Fresh local ingredients go from casual to formal in this coastal South Carolina town.

Mount Pleasant, South Carolina

Authentic Lowcountry
Beautiful Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, just over the bridge from Charleston, may be peppered with strip malls, but it also boasts locally owned restaurants that deliver some of the area's best flavors.

Dinner at Gullah Cuisine is like going home for "food that speaks to ya." Upon entering the cute little house, you're welcomed like family. Owners Frank and Charlotte Jenkins, natives of the area, share their passion for preserving Gullah foodways in all operations of the kitchen and dining room. Tender, slightly sweet cornbread muffins excite your appetite while you look over the menu. Start with one of five soups: she-crab, black bean, fish head, okra, and okra gumbo. Their signature dish, Gullah Rice, is available as a side or an entrée. A luscious tumble of sausage, shrimp, peppers, and rice, this delicious concoction tastes like gumbo without the liquid. Fried flounder comes to the table still sizzling, and you can have your rib-eye steak grilled over charcoal or in a skillet. Be sure to check the chalkboard for daily specials. A lunch buffet is available Monday through Friday. 1717 State 17 North, Mount Pleasant; (843) 881-9076. Entrées: $5.99-$17.99.

Coco's Cafe
This great French bistro makes you feel as if you've just stepped in off a street in Paris. The intimate seating arrangement--small tables against a single banquette--inspires lively conversations with other guests. While I savored every bite of Le Champignon Aux Trois Fromage (a portobello mushroom on mashed potatoes topped with mixed vegetables, three cheeses, balsamic glaze, and matchstick fries), the couple at the next table raved about the pan-fried flounder with brown butter sauce. So I ordered that too. The rich sauce really highlights the fresh sweetness of the flounder. The daily lunch menu offers soup or salad, entrée, and a drink, including wine or domestic beer, for $9.95. 863 Houston Northcutt Boulevard, Mount Pleasant; (843) 881-4949. Entrées: $7.95-$17.95.

J. B!stro
Food here is comfortable and uncomplicated. The first unexpected pleasure is the addition of celery and carrot stick crudités served in a bucket along with wonderful homemade breads. The selection of appetizers includes plump bamboo-steamed lobster won tons and equally delicious grilled chicken spring rolls.

Another favorite is Southern Fried Breast of Chicken with chowchow and garlic whipped potatoes. The chef's creamy grits make just the right bed for crisp, golden pecan-crusted catfish fillets. This is comfort food with a new attitude.

Their fabulous á la carte Sunday brunch includes Open-Faced Seafood Omelet, Double Cut Brioche French Toast, Grilled Salmon Over Yellow Grits, and Traditional Eggs Benedict with home fries. 819 Coleman Boulevard, Mount Pleasant; (843) 971-7778. Entrées: $8-$24.

Langdon's Restaurant and Wine Bar
You have to look for this one, but it's worth the search (call for directions). Chef Patrick Owens creates such a terrific appetizer selection that it's hard to choose. My favorites were Sautéed Shrimp Over Crispy Polenta Cake, Chipotle Seared Ahi Tuna, and Black Skillet Tenderloin Medallions over baby greens. I loved the perfectly cooked lamb chops with roasted fingerling potatoes. In less than a year, this four-diamond restaurant has attracted devoted regulars. The wine list is user-friendly--descriptive categories with some menu suggestions. 778 South Shelmore Boulevard, Mount Pleasant; (843) 388-9200. Entrées: $10-$26.

This article is from the July 2004 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.