Charleston Restaurants: Top 25 Hotspots
For several years running, Charleston restaurants have consistently made many a “Best” list when it comes to the city’s burgeoning food scene. In spite of its classification as a small city, Charleston is a true behemoth in the culinary world, among professional chefs and foodies alike.
But what makes Charleston restaurants worthy of all the culinary accolades? First, there’s the availability of fresh, locally-sourced ingredients. Many restaurants here go out of their way to build relationships with local farmers and seafood purveyors. The chefs know their products, know what’s in season, and plan menus highlighting only the freshest ingredients. Chefs at some of the best Charleston restaurants sourced locally before doing so was cool.
Then there’s that delicate balance of creativity and tradition. Charleston is in the South, you know, and there are some Southern comfort foods you just don’t mess with. Until someone does. And the result keeps you going back for more. Or, they don’t mess with it and you still go back because it’s even better than your mamma’s!
Of course, no foodie destination would be on the map without variety and Charleston restaurants have plenty of it–whether you’re looking for an upscale dinner or a laid-back lunch. Naturally, what’s fresh and nearby (hello, ocean) gets loads of menu real estate. Add to that southern faves like okra, grits, fried chicken, and more and you have a culinary combo that’s uniquely Charleston.
And the most obvious trait that makes these Charleston restaurants a must-do? Sheer scrumptiousness, of course. No other way to describe it… unless you’re a food writer or watch way too many cooking shows. What defines “scrumptiousness” is different for everybody, but you’ll know it when you taste it. And there’s plenty of tastiness in Charleston, for sure.
So, loosen your belt a notch or three and head to one of our picks for the Best Charleston Restaurants.
- FIG – If you could dine at only one Charleston restaurant, this should be it. FIG is an acronym for food is good and oh boy, it it ever. Practically a Holy City institution and quintessential Charleston, FIG serves up farm-to-table goodness with a hat tip to Italy and France. Overheard: “The fish stew provençal was the best meal I’ve had in my entire life!”
- Slightly North of Broad – S.N.O.B. – as it’s called by locals – is an eclectic bistro located in an 18-century warehouse. You’ll find Lowcountry classics like shrimp and grits served up with a touch of elegance and friendly service. Overheard: “Food, staff, setting… everything was simply outstanding.”
- Butcher & Bee – This hip spot specializes in deliciously creative sandwiches with seasonal local ingredients. It’s the perfect place to try something new because you can trust it’ll be a stellar combo. Overheard: “Super creative, super tasty, and the best – and only – pulled squash and whipped feta combo I’ve had. A 5-star experience.”
- Husk – A local and rotating menu of heirloom ingredients and in-house pickling and charcuterie efforts are the basis of the cuisine. Casual yet chic, and favored by locals and tourists alike, Husk is located in a restored Victorian-era home AND makes you feel at home. Overheard: “One of our favorite Charleston restaurants! The food is unrivaled, the service is perfect. They made us feel like we were the only guests they had.”
- Lewis BBQ – The pitmaster here welded his own smokers, wakes at 4am to tend to the fires, and has a cult-like following that is well-deserved. The Texas native is a BBQ legend and so are his meats. Overheard: “This stuff is the bomb on the mad note! Outstanding. Tender. So good!”
- The Ordinary – This high-energy American brasserie is housed in a 1920s-era bank and is a sister to FIG restaurant. Ordinary seafood? Not at The Ordinary. Try the triple tower of shellfish with a variety of mignonettes and you’ll want to move to Charleston permanently. Overheard: “This is truly a special place. The food!! Add the decor and excellent staff and it’s a perfect storm of culinary perfection.”
- 167 Raw – They don’t take reservations and the line forms way before the place even opens, but it’s well worth the wait. Ultra-fresh everything and the best lobster roll in Charleston. Add to that po’boys, tacos, crudos, and more. Overheard: “Small in size, HUGE in taste. A wonderful must-hit spot.”
- McCrady’s – As one of the oldest Charleston restaurants, McCrady’s can trace its roots back over 200 years. Nevertheless, the cuisine is progressive and elevated. Proof? McCrady’s is the only AAA Five-Diamond Award-winning restaurant in SC. Overheard: “By far the most unforgettable dining experience I’ve had in my lifetime, and I’m a world traveler.”
- Zero Restaurant + Bar – Tucked away inside the Zero George boutique hotel, this gem specializes in hyper-seasonal New American creations and craft cocktails that are truly unforgettable. Overheard: “We’ve had Chef’s tasting menus in some of the finest restaurants in the world and that of the Zero George was the best of the best.”
- Bertha’s Kitchen – Many Charleston restaurants are known for soul food, and this soul food institution has been serving up fried chicken, lima beans, and greens since 1981. It’s an unpretentious family-run operation, friendly, and even has a James Beard America’s Classic Award to prove its worth. Overheard: “This place is legit! Reminds me of home but even better than my grandmama’s.”
- The Darling Oyster Bar – Housed in a 115-year old storefront, this spot specializes in freshness and blends classic flavors with an exciting twist. The raw bar fronts King St. for fab views, too. Overheard: “Everything is next level, ridiculously good and the service is impeccable.”
- Circa 1886 – Named one of The Most Romantic Restaurants in the World, this fine dining restaurant evokes Charleston’s old-world charm. The cuisine is classic Lowcountry with a modern take and it’s simply superb. The setting is the historic Wentworth Mansion’s original carriage house. Overheard: “I wish I could explain what a truly special experience dining here is. Every aspect – from the moment you arrive until you say goodbye – is flawlessly executed.”
- Halls Chophouse – Halls almost always makes many a Best Charleston Restaurants list, and with good reason. Elegant surroundings, dry-aged steaks, fresh seafood, lamb, quail, and a famous Sunday Gospel Brunch with live music are the hallmarks of this Charleston favorite. Overheard: “Everything about this place is phenomenal! Service, attention to detail… best meal my wife and I ever had.”
- Hominy Grill – This homey spot serves up fried green tomatoes, shrimp and grits, and their famous Charleston Nasty Biscuit which is anything but nasty. Be sure to take home a jar of homemade jam, too. Overheard: “Simply the best brunch in Charleston. Plus, who doesn’t want a brunch cocktail, a full meal, then brunch dessert, right?”
- R. Kitchen – Billed as “a kitchen, not a restaurant,” this snug but super fun spot serves a different 5-course menu every night. Plus, you can interact with the chef(s) as they prepare your meal. Overheard: “What a fun experience. Like a dinner party at your best friend’s house and you even want to hug the chef at the end!”
- Peninsula Grill – Located in the Planters Inn boutique hotel, this elegant spot specializes in Southern favorites with an innovative flair. Be sure to try their world-famous Ultimate Coconut Cake; it’s so good they trademarked it. Overheard: “A sophisticated feel, friendly staff, and delectable dishes make this our favorite Charleston restaurant.”
- The Macintosh – A farm-to-table menu rooted in the South, dishes prepared with flawless technique, an ever-changing menu, and an intimate yet lively dining room make this spot a must. Overheard: “Fine dining, casual vibe, enthusiastic staff, great wine list. Everything here is exceptional.”
- Rodney Scott’s BBQ – The pitmaster has a James Beard Award, the BBQ is whole-hog, and the place is now famous and well worth the wait. Pork, ribs, chicken, turkey… you name it. Plus, their popular banana pudding is divine. Overheard: “We drove 3 hours one way just to come here and we’re staying the night to repeat tomorrow. Not even joking.”
- Chez Nous – This cozy spot offers elevated food and wines from Southern France, Northern Italy, and Northern Spain. The menu changes daily and offers two appetizers, two entrees, and two desserts. Overheard: “This place is a true home for foodies looking for something different.”
- The Obstinate Daughter – This Sullivan’s Island hotspot offers an eclectic mix of seafood-heavy Italian dishes in a comfortable yet chic space. Try the frogmore chowder and then share plates, as everything is a winner. Overheard: “The OD is our favorite restaurant in Charleston, bar none. Geechie Frites are life changing!”
- Xiao Bao Biscuit – Multicultural Asian soul food is the specialty at this trendy converted gas station. The okonomiyaki – a Japanese cabbage pancake – is a local fave. Overheard: “XBB lives up to the hype. Friendly staff, awesome food, funky space. Score!”
- Tattooed Moose – If you’re looking for a family-friendly and elevated dive bar combo–complete with taxidermied moose head–they do exist and this is it. The Duck Club and duck fat fries are legendary. Overheard: “Yes, it’s been on TV. But the food really is kickass in every way. I always eat and drink too much here and never regret it.”
- Leon’s Fine Poultry & Oyster Shop – This comfy Southern joint in a rehabbed garage offers a full menu all day. From raw oysters and fried chicken to cheap beer (their term) and soft serve ice cream, Leon’s does it up right. Overheard: “I had a great feeling about this place and oh boy, was I right. Beyond delicious. Everything.”
- Edmund’s Oast – What’s better than a restaurant and brewery combo? One that transports you back in time and features a seasonally-minded and dynamic New American menu. Overheard: “What a phenomenal experience- charcuterie and cheese, pork belly, and awesome craft beers. Seriously THE best excuse for day drinking.”
- EVO Pizzeria – Extra Virgin Oven is a wood-fired pizza joint that turns out simple, elegant, and innovative pies for every palate. Try the Pork Trifecta, a pie with a cult-like following. They also have a craft bakery next door specializing in European breads and pastries. Overheard: “Beautifully blistered crust, local goodness, a great atmosphere. Oh, and the pistachio pesto pizza rocks!”
We hope you get to try not one, but several of these Charleston restaurants. You can spend a lot, or spend a little. Go whole hog (literally), or sip and savor. And remember, wherever you choose to dine, please take the time to acknowledge those establishments that go out of their way to support local growers and fishmongers. Eating local in Charleston (and everywhere) is good for communities, businesses, and best of all… for you!