Food & Drink

The Most Important Restaurants in Charleston

Published On 10/16/2015 Published On 10/16/2015

Charleston Before you start critiquing this list, know this: yes, there are more than 19 outstanding restaurants in Charleston. In fact, this town’s food scene is pretty much an embarrassment of riches. But all of the great spots that’ve cut the ribbon lately owe a debt to the game-changers that came before them -- these restaurants might not be the best, or trendiest, or oldest, but they are the most important. These are the restaurants that’ve had the greatest impact on the city. These are the restaurants that make Charleston, Charleston. More Stuff You Will Like

Courtesy of Belmond Charleston Place

Charleston Grill

  King St Historic District   It seems rare that in a city with so many solid dining choices that any single restaurant would be such a go-to for locals, but if they are looking to celebrate, or push the boat out a little, Charleston Grill is often where they do it. Chef Michelle Weaver’s dishes are delicious, layered, and subtle, but they still speak to the Lowcountry’s bounty and rotate seasonally. Additionally, good, smooth jazz music is a fixture here, and the acoustics are surprisingly good, along with an exceptional wine list to enjoy with all of it. Continue Reading

Flickr/Wally Gobetz

Bowens Island Restaurant

  James Island   Locals may bemoan the loss of the original “seasoned building” that burned down in 2012, but they still flock to this little spot between James Island and Folly Beach in order to sample local seafood preps and watch an idyllic sunset view, all at the end of a gravel road. A popular place for reunions, parties, and yes, even the occasional wedding reception, this restaurant provides an authentic oyster roast experience -- something that is close to impossible to find outside of family gatherings, fundraisers, and backyard parties, but is one of the great culinary pleasures of the Lowcountry.

Courtesy of EVO Pizza

EVO Pizza

  Park Circle/North Charleston   EVO is so important to the Charleston food scene because 1) it chose Park Circle as home 10 years ago, and at that same time made a commitment to local sourcing that it follows to this day, and 2) it consistently cranks out some of the best pizza in the South. And that’s not to mention it got Charlestonians to drive to North Charleston for dinner. What makes it so good is the combination of a chewy, crispy, wood-fired crust, creative and seasonal topping combinations, and the feeling that just by walking in, you’ve already upped your cool quotient.

Courtesy of Edmund's Oast

Edmund’s Oast

  North Morrison   Most restaurants have to put more weight on something to get the edge: food, décor, the drinks program, or even brewing their own beer on site. Edmund’s Oast does it all -- and with finesse. House-made charcuterie from its open kitchen is some of the best in town (a town that's already home to charcuterie superstar Craig Deihl, no less), the beer brewed in-house is delicious, the cocktails inventive, and it’s hard to decide where the best seat in the house is: facing the open kitchen, outside in the bower, or at the bar.

Courtesy of Hall Management Group

Slightly North of Broad

  French Quarter   If there is a father figure in Charleston food, it must be Chef Frank Lee. A mentor to so many chefs that have gone on to helm their own kitchens, Frank Lee's influence is spread far and wide across town. SNOB (as it is affectionately abbreviated) may have been open for over two decades, but Lee’s buttery, light fried oysters, decadent shrimp and grits, and cold lobster salad couldn’t be fresher. 

Courtesy of Gaulart and Maliclet

Gaulart & Maliclet (Fast & French)

  French Quarter   This may not be the hottest place in town... but it holds a special place in the hearts of the local restaurant crowd. Fast & French has been an after-art walk, before-theatre, or lunch-with-wine stop for more than 30 years. It feels bustling, French, and vibrant. The soup and cheese are delicious, the wine is reasonably priced, and on a cold & rainy day there's very little better than a French press coffee at your table with a croissant.

Courtesy of Hall Management Group

Halls Chophouse

  Upper King St   Everybody has an opinion about Halls, even if they have never dined there. It’s a steakhouse in the classic sense: dark paneling, expensive cuts of meat, power players at the bar and in private dining rooms, and plenty of expensive cars pulling up to valet. Whether you’re into that or you aren’t, you can’t talk about steak in Charleston without Halls being part of the conversation.

Courtesy of Red Orchid

Red Orchid's China Bistro 

  West Ashley   Pull up to the unassuming façade of Red Orchid with someone who hasn’t been and you’re likely to hear, “Really, are you sure?” Yes, be sure. It’s hard to choose favorites because the menu is large, and there are so many solid dishes, but make sure to save a little room for dessert. The house-made ice cream is so good that it’s developed into an artisanal product business of its own. Bonus points if you can get Tony to make you one of his cocktail specials.

Courtesy of Husk


  French Quarter   Double James Beard Award-winner Chef Sean Brock’s playhouse gets enough press to keep the crowds flooding in -- and flood they do, eating some of the best cornbread found outside of an Appalachian ma-maw’s kitchen, and one of the finest burgers in the nation. If you’re a tourist and score a last-minute reservation, you’re likely to hear the angels sing, but make sure to keep the rapturous music flowing next door with an after-dinner drink at The Bar, which is in a building all its own.   

Courtesy of McCrady's Restaurant

McCrady’s Restaurant

  French Quarter   While we are on the subject of Chef Sean Brock, McCrady’s is an experience, with chef de cuisine Daniel Heinze also adding a deft touch. The food is a big contrast from Husk old fashioned approach -- often featuring foams, reductions, or deconstructed elements -- but it is still satisfying and local. The space itself (set in one of the area's oldest buildings) deftly mixes traditional & modern touches to beautifully accompany the food. 

Courtesy of 82 Queen

82 Queen

  French Quarter   If you are looking for old-school Charleston, this is ground zero, with its 11 galleries for seating (you’ll do none better than the courtyard if it’s not raining), Sunday brunch buffet, and plenty of tourists. The real standout, though, is the she crab soup; grab a bowl with a crisp glass of white wine while you’re seated in the shade of a palm as a salty breeze from the harbor wafts past your table -- you'll see why it's has been a Charleston mainstay for more than a century.  

Courtesy of Cypress


  French Quarter   This place is huge. The restaurant boasts multiple kitchens, two floors of seating, and an upstairs bar that's the place to be on Mondays for burger night. Chef Craig Deihl has been at the helm since its opening, and he has perfected his butchery, charcuterie, and cooking skills to the tune of numerous accolades, and a hefty Instagram following who likes his steady and specific meat-centric process shots (as well as new sandwich/butcher shop, Artisan Meat Share).

Courtesy of Indigo Road Restaurant Group

Mercantile & Mash

  Eastside   This brand-spanking-new project in the restored Cigar Factory is already one of the most important spots in Charleston because it’s our first food hall, NYC’s Eataly style. Although there is no formal dinner service, this is already one of the best places to go simply because the amount of talent gathered under its roof (and that's not to mention the selection of 100 whiskies).

Flickr/Wally Gobetz

Hominy Grill

  Canonborough   Everyone from Anthony Bourdain to Anthony Hopkins has enjoyed a meal in this restored Charleston single house because its menu is filled with iconic Southern classics -- fried okra to sausage gravy -- prepared fresh and well. There is always a wait, and there always was, even when this neighborhood wasn’t nearly as bonny as it is now. James Beard Award-winning chef Robert Stehling has built a landmark, complete with a mural that (rightly) says, “Grits are Good For You.”

Courtesy of FIG


  Elliottborough   Started by Chef Mike Lata and his partner Adam Nemirow, excellent ingredients parked with inventive execution is the FIG (Food is Good) signature. Now helmed by James Beard Award winner Chef Jason Stanhope, it continues to be one of the favorite and the most influential kitchens in the city, not just for the beautifully elegant food, but for the talent that is grown and tended behind the line.

Courtesy of The Ordinary

The Ordinary

  Upper King St   This is Nemirow’s and Lata’s most recent project, and most nights you will find the chef in the kitchen, and if you’re lucky, bringing oysters to your table and educating you about their merroir (a French term he's popularizing, which refers to how characteristics of the sea imprint on the flavor of the bivalve). With its high ceilings and lightness, Ordinary far away from the gritty beginnings of the humble oyster as a working man’s food. Lata is one of the stars of the city, and this is his crown jewel.

Courtesy of Wild Olive

Wild Olive

  Johns Island   If Fat Hen proved that a fine restaurant could thrive on rural (but rapidly changing) Johns Island, then Wild Olive established that driving to Johns Island for dinner is now pretty much a requirement. 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. Bonus: no searching for a parking space.

Xiao Bao Biscuit (XBB)

  Cannonborough   Any place that can elevate cabbage to cult status deserves a spot on this list, and XBB accomplished that with the okonomiyaki -- on any given day inside the restaurant you’ll see at least a couple on the tables around you. The owners call their menu “Asian soul food,” which hails from a continent, not to a specific country. This is illustrative of the general creativity and whimsy on display here, from the converted gas station setting, to the inventive cocktails, to a rotating list of specials that keep regularly coming back, many times a week.

Bertha’s Kitchen

  North Charleston   No real website, no PR team, and no pretense. This is on the short list for the best fried chicken in the state, and one of the best “not-so-secrets” in the city. A lot of people might go to another soul food restaurant named for another woman, and that’s fine, but the line at Bertha’s is always long, and it is important because it doesn’t need anything but word-of-mouth to make it one of the best.  Sign up here for our daily Charleston email and be the first to get all the food/drink/fun in town. A native North Carolinian, Stephanie grew up in North Carolina on good Southern cooking and lots of books, but she now calls Charleston, SC home, and has done so for 10 years. Her work has appeared in numerous publications, including Paste Magazine, The Local Palate, The Post and Courier, and The Hollins Critic.

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1. Charleston Grill 224 King St, Charleston, SC 29401

Earn brownie points with your wealthy uncle at this opulent old school-old money restaurant. From French cuisine to Southern comfort, the wide assortment of dishes cater to an appreciation for fine dining and filling portions.

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2. Bowens Island Restaurant 1870 Bowens Island Rd, Charleston, SC 29412

Bowen's Island Restaurant takes advantage of its waterfront locale both by devoting its menu to ultra-fresh seafood. This graffiti-and-barnacle-covered seaside shack boasts picturesque views of King Flats Creek at the downstairs all-you-can-eat oyster bar, where you can slurp fresh oysters next to the guys who caught them. The menu emphasizes seafood platters of shrimp, fried fish, and crab cakes to be shared among you and your friends. These will pair excellently with entrees like Fragmore Stew, AKA the “Low Country Boil,” with sausage, shrimp, corn, and potatoes.

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3. EVO Pizzeria 1075 E Montague Ave, North Charleston, SC 29405

Heavenly things are happening at EVO (Extra Virgin Oven) Pizza: pistachios become homemade pesto, daily-made dough blisters beautifully in wood-fired ovens, and local beers flow endlessly. EVO also has a bakery that sells its artisan bread (focaccia, baguettes, semolina loaves) in-house and at farmers markets, so you can bet that the pizza dough is made with the utmost care and expertise. Though the crust tastes more than fine on its own, be sure to order the Pork Trifecta pie, a cult-favorite topped with red sauce, house-maude sausage, pepperoni, bacon, mozzarella, and parmigiano-reggiano.

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4. Edmund's Oast 1081 Morrison Dr, Charleston, SC 29403 (Charleston)

This modern warehouse/barnhouse/beer hall hybrid tucked inconspicuously amongst North Charleston's office parks and empty lots serves New American fare, beer brewed on-site and craft cocktails. Cult-ish domestic crafts like Coast, Evil Twin, and Prairie Artisan Ales are posted next to hard-to-find imports (De Struise, Nøgne ø, J.W. Lees...), all available alongside house-made jerky, charcuterie, and other indulgent bar snacks. Snag a seat on the patio for a relaxed dinner and stay out late with a young-professional crowd.

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5. Slightly North of Broad 192 E Bay St, Charleston, SC 29401

S.N.O.B. (Slightly North of Broad) remains a major player in Charleston's food scene thanks to Chef Frank Lee's fresh, modern Southern cuisine. The menu features fine-dining twists on Southern classics, such as shrimp and grits with house sausage and country ham, local scallops with okra and tomato ham hock broth, and duck breast with a sweet Johnny cake and a honey thyme reduction. Despite the name, the 18th-century warehouse space isn't snobbish: feel free to enjoy your upscale meal and classic cocktails in your favorite jeans and T-shirt.

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6. Gaulart & Maliclet French Café Fast and French Inc. 98 Broad St, Charleston, SC 29401

You could call this a simple place for it's lack of trendy interior architecture and New American decor, but you'd be missing the point. Forgoing the (fast and young) lifestyle of a tragically hip restaurant, Gaulart & Maliclet has been a place of coziness and familiarity, drawing customers back with well-priced wine, cheese specials, and actually good coffee.

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7. Hall's Chophouse 434 King St, Charleston, SC 29403

Hall's is an elegant steakhouse known for its high-quality service and steaks, which are shipped to the restaurant from Chicago's beloved Allen Brothers before they're wet or dry aged and seasoned to perfection. Whether you stop by for the petite filet or treat yourself to the pricey Tomahawk rib eye, you'll always leave this wood-laden eatery satisfied. You'll hear live music every night of the week, but what really attracts crowds is the Sunday Gospel Brunch, when you can enjoy steak & eggs, pancakes, or waffles with a side of uplifting local gospel music.

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8. Red Orchids China Bistro 1401 Sam Rittenberg Blvd, Charleston, SC 29407

It's your typical hole-in-the-wall Chinese food haven, except for their claim to ice cream fame. This Red Orchid desert is in such high demand that it has been licensed and sold outside of the restaurant. Not to say that's the only worthwhile dish -- before you indulge in dessert, explore one of the many (_many_) delectable savory dishes.

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9. Husk 76 Queen St, Charleston, SC 29401

Headed by two-time James Beard award-winning chef Sean Brock, Husk's menu is unique not only because of its interesting takes on Southern favorites, but also because the menu changes twice a day. Housed in an historic 1800s Charleston mansion, the environs themselves are enough to make you lick your lips: the interior reads more like a stately residential home than a restaurant serving honey-lacquered duck with pickled blueberries and rabbit-pimento loafs. Long waits can be avoided at the adjacent and more casual The Bar at Husk, standing apart in a brick warehouse. In addition to a stunning list of some 50 bourbons, including its own barrel of the coveted Pappy Van Winkle, a seat at the more casual bar increases your odds of scoring the must-order, iconic Husk burger: two 100% chuck patties infused with Benton’s bacon, and griddled with onions shaved onto the patty before being topped with American cheese, bread & butter pickles, and Brock's own special sauce.

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10. McCrady's Tavern 2 Unity Aly, Charleston, SC 29401

Inspired by the Gilded Age, McCrady’s Tavern’s lunch, and dinner menus are filled with old-fashioned dishes, like escargot-stuffed marrow bone and calf’s head soup, derived from an 1885 cookbook. For brunch, choose from appetizers, like blue crab bisque with vermouth and tarragon, and entrees, like a patty melt with fries or eggs benedict with pea meal bacon. With exposed brick walls, oil paintings, and lilac walls that match upholstered armchairs, McCrady’s Tavern’s décor simultaneously harks back to an earlier century and embraces modern aesthetic trends.

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11. 82 Queen 82 Queen St, Charleston, SC 29401

Enjoy your brunch buffet on this locale's covetable outdoor patio, mimosa in hand, and gently soothed by the salty breeze from the harbor. A centurylong history doesn't lie, this is one of the greats.

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12. Cypress 167 E Bay St, Charleston, SC 29401

James Beard-nominated Chef Craig Deihl deals in high-end low-country fare at Cypress, a swanky bi-level restaurant in an historic French Quarter building. There are fine-dining staples like Steak Diane and an Asian-inspired crisp wasabi tuna, but for a taste of Deihl’s signature Southern cooking, go for the BBQ Trio with smoked duck, grilled sausage, and pastrami-spiced pork belly. For more casual snacking, you can post up at the second-floor bar for a chili-cheese dog on an everything bun and some craft cocktails -- though, you might want to err on the side of wine during your visit, considering there's a three-story wine wall with nearly 5,000 bottles.

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13. Mercantile And Mash 701 E Bay St, Charleston, SC 29403

Mercantile and Mash is a gourmet food bazaar and mixology-inspired cocktail bar in one. Occupying the former Cigar Factory space, it's home to a variety of local vendors who serve everything from artisanal cheese and charcuterie, sushi, sandwiches (featuring both croque monsieurs and banh-mi's alike), and other snacks. The sprawling, modern space is also home to Bar Mash, a whiskey-obsessed cocktail bar whose offerings range from fresh takes on classic cocktails (pro tip: try the Fairgrounds), jello-shots, and familiar draft beers. As an added bonus, there's indoor bocce and shuffleboard games to keep you entertained, although we have a feeling you'll be too enthralled talking to the super cool award-winning bartenders who happen to be making your drinks.

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14. Hominy Grill 207 Rutledge Ave, Charleston, SC 29403

Hominy is a relaxed eatery in Canonborough dishing up some of Chucktown’s most delicious Lowcountry classics. James Beard Award-winning chef Robert Stehling has built a landmark— you can’t miss the bright red exterior—complete with a mural that (rightly) states, “Grits are Good For You.” Everyone from Anthony Bourdain to Anthony Hopkins has enjoyed a meal in this restored Charleston single house because the menu is filled with iconic dishes (think fried okra and sausage gravy) prepared fresh and well.

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15. FIG 232 Meeting St, Charleston, SC 29401

FIG: Food Is Good. And, by our estimation, this restaurant does not tell a lie. Come here for high-brow dishes designed by Chef Jason Stanhope, enjoyed in a relaxed environment. Stanhope’s elegant approach to Lowcountry ingredients highlights his skills learned under mentor chef Mike Lata. The menu highlights ingredients from local farmers and purveyors that change seasonally, and FIG features a "100 under $100" wines list ranging from intriguing newcomers to Old World classics.

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16. The Ordinary 544 King St, Charleston, SC 29403

Situated inside an old bank, this seafood hall and oyster bar is full of creative and tasty Southern twists on classic ocean fare, offering both large and small plates. It is the sister restaurant to FIG and maintains equal focus on seasonal and local ingredients to create delicious and fresh dishes every day. Some menu items, however, are so lauded that they have become mainstays, like the oyster sliders.

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17. Wild Olive 2867 Maybank Hwy, Johns Island, SC 29455

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.

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18. Xiao Bao Biscuit 224 Rutledge Ave, Charleston, SC 29403

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). This Pan-orient spot serves up classic and experimental dishes from across the continent. Thanks to their rotating menu, you'll have the chance to try something new every time you go.

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19. Bertha's Restaurant 2332 Meeting Street Rd, North Charleston, SC 29405

A kitchen with cult status if there ever was, so prepare to stand in line for a loooong time. Your hanger will subside when you get a taste of what is arguably the best friend chicken in the state.



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