Saluda's Restaurant celebrates many histories. Its solid mahogany bar was part of Philadelphia's Blakely Hotel in the late 1800s, its walls sport vintage European posters advertising festive drinks, and its menu pays homage to timeless Southern staples, from shrimp and grits to artfully grilled rib eyes. Perhaps the greatest nod to the past is the building itself, which was constructed after World War I as a VFW officers club. There, veterans would gather to carouse and reminisce, fostering a convivial tradition that Saluda's has since restored and nurtured.
Executive chef Blake Fairies fuels the animated atmosphere with dishes whose down-home roots benefit from French and Italian influences. His prime concern is freshness?in an interview with Undefined magazine, he revealed how his fish du jour is often prepped the day after his friend Mark, a member of Abundant Seafood in Charleston, lures it onto his boat with promises of a free tropical time share. Like much of the kitchen's produce, chef Blake?s flash-fried green tomatoes come from local farms, and his entrees incorporate seasonal ingredients to complement ones imported from across the world. The results are plates that blend classic taste with inventive zest: steaks in black-truffle butter, helpings of handmade pasta, and pork chops brined in sweet tea. At the bar, guests can peruse more than 300 wines as well as cocktails and small-batch bourbon.
Tokyo Grill’s chefs stand over sizzling grills, their furrowed brows illuminated by the dancing flames as they speedily prepare food that blends hibachi flavors with fast and casual dining. With swiftness and precision, they grill fresh vegetables alongside juicy strips of steak, cuts of chicken, and plump jumbo shrimp, then quickly plate the still-steaming meats atop beds of rice speckled with wedges of zucchini, slices of onion, and traces of fairy dust. Elsewhere in the kitchen, sushi chefs are equally hard at work, folding crabmeat and crisp cucumbers into sushi rolls.
The knowledgeable staff at Heroes & Dragons unveils an eye-popping array of previously owned fiction and fantasy collectables that stretches across a 12,000-square-foot facility. More than 5,000 toys ($2+) vie for countless hours of playtime, including G.I. Joes that defend American soil, Jedi knights that settle intergalactic disputes, and Transformers that clutter fast-food drive-thrus. Superhero action figures spanning the past 40 years of fictional crime fighting ($12 average) occupy shelves in their original packaging, and their literary counterparts grace the pages of more than 100,000 back-issue comics ($2–$10).
Every day, Rita's serves up fresh, fruitified Italian ice ($2.09–$2.99) in more than 30 flavors (several are sugar-free), including strawberry, cotton candy, Swedish Fish, chocolate chocolate chip, piña colada, mango, green apple, and wild black cherry. Along with creamy ice, Rita's also sells icy cream. Case in point: Rita's famously frozen old-fashioned custard ($2.49–$3.49), a robust dish that—like revenge—is best served cold in a cup, cone, or overflowing El Camino truck bed. Rita's custard involves a different freezing process than ice cream and boasts creamier texture that makes regular ice cream feel like gravel sprinkled with sandpaper shreds. Rita's most popular frozen treat, gelati ($3.49–$3.99), takes its cue from brunch, twilight, and sporks and blends two great things to create an even greater thing—in this case, the flavorful variety of Italian ice with the smoothitude of frozen custard. Rita's also offers an assortment of specialty Misto shakes ($3.89–$4.29), and fat-free soft-serve Slenderitas ($2.49–$3.49), all of which make for a tasty treat as well as a deliciously soothing topical treatment for chicken pox.
The Big Ugly synthesizes small plates of Cajun-centric fare with a fully stocked bar and the spinning sounds of house DJs. Recall summer nights spent gadding about New Orleans by munching on Bourbon Street gumbo—a medley of sausage, crawfish, peppers, onions, and celery in a spiced stew ($9)—or stifle angsty hunger pangs with fried-green tomatoes layered with goat cheese, homemade marinara, and capped with parmesan and parsley ($8). Alligator bites fried in the Cajun tradition arrive at tables served with chipotle mayo ($8), perfect for practicing gator wrestling in a controlled setting. The Big Ugly’s dim interior lighting casts a romantic mood on an elegantly elongated bar and hardwood floors. Quaff a Fat Tire or Magic Hat #9 on the open-air outdoor patio replete with its own bar while relaxing or listening to the witty banter of nearby wood nymphs.
Palmetto Pig Barbecue's chefs slow-cook chicken and pulled pork until supple and tender, in addition to whipping up a slew of classic Southern side dishes from scratch. The expert barbecue bosses douse the supple meat in a toothsome tidal wave of homemade sauce, meticulously seasoned with spices and the tears of a magnolia. A parade of crispy fried chicken and hush puppies await rumbling tummies, and made-from-scratch sides such as coleslaw and potato salad duke it out for the title of best supporting comestible on the menu.