Located on South Carolina's coast, Charleston is a year-round destination due to its moderate weather, stunning architecture, historic charm, friendly vibe, natural beauty, and of course, it's award-winning cuisine. And tucked in between the candy-colored homes of Rainbow Row, historic sites and museums, bustling shops of King Street, and the picturesque waterfronts of nearby islands, you'll find some of the best dining in the country.
From fresh local seafood at Chubby Fish and The Ordinary to whole hog Carolina barbecue at James Beard award-winning pitmaster Rodney Scott's namesake restaurant to soul food at Bertha's Kitchen, wood-fired pies at EVO Pizzeria, and Sichuan meets Low Country fare at Kwei Fei, the city offers a variety of dining options for every taste, budget, and occasion. So whether you're visiting on a day trip from nearby Savannah, in town for 48 hours or a slightly longer stay, here are the top 15 restaurants in Charleston.
FIG's sustainable, seasonal fare have made it a Meeting Street mainstay for more than a decade. From impeccable service to a wine program as equally well-sourced as its food, the restaurant is consistently one of the city's best. The menu includes a tight list of starters like the can't miss chicken liver pâté and mains that highlight the best of local land and sea, and seasonal Southern vegetables like collard greens and Brussel sprouts.
No visit to Charleston is complete without eating fresh-caught seafood, and no one does it better than The Ordinary, housed in a former 1920s era bank on King Street. Grab a seat a the raw bar to watch oyster shucking in action, then order a selection of East Coast bivalves. Peel and eat South Carolina shrimp, littleneck clams, or all of the above, plus enjoy lobster cocktail and other oceanic specialties on a shellfish tower. Feeling fancy? Indulge in the restaurant's caviar service served with Johnny cakes and traditional garnishes. The Ordinary also has a full dinner menu, plus cocktails, beer, and wines by the bottle and glass.
Seasonal, regional ingredients are the stars at this pioneering historic district restaurant from James Beard award winner Sean Brock. While Brock has moved on to other ventures, the restaurant's commitment to Low Country cuisine remains. The menu rotates daily, but expect Southern staples with a twist, like Carolina catfish in a green curry broth and heirloom carrots with kimchi. Can't score a reservation at the restaurant? Try the restaurant's bar, which offers a rotating a la carte menu and boasts a large collection of bourbon, as well as craft cocktails, artisanal beers, and wines grouped by terroir.
Rodney Scott's BBQ
Rodney Scott's BBQ specializes in whole hog 'cue, smoked over oak coals mixed with hickory and pecan wood and generously doused in the South Carolina native and James Beard winning pitmaster's signature sauce. Get it on a sandwich, over grits with cornbread, by the pound, or on a plate piled high with two sides, like hush puppies, greens, and mac and cheese. The restaurant's menu also includes BBQ spare ribs, fried catfish fillet, wings, and smoked turkey. Finish it off with Ella's traditional banana pudding for dessert.
Visitors and locals alike flock to James Island spot for hand-folded dumplings, comforting noodle bowls, and other favorites that blend Sichuan-style Chinese cooking with Low Country ingredients. Try the vegan Yibin Noodle, spicy wheat noodles tossed with local pickled mustard greens, sesame seeds, walnuts, and roasted peanuts. And save room for the "Happy Ending," a Sichuan Sundae that's equal parts crunchy, sweet, spicy, and salty, made with homemade vanilla ice cream and candied peanuts.
The winner of the James Beard Award for America’s Classic in 2017, the family-owned and operated Bertha's Kitchen has been serving up the city's best soul food in a small, no frills dining room in North Charleston since 1981. Step up to the counter to order fried chicken, oxtails, collard greens, lima beans, yams, cornbread, and other Low Country specialties. And get there early—plates are first-come-first-served until they run out.
FIG alums Matt McIntosh and Ricky Hacker started EVO (Extra Virgin Oven) Pizzeria in a trailer outfitted with a wood-fired pizza oven in 2005 and opened their brick and mortar Park Circle restaurant in 2007. Build your own or choose one of the standard 12-inch Neapolitan pizzas, like the classic Margherita, Salami and Mushroom, or Pork Trifecta, with traditional red sauce and a trio of meats (sausage, pepperoni, and bacon), topped with gooey mozzarella and Parmigiano-Reggiano.
For old school, white tablecloth fine dining, look no further than this spot inside the Belmond Charleston Place Hotel in the heart of the historic district. The atmosphere is elegant but not stuffy with live jazz often accompanying the Southern-French fare. Menu highlights include the signature crab cake with Creek shrimp, tomatoes, and lime-dill vinaigrette and linguine and crab, coated with uni butter and Calabrian chili, and tossed with plump tomatoes. Pair them with selections from the restaurant's extensive wine list, which includes both Old and New World varietals.
From the intimate courtyard patio to the expansive interior bar to the wood-paneled dining room booths, there's not a bad seat in the spot to feast on Chef Michael Toscano's modern Italian fare at this neighborhood trattoria in the historic district. Come early for the weekday appertivo hour (5 to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday) for $5 snacks like fried mozzarella sticks and a slow-roasted pork sandwich plus $7 sips like the Negroni and Old Fashioned and pours of red, white, and sparkling wine. Stay for dinner, which includes an excellent raw bar, starters like warm rosemary focaccia, classic pastas like squid ink spaghetti, protein mains, and seasonal vegetable sides.
Zero Restaurant + Bar
Located downtown inside the elegant Zero George Street Hotel, Zero Restaurant + Bar offers an intimate and contemporary fine dining experience. Chefs prepare your choice of a four- or seven-course tasting menu of hyper-seasonal ingredients from the property's 1804 carriage house. Pair either with craft cocktails or wines from a well-curated list focused on small production vineyards. Heading to the nearby Gaillard? The restaurant offers a condensed pre-theater menu upon request. Walk-ins can enjoy drinks and snacks like the deviled eggs with poached black truffle, pickled mustard, chorizo, and caviar at the bar.
Xiao Bao Biscuit
Need a break from fried chicken and oysters? Head to this Asian-inspired spot located in a converted gas station on the corner of Rutledge Avenue and Spring Street. Food is served family-style and blends Southern ingredients with influences from Asian flavors, like the popular okonomikyaki (Japanese pancakes) covered with optional "pork candy" and Yu Xiang, spicy fried Brussel sprouts and eggplant served with a fragrant, chili-based sauce. The restaurant doesn't accept reservations, so service is first-come-first-served.
From the juicy steaks to the jumbo shrimp cocktails to the lively atmosphere, Hall's Chophouse on Upper King is swanky, throwback dining at its best. Sip a martini (or two), soak in the live music, and enjoy the main event: hand-cut, perfectly aged USDA prime steaks, served with generous sides like creamed corn and Brussel sprouts. The desserts are equally decadent, so save room for the Bananas Foster.
Located in the historic Elliotborough neighborhood, Chubby Fish is a nautically themed hangout that focuses on fresh and sustainable seafood and produce from local purveyors. The highly curated menu includes raw options like crudo and oysters as well as starters and mains that vary depending on seasonality and availability. Expect dishes that blend land and sea, like the blues crab tagliatelle with corn, chives, and Calabrian chili and braised grouper cheeks with chive butter and field peas. Pro tip: Go early for the $1 oyster happy hour, Tuesday through Saturday from 5 to 6 p.m.
This family-owned Eastside institution has been churning out crab rice, local fried shark, okra soup, and other Gullah specialties for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for more than 35 years. Other menu highlights include the lima bean plate with white rice, smoked neck bones, and pigtails as well as daily specials like the smothered pork chop with choice of two sides like collard greens, red rice, and cut corn.
Leon's Oyster Bar
With crispy fried chicken platters, char-grilled local oysters, and the frozen gin and tonics and fróse on tap, Leon's sunny patio or laid-back dining room is a place you'll want to stay all day at this converted auto body shop on the Westside. Even though you'll likely want to fill up on the all the delicious entree options, save room for the soft serve for dessert.