A Charleston Lunch Break: Beach Take-Out, Park Picnic, or Shopper's Pit Stop
By Clare Sweeney
Charleston Local Expert
There's so much to do in downtown Charleston, South Carolina, and it's no secret that choosing a restaurant at mealtime here can be the trickiest part of your trip - there are so many great options! When it comes to choosing a lunch spot that's easy on the wallet and walking distance from all of the historic sites and museums, the decision isn't any easier.
Our advice? Work a fantastic Charleston restaurant into your busy schedule with fantastic to-go and delivery options. Try Mellow Mushroom's delivery service at the end of a long morning or if just in need of a superior pizza pie, or swing by King Street's Jim 'N Nick's for some BBQ sandwiches on your way to the beach. Head to quaint Cru Cafe after shopping the Historic City Market, or before you hop on a carriage tour just around the corner.
If a laid back deli is more your style, or you're planning on visiting Charleston's South Carolina Aquarium, hit East Bay Deli with the whole family for a traditional Turkey, Reuben, or Roast Beef. Turn locavore with a quick trip to Caviar & Bananas, Bull Street Gourmet, or Fast & French, three great spots to grab picnic supplies before heading to the College of Charleston campus or nearby Waterfront or Battery Park. Most lunch spots in downtown Charleston offer outdoor patios that make for great people watching. Ask for an outdoor table at Fish or a window seat at O-ku for great Upper King Street views and the ideal shopper's pit stop.
10 East Bay Deli
Ideally situated on East Bay Street right next to the South Carolina Aquarium, East Bay Deli is a great choice for a casual, family friendly deli style lunch. Voted Best Deli in Charleston 9 years in a row, East Bay Deli is known for its hearty sandwiches and salads, stuffed with fresh deli meats and fresh veggies and toppings. Order ahead for take out, (bring your lunch to the beach!), or dine in at the East Bay location, with breakfast from 8:30 a.m. - 11 a.m., and regular menu items served all day. East Bay Deli's got all of your traditional favorites - healthy sandwiches and wraps, Deli Dogs, Giant Spuds, and salads, all served with fries, chips, fruit salad or sauerkraut. There are four other East Bay Deli locations in the Charleston area outside of peninsular downtown: two in North Charleston, one in West Ashley, and one in Mount Pleasant. (843-723-1234)
9 Jim N' Nick's
Jim 'N Nick's on King Street is your go to spot for a hearty BBQ lunch in downtown Charleston. This well known Southern kitchen has locations in North Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Alabama, and Tennesee, and a focus on BBQ salads, sandwiches, and plates, made from scratch ingredients, and slow cooked meats. A kids menu is available, as well as small appetizer plates including Jim 'N Nick's famous cheese biscuits, (a MUST), and messy Kitchen Sink Nachos. Jim 'N Nick's extensive menu features soups, salads, BBQ Bakers baked potatoes, BBQ Sandwiches, Burgers, and homemade sides like cinnamon apples, collard greens, baked beans, and fried green tomatoes. For the biggest barbeque enthusiast, order a BBQ plate or one of the Ribs & BBQ combination platters served with two "trimmings" on the side. Not into barbeque? Try the Chicken Tenders, Fish Fry, or Smoked Buffalo Wings instead. For dessert, there's Mabel's homemade pies whole or by the slice, and to drink, there's plenty of sweet tea, lemonade, and beer to keep pace with your barbeque grub. (843-577-0406)
8 Mellow Mushroom
Mellow Mushroom is simply one of the best all around lunch spots in downtown Charleston. Conveniently located on middle King Street amid numerous other restaurants, bars, and shops, Mellow Mushroom is a pizza shop with a trippy interior and laid back hippie style of food, service, and atmosphere. The extensive Mellow menu includes fresh salads, pretzel bread and hummus apps, build your own pies with your choice of base sauce, fruit and veggies, protein and cheese, as well as a long list of aptly titled gourmet pizza creations already dreampt up by the Mellow staff. Try a few for your table, sampling some of each variety, and be sure to include the Gourmet White, with a garlic olive oil base, sundried and roma tomatoes, and onions, or the Mighty Meaty, with mozzarella, pepperoni, sausage, ground beef, ham and bacon. Mellow also offers vegan menu items and gluten free pizza upon request. Take your lunch upstairs to Mellow's back patio for graffiti mural walls, sun or shade, and great people watching. There's always a great selection of craft beers on tap, so be sure to sample a few local Charleston brews! (843-723-7374, 843-327-0346)
Fish restaurant, located in the Upper King design district next to the iconic American Theatre, specializes in French-Asian cuisine with an obvious flair for fruits de mer. This local's favorite elegantly serves from a fresh, casual $10 lunch menu of customizable soup, salad, and Moo Shu style options. For dinner, try one of Fish's Large Plates like the Spicy SC Triggerfish a la Plancha, served with cheese fried rice balls and green curry, or for something simpler, the Naked Fish entree, served "simply and fresh off the dock." Never judge a book by its cover - Fish serves up more than just fish. Dig in to Dim Sum style Caramel Pork Belly or Ginger Honey Fried Tofu. Looking for something even sweeter? Try Fish's 8 dessert Dim Sum options like Susie's S'more, Mango Cheesecake, or Rhubarb Pop-tart. (843-722-3474)
6 Cru Cafe
Cru Cafe, the brainchild of executive chef and owner John Zucker, is the working restaurant branch of the popular Cru Catering, voted #1 Charleston Caterer 11 years in a row. Opened due to high demand in 2002, Cru Cafe is housed in what was once a traditional single family home on Pinkney street near the Market Street historic district. Here in this cottage style restaurant, you'll find gourmet comfort food with a focus on fresh produce and local seafood, as well as creative daily lunch and dinner specials. Cool off inside at Cru Cafe during the sweltering summer months, or enjoy the outdoor patio on a cool evening. Cru's crew serves up lunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. with salads like the Duck Confit Arugula, small plates like Pecan Fried Brie with Fig Compote and local honey, soups and sandwiches making for the perfect light midday meal. Have the best of both worlds with a gourmet soup and sandwich combination lunch for $10.25. The historic charm of Cru's Charleston style setting makes for a great low key date night - opt for the Buttermilk Fried Oyster Salad, the White Wine Truffled Mussels and Peppers, or the Grilled Local Swordfish with shrimp jambalaya. Dinner at Cru Cafe is the traditional Southern supper with a modern twist. (843-534-2434, 843-534-2433)
5 Bull Street Gourmet & Market
Bull Street Gourmet & Market is not your typical soup, salad, and sandwich spot. Here, the soups are housemade daily, the sandwiches are big enough to share, and the artisan salads are topped with fresh vegetables and meats, homemade dressings, and imported cheeses. Try the Famous Chicken Salad Sandwich made with cranberry mayo and almonds, BBQ Pork sliders, or the classic Turkey, topped with brie and cranberry mayo. Bull Street carries prepared sides like macaroni and potato salad, and stocks freshly made desserts, dips, imported meats and cheeses. Head to Bull Street for a sit down meal, or a speedy take-out/delivery lunch for a picnic at nearby Battery Front Park! This gourmet restaurant and grocery is vegetarian and kid friendly - kids love the Croissant with Nutella and fresh strawberries! (843-722-6464)
With its sleek interior, natural yet modern bar and booths, and wide views of Charleston's upper King Street, O-ku is one of the coolest places downtown for lunch, dinner or drinks. Stop by O-ku for high quality creative sushi rolls and asian inspired entree plates, as well as a fully stocked bar and impressive wait service. For lunch from 11:30 to 2:00 pm, try sushi specials like the panko breaded Lobster Roll, cucumber wrapped Tropical Roll, or the Soft Shell Crab Roll. If sushi's not your style, opt for the Chilled Green Tea Soba Noodles with Shrimp, the Bento Box Specials, or light and fresh spring rolls. Sushi is pricey here, but made with premium, fresh ingredients, and the difference is clear to taste. (8437370112)
3 Gaulart & Maliclet's Fast & French
A fireplace and long communal tables flank this charming eatery, where diners munch on casual French bites. Start your day off with a cup of coffee and apple, chocolate or cinnamon filled croissant, or come at lunchtime for a sandwich or salad with a glass of house wine. Seafood wasabi, chicken sesame or Provençal, and sea scallops in garlic lemon butter are among the dinner choices; each is served with soup or salad, rice or couscous, and bread. Thursday night features a choice of fondues, including beef, seafood, Swiss and blue cheese. (843-577-9797)
2 Caviar & Bananas
Ask any Charleston local for their favorite downtown lunch spot, and chances are they'll describe their usual order at Caviar & Bananas. Located just off King Street on George Street near the College of Charleston campus, Caviar & Bananas is a gourmet grocery, restaurant, and coffee shop in one. Eat indoors in the all white, always bustling interior, on the side patio for prime people watching, or to go for the makings of a sophisticated picnic lunch. The talented chefs and friendly staff can help you select from a wide selection of wines, cheeses, premade pasta salads, housemade daily soups, and entree options such as meatloaf, eggplant Parmesan, duck confit spring rolls, and more. Caviar & Bananas has it all - breakfast, lunch, and dinner options, design your own salads, sushi, and sandwiches, and all the sights, sounds, and smells of a big city gourmet bistro. Expect boutique restaurant prices, but all the flavor and presentation you'd expect for the price. (843-577-7757, 843-577-9997)
1 Five Loaves
Five Loaves, wholeheartedly adored by neighborhood locals, is a charming corner restaurant a little off the main tourist path. The food is fresh, and a great value for its modest prices. The menu provides a variety of vegan and vegetarian options, with popular soup/salad/sandwich combinations for lunch. Salads are served with house-made artisan dressings, and open face sandwiches feature chicken and beef from local farms. Soups, desserts, and dinner specials change daily, with favorites like Chicken Marsala and Butternut Squash Ravioli appearing regularly. (843-937-4303)
About Clare Sweeney
A South Carolina native and avid locavore, Clare also ventured abroad to Spain and north to Boston before returning to Charleston and her beloved Lowcountry.
Clare works and plays in downtown Charleston, spending her days enjoying the city’s perpetually sunny weather, nearby beaches and ever-growing food and craft beer scene. Follow Clare on Twitter @LocalExpertCHS for the latest in local happenings!
Read more about Clare Sweeney here.