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.
A third-generation BBQ serving superb South Carolina-style 'cue, Freeman's has ribs, chopped or sliced pork, and chicken -- all with wickedly flavorful sauce.
Starting as a country-road BBQ parlor up in Hemingway, Rodney Scott's has become a smoke-house landmark on Charleston's Upper King Street. Quality remains high.
Feel Good Food Truck is a high-spirited enterprise serving spectacular hamburgers, outlandish grilled cheese and beer-battered French fries. Seats outside & in.
A no-frills but big-flavored southern-style buffet featuring great fried chicken, vegetables, and banana pudding and/or peach cobbler for dessert.
Very small and very, very popular, 167 Raw is worth a wait in line for insanely buttery lobster rolls, plush tuna burgers, raw oysters, & seafood tacos.
A vintage corner grocery store with laid-back, counter-culture vibe, Queen Street makes fantastic crepes (sweet & savory) and pressed sandwiches.
Second State is an earnest coffee house that roasts its own and meticulously crafts elegant espressos, pourovers, and cold brews. Good pastries are available.
Casual, immensely hip and urban-popular, Leon's doesn't lose track of its mission: to serve great Carolina chicken & oysters and lots of beer & wine.
Ray's is a dark and smoky Aiken tavern known for hefty half-pound hamburgers and fine all-beef chili dogs. And, of course, beer.