The Best Restaurants In Aiken South Carolina

pick the right places to eat in Aiken

The Best Restaurants In Aiken South Carolina

We did all the work so you can reap the rewards! Our list of the best restaurants in Aiken, SC is ready to help you find the most charming places to eat in Aiken.

Aiken, South Carolina is duly renowned for its lush gardens and fast horses. Today, it might owe its fame to being the winterhome of late 19th century wealthy equestrians. Yet, Aiken wasn’t initially built to be a ‘winter colony’ for the well-to-do. It was, in fact, a railroad town. Aiken was incorporated in 1835 and was formed around the last stop of the South Carolina Canal and Railroad Company, a rail line from Charleston to the Savannah River. It was named for William Aiken, the railroad’s first president. 

The rail line, which ended in downtown Aiken, transported the very first steam powered passenger train in the U.S. At the time of its completion it was the largest train line in the country.

Downtown Aiken

Railroad tracks once occupied the middle of the street in Aiken but they have since been displaced by verdant parks. The downtown is bisected with a quirky network of one way streets, squares and circles with fountains unrestrainedly attractive and pleasing…but also challenging to drive through for first time visitors. It can be a little puzzling to see drivers making left turns on red lights. Or going straight through a red light.

Want some local advice? “Circles go, squares no.” But if you’re uncertain, just wait for a green light and everything will be OK. As we have indicated, Aiken has a rich history and many attractions. But in this article we are concentrating on what many overlook…Aiken’s vibrant food scene. In South Carolina we have Charleston, Hilton Head, Columbia, and Greenville, but we’re here to tell you that Aiken is a sleeper. 

We made many visits in January, February and throughout this past summer and have had many enjoyable experiences…just as enjoyable as any of the aforementioned dining destinations. Do not sleep on Aiken. This is our story about an adventure in food. Twenty five places that you need to try.

How We Ranked The Best Restaurants In Aiken…the method to our madness!

A few guidelines. Every restaurant on our list was visited at least once, most two times. I usually had two “partners” so as to sample more dishes. This is a ranking, but not a traditional 1-25. The restaurants that made our list are placed in different food experience categories:

  • Bucket List – a drive from anywhere with no hesitation
  • Destination– worth a detour at any time
  • Square Meal – if in the area you won’t regret stopping

Within each group there is no particular order. We hope our designations will enhance your decisions when dining at the best restaurants in Aiken, South Carolina.

Now, on to our listing of the best places to eat in Aiken, SC!

BUCKET LIST

Variety Restaurant

The Setting: dimly lit, wood paneled walls, eclectic decor, paper placements, retro atmosphere, old school waitresses. Lunch, Dinner, Alcohol.

The Food: fresh seafood, fresh fish and beef.

What We Enjoyed:

  • She Crab Soup – lively with spice and sweet meat.
  • Oyster Stew – fulsome with the taste of the sea. 
  • King Fisherman’s platter choice of perch, flounder, catfish with shrimp, oysters, scallops & deviled crab.
  • Ribeye with Clam Strips – for fisherman and beef lovers.

If You Go: Don’t expect any server to introduce themselves by name or recite a litany of specials. Get with the program and you’ll find a diamond in the rough.

Fresh seafood, fresh fish and beef.

Variety Restaurant
921 York Street NE
Aiken, SC
(803) 648-6987
https://www.zmenu.com/the-variety-restaurant-aiken-online-menu/

Prime Steakhouse

The Setting: sophisticated brick wall dining room accentuated with modern art. Classic in every way, yet maintains a warm welcoming charm. Diner, Alcohol.

The Food: an exemplary steakhouse that compares favorably with the best in NYC and beyond.

What We Enjoyed: 

  • 8 oz Filet Mignon – filet mignon can be tricky – tender but not up to par with flavor – not here – a flavorsome cut – make sure you get the Lyonnaise potatoes.
  • Filet Mignon Meatloaf – mushroom demi-glace, mashed potatoes, sweet fire roasted corn – Everybody loves their Mom’s meatloaf, but sorry, this is better. 
  • Wedge Salad with Blue cheese – don’t know why, but iceberg lettuce tastes sooo good in a steakhouse.
  • Whole Maine Lobster – delivered daily – do I need to say more. 
  • Creamy risotto – a great side.

If You Go: Expect some outrageous specials. I might bring tears to your eyes if I explained them, but enjoy the ones offered when you are there. I am sure that your taste buds will never be the same.

Picking the right steakhouse in Aiken

Prime Steakhouse
316 Richland Avenue W
Aiken,SC
(803) 642-4488
www.primesteakhouseaiken.com

Apizza di Napoli

The Setting: casual and friendly. Place your order, pay at a counter. Piped in Italian music. Even if this was a parking lot it would be worth the trip. Watch the oven: it is amazing in itself.

The Food: Bona-fide. Certified by the Verace Pizza Napoletana. These pizzas rival the best in Italy and the U.S.

What We Enjoyed: 

  • Margherita – Vera Pizza – tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, parmesan, fresh basil, EV olive oil – as good as any margherita I have eaten in 30 years.
  • White Clam Pie – Ipswich clams, Parmesan, garlic, oregano, dry basil. Never did I think there could be a clam pie to rival Frank Pepe’s of New Haven, Connecticut. I am Amazed.
  • Fried Ravioli – pasta pockets filled with sausage and cheese, breaded, fried to a crispy golden brown. Side of spicy sauce.

If You Go: Don’t ask for your pizza to be cut. They honor old country traditions. You need to use a knife and a fork or they will give you a cutter. This is historical, traditional pizza. You will not find its like in all of South Carolina. They are the best in the state for what they do. And the 900 degree wood fired oven doesn’t hurt.

Certified by the Verace Pizza Napoletana

Apizza di Napoli
740 Silver Bluff Road
Aiken, SC
(803) 226-0700
www.apizzadinapoli.com

Whiskey Alley

The Setting: lively, cutting edge downtown bar/restaurant serving eclectic, outstanding food with an impressive beverage list. Dinner, Alcohol.

The Food: innovative and creative cuisine that tweaks regional classics.This kitchen is from another planet. I’m thinking about placing it on my all-time 20 best restaurants list.

What We Enjoyed: 

  • Pelmini – Russian beef & pork dumplings shimmering with butter.
  • House Smoked Salmon – salty, sleek and elegant.
  • Rustic Rabbit Pot Pie – mustard and cider braised rabbit, rutabaga, English peas, buttered squash, creamy rabbit gravy, homemade bacon and scallion crust. An incredible dish. 
  • Smoked Trout Dip – house cured and smoked rainbow trout with hand cut potato chips. Sauteed Vealbreads – white peach, toasted hazelnuts, black pepper, candied bacon aged balsamic

If You Go: Did I say cutting edge? Also, I realize this is a food list, but the Whiskey selection deserves a mention. Top notch.

innovative and creative cuisine

Whiskey Alley
227 The Alley
Aiken, SC
(803) 226-0579
www.whiskeyalley.com

Willcox Hotel

The Setting: luxurious hotel, spa and restaurant. Harkens back to bygone eras when Aiken was indeed the winter playground for the rich and famous. Historic, romantic, polished. Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Dessert, Alcohol.

The Food: dazzling new American cuisine with global influences.

What We Enjoyed:

  • Korean Fried Chicken Sandwich – fried egg, kewpie mayo, cucumber kimchi, french fries – beautiful contrast in textures.
  • Truffle fries – succulent and full flavored.
  • Szechuan Brussel Sprouts – a crunchy treat with cilantro, scallions and peanuts.
  • Calamari – not your run of the mill squid. These are delicate, airy and light.
  • Peach Gazpacho – cilantro, guacamole. A tweak on a classic.
  • Scallops – sweet scallops, honey roasted parsnips, bacon, kale, cipollini onions. Tastes of the sea and earthy woods.

If You Go: Best hotel in town. Busy Spa. Special occasion restaurant – expensive but worth every penny. Refined service but not snobbish or patronizing.

dazzling new American cuisine with global influences

Willcox Hotel
100 Colleton Avenue SW
Aiken, SC
(803) 648-1898
www.thewicox.com

El Borikuazo

The Setting: family-run, storefront restaurant serving wonderful and tasty Puerto Rican food. Folk art on the walls. Staff attentive and friendly. Lunch, Dinner, Alcohol

The Food: dishes that combine influences from Spain, Africa and Latin America. This is the real deal, not a sanitized version of Latin food.

What We Enjoyed:

  • Arroz Mamposteao – a signature dish of rice, beans, peppers, plantains and bacon.
  • Mofongo – dense mash of fried green plantains, garlic, olive oil spices. Choice of sauces – creole, chimichurri, garlic, butter, guava.
  • Shrimp & Mofongo – bacon wrapped grilled shrimp with mofongo and passion fruit BBQ sauce.
  • El Borikuazo Burger – grilled chicken cutlet with herbed beef patty, fried onions, choice of sauce.
  • Grilled Skirt Steak with pineapple and cranberry chimichurri.

If You Go: very hands on place with the owner and chef interacting with the customers. House sangria goes particularly well with the dishes.

Dishes that combine influences from Spain, Africa and Latin America

El Borikuazo
156 University Parkway
Aiken, SC
(803) 226-0549
Web Listing

City Billiards

The Setting: casual, tavern-like digs. A favorite with locals. Lunch, Dinner, Alcohol.

The Food: Cheeseburgers and Hot Dogs are the specialties. Chili recipe was first made in 1957. Sign proclaims: “The Best Cheeseburger you’ll ever eat.” 

What We Enjoyed:

  • The Southern Gentlemen – thick cut bologna, smoked ham, american cheese, fried egg, lettuce and tomato. It was rather hard to be a gentleman while eating this mouthwatering, juicy sandwich.
  • The Kitchen Sink – ground short rib and chuck burger, jalapenos, bacon, grilled onions, swiss cheese, mushrooms, american cheese and crinkle cut fries. All this might not even fit in your kitchen sink!
  • Southern Stack Burger – topped with fried green tomatoes, Gouda cheese and green onions.
  • Chili Dog – homemade chili, hot dog, split top bun, mustard, onions. The dog that put City Billiards on the map.
  • Polish Sausage – peppers and onions. A winner!
  • Chicken livers or gizzards – deep fried. Taste of the backcountry.
  • Pub chips – crispy yet tender. 

If You Go: Hamburgers and hot dogs make a Bucket List? Yes they do! Give City Billiards a try and I’m sure you’ll agree.

“The Best Cheeseburger you’ll ever eat”

City Billiards
208 Richland Avenue W
Aiken, SC
(803) 649-7362
https://citybilliardsofaiken.com/

DESTINATIONS

Restaurante Las Palmas

The Setting: located in a tumbledown former convenience store/gas station on the side of a country road. Unpretentious spot serving classic Mexican food. Warm, attentive service.

The Food: Delicious Mexican food with an alluring presentation. Not an eat and run place. Meals are made to order in a small kitchen but well worth the wait.

What We Enjoyed:

  • Nachos Supreme – fabulous balance of beef (chicken) cheese, veggies and chips. Dark luscious beef, melty decadent cheese. Savory and oozing with flavor.
  • Tacos – not your usual but with tripe and tongue (standards available)
  • Salsa and Chips – these are not afterthoughts. Salsa, peppery and vibrant. Chips, crisp and flavorful.
  • Fajitas – a symphony of grilled beef, fish, chicken and vegetables.
  • Tamales – well crafted with pork.
Delicious Mexican food with an alluring presentation

Restaurante Las Palmas
3016 Wagemer Road
Aiken, SC
(803) 262-5171

Charlie’s Fish Market

The Setting: A no frills place. Aiken’s oldest, continuously operating restaurant (since 1909). At their present location since 1985. Most do takeout, but there are tables if you choose to eat in. Lunch, Dinner.

The Food: Limited menu of the freshest, tastiest fried fish. Bream, mullet, whiting. All fish dredged in cornmeal and then placed in a large cast iron skillet with bubbling oil. Removed with tongs placed in butcher paper. Mustard/hot sauce if you choose. Some white bread. More butcher paper then wrapped in newspaper even if eating in.

What We Enjoyed:

  • Fried whiting – easiest to eat, virtually boneless.
  • Fried mullet – creamy meat, crunchy crust, some bones but not a problem. A small suggestion: go with the mustard/hot sauce on the mullet. You won’t be disappointed.
  • Fried Bream (Brim) great taste but be careful with bones.
  • French fries/hushpuppies – a cut above normal offerings. 

If You Go: Some days there are cakes (fair warning), do not walk out unless you order a few slices. The pineapple upside down cake is a thing of beauty. Deceptively simple food with complex flavor. 

Aiken’s oldest, continuously operating restaurant

Charlie’s Fish Market
813 Richland Avenue E
Aiken, SC
(803) 649-2131

Betsy’s Round the Corner

The Setting: An old-fashioned American corner restaurant. Three distinct areas: soda fountain, diner, cafe. Busy place, very popular with locals.

The Food: Sandwiches, Burgers, Salads, Blue Plate Specials and Cakes.

What We Enjoyed:

  • Pimento Cheese and Bacon Sandwich on sourdough – tastes as good as it sounds.
  • Pot roast – melts in your mouth.
  • Chicken and Dumplings – homemade dumplings, white meat chicken, hard cooked eggs, chicken broth, cream – sure to brighten your day.
  • Liver and Onions – grilled beef liver, caramelized onions, brown gravy. Can be touch-and-go with liver, but not at Betsy’s! Plain tender goodness. 
  • Murphy Dog – Nathan’s all beef hot dog, chili, slaw, pickle chips. Take me to Coney Island!

If You Go: Try the delicious cakes and ice cream. If you are in the mood they have some interesting and tasty “boozy shakes.” Try a PB&J – peanut butter, vanilla ice cream and Jack Daniel’s.

An old-fashioned American corner restaurant

Betsy’s Round the Corner
224 Park Avenue
Aiken, SC
(803) 226 0078
www.betsysaroundthecorner.com

The Whitney Restaurant and Bar

The Setting: A stylish, downtown restaurant with attention to detail. Friendly, welcoming atmosphere. Small but beautiful bar. Dinner, Alcohol.

The Food: Well-prepared renditions of upscale dishes such as shrimp scampi, chicken piccata, lump crab cakes.

What We Enjoyed:

  • Florentine Flatbread – soft herbed cheese with artisan bread.
  • Ahi Tuna – seared ahi tuna with ginger dressing and seaweed salad.
  • The Queen’s Roast – fork tender beef in a bordelaise sauce served with creamed potatoes and a vegetable. Yes, it was worthy of a Queen.
  • Whitney Burger – quality porcini dry rubbed patty on a toasted bun.
  • Caesar salad – shaved Parmesan and white anchovies.
  • Mussels – white wine, butter and garlic.

If You Go: Only serving dinner at this time. Well-crafted cocktails and a well thought out wine list.

Well-prepared renditions of upscale dishes

Whitney Restaurant and Bar
148 Laurens Street SW
Aiken, SC
(803) 226 0911
www.thewhitneyaiken.com

Harry’s Local Bar and Restaurant

The Setting: A juke joint with beer sign decor, low lights, graffiti on the walls. Bottled beer is the drink of choice. But, yes, this is definitely a destination restaurant. Dinner, Alcohol.

The Food: Southern style seafood. Scallops, shrimp, haddock oysters. If you don’t want seafood there are wings, prime rib and Pittsburg style beef sandwiches.

What We Enjoyed:

  • Haddock Platter – with shrimp, scallops french fries – lightly breaded and fried.
  • Broiled Shrimp – butter/spices.
  • Salt and Pepper Shrimp –  a spicy alternative to fried shrimp.
  • Coconut Shrimp – sweet chili sauce, crunchy crunchy shrimp.
  • Pittsburgh Sandwich – a “Dagwood” style beef sandwich with a lot of things contained in the bun.

If You Go: Surroundings are just right – lots of locals, yet welcoming. If you order oysters they are a little hard to slurp as the house policy is to leave them semi-attached.

Southern style seafood

Harry’s Local Bar & Restaurant
1208 Whiskey Road
Aiken, SC
(803) 649-0082

JC’s Seafood

The Setting: Simple shrimp shack type atmosphere. Lovely to eat on the screened porch on varnished picnic tables, aptly named the Bait Shack. Lunch, Dinner, Alcohol.

The Food: We’re talking seafood boils – traditional Low Country Boil but shrimp can be substituted with crab legs, mussels, sea scallops, lobster tails or crabs. Large display case with all kinds of fish and shellfish that can be steamed or boiled.

What We Enjoyed: 

  • Low Country Boil – superb shrimp, firm and fatty sausage, sweet corn and potatoes. Traditional goodness.

If You Go: Almost feels like you’re on the ocean. Close your eyes and indulge in a South Carolina Classic. Their motto. “Nothing fancy—Just Good Food”.

traditional Low Country Boil

JC’s Seafood
3189 Whiskey Rd
Aiken, SC
(803) 648 6303
www.jcseafood.net

Dave’s Grill and Grocery

The Setting: An ethanol free gas station and convenience store that also doubles as a butcher shop and cafe. Breakfast, Lunch.

The Food: Burgers, BBQ, Meat and Three, Breakfast Sandwiches, homemade sausage, hot dogs, pork chop sandwiches.

What We Enjoyed:

  • Pork Chop Sandwich – bone in, white bread. How could something this simple be so good.
  • BBQ – chopped pork, piquant mustard, sauce.
  • Green Beans – porky, soft – a southern green bean should not be crunchy.
  • Sausage Dog – in house smoked sausage makes all the difference.
  • French Fries – crunchy yet creamy. How do they do it?
  • Cheeseburger – looks like a standard cheeseburger until you take a bite. The taste is sublime.

If You Go: Located in Couchton, SC, about 7 miles from downtown Aiken.

convenience store that also doubles as a butcher shop and cafe

Dave’s Grill and Grocery
3286 Wagener Road
Couchton, SC
(803) 648-7751

Casa Bella

The Setting: Set back from the street by a brick archway. Housed in a Victorian mansion with a comfortable interior. Casa Bella means beautiful house. Dinner, Alcohol.

The Food: Classic, Northern Italian cuisine prepared with care.

What We Enjoyed:

  • Shrimp Scampi – classic shrimp scampi, right touch of garlic on a bed of linguine.
  • Fettuccine Carbonara – prosciutto, pancetta, onions sauteed and served in an Alfredo sauce. A standard but done very well, keeping with tradition.
  • Grilled Chicken Breast – marinated in rosemary, olive oil and garlic. Less is more sometimes.
  • Stuffed Shrimp – shrimp stuffed crabmeat over creamy risotto.
  • Stuffed mushrooms – stuffed with sausage and topped with cheese.

If You Go: Park-like setting with an enticing patio. Interesting cocktails.

Classic, Northern Italian cuisine prepared with care

Casa Bella
120 Chesterfield Street
Aiken, SC
(803) 641-3107

Taj Aiken Indian Cuisine

The Setting: Casual with two dining rooms. Polite helpful service. Located in the downtown area. Traditional Indian background music. Lunch, Dinner.

The Food: Wonderful, vibrant, savory, spicy Indian food.

What We Enjoyed:

  • Naan – gleaming flatbreads brushed with garlic, onion or chili flakes. All have a buttery flavor and are lithe and airy.
  • Shrimp Vindaloo – intensely spicy curry, but with heaps of bright, acidic and vinegar-tinged undertones.
  • Tandoori Chicken – succulently juicy from being marinated in yogurt and a lemon spiced marinade. Smoked paprika, ginger, and garlic complete the rainbow of flavors.
  • Gobi 65 – spicy, breaded, deep-fried cauliflower florets.
  • Goat Biryani – basmati rice flavored with fragrant spices such as saffron then layered with tender pieces of goat and a thick gravy. Secured with dough and cooked over a low flame. If you’ve never had goat, this is a delicious introduction.
  • Salti Lasser – blend of yogurt, water, sprinkle of salt, cumin seeds topped with mint. A savory tangy refreshing drink.

If You Go: Don’t be afraid to use your naan to mop and dip into any curries and vindaloos you might have. All spice levels can be adjusted so talk to your server.

Wonderful, vibrant, savory, spicy Indian food

Taj Aiken Indian Cuisine
213 Richland Avenue
Aiken, SC
(803) 845-9245
https://taj-aiken-indian-cuisine.business.site/

Thai Jasmine Rice

The Setting: “Welcome to Thailand” greets you as you enter. Located in a shopping mall, simple but comfortable dining area. Well-maintained. Lunch, Dinner, Alcohol.

The Food: Aromatic Thai food with a sprinkling of other Asian entries. Thai items are all spot-on with a multitude of choices.

What We Enjoyed:

  • Pad Thai – small rice noodles stirred with eggs, bean sprouts, scallions and sweet pad thai sauce. Your choice of chicken, pork, beef shrimp or tofu. Served mild, but kitchen will spice it up.
  • Gang Panang Curry – less spicy than traditional red curry, but still carries a kick. The addition of coconut cream and peanuts adds a sweet note.
  • Tom Ka Soup – spicy and sour hot soup with coconut milk, tomatoes, onions, lime juice and the peppery galangal root. I added chicken to mine and the interaction was fulsome.
  • Som Tum Thai – a spicy papaya salad with garlic, chillies, peanuts, lime juice, fish sauce and sugar. This will zing your tastebuds.
  • Green Curry – coconut milk, green peas, peppers, basil. The addition of fresh young green chilis makes this hotter than other curries but tempered somewhat by the coconut milk.

If You Go: Discuss the heat with your server. A great addition to your meal – a bottle of Chang beer, a lager beer brewed in Thailand.

Thai food with a sprinkling of other Asian entries

Thai Jasmine Rice
1552 Whiskey Road
Aiken, SC
(803) 663 6363
www.thaijasminericeofsc.com

SQUARE MEAL

Just Julie’s

The Setting: Bare-topped tables and fluorescent lighting. But don’t be fooled, this place has a warm, Southern vibe. Opened in 1981, and for the last 23 years the owner has been, of course, Julie.

The Food: Sandwiches, salads, sides, soups. The freshest of ingredients. All meats and cheeses cut fresh.

What We Enjoyed:

  • Carnivore – ham, bologna, turkey, capicola, salami, pepperoni and cheese. I am sure you get the concept.
  • Egg Salad Sandwich – egg salad is made to your taste when you order – be patient – when do you ever get that option?
  • Classic Cuban Sandwich – not always available, but if it’s a special, go for it.
  • Chef Salad – variety is amazing.

If You Go: Everything is made to order – takes a little time, but we can all spare a little time for food this delicious and fresh.

The perfect lunch get away

Just Julie’s
951 Pine Log Road
Aiken, SC
(803) 649 2721
www.justjuliesrestaurant.com

Ray’s Tavern

The Setting: Tavern, dive bar (we always mean that in a good way). Pool table. Lunch, Dinner, Alcohol.

The Food: Great tavern fare – owners (over 40 years) take pride in what they do. Limited menu – hamburgers, hot dogs, wings and usually a fish or chicken sandwich. Meat ground fresh by a local butcher daily. Garnishes from local produce. Condiments are name brand.

What We Enjoyed:

  • Cheeseburger – nearly an inch thick freshly ground beef – cooked to perfection – moist. Add lettuce, tomatoes, chopped onions, mustard, mayo and ketchup (yes, all 3).
  • Chili Dog – all beef hot dog chili topping is sweet and meaty and works well with the dog (no beans in chili). 
  • Chili Cheese Fries – a delectable mess.
  • Samy burger – same great meat, caramelized onion, tomato, cheese, toasted bun. Named after the owner.

If You Go: Kitchen closes 7 pm, though the tavern remains open later. 

Meat ground fresh by a local butcher daily

Ray’s Tavern
2466 Wagener Road
Aiken, SC
(803) 649-5915

Aiken Fish House and Oyster Bar

The Setting: Comfortable, nautical brick, knick knack ambiance. Eager, helpful staff.

The Food: Fresh Seafood, tasty dishes, classic renditions of regional dishes.

What We Enjoyed:

  • Low Country Boil – what you would expect.
  • Grouper Sandwich – nice touch with blackened spices – flaky goodness.
  • Bacon-laced collards – we all love our collards, especially with some bacon oomph. James River Oysters – keep it simple, eat them raw. Other offerings are a little too fussy. Bang Bang Shrimp – Buffalo sauce makes the dish.
  • Carolina Chocolate Cake – three layers of double chocolate nirvana.

If You Go: We wanted to make this a Destination-tier stop, but felt like the kitchen needs to step out of their comfort zone. Everything they do they do well, just wish they would be more creative with their offerings.

Fresh Seafood, tasty dishes, classic renditions

Aiken Fish House and Oyster Bar
1376 Whiskey Road
Aiken, SC
(803) 226-0260
www.aikenfishhouse.com

What’s Cookin Downtown

The Setting: A family-run restaurant that’s a local gathering place. Casual, with art adorned walls. Feels like home. Breakfast, Lunch, Alcohol.

The Food: Breakfast, sandwiches, salads, burgers and more.

What We Enjoyed:

  • Betty Sandwich – avocado, lettuce, tomato, cucumber, red onion, sour cream spread on marble rye. Crunchy and silky.
  • Tater Tots – not sure what they do, but these tots are a creamy shredded mix enclosed in a golden brown cocoon.
  • Pop’s Hearty Hash Browns – topped with sausage, grilled jalapenos and onions, eggs, velveeta cheese. ‘Hearty’ does not do this justice. How about ‘glorious!’
  • Chicken Salad – white meat, grapes, celery, pecans, mayo – you will be back for this. Biscuits and Gravy – quality biscuits in a finger licking sausage gravy.
  • Grits – outstanding, creamy, peppery – add some bacon and cheese and you have truly seized your day. Carry On

If You Go: This spot is a real find for Southern regional dishes. Do not be shy.

Breakfast, sandwiches, salads, burgers and moreBreakfast, sandwiches, salads, burgers and more

What’s Cookin Downtown
123 Laurens Street NW #B
Aiken, SC
(803) 649 1068
www.whatscookindowntown.com

Takosushi

The Setting: Well-appointed, Asian-accented interior in the popular “Alley” area of Aiken. Lunch, Dinner, Alcohol.

The Food: Asian and Southwestern food. Not a fusion menu – serves Asian (mostly Japanese) and Mexican/Southwestern as separate options.

What We Enjoyed:

  • Asparagus Tempura – smoky asparagus inside strikingly seasoned batter.
  • Crazy Roll – sticky rice around tempura shrimp and crisp cucumber, topped with crab, fresh shrimp, avocado, sweet teriyaki sauce. This dish ranks with the best dishes in Aiken.
  • Tuna Tartare – sushi grade tuna, avocado, lime juice, mayo – a superior dish.
  • Foley Roll – spicy scallops and cucumbers topped with tuna and avocado. Another keeper.

If You Go: A strange brew in this restaurant. The Asian dishes could elevate it to the Bucket List but then we have to deal with the Southwestern. This side of the menu is just plain terrible. This concept is interesting but the execution has gone off the rails. Stick with the Asian and you will have a memorable meal, but for the uninformed (who may want to order nachos) it could be a disaster.

Asian and Southwestern food

Takosushi
210 The Alley
Aiken, SC
(803) 642-8899
www.tako-sushi.com/

Grumpy’s Sports Pub

The Setting: A dozen televisions, beer menu longer than food menu, camaraderie. Lunch, Dinner, Late Night, Alcohol.

The Food: Sports Pub Cuisine. Everytown needs this.

What We Enjoyed: 

  • Pub Chips – crispy around the edges with some softness in the middle.
  • Smoked Chicken Sandwich – hickory smoked pulled chicken. Yes!
  • ¼ lb. Hot Dog – all beef hot dog, mustard, relish and the triumph…banana peppers.
  • Sweet Potato Fries – salt, pepper, paprika – golden brown creamy goodness.
  • Fried Green Tomatoes BLT – lots of bacon with a jalapeno jolt.

If You Go: Grumpy’s knows what they want to do and they do it well. You will always be satisfied, just make sure you understand what to expect.

Sports Pub Cuisine

Grumpy’s Sports Pub
216 East Gate Drive
Aiken, SC
(803) 226-9868
www.grumpysportspub.com

Aiken Brewing Company

The Setting: A cozy, brew pub serving a changing menu of handcrafted beers. Lunch, Dinner, Late night, Alcohol

The Food: Pub-style menu that complements the beer offerings.

What We Enjoyed:

  • Brew City Cheese Fries – beer brined fries, topped with cheese/bacon. Ranch dressing on side for dipping. Nice!
  • Onion rings – just what you expect in a brew pub – big and malty.
  • Shrimp jammers – cheese, fried, cajun bell sauce.
  • Potato skins – potato shells, cheese, bacon, chives, sour cream. Don’t you just love pub food.

If You Go: the attraction is beer. So we’re here to help.

Our favorites:

  • Double Pale Ale – deep amber, malty, hints of caramel. Duck because it carries an 8.8 abv.
  • Irish Oatmeal Stout – dark body, dense dark head. Silky smooth mouth feel. 5.2 ABV.
  • Scotch Ale – AKA – “wee heavy” – dark ruby brown ale, smoky aroma and a 8.9 ABV
Pub-style menu that complements the beer offerings

Aiken Brewing Company
140 Laurens Street SW
Aiken, SC
(803) 502-0707
www.aikenbrewingcompany.com

Dukes Bar-B-Que

The Setting: Classic South Carolina barbecue joint. The Dukes family has been a leader in smoked pork for over 50 years. Located throughout South Carolina. Lunch, Dinner.

The Food: Hickory smoked pork, traditional sides, chicken.

What We Enjoyed:

  • Cracklins – strips of pork rind, fried, crusty, crisp.
  • Barbecued Pork – when you’ve been doing it this long, it shows.
  • Barbecued Chicken – might get in trouble,but…maybe better than the pork?!?!
  • Squash Casserole – it will change your mind if you’re hesitant.
  • Peach Cobbler – at Dukes, it is another side of barbecue.

If You Go: Buffet has reopened but everything can be packed to go.

Hickory smoked pork, traditional sides, chicken

Dukes Bar-B-Que
4248 Whiskey Road
Aiken, SC
(803) 649 7675
https://www.dukesbbqaiken.com/

That’s our cook’s tour of Aiken. When you’re contemplating a food adventure in South Carolina, think outside of the box. We all know the tried and true, and they are great. But now it’s time to eat your way through Aiken, SC! We know you’ll be pleased!