12 Unique Restaurants in Charleston, SC: BBQ Feasts, Vegan Treats, and Swing Seats

Jon Miksis Jon Miksis clock Updated April 17, 2024 tourism Dream Destinations
by Jen
Unique Restaurants in Charleston, SC
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Looking for quirky places to eat in Charleston? I’m here to share places where you can dive into Poe-themed burgers and sip on creative cocktails in an 80s arcade setting. Join me as we uncover the coolest restaurants in Charleston, SC.

If you think you know Charleston’s food scene, think again. I’ve been to some spots that’ll totally surprise you.

Ever had brunch inside a historic church? Yep, Charleston’s got that. And there’s this place where you’re munching on fresh catches with the ocean right there—like, literally a stone’s throw away.

I’ve also hit up a kitchen where what you eat depends on the chef’s mood that day. Talk about keeping things interesting. Trust me, there’s no shortage of unique places to eat in Charleston, and I can’t wait to spill the beans on where to find them. Let’s get into it, shall we?

The top restaurants to visit in Charleston, SC right now

Unusual places to eat in Charleston, South Carolina

Ready to explore Charleston’s best eateries? We’ve got everything from shrimp and grits with a twist to fresh catches eaten dockside. Join me on a tour of the quirkiest places to eat in Charleston.

Ever thought about savoring a lamb shank in a converted church or biting into a gourmet burger named after a famous poet on Sullivan’s Island? Charleston’s dining scene has it all, ready for you to discover after flying from Charleston. Let’s dive into the most unique restaurants in Charleston, SC.

1. Poe’s Tavern

Poe’s Tavern is the go-to for anyone who loves a great burger with a twist of the extraordinary. Located in Sullivan’s Island, a short drive from downtown this spot is a nod to the eerie genius of Edgar Allan Poe. It’s filled to the brim with memorabilia that could easily belong in one of his tales.

I tried the Black Cat burger, and wow, talk about flavors that pack a punch! They’re known for having the best burgers in Charleston County, and I can’t argue with that. It’s not every day you find a place where the food and the atmosphere are both top-notch. For those who enjoy a good drink, their list won’t disappoint.

I recommend making a reservation if you can. This place fills up fast, especially on weekends. It’s one of those fun restaurants in Charleston, SC where you get to enjoy awesome food and a cool, literary-themed setting. Check it out!

Poe's Tavern is one of the unique restaurants in Charleston, SC.
Poe’s Tavern on Sullivan’s Island offers extraordinary burgers amidst eerie Edgar Allan Poe memorabilia.

2. Church and Union

Church and Union turns dining into an experience you won’t forget. Picture this: a meal served in a beautifully converted church, where stained glass windows throw colors across the table and passages from “The Art of War” stretch across the ceiling. Cool, right?

This place offers brunch, lunch, and dinner menus. If you ask me, they serve up some of the best food in Charleston. I had the breakfast sandwich with home fries once, and it was a game-changer. The southern skillet? Just as amazing. Everything about Church and Union screams uniqueness, from the setting to the plates.

Located right near the French Quarter, it’s perfect for a stroll after you’ve had your fill. Trust me, book a table here. It’s not every day you get to eat in such a unique space in Charleston, surrounded by history and incredible vibes.

At Church and Union, dine in a converted church with stained glass windows and “The Art of War” passages on the ceiling.
At Church and Union, dine in a converted church with stained glass windows and “The Art of War” passages on the ceiling.

3. Bowens Island

Bowens Island is the definition of a hidden gem in Charleston. This place is all about the simple joys of seafood, right by the water where it was caught. It’s been around since 1946, showing how a no-fuss approach to good food can stand the test of time.

After a day at Folly Beach, heading here just makes sense. I went for the shrimp platter and fish – talk about fresh! And the crab cakes and crab dip? Incredible. Plus, eating on the balcony with the sunset as your backdrop, it’s easy to see why this spot is renowned as one of the best restaurants in Charleston, SC.

You order at the bar and grab your own seat, which adds to its laid-back charm. No fancy plates or silverware here, just delicious seafood that reminds you of what eating out should be about – great food, great views, and great company. Make sure to catch one of those sunsets!

Bowens Island is a hidden gem for seafood lovers, offering a no-fuss approach to good food right by the water since 1946.
Bowens Island is a hidden gem for seafood lovers, offering a no-fuss approach to good food right by the water since 1946.

4. R. Kitchen

R. Kitchen is not your typical dinner spot. This spot takes the dining experience to a whole new level with a constantly changing tasting menu. That’s right, you show up with no idea what’s on the menu for the evening, but let me assure you, it’s always a delightful surprise. The chefs here use fresh, local stuff and really know their way around the kitchen.

It’s a small place, so you gotta book ahead to get in. Opt for the patio if you can. It’s cozy and has the best seats in the house. If you land a spot at the bar, you’re in for a treat watching the chefs do their thing and chatting it up. It’s like dinner and a show rolled into one!

Seriously, don’t miss out on R. Kitchen – it’s one of those fun places to eat in Charleston, where every visit is a new adventure and a unique spot in the Southeast US.

At R. Kitchen, enjoy a unique dining experience with a changing tasting menu featuring fresh, local ingredients.
At R. Kitchen, enjoy a unique dining experience with a changing tasting menu featuring fresh, local ingredients.

5. Poogan’s Porch

Poogan’s Porch is like stepping back in time, but in the best way. You’re eating in an actual historic home, with open French doors and a vibe that’s all Charleston. Inside, it’s all cozy warmth, with paintings that catch your eye and seating that makes you want to stay a while.

Now, let’s talk food because that’s what we’re here for, right? It’s spot on. We went with a bit of everything – mac & cheese, BBQ eggs benedict, shrimp and grits, and chicken with waffles. Not a single complaint from the group. Everything was tasty and the portions were just right for the price. But the real star? The biscuits. Trust me on this, you’ll want to make room for them.

Located in the French Quarter, it’s the perfect spot to fuel up before exploring Charleston’s best attractions. Everyone walks away from Poogan’s Porch full and happy. It’s one of the best places to eat in Charleston where you instantly feel at home, and the food keeps you coming back.

Poogan's Porch offers a charming dining experience in a historic home with a cozy Charleston vibe.
Poogan’s Porch offers a charming dining experience in a historic home with a cozy Charleston vibe.

6. Rodney Scott’s BBQ

Rodney Scott’s BBQ is a game changer in the BBQ scene. I had my eyes on this spot long before I visited, thanks to all the rave reviews and features from Netflix to YouTube. They’re famous for their whole hog BBQ, and let me tell you, it lives up to the hype. The moment you’re nearby, the aroma of BBQ hits you. It’s nothing short of mouthwatering.

The pork sandwich I tried was the best I’ve ever had, hands down. The pork was juicy, flavorful, and just fell apart the right way. And the BBQ sauces? They’re the real deal, adding the perfect kick. Don’t even get me started on the sides. The mac and cheese, potato salad, and especially those hush puppies are winners.

Trust me, Rodney Scott’s BBQ delivers on all fronts. It’s easily one of the coolest places to eat in Charleston. You’re in for a treat with this unique spot.

Rodney Scott's BBQ is renowned for its mouthwatering whole hog BBQ that lives up to the hype.
Rodney Scott’s BBQ is renowned for its mouthwatering whole hog BBQ that lives up to the hype.

7. Southbound

If you find yourself wandering down Cannon Street, make a stop at Southbound. It’s a cozy spot that nails the fine dining vibe without feeling stuffy. The whole place has this warm, inviting glow, thanks to the cozy string lights and those classic gas lanterns. It’s Charleston charm through and through.

Now, get this: you can watch the chefs work their magic on a fire stove if you snag a seat at the chef’s table. Looking for something a bit more laid back? Try the porch swings. Yes, you can actually eat on a swing here! It makes for a cozy, kind of novel dinner date. If you’re up for more energy, the bar’s where it’s at.

The steak tartare is a standout—light, yet so full of flavor. And the veggies? Fresh as can be. Just a heads-up: you’ll want to make a reservation. This place is popular for all the right reasons. If you’re looking for fine dining in Charleston, consider Southbound.

Don't miss Southbound on Cannon Street for a cozy spot with fine dining vibes and classic Charleston charm.
Don’t miss Southbound on Cannon Street for a cozy spot with fine dining vibes and classic Charleston charm.

8. Stella’s

Stella’s is where you go for that authentic Greek taste right here in Charleston. This spot’s got a vibe like no other—imagine the best of fine dining mixed with the casual feel of a diner. Sitting at the counter on those unique chairs, getting served right there, it’s a whole experience. They’ve got booths and tables too if that’s more your style.

We tried the braised lamb shank and kotopoulo, and wow, both were incredible. The lamb came with pasta that was just right, and let me tell you, they don’t skimp on portions. You won’t leave hungry, that’s for sure!

Before you head out, grab a bottle of their signature olive oil. It’s imported straight from Greece, and it’s full of flavor. Stella’s stands out as one of the coolest restaurants in Charleston, SC blending great food with a truly unique atmosphere.

Stella's in Charleston offers authentic Greek flavors with a unique dining experience.
Stella’s in Charleston offers authentic Greek flavors with a unique dining experience.

9. The Glass Onion

If you’re craving that genuine Southern comfort vibe, I’ve got just the place. Located just off the Savannah Highway, there’s this cozy spot that feels more like you’ve been invited to a friend’s kitchen than a restaurant. It’s called The Glass Onion, and it’s a celebration of everything local.

Their menu is full of delicious Southern classics that won’t break the bank. You’ve got to try the Brussels sprouts. They’re so good that they practically melt in your mouth. Plus, the collard greens might just be the best you’ll ever taste.

The Glass Onion is unpretentious and all about the love of food and community. Prices are fair, which means you can enjoy fantastic food without a hefty tag. If you’re looking for cheap eats in Charleston, you’ve gotta check this place out.

For Southern comfort, try The Glass Onion near the Savannah Highway.
For Southern comfort, try The Glass Onion near the Savannah Highway.

10. Ma’am Saab

Walking into Ma’am Saab on Meeting Street, you feel like you’ve found a secret spot where Charleston and Pakistan meet. The place is alive with color, mixing traditional decor with bright, modern art.

We had the Lahore sampler with extra masala fries – absolute flavor knockout. It was so impressive we complimented the owner, who shared that his wife is the wizard behind these amazing dishes. The food strikes that perfect balance of spicy, rich in taste but not too much. There’s extra hot sauce for those who love the heat.

Ma’am Saab is one of Charleston’s best restaurants if you’re after something truly different and delicious, perfect for experiencing things to do in the Southeast US. The warmth of the place, combined with food that’s bursting with flavor, makes it a must-visit.

At Ma'am Saab on Meeting Street, experience the fusion of Charleston and Pakistan in a vibrant setting.
At Ma’am Saab on Meeting Street, experience the fusion of Charleston and Pakistan in a vibrant setting. | Image Source: https://charlestonguru.com/

11. Neon Tiger

At Neon Tiger, vegan food gets a whole new spin. It’s the spot in Charleston where everything’s vegan, and honestly, it’s all delicious. The cool part? They’re open late, so if you’re out with friends and craving something good or just want a drink, they’ve got you. The vibe here is eclectic and super fun.

I had the Reuben Sandwich, and wow, it did not disappoint. The vegan pastrami was so on point, sliced thin and packed with flavor. Even chatted with the bartender who mentioned they use a real deli slicer for that authentic touch, and it shows. There are plenty of other choices on the menu including pizzas and even calamari!

If you’re looking for a spot that proves vegan food can be just as hearty and delicious as any, Neon Tiger is it. Highly recommend giving it a try.

Neon Tiger is one of the unique restaurants in Charleston, SC.
Neon Tiger: Charleston’s late-night vegan gem.

12. Brown Dog Deli

Brown Dog Deli is that cool, quirky spot you stumble upon and can’t help but fall in love with. Picture this: an 80’s-themed deli packed with nostalgia. We’re talking memorabilia that takes you back, even a photo booth for a fun throwback moment. The place is decked out in retro glory, from old-school video game consoles to vintage Matchbox cars.

Tucked away on the corner of Calhoun, it’s a treasure for sandwich lovers. Seriously, the sandwiches here are next-level. Each one has a fun name and is made with unique, top-notch ingredients that you just don’t see everywhere. I tried the Apple Butter Jeans sandwich, which was delicious!

Given its cozy size, Brown Dog Deli can get pretty busy. When I swung by, it was buzzing with energy. So, if you find it packed, grabbing a takeout and enjoying your meal in the nearby Cannon Park is a great idea. It’s a lovely spot to relax, munch on your sandwich, and just take in the Charleston charm.

Brown Dog Deli: an 80’s-themed nostalgia-packed spot with retro glory.
Brown Dog Deli: an 80’s-themed nostalgia-packed spot with retro glory.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about the quirkiest restaurants in Charleston, SC

Are you searching for more information about where to eat in Charleston? Here are some common questions (and answers) I get asked a lot about Charleston’s unique restaurants.

What food is Charleston famous for?

Charleston is famous for its Lowcountry cuisine, especially shrimp and grits. It’s everywhere, and for good reason. When exploring things to do in Charleston, SC, sampling this iconic dish is a must.

Is Charleston a foodie city?

Yes, Charleston is a foodie city, making it one of the top places to live and visit in South Carolina. The city is brimming with innovative chefs, historic eateries, and a vibrant culinary scene that attracts food lovers from all over.

Cafe in Charleston, SC
Cafe in Charleston, SC

Barbecue is big in South Carolina, especially the pulled pork with that unique mustard-based sauce. Places like Rodney Scott’s BBQ dish it out so well, that it’ll change your barbecue standards forever.

What dessert is Charleston known for?

The dessert you’ve got to try in Charleston is pecan pie. It’s sweet, nutty, and feels like the perfect end to any meal here. Trust me, it’s a slice of heaven during your stay in South Carolina!

The top restaurants in Charleston, SC for all types of travelers
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