What the experts recommend: Dining in Charleston, S.C.

On the menu: pork hash, braised short ribs, pan-roasted local wahoo served in lobster broth, red rice, and lima beans

Po Pigs Bo-B-Q Restaurant

Charleston has long been a draw for its “graceful, grand homes and hauntingly beautiful gardens,” said Jessica Garrison in the Los Angeles Times. More recently it’s also become a regional hot spot for food, as the “rich and varied cuisine of the region undergoes a renaissance propelled by an interest in locally grown ingredients.” Po Pigs is one example of a place taking traditional Southern fare to unlikely heights. At first glance, this roadside joint next to a gas station on an empty stretch of highway might seem unpromising. Take a closer look, though, and you’ll discover the reasons why locals flock to this place. Dishes that embody the region are featured—“chicken stew, pork hash, red rice, lima beans, and yes, of course, hush puppies.” The fried chicken was “so perfectly prepared, the skin so crispy and salty, the meat so tender.” It’s all served buffet-style, so be careful to leave room on your tray for the pecan pie, caramel zebra cake, or banana pudding. 2410 Highway 174, Edisto Island, (843) 869-9003

McCrady’s

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The food scene in Charleston has become so good that “you could stay for a week and still not discover all the great meals,” said Warner McGowin in Southernliving.com. That’s partly due to the top-notch chefs who have migrated to the city. McCrady’s Sean Brock, for instance, left Nashville for Charleston in 2006 and has since “established himself as one of the most creative chefs in town—or anywhere.” Brock’s menus emphasize fresh local foods, many of which come from a farm that he manages for the restaurant. Choice examples of his “inventive preparation”: meltingly tender braised short ribs that he cooks using the trendy sous vide technique, in which the meat is “sealed in plastic then cooked at low temps in a warm water bath.” 2 Unity Alley, (843) 577-0025

Social Restaurant + Wine Bar

Brad Ball admits that his “timing was mixed” when he opened this place in 2007, said Brys Stephens in Charleston City Paper. The national wine bar craze hadn’t quite made it to Charleston, and the food served at Social simply wasn’t up to snuff. But these days “Social is firing on all cylinders”—and benefiting from the ministrations of newly hired chef Doug Svec. Playful modern-American dishes are fused with “Asian and European flavors and French technique, all wrapped up in the tradition of a Spanish tapas bar.” The salad of local heirloom tomato—with fennel panzanella, house ricotta, and tomato gelée—is a “well-seasoned and thoughtful celebration” of the main ingredient. A pan-roasted local wahoo is “skillfully seared until barely translucent in the center,” and served in a lobster broth with crispy yucca pieces, melon, and fresh herbs. While the wine list “remains one of the most accessible and interesting in town,” Svec is finally providing the “kind of ingredient-focused cooking” that could make Social equally known for its food. 188 E. Bay St., (843) 577-5665

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