What To Eat in South Carolina
A land of majestic barbecue and fascinating diverse sauces, including a unique mustard-powered sauce in the center of the state, South Carolina also boasts shrimp, flounder, and oysters that are second to none (shrimp and grits should be the official state dish). Oyster roasts are big all along the coast, as is the festive sausage-shrimp-corn-potato gallimaufry known as Frogmore stew or Low Country boil. South Carolina also produces more peaches than nearby Georgia, so its peach cobbler, peach ice cream, peach ham glaze, and peach cake all are pretty swell. The South’s beloved pimento cheese is big in every county; and do note that the state capital, Columbia, is where the pimento cheeseburger was invented (and where the best one is served).
South Carolinians take grits seriously, using stone-ground cornmeal, butter, and milk or cream to create a slow-cooked warm cereal that is delicious alone but better as the bed for a school of vividly-spiced shrimp – a duet of spice and comfort that is good to eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
The pimento cheeseburger was invented in Columbia, South Carolina in the 1960s at a long-gone restaurant called the Dairy Bar. The inspired pairing of carnivorous succulence and cheddar luxury, with a soupcon of spice, has become popular throughout the state and much of the Southland, but you still find the beefiest and cheesiest ones in and around Columbia.
Whole hog barbecue is an arduous, time-honored ritual that few modern restaurants continue to employ. The process commences late in the afternoon, when the pitmaster starts burning oak and hickory logs until they turn to charcoal. The coals are pushed from the chimney where they burnt into an adjoining pit, where halved hogs are arrayed on a grate above the heat. At midnight, then again at dawn, more coals are moved to the pit. In South Carolina, whole hog restaurants are open only on weekends, and it is advised to get there early, before the skin runs out. Skin's a delicacy that is meltingly fatty and infused with the briny smack of basting juices.
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Expect the unexpected at Harvest House, where even familiar dishes are served with a twist. Don't miss the fried green tomato tower. Burgers are grand.
Graniteville's hidden-gem Tex-Mex cafe isn't only about U-peel-'em happy shrimp ("Camaron Feliz"); the menu includes familiar Mexican meals, mild or very spicy.
Loyal customers come to the 1961-vintage Triangle Restaurant for steaks at supper and meat-and-three cafeteria lunch. A South Carolina diamond in the rough!
The star of Boots' & Sonny's classic drive-in menu is superb house-made chili: creamy-textured, pepper-hot, the right companion for dogs, burgers, fries, et al.
Skillfully-dressed lunch counter hamburgers and crisp-fried bologna sandwiches topped with cheese make Mack's a Columbia eater's favorite.
Hail the Low Country boil! JC's makes it with seafood from the coast along with succulent sausage, corn, and potatoes, all veiled in one of 3 degrees of spice.
Small plates, Saturday brunch, blissful patio dining, and a wide variety of creative meals (plus a full bar) make the Larder a treasured foodie destination.
Mexican seafood is brilliant at 7 Mares, an unlikely shopping-center restaurant where highlights include shrimp-stuffed chiles rellenos & mile-high margaritas.
Top-quality, no-frills seafood and great fried chicken make DeShawn's a destination feast in North Augusta. All-you-can-eat crab legs are immense.