Five Hilton Head Restaurants to Hit Up on Your Beach Vacation
With over 42 miles of expansive beaches, generous bike paths and friendly eateries, Hilton Head Island is South Carolina's most genial travel destination. A perfectly designed blend of tranquility and action, its simplicity is everything you want in a low country vacation. Last month, my husband and I bummed, biked and ate our way across the island, filling up on fresh fish, fried everything and the coziest comfort food our Miami estómagos could handle. Here are our top picks.
Plantation Café and Deli
With two locations (north and south) and a 44-year island legacy, Plantation Café is Southern breakfast at its finest. Resembling an old-fashioned diner with oversized menus, checkered tablecloths and packets of half-and-half, this place is anything but fancy. The secret to success is simple: eggs, hash browns and big, buttery biscuits, topped off with an endless supply of hot coffee. I ordered the Vegetarian Skillet Breakfast with three scrambled eggs, shredded hash browns, grilled veggies and globs of melted cheddar; accompanied by a hot buttermilk biscuit with just enough butter to set the paradigm for all Southern bread baskets. For lighter fare, head over to Watusi Café, as Plantation Café's "On the Lite Side" menu features pared down versions of country fried breakfasts, fried green tomatoes and biscuits and gravy. Substance is the word at this mom and pop shop so leave your diets at the door.
Santa Fe Café
Santa Fe Café is a 22-year old island staple, centrally located in the middle of William Hilton Parkway. Warm, cozy and incandescent with Southwestern flair, the two-story cantina offers a unique sanctuary in contrast to the typical dockside seafood shacks emblematic of island life. The restaurant décor is stylish, yet unobtrusive with subtle desert-tones, warm woods and dynamic textures, while the rooftop cantina exudes a more relaxed feel with a cozy oak fireplace and live music. The food is hearty and colorful with untraditional twists on Mexican classics like red-pepper crab cakes and a goat-cheese filled chile relleno. I always start with the Painted Desert Soup - made of sweet corn, red pepper and molé, intricately woven together to depict a desert landscape, which is as fun to photograph as it is to stir up in your bowl. Another notable appetizer is the Shrimp Cocktail featuring Mesquite grilled jumbo shrimp as grande in flavor as they are in size. As far as entreés go, the Herb-Roasted Free Range Chicken earns its $23 price tag - accompanied by seductive jalapeño cornbread stuffing, creamy roasted garlic mashed potatoes and a grilled vegetable medley. Pair with a spicy Tanteo Jalapeño tequila margarita with Organic Agavé Nectar and crispy Mexican churros, for a sensory-rich dinner that justifies the investment.
807 William Hilton Pkwy #700, Hilton Head Island, SC 29928| (843)-785-3838
Nestled in the middle of a suburban-style strip mall, Okko is Hilton Head's best model of contemporary Asian cuisine. Hidden behind a branded window wrap, the moody chop house is dimly lit and accented with iridescent hues of blue and purple. Patrons can choose to sit at the lively hibachi counter, among middle aged party goers at the bar or in the subdued dining room. The Wonton Soup offers a solid foundation with a comforting broth and substantive pork dumplings. I like to pair the soup with steamed Shrimp Shumai; bite-sized and firm with a slightly sweet ponzu sauce. For the carb-fearing man, the Perfect Naruto Roll is the ultimate guilt-free indulgence with delicate folds of salmon, yellowtail and tuna inside a thinly sliced cucumber coil. If sushi isn't your thing, the hibachi and Thai options do the job and do it well.
95 Mathews Dr. Suite C, Hilton Head , South Carolina, 29926 | (843)-341-3377
Skull Creek Boathouse
Boasting accolades from the Island Packet to The Food Network, Skull Creek Boathouse is low country living - elevated. The go big boathouse takes casual waterfront dining up a notch with a commanding outpost tucked off Squire Pope Road at the Northern tip of the island. Arrive early because the colossal cafe can amass waits of two plus hours (depending on the season, day and time). Don't let this dissuade you as the queue is part of the experience with outdoor amusements from majestic sunset views to ping pong tables and other lawn games. In the summer, a casual brew from the pop-up beer garden is the perfect accompaniment to the laid-back beats of the live band. The expansive menu can be overwhelming, but rest assured, everything is pretty darn good. Grab a basket of Homemade Hushpuppies and spiced honey butter and pair with chilled seafood favorites like the Jumbo Crab Knuckles with Key West Mustard. At $26, the Fried Fisherman's Feast is a fan-favorite; chock full of flash-fried fare from shrimp to scallops to flounder. Other standouts include Potato Chip Crusted Crab Cakes and the Pecan Ginger Crusted Mahi Mahi. While no hole in the wall, this gem is a must-try for anyone and everyone who loves a good backyard seafood boil.
397 Squire Pope Road | Hilton Head Island, SC 29926 | (843)-681-3663
Aunt Chilada's Easy Street Cafe
If you're looking for a backyard feel with a little more zest, head south island to Hilton Head's easy street café, Aunt Chilada's. A Trip Advisor Certificate of Excellence winner, this low-key establishment has everything from Tex-Mex to seafood. If chic is what you're seeking, move on down the road, as the multi-color interior is more about personality than style. The wood-covered patio, however, evokes a cool alfresco vibe for happy hour and sporting events. Sparkling with string lights and bumping with friendly tunes from country-rock favorites, the outdoor area is spirited (and pet-friendly). Cocktails are more about quantity than quality, but you can't go wrong with the Easy Street Margarita or a simple cerveza. My all-time favorite item is the Grilled Wings - cooked to perfection and oozing with a sweet signature sauce. Order as an appetizer, entreé or for the table to share. The Southwestern Egg Roll also starts strong with a generous portion of seasoned chicken, cheese, black beans and grilled veggies. At $15.00, the Enchiladas Rancheros serves up a hefty dose of classic Mexican flavors. While most of the menu is consistently tasty, the family-friendly good-time aura is what keeps tourists and locals coming back year after year.