When I moved to Charleston five and a half years ago, Spring Street was mainly comprised of College of Charleston student housing, with the exception of a few small restaurants that were within a college student’s price range. In the span of the recent years since moving here, I’ve gotten to see Spring Street transform into one of the most eclectic streets in Charleston. The street has grown into a mecca for unique, handmade goods and some of the most ethnic food downtown Charleston has seen. Though the food has gotten a bit more upscale and in some cases, a bit more pricey, I’ve found ways to explore Spring Street’s new-found ethnicity, without having to worry about overspending.
1. ALWAYS get the Okonomiyaki at Xiao Bao Biscuit.
Xiao Bao Biscuit has been around for quite some time. In fact, it was open while Spring Street was a bustling crowd of college kids, but was not nearly as appreciated as it is now. Xiao Bao was one of the first few restaurants I visited when I moved to Charleston and has since become one of my go-to spots whenever I’ve got that spicy Asian food craving. For utmost affordability and palate-satisfying cuisine at Xiao Bao, ordering the Okonomiyaki is a must. The menu at this restaurant is always changing, but the Okonomiyaki is one item that is always there. This dish is essentially a very large pancake that is made out of cabbage, fried to crispy perfection, and is topped with a variety of tangy and spicy sauces. The dish costs $13, which might sound hefty at first, but when you realize that it’s big enough to split between multiple people, it makes this dish a pretty good deal. Not to mention, its delicious. You also have the option to add pork candy, bacon, or an egg for a few dollars extra (highly recommended to add all three!).
2. Get transported to Paris at Coquin.
Coquin opened just a few weeks ago and does not fail to please. This restaurant is owned and operated by just two people who both share of love of Parisian cuisine and the city itself. They both have spent a lot of time exploring Paris and wanted to bring the cuisine of a typical French cafe and bar to Charleston. You might be thinking “oh man, this place sounds fancy and expensive” but FEAR NOT! Coquin offers happy hour from 5-7, Monday-Thursday from 5-8pm and Friday-Saturday from 5-7pm. During these times they have select tapas, wine and beer for just $5. They also serve up delicious frose for just $6. Even if you don’t make it to happy hour, most of their tapas cost less than $10 and they definitely don’t skimp out on the bread! Coquin is open for breakfast, during which they serve a variety of pastries and coffee, as well as lunch, during which they serve up baguette sandwiches.
3. Eat authentic Spanish paella at Estadio.
Just last week, Estadio opened on Spring Street, and it couldn’t be a more high quality addition. Estadio’s chef, Alex Lira spent three weeks in Spain, traveling and eating at various kitchens throughout San Sebastian and Madrid. He is now bringing everything he learned about Spanish cooking to Estadio. Estadio is known for its traditional Spanish tapas, such as pan con tomate, patatas bravas, and ham croquetas, but also offers exceptional paella. Estadio offers a seafood paella, which costs about $28, but is enough food to feed about 4-5 people. Its full of fresh ingredients and rich, tangy and spicy flavors. If you’re not quite hungry enough for the paella, I would opt for a few dishes off their “pintxos and aperitivos” section of the menu. Most of these items cost just a measly $2 and end up being the perfect thing to snack on. I highly recommend getting their Boletus toast, which is toasted bread topped with a mushroom mousse. It only costs $2.50 and will wow your taste buds.
4. Feast on the taco lunch special at Pink Cactus.
Pink Cactus opened a few months ago next to the Veggie Bin and brings extra authentic cuisine from Oaxaca, Mexico to Charleston. This restaurant specializes in moles and a masa corn grinding method, used in their tortilla making. If you go for lunch, you can get a great sampling of these freshly made masa corn tortillas with their $12 taco special. This special gets you 2 tacos of your choice, a side of rice and refried beans, as well as a glass of agua fresca. This is truly a great bang for your buck, and will have you leaving full and satisfied. I would say its even enough food to feed two people, which makes it even more of a great deal.
5. Get your sushi fix at Poke San during happy hour.
Located on the corner of St. Phillip and Spring Street, this quaint and casual family-run sushi restaurant is serving up some great, freshly rolled sushi. The restaurant offers half-off all sushi rolls during their happy hour from 5-7pm on Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Yes, that means you can get a sushi roll for just $3! The sushi is made with lots of love and great flavors and will not disappoint. I highly recommend the tropical tempura roll, which you can get for just $5 during happy hour and is made with tempura shrimp, spicy crab, asparagus, cream cheese, mango, scallion, sweet soy glaze, spicy mayo and a mango spice. It’s truly a fantastic fusion of spicy and tropical flavors.
I hope you get the chance to explore all the ethnic foods Spring Street has to offer. It’s truly refreshing to see Charleston starting to branch off from its typical southern food fare and bring some new and exciting flavors to the city. Let me know which place is your fav! Bon Appetit!