which is a Japanese cabbage pancake. Look at the picture of it above and tell me you’re not drooling. The name comes from the Japanese word “okonomi” which means “what you like.” This is most definitely what I like.
Location: 224 Rutledge Ave., Charleston, SC 29401 (15 to 20-minute walk or 5 to 10-minute bike ride from campus)
5. When you’re trying to be fancy: Indaco
If you’re looking for a fancy-yet-trendy Italian dining experience, Indaco is the place to go. It’s dressy, swanky, and pretty pricey, so it’s for those nights when you wanna dress up and ball out for dinner. You worked hard all week, so treat yo’self and splurge on some delicious pasta and wine.
What to get: Their burrata as an appetizer is essentially heaven on a plate. For your entrée, any of their pasta dishes are amazing, but my favorite is garganelli, pictured above. What more could you ever need than lamb ragu and ricotta on top of pasta?
Location: 526 King St., Charleston, SC 29403 (15-minute walk up King from Marion Square)
6. When you want something healthy: Huriyali Gardens
Embrace the smoothie bowl fad and visit to Huriyali. They have a lineup of refreshing juices, fruit-filled smoothie bowls (all vegan!), sandwiches, wraps, and salads. This place is solid proof that plant-based food can be full of flavor and variety.
What to get: Try their super healthy veggie panini or any of the fruit-loaded smoothie bowls. If you’re feeling a bit less healthy, get the AB&J (almond butter, strawberry rhubarb jam, and banana) panini.
Location: 401 Huger St., Charleston SC 29403 (10 to 15-min bike ride from campus)
7. When you’re craving something sweet: Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream
Ask anybody, and they’ll probably agree: Jeni’s is the best ice cream on King Street. Yes, it may be kind of overpriced, but it’s also delicious and made from local ingredients, which is always a major plus. The line is typically out the door on weekend nights, so you know it’s good. Plus, the ~aesthetic~ of the store is a perfect backdrop for that ice cream pic. #doitfortheinsta
What to get: The small size gets you a choice of two flavors. I get Brambleberry Crisp and Milkest Milk Chocolate, which is a perfect combo of crunchy, smooth, fruity, and chocolatey. Power move: get it in a cup with a cone on top so you still get to eat the cone, but don’t have to worry about the drippage.
Location: 501 King St., Charleston, SC 29403 (10 to 15-minute walk up King from Marion Square)
8. When you or your friends don’t eat meat: Dell’z Uptown
Smoothies, nachos, wraps, burritos, bowls, and pizza. And most of it’s vegetarian or vegan. There are options containing meats for your carnivore friends, but everything here is so good that you won’t even miss that chicken in your wrap.
What to get: If you’ve never been here, bring a friend and share a Jazzy Pizza, which consists of cheese, brown rice, black beans, peppers, mushrooms, mango salsa, avocado, sweet and spicy sauce, and mixed greens.
Location: 511 Rutledge Ave., Charleston, SC 29403 (10 to 15-min bike ride from campus, or a 5-minute drive and there’s parking)
9. When you’re craving a slice: D’Alessandro’s
D’Al’s has been a Charleston favorite since its opening in 2006. They serve good pizza at affordable prices, along with calzones and salads. Go for one of their loaded pizzas if you wanna branch out, or just stick to their cheese pizza if you’re feeling classic. Either way, you can’t go wrong.
What to get: From 4-7 pm on Monday-Saturday, eat in for happy hour. You can get a 10″ one topping pizza or a 3 topping calzone with an ice cold pint of PBR for $9. Great combo, even better price.
Location: 229 St. Philip St., Charleston, SC 29403 (5 to 10-min bike ride straight up St. Philip)
10. When our parents are visiting and they’re footing the bill: Edmund’s Oast
Edmund’s Oast is a delicious intersection of craft beer, craft cocktails, cured meat, and farm-to-table dishes. The space is lofty and rustic with seating outside, which is lovely on a warm Charleston night. As you can tell from the picture above, their charcuterie game is strong.
However, if you don’t eat meat, they are more than accommodating: the chef made a veggie plate without hesitation for the herbivores I was dining with. Everything there is pretty pricey, but it’s all worth it, since it’s local and tastes great. Also, they have 50 beers on tap, with almost 10 of them being housemade, so capitalize on your parents paying and try a couple.
What to get: Try the PB&J beer. They make it in house and I was told it really does taste like a PB&J in liquid form. As for food, the menu changes often, but try to get their cornbread and the fresh ricotta with toasted bread and charred veggies.
Location: 1081 Morrison Dr., Charleston, SC 29403 (about a 10-minute drive from campus and there’s parking, but you can bike if you’re feeling really ambitious)
11. When you’re going on a Tinder date: Kudu Coffee & Craft Beer
You guys need to trust me on this (I’m kind of an expert on where to take your Tinder date): this is the spot for this date that you decided to just go for, even though you have no idea what to expect. If you and your date like coffee and/or beer, this place will work just fine. The inside is super cozy, but the real winner is the outdoor courtyard. Plus, they frequently have local musicians playing out there, so definitely take the opportunity to go check out a show while you drink a local brew or a cappuccino with your date.
What to get: Their lattes are excellent, and if you’re an espresso snob, definitely get a macchiato. Also, if you like craft beer, give one or two of their 20 local beers on tap a try.
Location: 4 Vanderhorst St., Charleston, SC 29403 (right across the street from McAlister, or down the street from Kelly)
12. When you’re trying to watch the game: Kickin’ Chicken
As a professional chicken slinger at the downtown KC myself, I may be a bit biased, but I think Kickin’ Chicken is a pretty cool place to hang out. It’s pretty much on campus and excels at being a fun bar atmosphere with some solid bar food, munchies, and sandwiches. With a bunch of TVs scattered around the restaurant and on the back patio, you can always catch the game there. Plus, any restaurant that has fries topped with ranch, cheese, and bacon (Bobby fries!!) sounds like a good place to be to me.
What to get: If you’re with a group and want to share, get the Sampler (Bobby fries, mozzarella sticks, chicken nuggets, and onion straws) and 25 wings (you get to pick 5 sauces!) with a couple pitchers of beer. If you just want to order for yourself, go for the classic Kickin’ Chicken sandwich or a buffalo wrap with fries or a side of potato salad. Also, if you’re a beer fan, check out the Manager’s Craft Beer of the Month to switch it up from your normal PBR.
Location: 337 King St., Charleston, SC 29401 (about 30 seconds from the intersection of George and King, and right next to the path that connects CCA to King)
13. When you’re hungover: Jack’s Cafe
Jack’s is the only real diner downtown, and it’s a good thing that it’s essentially on campus. Students and Charleston families alike love this place for its great breakfast food that magically cures all hangovers.
What to get: Kitchen Sink Grits, pictured above, which is just a bowl of grits with every veggie they have on hand, breakfast meats, cheese, and an egg. If you’re feeling ambitious (and really hungover), get the Hangover Cure, which is 2 eggs, 2 pancakes, toast, bacon, ham, or sausage, home fries or grits, and a side of sausage gravy. Good luck.
Location: 41c George St., Charleston, SC 29401 (down the block a bit from George Street Apartments)