Before heading to Charleston, I did a lot of research on where to sleep at night, what attractions to see, and what weather to expect. I did not look into restaurants. That was my one downfall of the whole trip. The one thing that didn’t go so well.
Make Reservations Ahead of Time…Way Ahead of Time
I had one restaurant recommendation from my sister, who had visited Charleston a few months prior to my trip. I figured I could call them and get reservations the day of. That’s what I did. When I arrived in Charleston, I looked up this recommended restaurant and called them. I asked for reservations that night. They were booked. Oh well. I’ll take anything you have this week. They were booked solid until the following week, after I would already be gone! I was disappointed as it looked like a great farm to table seafood restaurant.
Use Yelp…But it Takes Time
That’s when I started looking at Yelp. I found Yelp pretty helpful for looking up restaurants in particular categories (we had a taste for seafood). You can also pick the price you want to pay and the location. But, it took a long time to sort through each option, looking at the description, the website, and the reviews. I couldn’t find anything anywhere close to where our vacation rental was, so I decided we weren’t getting seafood that night. I chose a bar and grill, which ended up being kind of sketchy and the food was terrible. So, I vowed never to do that again. Next time I’d be prepared.
I figured out where I’d be each night and started looking for places in that area well in advance. I found a seafood place that seemed to be within my budget (which was $$, not $$$). It was on the way home from our plantation visit that we did that day. When I arrived, the place looked like a hole in the wall. The opening time was 5pm on Yelp, but I learned from looking at their website, they actually opened at 5:30pm. We arrived at 5:10, so we had to wait a bit. While we were waiting, a nice woman arrived who decided to wait too. I asked her if she’d ever been there and she said many times. I asked her what she ordered, and she said the fish. We talked about where we were from and she wished me a delicious meal and told me I picked a place that the locals enjoy. Perfect. It ended up being pretty good. Fried seafood with fries, so not too pricey or ritzy.
Ask the Locals
The next night we were in downtown Charleston. We went on a carriage ride and at the end of the ride, the tour guide had several suggestions for great restaurants. He said there was a street a few blocks from our drop off location called restaurant row. We decided to walk up and down that street to see if we could find anything. We found a few, but they were all pretty pricey. We then walked to Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., which our tour guide said had the best hush puppies. We made reservations there on the outdoor patio. I really wanted to sit outdoors and thought this was a good option. It wasn’t too hot because it was a covered patio and had lots of big trees as shade. The food was great. They forgot our hush puppies, but brought them out later. And, yes, they were the best I’d had. So a recommendation from a local proved true for the second time.
Yelp Can Help
I used Yelp for our third night too. I wanted to eat in Isle of Palms, where we’d be at the beach earlier that day. I found a place with as many stars as the place that was booked solid for the week. I found them that same night, so I called a few days in advance and made reservations for our third night in Charleston…well enough in advance at this place. It was good, but a little supper club like. And kind of pricey.
Next time, I’ll probably use Yelp the week before I travel and make reservations then. That way, I’ll get into the places I want to eat at. I would check days restaurants are closed (many restaurants were closed on Monday nights) and what time they open (so I wouldn’t have to wait long…although arriving first meant we would be served first). I’d also check to see how many reviews there were. I’d rather go to a place with many reviews than just a handful. And I’d still keep my ears open when interacting with the locals. This trip was a learning experience in terms of finding a restaurant. But, if I go back, which I intend to do every couple of years, I’d use what I learned and make it better the next time. Sometimes that’s how it works. You get better at this as you go.