Global Cuisine in the Holy City
A foodie vacation is closer than you think
By Sophia Rodriguez
While COVID-19 pandemic has halted many trips and vacations abroad this year, diners in Charleston can still be transported to many places through the plate—a classic French beef bourguignon, Middle Eastern stuffed grape leaves and Spanish tapas (with Spanish wine!) Here is a list of places in and around Charleston serving up authentic global cuisine.
167 E Bay St., Charleston
The family-owned Brazilian steakhouse brand opened its new location on East Bay Street in mid-February and has quickly become known for its cheesebread appetizer and “picanha,” a choice sirloin cut offered several ways including a garlic crust or spicy dry rub. Chefs prepare and cook the meats on the skewer and serve them at the tableside, as is tradition.
“When you dine with us, we want you to experience the way we share a meal with our families back home in Brazil,” said Jovani Gava, brand executive chef and director of operations.
Galpão also offers unique cocktails, like the Caipirinha, made with fresh lime and cachaca, a Brazilian spirit distilled from sugar cane.
Leyla Fine Lebanese Cuisine
298 King St., Charleston
In 2003, when Dolly Awkar and her husband, Joseph, moved to the area, they opened Leyla with a truly authentic Lebanese menu relaying their traditions and culture using genuine ingredients imported from Lebanon.
“Our menu reflects the healthy philosophy of the Mediterranean diet,” said Dolly Awkar.
Leyla is an upscale establishment that seamlessly caters to nearly any dietary restriction without sacrificing quality or taste, including vegetarian, vegan, pescatarian, gluten- and dairy-free. Yet, there are plenty of options for the meat lover, like the lamb shank and Manteh meat boats.
Specialties include grape leaves, batata harra (spicy potatoes), lentil salad and samkeh harra served with a spiced sauce. The dessert menu includes baklava and pistachio ice cream.
1220 Ben Sawyer Blvd. Suite I, Mt. Pleasant
This Parisian-style café has been a fixture in Mount Pleasant since 2014 when D.C. transplants Candice Mahala and her partner, Matt Schultz, discovered a lack of French eateries east of the Cooper. Offerings include house cocktails made with their own infused liquors and syrups, French varietals and a menu that mixes classic French dishes with more modern fare. “I like the nostalgia that our classics offer,” said Mahala. “Steak and frites may take diners back to a little Parisian café. We are always inspired by our experiences, including great meals, travel and wine tastings.”
Popular items include mussels marinière and onion soup gratinée and seared duck breast with house-made pasta. Customers also love the bistro’s prepared-to-order souffles. The intimate and comfortable dining room is a relaxed space reminiscent of a cozy French café. The owners plan to reintroduce Sunday brunch in June.
1262 Remount Road, North Charleston
When locals hear “Dashi,” they think of the fusion food truck started by owner Oscar Hines and chef Stephen Thompson several years ago. But in July 2019, the pair decided to open a brick-and-mortar extension of their food truck that explores the different fusions of Asian and Latin cuisine with indoor and patio lunch service that put them on Charleston’s culinary map.
“We have new specials daily, and Chef Thompson is constantly innovating, so the food stays really unique and delicious,” said Hines.
Dashi’s top two sellers are the burrito and pad thai—legacy items from the food truck. The duck ramen and cured pork belly are also specialties.
“We love our restaurant’s vibe,” said Hines. “The food is flavorful, thoughtful and surprising and the cost is very reasonable for our guests.”
Bistro A Vin
40 Archdale St., Charleston
In 2018, Florence and Dominique Chantepie were already running the successful French pastry and bistro Café Framboise downtown when a quaint, historical brick building became available next door. With its exposed brick and steel elements, the couple knew it would be perfect for a French-inspired casual-chic wine bar with cheese and charcuterie platters.
Menu items include foie gras, salad niçoise and country-style tartine, all easily complemented by an extensive wine list. The cheese boards and smoked salmon blinis with crème fraîche are customer favorites and after-dinner sweet treats include crème brûlée, macaroons and tarts.
430 Meeting St., Charleston
A restaurant with an elusive, eclectic spirit, Tu opened in 2017 as a “unique restaurant that focused on using local ingredients with creativity, inspired by cuisines from around the world,” said co-owner and chef Joshua Walker. Last year, Walker and his partners narrowed the menu’s focus to reflect dishes from the Indian subcontinent. Even though it is still evolving as exploration and inspiration continue to strike, Tu’s rich curries and na’an have become fan favorites. And they pair well with the butter chicken and beef brisket vindaloo, all which can be enjoyed on the patio.
Cuban Gypsy Pantry
141 Calhoun St., Charleston & 5060 Dorchester Rd., North Charleston
This Cuban fusion brand has exploded since its first food truck debuted in 2016. Owners Will and Chloe Vivas hail from opposite sides of the globe (he’s Cuban but was raised in Venezuela; she’s Hungarian), and they wanted their heritage and experiences to mesh into a new kind of cuisine—one not tasted at typical mainstream Cuban restaurants.
“We want people to say, ‘What was that flavor?’” said Chloe Vivas.
Customer favorites include green fries, ropa vieja, empanadas and the mandarin and plantain salad topped with ceviche.
Cuban Gypsy Pantry opened its first brick-and-mortar on Calhoun Street three years ago and its North Charleston location in 2019. A third location is being constructed in Summerville. Its locations are colorful, open-concept spaces with Spanish-language songs wafting through the speakers and large tables to accommodate family-style dining.
630 King St., Charleston
Anytime is a good time to drop in at a tapas bar for some small plates and a glass of fine wine. Barsa is perfectly situated in a trendy spot on King Street for solo happy hour or a group at one of the long, lively tall tables.
Several dishes rotate seasonally, and Barsa changes the croquette fillings frequently—to the point that some customers regularly call ahead to find out. The core menu consists of lamb meatballs, stuffed peppers, dates and champignons (pan-roasted mushrooms). And of course, its signature made-to-order paella, which general manager Brittaney Litton describes as “a lot of hard work and love, from the stock and sofrito to the preparation.”
The wall of wines is a sight to behold. While there is a natural emphasis on Spanish wines, the list contains Californian, Argentinian, Austrian and New Zealand selections.
“We try to source locally when possible to support our local farms, purveyors and fish mongers,” said Litton.