Charleston is a city known for its rich culinary community, featuring powerhouse chefs like Sean Brock, Ari Kolender, and Mike Lata (to name a few). With lots of culinary accolades and events like the Charleston Food & Wine Festival coming up, it’s easy to see why upscale dining in Charleston has really taken off. But sometimes you (and your wallet) need a break, and you want to trade that parmesan foam in for some real cheap, greasy cheese. Fear not, for Charleston has a lot to offer in terms of simple and cheap meals that are still palate pleasers.
Here are my favorite restaurants in Charleston to get more bang for your buck:
Really, what could be more unassuming than a sandwich shop that’s taken up residence in a college laundromat? Consistently great sandwiches, salads, drinks, and custards. Eat at the counter, or take it to go and enjoy the sunshine in Marion Square just a few blocks away!
Three words: Duck. Fat. Fries. The sandwiches at the Moose are artfully crafted without pretension and are perfect for happy hour, or soaking up booze the morning after. Just maybe plan for naptime after you eat.
Pizzeria Di Giovanni
Yes, Pizzeria Di Giovanni is located on the market, but no, it’s not the tourist trap you’d think it was. At lunchtime it’s crowded with local business people looking for a cheap giant slice or cheesy goodness, and at 2am, it’s crowded with college students and young professionals filtering out of the bar looking for something to satisfy drunk munchies. Either way, the pizza is a hit.
Cory’s Grilled Cheese
Yes, you have to leave the Peninsula to get here, but trust me, it’s worth it. They offer both classic and complex grilled cheeses with combinations that will make you nostalgic for your childhood—just maybe eat it with the crusts on, mkay?
Not everyone is a fan of the dark and dingy West Ashley dive bar, but no one can deny that their hot dogs are some of the best in Charleston (except maybe vegetarians). The place is constantly packed, and they get bonus points for being a great place to catch some live local music.
Early Bird Diner
Like Waffle House, but better. Their unique take on down-home classics like fried pork chops, chicken and waffles, and grits are always winners with people from all walks of life. Plus, they’re open late on weekends so you can get your grit fix whenever it might hit.
There’s something to be said for a classic fish and chips meal. Or the comfort of Hoppin' John and rice. Check your fad diet at the door and settle in for some simple, quality, delicious fried seafood or lima beans and rice. It’s down-home cooking at its best.
Fire Street Food
Red curry is my kryptonite, and I haven’t found one better than Fire’s in Charleston. Service can be a little iffy and the space is a little awkward, so I recommend just grabbing takeout.
White Duck Taco Shop
Charleston isn’t lacking in the taco department, but White Duck seems to be a more universal crowd pleaser than any of the downtown offerings. Their tacos are cheap, unique, and filling (and their margaritas are dangerously good). Plus, they have a lot of veggie options, perfect for herbivores.
Looking at the building that R. Kitchen is housed in, you’d be very doubtful that anything worth eating could come out of such a small space. But you’ll enjoy a 5-course comfort-food meal cooked up simply and deliciously without any pomp or circumstance for just 25 bucks (like cheap upscale dining).
I could probably keep going, but I’ll cap the list at 10. Did I miss one? Let me know what your favorite cheap, no-frills restaurant is in the comment section.