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“Fresh seafood, fried or boiled, plenty on a plate but not particularly well seasoned” 3 of 5 stars
Review of Bowens Island Restaurant

Bowens Island Restaurant
1870 Bowens Island Rd, Charleston, SC 29412-9525
(843) 795-2757
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Ranked #209 of 758 Restaurants in Charleston
Cuisines: Seafood
Dining options: Dinner, Late Night
Restaurant details
Dining options: Dinner, Late Night
Bonn, Germany
Top Contributor
197 reviews 197 reviews
163 restaurant reviews
Reviews in 72 cities Reviews in 72 cities
79 helpful votes 79 helpful votes
“Fresh seafood, fried or boiled, plenty on a plate but not particularly well seasoned”
3 of 5 stars Reviewed December 30, 2012 via mobile

Bowens Island Restaurant has been one destination we've had on our list of Charleston haunts, well known for its oysters and seafood in wooden post-and-beam structure overlooking the marshes. There is a bar serving local and regional drafts, an order station, and a scramble for either indoor or outdoor tables once your order has been taken. The marketing strategy is to have the patron complete the tasks usually reserved for waitstaff; soft drinks come from a fast-food restaurant style machine, condiments are on a separate table across from the bar, and seating arrangements are self configured if you can find enough free chairs. Once your order is ready, and not everyone at the table may be served at the same time, a waiter carries a large round tray from the kitchen while calling your name in an effort to find you. The restaraunt works as a well oiled machine, but beware that it may take some time before your meals arrive depending on the queue that came before you.

The food. All the seafood we ate was fresh and prepared as expected. The boiled shrimp were firm, but the seasoning wasn't assertive as a boil might be elsewhere. The fried oysters were juicy and succulent, lightly battered, but the batter was bland without enhancing the taste of the meat. Fried shrimp were firm but not overcooked, whereas fish filets arrived similarly. In this respect, all the proteins did not disappoint. Acccompanying each dish were: fried potatoes, arriving with a bit more grease than warranted; two hush puppies that were fried to a sugary exterior texture in which one can see the grease rind; and a very small, ketchup-sized paper container of cole slaw. If you're looking for a balanced meal at Bowens Island Restaurant, look elsewhere. But, if you're looking for a unique dining experience where fresh seafood is served in the standard, low country manner, then this may be the place for you. The drive to the restaurant, situated at the end of the road before the marshlands on Bowens Island, is worth the effort even if you don't decide to gorge yourself.

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316 reviews from our community

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Rating summary
    Food
    Service
    Value
    Atmosphere
Date | Rating
  • English first
  • French first
  • Italian first
  • Any
English first
Cincinnati, Ohio
Senior Reviewer
8 reviews 8 reviews
4 restaurant reviews
Reviews in 3 cities Reviews in 3 cities
5 helpful votes 5 helpful votes
“This is a down and dirty dive--and I mean that in the best possible way.”
4 of 5 stars Reviewed December 29, 2012 via mobile

Do not be afraid. This is the real deal where the locals come for steamed oysters and fried fish. We arrived around 6 and the place was jumping. At 8, the line dissipated and tables cleared out. A fun place for the whole family.

    • 5 of 5 stars Value
    • 4 of 5 stars Atmosphere
    • 5 of 5 stars Service
    • 4 of 5 stars Food
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This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
marion, ohio
Senior Contributor
31 reviews 31 reviews
15 restaurant reviews
Reviews in 13 cities Reviews in 13 cities
16 helpful votes 16 helpful votes
“An experience you will talk about for years”
5 of 5 stars Reviewed December 19, 2012

ALL YOU CAN EAT LOCAL OYSTERS!
Not only are the oysters local but so is the crowd.
You probably had to know somebody to find this rustic restaurant hidden on this small island.
Their specialty is ALL YOU CAN EAT OYSTERS. The local oysters are cluster oysters which are sweet and oh so yummy.

Be prepared to stand in line to order, we waited 20+ minutes in 1 line to place our order. There is only one person behind the counter to provide both bartending and ordering services. But he is as pleasant as can be and works like a fiend. Watch the locals they know to order 2 buckets of beer on ice when you place your food order so you dont have to brave the line again!

If you order all you can eat, they are brought out hot and fresh by the oyster cook. According to the signs, he gets paid only by tips, so he is attentive and charming.
Be prepared to get dirty. This is a real oyster roast. Cluster oysters are easy to open especially when freshly steamed but you will get your hands dirty.

PS, if you think this place looks like a dive now, I was told by the locals who brought us, that this is the re-build ....it burned down a number of years ago.

  • Visited December 2012
    • 5 of 5 stars Value
    • 5 of 5 stars Atmosphere
    • 4 of 5 stars Service
    • 5 of 5 stars Food
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Charleston, South Carolina
Contributor
14 reviews 14 reviews
14 restaurant reviews
Reviews in 4 cities Reviews in 4 cities
2 helpful votes 2 helpful votes
“Good Outdoor Island Cafe”
4 of 5 stars Reviewed December 6, 2012

If you like fried oysters, and I do, this is your place. Causal outdoor eating, just like you want it. Eat outside and enjoy the salty ocean air with good food and cold beer.

Visited November 2012
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Charleston, South Carolina
Senior Reviewer
6 reviews 6 reviews
6 restaurant reviews
Reviews in 4 cities Reviews in 4 cities
1 helpful vote 1 helpful vote
“If the locals eat there, it's going to be good!”
5 of 5 stars Reviewed November 25, 2012

This place does everything wrong. You have to get your own drinks and refills. When you food comes from the kitchen, they yell your name and you have to raise your hand. The menu (up until our last visit) was illegible, and you have to go get your own oysters from downstairs.

That being said, this place would be horrible if they changed any of that. These are hands down the best oysters in CHS. The atmosphere of Bownen's is truly local. They are not there to cater to tourist like your going to find in Mt. Pleasant or Charleston proper. These people are about the food. Think of it as that favorite greasy spoon restaurant in your hometown, but with shellfish instead of chili or hamburgers.
You REALLY need to tip the oyster steamer guy downstairs a few bucks. He works only for tips. Tip him good and request them on the mostly rare side. Tip him well and he will treat you right. Also grab a sleeve of saltines while your down there.
My only real complaint about them is their choice of oyster knife. It is all personal taste, so if you have a favorite tool to bifurcate the bivalve, I would bring it with you. If not, Amazon sells a Ferrari of a knife. Search for Victorinox Oyster knife. I like the hooked tip new haven, but its up to you.
As far as romance, the sunsets are some of the best around.

  • Visited October 2012
    • 5 of 5 stars Value
    • 5 of 5 stars Atmosphere
    • 5 of 5 stars Service
    • 5 of 5 stars Food
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This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

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