Greenville’s food scene is exploding, and new openings vie for attention with increasing regularity. This is no surprise since the city is undergoing tremendous growth both in tourism and people making Greenville their home. But despite all the national chains, it’s the homey, family-run eateries, where a pinch of love is added to everything they serve, that keep hungry locals like my husband and me coming back.
Choosing seven was challenging, but these are among the restaurants we recommend to friends. This assortment of cuisines is a small representation of a much larger and even more diverse Greenville culinary picture. They are not in any particular order of deliciousness. Although their specialties differ, one thing they have in common is their stories are almost as tantalizing as their family recipes.
1. Mike & Jeff’s BBQ
As Greenville newcomers, my husband and I ask a lot of questions. When it comes to who makes the best barbecue, the answer usually is Mike & Jeff’s. After sampling their pork, chicken, and some sides, we understand why.
Jeff Little and his family had a plan to create irresistible, mouthwatering barbecue 25 years ago. Smoke the meat low and slow over wood for 16 hours. Jeff named the restaurant in honor of his late father-in-law, Mike. The recipes were gleaned from his cousins. Jeff’s two daughters and mother, Kathleen, work in the restaurant. You can’t say “family” any louder or prouder than that.
Along with the barbecue, we fell in love with the fried okra, baked beans, and hushpuppies. The latter reminded me of my delight when I bit into my first hushpuppy decades ago: delicately crispy, with a hint of onion. All three homemade sauces were also excellent.
Pro Tip: The curbstone terrain in front of Mike and Jeff’s may require extra care for patrons with mobility challenges.
2. Pita House
If you’re not smiling when you enter Pita House, you will be when you leave. In this inviting Middle Eastern restaurant, everything is homemade, fresh, and infused with the bright flavors of the region.
In 1989, the Namouz brothers, Palestinian Christians, left Shefa-Amr, Israel, for Greenville. They opened Pita House at a time when Middle Eastern restaurants were uncommon. Today, Pita House is one of the city’s most popular and beloved eateries.
Owner Ziad Namouz, for whom chatting with diners is as important as feeding them, engaged my husband and me in lively conversation as we lunched. His jovial presence added much to our enjoyment.
At Ziad’s recommendation, we indulged in the Middle Eastern Plate and some of Pita House’s fresh lemonade. The meal consisted of perfectly seasoned gyro meat, crunchy falafel, creamy hummus, assorted fresh vegetables, and homemade pita. Pistachio baklava made a delightful finale. Everything was outstanding.
Pro Tip: Be sure to explore the adjoining grocery store. You can purchase homemade pitas, hummus, and hot sauce, as well as a wide variety of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean food items. Bring cash, as Pita House doesn’t accept credit cards.
Note: Our lunch was generously hosted by Pita House. However, all opinions are entirely my own.
3. Della Venturas Pizzeria
You don’t have to be a New Yorker to crave New York-style pizza. But wherever you’re from, Della Venturas will satisfy that craving. Owner Joe says it’s the crust and hand-strained tomatoes, while son-in-law Aaron credits the rich marinara sauce. But whoever is right, something about the pizza and comforting Italian fare has drawn an ever-growing number of fans to the restaurant since 2007.
In 1972, Joe Della Venturas opened his first pizzeria on Staten Island, followed 13 years later by a gourmet restaurant next door. A move to South Florida and another successful pizzeria took the family to 2007. This time, they moved to Greenville and opened another pizzeria, which they outgrew in two years. Della Venturas’ current location is a homey pizzeria decorated with family photos and prestigious awards and a separate, quieter area where diners can enjoy classic Italian dishes.
My husband and I each selected one of Della Venturas’ lunch specials. My slice was hot and heavenly, and the homemade Caesar dressing on the salad was the best I’ve ever tasted. My husband’s stuffed slice, packed with cheese and pepperoni, was also exceptional.
4. Papi’s Tacos
Papi’s Tacos may look like a food truck without wheels, but don’t let the absence of frills fool you. Inside there’s some excellent cooking happening under the skilled supervision of owner Jorge Barrales, Sr., AKA “Papi.” Since 1997, Papi has been an integral part of the culinary fabric comprising Greenville’s Table 301 Restaurant Group.
Papi was born and raised in Mexico. Wanting a better life, he worked hard until he and his family could join relatives living in Greenville. Starting as a dishwasher in the mid 1990s, Papi worked his way up the ladder. When Table 301 opened The Lazy Goat in 2007, Papi was part of the kitchen team.
Table 301 owner Carl Sobocinski, Papi’s long-time mentor, hatched a plan that has been beneficial for both Papi and Table 301. The concept was simple: a taqueria occupying a then unused space underneath the Lazy Goat. In August 2013, Papi’s Tacos opened with its basic menu of tacos, tortas, and trimmings.
My husband and I enjoyed our excellent bean and cactus and chicken chorizo tacos at a table by the river. The salsa verde was particularly tasty, with a pleasant kick.
5. Myami Bites
Gather Greenville is an open-air food court serving a variety of fast-casual food. It is there you will find Myami Bites serving authentic Miami street food. Owners Tomas and Linda Prado were both raised in the Miami area in Cuban-born families, and the flavorful empanadas, Cuban sandwiches, and croquetas they serve are the same foods they knew growing up.
Tomas is a classically trained chef who has worked with some of the world’s culinary heavy hitters. Before he and Linda opened their first restaurant, Spanglish Cocina & Bar in Charleston, he was a top chef in New York.
While in Charleston, the couple discovered Greenville, and it was love at first sight. According to Linda, the friendly locals won their hearts and inspired them to open Myami Bites at Gather Greenville.
My husband and I shared a Cuban sandwich and an order of ham croquetas. Both were superb. Chatting with Tomas while placing our order added to our enjoyment. Both he and Linda have the kind of positive outlook and enthusiasm for what they do and where they live that’s contagious.
6. Luna Rosa Gelato Cafe
If your gelato comes in small tubs from the grocery store, a cup or cone of one of Luna Rosa’s delectable creamy concoctions will permanently alter your perspective. Making genuine Italian gelato is a carefully choreographed combination of special ingredients, technique, and muscle. Just ask Luna Rosa patriarch, Richard Schweitzer, who produces it almost daily.
Richard and his entire family, wife, daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughter, operate both the downtown Greenville and suburban Mauldin Luna Rosa locations. His son contributes via his talent in graphic design, including the Brooklyn Bridge over the bar.
While in South Florida, Richard owned a business involving assisting companies with clearing international freight through customs. He became intrigued with gelato when a client importing the ingredients hired him. Richard began working with the company, traveled to Italy to learn gelato-making, and opened his first Greenville gelateria in 2007.
For our first gelato fix since Milan in early 2020, my husband and I chose the Lemon Cookie Crunch and the Chocolate Hazelnut. It felt like a sweet taste of Italy in every bite.
Pro Tip: Luna Rosa also serves homemade lasagna and other Italian favorites.
7. Le Petit Croissant
In August 2017, the collective Greenville sweet tooth became acquainted with a touch of class in the form of Le Petit Croissant. Located downtown in the Historic West End, this popular bakery produces fine European-style breads, pastries, and chocolate.
Owner Chef Vincent Caradonna, a chocolate and pastry master, grew up in France, near the Swiss border, where he perfected his craft. While living in New York, Vincent married a Greenville girl he met on a business trip. Two children later, the couple moved to Greenville to be closer to her family. When Vincent felt the time was right, he introduced the city to the joys of fine chocolate and baked goods.
Vincent assembles all his freshly made breads, chocolates, and pastries using a combination of locally sourced ingredients and imported items. The buttery, rich almond croissants and the dark chocolate bonbon filled with lemon-lime Ganache arouse fond memories of fine pastry shops we discovered in Europe. So do the specialty coffees and dark — as in 70 percent — hot chocolate.
Pro Tip: Le Petit Croissant offers workshops in making chocolates, macaroons, as well as croissants and breads. Plan ahead if you want to participate. They fill up fast.