Hilton Head attracts more than 2 million visitors annually and that means it’s well-equipped to feed the crowds. The area is rich with white tablecloth establishments for world-class wining and dining, dozens of seafood restaurants with alluring water views and plenty of small cafes that offer good, affordable food. Of all these operations, there are a few that have solidified their place in local culinary lore with standout dishes that keep folks coming back for more. Here are 10 iconic Hilton Head eats to try next time you’re living on island time.
Iconic eat: Grouper melt
This casual, lively bar and grill has been a favorite haunt of locals for more than 35 years. Though there are lots of tempting menu options, locals say it’s the grouper melt for the win. Fried, grilled or blackened grouper lands on a brioche bun, where it gets a tantalizing topping of mushrooms, sauteed onions and melted cheese. Decadent and simply delicious. There’s a location in Bluffton, too, if you’re out that way.
Iconic eat: Dirty South Burger
If the idea of a chef-driven burger operation sounds intriguing, you better not miss the chance to discover just what it all means. With several “World Burger Championship” placings under its belt, CharBar is a winner. Though each and every burger is a work of art, the Dirty South Burger combines a mixed media of Southern goodies that have won over legions of local palates. CharBar’s signature beef blend patty is grilled and slathered with pimento cheese, and then crowned with red onions, tomato, pork belly, candied jalapeños and a tasty bourbon barbecue sauce. Served on a brioche bun, this super sandwich made the top 20 in the World Burger Championship. It is sure to make your list of top burgers, too.
Hudson’s Seafood House
Iconic eat: Hush puppies
This local institution, which began as an oyster processing plant in 1912, is a go-to spot for fresh seafood. Go ahead and order up fresh oysters, shrimp and fish, but beware: It will be tough to quit dipping into the complimentary hush puppies. To make matters worse, the hush puppies keep on coming. Served piping hot from the fryer, these golden, crispy-on-the-outside, tender-on-the-inside, savory-sweet nuggets get consistent rave reviews by all who snag a table at this popular restaurant. Slather them with butter or, for added zip, dunk in the accompanying remoulade sauce.
Jane’s Bistro and Bar
Iconic eat: Chicken salad
This charming bistro has the food chops to match the ambiance and that means you’re in for a dining treat. Among the expertly prepared soups, sandwiches and seafood dishes, the chicken salad has piqued the palates of customers who would order it by the gallon if they could. Made with toasted pecans and cranberries, this white meat chicken salad is served over fresh salad greens and sided with bread and fresh fruit for the ultimate light lunch or brunch option. Note: Chicken salad is not on the dinner menu, so plan accordingly.
Iconic eat: Banana pudding
It’s so hard to pick a favorite at this bastion of Lowcountry cookery. So, go ahead and indulge in their fabulous shrimp and grits, but make sure to finish up with the banana pudding. This homemade concoction, served in a Mason jar and topped with whipped cream, is the stuff of grandma’s Sunday supper table. Diners sometimes show up just to get a naner puddin’ fix. No doubt about it: Dinner at Lowcountry Backyard is not complete without a helping.
Poseidon Coastal Cuisine
Iconic eat: Tomato pie
Poseidon’s spin on this South Carolina classic delivers heavenly Italian flavor: fresh tomato, Parmesan, mozzarella, garlic and herbs baked in a flaky pie crust. Served brown and bubbly, it’s irresistible and luscious. Though offered as an appetizer, fans often order it as an entree and pair it with a house salad.
Ruby Lee’s South
Iconic eat: Oxtail stew
Part restaurant, part juke joint, Ruby Lee’s is where folks go for a taste of soul food and dishes with a Gullah influence. The oxtail stew is regularly lauded by customers as a rib-sticking wonder. Perfectly seasoned and cooked until the meat is melt-in-your-mouth tender, this dish gets extra heft from sides of white rice and collards.
Iconic eat: Sweet potato cornbread
This no-frills gem has been filling bellies since 1998 and is considered by many locals to serve the best seafood on Hilton Head Island. Visitors who don’t mind the humble digs will thank the culinary gods for this find. One of the best menu offerings, however, isn’t plucked from the ocean—it’s whipped up in the kitchen using a beloved recipe. The sweet potato cornbread is lightly spiced and cake-like, making it a darling of the Sea Shack crowd. You’ll be won over, too.
Skull Creek Boathouse
Iconic eat: Seafood chowder
By all accounts, this landmark waterfront restaurant makes a mean bowl of chowder. Even Northerners rave about the hearty, creamy soup brimming with shrimp, crab, fish, clams, scallops and potatoes. It’s so popular, you can get it by the pint or quart to enjoy back at your own digs. Pass the crackers.
Squat ‘n’ Gobble
Iconic eat: The Hangover
The name is funny, but the food is no-nonsense at Squat ‘n’ Gobble located in Old Town Bluffton. A favorite of the breakfast crowd, this is where locals go for a little restoration after a rousing night on the town. The Hangover—a bowl filled with grits, bacon, sausage, home fries, cheddar, tomatoes and eggs—is just what the doctor ordered for those morning-after slumps. Chow down and rejuvenate your mojo.