Charleston, South Carolina is a food destination. We get it. If you are not from here, and you see a vibrant photo of shrimp and grits styled out too perfectly in a Fennel-colored Le Creuset stock pot while you are in a cubicle in middle America, maybe, just perhaps you start googling up a Charleston vacation. From this perspective, sure, Charleston is a food destination. The best? No. Not even close! Ha. But a bucket list to check off for the “foodies” for sure. From a local’s perspective, though, Charleston is a very narrowly woven fabric of black and white culture. Nothing wrong with that, but where is the rainbow? We have oddly low culinary representation from Asian, African, Central American, etc cultures. There is no Chinatown in Charleston. Nor are there many, if any, culturally-defined areas of Charleston. In Charleston if you like exploring other cultures via their cuisines you really have to ignore the mass media and search for yourself. In the grand scheme of things these international mom & pops comparatively get practically zero exposure.
This sums up the gusto of this website. With this in mind we are attempting to expose some of the hidden gems in this great culinary city. About 95% of these restaurants do not have PR “girls” finagling “good press” for them. You won’t see them at the Food & Wine Festival. You won’t see an ad in Charleston Magazine or a billboard for them on I-26. You have to hunt for them. Most of these international restaurateurs have built their restaurants for their communities as this is who you see dining there. Many do not even speak English. Think about that for a moment. They do not care about James Beard or your farm to table movement. These restaurants are beacons of normalcy to ex-patriots from all over the world. Politely walking into these international mom and pop Charleston restaurants and humbly learning about their cuisine, culture and even some of their language is the most exciting culinary adventure in Charleston…or anywhere for that matter.
It’s not that Charleston is not the best food city in the United States….it’s that there is no such thing as the best. Charleston is NOT a better food city than New York City, Chicago, Miami, Atlanta, San Francisco, etc etc. Lists are passe. We will start making them to be disruptive only. To mock their awful behavior. The system is broken. Life is not a popularity contest. Being number 1 means nothing. Being honest and interesting means everything. Xiao Bao is not the best Vietnamese Restaurant in Charleston. Why? Because it is not a Vietnamese Restaurant. It is an Asian fusion restaurant. The best Vietnamese restaurant in Charleston is Phuong’s Vietnamese Restaurant. She just retired and NOT ONE media outlet noticed. Shame on all of you.