A Charleston Lunch Break: Corner Cafés, 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, choose locally-owned, community centered restaurants, a lunchtime specialty of the Holy City.
Work a memorable meal into your busy midday schedule with quick service and fantastic to-go and delivery options, or let yourself linger in the uniquely Charleston-style historic home and courtyard patio restaurant settings. 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 Butcher & Bee to check out the daily-changing menus. Head to quaint Cru Cafe after shopping the Historic City Market, or before you hop on a carriage tour just around the corner.
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. Vegetarians and vegans will enjoy the welcoming nature of Charleston's many herbivore-friendly lunch destinations, especially at the health-centric meccas of Black Bean Company and Dellz Deli!
Cru Cafe is the working restaurant branch of the popular Cru Catering, a highly celebrated special events catering company in Charleston. Opened in 2002 due to high demand for a brick and mortar location, Cru Cafe is housed in what was once a traditional single family home on Pinkney street near the Market Street historic district and Charleston City Market. Enjoy both interior dining inside this classic Charleston setting, or enjoy your lunch break outside on Cru Cafe's small side patio. 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 specials. Cru's crew serves up lunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. with salads like the Duck Confit Arugula, small plates of White Wine Truffled Mussels, sandwiches and wraps like the Shrimp BLT and larger lunch entrees such as the Orange Glazed Tilapia. (843-534-2434, 843-534-2433)
Mellow Mushroom is simply one of the best pizza joints, and lunch spots, in the greater Charleston area. Conveniently located on King Street, Mellow Mushroom boasts a colorful, laid-back interior, welcoming staff and a unique combination of freshly tossed and topped pizzas. The extensive Mellow menu offers more than just their signature ultra-cheesy, chewy-dough pizzas creations: fresh salads, pretzel bread apps and build your own pies also share the menu spotlight. Order pizzas for the table, and be sure to include the Gourmet White, with a garlic olive oil base, sundried and roma tomatoes, or the Mighty Meaty, with mozzarella, pepperoni, sausage, ground beef, ham and bacon. Mellow also offers vegan items and gluten free pizza! Take your lunch upstairs to the Mellow patio for a graffiti muralscape, sunshine or shade. There's always a great selection of craft beers on tap - sample a few local Charleston brews with lunch! (843-723-7374, 843-327-0346)
Named for a word that means "feast" in Vietnamese, Co is an 'urban-chic' restaurant paying homage to its origins, serving Southeast Asia-inspired bahn mi sandwiches, pho, ramen noodes, stuffed dumplings, salads and four kinds of spring rolls. Heartier options include several rice and noodle wok dishes like Pad Thai, Spicy Udon and Green Curry with any protein. King Street's Co appeals to every lover of Asian cuisine, boasting an impressive vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free menu, as well as two stories of seating space, group capabilities and bar, dine-in and take-out meal service. Whether meat-inclusive or pure vegan, all Co's menu entrees are heaping, hot and spicy (by request, of course)! If you enjoy your Co feast experience, shout it out on social media! Co offers weekly prizes to followers, and a Rewards Card for frequent visitors. Co sauces like the Sriracha or Singapore are custom-made, and available for purchase post-meal! (843-720-3631)
Gaulart & Maliclet's Fast & French
A fireplace and long communal tables flank this charming and authentic Broad Street eatery, housed in a 300 year old building where diners can quickly munch on casual bites or linger in the relaxed French style of enjoying one's midday meal. Come to the 30-year old Fast & French restaurant at lunchtime for specials like a sandwich or salad with a glass of house wine for under $10, combinations of french cheeses and pate for just $12.75 or Croq 'Monsieur for $5 or less. Fast & French offers a wide assortment of beverages, including teas, coffee, house French wines and local beers to pair with your lunch selection. The Fast & French lunch menu is available from 11am onwards until close, and the restaurant is a pleasant choice for any meal. This small French bistro even offers a "Something Very French" section on their menu, available any time of day. (843-577-9797)
Bull Street Gourmet & Market
Bull Street Gourmet & Market is not your typical soup, salad and sandwich spot. Here, the soups are house-made 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 salads, and stocks freshly made desserts, dips, as well as enticing 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 family-friendly - kids love the Croissant with Nutella and fresh strawberries! (843-722-6464)
Black Bean Company
Black Bean Co. is one of Charleston's most popular organic health food restaurants, serving up 'energy wraps,' 'power gyros,' salads, sides and baked goods in two locations, with dine-in seating, take-out and delivery options available. Since opening in 2011, Black Bean Co. has grown its menu and its local fan base in a huge way, successfully mastering the art of speedy service without compromising freshness, quality or portion size. When ordering a Black Bean Co. wrap such as the Black & Blue with protein, blue cheese and fig balsamic vinaigrette or the pure vegan Mega Veggie with broccoli, edamame, carrots, sunflower Seeds, candied almonds, apples and greens, expect a tightly-packaged, overstuffed burrito. Visit Black Bean downtown on Upper King Street or on your way to the beach on Folly Road. Order your next Black Bean Co. Festival or Gouda Baby Wrap online, adding custom sides or sauces a la carte. (843-277-0990)
Welcome to the epicenter of one love in Charleston! Maudell 'Dell' Grayson and her family are spreading the joy of healthy, fresh foods via their passion for serving delicious omni, vegetarian and vegan wraps, salads, nachos and more at three locations: Dellz Deli at Cannon and King, Dellz Uptown at 511 Rutledge and Dellz Vibez (smoothie bar) at 569 King. Fall in love with the mega-sized wraps at Dellz, with popular choices like the Beach Bum, Hummer and Big Daddy showcasing the variety of meats, cheeses, meat substitutes, tofu, veggies, rice and beans available as stuffing. Sauces here are unique to the Dellz family. Mix and match or order extra sauce on the side for added spice and flavor. Dellz is busy during lunch hours - call ahead for quick pick up. Note: there's only seating for about 5 customers inside this tiny corner cafe. Plan to grab and go! (843-722-5376)
Butcher & Bee
Butcher & Bee, an locally focused deli and cafe in the ever-expanding Upper King Street neighborhood, lays claim to providing "hand-held comfort food" to downtown Charleston. The sandwich artists at Butcher & Bee are open for weekday lunch and late night service on weekend nights (til 3am Friday and Saturday). This comfortable, communal style restaurant takes a modern approach to emerging foodie ideals: a menu that updates daily and by meal, which is shared via social media (check their Facebook and Twitter), hearty options for vegetarians, a welcoming BYOB policy and frequent pop-up dinners. Though the Butcher & Bee menu changes daily, local produce and farm-raised meat and eggs are the focus of each set of mealtime offerings. While many items rotate to accommodate seasonality, some items have become somewhat 'regular' stars on the Butcher & Bee menu. Look for the popular Pulled Squash, Fried Chicken and Lamb Pita sandwiches. (843-619-0202)
Caviar & Bananas
Ask any Charleston local about their favorite downtown lunch spot, and chances are they'll describe their usual selection from the hot cases 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 clean and modern interior, on the side patio for a prime people-watching experience 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 premade pasta salads, housemade daily soups, and hot entree options such as meatloaf, eggplant Parmesan, duck confit spring rolls, and more. Caviar & Bananas has it all - design your own salads, sushi, made-to-order sandwiches and wine and beer. Expect boutique restaurant prices, but all the flavor and meal personalization you'd expect for the price. (843-577-7757, 843-577-9997)
Five Loaves Cafe
Five Loaves, wholeheartedly adored by neighborhood locals and visitors, is a charming corner restaurant a just off of the main tourist path on Cannon and Coming streets in the Cannonborough-Elliotborough neighborhood. The food is consistently fresh, and always priced at a great value for its reliably good taste and gorgeous presentations. The Five Loaves lunch menu provides a variety of omnivore, vegan and vegetarian options, with popular soup-salad-sandwich combinations a highlight of the midday selection. Salads are served with artful, house-made dressings, while open face sandwiches feature chicken and beef from local farms. Soups, dinner specials and dessert items change daily, with favorites like the Spinach Salad with polenta croutons and pearl onions, Reuben with turkey pastrami and Hot Ham & Brie serving as menu regulars. Expect a busy (well-deserved) crowd at this small neighborhood spot during peak hours, and a very satisfied palate post-meal. (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.