Like enjoying the great outdoors or refusing to speak to certain family members during college football season, sitting down to a hearty meal at a meat n' three diner is a cherished pastime in the South. Compton's Kitchen has been celebrating this tradition of wholesome, hearty cuisine ever since Perry Compton opened up shop with his first batch of buttermilk biscuits back in 1977. At brunch and breakfast, guests sop up gravy with those same fluffy, made-from-scratch treats, or use them to sandwich slabs of fatback, thick-cut bacon, and country ham. Lunchtime brings feasts of ribeye sandwiches, pimento-cheese burgers, or plates of fried chicken and meatloaf joined by green beans, fried zucchini, and potato salad.
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 two sisters and a brother who run Tios Mexican Cafe and Cantina serve up Tex-Mex specialties such as barbecued tacos, mexican pizzas, and wet burritos smothered with mild enchilada sauce and cheese. They also cater to vegetarians with options such as the burrito-in-a-bowl, which is made with lard-free refried Beans and Daiya vegan cheese. Food isn’t the only reason to visit, though: the spot also houses a game room and a full bar with cocktails, beer, and 25 types of tequila.
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.
Father and son Ralph and Brooks Herring combine skilled southern-style cooking and flavorful sauce and seasonings into their addictive barbeque meals at Cock Pit Barbeque. Try the slow-smoked pulled pork, brisket, ribs, and hearty chicken bog, all with a side of Gamecocks Pride.
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.