Tour Through Greenville, SC's Food Gems
So, here's a story from A-to-Z, you wanna eat through Greenville, you gotta listen carefully...
Finding something deliciously memorable to eat in Greenville, SC is as easy as A, B, C, but if you need some inspiration, let our sequential saunter around our space be your guide. From acidic to buttery to crispy, delicious, effervescent, fresh, gooey, and beyond, we've got some of the savoriest spreads, sips, and spots—one for each letter of the alphabet—you'll find here! Follow along on Instagram at @VisitGreenvilleSC, catch up below, and see how many letters you can devour in a single visit to #yeahTHATgreenville!
A is for "Anything from Aryana Afghan Cuisine"
Greenville's first and only Afghan restaurant, Aryana has been serving the community for more than 20 years with recipes passed down from owner Nelofar Mayar's family. Aryana's focus is on fresh, healthy ingredients enhanced by a mouthwatering, eye-popping blend of spices. You'll want to speed your way to wherever you're heading to chow down, but we implore you to abide by all road laws so you can safely get to a non-moving venue where you can truly enjoy the treasure you've just secured.
Trust us, it's worth the wait. Actually, don't take our word for it. Pull up any review site and you'll see piles and piles of 5-star reviews, lauding the culinary exploits of this international downtown Greenville gem. Here's just a sample:
"...the food is consistently phenomenal."
"It's always a surprise, so you learn so much about different foods."
"Everything is excellently prepared and tastes utterly delicious. ... a downtown highlight not to be missed."
"I fell in love with the people, the food, & the land during my deployments to Saudi Arabia, Iraq & Oman; it's refreshing to taste the food I still long for."
Yep, that'll catch you right in the feels. Pack your bags, because like their website says, "Every plate becomes a culinary journey."
B is for "Barbacoa from Sabor Latin Street Grill"
Sabor Latin Street Grill brings the flavors of El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Mexico, Colombia, and more Central and South American countries to one delicious menu. Independently owned, Greenville's iteration of this Charlotte, NC original opened its doors in late 2019 and is the first version to exist outside of North Carolina. We're truly honored and grateful because, well, you'll just have to come taste and see for yourself.
If you're a first-timer, we highly recommend going for the barbacoa in any which way—quesadillas, tacos, bowls, whatever you can dream up. For the uninitiated, barbacoa is merely a method of cooking meat and not a specific meat itself. Barbacoa is traditionally performed with beef, sheep, or goat, but the term has become synonymous with beef, so when you order barbacoa—which is the term from which "barbecue" derives—at Sabor, you're getting beautifully succulent tender beef.
Combine it with an array of fresh ingredients and you'll swear you've been transported to the streets of South and Central America. Keyword: streets. With Sabor's goal of delivering "the freshest, most delicious food that takes you south of the border where the best cuisine is experienced in the streets," you've gotta make sure to combine their barbacoa with a street food classic or perhaps something you haven't tried before. Pick up a barepa arepas, featuring barbacoa with curtido slaw and slice avocado, or opt for the barbacoa empanada—a fried pastry filled with cheese to accompany the generous portion of barbacoa inside. Both are perfectly portable to please the palate on a parkway or any passage made of pavement. Oops, looks like we're getting ahead of ourselves with the letter "P" here. We'll save that for later.
For now, find a way to enjoy the bountiful barbacoa brilliance of the beautiful business our letter "B" belongs to.
C is for "Candy Barrels at Mast General Store"
A stop at Mast General Store in ONE City Plaza is a step back in time, especially when you make your way to the candy area and spy the wonderland of sweet treats on display, just prime for the taking by the bagful. Mast General Store takes the present and combines it with touches that harken back to old general stores, and that's no more apparent than with the section of candy barrels.
These candy kegs add a nostalgia that only a few others in downtown Greenville offer and they're filled with all the candy you'd expect to find in grandma's candy jar. Grab a bag and bulk up on old favorites like root beer barrels, vanilla bullseyes, Bit-O-Honey, Charleston Chew, Smarties, and more.
This nostalgic trip to Candy Land is a sure way to see some sweet smiles during your trip to Greenville!
D is for "Drooling Over Donut Dishes from HenDough"
Why did the chicken cross the state line? To bring Greenville, SC the one-stop chicken-and-donuts shop we didn't know we needed! Originating in Hendersonville, NC, and open for breakfast and lunch at Gather GVL, HenDough offers plenty of traditional fare with its own twist. Before we get you drooling with those highlights, a bit more about how HenDough came to be would be appropriate.
Owners Paul and Sarah met as chefs working at Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC. The pair eventually married and settled just over the state line in Hendersonville, NC. They worked at upscale establishments for most of their careers and when it came time to set out on their own with a restaurant venture, they wanted something much more approachable. And what's more approachable than chicken and donuts? You put the two together and we will definitely approach! Fair warning.
Approachable doesn't mean "low quality," by the way. Paul and Sarah maintain high-quality standards while spreading the word about the unconventional pairing of chicken and donuts to the lines that form outside Gather GVL. Hendersonville responded with overwhelming support when citizens witnessed the hole-y matrimony of chicken and donuts, which gave Paul and Sarah the idea to expand. And who got so lucky to be able to boast its second location? That's right—THAT Greenville.
So, what can you expect? The unexpected, of course! We recommend all of it, but especially anything that combines their soft and sweet donuts with the savory unctuousness of meat, like the Donut Breakfast Sandwich that combines eggs, American cheese, bacon, and sausage between a glazed donut. Or opt for their take on Eggs in a Basket, which drops two eggs into a donut basket, which then gets topped with fried chicken and bacon, which then gets drizzled with jalapeño maple syrup. Yum!
Only want one or the other in a creative way? Give Donut French toast a try. Yes, it's exactly what it sounds like. It's almost like we should have just saved HenDough for "G" for "grateful."
E is for "Experiential Dining at Keipi"
Craving unique food and a worthwhile cause? Keipi Restaurant is exactly what you're looking for. The First Things Foundation team fell in love with Georgian cuisine (the country, not our Southern neighbor) and its otherworldly hospitality, so much so that they felt responsible for bringing it back home to share with our Greenville community.
Where on earth is this other Georgia? Georgia is a transcontinental country located at the intersection of Eastern Europe and Western Asia, with the Black Sea at its western border. It's tucked away in the Caucasus region surrounded by the Caucasus Mountains and monasteries, where cultivating your own grapes and making toasts to the heroes and saints of old never went out of fashion.
Go and try their delicious khachapuri (cheese bread), Georgian wine (from an 8,000-year-old winemaking tradition), and of course stay for a Keipi, an Old World Georgian toasting feast that you'll fall in love with.
All available profits from Keipi go directly back to First Things Foundation to support volunteers and entrepreneurs. First Things sends adventurous people to remote places in the world for 2-year stints, where they live as the locals live, and then give momentum to the businesses and projects of the friends they meet.
F is for "Falafel from Pita House"
Those in the know may not be thrilled that we keep making this gem not-so-hidden, but Pita House is a secret that should be shared. With Middle Eastern food made fresh daily, it's no wonder why locals and visitors alike flock to this family-owned falafel phenom. Founded more than 30 years ago by the Namouz brothers after emigrating from Nazareth in Israel, Pita House literally got its start at street level as the brothers pounded the pavement, handing out flyers to the businesses around the restaurant in those early days. That personal touch paid off as workers nearby needed a quick lunch spot and appreciated the relationships the brothers build with everyone who walks in the door. You may walk in a stranger, but you won't leave one.
Pita House has enjoyed massive growth since it opened in 1989, but you won't find any departure from the principles and philosophies of their early days: The restaurant is cash-only; everything is made fresh and on-site, including 1,000+ pitas per day; they're family-owned and family-operated to the letter, which includes the occasional brotherly argument or two from time to time.
One thing that can't be argued, however, is the quality of the food. The Middle Eastern fare is enjoyed by locals who literally make weekly trips here. People who have moved away still dream of the tastes you can only find at Pita House.
But let's finally get to the falafel! When Pita House first opened, they served it in the traditional Israeli way: inside a pita. But the number of requests to deconstruct falafel and pita and just place them in harmony on a plate was too great to ignore, so they just went with it. So far after 30 years? No complaints from the fixture of feverish fanatics who flip for this falafel.
G is for "Grapes at City Scape Winery"
Known for delicious wine and beautiful views, City Scape Winery has been bringing expertly crafted vino to our community for years.
Using expert know-how and a seemingly endless variety of grapes and local fruit, this local favorite offers tastings, gourmet treats, and live events. From dry, bold reds to light, sweet whites, City Scape has a wine that’ll match any palate
H is for "Hard Cider at Distinct Cider Room"
Drive by Distinct Cider Room and you might just mistake it for a gym. That's because, well, it is. Inside a corner of Distinct Fitness lies the cider room, both of which are owned by husband-and-wife team Derrick and Heather Cannon, who we must tell you are fixtures behind the bar when the cider room is open and two of the nicest, most welcoming people you're likely to come across during your visit—and that's saying something considering Greenville has been recognized as one of the friendliest destinations in the South!
Derrick has a passion for hard cider and figured, why not carve a niche in Greenville, as well as in his gym, to feature the oft-overlooked adult beverage? More than two years later and this passion project has Greenville's cider lovers flocking to pay homage. Due to South Carolina law, Distinct isn't able to brew its own cider, but don't let that turn you away. Derrick and Heather travel often to sample ciders and bring the best back to the cider room. Their offerings are always changing, whether those on-tap or in the cooler, and are guaranteed to wake you up to what hard cider really can be.
Any opportunity to attend one of their cider and donut pairings is a must-do, so if you're lucky, your visit will align with one of these unique, tasty events that should really be a local holiday. Derrick creates the pairing lists himself with donuts made by Scout's Donuts (um, Derrick, we're interested in assisting with the research on this so, give us a shout!). If you're really lucky, maybe you'll pop in when MzG's Mac n Chz is in the house with her soon-to-be world-famous mac-and-cheese featuring a complete array of topping options. Throw in the occasional food truck and nights by the fire pit and this is a gem not to be missed.
I is for "Innovative Ice Cream at Molly and Myles"
Take your favorite breakfast cereals, some of the best ice cream in the country, superheroes, Pez dispensers, toilet seats, and a couple of very open minds, toss it all in a blender and the result is one of TODAY Show's "Absolute Best Ice Cream Shops in America" and one of Buzzfeed's "25 Places Every Cereal Lover Must Eat at Before They Die"—Molly and Myles Ice Cream!
Doors opened in Greenville in 2018 when owner and founder Nicole O'Brien, and restauranteur husband Steve, relocated here after falling in love with the area. The fact that they turned our ice cream scene on its head shouldn't be a surprise. Steve did the same thing with burgers in Chicago with his Brgr Belly restaurant which has made every imaginable, credible list of best burgers in every imaginable geographic category.
It starts with the philosophy. They see their businesses as science labs in the back and experiences in the front. They prefer to try something and say, "Oops," rather than not and wonder "What if we had...". Nicole, previously a school teacher, came up with the concept of Molly and Myles and opened the original in Chicago. In her lab, this mad scientist wondered if cereal could be paired with ice cream in a creative, delicious way. So, she did. That's how it works here.
The shop's interior was designed by Molly and Myles, the shop's namesakes and Steve and Nicole's kids, and their friends, so when you stop by and see a wall decorated with toilet seats, another featuring a large and loud comic book mural, a collection of Pez dispensers, and superheroes everywhere, just marvel at the creativity of these kiddos. It's what you would expect from a place where the job application is literally a blank sheet of paper and a box of crayons. We're not kidding—best application ever! After finding success with the first, Nicole opened a second location on Augusta Street, a convenient drive from downtown. We're completely cereal when we tell you to put this innovative ice cream experience atop your #yeahTHATgreenville culinary itinerary!
J is for "James Beard Award Nominees"
It's no secret that Greenville, SC is a sleeper destination in the nation's culinary scene that has any and all visitors waking up to the many talents of the many culinarians in our area. Perhaps there's no greater recognition of that awakening than the James Beard Foundation's annual awards, among the culinary industry's top honors, featuring several restaurant and chef nominees from Greenville every year—all nominees obsessive over local, sustainable, seasonal products. It started in 2017 with The Anchorage, a neighborhood small plates restaurant packing big flavor into local produce and more, receiving a semifinalist spot for Best New Restaurant.
Early in 2020, the new kids on the block, Topsoil Kitchen and Market, earned semifinalist nods—Topsoil's chef Adam Cooke earned recognition in the Best New Chef - Southeast category. Chef Cooke is a fixture at local farms including the team's own Topsoil Farm, which was established in 2018. Along with produce, Topsoil is known for freshly baked bread made every day, and yes, we did just hear your inner carb junkie "squee!" from here.
We're hard-pressed to think of better reasons to visit with a suitcase full of elastic pants.
K is for "Kettle Corn at Poppington's Popcorn"
If taking you from "James Beard Award Nominees" to "Kettle Corn" isn't a reason to rest our case on #yeahTHATgreenville's wide spectrum of culinary delights, well, we don't know what will convince you. Either way, we're continuing on because if there was an industry award for popcorn, Poppington's Popcorn would win every year with no doubt in our minds. ... is there an industry award for popcorn? If not, there should be, because this Greenville staple shop on Main Street is more than deserving of whatever honors could be given for consistently making the most mouthwatering, innovative popcorn anywhere. Since we're on the letter K, we'll be touting the sweet, savory deliciousness of their kettle corn, but we promise you that you'll want to sample much more on the menu. The number and selection of cheese options alone are enough to want us to stop typing now and return with orange, cheesy fingers. If cheese isn't your thing, first of all, we're sorry to hear that; second of all, there are plenty of other flavor options, from traditional caramel and chocolate concoctions to Havarti dill pickle, jalapeño popper spicy, Asian spice Sriracha, cotton candy, and trust us, so much more. They even have "pup"-corn for your dog!
But on to kettle corn, which Poppington's pops to perfection. Sure, you can get the traditional flavor that'll take you right back to the county fair, but take it to the next level at Poppington's. There's no need for an occasion to get some birthday cake kettle corn. Try some with a hint of cinnamon. Get bold with a lemon chiffon and chocolate combo. Seriously, why are you not here yet? Pop on over, grab a bucket or 20 of Poppington's Popcorn, and enjoy your favorite movies from the comfort of your hotel or living room.
L is for "Lavender Love Chocolates from LaRue Fine Chocolate"
Dearly beloved, we have gathered here today to get through this thing called... the letter "L" in our #GVLAtoZ food tour around #yeahTHATgreenville, and we're going to do that by honoring a color fit for a Prince.
So, let's go crazy over Greenville, SC's booming fine chocolate scene, particularly at LaRue Fine Chocolate, located at Poe West in the Village of West Greenville.
LaRue got its start in Elizabeth McDaniel's home kitchen, where she explored a hobby of chocolate-making with her niece. A fine wine sales representative for more than a decade, success was not sparse in her career. The only thing missing was a touch of sweetness, so once she realized that she might be pretty good at this hobby of hers, she left wine behind and went to school for a more official education in the art of making fine chocolate.
Thank goodness for that, because we all benefit from this career change with La Rue Fine Chocolate in our lives. Owned by McDaniel, who became a graduate of Ecole Chocolat and earned her Professional Chocolatier certificate with honors and also achieved the rank of Maitre Chocolatier, LaRue is named after McDaniel's mother, Dora LaRue Smith Logan. Dora served in the Army and raised four boys before giving birth to Elizabeth at age 40. The name is an homage, but also a symbol of strength, which is on display in the chocolate game Dora's daughter brought to Greenville.
The chocolate offerings at LaRue are far too plentiful to list out here but suffice it to say, there's a treat for every taste. Today, we're putting a purple spotlight on the Lavender Love and we're gonna get out of the way to simply present the description on LaRue's website: "lavender and honey milk chocolate enrobed in dark chocolate." Such sultry words give us life. Electric word: life—it means forever and that's a mighty long time, which is how long we hope LaRue keeps changing the chocolate game around here. 💜
M is for "Monstrous Milkshakes at Grill Marks"
We've hit a sweet spot in our tour as we highlighted some kickin' kettle corn and lovely lavender chocolate, but take heed because we're about to move into a maniacal municipality ruled by a #yeahTHATgreenville master of melty mixes. Welcome to the land of the monstrous milkshakes of Grill Marks!
If burgers and fries are your thing, try them both to crown a king, but save room for dessert, because you're going to need all you can get with the mammoths on this menu. At Grill Marks, you'll face the Freakshakes, a name that belies nothing of their true size. Within the descriptions is where you'll learn of the magnitude manufactured in the minds of these mad, mad malt-makers.
You might creepy-crawl to the Cookies and Cream Dirt Freakshake —a shake that starts with a cookies-n-cream base that receives an opulent overflow of Oreo crumbles before a scoop of vanilla ice cream tops it all and a gaggle of gelatinous gummy worms garnishes the garish gargantuan.
These faces of frightful delight are not uncommon—just make sure to share yours with us. Both Grill Marks locations (Main Street and Haywood Mall) are open and serving!
N is for "Needles and Donut Holes at Topgolf"
Greenville's food scene has some of the best players in the culinary game, but today, we're highlighting a Cinderella story—outta nowhere—from Topgolf.
Opened in 2019, the three-story open-air Topgolf has proven popular among residents and visitors alike, and while you may immediately think "fore!" and not "food!" when its name is mentioned, we advise you to take a mulligan and reconsider. Topgolf's menu is gold-jacket-worthy when it comes to taking a Happy Gilmore step-up approach to smash previous notions of American classics. Deciding what to get might be the biggest challenge of a visit. Maybe you'll want a hamburger—no, a cheeseburger. Maybe you want a hotdog or a milkshake. But worry not: from the warm pretzel bites with beer cheese to the cheesy macaroni bites to the brisket grilled cheese (OK, OK, we may have a cheese issue), anything you order—with or without cheese—will have you fist-pumping like Tiger on a Sunday.
While the front nine and the main course are gimmes, the finishing hole is where champions live, and these beauties will have you wishing you had enough to fill the Ryder Cup. Tee up the injectable donut holes for your group and you'll be atop the leaderboard with your friends as these crowd-pleasers arrive at the table. The cinnamon-sugar-sprinkled donut holes are aces on their own, but the syringes full of injectable filling will bring you to total consciousness, so you'll have that going for you, which is nice. Choose two of three possibilities—chocolate sauce, raspberry jelly, and Bavarian cream—and fill these tiny, tasty Titleists to overflowing before getting lost in the fescue of their flavor.
And as they transport you to tranquility, remember what the Zen philosopher, Basho, once wrote: "A flute with no holes is not a flute; a donut with no hole is a Danish." Gunga-Lagunga.
O is for the "Tac-O Trail"
The Greenville, SC Taco Trail is a challenge for the taco-lover in all of us.
Because it's Taco Tuesday somewhere, grab all your familia and amigos and head out on the Taco Trail! Follow the trail map to find all the taco stops and eat some unique and delicious tacos along the way. You’ll load up on beans, rice, chicken, shrimp, avocado, brisket, fish, and nachos—is there any better way to spend your time (or your palate)?
The whole thing’s pretty simple: download your Greenville Taco Trail Passport, then eat your way through the best tacos in #yeahTHATGreenville grabbing the code words from the restaurants along the way. Take a couple of days, weeks, or an entire year: you’re still a winner when you cross the (proverbial) finish line and start collecting prizes. That’s right, we said prizes! For every 4 Taco Trail visits, you can pick up a prize at the VisitGreenvilleSC Visitor Center in downtown Greenville.
So what are you waiting for? Get out there and give it a shot! Try just a few restaurants or go for broke and become The Big Cheese 🧀 (or should we say El Queso Grande?!)
Want to taco 'bout it? Get started and read all about the new Greenville Taco Trail. 🌮
P is for "Pimento Cheese Sandwiches at Duke Sandwich Company"
More than 100 years ago, housewife Eugenia Duke created a homemade spread that starred in sandwiches she sold to American soldiers stationed at Camp Sevier, one of the last stops for troops being sent overseas during World War I.
Word spread, clamoring climbed, and, before she even had the right to vote, Eugenia was blazing trails as a brand new business owner.
Her popularity didn't wane when the war did. Voracious demand only skyrocketed. Legend has it she sold more than 10,000 sandwiches in a single day during the spring of 1919! Move over, Earl of Sandwich—the Duke had arrived.
That spread we mentioned is not only still tantalizing taste buds to this day, but it's a key kitchen mainstay top-tier chefs in the Southeast wouldn't give up for anything. Duke's Mayonnaise was born as a brand in the 1920s as Eugenia sauntered from sandwich maker to mayo manufacturer.
We could go on about this sandwich superstar's lasting legacy, but Instagram character limits require us to get to the point: pimento cheese. The unofficial state bird of South Carolina, you can't swing a loaf of bread here without hitting someone who will—after first wondering why you're throwing bread at them and then—offer you pimento cheese. This South Carolina staple requires mounds of mayo and when Duke joins the party, things really get rockin'.
In Greenville, a stop at Duke Sandwich Company is a culinary requirement. Why? Because you don't just learn history here—you experience it. The menu simply hasn't changed. The recipes in the shops are original to the ones Eugenia would make in her kitchen before taking them to the troops. And if you're going to order any sandwich of state significance, of course, you're obligated to opt for pimento cheese, a precisely preserved prototype principal to partaking in Greenville's plentiful past.
Q is for "Queenly Harvest at Carolina Honey Bee Company"
You can learn a lot in 100+ years. Maybe that's why Carolina Honey Bee Company keeps cranking out crave-able nectars worth sampling during your visit to #yeahTHATgreenville.
Beekeeping is in the DNA of the Dover family. Co-owner Tim Dover began "robbing" bees—that is, harvesting honey from active honeybee hives—at the age of 5, learning the skill from his grandfather. He spent most of his life dabbling here and there, but took his own career path as an equine dentist and farrier—someone who trims and shoes horses' hooves.
When his grandfather passed away, Tim received one of his beehives. Soon, one beehive grew to more than 1,000 hives across 34 locations in Upstate South Carolina boasting the services of Tim's grandfather's bees.
All these bees supply a quantity of quality honey. With Tim's day job at the time came a client by the name of Susan Gardner, who had an existing side interest in beekeeping that kept the two buzzing on the topic. A few further twists of fate and this pair partnered as apiculturists to start Carolina Honey Bee Co.
Inside this quaint Travelers Rest shop, you'll find an assortment of products made from the work of Tim's bequeathed bees—lip balms, body butter, lotions, and cleansers, all of which should fill your shopping bag while you're there. Hobby beekeepers should beeline to the substantial section of supplies, but the pure, unfiltered, unadulterated honey is the hero of this hive. Swarm to the honey-tasting bar inside and sample several kinds of honey and nosh on snacks like honey-glazed pecans.
The annual "robbing of the bees" harvest occurs in late summer/early fall, so plan your visit around this time of year. Between balms, butter, nuts, and nectars, there's a lot to be thankful to Her Majesty for. Long live the Queen!
R is for "Rare Proteins at Saskatoon Lodge"
We're talking rare meats today—but leave your thermometer in your chef's coat because we're not referring to temperature. This sinewy substantive subsistence at letter R is rare, as-in: infrequent, scarce, uncommon, or not of a regular occurrence.
Known as "Greenville's Wildest Steakhouse," Saskatoon Steaks, Fish & Wild Game (aka Saskatoon Lodge) has a menu that could double as a meat encyclopedia. If it can be cooked, you'll find it available here—further evidence that Greenville, SC is perfect for adventure-seekers.
For 30+ years, Saskatoon has been delighting Greenville diners with a menu experience few can measure up to, but only within the past few years did owners Edmund and Renee Woo move to a location more fitting of their wild culinary ways. Now calling nine wide-open acres home, Saskatoon Lodge is the perfect place to get primitive.
Before we get into some of the out-of-the-ordinary offerings, a note: If you're not an adventurous eater, Saskatoon Lodge has plenty of your more common choices for carnivores, like steaks, salmon, chicken, pork, and fish, all expertly cooked—and, let's be honest, if a restaurant has the prowess to prepare the proteins in this profile, you gotta know they can make a mean steak or chop.
So, what will feed the need for rare meat at Saskatoon Lodge? It changes every four-to-six weeks, which is part of the fun. As of the writing of this caption, kangaroo filets and ostrich filets are on the specials menu. The reliable rarities on the main menu include elk loin, antelope, and buffalo. It's not uncommon to see shark, venison, quail, and gator grace the list of choices here.
Featuring local produce—so local that you'll find some of it right in their gardens on-site—and nationally renowned, field-to-table game, next time you're raring for a road trip, head for Greenville and Saskatoon Lodge to feed your wild side.
S is for "Southern Homestyle at OJ's Diner"
Every place in America has restaurants. Very few turn into institutions. When OJ's Diner opened in 2005, it never set out to be one, but after only 17+ years, many would agree it has already earned this lofty status.
It is truly a fascinating story of how OJ's came to be and propelled itself to become as synonymous with Greenville as Falls Park on the Reedy, but we'll sum it up like this: when an opportunity to own the diner he worked at came up, the journey of Olin Johnson— OJ's namesake—from line cook to local legend is a saga of family rallying together to help one another fulfill a dream.
If this energy could be bottled and slathered on delicious Southern fare, its warmth would cover every inch of the menu. It's about family, through and through, and that doesn't just refer to blood. Just setting foot in the oft-out-the-door line makes you part of this crew, and you'll feel it the moment you cross the threshold. That's when that warmth we mentioned hits you. It lives in the walls and on the faces of everyone, many of whom are related to one another, working at this family-born, family-bred, and family-owned restaurant.
OJ's is a traditional cafeteria-style meat-and-three with specials you can set your watch by. The downtown Greenville location (there's another in nearby Easley) is only open Monday-Friday from 7 a.m.-5 p.m., but if you stop by enough, you can track the days by the smells wafting from the piping hot, freshly-prepared ingredients and scratch-made dishes on the cafeteria line. All of it is soul-comforting, as evidenced by OJ's list of loyal regulars. Take a cheat day and do not skip the fried chicken that we're blessed to have available to us every weekday. We'd describe it to you, but no words do it justice. Let's just say that the fried chicken, the menu, and OJ's family atmosphere will turn your weekends into Sadder-days and No-fundays, making you wish every day was an OJ's work day.
T is for "Traditional Cantonese-Style Food at Asia Pacific"
Catching a craving for Chinese here nets you lots of locally owned options with the quality you'd expect from an unsung-yet-worthy-of-a-record-deal international culinary scene. Yet there is but one on Greenville's global grub stage differentiating itself with authentic Cantonese-style Chinese food.
Walking into Asia Pacific Restaurant & Supermarket, you'll notice its meticulously clean, pristine, and organized shelves and aisles. Much of the place is a massive international supermarket filled with ingredients your local Publix does not stock. We highly encourage looking through it all.
Owner Alva Mak, originally from Hong Kong, has lived in Upstate SC since 1976 and her restaurant experience always involved pleasing the American palate, which doesn't always mesh with the traditional style she grew up with. When she opened Asia Pacific in 2017, she did so with her childhood memories in mind.
In the restaurant area, a glance at the menu reveals Chinese-American chicken classics, like sesame and General Tso's, for those a little less adventurous. It won't take long to find those traditional Cantonese-style dishes, however, because they take up the lion's share of the list.
Locals in the know would make their last meal ever the roast duck. Popular options also include roast pork, spicy salt pepper shrimp, and scallion pancakes. Soup dumplings are a must! The taste may send you straight to Hong Kong—but the temperature may send you straight to the ice bin, so be careful with the delicious yet molten-hot soup inside.
The live seafood area of Asia Pacific is an experience in itself. A favorite is the dish pictured—spicy salt pepper lobster. We'll see you soon at Asia Pacific for some top traditional Cantonese creations!
U is for "Underground Dining"
If an underground scene can have an underground scene in some Inception-like way, then that's what Greenville, SC has going on. These underground spots cover several different definitions of the word, but prove worthy of elevation to mainstream status.
There's just something about the environment created by low ceilings, exposed wood and brick, and that subtle basement-y scent that strikes a relaxing vibe. If you're digging this, Coffee Underground, Trappe Door, and Unterhausen supply the subterranean setting you seek.
Trappe Door and Coffee Underground are just off opposite sides of Main Street in downtown Greenville. Get up-and-at-'em and head downstairs at 1 E. Coffee St. for a caffeine fix with a feeling. Coffee Underground does have windows to the world by virtue of its front door being accessible outside, but the exposed workings of the building and beautiful wood beams create a cellar sub-current that's perfect for starting the day, taking an afternoon break, or winding down at night.
Trappe Door is unconditionally underground: no windows, no light—just atmosphere. You'll be transported back to the Olde World by stopping here for a Belgian beer or some of the most flavorful frites you'll find outside Brussels. The subtle lighting, uncovered wood and brick, beer selection, and menu combine for a Main Street experience with an underground aura.
A drive to nearby Simpsonville will get you to Unterhausen, and even a cursory look at its online reviews will reveal a common use of words like "atmosphere" and "ambiance" because it's just that remarkable. The German theme and small, intimate setting create that something different that hits the spot.
V is for "Voguish Libations at Vault & Vator"
While the '20s we are currently living in are roaring in their own way, we can offer a tip for a trip back in time to the originals right here in Greenville, SC. In a basement space tucked off Main Street near Falls Park, you'll (maybe) find a poorly-kept secret with a well-known historic influence.
Vault & Vator is our first speakeasy, and if you're unfamiliar with the term, its origins in America belong to the 1880s, but it became part of the popular lexicon during the 1920s after the 18th Amendment to the Constitution prohibited the "manufacture, sale and transportation of intoxicating liquors." Curiously enough, imbibing was not prohibited, so the whole bar operation went underground with secret drinking establishments popping up all over. Such saloons tried to maintain their cover, so they encouraged people to "speak quietly," or "speak easy," of them.
Luckily, there's no need to be coy about Vault & Vator. If you're hoping for a period-accurate spot with bartenders donned in dress from 100 years ago, this isn't it. Vault & Vator features gentle notes of speakeasy environs, not the campiness of reenactments, which adds to its overall sophistication. You may walk inside during a bright, shiny day, but once past the velvet curtains, you lose the concept of time as the dim, sparsely-yet-gorgeously lit room provides that subtle touch of secrecy we mentioned.
At the bar, you'll find a menu filled with classic and modern cocktails, all handcrafted, but if you're feeling crafty yourself, opt for the Dealer's Choice. This is where you give your bartender two adjectives from a list on the menu and your master of mixology will create a custom cocktail from the combo you provide. Play with the possibilities, like "floral and fizzy," "sour and spicy," or "smoky and boozy." What you receive will be a secret you won't want to speak easy about.
W is for "Waffle Cones at Spill the Beans"
Greenville, SC's climate makes it a stellar spot for summer ice cream. Around here, however, ice cream is anything but a seasonal sweet. With summer closing out, the heat will remain for a while, giving us a few more months of scoring easy affirmatives on the question, "Wanna go get ice cream?" That's a good enough reason to refrain from hollering about the heat because, let's face it, we all scream for ice cream. Take a step inside Spill the Beans, though, and you might find yourself wailing for waffle cones.
It's rare when the spotlight shines anywhere else but the scoops and scoops of flavor melting down your hand, but these ice cream carriers deserve a stage all their own. This becomes apparent when you open the doors and your nostrils whiff the waft of freshly-made waffle cones. We suspect this is all by design from the geniuses behind Spill the Beans, known as a tip-top option for a strong coffee or cuppa, but directly in front of the doors is where the waffle wizardry happens. Out in front for all to see—and smell—you'll often find one of Spill the Beans' wonderful workers waffling away, creating cone after cone as the sweet scent continually fills the air.
You could easily walk to the counter and only order a waffle cone without getting much of a strange look—they're that good. But you're gonna want to cram that cornet full of the ice cream STB's slinging. Oh, we didn't lead you to believe that the ice cream was satisfied playing second fiddle, did you? While coffee may be king here, the custom-blended ice cream itself is a close contender with a list of 50-plus toppings and mix-ins packing a punch with combo options galore.
You may come for the coffee, but the aromatic welcome of the waffle cone will have you staying for the ice cream.
X is for "Xerox of a Bowling Green Landmark, Myles Pizza Pub"
The pizza game across the country is full of copycats—but very few are Xerox-quality. Seemingly in the quiet of the night, Greenville, SC earned one when Myles Pizza Pub opened its doors on South Pleasantburg Drive in 2020.
To understand the significance, we must travel 600 miles to Bowling Green, Ohio. It's where the first Myles Pizza Pub opened and became an institution in the college town, remaining so for 40 years until owners Chip and Bridget Myles closed its doors to seek milder winters. During its final week, Myles had lines around the block, and its final night required a 5-hour wait for a chance to bid a fond farewell.
Chip and Bridget chose Greenville to call home, and they brought the pizza that made them famous in Ohio with them, along with their daughter, Meredith, who's handling much of the business these days. But forget your concept of pizza—this style and that style. The pizza here is simply Myles-style—a complete copy of the original. What makes it worth lining up outside in the cold Ohio winter for? Fresh ingredients, sauce, and toppings. Mozzarella is grated on-site. Dough? Made in-house. Meats? Never pre-cooked. But it's the red sauce and Myles' philosophy on toppings that has its Bowling Green fans traveling to Greenville.
The sauce is the foundation. Sure, the crust is fantastic and holds it all together, but the sauce is leg-en-dar-y. It takes three days to make and only Chip knows the recipe. It's even a closely-guarded secret from his family. Toppings here come with the generosity of Oprah giving out cars to her audience. For example, their Food Lovers' Pizza weighs in at 10 delicious pounds! Myles piles 'em so high, our mountains become jealous. If it's the cheese you please, Myles is hooking you up with mounds—any Bowling Green veteran will tell you that Myles is famous for the cheese-pull.
With a carbon copy like Myles in town, it's no stretch that we wish them another 40years of pizza prosperity right here in Greenville.
Y is for "Yucatan-Inspired Cuisine from Mercado Cantina at Gather GVL"
Gather GVL makes a second appearance on our alphabetical culinary tour of Greenville, SC. Simply put, this smattering of stacked shipping containers is kicking out culinary creations that stack up with the rest of Greenville's culinary prowess.
The stories behind some of them are just as delicious, too. We highlighted HenDough at Letter D with the story of owners and chefs Paul and Sarah Klaassen, who met while working together at the Biltmore before deciding to see where doughnuts and chicken would take them. A third member of this culinary crew eagerly jumped on board when the Klaassens started cooking up concepts for Gather GVL.
Chef Michael Olbrantz connected with the Klaassens at the Biltmore, where he, too, was working as a fine-dining chef. He quickly learned that "standing over a plate and putting 15 different kinds of little flowers and herbs on a dish that already has 20 different vegetables in it," he told TOWN Carolina, just wasn't feeding his soul. It was one of his travels to discover all the world's culinary offerings that began the concept behind Yucatán-inspired Mercado Cantina.
Olbrantz visited Mexico for a two-month tour that turned into two years of traveling back and forth from the Yucatán—a place and a taste he fell madly in love with for its vibrant, bright balance of spice and acidity. It's the same balance you'll find in all of Mercado's food offerings while sipping on cantina-inspired beverages in Gather GVL's laidback environs.
Menu options rotate frequently, but you can bank on authenticity in every selection and price—like cochinita pibil tacos, achiote-marinated pork smoked in banana leaves with pickled onion and habanero, or a fried shrimp torta with pico, lettuce, and lime mayo—all for $9 or less. All this makes Mercado just another reason to gather in Greenville.
Z is for "Zesty Lemon Roulade Cake from Old Europe Desserts"
An Asheville-original, Old Europe Desserts opened its Greenville doors in 2019 and welcomed us right into an environment fitting the name on the sign fixed above them. A step inside transports you to a neat European café, with small tables lining the wall and the smell of coffee and pastry lingering in the air.
Like a siren, the shiny dessert case beckons from the back, loaded with freshly-baked cakes, pies, cookies, pastries, and oh, so much more. It should be no surprise that Old Europe Desserts is founded on authentic old European recipes. Owner Bobby Daugherty, a former Furman University football player who helped lead the team to a national title in 1988, knew that Greenville, SC was primed for a touch of Europe, and not just in taste alone.
Old Europe Desserts isn't one of those pastry shops that close at 2 pm, not to reopen until the next day. Daugherty wanted a spot people would see as a dessert destination after dinner at one of Greenville's many top restaurants, so the hours reflect that desire to delight after sundown and well before the next dawn.
What you'll find in this dreamy dessert case isn't the cloyingly-sweet after-meal indulgences we're used to in America. These treats feature a subtle sweetness that combines with the airy texture Europe is known for, so rather than weighing you down after a stuffing supper, these sweets will simply satisfy you.
This brings us to the finale in our feast of Greenville: the lemon roulade. If you crave citrus, this cake caters to you. All the adjectives we've used so far apply to this dish—light, airy, subtly sweet—and, trust us, you'll be back for more after one taste. This French dessert is made by wrapping a lemony sponge cake around a concentration of cream, creating a combination that'll have you crying "Ohh, la la!" And after such a tasty tour, we can think of no better feedback to our entire Greenville culinary world to finish on.