The Best Healthy Food in Charleston, SC

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    katepbryan
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    The Best Healthy Food in Charleston, SC
    Published: December 19, 2023

    It’s easy to think of the holidays as the season of indulgence, to see the last few weeks of the year as a glitter-studded time of hangovers and tight waistbands. We wanted to see if we could challenge that conception a bit. While we’re all for having a good time over here at Extra Chill, and it’s fun to relish all that December has to offer, we decided to look into dining options in Charleston that offer an experience good for both body and soul.

    Everybody has their own personal concept of what constitutes healthy eating, but there are a few parameters pretty universally agreed upon: fresh vegetables and less of the “bad” stuff: refined sugar, refined carbs, processed meats and fatty dairy.

    While the healthiest option is always to cook for yourself, it’s not always logistically feasible, and sometimes you just want to be fed. 

    The Challenges of Eating Healthy in Charleston, SC

    In Charleston, there is a veritable bounty of wonderful restaurants to choose from, but, if you have any health goals in mind, the options seem to shrink. You can always go on a menu scavenger hunt for the chef’s salad or a veggie plate at a restaurant that specializes in duck fat-laden fare, but it feels more welcoming to visit a place that has a special knack for making “healthy” food exciting and tasty enough to make even the most stringent burger eaters take pause.

    This is a journey that is personal for me. I experienced some health challenges this summer that left me searching for plant-based food in restaurants across town.

    Asking Health-Conscious Locals

    I decided to do some digging to find out where to eat in Charleston when you need something both healthy and delish, enlisting the help of two fellow health-minded locals: Hannah Burke, a photographer and owner of HCB Creative, a marketing and creative agency, and Rachel Hawes, a conservation and stewardship expert at the Coastal Conservation League.

    Burke follows an 80/20 lifestyle, meaning she chooses healthy foods 80% of the time, allowing for total freedom in the remaining 20% of her choices. 

    “This has been the best way to incorporate the nutrition I need but also not feel bad about the sweets,” said Burke.

    Hawes has been eating mostly vegetarian for over ten years.

    “[It is] crazy to say because initially, I just told friends that I was doing it for a month. Then one month turned into 6 months and now I’m at 10 years! I hardly even think about it,” Hawes said.

    “I mostly try to eat plant-based for health and environmental reasons,” she continues. “I think eating a diverse and abundance of whole foods like vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts, beans, healthy oils, etc. is the best for you, and my vice is still some dairy products. We’re all doing the best we can!”

    Where to Eat Healthy in Charleston, SC

    With these parameters in mind, here are our picks for where to eat in Charleston when you want to feed yourself something a little better for your body and feel damn good doing it.

    Huriyali

    This cafe/lunch spot made the top of all three of our lists. With locations on both Huger Street downtown and in Riverland Terrace on James Island, Huriyali is a convenient spot to grab fresh, plant-focused food like smoothies, bowls, juices, and salads.

    “Huriyali is my all time favorite place to eat,” said Burke. “All of their options are filling, healthy and delicious…we need more places like it!”

    Their attention to detail is unparalleled, with hand-made sauces and options for omnivores and vegans alike. My go-to is the Buddha Bowl, a flavor-packed dish of kale, soft, perfectly seasoned sweet potatoes, black beans, rice, seeds, and tangy sauce. If I’m feeling extra hungry, I grab the All Day Burrito, and it does, quite literally, keep me satiated all day long.

    Huriyali is the first place I ate after I got out of the hospital this summer and I still grab food from one of the locations at least once a week. I love sitting out on the lush, plant-filled porch at the James Island location. It’s a special spot that we are lucky to have in Charleston.

    Neon Tiger

    It wouldn’t be a list of alternative dining options in Charleston without mention of Neon Tiger, a dimly-lit, completely vegan restaurant tucked away on upper King Street. While I typically prefer plant-based meals that focus on letting the actual ruffage shine, Neon Tiger’s menu reads more like that of a “normal” burger restaurant, the trick being that all of the offerings are vegan.

    I ordered the buffalo “chicken” sandwich, and while not quite as crispy as the real deal, I can see how it would appeal to the more veggie-averse looking for a swap for their traditional comfort food. And the fries, (though not the “healthiest” option), were top-notch. 

    Basic Kitchen 

    Basic Kitchen is a cheerful lunch and dinner spot on Wentworth Street in downtown Charleston that focuses on fresh, seasonally-minded fare with a few beloved “cheats” (like their Naughty Burger). Everything on the menu is thoughtfully curated, each dish featuring layers of produce and spices and sauces that come together in a symphony of nourishment.

    While my usual order is the Basic Bowl (chock full of chickpeas, broccolini, kale, sweet potato, and an unexpected chimichurri), on my most recent visit, I switched it up with the Salmon Bowl and it did not disappoint. Think: perfectly cooked salmon, crisp cucumber, crunchy cabbage, shredded carrots and seaweed for extra color and texture all mingling with white rice and a luscious house-made mayo.

    This spot is also endlessly Instagram-able, so if you’re getting brunch, you’d better make a reservation in advance. 

    Jack of Cups Saloon

    Photo courtesy of @jackofcupssaloon

    While not every single thing on the menu is vegetarian-friendly or traditionally “healthy” at Jack of Cups Saloon on Folly Beach, you can bet there are plenty of dishes that fit that bill, and better yet, they’re bound to be creative, irreverent, and totally sensational. 

    “I don’t even want to say this because I don’t want it to get even more popular, but I love Jack of Cups,” said Hawes. “It’s my go-to. It’s a creative menu full of dishes that you wouldn’t/can’t make at home. Most of them are vegetarian-forward, and they rotate their menu seasonally.”

    Treats like their Black Garlic Shoyu Bucatini (pictured), with shoyu cream sauce, broccoli, carrot, green onion, celery, roasted garlic ricotta, and house-made chili crunch, are a wild ride for the tastebuds. 

    “I love eating at locations where I feel like I couldn’t make the meal myself, and Jack of Cups is definitely one of those places,” said Hawes.

    If you can’t make the trek all the way out to Folly, Jack of Cups is teaming up with beloved James Island watering hole/music venue the Charleston Pour House this winter, so you can snag some delicious goodness while listening to tunes on the deck.

    Chasing Sage

    Photo courtesy of @chasingsage

    If you’re looking to enjoy a special evening out without sacrificing quality ingredients, Chasing Sage should be on your dinner reservations list. This farm-to-table restaurant in the Cannonborough-Elliotborough neighborhood of downtown Charleston serves up carefully contemplated dishes that delight with their focus on local seasonal produce and ingredients from local purveyors.  

    “I love Chasing Sage when I need a night out but know I’m getting a healthier dinner,” said Burke. “With the majority of the menu being vegan friendly, I can enjoy the great tastes of seasonal produce without the dairy and meat accents.”

    Creations like this cold weather special (pictured) with Carolina gold rice, shrimp, caramelized carrot, turnip, parsnip, salsify, and chrysanthemum greens charm as much in their presentation as they do in flavor. A true “celebration of root vegetables,” as the restaurant’s Instagram declares. 

    The Evolving Landscape of Healthy Dining

    “When I started as a ‘mostly’ vegetarian 10 years ago, I would have to pre-read every menu before going out to dinner with friends to see if I needed to eat before. Now, it’s pretty much guaranteed that there will be at least one main dish for you,” said Hawes. 

    The same can (mostly) be said about vegan and gluten free options, though I think there is room for more restaurants to explore plant-focused options with culinary creativity. Each spot on this list stands to show how Charleston’s dining scene is evolving, but there remains opportunity for growth.

    “I would always love to see more health-focused restaurants prioritizing serving whole, plant-based foods from local produce. Supporting our local farmers and local produce is a must for decreasing our impact on the environment and supporting rural lands,” said Hawes.

    That being said, this is a short list, and there are bound to be some gems that we missed. If you have a favorite spot, email me 🙂 

    Here’s to more healthy eating adventures this holiday season!

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