The Best Restaurants In Charleston
photo credit: Lindsey Shorter
People in Charleston are food-obsessed. We’re constantly debating with friends over who makes the best BBQ in town and giving bar recommendations to somebody who just moved here for the seafood (OK, the weather, too). And there’s a lot to explore in a restaurant scene that’s expanded over the years beyond shrimp and grits, Charleston red rice, and other Lowcountry greatest hits.
You’ll find many of our favorites Downtown, especially in Cannonborough-Elliotborough, but consider checking out Riverland Terrace right across the bridge on James Island for oysters and some really good Peruvian chicken. Or, head further up the peninsula to Park Circle, a neighborhood with natural wine bars, breweries, and a Chinese-American restaurant with dumplings that’ll take up a significant portion of your brain space.
Chubby Fish opened in 2018, and since then, it’s become one of Charleston’s best and most exciting restaurants. The seasonal menu, listed on a chalkboard right above the kitchen, focuses on locally-caught seafood with things like yellowfin tuna crudo and several varieties of oysters, including steamboat creeks from South Carolina. While you’ll have to come early to get a seat and put your name down for a table, this Cannonborough-Elliotborough restaurant is a great date night spot, and a must if sharing caviar sandwiches is your true love language.
Fig was one of the restaurants that made people take Charleston's food scene seriously over two decades ago. Like pretty much every classic place in town, this neighborhood bistro uses seasonal and local ingredients in a menu that always changes. You’ll eat things like a smooth chicken liver pate that could be mistaken for foie gras and a hearty plate of ricotta gnocchi alla bolognese. For your main course, make sure that at least one of the fish dishes is on your table—perhaps the steamed b-liner snapper—as Fig sources the best from local purveyors like Abundant Seafood.
Tucked in Cannonborough-Elliotborough is Vern’s, a restaurant that might look like an unassuming corner store, but is actually a quiet and cute neighborhood American bistro with a great wine list. Start with the charred sourdough, which is almost always on the menu, and then explore the pastas, fish dishes, and a roast spring chicken with a brown butter jus that might just be the best roast chicken in all of South Carolina.
A lot of spots talk about being farm-to-table, but Chasing Sage takes that label very seriously. The Cannonborough-Elliotborough restaurant uses a lot of ingredients from the owner’s very own family farm, which dates back to the year Beethoven was born (that’s 1770 if you're not an expert on the German Romantics). All the dishes on the menu are small plates, but you can also choose the Let Us Pick For You option for a five-course meal curated by the chefs, along with optional beverage pairings. Start with the excellent sourdough that comes with cultured butter because you are, indeed, also cultured, and never skip the spring onion dumplings.
Every corner of America has its own take on barbecue—brisket in Texas, ribs in Missouri—but in South Carolina, it’s all about the 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. Sit inside the bright blue and white space and look out the large windows facing Upper King Street as you bide your time for your tray of barbecue. 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. If it’s nice outside, grab a bench right out front where you’ll be accosted by the smell of smoked pork from the pit right behind the restaurant.
Even your cousin who only goes out once a year could tell you that Cannonborough-Elliotborough is a hub for great restaurants. Filipino spot Kultura is the newest place in the neighborhood you'll text your friends about. While you certainly won't be mad if you make a reservation for dinner, the weekend karaoke brunch is where this place shines. Where else can you eat an eggplant omelet covered in caviar one moment, and be practically shouting Lizzo the next? We also love their breakfast sandwich with pork belly adobo and scrambled eggs, along with the ube latte—both of which are also good fuel for miming a flute solo.
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, there’s also nightly live music and a very popular bar, where you can order nachos and an excellent 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 mushroom and creamed spinach omelet.
When it comes to sushi in Charleston, it’s hard to beat the omakase menu at this NoMo spot. You’ll get 14 courses of nigiri like bluefin tuna from Baja, snow crab with miso butter, and North Carolina crab topped with caviar. The space and experience are pretty intimate, with only 14 seats and 10 seatings per week. But it's the kind of place where you’ll talk with the chefs extensively about the sea bream that got flown here practically first-class from Japan and nerd out on sake with all the couples sitting next to you. Speaking of sake, the flight is a must, as Sushi-Wa has a lengthy list put together by one of the chefs (who also happens to be the only certified sake sommelier in the state).
You’re never too far from a raw bar in Charleston, but when you want to turn a casual meal of oysters and shrimp into an event, head to The Ordinary on King Street. This 1920s 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, and a few shared plates like the crispy oyster sliders and banded rudderfish with shiso and ponzu. The architecture of the building is an event of its own, with floor-to-ceiling windows and a skylight above that fills the big space with light. Oh, and there’s an old grand bank vault door that now serves as a passage between the kitchen to the oyster bar.
In Downtown Charleston, you won’t find much African food, let alone anything that comes close to the quality of Bintü Atelier. This is one of the newer restaurants on the East Side, and they cook classics you’d find throughout Africa, including Senegal’s national dish of fish over rice thiéboudieun. The menu constantly rotates, but you can’t go wrong with anything involving grains, whether that’s a side of jollof rice or a heaping plate of peanutty chicken mafe stew over broken rice. Don’t be surprised if you end up talking with the staff about all the regional cuisines they're repping while hanging out and drinking sorrel tea in the casual space.
After you finish dinner and take a walk down to the waterfront, head to Peninsula Grill inside the Planters Inn 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.
You’re coming to Lewis Barbecue for Texas-style smoked meats, specifically the brisket. The move is to split a giant tray and add on some smoked sausage, turkey, and sides (don’t miss the green chile corn pudding). Order a pitcher of margaritas, and find a spot in their sideyard to hang out for the next few hours.
Charleston is a very relaxed city, but even so, it’s nice to get out of town and see some of the surrounding wildlife. When that’s the case, 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 Lowcountry frites 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 cavatappi with local fish and capers are two of our favorites.
Jackrabbit Filly is the highlight of Park Circle in North Charleston, which is less than 15 minutes from the peninsula. The focus here is on Chinese-American dishes, with recipes inspired by the chef's family and the dinners they would have together when he was younger. The OG chirashi rice bowls at lunch are a nod to their original 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 best shared.
You’re missing out if the only barbecue you’re eating in Charleston is smoked brisket, whole hog, or pulled pork. This spot behind Jackrabbit Filly does Chinese barbecue with a Carolina influence in North Charleston, and it’s a fun group lunch, dinner, or Happy Hour move. Walk inside past the two massive 500-pound lion statues the team flew in from China that flank the entrance, place an order at the counter, and find a table under the lanterns at the bar or a booth in the main dining room. Get some smoked meats by the pound, like five-spice duck or chopped smoked pork that melts in your mouth, along with the BBQ meats on rice plate with crispy pork belly or cha shao spare ribs that come with bok choy and a ginger scallion relish.
This Pakistani restaurant started out as a pop-up on Upper King Street in 2020, and finally got their own space last spring. With its deep purple lighting and projection screen showing footage from street life in Pakistan, Ma'am Saab has a vibe that feels like nothing else in Charleston. When it comes to food, go for the butter chicken with a silky golden curry and perfectly cooked tandoori thigh, and the lollipop chicken and qeema samosas filled with freshly ground lamb. If it’s on the menu, end your meal with the cardamom and rice kheer—it’s the perfect dessert to split with a couple friends, and the sweet yet savory pudding is one of the best treats you can find on the peninsula.
Sure, a morning coffee or afternoon snack can often just be sustenance to get you through the day—we’re talking about you, watery office drip, and stale bag of pretzels. But if you want to enjoy that moment with a menu that you’ll reminisce about for days, stop by Babas on Cannon in Cannonborough-Elliotborough. Take a seat on one of their street-side tables for a slice of moist banana bread, some avocado toast doused in lime and aleppo pepper, or a mocha made with a combo of espresso, housemade peanut milk, and chocolate. Babas also starts serving cocktails around noon, so it’s a great place to stop by for an Aperol spritz during the day alongside caviar and chips, or have an espresso martini before your dinner reservation at The Ordinary, Halls Chophouse, or any of the other great restaurants on Upper King Street.
Berkeley’s is the Charleston version of your favorite casual neighborhood restaurant you go to for a really great lunch or dinner with friends. Located in a former service station in Hampton Park Terrace, they have an indoor/outdoor bar area with views of the kitchen (which is where you want to be), a large covered patio, and a small indoor dining space. Focus on the sandwiches, which make up most of their menu—the best one is their excellent cheesesteak with housemade cheese wiz, but anything with a chicken cutlet is usually a good call. And though you’re probably here for something on a crusty roll, any salad or entrees like cavatappi with wild mushrooms and the hanger steak are always a solid bet when you want to split a couple things.
Pink Bellies began in 2014 as a small food truck near the College of Charleston serving Vietnamese comfort food to students and locals. Now, it has a home in a new space on King Street, which is impossible to miss thanks to their neon pink lighting that never fails to remind us of Janelle Monae’s “Make Me Feel” music video. The savory garlic noodles with pulled pork, pickled onions, parmesan, and sriracha are what you want, but also throw in an order of lamb dumplings, along with the Not Fried Chicken Ice Cream: a dessert that looks like a chicken drumstick from Life Raft Treats.
Kwei Fei, a Sichuan spot located next to Pour House, doesn’t ever 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 marinated cucumbers with hot bean paste and garlic. And once you’re done with dinner, head next door to watch some live music, which is usually happening every day.
This casual spot on the West Side of Downtown Charleston is a great way to start a Saturday when you want something besides your typical Southern breakfast. Pancakes and sweets inspired by cereal are highlights, including the Cinnamon Toast Crunch sticky bun and Co-Co Puff pancakes topped with seasonal fruit compote. The savory options are just as good—go with the breakfast club sandwich that’s stacked high with coffee-rubbed turkey and bacon whipped cheese or any of the savory pork dishes featuring South Carolina heritage hogs.
There’s a lot happening on James Island, the waterfront community that’s about a 20-minute drive from Downtown Charleston. In addition to the retro movie theater and live music venue Pour House, there’s Bar George in Riverland Terrace. Like much of the surrounding area, it’s got a fun vibe: you can relax and play some pinball or stare at their vintage TV-turned-aquarium in the lounge area. The food is a mix of things like daily crudos and oysters alongside hot dogs and Peruvian roast chicken, and for drinks, you should definitely order the raspberry painkiller or one of their excellent martinis.
Leon’s Oyster Shop on the West Side sounds like a restaurant idea we came up with at a bar at 2am. They serve fried chicken, hush puppies, char-grilled oysters, and really good salads, alongside draft rosé, frozen G&Ts, and soft serve, all from inside an old garage. 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.
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. Xiao Bao Biscuit is a good surprise. This spot in Cannonborough-Elliotborough is located inside an old gas station and serves really good Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Malay food. Yes, they’re one of the few places in Charleston that don’t serve biscuits (even though it’s in their name), but the menu is full of hits. Split the pad kra pow, mapo tofu, and okonomiyaki with some friends, and don’t be surprised if you end up back here next week.
While the food scene in Charleston has evolved a lot over the past decade, soul food remains vital. Many places have come and gone, but Hannibal’s Kitchen has continued to be a Charleston staple since its opening in 1985. This Black- and family-owned establishment serves soul food classics like fried chicken and standout seafood dishes like their excellent crab rice. The walls inside are lined with photos of the Huger family that started the restaurant and still own it to this day.