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Iconic Foods of South Carolina and Where to Try Them

Shrimp and Grits dish from Hook & Barrel in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

Have a meeting in South Carolina? Don’t leave the state without sampling some of its most iconic foods, like pimento cheese, oysters, shrimp and grits and more. 

Pimento Cheese

Pimento cheese dip. Credit: Forrest Clonts
Pimento cheese dip, Columbia, South Carolina. Credit: Forrest Clonts

Sharp cheddar, mayonnaise and chopped pimentos. It may be simple on its face, but this Southern spread has a passionate following in South Carolina and neighboring states. Spread it on crackers, throw it on a biscuit sandwich or even bake it onto a pizza—there are seemingly endless ways to enjoy the famous snack. 

“You’ll be hard-pressed to find a menu in Columbia that doesn’t feature pimento cheese,” said Dayna Cantelmi, communications manager for Experience Columbia SC. “Columbia is home to one of the earliest recorded recipes of the signature Southern snack dating back to 1912, and in 1954, J.C. Reynolds of the now-closed Dairy Bar was the first person to put pimento cheese on a burger.” 

Where to Try It 

If you’re in Columbia, don’t limit yourself to trying pimento cheese at one establishment. The CVB has actually created a gamified Pimento Cheese Passport that helps visitors explore the snack through 16 restaurants and bars in town—there’s even a vegan option. 

In Myrtle Beach, The Hangout restaurant—which features full-service dining and a courtyard with a sand pile, foam pit, games, retail shopping, stages for live music and more—serves pimento cheese as an appetizer or atop a burger, complemented by bacon jam, lettuce and tomato. 

You’ll be hard-pressed to find a restaurant that doesn’t serve up pimento cheese in Charleston. For a tasty twist, go to Miller’s All Day and try its signature fried chicken sandwich with pimento cheese and pepper jam. 

[Related: Historic Buildings in Columbia, South Carolina, That Are Elegant Event Venues]

Shrimp and Grits 

Shrimp and grits from Tavern & Table in Shem Creek, South Carolina
Shrimp and grits, Tavern & Table, Shem Creek, South Carolina. Credit: Danielle LeBreck

Considered a classic Lowcountry dish originating in coastal Carolina, nearly every restaurant will have some sort of iteration of shrimp and grits on their menus. According to food writer Robert Moss for Serious Eats, it started as “shrimps and hominy.” (“Hominy” being the term Charlestonians used for cooked grits until after World War II). “It was a breakfast dish, and some Charlestonians ate it every morning during shrimp season, which runs from June until October,” Moss wrote. “Back then, it was made with ‘creek shrimp,’ the small, sweet-flavored immature shrimp that were caught in hand nets in the tidal creeks that snake through the Lowcountry marshes.” 

Where to Try It 

Start in Charleston, the suspected origins of the classic dish, at Poogan’s Porch, the city’s oldest independent dining establishment in a restored Victorian home on historic Queen Street. Or, go across the bridge to nearby Mount Pleasant, where you can watch the shrimp boats come in with their bounty while eating at Tavern & Table with its dressed-up recipe featuring shallot cream sauce, chorizo, cherry tomatoes and aleppo pepper. 

Myrtle Beach’s coastal location promises memorable shrimp and grits, too. Hook & Barrel offers a smoked version of shrimp and grits, or venture more inland to Columbia, where Blue Marlin’s shrimp and grits is a local favorite, rivaled in town only by those prepared by Midlands’, the Downtown Columbia Marriott’s in-house restaurant. 

Oysters and Other Seafood

Seafood boil in Myrtle Beach
Seafood boil. Credit Visit Myrtle Beach​​​

Raw oysters, she-crab soup and seafood boils are all commonplace in South Carolina. To travel here is to embark on a top-notch seafood eating adventure. From small oyster houses to event-friendly restaurants, there are many places to enjoy all of the state’s bounty from the sea. 

Where to Try It 

Just 13 miles south of Myrtle Beach, Murrells Inlet is a small waterfront fishing village on the south end of the Grand Strand with one of the richest histories in South Carolina. Today, the Murrells Inlet Historic District is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and is colloquially known as the “Seafood Capital of South Carolina.” 

“The Murrells Inlet MarshWalk is always popular with groups as they can break up and go back and forth between restaurants as they enjoy the live music, great waterfront views and local crafts being sold along the MarshWalk,” said Bob Harris, executive vice president of sales for Visit Myrtle Beach. “Some of the groups also take advantage of the local eco tours and sunset cruises prior to dinner in that area.”   

Stroll through the MarshWalk and stop at The Hot Fish Club, which is one of the oldest restaurants on the Grand Strand, having been in operation since the 1700s, or opt for a decadent seafood platter and shrimp and crab fondue at the iconic Drunken Jack’s. 

Oysters in Charleston are a must. Amen Street and Raw Bar features a comprehensive oyster selection with over 20 varieties from local suppliers and sources along the East Coast. You’ll also find daily raw bar selections such as local clams, tuna carpaccio and shrimp ceviche. Delaney Oyster Bar in historic downtown offers fresh oysters and signature martinis in a historic Charleston home. 

Meeting at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center? Slurp up some oysters on the half shell from Pearlz or The Oyster Bar, both located just a block up from the facility. 

[Related: Outdoor Teambuilding Activities in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina]

Fried Chicken

Southern brunch spread with fried chicken and waffles
Southern brunch spreaf featuring fried chicken and waffles, Columbia, South Carolina. Credit: Forrest Clonts

Ask locals in South Carolina where you can get the best fried chicken and you’re likely to witness a spirited debate. This beloved food has become so popular over the years that multiple fast-food chains have made their fortunes on the dish, but there’s nothing quite like the recipes from the independent restaurants in the South that have made it their own. 

Where to Try It 

Columbia prides itself on its fried chicken prowess, with several places in town that are must-tries.  Every Tuesday, Spotted Salamander fixes a unique weekly fried chicken sandwich that sells out fast (so arrive early, if you want a chance to try it!). Drake’s Duck-In has been serving its fried chicken since 1907, while Zesto of West Columbia has served its famous “broasted” chicken for more than 73 years. “When it comes to chicken and waffles, there’s simply no contest. Kiki’s Chicken & Waffles is the place to go,” Cantelmi added.  

Magnolia’s in Charleston has been serving upscale versions of Southern classics for more than 30 years. Its buttermilk fried chicken breast dish is served with other South Carolina staples like mashed potatoes, collard greens, creamed corn, cracked pepper biscuit and sausage herb gravy. 


War Mouth Barbecue Dinner spread
War Mouth barbecue dinner spread, Columbia, South Carolina. Credit: Crush Rush

Barbecue is serious business in the South, and it all comes down to the sauce. In the Carolinas, lines are drawn—with mustard-based sauces reigning supreme in South Carolina, while North Carolina locations prefer vinegar and pepper (and especially in eastern North Carolina). “We specialize in pulled pork ’que smothered in a golden mustard-based sauce. A healthy dose of brown sugar balances it out, resulting in a product that’s both sweet and tangy,” Cantelmi noted. 

Where to Try It 

The War Mouth, Railroad BBQ, Doc’s Barbeque and Palmetto Pig Bar-B-Q are all Columbia options where attendees can partake in pulled pork, ribs and more. In Charleston, venture to James Beard Award-winning chef Rodney Scott’s Whole Hog BBQ to sample whole-hog barbecue cooked under live coal direct heat. Try the original whole hog pork sandwich with sweet barbecue or vinegar pepper barbecue sauce. 


Experience Columbia SC  

Explore Charleston  

Visit Myrtle Beach  

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About the author
Danielle LeBreck | Senior Content Director

Danielle started at Meetings Today in March 2019 after seven years of editorial experience in the travel and food industries. She oversees all of the destination content for Meetings Today and collaborates with the team on digital content strategy and content marketing initiatives.