CHARLESTON, South Carolina – It's not just the cobblestone streets, ample terraces, and historic architecture that make this place feel like a slice of Europe. Like those Old World cities, Charleston has a charming atmosphere and extensive food and wine scene.
Audre Langbartel, regional manager for Counter Culture Coffee, a Carolina specialty coffee roaster, has helped countless locals and visitors caffeinate and dine their way through Charleston. She’s the kind of person who receives a warm greeting by name at nearly every restaurant, coffee shop, or bar she visits. She shares a few of her favorite haunts below.
62 Queen St.; +1-843-718-3626
The atmosphere here is quintessentially Charleston — pastel touches and signs of arrested decay. The light fare on the menu is as lovely as it is luscious, with oatmeal and baked goods adorned with flowers. Plan for a slow brunch here to fuel up before enjoying a bonne journée in the French Quarter. Audre’s go-to breakfast order is the Butter Me Up, a breakfast sandwich made with herb-infused cheese, egg soufflé, and pickled shallot on a house-made ricotta biscuit.
109 President St.; +1-843-793-4931
In a bright and airy plant-filled space, the popular vegan eatery turns out plant-based versions of beloved breakfast foods. Some dishes lean more brunch and others more lunch. Buffalo-style burgers and mac-'n'-cashew-cheese stand next to a tofu burrito bowl and hearty bagel sandwiches. “Gnome Café is such a special spot to the community and neighborhood,” Audre says. “It leaves me feeling light and energized for the day ahead. It is also women-owned, along with the flower shop that sits around back.”
11 Cannon St.; +1-843-284-6260
If you think you've heard of all the available kinds of plant-based milk, think again. The menu shows off made-in-house peanut milk, which you can order in any espresso beverage. Audre raves about the peanut mocha, which is not too sweet; the thick-but-not-too-thick texture is unbeatable in its iced version.
698 King St.; +1-843-531-6500
Special occasion or not, being in Charleston is reason enough to buy oysters and champagne. Leon’s offers local catches and rosé on tap and also makes a mean fried chicken and soft serve. In other words, it's a crowd-pleaser. “Every time I walk into Leon's, I can't help but go for a glass, (or bottle, who am I kidding) of the Ameztoi Rubentis Rose Txakolina,” Audre says. “This wine is from the Basque region of Spain, sitting right next to the sea, so it pairs so nicely with salty briny oysters and other seafood.” The restaurant opened in 2014, but its popularity among locals and visitors paired with a timeless interior make it pass for a decades-old classic.
805 Folly Rd.; +1-843-297-8615; +1-843-297-8615
Look no further than Gillie's Seafood for traditional Charleston soul food. When you eat here, owner Sean Mendes hopes to evoke a similar experience to Sunday dinner at your grandma's house — that is, if your grandma had access to fresh seafood. Gillie's Seafood is best known for its award-winning shrimp and grits and fried pork chops.
122 Spring St.; +1-843-793-1029
With a spacious courtyard, Spanish tapas, and wine and cocktails overflowing, Estadio offers an ideal happy hour situation with their pintxos, traditional small bites on single-serve toothpicks. Ask to try some wine in a porrón (look up tips on using one beforehand so that you can impress your friends). “Estadio quickly became a favorite for me when they opened late in 2019,” Audre says. “The staff, the owner, and the menu are all so perfect — none of them pretentious, all of them fun. The setting is so dynamic. If I want to relax and take it slow, I can enjoy dining outside on the patio. If I want to celebrate a birthday or milestone, I can gather all my friends around the community table and order pintxos for all to share. If I am looking for a quick bite and a spot to unwind after the work day, I can post up at the bar. The range of experiences you can have at Estadio seem limitless to me. They have created a space for the community to feel transported to Spain while still being comfortable at home.”
289 E Bay St.; +1-843-625-3031
Picture it: Charleston seafood in sushi form — daily nigiri, sashimi, and futomaki rolls. With only 24 seats and no reservations allowed, arrive early to snag a spot. And if you're feeling oysters instead of sushi, head on over to the bar's sister location, 167 Raw Oyster Bar.
152 King St.; +1-843-577-7359
Charleston's oldest wine bar in the heart of the French Quarter provides more than 40 wines by the glass and more than 200 wines by the bottle. “It’s a great spot to rest after walking the historic garden district or a day of shopping on King Street,” Audre says. “It's such a casual experience, which is really what I love about it.” Balance it out with cheese and charcuterie atop freshly baked bread.
1011 King St.; +1-843-990-9535
Rodney's pit-masters sling nose-to-tail goodness in a modern cafeteria-style setting. Here, the meat gets cooked on direct coal heat, producing an inimitable smokey flavor. You’ll find pit-cooked meats in sandwich and stand-alone form. Take your pick of turkey, chicken, or pork topped with Rod’s Sauce. Founder Rodney Scott stakes his claim as a 2018 James Beard Award winner for the Best Chef in the Southeast.
700 King St., suite B; +1-843-718-3359
With shelves lined with glistening bottles full of blush, burgundy, and gold-colored liquids, Graft Wine Shop is pretty much the 21-and-up version of a candy store. This is a one-stop-shop for wine produced with sustainable, organic or biodynamic farming practices. You can even try one of the wines by the glass while you think over your purchases. Bring home a bottle to share with friends over tales of the road.
1081-B Morrison Dr.; +1-843-990-9449
Located next door to The Restaurant at Edmund’s Oast, The Exchange shows off not one but two stories of wall-to-wall shelves full of wine and beer. In fact, the store carries 1,500 various wines from small producers. The brewing company primarily sells its own beer in imaginative flavors like PB&J. Make an event out of the shopping experience and enjoy sips and snacks on the patio.