Italian food is familiar and comfortable, like a hug from your grandmother (but for your taste buds). We ate our way through Charleston’s many Italian offerings -- from the high-end to the more quaint neighborhood joints -- to bring you the Holy City’s 10 best Italian restaurants. (Note: if you’re looking for the best pizza in Chucktown, start here.)
Wild Olive is a perpetual favorite among Charlestonians willing to drive all the way over to Johns Island to get a taste of their simple, classic dishes. The food is traditional Italian with locally sourced Lowcountry ingredients, which means you don’t need to feel lame for ordering the chicken Parmesan like you might at a lesser Italian restaurant. At Wild Olive, it’s done so perfectly, it looks (and tastes) like a work of art.
Historic King Street
Tucked away in Hutson Alley just off of King St, Vincent Chicco's channels the more traditional Italian joint that you might see in The Sopranos or The Godfather. We’re talking black-and-white tile floors, a dark wood bar, and antique portraits of the restaurant’s namesake, who was a famous saloon owner in Prohibition-era Charleston. Although the atmosphere is old-fashioned, the food is fresh, inventive, and delicious. We highly recommend the cacio e pepe, which is like a grown-up version of mac & cheese. The restaurant also offers a weekly five-course tasting menu and a thoughtful wine list.
Off the beaten path on Bogard St is one of the best under-the-radar restaurants in the Holy City. The menu changes regularly based on what’s fresh and available, meaning every time you visit can be a whole new experience. If you really want to treat yo’self, we recommend visiting for the Monday night family-style supper. Chef Ken Vedrinski’s four-course prix fixe menu showcases ingredients that inspire the chef at the moment, as well as Lucca’s handmade pastas and traditional Italian fare.
Isle of Palms
Also helmed by chef Ken Vedrinski, Coda Del Pesce (which means “tail of the fish” in Italian) features a menu that heavily favors seafood prepared in traditional Italian style, using locally or sustainably caught fish. The restaurant looks out onto the Atlantic Ocean from Isle of Palms, which really gets you in the mood for aquatic fare. If it’s on the menu, we recommend trying the crudo di pesce, which really showcases Chef Vedrinski’s seafood mastery. The wine selection at Coda is primarily Italian and mostly comprised of hard-to-find varietals that have been selected by Vedrinski.
The newest restaurant in Charleston’s Italian scene has already made quite the impression on the city’s diners, with photos of the giant wheel of cheese and gorgeous bar flooding the #CHSeats Instagram feed. It features one of the heartiest happy hour menus, featuring fried cheese curd, Sicilian-style fried seafood, or a porchetta melt all for just $5 each. The attention to detail at Le Farfalle is impeccable, but we’d expect nothing less from New York-trained chef Michael Toscano. Pro tip: if the weather’s nice, plan to sit out on the gorgeous courtyard.
Although famous for its oven-fired pizzas, the pastas and small plates are bursting with creativity and flavor. The seared swordfish “paella,” served with saffron rice, chorizo, mussels, scallops, and shrimp, is a crowd pleaser, and one of the most unique dishes on the menu. Pair it with a glass of wine or one of the Italian-inspired cocktails, and voila! You’ve got the perfect meal.
From the moment you walk down the ivy-lined alleyway into the restaurant, you’ll understand why Fulton Five has been voted Charleston’s “most romantic restaurant” for 17 years running. The food is delicious, especially the antipasto spoleto (romaine lettuce stuffed with mozzarella and tomato, wrapped in prosciutto and grilled, and topped with cauliflower puree… come on). So if you really want to impress your Tinder date, this is the place to take 'em. The menu is fairly seafood-heavy, including a daily market rate fish special and orichiette aragosta (lobster, crab, sweet corn, leeks, tomatoes, and sweet peppers in a spicy shellfish cream) -- but if your date doesn’t like seafood, there’s plenty of other fish in the sea.
Upper King Street
A more modern take on classic Italian cuisine, Indaco is pretty well-known for its crispy wood-fired pizzas, handmade pastas, and fantastic cocktails (crafted by bar manager Jared Chafin). Indaco also has a pretty legit happy hour menu, where you can get half off all pizzas and antipasti, as well as a few other $5 snacks, so you can satisfy your Italian craving without breaking the bank. Come for dinner and experience more unusual dishes like fried rabbit with kabocha squash and lamb quarters, or lamb belly with peas, grilled chanterelles, rabbit sausage, and peach mostarda.
Don’t be deterred by Mondo’s location in the “Shoppes of Folly Road” strip mall. This hidden gem is actually serving up some magic in the kitchen in the form of penne and homemade meatballs. Mondo’s may be a small (some might even say “quaint”) restaurant, but it's serving up big portions with even bigger flavor. Be sure to skip lunch before you come here, because otherwise there’s no way you’ll finish your entree.
One of the Italian professors at the College of Charleston recommended we go to Bacco for the “most authentic Italian food in all of South Carolina,” and with a recommendation like that, you’ll definitely want to add this place to your list. The menu changes regularly based on seasonal ingredients, but you should start with house-made mozzarella (which comes out still warm from the kitchen), then follow it up with some house-made gnocchi Bolognese, and finish with the cannoli. We guarantee you’ll feel like you’ve died and gone to Italia.
Sign up here for our daily Charleston email and be the first to get all the food/drink/fun in town.
1. Wild Olive2867 Maybank Hwy, Johns Island
2. Vincent Chicco's39-G John Street, Charleston
3. Trattoria Lucca41 Bogard St, Charleston
4. Coda Del Pesce130 Ocean Blvd, Isle of Palms
5. Le Farfalle15 Beaufain Street, Charleston
6. The Obstinate Daughter2063 Middle St, Sullivans Island
7. Indaco526 King St, Charleston
8. Fulton Five5 Fulton St, Charleston
9. Mondo's Italian Cuisine915 Folly Rd, Charleston
10. Bacco976 Houston Northcutt Blvd, Mt. Pleasant
If there's anything worth the trek to rural John's Island, it's Wild Olive. The staff are educated and friendly, and the interpretation of Italian classics with lowcountry ingredients makes for some of the most soul-satisfying plates in the city. There is an extensive list of food-friendly wines as well as house-made pasta and house-cured salumi. As the first Certified Green Restaurant in South Carolina, Wild Olive is committed to using locally ingredients and composting 85% of their waste, making it not only farm-to-table but table-to-farm as well.
Serving modern takes on time-honored Italian plates in a classy, old-school space (brick walls, vintage bistro floor tiles, servers in formal attire), this King St. outpost is Charleston's go-to for hearty Sicilian comfort food. Expect creatively plated, classic dishes like bruschetta, house-made burrata, and calamari, alongside gratuitous portions of veal saltimbocca, tagliatelle with sage brown butter, and more. Like any self-respecting Italian joint, the bar is well-stocked with curated vintages and varietals, but the martinis -- expertly made and garnished with fresh olives -- are equally as timeless and solid.
Helmed by award-winning chef Ken Vedrinski, this cozy corner bistro serves a menu of Tuscan classics that changes nightly, depending upon the availability of local ingredients each day. Inspired by the city of Lucca, which is renowned for its olive oils, Lucca’s menu features imported cheese and salumi, handmade pastas, like gnudi, ravioli, taglioni, and bucatini, and fresh produce and local seafood from Charleston’s waters, all tossed with Italian ingredients like Cerignola olives, Calabrese chilies, and Crescenza cheese. Paired with a wine list that emphasizes Italian vineyards, Trattoria Lucca is the perfect locale for a robust, flavorful meal that is at once relaxed and refined.
In a city with so much water, there are sadly few restaurants with a water view worth a visit. Thankfully, chef Ken Vedrinski took his modern Italian fare to the beach in 2013. What better way is there to enjoy seafood dishes and housemade pasta, if not in view of the dunes and the ocean beyond on the Isle of Palms? The restaurant itself has a beachy decor, with reclaimed wood accents and island hues. The menu features locally or sustainably caught seafood and changes based on what is available and fresh.
Housed in an airy, industrial-chic space with tasteful blue accents peppered throughout, Le Farfalle offers a relaxed yet refined dining experience. Helmed by chef Michael Toscano (whose tenure at Manhattan mainstays like Perla and Montmartre attests to his culinary talent), the kitchen serves authentic Italian with a modern twist: elegantly plated house-made pastas, octopus carpaccio, crispy chicken saltimbocca. Beverage options range from a curated list of specialty cocktails that reinvent time-honored staples (the Old Fashioned, for example, incorporates madeira in addition to bourbon), and the wine list proves both accessible and varied, with affordable bottles from Italy, Greece, France, and California.
The Wild Olive crew is behind this Sullivan's Island space, offering a pizza- and pasta-centric menu that includes eclectic New American offerings. The restaurant is decked out in rustic ship ware, from ropes to exposed wood, and tapas-style plates ensure that you get a variety of tastes in a single meal.
Simply put, this is the place to go on Upper King Street. Creamy burrata appetizers leave the open kitchen at a steady pace, pastas are delectable, brunch serves pizza and the Negronis flow from a tap. The waitstaff is one of the most consistently excellent in a city that excels, and communal tables as well as an open kitchen provide an engaging and friendly atmosphere. Indaco’s wood-fired pizzas are exquisite, with a crust that’s thin, but not too thin, so it’s hearty enough to support their upscale and creative mix of toppings.
Hidden behind layers of lush ivy and flora, Fulton Five offers upscale Italian dining in a cozy, romantic environs (white linen-covered tables topped with candles, sultry dim lighting, classical music playing softly in the background). The market-driven menu boasts standouts like the intricate antipasto spoleto, lobster and sweet corn orecchiette, grilled lamb chops over parmesan polenta, and more, all of it freshly prepared and rich in flavor. The Italy-centric wine list is one of the best in the city, boasting accessible varietals and hard-to-find vintages for special occasions, or if you're going above and beyond to impress a date.
Don't let the strip mall environs fool you: Mondo's is a hidden gem of a restaurant, serving up fresh, flavorful Italian staples like bruschetta, prosciutto-wrapped artichoke hearts, house-made pastas and signature, homemade meatballs. Pasta enthusiasts will be happy here, what with the affordable, heaping portions of penne, ravioli, and fettucine, but you really can't go wrong with anything on the market-driven menu. Weather permitting, be sure to check out the cozy, fauna- and light-laden patio out back.
This refined eatery is probably the closest you can get to Italy without leaving Charleston itself. Here you'll find a market-driven menu of hearty Italian comfort food -- house-made mozzarella so fresh it comes to your table still warm from the kitchen, lasagna bolognese with béchamel, eggplant parmigiana, and heavenly cannolis. The Italy-centric wine list is exhaustive, but don't fret -- the hospitality here is unparalleled, and your server will be happy to help you find the perfect bottle to pair with your meal.