Best Mexican Restaurant 
Santi’s Restaurante Mexicano

Photo via Santi’s Instagram @santisdowntown

The unassuming Mexican cantina at the corner of Morrison and Meeting on the upper peninsula brings the perfect blend of traditional Mexican cuisine and Mexican-American dishes to the Holy City. Opening up in 2003, when little else was going on in that part of downtown, restaurateur Santiago Zavalza introduced the Lowcountry to his childhood food — dishes from the Mexican state of Jalisco. Zavalza’s menu is subtle in its authenticity and its genius. This is the only place in town we’ve found where you can order a plate of traditional Mexican street- or American-style tacos and both knock everyone else’s out of the park. 

The early days weren’t easy, though. Zavalza publicized his restaurant with flyers and meager advertising, fighting against near-constant theft — the restaurant was robbed 15 times in the first eight weeks of opening. But once the popularity started growing, some of those hurdles disappeared — especially when former Charleston Mayor Joe Riley became a regular.

Now, the area is growing rapidly, with a looming housing development at the same corner dwarfing the small cantina. With Santi’s beginning to look smaller and smaller amid all the crazy growth, it seems they’ll eventually have to add a few stories — not only to seat all the pending hungry customers, but to compete for skyline space.


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