Dining in the year 2020 wasn’t what anyone expected, but it led many to expand their palates — sometimes out of sheer boredom. From top takeout to red rice and pimento cheese-filled egg rolls, these are the meals our writers remember most from the past 12 months.
Formaggio and champignon pizza Neon Tiger
Anyone who knows me will tell you that I am about the farthest thing from vegan, but Neon Tiger convinced me to be vegan for at least one meal. If you’re obsessed with mushrooms like I am, this pizza will blow you away. Although it’s purely plant-based, it has such a rich texture and earthy flavor.
Frito pie, Blackout Burger
Hangover food is my love language, so Blackout Burger was a must try this year. Not only are the burgers bangin’, but the Frito pie stole the show for me. There’s nothing wrong with crispy Fritos smothered in chili, special sauce, pickles and pickled jalapenos. The acidity and spiciness of the jalapenos and pickles cuts through the rich chili, and you end up with the perfectly balanced bite.
Queso fundido, Pink Cactus
The best discovery of this year for me was Pink Cactus’ “taco and tequila hour,” which runs from 3-6 p.m. Monday through Saturday. The queso fundido is only $5 during happy hour and is the perfect accompaniment to a spicy margarita. The melty and slightly crispy cheese combined with the honey and poblanos is spicy, sweet, creamy heaven.
The Lowcountry, Bodega at Uptown Social
I don’t think breakfast sandwiches can ever be too big, and Bodega fits the bill for a hearty meal to kick off your day. The homemade sausage and gravy makes for such a savory and rich sandwich, while the homemade kaiser roll maintains the structure of the hefty sandwich and prevents sogginess.
Pineapple tea, Nana’s Uptown
As a Southerner, I believe my tastebuds are more than equipped to know a good sweet tea when I taste it. So, trust me when I say that spending $13 on a gallon of Nana’s pineapple tea is not only worth the investment, it’s a necessity for anyone in Charleston who considers themselves a foodie. Or sweet tea enthusiast. I’m looking at you, town of Summerville.
Soul rolls, Gillie’s Seafood & Soul
I don’t even eat pork. In fact, the only meat I’ve purposefully ingested since 2016 has been of the seafood variety. The one exception is the soul roll from Gillie’s on James Island. The soul roll is essentially an egg roll stuffed with red rice, collard greens, pimento cheese and pulled pork. Backsliding never tasted so good.
Shrimp and grits biscuit, Vicious Biscuit
The shrimp and grits from Vicious Biscuit combines two things most Charlestonians love — shrimp and grits and buttery biscuits — into one delicious and nap-inducing meal. I get mine without the bacon, but the blackened shrimp more than makes up for that. And I don’t know what kind of cheese they use to make the grits so cheesy, but whatever it is, I 100% approve.
Omu rice bowl, Jackrabbit Filly
Growing up, I ate plenty of eggs and rice for breakfast, but never like this. Vegetable fried rice topped with a soft omelette and hollandaise sauce will put you in one of the best food comas. What better way to spend a Sunday than to wake up, eat and go right back to sleep? Pro tip: get some karaage with it, too. You won’t regret it.
Tacos, El Molino Supermarket
If you’re looking for a quick, cheap and delicious lunch option, El Molino Supermarket’s taqueria is where you want to go. The tacos are simple — protein (barbacoa, pastor and carne asada, to name a few), onions and cilantro, with a side of salsa, radish and cucumber slices. It doesn’t sound like much, but damn is it filling. And of course, they have Taco Tuesdays too, offering 15 tacos for just $25.
“Tom Kha-uliflower” gnocchi, Jack of Cups Saloon
A happy little accident turned culinary innovation, this Thai/Italian mashup dish was created when co-owner and chef Lesley Carroll accidently combined that night’s Tom Kha broth with the parmesan cauliflower soup — and I’m so glad she did. This hearty gnocchi dish was packed with big flavors balanced out by the topping of fresh radish, cucumber and green onion.
Fried shrimp, Neon Tiger
It may not sound like the most revolutionary dish, but this fried shrimp isn’t even real shrimp — and it’s one of the best new things I’ve tried all year. A much welcomed all-vegan addition to the Charleston restaurant scene, Neon Tiger does it right with konjac shrimp that tastes like the real deal. I could honestly eat this every day and be happy. After experiencing this star of the limited opening menu, I can’t wait to head back and taste the creations they’ve recently rolled out on the full menu.
Chicken biryani with raita, Ma’am Saab
Ma’am Saab owner Maryam Ghaznavi’s Pakistani cuisine is one of a kind, and I quickly learned that it travels well, leading to weekly takeout orders from her stall at Workshop. Her biryani combines chicken thighs with silky basmati rice, but the raita — a yogurt-based dipping sauce — takes it over the top. The biryani ($16) is so big that it usually serves as dinner one night and lunch the next day.
P237 burger, Purlieu
There aren’t a lot of takeout options in the Westside downtown neighborhood where I live, but the ones we do have were lifesavers earlier this year. Purlieu — now temporarily closed — was a favorite of mine in the spring. Call me crazy for putting a burger on a list of takeout favorites, but executive chef John Zucker and his staff found a way to keep the burger juicy and shoestring fries crispy each and every time.
General Tso’s chicken, Kwei Fei
Kwei Fei’s Cantonese menu was filled with nostalgia-inducing dishes that brought me right back to Sesame Inn, my favorite Chinese takeout restaurant in Pittsburgh where I grew up. I had a couple of go-to’s on the limited-time menu Kwei Fei ran in August, but chef David Schuttenberg’s crispy, saucy General Tso’s chicken hit the spot every time.
Traditional dumplings, Sarah’s Dumps
Sarah’s Dumps come frozen and packaged, so technically speaking, this doesn’t count as takeout — it’s even better than that. Owner Sarah Williams-Scalise and her husband Nathan make hundreds of dumplings each week before delivering — or stoop dropping, as they call it — with dipping sauce and cooking instructions. There’s always a bag in my freezer.
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