The Best Restaurants in Charleston
Charleston is one of America’s top dining destinations, but deciding where to eat (and once there, what to eat) can be overwhelming. Here’s a first-timer's guide to some of the best places and dishes to eat in Chucktown.
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Rodney Scott’s Whole Hog BBQ
Rodney Scott already had a loyal following at his family’s first whole hog barbecue joint up the coast in Hemingway, but the 2017 opening of his Charleston location has introduced thousands more fans into his pig pen. Scott smokes whole hogs overnight over chopped wood coals that Rodney makes from chopped wood, and you can smell the restaurant blocks before reaching its Upper King Street location. The meat is chopped pulled and served in a sandwich with one side or as a platter with two sides. Scott also takes serious pride with his scratch-made sides, including hush puppies, cole slaw, baked beans, mac and cheese, greens and a veggie of the day. Other options include spare ribs, pit-smoked chicken, a rib-eye sandwich and catfish for those who don’t do ’cue.
Minero first opened on a small East Bay Street spot adjacent to Unity Alley and in front of the original McCrady’s, but it’s popularity quickly outgrew the space. Now upstairs in hip, expanded digs, the creative Mexican fare has made it a must-stop in Charleston. The menu has lots of locally inspired touches, like tortillas made from a house-ground combination of Mexican and South Carolinian corn. Tacos are a major draw, including one filled with masa-battered fried catfish, pickled green tomato tartar, cabbage and red onion.
Coconut Cake at Peninsula Grill
On the menu since Valentine’s Day of 1997, the 12-layer Peninsula Grill Ultimate Coconut Cake is another Charleston classic. The five-inch tall, 25-pound coconut colossus is actually two cakes cut into three layers each, with fluffy filling, cream cheese icing and toasted coconut pressed into its sides delivering decadent bits without being too sweet or tropical. A huge slice is 1/16 of the cake, but whole coconut cakes are also very popular Charleston souvenirs (and are shipped around the country). It’s the perfect ending to a Peninsula Grill meal, which features Executive Chef Ramon Taimanglo’s exquisite takes on other Charleston classics and more in a classy Lowcountry setting.
Perhaps no other restaurant — in Charleston or all of the South — has furthered the cause of Southern fare more than Husk. The menu showcases local and regional ingredients, farmers, fishermen and other suppliers, with dishes like their glazed pig ear lettuce wraps. Though offerings change twice a day, dishes like the wraps, shrimp and grits, fried chicken and skillet cornbread with Benton’s bacon crumbles rarely leave the list. With locations in Nashville, Greenville and Savannah, Husk is sharing Southern bounty throughout the region.
Go to: Husk Restaurant
Located in North Charleston’s hip Park Circle neighborhood, EVO (Extra Virgin Oven) — along with its sister bakery out back — lures locals from miles around. —Creative starters like wood-fired olives, puffy focaccia bread and house-made pimento cheese and pickles pave the way for Neapolitan-style pizzas. The pistachio pesto pie features fromage blanc from Split Creek Farm; the Pork Trifecta is a meat lover’s bonanza of bacon, house-ground sausage and Felino salami, as well as their own house-pulled mozzarella.
Malagon is a Spanish tapas restaurant and market from the owners of Chez Nous and helmed by Spanish-bred Juan Cassallet. With an extensive menu filled with para picar (snacks), charcuterie and cheese, loads of traditional tapas, and large plates of classic regional seafood and meat dishes like rossejat negro (fideo noodles with squid and squid ink), the intimate space also features a tight selection of Spanish wines and beers as well as a market filled with tinned seafoods, Spanish meats and cheeses, spices and a variety of gourmet items.
Xiao Bao Biscuit
Situated in a former gas station, Xiao Bao Biscuit consistently receives rave reviews for its trans-continental Asian cuisine. Chef and Co-Founder Josh Walker learned to make his extremely popular Okonomiyaki (cabbage pancakes) while working on a Japanese farm. Made with cabbage, scallion, mayonnaise, sweet soy sauce and hot sauce, they’re available for lunch or dinner year-round. Seasonal dishes using local vegetables and seafood, as well classic Asian takes and plenty of vegetarian options, also attract lots of repeat visitors after their introduction to the allure of the pancakes.
Callie's Hot Little Biscuit
The biscuits at Callie’s have a seriously loyal following. Biscuit options include buttermilk; cheese and chive; country ham; black pepper-bacon; and blackberry.A biscuit sampler platter comes with a choice of three varieties; those who can’t decide can opt for the baker’s dozen package deal. The biscuit sandwiches are also hard to resist, including the sausage, egg and pimento cheese sandwich (with a choice of a fried or scrambled egg and regular or fiery pimento cheese sandwich.
Serving brunch seven days a week in a classic Charleston setting inside and out, Poogan’s Porch attracts locals and tourists alike. For their chicken and waffles, a Southern brunch tradition, the restaurant enhances a chicken breast with sweet potato waffles, sorghum butter and maple syrup. This is also a great place to try popular Charleston Mix bloody mary mix, which can be found in more than a dozen restaurants in Charleston. Poogan’s Porch uses Charleston-bred Dixie Black Pepper Vodka and pickled okra to spice it up a notch.
Go to: Poogan's Porch
Located in the upscale Belmond Charleston Place, Charleston Grill is elegant and refined, even for gentile Charleston. Executive Chef Michelle Weaver prepares creative, artful Southern dishes, including the celebrated house crab cake, with creek shrimp, tomato and a lime-dill vinaigrette. Pair food with carefully curated wines from Wine Director and Sommelier Rick Rubel, and the soft sounds of nightly live jazz.
Little Jack's Tavern
Just down from equally popular sister restaurant Leon’s Fine Poultry & Oyster Shop, Little Jack’s draws rave reviews for a retro tavern-style menu that features their bestselling Tavern Burger. Served on a sesame bun, the burgers are made with a blend of brisket and chuck that’s pressed flat on the plancha and topped with sautéed onions, American cheese, and a sauce made with sunchokes and mayo. It’s available as a "Little Snack" (single patty) and as a sandwich (two patties). For those who prefer savory over sweet, the single patty option is even on the dessert menu (and it’s often ordered). Order the warm garlic knots with cheese 'fondue' to start and be sure to get a side of garlic fries, which come with a unique mayo-based gribiche sauce that utilizes hard-boiled eggs.
Delaney Oyster House
Oyster houses have shucked up all over town in recent years. And Delaney Oyster House is The Neighborhood Dining Group’s (McCrady’s, Husk, Minero) contribution to the local seafood scene with a tremendous raw bar selection (the Yacht Club Platter is a perfect sampling of oysters, clams, crab and shrimp), varied caviar service and classic and contemporary seafood preparations. Choose from cold specialties like ceviche, smoked fish dip and octopus escabeche or hot choices like fluffy saltfish beignets finished with spicy sorghum and bonito flakes, blue crab rice and perfectly seared scallops with grilled cabbage and country ham sauce.
A staple on Charleston’s dining scene since 2011, The Grocery celebrates the bounty of the Lowcountry with the flavors of the seasons in a convivial and warm gathering place. Dishes include roasted delicata squash with camembert, Asian pears and pecan granola; local triggerfish with shrimp velouté and roasted okra; and a classic Lowcountry seafood pilau with clams, fried fish and shrimp nestled on a bed of perfectly seasoned and aromatic Carolina gold rice. Suffice to say, the menu is a love letter to the flavors of Charleston.
Though versions of it can be traced to Scottish settlers in the South as early as the 1700s, today’s Charleston she crab soup is said to have been created by Mayor Goodwyn Rhett’s butler at the John Rutledge House during one of several visits by President William Howard Taft. Versions of it are found today at restaurants throughout Charleston, but many long-time residents swear by the version ladled out at the historic 82 Queen. There’s lots of butter and cream involved, but it’s the crab roe, crab meat, fish stock, sherry and whipped sherry cream that give this dish nearly holy status in the Holy City.
Brought to you by the same team as FIG, The Ordinary is anything but ordinary. Housed in a stunningly restored historic bank in Charleston’s Upper King district, this Southern seafood hall and oyster bar has the vibe and energy of an American brasserie. The menu features an impressive list of seafood-leaning cold plates, hot small plates and entrees, and an extensive raw bar selection, including ever-changing oysters, from waters near and far. The highlight, however, are their one-, two- and three-tiered seafood towers overflowing with a variety of raw and cooked seafood from a network of local fisherman served with house-made garnishes and condiments.
Short for Food is Good, FIG boasts three James Beard Award wins. Spectacular service, an impressive wine and beverage program and superior food help set the bar for Charleston Dining. Opt for a sweet potato, chicken confit and Époisses tart, eggplant and cottage cheese served with brown bread; whole roasted B-liner snapper; or their most beloved dish, ricotta gnocchi alla Bolognese with parmesan and mint.
Letting the day's fishing catch dictate the menu, Chubby Fish lets the fish pulled in from the docks shine. There are usually a few crudo dishes (the amberjack with blood orange, scarlet turnips and mint is almost too pretty to eat), varied local oysters, a couple of different whole fish and a tasty selection of large plates like smoked king mackerel curry, braised grouper cheeks with chive butter and field peas, or buffalo-fried triggerfish heads with uptown ranch and celery.
Open since 1990 and still going strong on East Bay Street’s restaurant row, Magnolias is beloved as a local classic by veteran visitors and first-timers in search of quintessential, yet contemporary Charleston fare in a casual Lowcountry atmosphere. Helmed by beloved Culinary Arts Director Donald Drake and Chef de Cuisine Samantha Blagg, the kitchen excels at inventive takes on the classics, including shrimp and scallops over creamy grits, topped with a luscious lobster butter sauce, along with boiled peanut hummus, fried green tomatoes and Down South egg rolls.
Wild Olive Cucina Italiana
Wild Olive’s Jacques Larson is a transplanted Frenchmen with the heart and stomach of a southerner — and an Italian. Located out on Johns Island west of Charleston, Wild Olive is like a trip to the Tuscan countryside, but just minutes from downtown Charleston. Starters to share include venison carpaccio with a "cacio e pepe" aioli, local arugula, Parmesan, Bull's Bay smoked sea salt and crostini, but Larson’s pastas keep regulars returning — including his light-as-a-pillow ricotta-goat cheese gnocchi.
Sorghum & Salt
Sorghum & Salt is one of those places that makes you want to eat your veggies. Sure, you’ll find local fish and seafood and perfectly roasted chicken on the menu, but it’s the vegetables that shine at this Cannonborough-Elliotborough neighborhood gem. Whether the table's meatless options include charred shishitos with garlic and ginger; butternut custard with salsa macha, feta, pepitas and housemade granola; or eggplant sausage, dishes are rich and appealing. The savory chaat features crispy potatoes, feta, chutney, butter sauce and topped with whatever’s in season; when it's okra, it's sublime.
Rappahannock Oyster Bar
Sure, Rappahannock Oyster Bar in The Cigar Factory has great oysters — their own popular Virginia-farmed options along with well-sourced choices from near and far (as well as raw local clams from famed Clammer Dave). However, it’s Executive Chef Kevin Kelly’s creative seafood dishes beyond oysters on the half shell that make Rappahannock one of Charleston’s best restaurants. After a selection of bivalves or a seafood tower, opt for small plates like a piri piri crudo followed by entrees like Kelly’s art-on-the-plate grilled whole fish drizzled with chile oil and dressed with watermelon radish and watercress, or his fermented black garlic version of shrimp and grits.
Bowens Island Restaurant
Quite simply, you can’t say you’ve experienced Charleston dining until you’ve experienced Bowens Island Restaurant. Open since 1946, this James Beard Foundation America’s Classic features a rustic atmosphere, renowned sunsets and classic Lowcountry seafood, along with notoriously long lines. The order-at-the-counter menu includes their famous locally harvested oysters (steamed or fried), fried or boiled shrimp, fried fish, crab cakes, shrimp and grits, Frogmore stew and, of course, hushpuppies and cold adult beverages.
The Darling Oyster Bar
Of course, oysters can be found throughout the city, but there may be no better location for slurping some from near or far than The Darling Oyster Bar on now-booming Upper King Street. The U-shaped oyster bar — staffed by friendly shuckers with chops — seats just 12, but goes through more than 4,500 oysters weekly. The team sources the freshest oysters each day, with a focus on bright, briny East Coast options. Those in the know head for Oyster Happy Hour every day from 4pm to 7pm, with select house oysters shucked for a dollar each to pair with drink specials.
Happy hours are serious business in Charleston, and many spots offer oyster- and other food-focused deals. Situated up Meeting Street in an area locals call NoMo ("North of Morrison"), Edmund’s Oast remains a top pick for one of Charleston’s most-diverse and tasty happy hours. It features an ever-changing short list of snacks, cocktails, wine, cider and craft beers available at their bars for just four bucks each from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. daily. Possibilities can include Executive Chef Bob Cook’s sticky peanut wings, Edmund’s Old Fashioned, a dry rosé cider and house beers. Cook’s charcuterie is also worth the trip, whether it’s happy hour or not.
Located in the original carriage house of the historic Wentworth Mansion, Circa 1886 has long been a fine dining destination. Executive Chef Marc Collins works with local farmers and fishermen for dishes that pay tribute to local traditions, but showcase contemporary flavors. Recently Collins launched a menu showcasing the South Carolina Foodways from its humble beginnings, multinational influences and rich history to create a modern-day cuisine. From dishes like Broken Arrow Axis venison with sunchoke hash and sunflower seed butter to Piedmontese oxtail with conch fritter and mustard greens, the flavors come together to tell a beautiful story.
The Ocean Room on Kiawah Island
Situated inside the sumptuous Sanctuary in Kiawah Island Golf Resort, The Ocean Room features a stunning view of Kiawah’s wide beach and the Atlantic Ocean. Billed as a steakhouse, the restaurant serves 21-day wet aged USDA Prime steaks, including their signature 18-ounce bone-in ribeye. The view and the steak alone are worth the drive, but it’s Chef de Cuisine Kyle Bowling’s other imaginative creations — like a red curry fish with coconut-infused Carolina Gold and a pineapple-lime foam — that keeps locals coming back.
Beloved Charleston institution McCrady’s has morphed into a tasting-menu-only experience, yet remains a love letter to the city. The intimate 22-seat concept features more than a dozen ever-changing small dishes, wine pairings, occasional caviar add-ons and more. It’s a relatively expensive evening by almost any standard, but dishes like the Beet Leather Bark with cocoa and lime, various preparations of aged beef and Southern sides, and multiple colorful desserts make it a bucket list evening for fans of elevated and contemporary Southern cuisine with deep-reaching roots.
Go to: McCrady's
The Vendue Rooftop
Rooftop bars are all the rage across the country and the Charleston peninsula's setting of historic buildings, church steeples and water on three sides made it ripe for a rooftop bar (and restaurant) revolution. Among many varied choices across town, the multi-level Vendue Rooftop atop The Vendue Hotel is a local and tourist fave, offering sweeping views of the Charleston harbor, Waterfront Park and the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, along with sophisticated cocktails and wines by the glass, and a menu of creative salads, sandwiches and snacks to share.
A Spanish restaurant by way of Washington, D.C., Estadio is a second outpost of a tapas and pintxo spot beloved in the District. Helmed by Charleston veteran Alex Lira, the restaurant is an immersion in Spanish style, with a tiled bull mural behind the bar and a first-come-first-served porron of wine greeting guests on the community table. The menu includes tortilla Espanola, patatas bravas, la albondigas, and local seafood paella topped with garlic aioli.
Tu takes a deep dive into the Indian subcontinent with a menu of chaats and snacks, a cornucopia of curries and succulent sourdough naan breads. Created by the team behind Xiao Bao Biscuit, Tu has created a similar buzz with its high-energy décor and dishes like pani puri, fried okra (not your typical Southern fried okra), dosas and curries inspired by local farm produce. Get a taste of it all with the Slam plate, a thali overflowing with a taste of everything.
This pint-sized restaurant tucked into a charming alley in Charleston’s burgeoning Cannonborough-Elliotborough neighborhood is the perfect spot for date-night dinner. With intimate candlelit tables on two floors of a renovated house and its romantic patio, Chef Jill Mathias serves a daily changing menu of dishes from Southern France, Northern Italy and Northern Spain, including tagliatelle with guanciale and tomato, and boudin blanc with prunes and pommes puree. The lunch and dinner menus only feature two appetizers, two entrees and two desserts, so the options are limited, but that creates the perfect excuse to share the entire menu.
Long beloved as a Charleston-area classic, Bertha’s Kitchen was officially deemed an America’s Classic in 2017 by the James Beard Foundation. Located up Meeting Street Road in North Charleston, Bertha’s cafeteria-style meat-and-three experience showcases different specials each day in addition to mainstays like golden fried chicken, fried whiting and fried pork chops, which are almost always on offer until they sell out. Southern sides, like sweet cornbread, boiled cabbage, mac and cheese and okra soup add heart and soul to this Southern soul food landmark.
With so many world-class restaurants nearby, Upper King Street is ideal for pre- and post-dinner imbibing. Proof is a Charleston cocktail bar classic, serving both traditional and creative drinks in a subdued and simple environment. The list is long and the mixologists are knowledgeable, but not haughty. Those with time will want to try My Elephant’s Keeper, a creative blend of gin, Drambuie, pollen cream, lemon, honey and egg whites. It takes about 15 minutes to prepare, thanks to the egg whites, so ordering it scores a quick pony bottle of Miller High Life to tide you over (it’s listed as an ingredient in the drink).
With a much-desired Upper King Street location and a vibe that varies depending on the hour, O-Ku has remained a go-to hotspot in Charleston for sushi (and socializing) since it opened in 2010. The lobster nigiri is a social media star, but regulars know to add on local options like white fish crudo, local clams (with unfiltered sake) and the spicy sesame pork belly with kimchee puree and melted red cabbage. The O-Ku fever has spread beyond Charleston, with locations in Atlanta, Charlotte, Raleigh and Washington, D.C.