Upper King is the locals’ version of Lower King Street — it’s where we brunch, get late-night drinks, go dancing, shop, and grab lunch or dinner. It’s the up-and-coming area, where brand new local spots constantly establish themselves as the new “it” places to eat all the best, fresh grub. and The area includes spots off the beaten track/not on the main drag of Upper King but still mere steps away. Here are a few of our favorites:
Virginia’s on King – 412 King St.
Not only is Virginia’s a sweet place to sit at the bar and order drinks and apps before or after a show at the Music Farm or Charleston Music Hall, it’s also a great place to have lunch. Specializing in Lowcountry cuisine, you’ll find all the Southern favorites here in this gorgeous room full of exposed brick walls decorated with serene local imagery. During the week, Virginia’s serves breakfast from 7 a.m. til 11 a.m. — think shrimp and asparagus omelet, fried green tomato benedict, fried chicken and eggs, and buttermilk pancakes. Here in the South, we also have supper. Theirs starts at 3 p.m. and features fried pickles, fried chicken livers, pimento cheese, fried okra, tomato pie, and the list goes on and on.
Smoke BBQ – 487 King St.
Smoke BBQ prides itself on serving upscale but down-home cuisine. This one-time food truck serves up live music every night with their nibbles, but get in on the lunch goodies should you find yourself craving barbecue at, say, 1 o’clock. A few of the locals’ faves include the Smoke wings, 16-hour pastrami Reuben sammie, smoked turkey sandwich, and the Cuban sandwich. You can also feast on the meat-and-two brisket plate, where you can also sample savory Southern sides like cheesy grits and slaw.
Artisan Meat Share – 33 Spring St.
Artisan Meat Share is a relatively new star on the Charleston culinary map of must-haves. Located just a wee walk away from King, Artisan serves up a menu that is a meat lover’s dream selection. Charcuteries are a favorite — something a first-timer should definitely get in on. For sandwiches, we have everything from hot fried chicken biscuits and pastrami sammies to Tuna Nicoise and Porchetta (pork cracklins anyone?) to choose from. Don’t miss the Bun Mi either — it’s their pate, smoked ham, kimchi mayo, carrots, pickles, and cilantro on a steamed bun. There’s so much more — options that will even satisfy the salad or hotdog lover in your crew!
Rue De Jean – 39 John St.
Rue de Jean is a must, and don’t let the upscale dining room fool you. This place isn’t really as pretentious as it sounds, and there’s something on the menu for every budget. Lunch is the perfect time to sample this long-time fave among locals and return visitors alike. Locals in the know find it hard to pass by menu items like the truffle potato soup, beef tartare, and fried goat cheese salad. There’s also a long list of salads and sandwiches to dine on, like croque monsieur, chicken salad croissant, and beet-cured salmon salad. But to really do it right at Rue, you’ve gotta order from the mussels (or moules) menu: choose from broths like curry, aioli, garlic and basil, bacon blue cheese, and white wine shallot.
The Westendorff – 114 St. Philip St.
At the Westendorff, brunch happens every single day — if that sounds like your idea of heaven, then you should head to this local gem stat. Entrees every day include buttermilk fried chicken sandwich, escarole hearts, butter lettuce salad with strawberries, and burgers, while brunch-y items include chicken tinga (poached egg, avocado, yellow rice, tortillas) and frisse salad with poached egg, bacon lardons, herbs, and mustard vinaigrette. If we have one last piece of advice here, then it is to order the mac and cheese side with tallegio, Benton’s bacon, and breadcrumbs. Magnifique, we tell thee.
And after you’re done with lunch and have resumed your King Street stroll, don’t miss a treat at Cupcake. It’s at 433 King Street, and … you’re welcome.