Myrtle Beach has been a popular Southern destination since the 1930s--and they’ve got the miniature-golf courses (35 of them!) and ice cream stands to prove it. But today there’s more than boardwalk hot dogs and frozen custard in this beach town along the South Carolina coast. Sure, you can still pop into the quaint 79-year-old Peaches Corner for a foot-long Bruiser (a beer-battered dog wrapped in bacon and topped with chili and cheese). But all along the Grand Strand, food lovers with a more refined palate can now get their fix. This 60-mile string of seaside communities, from Little River to Georgetown and anchored by Myrtle Beach, is hopping with classic restaurants and newcomers alike, all of which showcase the unbeatable flavors of this stretch of the Atlantic.
Nothing gets your morning started quite like breakfast at Croissants Bistro & Bakery. Although the stellar bakery case channels Europe (tender almond croissants, gooey apple Danish), the crab-stuffed omelets and shrimp with pimento-cheese grits remind visitors they’re definitely in South Carolina. Tupelo Honey Café first opened in 2000 in Asheville, North Carolina. They recently branched out to Myrtle Beach’s Market Common, where you can get all the Southern comfort food you can handle: buttermilk fried chicken, grit bowls piled with eggs and apple-cider bacon, shrimp with goat-cheese grits and baked mac and cheese that could make you weep with joy.
For a more modern interpretation of the Southern larder, make your way to Pawleys Island, just down U.S. Highway 17, for Perrone’s. Here, prized ingredients of the area (Manchester Farms quail eggs, poussin from nearby Sumter, fresh-picked crab from New Bern) get a subtle Mediterranean twist with smart—and delicious—tapas. Don’t miss the crab tartlet, a buttery crust full of lump crab, sautéed leeks and crème fraîche, topped with a rich roasted tomato wedge.
It’s worth the short trip inland to Conway just to try the Lowcountry spring rolls at Rivertown Bistro. Chicken, spinach, tasso ham and copious amounts of cheese are fried in wonton wrappers for the perfect bite to start any meal. The restaurant’s sophisticated—but not self-serious—twist on Southern bistro fare delivers everything from bronzed snapper with a jalapeño grit cake and corn-bacon cream to a grilled pork chop with vinegar-laced collards and mashed sweet potatoes.
FROM THE SEA
As a coastal community, the Grand Strand celebrates the bounty of the Atlantic Ocean. From South Carolina’s far northern coast near the North Carolina border stretching down to the marsh-side communities of Murrells Inlet and Pawleys Island, seafood reigns supreme. Throughout the area you’ll see Calabash-style joints where the fried basket is king: shrimp, oysters, hush puppies. Just 10 miles up 17 from North Myrtle Beach, Ella’s of Calabash has been serving lightly breaded and fried seafood straight from local waters since 1950. It still operates in the original building, flush with wooden booths, where waitresses in pastel T-shirts ferry platters of seafood that was likely still swimming the day before.
In the opposite direction, across from Murrells Inlet, Gulfstream Café offers a taste of the sea, with the best views around. The restaurant, built on stilts like the surrounding beach cottages, has a second-floor deck with sweeping views of marshland to the west and glimpses of the Atlantic to the east. Time your visit for sunset to watch the sky blaze with the last vestiges of daylight before tucking into rich oysters Rockefeller or velvety she-crab soup. At the MarshWalk, in Murrells Inlet, a slew of restaurants flank the natural saltwater estuary along a wooden boardwalk.
Amble over to The Claw House, a stylish newcomer that feels like a New England lobster house with Southern sensibilities. Take a seat at the horseshoe-shaped raw bar for voluptuous towers of raw oysters, clams, lobsters and crab.
Myrtle Beach’s drink scene recently got a shot in the arm when The Chemist opened. The tongue-in-cheek design (some drinks are served in beakers; the periodic table decorates the floor and tabletops) perfectly complements the inventive menu, packed with drinks such as the Flux Capacitor, a refreshing mix of St-Germain, vodka, lemon, blackberry and mint. But the playful riff on science doesn’t stop with the cocktails. One tuna dish is cold-seared with liquid nitrogen, topped with coriander and wasabi pearls and served with smoking soy sauce and lo mein noodles.
For a more straightforward bar experience, hit The Brass Tap in the new Market Common. It offers over 200 craft beers on tap, ranging from pilsners to IPAs to sour ales to saisons. And at New South Brewing you can go behind the scenes of a microbrewery that’s been making beer in Myrtle Beach since 1998. Take a free tour with one of its brew masters to learn about its fermentation, brewing and canning processes while you sample the products along the way. Really like that White Ale (the brewery’s take on a Belgian wheat beer) or the Nut Brown Ale? At the end of the tour, the taproom is open to sling pints for thirsty visitors.
THE NEXT WAVE
Although great food is nothing new to Myrtle Beach, a group of fresh-minded entrepreneurs and chefs is ensuring the scene continues to flourish. The 85-seat ART Burger Sushi Bar opened in the fall of 2014, right on the Myrtle Beach boardwalk. The burgers, made with grass-fed and hormone- and antibiotic-free beef, come on a fluffy brioche bun branded (yes, with a branding iron) with the ART logo. Go for a classic, such as the Rockwell All-American, draped in American cheese with lettuce, tomatoes and pickles. Or step outside the burger box with one of the more decadent creations, such as the Munch (served with a slab of pork belly) or the Rembrandt (a patty seared in duck fat and topped with mushrooms, manchego cheese and Dijon mustard). On the menu, look for things such as the poke-like Ahi Tuna Bites, in a ginger soy glaze.
The team behind ART has also opened Gordo’s Tacos & Tequila as an homage to Mexico. The neighborhood-style joint offers 50 different taco varieties and 50 different tequilas, further proof that Myrtle Beach is no longer resting on its boardwalk-hot-dog laurels.
Croissants Bistro & Bakery: 3751 Robert M Grissom Pkwy., Myrtle Beach; 843-448-2253; croissants.net
Tupelo Honey Café: 3042 Howard Ave., Myrtle Beach; 843-315-3780; tupelohoneycafe.com
For Perrone’s: 13302 Ocean Hwy., Pawleys Island; 843-235-9193; perronesmarket.com
Rivertown Bistro: 1111 3rd Ave., Conway; 843-248-3733; rivertownbistro.com
Ella’s of Calabash: 1148 River Rd., Calabash, NC; 910-579-6728
Gulfstream Café: 1536 S. Waccamaw Dr., Garden City; 843-651-8808; gulfstreamcafe.com
The Claw House: 4097 Hwy. 17 Business, Murrells Inlet; 843-651-4415; theclawhouse.com
The Chemist: 300 9th Ave. N., Myrtle Beach; 843-445-7077; chemistbar.com
The Brass Tap: 3090 Deville St., Myrtle Beach; 843-945-1747; brasstapbeerbar.com
New South Brewing: 1109 Campbell St., Myrtle Beach; 843-916-2337; newsouthbrewing.com
ART Burger Sushi Bar: 706 N. Ocean Blvd., Myrtle Beach; 843-839-4774; artsushibar.com
Gordo’s Tacos & Tequila: 214 9th Ave. N., Myrtle Beach
NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.