Taking advantage of school-wide fall and winter breaks, many families will flock to the Lowcountry over the next several months to visit with friends and enjoy a mini-vacation in the nation’s most polite city. While touring historic landmarks and strolling down cobblestone streets, these amicable tourists will often ask locals, “Where’s a good spot to eat with kids?” Even though Charleston is a culinary paradise, drawing foodies from around the world who desire fresh, farm-to-table fare with a southern twist, the Holy City only has a handful of establishments suitable for kids, save for national restaurant chains that lack downtown ambiance or tourist traps that trade good food for quick turnaround.
If you are visiting Charleston this winter or if you are a local who is hosting out-of-town guests and their little ones, consider these kid-friendly restaurants:
Located in an old warehouse, Coast Bar & Grill marries Bohemian style with southern charm. The quirky and quaint establishment is well-known for its fresh seafood, creative libations, and custom-made hickory and oak wood burning grill. Working with local farmers, Executive Chef David Pell expertly combines seasonal ingredients with flavorful fish. Patrons rave about the raw bar and the mojitos, a perfect combination for pre-dinner happy hour. The open-air patio is ideal families, and the restaurant offers a separate “minnow menu,” which features kid favorites like fried shrimp, fish sticks, and grilled cheese.
39 John Street, Downtown Charleston
A restaurant that rests on the Charleston Harbor, Fleet Landing is an optimal choice for families because it boasts panoramic water views, offers scrumptious southern seafood, and presents a casually cool ambiance. Historically, the landing was a ferry service, transporting folks across the Cooper River to Mt. Pleasant and other Barrier Islands. In 1942, the Navy acquired the site and built a structure for sailors to off-load supplies. The facility was forsaken for a number of years, until Tradd Newton, the son of Piggly Wiggly’s Buzzy Newton, and his wife, Weesie, transformed the building into a delectable dining establishment. Menu items include interesting cuisines such as oysters served with Southern Comfort-infused barbecue sauce, shrimp pot pie, and iron skillet mussels. Because of its prime location across from City Market, families are able to take a post-dinner stroll to Waterfront Park, the Battery, and other downtown landmarks.
186 Concord Street, Downtown Charleston
Owned by the legendary actor Bill Murray, Rutledge Cab Co. is a hip restaurant with a retro mentality. Located in the Wagener Terrace subdivision in downtown Charleston, the restaurant, which was a former service station, serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily. The diner-like interior has a full bar, booth seats, round tables, and outdoor community tables, so families are able to comfortably dine and engage in authentic conversation. The menu features everything from omelettes and french toast to fried fish sandwiches and beef tenderloin. From the kids’ menu, children are treated to their staple supper selections including chicken tenders, grilled cheese, cheeseburger, pasta, and PB&J. Locals really enjoy riding their bikes to Rutledge Cab Co. and sitting outside on the heated patio. Plus, night owls appreciate that it is open late and serves breakfast all day long!
1300 Rutledge Avenue, Downtown Charleston
No Lowcountry stay is complete without sampling southern barbeque, and this pork-loving town is proud to have several staple smokehouses that serve savory pulled pork, brisket, and chicken. Food Network favorites include Rodney Scott’s Barbecue, a South Carolina native pitmaster who specializes in whole hog specialities; Lewis’ Barbeque, a cool indoor/outdoor space that serves Texas-inspired que by famed pitmaster John Lewis; Home Team, a culmination of creative barbeque dishes in a sports bar-like atmosphere with a great outdoor space for live music and kids to play in; and Melvin’s Barbecue, a Bessinger family establishment and Charleston favorite since 1939. Each restaurant has its own secret rub and sauce, so serious swine aficionados will want to try all of them! Kids eat for free on Wednesdays! The tender meats are always served with traditional sides such as collard greens, rice and beans, cornbread, mac-n-cheese, and coleslaw. For dessert, banana pudding is always the top choice.
Rodney Scott’s, 1011 King Street, Downtown Charleston
Lewis Barbeque, 464 North Nassau Street, Downtown Charleston
Home Team, 126 William Street, Downtown Charleston
Melvin’s BBQ, 925 Houston Northcutt Blvd, Mt. Pleasant
Taking a brief pause from traditional Lowcountry food, this Mexican-Southern mash-up is worth the wait. The funky design, bright interior, and outdoor firepits make it family favorite. With its first location in Folly Beach, Taco Boy opened a second establishment downtown replicating its original aberrant ambiance. The anonymous owner, “Taco Boy,” uses local produce and products to ensure fresh, creative cuisines. Families enjoy relaxing by the firepit with tapas and drinks while children play games on the patio. From the eccentric decor and festive lights to the tasteful tacos and marvelous margaritas, Taco Boy is family-friendly fiesta.
217 Huger Street, Downtown Charleston
The Alley serves glorified bar food along with healthy vegan alternatives, so children and adults will find something to suit their palate. Menu items include appetizers and entrees such as Holy City Nachos, Chipotle Shrimp Po Boy, Pizza Burger, Black Bean Quinoa, several salad creations, and--of course--a fried oreo sundae. Ensuring fun for the whole family, The Alley has old-school arcade games like Ms. Pac Man, Donkey Kong, Galaga, Skee Ball, Ping Pong, and many more. As the name suggests, The Alley boasts eight fast bowling lanes that are available for family play. Additionally, this retro restaurant has three bars--all of which serve craft beers and numerous televisions showing the top sports games.
131 Columbus Street, Downtown Charleston
Wherever you decide to dine with the children, be mindful of common courtesies. Servers suggest that you bring table appropriate toys to entertain easily-bored toddlers. Eating out is an ideal time for youngsters to practice table etiquette and verbal manners. Do not let them crawl under the table or run rampant through the restaurant. This not only spells disaster for waiters carrying trays of food, but it also disturbs other families who are enjoying a night out on the town. “And for the love of all things holy, please do not let them play with the sugar caddies!” says a smiling server, who has worked in the Charleston restaurant business for numerous years. After all, Charlestonians aspire to keep that “most polite city” accolade in check.