For the best meals, eat where the locals go. To help find those spots for you, I took former Charlestonian and Southern Living Senior Writer Donna Florio along for the bite. Our favorite spot proves "undiscovered" doesn't have to be new or expensive. Fulton Five has served up northern Italian food for the past 13 years. Begin with the warm and spicy bresaola, a salad of baby spinach, roasted garlic vinaigrette, and thinly shaved dried beef. Celadon-green walls and flattering light call for hushed, romantic conversations and big glasses of wine. The menu changes seasonally, but be sure to order a luscious dish to go with it all. The night I was there, I sampled the tonno alla griglia, a generous cut of caper-encrusted bluefin atop a creamy bed of sweet pea risotto, lightly coated with a roasted tomato-and-vodka sauce. For dessert try the dense, slightly crunchy pistachio ice cream. Its near-gelato texture gives a perfect Italian finish to the dinner. 5 Fulton Street; (843) 853-5555. Dinner entrées: $15-$32.
Local Favorite: Il Cortile del Re
This delightful spot, tucked into lower King Street, serves a rigatoni you should try. Spiced by a fiery tomato sauce and Romano cheese, it's simple but delicious. 193 King Street; (843) 853-1888. Dinner entrées: $12.50-$25.
The French have recently invaded Charleston on upper King Street, and they've brought with them a dish no self-respecting Southerner can resist: pommes frites "double-fried in duck fat." Don't tell your cardiologist about the dinner you have here--just go ahead and order the frites and a small plate of salty and delectable sausage. The mussels were plump, juicy, and doused in a garlicky white wine sauce made to be sopped with the contents of La Fourchette's bottomless basket of French bread. You could end the meal here with a glass of wine, but then you'd miss the insanely perfect beef tenderloin or the cozy lamb-duck-and-sausage cassoulet. Top off your dinner with the best cup of coffee in town--French-pressed, of course. 432 King Street; (843) 722-6261. Dinner entrées: $15-$22.
Lana Restaurant & Bar
Polished concrete floors and comfortable booths reflect the food here, which is both sophisticated and relaxed. A bowl of tangy marinated olives should be the first item you order. Friends who accompanied me adored the baccaula, a Spanish fish soup made with tomato and saffron. Moving on, the menu offers a variety of good lunch options, from crunchy sandwiches on panini to pastas such as the spaghetti puttanesca, a caper-and-olive delight in a decadent tomato sauce. Finish up with either the tartufo, if you are a fan of chocolate and coffee, or the refreshing iced granitas in tropical flavors--both are well suited to a hot afternoon. 210 Rutledge Avenue; (843) 720-8899. Lunch entrées: $7.95-$11.50.
"Undiscovered Charleston" is from the July 2006 issue of Southern Living. Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.