Charleston, as much a destination for comforting bowls of shrimp and grits as its charming cobblestone streets, has become a poster child for the South’s overlooked culinary scene in recent years. Reimagined classics, a reverence for indigenous ingredients, and a flair for international flavors all give this historic city an appealing modern sheen. But when its trailbazing chefs aren’t cranking out bacon gravy-laced quail or seared grouper with shishito peppers, they’re getting as far away from the tourist-filled, horse-drawn carriages as possible. Off the clock, they seek out locals-only joints where they can kick back over freshly shucked oysters, heaping plates of soul food, and even Waffle House hash browns. We asked 11 of Charleston’s best chefs where they like to chill out and embrace the city’s laidback side. 

Mike Lata

Chef-partner at FIG and The Ordinary

Favorite under-the-radar spot: The Palace Hotel (35 Hanover St, 843-501-7994)

Lata says: “This is the trendy dive du jour, and we seem to end up there due to the novelty of one dish: hot dogs.” (Photo: Gately Williams)

Stuart Tracy

Chef at Butcher & Bee


Favorite under-the-radar spot: Santi’s (1302 Meeting St, 843-722-2633)

Tracy says: “It’s a little Mexican restaurant with great food and drinks. Always ask for their special green salsa, which is off the menu, but should be poured over anything eaten there.”

Jacques Larson

Executive chef at Wild Olive and the Obstinate Daughter


Favorite under-the-radar spot: Voodoo Tiki Bar (15 Magnolia Rd; 843-769-0228,

Larson says: “It’s in my ‘hood, and although I really don’t have many midnight drunken hunger fits anymore, it’s still a favorite. Very dark, yet high energy, and they serve food until 1am, seven days a week. I love the duck sliders (cult following) and banh mi tacos. The truffled tater tots inspired our smashed-and-fried potatoes at Wild Olive. There’s also a great tequila selection. Beware of the tiki drink.”

Jeremiah Bacon

Executive chef at the Macintosh and Oak Steakhouse


Favorite under-the-radar spot: Bowen’s Island Restaurant (1870 Bowens Island Rd; 843-795-2757,

Bacon says: “This has been a favorite since I was a kid. I grew up in nearby John’s Island and would spend many days fishing and boating in the creeks that run along the restaurant. It is a true Charleston dive and the best place to get steamed, fresh, local oysters, or fried local shrimp. It has the best views of the waterways.”

Kevin Johnson

Chef-owner at The Grocery


Favorite under-the-radar spot: Waffle House (various locations,

Johnson says: “I go for the Texas cheesesteak—add onions—with a side of hash browns. I mix A1 and Heinz 57, which make a great dip for both. I can order, use the restroom, then find my food cooked and ready while having a few minutes to spend admiring their efficiency and professionalism.” (Photo: Jonathan Boncek)

Michelle Weaver

Executive chef at Charleston Grill


Favorite under-the-radar spot: Tattooed Moose (1137 Morrison Drive; 843-277-2990,

Weaver says: “Get the Lucky #1 sub: seared pork belly, housemade kimchi, fried onions, chili sauce. Then pair that with an order of fries cooked in duck fat and a frosty High Life. Be prepared to take a nap.”

Craig Deihl

Executive chef at Cypress


Favorite under-the-radar spot: The Griffon (18 Vendue Range; 843-723-1700,

Deihl says: “This bar has been a favorite hangout since I started working at Magnolias. It’s close to Cypress and the food is always consistent—I like the fish & chips and fried chicken—and just what you need after a long night at work.”

Robert Stehling

Chef-owner at Hominy Grill


Favorite under-the-radar spot: The Wreck of the Richard & Charlene (106 Haddrell St, Mount Pleasant; 843-884-0052,

Stehling says: “It’s an old shrimp cooler right on Shem Creek with a great sunset. A shrimp trawler called ‘The Richard and Charlene’ was tossed into it during hurricane Hugo; they cleaned it up, screened it in, and a fabulous fried-shrimp shack was born. It is the real lowcountry experience, with boiled peanuts and ice-cold beer.”

Ken Vedrinski

Chef-owner at Trattoria Lucca


Favorite under-the-radar spot: Georgean’s Caribbean Soul (8-D Line St, 843-974-4148)

Vedrinksi says: “There’s no place to sit. It’s so small you barely have room to order, but their braised oxtails are unbelievable.”

Joshua Walker

Chef at Xiao Bao Biscuit


Favorite under-the-radar spot: D&D Restaurant & Catering (114 Spring St, 843-722-2205)

Walker says: “It’s an old-school, traditional neighborhood hangout, with nice folks drinking beer and listening to good music. Get the fried shrimp or ask for the ribs.”

Sean Brock

Executive chef at Husk and chef/partner at McCrady’s


Favorite under-the-radar spot: Fishnet (3832 Savannah Highway, Johns Island; 843-571-2423

Brock says: “Equal parts seafood market and restaurant, it’s off the beaten path, pretty far outside of town, so you have to know about it. You can pick out your fish and they will cook it right there. Go for the fried, hard-shell garlic crabs.” (Photo: Andrea Behrends)