Charleston’s Best New Restaurants of 2018
With multiple James Beard Award-winning and nominated chefs, bartenders, and restaurants, there’s no denying that Charleston’s culinary scene is on par with the best in the country -- and that reputation solidified even further with the batch of openings we saw in 2018. From cozy Italian joints to Lowcountry classics, there’s never been a better time to go out for dinner (or lunch, or breakfast) in Charleston. Below, you’ll find the best new restaurants that opened in 2018 -- then keep scrolling for the overall essential spots that continue to turn out incredible flavors. Prepare your tastebuds: they’ve got a lot of catching up to do.
Cozy neighborhood Italian eatery
Charlestonians have long anticipated the opening of Melfi’s, the new Italian eatery from the owners of Little Jack’s Tavern and Leon’s Oyster Shop, and it was well worth the wait. Everything -- from the Roman-style pizza to their many Negroni options -- is fresh, flavorful, and picture-perfect.
Neo-Neopolitan casual Italian fare
Of the many Italian spots that opened in 2018, Renzo managed to separate themselves from the crowd by offering a simple, quality menu of “neo-Neopolitan” flavors that’s both sophisticated and approachable. While all of their pies are sure winners, be sure to stop by at happy hour for a square slice of the Detroit-style pie, paired with a glass of wine for just $10.
Upscale seafood with a hefty wine list
While The Establishment didn’t have the buzzy pre-opening fanfare of some other 2018 spots, they were still able to win over Charleston diners with their beautiful and flavorful seafood, hefty wine list, and classy, upscale atmosphere. While the entire restaurant is romantic and beautiful -- with lots of dark wood, big picture windows, and a large screen projecting over the bar -- the gem of the restaurant is their open concept kitchen (with front row seating!) so that you can see all the magic happening.
Contemporary, elevated Southern food in a bright, whimsical space
Many Charlestonians were saddened when Fish announced its closure, but if there ever was a restaurant worth taking its place, it’s Parcel 32. From the moment you walk in through the greenery-lined courtyard, it infuses in diners a sense of whimsy and wonder that’s carried on through their modern American fare. While every dish on their menu is a winner (Chef Shaun Brian knows how to showcase ingredients beautifully), you shouldn’t visit Parcel 32 without giving pastry chef Lauren Yerrick’s green tomato pie dessert a try, as it’s unlike any pie you’ve had before.
Sustainable seafood in a cozy, urban atmosphere
They say good things come to those who wait, and those who’ve waited over a year and a half for the opening of Chubby Fish were rewarded in the form of some seriously good seafood. Their smoked mackerel curry -- made with pumpkin, peanuts, and citrus -- is a surprisingly balanced and delicious dish. For those who aren’t about the seafood life, Chubby Fish also offers a number of plates for land lovers, too, like the charred lamb ribs with romesco sauce, or a whiskey-glazed strip steak that’s a surefire crowd pleaser.
Traditional Southern cuisine with an emphasis on heritage ingredients
When Chef Forrest Parker took over as the executive chef of The Vendue, he quickly turned their culinary program around. They opened Revival earlier this summer, a celebration of “ingredients from South Carolina’s past.” Chef Parker uses many heirloom breeds of local produce (some of which have been brought back from extinction, like the Jimmy Red Grits) and focuses on many quintessential Lowcountry recipes like pirlou, shrimp & grits, and peach grilled quail.
Classic American pub fare with stunning marsh views
Crave Kitchen and Cocktails has long been a Mount Pleasant staple -- known especially for their award-winning mac & cheese -- and when they announced they would be opening a tavern on Shem Creek, many Charlestonians rejoiced. The tavern itself is made to look like (and pay homage to) the Greenwich Mill, there are lots of artifacts and natural wood to give the tavern more of an old english pub-type feel. The food for brunch and dinner is all very standard pub fair, but with a modern twist -- think buttermilk biscuits with pimento cheese and sriracha honey, citrus-fried oysters, and hot chicken with maple mustard.
A rooftop bar serving a rotating menu of locally sourced seafood dishes
The sister restaurant of Burwell’s Stone Fire Grill (which is featured on the Best of the Best list below), Balao’s menu focuses exclusively on local seafood and ingredients on their regularly changing menu (although you can expect to find fan favorites like the shrimp & grits and tuna nachos at pretty much any time). The only thing better than the food is the atmosphere on the rooftop deck; just be sure to check the forecast before you make the trek, because part of Balao’s charm lies in dining al fresco.
Quaint neighborhood joint serving up breakfast, coffee, and wine all day
Charlestonians got to preview the wonder that is Daps at their many pop-ups around town before they officially opened, so they had already developed a cult following before unlocking their doors. Since they officially opened, photos of their Fruity Pebbles pancakes and loaded breakfast biscuits have been blowing up the #CHSeats Instagram feeds, along with pics inside their colorful, modern-meets-retro diner space.
Casual sports bar with an elevated menu and spacious rooftop
Looking from the outside in, one would expect that Uptown Social is just another sports bar -- but honestly, it’s so much more than that. Yes, there are lots of TVs, but there’s also a rockin’ rooftop bar, lots of frozen cocktails, and a menu of bar food that you’ll actually want to eat. No trip to Uptown Social is complete without a glass of frosé, paired with their pizza bites. It’s an unusual-yet-delightful combo.
Hip and swanky restaurant with eclectic fare and cold-brewed cocktails
When it comes to hotel restaurants, many fall below the mark, but 1Kept is proof that you can get an amazing meal and a great night’s stay under the same roof. The menu is an eclectic mix of Southern-influenced staples with a few globally inspired dishes as well (the schnitzel is a must try). Their cocktail program is also worth stopping by for, as they cold brew their cocktail infusions for a flavor that’s super smooth and delightfully refreshing.
A classic steakhouse with a serious emphasis on service.
Thousands (literal thousands) of reviewers agree that Halls Chophouse is a 5-star dining experience. Considering the price tag definitely makes this more of a special occasion destination versus and everyday haunt, Halls delivers on portions, flavor, and service in a way that’s hard to beat in the Holy City. Their OG filet practically melts on your tongue, and when paired with one of their family style sides -- we recommend the creamed corn or pepperjack grits -- you might have trouble enjoying a steak from anywhere else again.
A typical Southern joint with a hearty menu of grits options
When a place has “grit” in the name, you’d hope that they’re able to live up to the high expectations of southern diners (where grits are practically a sacred food group). Fortunately, that’s not a problem here: in addition to the classic version, Grace and Grit offers 16 different grits options, both sweet and savory, that are all expertly crafted and balanced in flavor. Even those who are grits-averse will leave feeling like they’ve been reborn among the corn. Can’t decide which flavor to try? Start with their grits flight, which features 4 of their most popular flavors.
Modern American steakhouse with a stellar happy hour
Chefs Nathan Davenport and Matt LeBoeuf developed the menu at Burwell’s to take the old school steakhouse concept into the 21st century. On the menu, you’ll find modern takes on classic dishes, like deviled eggs topped with candied bacon and pickled veggies, and a prime burger topped with guacamole and chipotle ranch. The beef is always of the highest quality -- Angus, Prime, and Wagyu all feature heavily on the menu -- and the burgers are prepared on a wood fire grill to really bring out the best flavor in the meat. Be sure to stop by at Happy Hour for great food and craft cocktail discounts, too.
An adult food court with lots of diverse dining options
Technically Workshop isn’t any one thing; it’s a happily harmonious upscale food court featuring a wide array of Charleston’s best up-and-coming offerings. The rotating cast of tenants brings some much needed ethnic food into Charleston’s culinary scene, and they change every few months, so there’s always something new to discover. The recent departures of starting players Pink Bellies and Juan Luis opens to door to even more delicious food to takeover; currently, you’ll find Spanglish Cuban Kitchen, Merrows Garden Bar, Sushi Wa Izakaya, Two Fat Olives, and Rebel Taqueria ready to serve you something tasty.
Upscale Greek cuisine like Yia Yia used to make
Stella’s wasn’t the first Greek restaurant in Charleston, but it’s arguably the best. With a mix of classic Greek small plates and entrees, Stella’s gives Charleston diners a much more broader taste of Greek flavors than your typical gyro or spanakopita. The grilled octopus is life-changing, and anything with lamb in it is a sure winner, but they also offer a number of vegetarian-friendly options as well. The cocktail program is also very strong here, making it a great spot for date night or girls’ night out.
The OG seafood and raw bar beloved by locals and visitors alike
In a city that has plenty of seafood, 167 Raw still makes a splash on the Charleston scene. Why? Because its ultra-fresh approach never seems blasé. The raw bar is where it's at in this place -- get the sampler if you're into trying everything -- but you'd be crazy not to order one of the best lobster rolls in the city... if you're willing to pay the high price for it, that is. Take some time and cruise the well-curated list of beers and wines, and choose a local draft, or something from the "everything else" menu.
Maybe you need a coffee and a cinnamon biscuit in the morning, and a chicken biscuit loaded with pimento cheese late at night. Hey, we don’t judge. In fact, we are probably in line behind you at Callie's Hot Little Biscuit. These small but mighty biscuits are one of the best things about good Charleston parties, and man, are we happy they are now democratically available to all.
Those of us who remember this property before its recent transformation are still in awe, but try to close your mouth and not gawk too much, especially if you brunch in the see-and-be-scene Caribbean-inspired courtyard. You’ll fit right in, though, if you order a mimosa and ooh-and-aah a bit over the chorizo egg scramble. Don’t forget to tip the valet.
Simple and romantic French cuisine served in an old Charleston single
The menu -- two apps, two entrees, and two desserts -- is written by hand daily. There are only a few offerings, but don’t let that dissuade you. The food is thoughtful and beautiful and damn delicious, and the setting, in a Charleston single house, is charming in the least stuffy way. Chez Nous is French, and has that je ne sais quoi in a Charleston culinary scene full of it.
Isle of Palms
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 perfectly cooked scallops and tender pasta with a crisp white, if not in view of the dunes and the ocean beyond on Sullivan’s Island? Right, we didn’t think so.
Modern and casual seafood with a seriously Instagrammable raw bar
There’s always room in Charleston for one more raw bar, and The Darling fills a nice niche for the progressive dinner set. Care to have some oysters and wine while you walk to the next course? This is your spot. That doesn’t mean you can’t sit in the gorgeously designed space for an all-evening affair, though. The creole shrimp is a go-to add-on with the requisite oysters, but here's a tip: always go for a variety, since this place has a solid rotating selection.
Sophisticated brewpub with 48 taps, new American cuisine, and a popular patio
Edmund’s Oast has slowly been taking over the Charleston food and bev scene, with the openings of the Exchange and Brewery over the past year, but the NoMo restaurant remains the perennial favorite, with a consistently packed dining room and bar. Their beloved charcuterie plates are always a good bet, though executive chef Bob Cook really shines in the heartier entrees, like the pork shank, grilled octopus, and roasted crispy half chicken. Don’t forget to pair your meal with one of their homebrewed beers to get the full EO experience.
A classic pizza joint with a cult following
Heavenly things happen at EVO (Extra Virgin Oven) Pizzeria: pistachios become homemade pesto, daily made dough blisters beautifully in the wood ovens, and local beers flow constantly. Then there's the Pork Trifecta pizza: an incredible trio of house-made sausage, pepperoni, and bacon atop red sauce, cheese, and a chewy crust. Honestly, one bite of that crust and you'll understand why people drive from Johns Island to get a table. It's just that good.
15-year old award-winning Charleston mainstay
This restaurant is beyond the hype; it’s consistently one of the best in Charleston. And with Jason Stanhope, winner of the 2015 James Beard Southeast Best Chef award, as its executive chef, it hasn’t missed a beat. Stanhope’s elegant approach to Lowcountry ingredients highlights his excellent learning skills under mentor chef Mike Lata. Right now, don’t miss the wreckfish, served with sea island red pea pomodoro.
Chef Brannon Florie is spreading his wings at a new centralized Mount Pleasant location. A South Carolina native, Florie maintains strong ties with local farms to ensure all of his menu items are made with top-quality local ingredients, whether it's comfort food favorites like chicken and dumplings, or elevated creations like local fish with sweet shishito peppers and a butcher board with house-made charcuterie, pickles, and condiments.
Twice-cooked sunchokes. A tartine of braised greens. Blue crab pasta (that will break your heart). The menu at The Grocery always reads like a beautiful love letter to the Lowcountry’s bounty, and chef Kevin Johnson knows how to perfectly prepare heirloom vegetables. The menu is always seasonal, so there is always a reason to return.
Award-winning Southern cuisine with a daily-changing menu
If you think there's too much hype surrounding Husk, just spend some quality time with the fried chicken & pig ear lettuce wraps (yes, actual pig ears in lettuce, and they are absolutely delicious) and we're guessing your tune will change. Headed by James Beard Award-winning chef Sean Brock, Husk's menu is unique not only because of its interesting takes on Southern favorites -- seriously, we've never had fried chicken skins with pimento cheese dressing before venturing to this place -- but also because the menu changes twice a day. So if you're looking for something you had a while back, you might want to check the archives online.
Refined seafood dishes and craft cocktails in a chic space
This is the gold standard for seafood in Charleston. With the menu returning to its classic “Hot” and “Cold” organization and the addition of desserts along with the presence of all those rums, there is always a time to visit for Caribbean fish stew or oysters sliders or smoked oysters with saltines. Bonus: Any recollection of said visit makes whoever you tell instantly jealous.
Romantic spot for traditional Italian cuisine
Try this: ask someone, “Have you been to Wild Olive?” If they have, get ready for the eye roll of bliss. This place is that good -- so much so that no one cares it’s on Johns Island. In fact, that’s actually a plus: it's easy to get to, it has parking, and there's an expansive dining room. Also, the staff is actually invested in its work, both in back and in the front of the house. But don't come for the staff alone; check it out for the biodynamic wines, the pappardelle, the charred octopus, the profiteroles, and, if you’re really lucky, the mushroom Parmesan bisque (check the special board).
Asian fusion cafe with a seasonally changing food and cocktails
Asian soul food in a converted gas station has to just be a trend right? Wrong. XBB has been keeping it fresh for years by continually updating their cocktail and beverage menus while keeping the raving fans of the okonomiyaki happy (“Don’t take away our cabbage pancake!” protest signs might read if it ever left the menu). The Borneo Sunrise -- which includes rum and orange water -- is a great sip to try with your pancake order.
Perennially popular spot with an ever-changing menu of Middle Eastern-inspired fare
Since leaving its former space, Butcher & Bee has blossomed into a gorgeous anchor for the city as it grows north of the historic district. The open kitchen serves Israeli-inspired dishes made with Lowcountry ingredients like lamb ribs or whole grilled snapper. Come for the whipped ricotta, order wine on the patio (no more BYOB, sadly), and grab some dessert from the bakery, and maybe take home a fresh-baked loaf of bread (or two!) as you head out.
Hip neighborhood spot known for oysters (duh) and fried chicken
Those sunny yellow umbrellas beckon you in for summer, but once you're at Leon's, it's the fried chicken, oysters, and great playlist that beg you to stay. That’s easy, though, since you’ll probably want an order of Char-Grilled Oysters, you need to try that Siam Salad with Napa cabbage and shrimp you keep hearing about, and you’re down to the last sip of your frozen G&T. And then there’s soft serve for dessert, so of course, you’ll have to save room for that. Actually, just plan to spend everyday here.
Vintage-inspired tavern with a killer burger
Little Jack’s Tavern is a delightful time machine back to the diners and steakhouses of the late '50s, menu included. Since their Tavern Burger was recently named one of the best burgers in the US, people have been flocking to the quaint and cozy little shop for a burger that’s so good, you can order it from their appetizer, entree, and dessert menus.
Hip BBQ joint with heavy Texas influences
Since opening his anticipated BBQ joint in 2016, locals and visitors alike have flocked to Lewis Barbecue for buttery smoked beef brisket, the creamy corn pudding, and that Texas Hot Guts sausage. Pair your smoky meats with one of their artisan cocktails (or a $3 shot of Jameson or Fernet), or an ice cold local draft for an experience that borders on religious. This barbecue totally lives up to -- and actually, maybe even exceeds -- all the hype.
Seriously good sushi, cocktails, and nightlife
Serious sushi seekers (and less-serious sushi lovers) will enjoy an inventive roll menu at O-Kui that includes ingredients like shoestring potatoes alongside traditional offerings. However, dishes such as Yellowtail Carpaccio, Local White Fish Crudo, and Spicy Sesame Pork Belly place this firmly in the fine dining experience category. For extra points, O-Ku converts to a dance club after 11pm.
Classic Italian fare with a strong emphasis on seafood
Many of Charleston’s most discerning palates make reservations at this beautiful, tucked-in spot when they’re craving a serious comfort meal. It’s been a fixture on the Charleston scene for years and has managed to maintain its excellence with handmade pastas and good wine under the helm of chef/owner/ sommelier (and James Beard nominee) Ken Vedrinski. One bite of Ricotta Gnudi with housemade Italian duck sausage, and the day’s troubles might just fade away.
Heavily Asian-influenced beachside pub
We've been visiting Jack of Cups for tasty beers and bites for years, but lately the kitchen team has stepped up its game to include more seasonal, vegetable-focused dishes, making it a dinner destination for the James Island and Folly Beach crowds. The beachside beer bar's food menu steps outside the box with holy smoke ricotta toast, BBQ boiled peanut hummus, and a flavorful selection of Asian-inspired cuisine. With this many vegetarian-friendly options, maybe the basic "beer bar" moniker is a bit outdated.
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