Not all of the Grand Strand is dressed up for the sake of impressing tourists. As with every large population of people, there are areas considered to be rougher than others, just as there are older parts that haven’t been kept up through the decades. But along the same vein, these “sketchy” neighborhoods found in all metropolises also have some of the most colorful bits of culture hidden away, and the Grand Strand is no different.
Although most of South Carolina’s coast has become known for being a traveler’s destination, this state has a lot of history and culture often overshadowed by the neon lights of tourist traps. Like most cultures, an important part of the Lowcountry lifestyle is the food. Family and friends gather around meals, not just to eat, but to enjoy each other’s company.
These are some of the places that haven’t forgotten that aspect of local culture. Forgoing fanciness, restaurants like the Pit and Sun City Café instead focus on delicious food and a good time. Some of these eateries, like Crab Catchers, manage to be a favorite of both locals and tourists. A few of these gems also happen to be in the less upstanding parts of the coast.
Nonetheless, where tourists might avoid simply because of a rough and tumble appearance, locals have made homes out of, and where there is home, there is good food to be found. These aren’t the five-star restaurants you visit to make an impression. These are the places you visit to make new friends, eat great food, be loud, and have fun.
Visiting the same restaurants and chains can eventually come to all feel the same. Adventures are out there, just waiting to be discovered. So step out of your comfort zone and find your new favorite dive by dining in the rough.
Pawleys Island Tavern
10635 Ocean Hwy, Pawleys Island
Affectionately called “The Pit.” Pawleys Island Tavern has been known for many years as the home of shrimp, beer, and blues. Visitors from all over will search out this dive, oftentimes hearing of it by word of mouth. Still, it’s still considered to be a hidden gem, and no doubt much of Pawleys Island would like to keep it that way.
- Lowcountry is what it’s all about in the Pit, so expect an all-around fun and casual time. Local bands and singers are hosted at this tavern weekly, Thursdays through Sundays. The music ranges from rock to bluegrass, so visit their website for their calendar.
- The food is astounding and made fresh from local ingredients. The menu is crawling with Lowcountry dishes, and made simply without unnecessary pomp. For instance, their crab cakes are perfection, and as such one of the most popular dishes.
- Inside, the Pit’s most memorable feature is the thousands of dollar bills stapled to the walls, ceilings, and fans. It’s not a very uniform wallpaper but it is damn fun, especially with all the names and messages written on the bills, left from the many Pit guests.
- Outside, in the shade of large trees covered in Spanish moss, there are quite a few tables, along with an outdoor bar adjacent to the porch. Lights are strung up between the branches, giving the backyard feel an even more charming glow.
In the Rough
- Tucked behind a few newer buildings, the Pit is more decrepit than its neighbors, but also a bright, cheerful blue. The parking lot is dirt and pretty roughed up, especially after the recent flooding.
- This tavern is more than two decades old, and it shows in the faded paintings along some of the walls, inside and out. But the Pit retains all its character and despite looking rough, it’s kept very clean.
4504 Socastee Blvd Unit A, Myrtle Beach
Socastee isn’t known for popular restaurants, let alone for being fancy. It is mostly compiled of neighborhoods, after all. But that hasn’t stopped some hidden gems from coming out of the woodwork, and Socastee Station is definitely one of those.
- The menu at Socastee Station is impressive and eclectic, with Southern favorites like meatloaf and country fried steak, seafood like mussels and shrimp, and even pierogis, a popular potato-based Baltic food. Their fried cheesecake balls are also impressive, with just the right amount of salty and sweet, crunchy and creamy.
- The restaurant has daily deals, like the All You Can Eat fish fry every Friday, or $.35 wings on Saturdays. Their Happy Hour menu also has great discounts on favorite appetizers, like their famous Bog Balls that come out fresh and crispy.
- With all the options on the menu, a meal at Socastee Station can be as healthy or fried as you want it. The food is good, the company is cheerful, so it’s not surprising how loved it is by locals.
In the Rough
- The exterior of the entire strip mall this bar is in is faded and a little beat up from years of use. Socastee Station, with its shuttered windows, probably doesn’t look inviting to people who aren’t familiar with it.
- Even during the day, the lighting is pretty dim, which doesn’t help the worn appearance. It’s kept simple, with seats and tables meant for practicality as opposed to aesthetic (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing).
- This restaurant is kept clean and family friendly.
Sun City Café
801 Main Street, Myrtle Beach
Main Street in Myrtle Beach really comes to life at night, when the bars and clubs open up for a night of revelry. Along this street you’ll find Sun City Café, which is loved by the locals for its good food and lively atmosphere.
- Sun City Café is known for its delicious Mexican food, like their spicy salsa or the quesadillas or their popular Old School Burrito. Some locals even say they wouldn’t want to go anywhere else for Mexican food.
- Sun City Café is open from 5 to 9 p.m., and kids are welcome, and responsible adults can have fun. Inside, it’s colorful and casual, making the ambiance perfect for a party.
- Chill it may be here, Sun City Café still takes reservations for those larger parties. They’ve been known to host private events, but they’re good about updating their social media and letting fans know what they’re up to.
In the Rough
- Unfortunately, downtown Myrtle Beach does not possess the best of reputations after dark during some seasons.
- Though the cafe itself hasn’t been involved in any recently reported crimes, robberies and assaults are known to occur throughout the downtown area.
- A great place to eat, simply in a not-so-great area.
221 Main Street, North Myrtle Beach
Driving down Main Street in North Myrtle Beach, it’s easy to overlook this little pub squished between the bigger buildings, but when it’s finally spotted, it stands out. International Café looks like it fell from the streets of a little town in Germany, and given the theme, this makes sense.
- This pub is small in stature but big in character. The inside is wonderful and quaint, with ancient maps as tabletops, a six-foot replica of Big Ben along the back wall, and more knick-knacks above the bar to keep with the international theme, like a katana and safari animals carved out of wood.
- The beer list is a major draw, and their menu is pretty extensive as well, not to mention fun to read. Most newcomers will probably spend their first 10 minutes just reading the menu from cover to cover to enjoy the pictures and comics, then the titles of the dishes that are available.
- The food is excellent and creative, and decently priced. With all the options, this pub is worth a few visits.
In the Rough
- The downtown area of North Myrtle Beach suffers the same kind of reputation that plagues its southern counterpart. During the day, Main Street is rather nice and calm, but at night, it becomes less friendly.
- International Café seems to have the same issue as the area it’s located in. While the sun is up, the little eatery is charming and relaxed. It has a different attitude when the sun goes down.
4474 Water Front Ave, Little River
Along the Waterfront in Little River, there is a nice collection of boathouse type restaurants, shops, and the famous Big M Casino. All the buildings have that well-loved charm that isn’t exactly the same as flawlessness. Still, locals and visitors don’t come down to the Waterfront for a typical vacationer hotspot. This is where they come to live a little.
- Restaurants on the water are widely popular along the Grand Strand, and Crab Catchers is a good example of why that is. The porch sits firmly over the waterway and isn’t affected by the waves from passing boats. Either on the top or bottom level, the outdoor seating provides a great view of the waterway in both directions.
- Obviously, Crab Catchers is known for its seafood, which is consistently fresh. The Catch of the Day is what the local fishermen bring in, and changes regularly.
- It’s super casual here, which means it’s easy to relax and enjoy the view, without worrying about staying neat, especially when enjoying those crab legs.
In the Rough
- The area along Water Front Avenue tends to have mixed reviews, and has sometimes been described as “hit or miss.” While Crab Catchers is generally loved, it also doesn’t have the appearance of a popular seafood restaurant.
- Being on the water, the area is often troubled by rain and high tides, which doesn’t help the dirt parking lots. The weather can easily make or break a meal here. This also means you shouldn’t expect anything fancy.
- Again, this is on the waterway. If it smells fishy…it’s for a reason.
Here are a few more suggestions to get you started on your own journey of finding great food in hidden or questionable locations. If you didn’t see your favorite, let us know where you like to dine in the rough!
- Greg’s Cabana Bar & Grill
2800 Highway 17, Garden City
- Oliver’s Luncheonette
1301 Highway 501 Business, Conway
- Radd Dew’s BBQ
851 Highway 701, Aynor
- Fat Jack’s Wings
353A Highway 17, Surfside Beach