Meet the Tramezzino
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.