Top Places to Eat Gluten Free (safely) in Charleston, SC
Charleston, in case you haven’t heard, is a bit of a foodie town. You will generally find high-quality ingredients (many farm-to-table) and excellent flavor combinations, for a decent price. It’s also in the south, meaning, you will find a lot of shrimp and grits as one of the only gluten free options listed. However, as far as dining gluten free in the south, Charleston does a much better job than many surrounding areas.
This list highlights my favorite restaurants in Charleston that will not only serve good tasting food, but also have a celiac’s best interest in mind. In general, these are in order (within each category) of my personal experiences and likelihood to return, from most positive to least. I am always updating, so check back often!
Charleston definitely disappoints when it comes to breakfast options, but this isn’t surprising since breakfast tends to be the most difficult meal to find gluten free options for. Don’t be discouraged, I promise it gets better as the day goes on! Check out Corey’s Grilled Cheese all day any day (see below) and the Fat Hen on Sunday for brunch (see below). The only other place I have found is Another Broken Egg Cafe (GF pancakes & bread), but unfortunately had a very disappointing experience there and cannot consider it “safe.” Another option is to bring your own oatmeal and prepare it with hot water in your hotel room! Check it out.
Corey’s Grilled Cheese: James Island + foodtruck
Website Looking for a gluten free sandwich on the way to the beach? Head over to Corey’s Grilled Cheese on James Island. It’s a great place to stop and grab something to go on your way to Folly Beach (or Kiawah). They serve breakfast all day and definitely have dine-in seating as well, but don’t go for stellar, fast service. You’ll find more than just grilled cheese here – toppings like apples, avocado, goat cheese, marshmallow fluff, and nutella. When ordering, note that you are gluten free and they will write “allergy: Gluten” on the tab in the computer. Being dairy free, I order the BLT (and often sub bacon for turkey) and get sweet potato fries without parmesan on top. So yummy!
Sticky Fingers: Several locations
Website Sticky Fingers Smokehouse (my review) is a bbq chain restaurant with many gluten free options to choose from. My experience came with a very knowledgeable waitress and even a visit from the manager without requesting it. You can find wings (baked if you specifically ask, so they don’t fry them in the gluten fryer), meat platters (chicken, pork, brisket, ribs) and a variety of southern sides and sauces on the separate gluten free menu. It’s a convenient place to stop in many areas around South Carolina (also in NC, TN, FL, and GA!) with a family friendly atmosphere.
Sesame Burgers and Beer: West Ashley, Mt. Pleasant, North Charleston
Website This hoppin’ joint at the Citadel Mall (and other locations around town) serves up some creative burgers on Udi’s buns, alongside safe regular and sweet potato fries. They recently added dedicated fryers sometime in 2014 so make sure the location you visit uses a gf fryer. Unique finds? The Memphis: Peanut butter (made in house), bacon & banana. Others incorporate grilled pineapples, fig and bacon jam, and a red wine reduction. Personally, I go for the build your own burger with a side of steak fries and sweet potato fries (sans parmesan)… because yes, both fries are necessary.
Persimmon Cafe: Downtown
Website Walk in and be surprised – this is a laundry mat slash sandwich shop – so different! I have only dined here once but they took my order incredibly seriously and wrote allergy on the ticket, understanding that “celiac” meant business. They were super aware and really made me feel safe here. When I got my wrapped sandwich, the paper had “GF” written on it. Super friendly staff! Sandwiches, Paninis, Soups, Custard, Fancy Drinks, GF cookies. I grabbed a sandwich with roasted chicken, but look forward to trying the butternut squash one soon!
Brown Dog Deli: Downtown
Website Typical sandwich shop, with whole grain Udi’s gluten free bread & gf salad dressings. I’m not so sure how well they handle cross contamination, so this definitely wouldn’t be my first pick for someone with celiac. However, each visit the waiters do seem to know a thing or two about gluten free. What you will find is a typically a decently long line at lunch due to the HUGE variety of options for sandwiches, most easily made GF. Don’t get your heart set on the wraps (like I did) because some are tricky to make GF. They do not have hot dog buns. My favorite is a dairy-free version of the PBR.
Chico Feo: Folly Beach
Website This is a cute spot for outside dining in a bathing suit coverup midday at the beach. Most tables are in the shade, but with the humidity in the south, don’t expect a ton of relief from the heat as you would in an air-conditioned place like Taco Boy. Most people stop in for a cold brew, but the tacos aren’t bad either. Expect a verrrrry relaxed staff. It feels safe here because there really isn’t much gluten present with an especially limited menu. I was actually told there isn’t any gluten in the restaurant (aside from beer). Choose from fish, pork, or chicken tacos, and beans and rice with or without goat cheese. Drinks: Coke, beer, and water (sorry diet coke drinkers – no such luck). It’s not well marked, but get to 2nd St and Ashley Ave and look for the blue building with a yellow sign (across 2nd St. from Bert’s Market convenience store) and head out back for dine-in eating.
Taco Boy: Folly and Downtown
Website Another Folly Beach stop, Taco Boy is a Charleston chain that can also be found downtown. Staff are not especially knowledgeable but they do know what gluten is and make an attempt. “While we will do all we can to accommodate guests with food intolerances and allergies, we are unable to guarantee that dishes will be completely allergen-free.” No dedicated fryer, so chips are not gf. It’s not bad, but being from Arizona, it’s hard to compete when it comes to tacos. So, sorry if I sound a little unenthusiastic 😉 Ask for corn tortillas!
5 Loaves Cafe: Downtown
Website For some reason, Charleston has a lot of sandwich shops with gluten free bread. I feel like this is just another one of those. I have been twice and neither time was especially impressed. Some people will rave about this place though, so it’s another option.
The Fat Hen: John’s Island
Website My absolute favorite dinner restaurant in Charleston (and possibly anywhere, ever) is The Fat Hen (my review) on John’s Island. This restaurant features a unique “Lowcountry French Cuisine” with a chef who definitely knows what he’s doing. This farm-to-table dinner spot (and brunch on Sundays) will leave your tastebuds feeling satisfied and your intestines happy. They are GIG certified and staff is not only well-trained and knows the deal with gluten/celiac, but they are always friendly and attentive. I just can’t tell you how much I love this place. My favorite dish: The Rib with Pomme Frites.
Slightly North of Broad (SNOB): Downtown
Website On Bay, North of Queen St (and yes, a little north of Broad St) you will find an elegant, relatively dark restaurant with tables close together, several people waiting in the lobby area, and very fancy lighting. If this doesn’t sound appealing to you, make a reservation ahead of time and you will also find a very tasty menu with waiters who will get food restrictions right, consistently. If you can’t get in, head across the street to High Cotton (same parent company, very similar menu). My favorite dish: Vegetable Plate (I know it sounds boring, but they do an amazing job with vegetables here… really). My friends have enjoyed many dishes and are always hugely satisfied. Check out my review.
Edmund’s Oast: Downtown
This “brew pub” is not the first place you would think to go for gluten free. Despite the wall of beers of tap (more than I have ever seen!) the restaurant’s head chef is talented at his trade and his fiancé is gluten intolerant. She also happens the be the pastry chef, who used to own the only gluten free bakery in town (which recently closed), Sweet Radish. The restaurant is a little off-the-beaten-path for the downtown area, but trust me, it’s a spot you don’t want to miss! Check out my review.
Charleston Crab House: James Island and Downtown
Website Want to watch the sunset on the water? The James Island location is your spot. Call ahead for a reservation if you want to sit outside and get the best table. The Charleston Crab House has a separate gluten free menu* that changes often but usually has: peel & eat shrimp, oysters, mussels, various crab, salmon, tuna, mahi, shrimp & grits, and of course salads. For the seafood haters, they have grilled chicken tenders and ribeye. Note: The menu highlights changes that need to be made on several dishes to make them GF. The servers aren’t incredibly educated, but have the menus to refer to and there is a statement on the menu stating that they are always willing to learn. I go for the peel n’ eat shrimp appetizer and Alaskan Snow Crab! Call for Reservations
*Update 4/18/15: They no longer have a separate gluten free menu. I was told that a restaurant downtown was sued because someone got sick, so the Crab House (not sued) has decided to take their menu away. Please, please don’t sue these restaurants people… it’s makes it harder for us to dine safely as more and more take their menus away. Anyway, just talk to your waiter and they should be able to guide you. I have also attached a small (click to enlarge) photo of the old gf menu below to help you even more. There is some debate about whether or not the Old Bay seasoning is GF so just ask them to leave it off (the peel n’ eat shrimp, for example).
Gilligan’s Seafood Restaurant: John’s Island
Website On your way back from Botany Bay, stop by Gulligan’s for some fresh seafood with a gluten free menu! Our waitress was very informed and super nice. They have charming outside seating, that isn’t on the water, but is across from a great farmers market/ craft stand. Dairy Free? They will offer olive oil instead of butter for the crab. It’s definitely not the same, but a nice DF option!
Website This is a chain in several states across the country, but the only location in Charleston is in Mt. Pleasant. The feeling is similar to an Outback (which you will find in West Ashley) and prices are comparable, so it’s not as expensive as many of the dinner restaurants I have listed. Burton’s has a separate GF menu that is GIG certified and it is extensive. I am very impressed with their options, including firecracker shrimp (holy yum!) and the chicken risotto, which they are able to make dairy free for me! The GF menu I just found online looks different than what I was handed at the restaurant the two times I have been, so it may have changed, but they will hand you a copy in person. You will find seafood options, alongside burgers (no bun), salads, steaks & meat entrees. Staff is always well informed and fries are safe!
Charleston Grill: Downtown
Website Very, Very fancy restaurant with high prices. However, that being said, with the high prices comes special treatment and piece of mind. GF dinner rolls, GF buns, and GF bread. Quiet place, so it’s a great spot for meals where you want to be able to hear your other guests. It is definitely fancy food and normally I wouldn’t enjoy (or be able to eat) much of their menu besides vegetables, (really? no chicken entree?) but they did have chicken in the back and prepared a chicken dish for me. Small menu, but great service.
I do not recommend Husk (despite having to make a reservation a month in advance). The waiter we had was one of the worst, ever, and for there being so much hype, I was immensely disappointed with the options. Also, Hello My Name is BBQ is a food truck that I had heard had gluten free. I walked up in July of 2014 and the staff told me everything is cooked in beer, so nothing is gluten free.
Places I have not been, but plan to try:
Mustard Seed Basil (Thai) Glass Onion Wild Olive (Italian) Red Orchids China Bistro Swamp Fox Restaurant & Bar