Welcome to EAT THIS CITY , your tour of the best restaurants in one of our favorite cities, as chosen by a world-class chef, celebrity, or local hero.
In July, Travel+Leisure declared 2017’s top urban destinations; Charleston was voted number two in the entire world, an honor that they likely wouldn’t have received if it wasn’t for their totally awesome dining culture. Luckily, we were able to connect with Josh Walker, the co-owner and executive chef at Xiao Bao Biscuit and Tu (which will be opening in a few weeks) to talk to us about some of the best food the city has to offer.
After earning an MFA at Brown University, the brilliant chef began working in New York kitchens, where he met his wife, Duolan. After traveling through Asia for nearly a year learning about a myriad of regional tradition and culinary practices, the two established themselves in Charleston and opened their first restaurant, Xiao Bao Biscuit, which riffs on favorites from a variety of Asian countries, including Korea, China, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam.
And, the food had been very well received. Bon Appetit named the restaurant one of the best new offerings of 2013. Readers were told: “It’s the stuff you crave all the time, whether you know it or not. Go with a crew, take in the chill, breezy vibe, and order everything on the menu.” And, Walker was also among the 10 southern chefs identified by Zagat as ones to watch in 2014. Just look at the food he is making. Is it any wonder?
Now, let’s let the discerning Josh Walker introduce us to some old favorites and new surprises in Charleston.
EVO in North Charleston. The farmers salad with blue cheese dressing and the calabrese pizza with olives is our go to take out meal, the salads are huge but we each get our own and share the pizza, adult-style.
Tacqueria Espres off Ashley Phosphate in North Charleston. The torta is my go-to, carnitas, pollo or beef tongue are all good and add extra pickles and hot sauce for sure. I usually get two and eat one later. Their tacos are great too.
I’m going to have to go with H&L – it’s this huge Asian market in North Charleston. We don’t have the ethnic communities that I’m used to here, and it’s one of the bummers about Charleston for sure. And certainly not much downtown with the prices of rent here. The small cafeteria at H&L has a great vibe though, and the roast duck noodle soup is a favorite.
I’m really excited about the burger pop-ups that an ex-employee of Xiao Bao is doing, that classic style of burger that Shake Shack brought back is missing from this town despite the large number of burgers available. His name is Jarrod Gass, and he quit cooking to bartend but you can tell he’s missed it. He’s got beautiful blue eyes and shocking grey hair, and you can find him at Kudu (a local coffee shop on King St.) on Mondays to make you a hamburger and tell you everything is going to be alright.
I’m not a devout believer in the magic of Krispy Kreme but there is something to be said about the magic of a donut shop that’s open all hours of the night, and has a neon sign that reads “hot” when the donuts are coming fresh out of the oven. That’s pretty magical. And coffee and a donut? Magical as well. It doesn’t matter that the coffee is shit if you can dunk your donut in it.
I love when restaurants are older than ten years and still just fucking awesome. That’s a huge accomplishment and pretty hard to pull off. Co-owners chef Mike Lata and Adam Nemirew certainly deserve a lot of credit for that and you have to mention executive chef Jason Stanhope as well. It’s badass food that’s perfectly executed. It’s creative when it needs to be but it’s just really a rare example of straightforward great cooking that you can’t get enough of.
I love when a woman at the counter gives the cook shit for not making great grits and everyone laughs. Then, when he’s done cooking he just leaves the kitchen and sits at the counter reading a book while I’m in the counter eating hash browns and a patty melt, ordering a side of grits so I can agree or disagree with the lady at the counter.
In Mount Pleasant there’s Kairos Greek Kitchen – it’s basically a Mediterranean version of Chipotle. It’s fast-casual but the sauces and ingredients are great, and it’s nice to have a lighter place to eat healthy food that tastes good and makes you feel good after eating it.
One Broad Street: this place is just about to open, and they’ve been doing some pop ups at their other place, Bar Normandy. Their building, located on 1 Broad St., is an old bank and chef Kev Getz (Kevin Getzewich) is doing so really exciting takes on breakfast and brunch food.
Iconic Food of the City
It’s all the best southern food has to offer – cooked cabbage, fried chicken or pork chops, lima beans and rice, cornbread, you name it. The menu changes slightly by day but it’s all good. No frills, it’s the way my grandmother cooked and it’s a must for real-deal southern food.
Odd Culinary Experience
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Bowen’s Island on the way to Folly Beach. You can get your fried shrimp, fried fish, French fries with a side of fried dough, aka hushpuppies. In Japan, they have tempura restaurants and this is the southern equivalent. Sometimes you’re tempted to think, “I’m going to go eat food that’s pretty much all fried? What’s wrong with me / these people?” The answer of course being nothing. You’re in for a treat. We’re all going to die. But all things in moderation. Anyway, it’s a great treasure of a place where the serve oysters in a pretty uniquely southern way, so you have to try it.
When you reach a certain age you realize there’s no such thing as guilty pleasures. But that being said, I’d say taco salad at Santi’s hits the mark. The bowl is the tortilla shell kind, so I think eating your bowl is pretty key for an impressive taco salad situation. Definitely add guacamole on top and don’t fill up too much on chips beforehand. I think you might have options to get different meats, but you’re obviously a fool to skip the classic ground beef.
I don’t really drink, but I think there are two schools of thoughts to this – but let’s ignore the healthy let’s actually do something nice for our bodies option and go with the old “something heavy with a bloody Mary on the side” approach to life. And in that case, I’d say duck club and fries at Tatooed Moose. The menu is a small selection of sandwiches which never changes, but it’s always executed well and does the trick. I’m sure they can probably make you a bloody Mary but it’s not going to be a fancy boy one I would guess.
Thank you, Josh Walker, for taking us on a culinary tour of Charleston!
Stay tuned for more EAT THIS CITY — where each week we’ll feature a premier chef in a different city sharing their insider eating tips! Missed a week? Check out Columbus, Kailua-Kona, Monterey, San Antonio, Louisville, Nashville, Raleigh, San Diego, Cambridge, Hoboken, Hollywood, Return to Miami, Return to Las Vegas, Manhattan, Oakland, Paris, Portland, Tampa, Durham, Toronto, Baltimore, Monterey, Vail, Lexington, Bentonville, San Antonio, Warsaw, Kansas City, NYC, Washington DC, New Orleans, Cleveland, Miami, Seattle, Las Vegas, San Francisco, Sydney, Portland, Chicago, Austin, Los Angeles, Brooklyn, New Orleans, Providence, Memphis, Orange County, Boston, and Detroit.
See you next week!