Dogs are always welcomed with their people at Watusi on Hilton Head Island. COURTESY WATUSI

Even with all the outdoor dining options available to us, there was a time not too long ago when bringing your pup to dine with you was seen as more of a brazen act. The truth is that coastal restaurateurs have long welcomed your furry friends on the down low, but a small but vociferous chorus of online ranters kept eateries from openly advertising the practice.

Today, it is an insider secret no more. The Lowcountry is widely recognized across the country as one of the most welcoming and accommodating landing spots for dog owners wanting to bring their canine mate along for a meal.

Eatery owners are outwardly marketing to the pet set now, in what has rapidly become a game of industry one-upsmanship of who can wow the doggy-adorned diners with the cutest luxuries – and the best doggone meals for your four legged fur baby. It’s such a competition that narrowing our list of contenders was one of our toughest tasks yet in Hot Spots history.

Here are the top picks that our blue-ribbon panel of four-legged aficionados have deemed best in show, with all the meals mentioned priced from $3 to $10.

The Cottage Café, Bakery And Tea Room, 38 Calhoun St., Bluffton, thecottagebluffton.com: Leslie Rohland’s eatery does so many things right, from its coffees to its mouth-watering sandwiches and desserts. The porch and garden seating is perfect for people watching, but what makes The Cottage stand out is its scratch-made doggy menu with a variety of canine-friendly ingredients. Fans rave about the Mojo Chow (made with chicken, bacon and egg), the Daddy Dallas (bacon, cheese, chicken), Tanka’s Tummy (chicken and cheese mix) and Skyler’s Licker (full of peanut butter, apple and yogurt).

Watusi Café, 71 Pope Ave., Hilton Head Island, watusicafe.com: The restaurant’s patio is regularly filled with an array of breeds chowing down on their grain-free selection of nine different dehydrated vegetables and high-protein dishes like scrambled eggs, egg whites and all-white chicken. The restaurant also offers a selection of all-natural Sweet Potate’r treats and chews.

Southern Barrel Brewing Company: Head chef Jessica Snider first introduced her doggy creations last summer, a creation born out of a canine charcuterie board brainstorm. The result was a five-item “Southern Barrel Barking Co.” selection, an appetizer, three main courses and a dessert. We’re a big fan of Atticus’ Appetizer, named for Snider’s 2-year-old Pyrenees rescue pup. The delight includes sliced cucumbers, cheddar cheese, strawberries, blueberries and a small pile of pulled pork. And all the dishes are served on frisbees from Woof Gang Bakery Palmetto. All the dishes are named after employees’ pooches, including Buddy and Brady’s Burgers, Nugget’s Nuggets and Mosey’s Meaty Munchies (complete with brisket, diced chicken, shrimp and bacon). And my black lab rescue, Holly, loves the Turbo’s Treats fruit dogsicle frozen dessert.

Skillets Café And Grill, 1 North Forest Beach Drive, Hilton Head Island, skilletscafe.com: The Coligny hot spot has a four-item menu of pre-packaged dog meals from Hardeeville-based Lucky Dog Cuisine (which are all available for home delivery with a special deal using the promo code SKILLETS). Bugsy’s Best Beef and Barley is filled with eggs, pureed peas, carrots, beans and tomatoes, all mixed in with ground flaxseed, garlic, olive oil and yogurt. They also offer an original beef and rice meal, a perfect pooch pasta and a tail-wagging turkey. And there is no better chill outdoor dining spot for your dogs than this long-time island oasis. And Skillets doesn’t just limit their animal intake to mutts – owner Amie Baima said they have even had a customer bring a pig to dine to dinner.

Lot 9 Brewing Company, 258 Red Cedar St., Bluffton, lot9brew.com: The craft brewery is one of the few spots that openly welcomes dogs inside the building. Whether it’s a trivia night, a music bingo event or a local band playing, you will always see a mild-mannered pup sitting by their owner underneath the picnic-table seating. While they don’t offer a specific menu (they only offer food from area food trucks), Lot 9 regularly hosts “Barks and Brews” events with pet makers and vendors offering up their wares alongside the ever-evolving menu of beers on tap.

A similar doggie menu from Lucky Dog is offered at Panini’s on the Waterfront (926 Bay St., Beaufort, paninisonthewaterfront.com), which boasts a river deck that denizens say is far and away the most dog-friendly in town.

Lucky Dog Cuisine is quite the local resource for Lowcountry pet owners. Dr. Janice Elenbaas founded the company 14 years ago and offers seven total dishes for order, all made fresh in their 7,500-square-foot facility. Additional dishes not yet offered at area restaurants include a grain-free turkey and taters mix, a picky palate pork dinner and an Alaskan pollock-based fish dish.

A variety of chefs and owners we spoke to said that with the growth in doggie dining, they are all working on a small selection of dog dishes. But the list of pet-friendly restaurants that won approval from our blue-ribbon panel is growing daily.

In Bluffton, Old Town Dispensary, Katie O’Donald’s, Okatie Ale House, Corner Perk, Craft Kitchen, First Watch, Agave, Underground Burritos, Sippin Cow and Pearl Kitchen and Bar all won raves from our panel for their attention to furry companions.

On Hilton Head Island, it’s honestly more about which spots DON’T offer pet-friendly accommodations than which do. But we have heard the most raves about Skull Creek Boathouse, where they pamper your pup from first sight with a water bowl and a lot of belly rubs. Other hot spots repeated mentioned include Charbar Co., Crazy Crab, Black Marlin, Poseidon, Main Street Café, Sunrise Café, Kenny B’s, Delisheeyo, FISH and Salty Dog Café.

Captain Woody’s, Chow Daddy’s, Frankie Bones and Local Pie customers said both Bluffton and Hilton Head locations offer pet-friendly spaces.

Tim Wood is a veteran journalist based in Bluffton. Contact him at timwood@blufftonsun.com.