There’s usually a long wait to get a table at the great Thai place Basil (460 King St., 843/724-3490, www.basilthairestaurant.com , lunch Mon.–Thurs. 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m., dinner Mon.–Thurs. 5–10:30 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 5–11 p.m., Sun. 5–10 p.m., $15–23) on Upper King , since they don’t take reservations. But Basil also has one of the hippest, most happening bar scenes in the area, so you won’t necessarily mind. (Tip: Basil calls your cell phone when your table is ready, so a lot of people go across the street to Chai’s to have a drink while they wait.)
Basil is a long, loud room, with big open windows for people-watching. But most of the action takes place inside, as revelers down cosmos and diners enjoy fresh, succulent takes on Thai classics like cashew chicken and pad thai, all cooked by Asian chefs. The signature dish, as you might imagine, is the basil duck.
A taste of the Left Bank on Upper King , the intimate bistro La Fourchette (432 King St., 843/722-6261, Mon.–Sat. from 6 p.m., $15–20) is regarded as the best French restaurant in town and, naturalment, one of the most romantic as well. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by the reasonable prices as well. Cassoulet, the French national dish, is front and center among Chef Perig Goulet’s concoctions, arriving in its own casserole dish on a trivet.
Whatever you do, make sure you start with the pommes frites double-fried in duck fat. Your arteries may not thank you, but your taste buds will.
The best quesadilla I’ve ever had was at Juanita Greenberg’s Nacho Royale (439 King St., 843/723-6224, www.juanitagreenbergs.com , daily 11 a.m.–11 p.m., $6–8)—perfectly packed with Jack cheese but not overly so, full of spicy sausage, and finished with a delightful pico de gallo. This modest Mexican joint on Upper King  caters primarily to a college crowd, as you can tell from the reasonable prices, the large patio out back, the extensive tequila list, and the bar that stays open until 2 a.m. on weekends.
Many say the cashew-encrusted seared rare tuna on a bed of crabmeat and buckwheat noodles at COAST Bar and Grill (39-D John St., 843/722-8838, www.coastbarandgrill.com , nightly from 5:30 p.m., $18–30) is the single best dish in Charleston . I wouldn’t go that far, but it’s certainly up there. COAST makes the most of its loud, hip former warehouse setting. Beautifully textured Lowcountry-themed paintings and kitschy faux-Polynesian items ring the walls, as the clanging silverware competes with the boisterous conversation.
While the fun-loving decor in the dining room will suck you in, what keeps you happy is what goes on in the kitchen—specifically on its one-of-a-kind hickory-and-oak grill, which cooks up some of the freshest seafood in town. The raw bar is also satisfying, with a particularly nice take on and selection of ceviche. COAST is perhaps the strongest local advocate of the Sustainable Seafood Initiative, whereby restaurants work directly with local fishermen to make the most out of the area’s stock while making sure it thrives for future generations.
Getting there’s a little tricky: find Rue de Jean on John Street and then duck about 100 feet down the alley beside it.