Whether you’re in town for a wedding or come each winter to escape the cold, Charleston is a city you visit and think, “Yeah, I could definitely live here.” It has Southern charm, nice weather, and oyster bars everywhere you look, which is why it’s such an easy place to like and find great food. But more so than ever, there’s a lot to eat in Charleston besides just biscuits, grits, and seafood.
As more visitors move to Charleston, the restaurant scene continues to expand beyond the Lowcountry’s greatest hits and with so many options to choose from, it can be tough deciding where to eat next. That’s where we come in.
Here you’ll find our recommendations for where to eat and drink in Charleston, along with a few great hotels to stay at. We’ve included everything from where to get the best oysters and barbecue to some classic soul food spots and our favorite Chinese and Vietnamese food in town.
Every corner of the U.S. has its own take on barbecue - brisket in Texas, ribs in Missouri - but in South Carolina, it’s all about whole hog and no place does it better than Rodney Scott’s. This North-Central spot smokes entire pigs 24/7 and while there’s always a line, their pulled pork and ribs are worth the wait. Add on some mac and cheese and a few beers and you have yourself the perfect weekend lunch, with a necessary nap scheduled for dessert.
Leon’s Oyster Bar in the West Side sounds like a restaurant idea we came up with at a bar at 2am. They serve fried chicken, hush puppies, chargrilled oysters, and really good salads, alongside draft rosé, frozen G&Ts, and soft serve, all from inside an old garage. However, their mix of highbrow and lowbrow food and drinks is what makes them one of the busiest restaurants in town. They don’t take reservations for groups under six, so come when they open at 11am, grab a spot on the patio, and make a day out of it.
Pink Bellies began in 2014 as a small food truck run by Chef Thai Phi near the College of Charleston, serving Vietnamese comfort food to students and locals. After growing and moving to a food hall, Pink Bellies is now at home in their new space on King Street, which is impossible to miss with its neon illuminated interior. The garlic noodles are a staple: a savory egg noodle dish with pulled pork, pickled onions, parmesan, and sriracha. An order of lamb dumplings is also necessary, along with the Not Fried Chicken Ice Cream for dessert, a treat that looks like a chicken drumstick from local favorite, Life Raft Treats.
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While the food scene in Charleston has evolved a lot over the past decade, soul food remains at the core of this city. Many places have closed during that time, but Hannibal’s Kitchen has continued to be a Charleston staple since first opening in 1985. This Black and family-owned establishment serves both soul food classics like fried chicken and seafood dishes, including the excellent crab rice. Inside the walls are lined with family photos of the Huger family that started the restaurant, and are still involved to this day
Whether it’s for a quick grab-and-go breakfast, a morning coffee stop, or mid-day lunch, The Daily is a neighborhood marketplace on Upper King Street in Downtown Charleston that works for just about any situation. This place has local and regional produce and specialty products, including freshly made pastries from Butcher & Bee Bakery, and made-to-order bowls, wraps, and sandwiches that are available throughout the day.
The Darling Oyster Bar is known for being one of the most beautiful restaurants in the city and for serving a very over-the-top Bloody Mary. This spot on King Street has lots of exposed brick and white tile, as well as a huge bar that’s great for a quick drink or eating your weight in seafood. Come for dinner with friends, split the ceviche and some oysters, and finish with the fried shrimp basket and poutine-style chowder over fries. If you opt for brunch instead, the Bloody Mary comes with shrimp, hushpuppies, a king crab leg, and a lobster claw all sticking out the top. This is either ludicrous or genius, but either way we’re into it.
Located in the West Side of Downtown Charleston, this casual all-day neighborhood breakfast spot serves all the breakfast favorites but with a unique approach. Pancakes and sweets inspired by cereal favorites are highlights, including the Cinnamon Toast Crunch Sticky Bun and Captain Crunch Pancakes - topped with seasonal fruit compote. For a heartier start to the day, the Breakfast Club sandwich with coffee-rubbed turkey and bacon whipped cheese is a must, along with the hash.
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There are good surprises, like when you remember that your favorite leftovers are in your fridge, and bad surprises, like when your roommate eats said leftovers before you get home. Lucky for us, Xiao Bao Biscuit is a good surprise. This spot in Cannonborough-Elliotborough is located inside an old gas station, but serves really good Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Malay food. Also, they have the word “biscuit” in their name, but are one of the few places in Charleston that don’t actually serve biscuits. Split the pad kra pow, mapo dou fu, and okonomiyaki with some friends, and don’t be surprised if someone sends you links to flights to Charleston next month just to come back here.
Locally-sourced ingredients (from the owner’s very own family farm) alongside a fun cocktail menu and an incredible interior inspired by the past lives of the building it inhabits create a unique experience at this restaurant in Cannonborough-Elliotborough. All the dishes on the menu are smaller plates and separated into three different price categories, allowing you to create your own experience, or choose the “Let Us Pick For You” option for a five-course meal curated by the chefs along with optional beverage pairings. The excellent rustic sourdough is always a good way to start a meal, and the dumplings with seasonal ingredients (currently sweet corn) are an absolute must.
Charleston is a very relaxed city, but even so, it’s nice to get out of town and see some of the surrounding wildlife if you get a chance. When that’s the case, we make the 20-minute trip to Sullivan’s Island, which is home to a lot of pretty nature and The Obstinate Daughter. This restaurant is only five minutes from the beach and serves everything from pizza and pasta to Lowcountry classics, along with a huge variety of wine and cocktails. If you head here for brunch, order the shrimp roll and geechie frites - grits fries - and take a walk down to the water afterward. If you make a day out of the trip and come back for dinner, the griddled octopus and campanelle with oyster mushrooms are two of our favorites.
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If you’re craving great smoked meats, Lewis Barbecue is one of several barbecue spots in Charleston worth checking out. Here they serve Texas’ greatest hits, like smoked sausage and turkey- but the brisket is the real reason to come here. Split a giant tray of different meats and sides - especially the green chile corn pudding - along with a pitcher of margaritas, and find a spot in their backyard to spend the next few hours. As you walk up, you may also notice a food truck in the parking lot called JL’s, which serves southwest burgers using the brisket that Lewis is known for, topped with hatch chiles that are the star of the show, along with Texas hot gut sausages and hatch chile cheese fries.
You’re never too far from a raw bar in Charleston and for good reason: the ocean is super close and fresh seafood is great. But when you want to turn a casual meal of oysters and shrimp into an event, head to The Ordinary on King St. This 1920’s bank-turned-restaurant serves a wide range of seafood dishes, but the main reason to come here is for the shellfish towers, which you can get in one, two, or three layers. Order a drink and a tower, along with a few shared plates like the crispy oyster sliders and snapper ceviche. Keep in mind, The Ordinary is open Wed-Sun for dinner only.
The Park Circle neighborhood of North Charleston, less than 15 minutes from the peninsula, is quickly becoming a food destination and Jackrabbit Filly is one of the reasons why. Chinese American dishes are the focus here, with recipes inspired by Chef Shuai Wang’s family and the dinners they would have together when he was younger. The O.G. chirashi rice bowls at lunch are a nod to their original and well-loved food truck, Short Grain. And for dinner, dumplings are always a great way to start, followed by the karaage and fried rice. Also, make sure to bring some friends (or a group you randomly met on the beach or at a bar last night) since everything here is always best shared.
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Our first thought anytime we go to Hank’s is always, “Our dads would love this place.” This classic spot in Ansonborough has the dark wood paneling, worn leather booths, and veteran servers that he’ll eventually email all of his golf buddies about. Also, the food is great, with the seafood towers and platters being two of our favorite dishes to share. Entree-wise, go for the sautéed flounder, seafood a la Wando, or lobster, and if you want something not from the ocean instead, their fried chicken is also some of the best in town.
Located next to popular music venue, the Pour House, Kwei Fei is a Sichuan spot that doesn’t shy away from big flavors or heat. The menu is arranged with “Loud” snacks like the pork crescent dumplings, “Hot” noodles and broths (the dan dan mian and Sichuan beef should both be on your table), and the “Vibes″ of vegetable and rice dishes like the marinated cucumbers with hot bean paste and garlic. And once you’re done with dinner, head next door to watch some live music - which usually happens seven days a week.
There are a lot of good spots to celebrate an anniversary or birthday in Charleston, but very few of them are as popular with locals as Slightly North of Broad. This French Quarter spot serves Lowcountry classics like steamed clams and shrimp and grits and for the past 20 years has been slammed basically every night of the week. Definitely make a reservation if you can or put your name down and grab a drink at The Gin Joint next door while you wait.
Hall’s Chophouse is where you go for a big steak and a few stiff drinks. While this Mazyck-Wraggborough restaurant is definitely a little fancy, it also has nightly live music and a very popular bar, where you can order nachos and a really good burger if you aren’t after the full steakhouse experience. If you can’t make it for dinner, make a reservation for their Gospel Brunch instead and enjoy a choir performance over a Chophouse Omelet with mushrooms and creamed spinach.
If you’re staying near King Street or are just craving a great biscuit for breakfast, Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit is a favorite grab-and-go spot that’s impossible not to like. Jump in line to get a few of the namesake hot little biscuits as a morning snack and the perfect way to sample all the flavors - from the savory country ham to sweeter options like the blackberry biscuit. For a larger breakfast, the biscuit sandwiches can’t be beat, especially the sausage, egg, and pimento cheese biscuit.
After you finish dinner and take a walk down to the waterfront, head to Peninsula Grill inside the Planters Inn hotel for dessert. While it’s also a very popular dinner spot, we recommend avoiding the packed dining room and just ordering a slice of their Ultimate Coconut Cake on the cobblestone patio instead. Yes, you still have to adhere to their dress code even if you’re just there for a slice of cake, but it’s worth throwing on a blazer or dress to try the most famous dessert in the city.
There are plenty of oyster bars in Charleston, but Pearlz is one of our favorites because it’s centrally located and has a great Happy Hour. Located in the middle of the French Quarter, this is where to go when you want a dozen oysters, a beer, and a break from activities. Also, on weeknights from 4-6pm, Pearlz serves $2 oysters, $3 champagne, and $4 oyster shooters, which might be our favorite trio in town.
Poogan’s Porch in the King Street Historic District is the closest many of us will ever get to having a Southern grandma who’s a great cook. This place opened in 1976 inside a Victorian house that’s more than 100 years old and having brunch or lunch on their porch is a Charleston right of passage. Their excellent servers will be happy to suggest dishes, but the shrimp and grits, barbecuban, and pimento cheese fritters are always excellent choices.
Post House Inn
Located in the Old Village neighborhood of Mount Pleasant, Post House Inn was originally built in 1896, and since then the building has stood as a neighborhood hub. On the lower level is Post House, a tavern and bar with a beautiful outdoor courtyard and grand bar inside situated upfront. Upstairs you’ll find the Inn, with seven coastal-inspired rooms, each with its own unique look. Right outside of the Inn is Pitt Street, the perfect place to explore local shops then make your way over to Pitt Street Bridge Park, and enjoy what makes this Mount Pleasant neighborhood so special. Book your stay here.
Just a few steps away from the Historic Charleston City Market, you’ll find Emeline - a boutique hotel that stands apart from many others with its unique mid-century-inspired interior. On the ground floor is Clerks, the perfect stop for your morning coffee, Keep Shop, a curated store that highlights many local Charleston makers, and the restaurant Frannie and The Fox. There are so many fun details in this hotel, like the “foxhole” speakeasy window near the restaurant where you can have a cocktail served to you through a small window all with the press of a button, to the unique lighting throughout the hotel sourced locally by Urban Electric. In each of the rooms, you’ll notice a curated selection of records and your own record player too, making a stay at Emeline one that you won’t soon forget. Book your stay here.
Right in the heart of downtown stands The Dewberry, a former federal building that’s been transformed into a mid-century architectural icon of a hotel. Walking into the marble and wood lobby you’ll notice the Living Room, a space filled with large leather chairs and velvet couches all surrounding a stunning brass bar serving excellent cocktails. Traveling upstairs to the rooms, the tall windows on the exterior of the hotel are even more stunning inside the rooms, with canopy beds and large armoires featuring hand-painted details from local makers Sisal Creative. And when it’s time to relax, head down to The Spa for a Dewberry Signature Massage. Book your stay here.