Q: What are your top five secret restaurants in the Charleston metro area? I'm referring to places that either because of their location (off-the-beaten path) or their facade (completely unimpressive — looks like a nothing place) that they are completely off the tourist radar, and barely register on Yelp or TripAdvisor.
A: It’s that final clause that makes this question so challenging! It’s almost impossible to hide from tourists on the peninsula, as popular restaurants with no street frontage, such as Chez Nous and Juliet, have discovered. But there are plenty of places outside of downtown that are entirely tourist-free.
Not showing up on Yelp is another story, though. Charleston diners are an intrepid lot, and they’re prone to find good food wherever it’s secreted away.
Still, there are a few restaurants in the area that are absolutely worth patronizing, despite (or, in your case, because of) having fewer than a dozen Yelp write-ups:
First up, Luz’s Place. Most of the regulars here are cloaked in gloom and cigarette smoke: Leave the daylight beers and scratch-off tickets to them. You’re going for the Filipino food; specifically, the adobo and eggs, which is possibly my favorite breakfast in the area.
Also in North Charleston, I’m a fan of Mi Pequeno Hidalgo, a homey little restaurant that consistently does right by beans. The draw on the weekend is lamb consommé, but the sopes are terrific if you show up during the week.
Over in Mount Pleasant, H&R Sweet Shop has 20 reviews, so it doesn’t formally qualify for a mention, but it picked up more than half of those this year (probably because I’ve talked it up to food writers at national publications, who’ve obligingly put it on various lists) — and it deserves far more recognition than that. The star menu item is a perfectly seasoned $6 cheeseburger, but the neighborhood institution is as beloved for its counterman’s dapper attire and soulful soundtrack.
Best as I can tell, East Cooper Disco isn’t even on Yelp. During the day, the nightclub functions as a café: It’s the restaurant that spawned Hannibal’s on the East Side, and the food at the two places is almost indistinguishable. That’s a definite plus for folks who don’t ever like to stray too far from a masterful fried pork chop and crab rice.
Finally, Caribbean Delight is still my top pick for Caribbean food (especially if you’re after escovitch fish), but Taste of the Islands in West Ashley is totally charming. The to-go counter, which now operates a second location at Citadel Mall, aces life-affirming dishes such as brown stew chicken.
Obviously, no secret’s safe with me. Enjoy!