Chef Brett McKee from the Oak Steakhouse in Charleston isn't a shy guy (he said the coolest thing about Charleston is him) and he knows how to get around the port city without traveling down the old, beaten path. The award-winning chef is a rock star in the kitchen — earning tons of awards (like the 2008 Culinary Legend Award at the Charleston Food & Wine Festival) and garnering coverage in publications like Inked magazine (because of his tattoos and philanthropic nature). Here's a look at some of his favorite Charleston-centric locales.
Best Places to Eat
"Oak Steakhouse by far and O-Ku Sushi. I'm not just saying that -- you can look at the accolades and the write-ups. The food is tremendous, and it's the atmosphere and the fun and the attention to detail. If you want sushi, there is the O-Ku Sushi. Sushi in Charleston before was always the tsumani and the wasabi, but here's a guy that was born in Korea, trained in Japan and in New York. After 10 p.m. we transform and get DJs in there. Also, Fig -- Michael Lata's restaurant -- is a very good restaurant."
Best Places to Shop
"I would go just up and down King Street. The benefit of Charleston is it's almost a New Orleans concept. It's peninsula surrounded by our islands, so if you're staying downtown go to the old Market, which is on Market Street. Going to the old slave market is cool, and on King Street you have all of the big, local, old school boutique-y stuff and the new stuff that's coming in now. If you are out in one of the beach areas, like the Isle of Palms, I would go to the Towne Centre where they have stores like Stylexchange, which is where I buy all of my clothes, and it's just good funky stuff."
Best Places to Hear Live Music
"For live music in Charleston -- that's one thing there's not a lot of; the Music Farm, though, is the best ... They've had anyone from Hootie & The Blowfish to Snoop Dogg. And another place that's cool for the summertime is the Windjammer out on the Isle of Palms. That's where Darius [Rucker] and Hootie started playing their music."
Best Nightlife Spots
"Early in the night, I really think Oak Steakhouse and O-Ku Sushi; during that 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. period, it's where all the beautiful people go to see and be seen. For late night in Charleston, I would go to Torch Velvet Lounge. If you come in and you're staying out by the beach, I would go to Windjammer again."
Places to Avoid
"Some of the outdated restaurants -- and I feel bad about saying this -- but avoid some of the tourist-trap restaurants that are on Meeting Street. Sometimes when you come into the airport and you see these big [restaurants that have] spent a lot of marketing dollars, don't fall into the trap. If you're looking for someplace to go, do your homework and look how long ago those accolades were. If they're from 1970, they might be a little worn out."
Charleston's Best-Kept Secrets
"If you're coming into Charleston, I'd do it in a three-part process. I'd get on a rickshaw and see these old cobblestone roads; and ... all the churches and the graveyards. Then go down Trade Street and Lagare Street and you see these narrow houses ... look into their backyards and see these giant pools that you didn't think you'd see. And then I would get in a small boat and go up the waterways that will connect you to the Intercoastal Waterway -- that will connect you to the Atlantic Ocean. You can go from downtown Charleston and go up this little inlet, and it is total relaxation. You feel like you're in that book Prince of Tides. And if you can, I tell people to take a helicopter ride around Charleston. You've seen it by land, you've seen it by the inlets and then when you see it by air, you will understand Charleston."
• Oak Steakhouse: www.oaksteakhouserestaurant.com
• The Charleston Area Convention & Visitors Bureau: www.charlestoncvb.com
• Music Farm Charleston: www.musicfarm.com
• Mount Pleasant Towne Centre: www.mtpleasanttownecentre.com
• Fig Restaurant: www.eatatfig.com