By DENISE K. JAMES
As the T-shirts say, the Blind Tiger "separates Church and State," as in the streets right off Broad in downtown Charleston â€• and they do it with one of the best outdoor patios in the area. In short, if you're downtown and the weather is nice, you can't beat a cocktail at the Blind Tiger. Don't miss: Sunday brunch, which is a hop and a skip from some of the most beautiful churches in the city. Inside tip: Head straight for the back â€• the patio is first-come, first-served. What to get: The creamy, vodka tomato soup is a hangover blaster and warms up the cooler months.
36-38 Broad St., 577-0088, blindtigercharleston.com
Black Bean Co.
With locations all over Charleston, the Black Bean Co. is gaining popularity as a drive-through restaurant you can actually feel good about. Fresh salads, sandwiches and smoothies are on the menu every day and change with the seasons. Come for: The chance to impress your friends with the healthiest drive-through run ever. Don't skip: Eating breakfast. Visit Black Bean for healthy morning options and organic coffee. What to get: The Southwest chicken wrap, a popular sandwich on the menu, is flavorful and low-calorie.
Four locations in Charleston. blackbeanco.com
Pearlz Oyster Bar
A go-to favorite of the locals and a reasonably priced spot for seafood enthusiasts, Pearlz enjoys popularity at locations in downtown Charleston as well as in West Ashley. The happy hour is one of the best in town, with a generous list of food specials, beers brewed in-house (Pearlz is part of the T-Bonz and Liberty Tap Room crowd) and oysters from all over the world. Come for: Raw oysters on the half shell. Slurp them down with house-made sauces during happy hour for just $7.95 for a local dozen. Don't miss: Ordering an oyster shooter. They're just two bucks each during happy hour. What to drink: While you may be tempted to drink oyster shooters all night (and we wouldn't blame you) the house-brewed beers are a no-fail choice. Inside tip: During the chilly months, keep an eye out for oyster roasts at the Avondale location.
153 E. Bay St., 577-5755; 9 Magnolia Rd., 573-2277. pearlzoysterbar.com
Basil, located in downtown Charleston and in Mount Pleasant, is a favorite for Thai cuisine. It has won numerous times in the Charleston City Paper's annual Best of Charleston awards and has been called one of the Top 20 restaurants in Charleston by the Post and Courier. Don't miss: The chicken coconut soup â€• it's big enough to share. Inside tip: Basil does not accept reservations, so it's best to arrive early in the evening for dinner. What to drink: Share a bottle of wine from Basil's extensive wine list.
460 King St., 724-3490; 1465 Long Grove Dr., 606-9641. eatatbasil.com
Say the word "steak" in Charleston and people often think "Halls." With Executive Chef Matthew Niessner directing the culinary efforts and some of the finest steaks available from Allen Brothers of Chicago, Halls has garnished awards and made a name for itself in the food scene. Did you know: Halls Chophouse is owned and operated by the Halls family. Stop in, say hello and stay awhile; they're friendly. Come for: A good steak, obviously â€• from filet mignon to New York Strip to rib-eye. But you might also want to try the seafood and vegetarian options. There is more than the beef at Halls. Save room for: Sol's Shake, on the dessert menu. It's a decadent blend of Nocello, Crème de Cacao and vanilla ice cream. Inside tip: Halls is a happening place after dinner hours on the weekend. Grab a cocktail at the bar and mingle with the Halls family.
434 King St., 727-0090. hallschophouse.com
When rumors spread that Mike Lata and the team from FIG would soon be behind a new restaurant in Charleston, everyone was excited to see the results â€• and The Ordinary, an upscale seafood restaurant and raw bar, has taken off. If you're an oyster fanatic or fan of seafood, a trip to The Ordinary is not to be missed. Come for: The array of seafood available at the raw bar. Everything from clams to lobster cocktail and oysters are fresh for slurping down with a cocktail. What to drink: There's an extensive list of bubbly and wine to pair with your seafood and a few interesting house cocktails as well. Try the Moro or the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club. Did you know: The Ordinary is committed to working with local farmers, fishermen, oystermen and crabbers.
544 King St., 414-7060. eattheordinary.com
The head chef at The Macintosh â€• appropriately named Jeremiah Bacon â€• graduated from the College of Charleston with a philosophy degree, then discovered the philosophy of good food. Today, after finishing at The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., he brings local, seasonal cuisine to Charleston in a trendy but cozy environment. When to go: If you're on a budget, hit up The Macintosh for Sunday brunch. It's one of the best in town and is reasonably priced. While you wait: Visit The Cocktail Club, Macintosh's sister lounge, right upstairs from the restaurant. You'll find innovative drinks to kick off your evening. Don't miss: Bacon Happy Hour, from 5 p.m. until 7 p.m. every weekday. The quirky menu features pork-friendly cuisine as well as great drink specials. Save room for: Any of the incredible desserts â€• try the Banana Pretzel Bread Pudding.
479 King St., 789-4299. themacintoshcharleston.com
Morgan Creek Grill
Did you say you were looking for a view? Well, you came to the right place. Morgan Creek Grill, located at the Isle of Palms Marina, offers both an enticing menu and breathtaking scenery while you chow down. The current chef de cuisine, Paul Saner, has brought "island flavor" to Morgan Creek since his arrival in 2007. Not that you couldn't tell with items such as Dragon Tacos amongst the offerings. Come for: Breakfast (Monday through Saturday during the summer, Friday and Saturday the rest of the year), Sunday brunch, lunch, happy hour or dinner â€• Morgan Creek does it all. Don't miss: Their famous oyster roasts. Every Saturday from October through December, from 4 p.m. until 8 p.m., the restaurant serves fresh, local oysters â€• all you can eat for just $15. While you wait: Catch a few tunes from live bands on the weekends, or grab a cocktail and hang out on the upper deck. Did you know: You can have your special events at Morgan Creek. Just visit their website, morgancreekgrill.com, for more information.
80 41st Ave., 886-8980. morgancreekgrill.com
Blu Restaurant & Bar
You never know who you're going to run into when you visit Blu on Folly Beach. You might even see the people who used to live next door. And they might offer to buy you a birthday cocktail. But ocean-view drinking aside, Blu is one of the best places in the Lowcountry for fresh cuisine. Chef Jon Cropf is meticulous about serving his guests the finest in local seafood and produce. Did you know: Blu has a platinum rating through South Carolina's Sustainable Seafood Initiative. While you wait: Have a frozen cocktail by the ocean and watch the waves roll onto Folly Beach. Save room for: Vanilla Bean Crème Brule. It's the perfect complement to your freshly prepared meal â€• and it comes with chocolate chip biscotti. Don't miss: Sunday brunch, with $4 bloody Marys, mimosas and bellinis. Talk about a perfect way to kick off a beach day.
1 Center St., 588-6658. blufollybeach.com
39 Rue de Jean
Affectionately known as "Rue" by the regulars, it takes its inspiration from a late-1800s French brasserie â€• thus, the owners strive to offer a fun-filled environment each evening, in addition to yummy, French favorites and a wine and beer list that keeps locals coming back. What to drink: Wine. The list is extensive and includes categories such as "Alternative Reds," sure to keep the wine-drinkers busy for the evening. While you wait: Visit the raw bar. Order sushi, oysters or one of the six preparations of the mussels and fries dish known in French as Moules. What to get: Believe it or not, those who frequent Rue rave about one of the most basic things on the menu â€• the burger. It's worth the hype. Insider tip: Lunch and brunch are a great time to check out this luxe spot without spending yourself into a frenzy.
39 John St., 722-8881. 39ruedejean.com
The Old Village Post House
Mount Pleasant is growing exponentially, but there are certain areas that retain some of its small-town charm. The Old Village Post House â€• a Maverick restaurant â€• is one of those places. Nestled on Pitt Street in the original old village, the Post House is flanked by some of Mount Pleasant's treasured independent businesses. While you wait: Take a stroll around Pitt Street and check out other points of interest, such as Pitt Street Pharmacy, a locally owned drug store with plenty of nostalgic treasures. Did you know: You can stay after dinner â€• the Post House is a tavern downstairs as well as a charming inn upstairs. What to get: Order the Post House shrimp ’n grits, made with local grits, and sit out in the courtyard. There is nothing more Charleston than that. What to drink: Pick one from the handcrafted cocktail list. Each drink is prepared with Maverick's own line of premium spirits. Save room for: Anything on the Post Houses' dessert menu is to die for â€• and each item comes with a wine suggestion.
101 Pitt St., 388-8935. mavericksouthernkitchens.com/oldvillageposthouse
Bull Street Gourmet
There aren't many culinary havens where you can enjoy a delicious, deli-fresh meal and shop for kitchen items all at one time, but Bull Street Gourmet is one such place. Originally located on Bull Street in downtown Charleston, it recently expanded and moved to lower King Street, offering more of what makes it a favorite stop for savvy locals and lucky visitors. Did you know: Bull Street Gourmet now serves dinner entrees. We're talking specials like split-smoked chicken, steak frites and scratch-made salads and soups. Don't miss: The opportunity to do a little shopping â€• and, for the holidays, a custom made basket with Bull Street's signature preserves, homemade desserts and interesting wines will suit the toughies on your list. Best bargain: Pick up a bottle of their private label wines, all reasonably priced. In fact, they've been voted Best Wine Deal by the Charleston City Paper.
120 King St., 722-6464. bullstreetgourmetandmarket.com
The Fat Hen
The Fat Hen describes its menu as an assortment of "French classics with Lowcountry flourishes." And, fortunately, the flourishes come from right around the corner, since this cozy restaurant is located near the local farms of Johns Island. Fred Neuville serves as both executive chef as well as owner, and spent years at Charleston's best eateries â€• Jasmine Porch on Kiawah, for instance â€• before opening his own. Come for: Try a cocktail from The Fat Hen's list and sit in the bar area. The bar-only menu, available any time of day, is an enticing selection of casual plates. And, most of the drinks are made with house infused liquor. What to get: If you stay for dinner, get the popular Coq au Vin, a French dish made with local chicken. What to drink: Plenty of wine from France and other parts of Europe are on the menu. Get a bottle to share. Don't miss: The incredible Sunday brunch. We aren't talking eggs and toast here; the Fat Hen keeps it decadent with dishes such as crème brulee French toast and duck and apple sausage gratin.
3140 Maybank Hwy., 559-9090. thefathen.com
For simple but elegant fine dining, visit Tristan and let Chef Nate Whiting take care of you. As a winner of AAA diamond awards and a feature on the Food Network, Tristan is one of downtown Charleston's finest eateries. Don't miss: The opportunity to enjoy "Dinner and a Show." Purchase tickets through Charleston Stage and you'll have a delectable meal for two at Tristan plus an evening at Charleston's famous Dock Street Theater. While you wait: Order a drink from one of the classiest cocktail menus in the city. Try the Fig Yvette, made with fig-infused vodka and crème Yvette. What to get: Try the scallops, delicately seared with grapefruit and Earl Gray tea. But you won't go wrong with anything on the dinner menu. Save room for: Get the sorbet trio when you're stuffed. It's made in house every day.
10 Linguard St., 534-2155. tristandining.com
For casual Italian in Mount Pleasant, head to Bricco Bracco. The menu is comprehensive, so you can bring the entire family and everyone will find a favorite. They also serve lunch, with many entrees at or below $10 a plate. Did You Know: Bricco Bracco means "this and that" in Italian. Come For: Grab a bite during lunch hours and try the fresh mozzarella and handmade dough for a pizza. Don't Miss: Happy Hour at the bar, which features a menu of goodies for just $4 each, including homemade meatball sliders and select pizzas. Inside Tip: Bricco Bracco does custom catering, so ask about options while you're having a meal.
1161 Basketweave Dr., 416-8290. briccobracco.net
Republic Garden & Lounge
Take a peek at the Republic menu and you'll see the words "Contemporary Bar Fare" â€• but what exactly does that mean? We'll sum it up for you: good food meant for drinking. You won't have to wrinkle your nose over thawed cheese sticks at the Republic; Executive Chef Benjamin Harris has you covered with a fine array of upscale hors de oeuvres. What to drink: We're eyeballing the frozen mimosa, made with freshly squeezed orange juice. And who doesn't drink champagne regardless of the occasion? You also won't fail with the Republic Bloody Mary, made with Charleston mix. What to get: We saw the words "pork belly corn dog" on the menu, and we were sold. Pair that with a Boston Bibb salad and it’s a balanced meal. Save room for: The milk and cookies aren't the typical duo your mom handed you after school. Unless your mom gave you Hickory Hill's salted chocolate milk and Marcona almond butter. If she did, then kudos to her.
462 King St., 724-7400. republicreign.com
Saffron Bakery and Cafe
Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, Saffron is a mainstay on East Bay Street, and is known for their versatile menu. Stop into the Saffron Market and you'll find an abundance of spices, sauces and other culinary interests. Getting married? They make wedding cakes as well. Come for: Almost anything, whether it's a meal, a morning pastry or the perfect Mediterranean spices for cooking at home. Best deal: Breakfast. You can get a balanced meal, or even pancakes, for fewer than ten dollars. Don't miss: Sunday brunch buffet, served from 9:15 a.m. until 2 p.m. Did you know: Saffron caters your events â€• just give them 24 hours notice and you can choose from a wide variety of delicious and crowd-pleasing items on the menu.
333 E. Bay St., 722-5588. eatatsaffron.com
Chef Ken Vedrinski is well known around the Lowcountry for his Italian cuisine and his latest restaurant, Trattoria Lucca, opened to much fanfare in the Elliotborough neighborhood of downtown Charleston. As owner, chef and sommelier, Vedrinski works with his team to bring fresh, innovative dishes to guests. Did you know: Chef Vedrinski's previous Charleston restaurant, Sienna, located on Daniel Island, made Esquire Magazine's Best New Restaurants list in 2004. What to get: Any of the pasta dishes on the menu are a great choice, as the pasta is rolled out and made fresh each day using organic flour from Italy. If you're feeling extravagant, order the Scaloppini of Sonoma Duck. What to drink: You can hardly go wrong with wine at your Italian feast, and the Trattoria team is knowledgeable enough to help you pair your pour with the perfect dish. Inside tip: The menu changes with the day, depending on what is fresh. So go often â€• and be adventurous.
41 Bogard St., 973-3323. luccacharleston.com
The Fish House
Situated in Mount Pleasant on the breathtaking Charleston Harbor, The Fish House is one of East Cooper's new gems. The view is spectacular when the sun sets, and Chef Charles Arena, who spent several successful years at the Boathouse on the Isle of Palms, is known for his exquisite preparation of fresh seafood. While you wait: Grab a cocktail and check out the view of the harbor. It's one of the best in Charleston. Did you know: The Fish House caters to its gluten sensitive guests; there are plenty of options on the menu for those who are going gluten free. What to get: Sure, the seafood is amazing â€• but why not have the Chicken and Waffles. It's a Charleston tradition. Save room for: You'll want to check out the extensive dessert list.
32 Patriots Point Rd., 284-7070. charlestonharborfishhouse.com
We know it's tough to choose a restaurant on a night out, but scores of locals and visitors alike return to The Charleston Grill, located on lower King in the Charleston Place Hotel. Not only is the cuisine exquisite, the live jazz is one of the best opportunities in the city to enjoy an evening of entertainment with your meal. Come for: Jazz. Charleston Grill has live jazz seven nights a week. Did you know: Private dining is available at Charleston Grill in their Vintner's Room. It's perfect for rehearsal dinners and upscale gatherings of any kind, for up to 36 guests. Don't miss: You'll want to try Charleston Grill more than once, and each time, order something from one of the four menus â€• Lush, Cosmopolitan, Southern and Pure. Each menu has its own flair and offers scrumptious dishes in a different culinary style. Save room for: Pastry Chef Emily Cookson's dessert menu is not something to take lightly. Order the butter pecan mousse or the homemade candy bars. You won't be sorry.
224 King St., 577-4522. charlestongrill.com
What began as Alluette Jones-Smalls' food venture has blossomed into a source of culinary pride for the city. Alluette's menu combines Gullah, Gheechi, soul and southern cuisines to bring a distinct flair to your palate. Featured in O Magazine, Southern Living, Chowhound, as well as Travel & Leisure, Alluette's has gained a solid national reputation. What to get: Try the daily specials. They will be listed on the chalkboard when you arrive. What to drink: Order a glass of Aunt Mary's iced tea, which the menu claims is "sweetened with fruit juice." Did you know: Alluette's uses local produce and is a "no pork" restaurant. Vegetarians and vegans should enjoy a meal here.
80 A Reid St., 577-6926. alluettes.com
The Eclectic Chef
If you're seriously over the usual sandwich take out, visit The Eclectic Chef in Summerville for something different. Their claim is "gourmet to go," so if you're trying to avoid the typical fast food haunts, a salad or fresh sandwich from this eatery should fit your craving. Come for: Visit the Eclectic Chef during lunch and have one of their fresh salads. You'll have a tough time choosing between The Eclectic Cobb, the classic Greek, Black n Bleu' plus more. Don't miss: Call the Eclectic Chef for your catering needs and you'll get to choose from simple items such as cheese and crackers, fruit plates, plus more elaborates such as beef tenderloin with cabernet reduction sauce. Best deal: We like the sandwich and soup combo. You can get a full size salad plus a wrap or sandwich for cheaper than ten bucks.
125 Central Ave., 821-7733. eclecticchef.net
Charleston Crab House
You have friends in town? Take them to the Charleston Crab House. They'll get that Charleston view (either of the downtown market or waterfront on James Island) and the menu offers plenty of tasty staples. Plus, there's crab legs! What to get: The "world famous" crab pot, which features crab legs, shrimp, steamed mussels, corn, potatoes and more. It's bound to satisfy your hungry table. Did you know: The Charleston Crab House has been family-owned for 20 years. Don't miss: If you have your own fresh catch, come into the Crab House for the "You Hook it, We Cook it" deal. Just clean it first. Inside tip: Charleston Crab House is happy to accommodate guests with gluten sensitivities.
41 S. Market St., 853-2900; 145 Wappoo Creek Dr., 795-1963. charlestoncrabhouse.com
Burwell's Stone Fire Grill
Burwell's is a "modern" steak house, with attention to sustainable beef and a laid-back â€• yet upscale â€• social atmosphere. Burwell's is located in a two story, historic building in downtown Charleston that overlooks the market area. The craft cocktail list is extensive â€• visit for a drink and you'll wind up staying for dinner. While you wait: Burwell's offers one of the best craft cocktail lists in the city. Try the Three O Cherry, with Mirabelle plum brandy, apple cider, cinnamon, cherry bitters and house ginger ale, or the Burwell’s Cooler, with Bulleit Rye whiskey, Amaretto, house sour, orange zest, seasonal chutney and a splash of soda. What to get: If you're having dinner, order the pork belly and scallops, a neat twist on the old "surf n' turf" routine. Did you know: Burwell's is not only farm-to-table, it's also table-to-farm. Almost everything left over from the restaurant is composted back to local farms. Save room for: The Charleston S'Mores, which are made with real Benne wafers. We also like the sound of the Vanilla Pink Peppercorn Panna Cotta.
14 N. Market St., 737-8700. burwellscharleston.com
Sweeney's, which is located on John's Island, calls itself an "All Region Americana" restaurant â€• meaning that the recipes on the menu range from Charleston favorites to every other region of the U.S. Open for lunch, dinner and brunch, Sweeney's stone patio is a fantastic place to have a drink and a meal while enjoying the Lowcountry climate. Come for: The atmosphere at Sweeney's can't be beat, with the help of their stone patio and real fireplace. You'll want to visit even in the bleak, winter months. What to get: Go for one of the small plates on the menu. Order a few to share. There are so many great choices, from seared scallops to caramelized apple and onion tart. What to drink: Check out Sweeney's list of craft beers in the bottle. Don't skip: If you need to flee the crowds in downtown Charleston during Sunday brunch, Sweeney's is the place to be. Whether you're in the mood for blueberry pancakes or a sandwich, it's all on the menu.
3157 Maybank Hwy., 559-5633. sweeneysrestaurant.com
Charleston has no shortage of trendy, new restaurants to check out on any weekend, but 82 Queen has maintained its appeal and charm for 30 years. With a structure over 300 years old and a reputation that precedes itself, this restaurant is one of the majestic anchors in the French Quarter. What to drink: Check out the list of bottled wines â€• there are plenty on the list that are more affordable than you think. What to get: No matter what entree you choose, start it off with 82 Queen's award winning She-crab soup. Did you know: Joe Sliker, one of the three owners of 82 Queen, used to play football for the NFL. Best deal: Come to 82 Queen for brunch and you'll find a fantastic and affordable menu to choose from.
82 Queen St., 723-7591. 82queen.com
As Charleston's first (and only) USDA Prime steak house, Grill 225 takes meat seriously. Steaks are wet-aged, often for as long as 50 days. But steak isn't the only reason to visit Grill 225 â€• this restaurant has more than one surprise up its sleeve. No wonder it remains one of Charleston's premier fine dining establishments. What to drink: You won't want to miss your chance to sample the Nitrotini, a cocktail with liquid nitrogen in it. Talk about winter wonderland. While you wait: If your table is taking a while (and it's worth it) head up to the Pavilion Bar, at the top of the Market Pavilion Hotel which Grill 225 calls home. The rooftop view of the city is breathtaking. Don't miss: The Maine Lobster Family is a great alternative to steak. These whole, Maine lobsters are prepared in six different styles, from classic steamed with butter to brandy and black cherry. Save room for: The Baked Carolina is a family-style dessert â€• enough for your table and served on fire for an impressive finish.
225 E. Bay St., 266-4222. marketpavillion.com/grill225.cfm
The Tattooed Moose
A little ways up the peninsula is the Tattooed Moose, one of those dive bars that somehow serves such amazing grub, your friends want to have dinner there. It tends to get a little crowded at the Moose, so come early and stay late. Did you know: The Tattooed Moose was featured on the hit television show “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.” What to get: The famous duck fat fries with gravy are just as sinfully delicious as they sound. Save room for: The list of craft beers, which changes frequently and is sure to suit beer snobs everywhere.
1137 Morrison Dr., 277-2990. tattooedmoose.com
Fiery Ron's Home Team BBQ
Fiery Ron's BBQ, also known as Home Team, has locations in West Ashley as well as on Sullivan's Island. The happy hour specials at these joints cannot be beat. And, if you come later in the night, you're likely to hear a set of music that pairs well with your beer and smoked brisket. What to get: During happy hour from 4pm until 7pm, the heaping tray of nachos (or "Ronchos," as they are called on the menu) will soothe the most savage post-office beast. Don't miss: Check out their music schedule, which is accessible online for both locations. Many shows are free. Did you know: They cater. 1205 Ashley River Rd., 225-7427. hometeambbq.com