The list of "must-try" restaurants in Charleston is getting longer by the month, which is great for shaking up your dining routine, and terrible because it feels like you’ll never be able to try them all (especially if you’re just visiting). To aid your search for the best place to eat around the Holy City, we ranked neighborhoods by their dining potential. Find a 'hood and pick a few restaurants in that area so you can finally quit experiencing so much food FOMO.
Perhaps the slowest area of Charleston to jump on the culinary train, West Ashley is slowly putting less emphasis on chain restaurants and more emphasis on local gems with flavors from around the world. Our favorites are Boxcar Betty's, Zen Asian Fusion (where you can find an upscale sushi burrito), Early Bird Diner, and R. Kitchen West -- another expansion of a popular Downtown restaurant.
14. Mount Pleasant
Just over the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, you'll find tasty restaurants to satisfy your craving for a great dining experience. Ignore the Golden Arches and freckled gingers in pigtails for more authentic local eats. Some of the best include the falafel at Ali Baba, the mac & cheese at Crave Kitchen & Cocktails, pickled veggies at The Granary, and pretty much any of the sandwiches at Mozzo Deli.
Summerville should just be called Charleston 2.0, because it seems like all your favorite Charleston restaurants are opening up second locations just up the road. Here, you’ll find Swig & Swine, Persimmon Cafe, Five Loaves, Graze, and Boxcar Betty’s.
Some of the best, most under-the-radar dining options Downtown are in the Cannonborough/Elliotborough neighborhood mashup. Take your tastebuds on a tour of R. Kitchen, Hominy Grill, Xiao Bao Biscuit, and Trattoria Lucca, and you won’t be disappointed because they’re each as good as the last!
Folly Beach is the most casual of the three beaches in Charleston, and its restaurants follow suit. You don’t need to be fancy to appreciate Bowens Island, Lost Dog Cafe, Taco Boy, and Rita's Seaside Grille, but you do need to enjoy good food and maybe a cold beverage or two.
10. East Side
The East Side of Charleston used to be seriously lacking in any sort of restaurants at all, let alone those that were worth talking about. But now there’s a great mix of cuisines that are completely different from each other, ranging from soul food to more gourmet offerings. You’ll definitely want to add Hannibal’s Kitchen, Mercantile & Mash, Spero, and Bay Street Biergarten to your list ASAP.
9. Sullivan's Island
Tourists and locals alike flock to Sullivan’s Island for the picturesque beaches and great dining options. Despite proximity to the water, Poe’s Tavern, The Obstinate Daughter, and High Thyme will make you forget about your silly beach-body diet.
8. Isle of Palms
Many people incorrectly assume that the only good places to eat on Isle of Palms are in the Wild Dunes resort. But Coda del Pesce, Acme Lowcountry Kitchen, and Long Island Cafe are all excellent and tasty places to grab a bite without actually having to purchase any property on IOP.
You can rest assured that Johns Island is a great dining ‘hood, because otherwise there would be no reason to make the drive all the way out there (you have to cross, like, three bridges to get to the island). Restaurants like Wild Olive, Fat Hen, Tattooed Moose, and Sunrise Bistro entice culinary enthusiasts to leave the warm embrace of Downtown for greener pastures.
5. Park Circle
North Charleston is known for having a lot more chain restaurants than what you’d find downtown, but Park Circle is a nice exception to that rule. This adorable little neighborhood -- reminiscent of Mayberry, with its tree-lined streets and friendly community atmosphere -- is where you’ll find the casual-but-mouthwatering restaurants EVO Pizza, Lotus Vietnamese, Madra Rua, and Iron Dog Diner, among others.
4. James Island
Just a few miles outside of Downtown, you’ll find the quiet town of James Island. Although not widely praised for its culinary scene, JI features restaurants like Stereo 8, Baguette Magic, Sermet’s Southernterranean, and The Lot, which are working hard to try and change that. Rather than offering the traditional fried seafood fare, they truly strive to think outside the batter for something a little more creative and appealing to your taste buds. Try the crab fried rice at Stereo 8 or the Frogmore raviolo at Sermet’s.
NoMo has (perhaps unfairly) gotten a reputation as a hipster dining paradise. But it’s also been something of a critical darling lately, with the likes of brewpub Edmund’s Oast, gourmet sandwich haven Butcher & Bee, and eagerly anticipated meat domicile Lewis Barbecue getting national acclaim on the reg.
2. Upper King Street
Stroll a little further north on King St and the food gets a little more grown-up (read: expensive), so this is where you should go if you just got paid and are looking to ball out a little. Restaurants like Halls Chophouse, Indaco, and The Ordinary are all delicious and unique in their own ways, whether you’re looking for steak, pasta, or seafood (respectively).
1. Lower King Street
The area between Calhoun St and Broad St is generally known as “Lower King” and encompasses a number of solid restaurants offering varied and delicious fare. On Lower King, you’re pretty close to the CofC campus, so prepare to see a bunch of college kids milling about. Choose between neighborhood gems like CO (which serves up some of the best Vietnamese and Thai food Downtown), the fantastic sandwiches at Bull Street Gourmet, and Fulton Five, which is perfect for date night.
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Sydney Gallimore is a food writer based in Charleston who has been known to rent her apartment based on its proximity to good restaurants. Follow her on Twitter @Sydney_inc.