Food & Drink

Where to Find the Best Local Seafood in Charleston

Trying to traverse the waters of local seafood can be just as confusing as trying to navigate Charleston’s bus routes. Some restaurants will pass off other fish as grouper, serve imported shrimp, make scallops out of other seafood, and generally do some pretty uncool hoodwinks when it comes to serving up samples from the sea. (We are not naming any names; we just hear things.)

According to the South Carolina Department of Agriculture, the seafood industry contributes more than $39 million to the state’s economy every year. Purchasing local seafood keeps that money in the community here, which strengthens the infrastructure of the industry and keeps it going in the Lowcountry. Lowcountry seafood tastes damn good, too.

So in order to enjoy a “real” Charleston meal, your seafood choices need to be local. We’ve got you covered when it comes to local flavor. First, here are four tips to always keep in mind when it comes to Charleston seafood:

  • If you’re ordering salmon, you’re not ordering local. We agree, salmon is delicious, but “it ain’t from around here, y’all.” Salmon doesn’t swim here, so to stay local, skip it.
  • Red snapper is also never local. It has been illegal to harvest red snapper commercially or recreationally for the last few years. However, vermilion snapper, another species, is fished here. Similar hue, different fish. Vocab words are important.
  • If you visit in the summer, the oysters aren’t local. The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources monitors oyster beds, and when the water temps get above a certain degree, they close them. They are usually closed well into the fall.
  • Always ask your server. You, the guest, have amazing power to keep the community strong where you are dining. It always starts with a question: where do you get your seafood? If your server doesn’t know, it’s a good sign it’s not going to be local.

Although they aren’t the only places in town doing their part, these eight restaurants are spot-on in their support of local seafood, and they are some of our favorites. Reserve a table here, and you’ll have no reservations about ordering local.

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Ansonborough

Head to this beloved and essential Charleston restaurant and, depending on the day, you can get grilled hogfish or their famous fish stew with squid and mussels. The waitstaff is ultra-informed about each seafood offering and can even tell you the difference between black grouper and snowy grouper. Don’t worry, there won’t be a test after your meal... but there could be peach leaf ice cream or a dark chocolate tart.

The Ordinary
Courtesy of The Ordinary

The Ordinary

Upper King

Chef Mike Lata loves local seafood so much that he coined a new word for it: merroir. It’s fun to use it in a sentence, but it’s even more fun to eat the food from his kitchen, which is so reverent about quality seafood that it feels a bit like a spiritual experience. That could be the high ceilings, the oyster sliders, or the Mai Tai talking, but anyway, this is our home base for the best seafood.

The Boathouse at Breach Inlet

Isle of Palms

The Boathouse is a consistent local seafood supporter, and the view of Breach Inlet ain’t half-bad either. Come early and sidle up to the bar to drink it all in, then settle into a nice dinner of the Parmesan-crusted local catch as the sun sets over the creek. Depending on the season, you might be able to get sweet local shrimp too, so make sure and ask your server.

Husk

French Quarter

Husk has got the goods on all things Southern, and that includes the best and freshest South Carolina seafood. Whether you choose in-season shrimp & grits, grouper, or tilefish, you’ll know your farmer and fisherman because it’s printed on the menu. Husk is important because we like our food to be excellent and support our community -- the hype may be thick, but so is that slice of cornbread.

The Macintosh

Upper King

The Macintosh is one of our favorite places to grab a cocktail because it’s not only comfortably elegant, with dark woods and expansive seating, but after a few drinks, it’s the perfect place to stay for dinner. Local shrimp is easy to find here (when it’s in season), and always listen to the specials, as they might include a local fish. Whatever you do, don’t forget to order the bone marrow pudding.

Edmund's Oast

NoMo

If you can pull yourself away from the bar snacks and beer, local seafood shines on the menu. In season, soft-shell crabs grace the Softie Sandwich, and other times you might see grouper collars on the menu (both of which might go very well with a house-brewed beer -- we can’t help it). We also like Edmund’s Oast for brunch, where you can find Littleneck clams and pickled shrimp.

Butcher & Bee

NoMo

The location may be new, but the commitment to serving local is the same. Sure, it has one of the best burgers in town, but it's also dishing up local fish with grits and shishito peppers. We’re hoping that tonight’s special might be wahoo or grouper or tilefish, but whatever it is, we trust “the Bee” to do it justice.

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Stephanie Burt thinks that seafood has no calories since she eats so much of it. Find her and her food musings at @beehivesteph and on her weekly podcast, The Southern Fork.