New York and San Francisco are the undisputed top culinary cities in the U.S., with excellent eateries for every type of cuisine, but don’t overlook smaller cities when searching for food meccas. Pound for pound Charleston, South Carolina may be the top food city in America. I am a big fan of small cities with strong regional cuisines, like New Orleans and Santa Fe, but based on my delicious research, Charleston’s food scene is even more eclectic and serious. The population is only 122,689, which is equivalent to a few square blocks of NYC, yet Tripadvisor.com lists 525 restaurants for the city, which isn’t even big enough to have its own Zagat survey.

Here’s visual proof that Charleston offers unbelievably delicious grub. And these are only the cheap eats!

Best Deal : $9 AYCE in this tiny town 1 hour from Charleston

Best Deal : Dukes Bar-B-Que. $9 AYCE in this tiny town 1 hour from Charleston.

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Everything was great: signature hash, pulled pork, fried and bbq chicken, mac & cheese, hush puppies, greens and slaw, and of course sweet tea. Yup, $9.

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Best Breakfast: Charleston’s Cafe. Waffle and fried chicken sandwich with eggs, bacon, cheese and grits.

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Also at Charleston’s Cafe: Charleston’s Breakfast of eggs on fried green tomatoes with country ham gravy served with chippers & sweet potato biscuit.

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Best Experience: Bowen’s Island Restaurant. A big shack at the end of the road on a small island. This place barely looks inhabited, but open the door and everyone is having a good ole time!

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At Bowen’s Island hundreds of people chow down on huge plates of fried fish and shrimp or platters of shuck your own oysters. Plus Bowen’s Island Oyster Stout. Amazing.

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Best Truly Local Grub: Fried Pork Chop with Spicy Tomato Jelly from The Early Bird Diner. This dish was profiled on Diners, Drive-ins & Dives and is out of this world. The tender fried pork combined with the hot & sweet jelly make for a comfort food dream.

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Also from The Early Bird, country fried steak with butter beans and cheesy smashed potatoes. Yum.

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Best Classy Dish: Pimento Cheese appetizer from Magnolia’s. This dish was profiled by Tyler Florence on Best Thing I Ever Ate and is really a great intro to pimento cheese. The sharp cheddar with hints of pimento, peppers and olives make for a delicious dish. Plus it looks nice too.

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Best Brunch Dish: Magnolia’s banana pudding stuffed french toast with
peanut butter syrup and applewood smoked bacon. This salty sweet behemoth will blow your mind!

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My Favorite: The Big Nasty at Hominy Grill. This place is my favorite eatery in Charleston with amazing Lowcountry classics like She-crab Soup, Shrimp & Grits, Fried Green Tomatoes, and The Big Nasty, fried chicken on a biscuit with sausage gravy. I had it 3 years ago and couldn’t wait to devour it again.

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Best Local Cake: Hummingbird Cake from Hominy Grill. Pineapple, banana and pecans star in this Southern classic, which is similar to carrot cake.

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Best unique dessert: Coca-Cola Cake from Jestine’s Kitchen. Super sweet and cakey.

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Best Burger: Po’s Tavern’s Black Cat with grilled onions, chili, bacon and pimento cheese. It’s a beast.

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