Kardea Brown's Favorite Places To Eat In Charleston

At this year's annual New York City Wine and Food Festival hosted by Food Network, we got to catch up with Kardea Brown, author of the new cookbook "The Way Home" and host of Food Network's "Delicious Miss Brown." Brown is originally from Charleston, South Carolina, and currently lives and shoots her cooking show in the Sea Isles. Over the past few decades, Charleston, South Carolina, has seen an influx of fine-dining restaurants, chefs serving traditional and reinterpreted southern dishes, and more mom-and-pop style restaurants geared towards tourists and younger diners than ever before. With so many exciting options, it can be hard to sift through which restaurants are really worth checking out. So we took the opportunity to ask Brown about some of her favorite restaurants to get a bite to eat at when she isn't cooking up a storm in her own kitchen.

Brown gave us a short list of restaurants she loves in and around Charleston, beginning with some of her favorite seafood spots and restaurants focused on traditional Gullah Geechee cooking. She also included a few restaurants that go as hard on the turf options as they do the surf. Finally, she included a few dining options off the beaten path but worth the detour. Here are nine of Kardea Brown's favorite places to eat in Charleston.

Gillie's Seafood

Just southwest of the peninsula of Charleston is James Island, a largely residential area that residents and tourists alike pass through on the way out to Folly Beach — one of Charleston's most popular beaches. Folly Road is the main artery connecting downtown Charleston to the beach, and where you'll find one of Brown's favorite restaurants serving authentic Gullah food, Gillie's Seafood. Chef Sean Mendes has also appeared on Brown's Food Network TV show, as well as shows on the Travel Channel and the Discovery Channel. Mendes draws inspiration from his family's from-scratch cooking and brings that same soulful warmth to his guests for lunch and dinner six days a week.

You'll find a few mainstream Southern favorites on the all-day menu, like Buttermilk Fried Chicken, She Crab Soup, and Gillie's award-winning Granny's Shrimp & Grits. But you'll also find some deeper cuts that bring the ingredients and flavors of authentic Gullah cooking to the forefront. One of the restaurant's most popular dishes is the Catfish Charleston (pictured above). It's described as a "blackened catfish filet topped with a shrimp, crab meat, and crawfish cream sauce," all delicately piled on top of seasoned rice. Those looking for a taste of something you won't find elsewhere should consider the Seafood Purloo, Okra Gumbo, and a basket of Crawfish Tails.

Ella & Ollie's

A little further south, you'll find Edisto Island, about an hour's drive from downtown Charleston, where Brown's show "Delicious Miss Brown" is filmed. And at the very tip of the island on Edisto Beach, Ella & Ollie's serves contemporary seafood dishes heavily influenced by local and seasonal ingredients. With more of an upscale vibe, Chef and co-owner Brandon Rushing sources ingredients for the menu from smaller and artisanal purveyors, including Edisto Seafood and Marsh Hen Mill on Edisto Island, Rooting Down Farms on nearby John's Island, and Brasstown Beef in North Carolina.

Highlights of the menu include the Edisto Shrimp Cakes (pictured above), as well as the BBQ Shrimp — which Brown is personally a huge fan of. We also wouldn't be able to resist an order of the Marsh Hen Mill Grit Puppies, made with andouille sausage and smoked cheddar and served with pepper jelly. For those who enjoy a little bit of heat, we'd also suggest the PB's Firecracker Flounder, which is served with Tasso ham and spinach grits, butter beans, and firecracker sauce. The menu might look slightly different depending on the season, but whatever you choose, you're sure to get a beautifully prepared taste of what the Sea Isles have to offer.

Amen Street Fish & Raw Bar

For those visiting Charleston, a day trip from the main peninsula might not be feasible. Luckily, Amen Street Fish & Raw Bar is located on the bustling East Bay Street in Downtown Charleston and is on Brown's list of must-try seafood spots. It's a larger restaurant with both indoor, outdoor, and bar seating, that's open for lunch and dinner every day of the week. But Amen Street is also very popular, especially during the busier seasons. Getting a reservation isn't difficult, but it's highly recommended so you don't spend your afternoon waiting for a table instead of slurping up ice-cold oysters.

We especially like that the moment you walk into the restaurant, you're greeted by a long raw bar packed with ice and a fantastic variety of oysters, mussels, and clams — making it an ideal spot for anyone looking for a Seafood Tower experience to write home about. While the raw bar experience is one of the main attractions, those looking for a fully-cooked meal also have a great selection of popular seafood options to choose from. Here you'll find many of Charleston's greatest hits, including She-Crab Soup, Hushpuppies, fried and baked oysters, Shrimp & Grits (even on the dinner menu), Fried Seafood Platters, and scallops grilled on the plancha. But we'd suggest asking about the local catch of the day, which is served with a Lowcountry succotash and beurre blanc, perfect for those who want a bite of something truly local.

The Ordinary

Since it opened in the fall of 2012, The Ordinary has been on everyone's radar, locals and tourists alike. The sister restaurant to the highly acclaimed FIG restaurant, The Ordinary is every bit as impressive of a dining experience and, thankfully, a little easier to get a reservation to. The cavernous renovated bank sets the tone for an impressive meal, and the raw bar and kitchen built directly into the bank's original vault hint at the playful and creative dishes the restaurant serves.

Brown swears by the restaurant's Crispy Oyster Sliders, and she's not the only one. Even People magazine named the sliders one of the "10 Best Things to Eat in Charleston," which is saying a lot, given how much there is to eat in Charleston. Fried oysters are served on deep golden house-made Hawaiian rolls and topped with cilantro, pickled carrot, Fresno mayo, jalapeño, napa cabbage, and nuac cham sauce — reminiscent of a bánh mì sandwich. Given their popularity, the sliders have become a staple on the high-end oyster hall's menu. While the menu changes based on the availability of local ingredients, you're likely to find a version of the Smoked Fish Pâté on the menu, as well as the steak tartare, New England-Style Fish Chowder, and white shrimp prepared in any number of ways.

Hank's Seafood

Located in the historic market area of downtown Charleson, Hank's Seafood has been one of the most popular seafood spots since it opened its doors in 1999. Housed in a national historic landmark building with many of the original finishes still intact, the restaurant exudes a turn-of-the-century charm similar to a lively big city wood-paneled steakhouse. Like many of the other larger seafood restaurants in Charleston, Hank's hits all the popular notes, with a few stand-out dishes that set it apart from the crowd. 

The restaurant offers a seafood tower, complete with "iced shellfish from the oceans of the world," but it goes a step further and also offers a shellfish castle, which is about double the size of the tower and is practically overflowing with raw bar and peel-and-eat shellfish. The Seafood a la Wando (named after the Wando tidewater river that snakes its way through the Lowcountry) is one of Hank's classics, described as "shrimp, scallops, fish sautéed with sherry, finished with scallions, tomato, fried grit cake in a shellfish saffron cream sauce." Prepare to be wowed.

Little Jack's Tavern

Believe it or not, not everyone who visits and lives in Charleston loves seafood (we have a hard time wrapping our minds around that, too). But for those who'd rather enjoy a turf-based meal or are simply fried from indulging in all the fruits of the sea, Little Jack's Tavern is ready to serve you one of Brown's favorite burgers in Charleston. Located on King Street in downtown Charleston, Little Jack's specializes in classic American bar fare — which, admittedly, also includes a little seafood. But you'll also find cheeseburgers, BLTs, Chicken Milanese, Steak Frites, and even a few big salads to round out your meal.

For seafood lovers who want something a little less American, there's a fish and chips plate that gives a nod to the popular British pub grub and an Irish coffee that's equal parts coffee, dessert, and cocktail. Speaking of cocktails, Little Jack's Tavern features a small but mighty menu of classic cocktails that should appeal to just about anyone. The restaurant is open from noon to 10 p.m. daily and respectfully declines substitutions.

Hall's Chophouse

There are plenty of seafood options on the menu at Hall's Chophouse, also located on King Street in Downtown Charleston. However, this is one of the rare circumstances where we'd suggest ignoring that and focusing your attention on the steak portion of the menu. It is, after all, a chophouse — and with 14 steaks on the menu, it's clear that they're serious about red meat. The menu points out that all of the restaurant's steaks come from Allen Brothers of Chicago and range from wet-aged filet mignon and NY strip steaks to dry-aged Kansas City bone-in strips and tomahawk ribeyes. The menu also includes a few specialty cuts, like the Japanese A5 Wagyu filet, an American Mishima Wagyu Flat Iron Steak, and a free-range bison filet.

As you may have guessed, a meal at Hall's Chophouse won't come cheap. The least expensive steak on the menu is $54, and the most expensive tops out at $165 for the Australian "Westholme" New York Strip steak. That doesn't include sides, which are $14 each, and sauces, which are $4 each. We'd also have a hard time saying no to the addition of Creamy Gorgonzola, Black Truffle Butter, or an additional 10-ounce broiled lobster tail, which all come at an additional price. But for those less concerned about the price tag or anyone who wants to celebrate a special occasion in style, Hall's Chophouse is certainly one of the nicest steak dinners that money can buy.

Daps Breakfast and Imbibe

There are a couple of restaurants you won't find on the typical round-ups of Charleston hot spots, but they are still high on Brown's personal list of must-try meals. The first of which is Daps Breakfast and Imbibe, a small restaurant that opened in the spring of 2018 with the singular goal of serving breakfast in an area of town whose only major breakfast competition at the time was a handful of Waffle Houses. Co-owners Nick Dowling and Jeremiah Schenzel designed a playful menu that serves up the meal we wish we could have every day — brunch.

The menu boasts nine breakfast sandwiches and a breakfast taco, Fruity Pebbles pancakes, Cheesecake French Toast, Cinnamon Toast Crunch Sticky Buns, all the usual breakfast sides you could possibly want, a variety of hash options (all customizable), two kinds of fancy toasts, a "Pork Cake," and a breakfast burrito that you'd need at least three breakfasts to finish — we know, we've tried. The Imbibe portion of the menu offers everything you need to wash it all down, including a complete coffee menu and creative takes on classic boozy brunch drinks that we'd gladly drink on a casual Thursday morning.

Daps focuses on breakfast but also appeals to those who can't pull themselves out of bed at sunrise for the most important meal of the day. It's open every day except Wednesdays from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. and occasionally hosts special events and pop-ups after hours.

Jackrabbit Filly

Charleston's dining scene has grown substantially in the last several years, and with that growth has come the opportunity for restauranteurs to branch out from the traditional oyster halls and seafood shacks that Charleston is known for. Brown mentions that one of her favorite places to stop for a bite in North Charleston is Jackrabbit Filly, a contemporary Chinese-American diner-style restaurant with plates meant to be shared and enjoyed by everyone you're dining with. The restaurant opened in North Charleston's Park Circle neighborhood at the end of 2019 and was created by husband-and-wife team Shuai and Corrie Wang. Shuai serves as the restaurant's executive chef, pulling inspiration from the meals he enjoyed with his mother and grandmother growing up in NYC after immigrating to the city from Beijing in 1996, as well as the restaurants he refined his cooking skills at while living and cooking in NYC.

Jackrabbit Filly is open for dinner Monday through Saturday and for brunch only on Sundays. The menu includes recognizable favorites served with a casual but elegant plating style, such as Pork & Cabbage Dumplings, as well as more contemporary interpretations, like the Sichuan 4 cheese wontons served on the Dim Sum Brunch menu. No matter what you order, go hungry, bring some friends to share with, and be confident that it's worth the drive regardless of what part of Charleston you're coming from.