The 38 Essential Charleston Restaurants, Spring 2017
Welcome to the Eater 38, your answer and ours to any question that begins, “Can you recommend a restaurant?” This highly elite group covers the entire city, spans myriad cuisines, and collectively satisfies all of your restaurant needs. Every couple of months, Eater adds pertinent restaurants that were omitted, have newly become eligible (restaurants must be open at least six months), or have stepped up their game.
With Butcher & Bee settled into its new address, with more offerings and amenities, the eclectic, constantly changing eatery joins the list. North Charleston favorite EVO is back with the emergence of spring produce that with undoubtedly make its way to the salads and pizzas.
Note: Map points are not listed by ranked.
1 Bowens Island Restaurant
The setting at old-school oyster shack Bowens is perfect for gathering friends, grabbing a bucket of steamed bivalves, and watching a Lowcountry sunset with a beer in hand. Eater critic Bill Addison says, “It has been a draw for decades and remains luring both for its ramshackle funkiness and the gut-level goodness of its food.”
Full of surfers and deal-seekers, Folly Beach stop Jack of Cups offers filling udon, dahl, and a highly-addictive red curry macaroni and cheese. The menu is a mash-up of different cuisines, including nods to the South, to make you feel good while sipping a few craft beers.
Italian staple Wild Olive opened in 2009, on Johns Island, and has since become a destination for classic house-made pasta dishes, intriguing entrees utilizing local ingredients, and fresh small plates. The place gets absolutely packed on the weekends and even stays busy during the week with a $19 wine list on Mondays and Tuesdays.
The Roadside Seafood food truck was so popular, the owners set up a brick and mortar shop on Folly Road. Since putting down a permanent address, the Southern-influenced eatery has gathered wide acclaim for their crispy, fresh catches and generous sides. Check out the menu for crispy bites of shark, fried oysters, and red rice.
You might leave this restaurant smelling like campfire, but it’s a small price to pay for the perfectly crisp, charred crust on the pizzas. The Italian-influenced appetizers and seasonal salads are a great way to start any meal, and the specials are always tempting.
The Charleston Music Hall exists for one purpose: to create extraordinary musical and theatre experiences for you. Located in the historic district, the auditorium was originally built in 1849 as a passenger railroad. Before attending a show, walk around historic Charleston and grab a bite downtown.
The Glass Onion offers a small slice of New Orleans and the Lowcountry — the combination is a winner. The menu features local, seasonal specials but the standards like deviled eggs, gumbo, and the decadent fries with béarnaise are always great choices.
West Ashley eatery Early Bird Diner is the greasy spoon of contemporary Southern dreams. The waitstaff leans quirky and tattooed, the food is filling and comforting, and the hours allow you to visit for brunch or late night. Try the chicken and waffles with honey mustard drizzle at least once, and then move on to the traditional sides and other comforting menu items like the meatloaf or country fried steak.
Charleston Grill is fine dining at its best. Located in the lovely Belmond Charleston Place, the Grill is home to one of the most elegant menus in Charleston. The seasonal menu has four categories: Pure, Southern, Cosmopolitan and Lush, but you can mix and match and create the perfect meal. Better yet, let chef Michelle Weaver create a tasting menu for you and your table.
Gaulart & Maliclet, better known as Fast & French, transports patrons to a quaint town in Europe for less than $10 a plate. Choose the special of the day, and you’ll be treated to a sandwich or light entrée with a soup, fresh fruit, and a glass of wine. The atmosphere of the cozy cafe has remained a mainstay on Broad Street since 1985.
Mike Lata and Adam Nemirow opened FIG in 2003, and the Ansonborough restaurant continues to be a top destination for pristinely executed plates in Charleston. Executive chef Jason Stanhope won the 2015 James Beard award for Best Chef: Southeast (Lata holds the title for 2009). But through all the awards, the food at FIG has remained the top priority — the kitchen and the menu is driven by what is local and available. Go for innovative takes on seasonal produce and always opt for the chicken liver pâté.
Super taco emporium Minero comes from celebrity locavore Sean Brock. The menu items take on Mexican and Lowcountry flavors, like the fried catfish tacos with pickled green tomato tartar. Brock spent months perfecting the tortillas for the East Bay eatery and the result comes with high praise from locals. The Valentina-soaked, chargrilled wings and frozen drink El Santanico are house favorites.
You’ve probably heard about Husk by now. Since opening in 2010, the restaurant led by Sean Brock found its way onto every top ten list in the country. Brock and his team elevated Southern ingredients with a fine-dining hand. Now, executive chef Travis Grimes continues the menu full of heritage products, local produce, comforting bacon burgers (you have to try it at least once), and contemporary takes on traditional dishes from the South.
167 Raw wanted to bring a high-end seafood counter to Charleston, and it was an immediate hit. Chef Michael Geib utilizes fresh products to create crowd favorites like lobster rolls and ahi tuna poke. The menu and the space may be small, but the team at 167 Raw puts out a mighty meal from the ocean’s bounty.
Zero Restaurant + Bar, located in the stunning Zero George hotel, serves some of the most artful plates in Charleston. Make a reservation for an intricate tasting menu from chef Vinson Petrillo or cozy up to the bar for a snack and a killer cocktail.
The Macintosh is a favorite for brunch, dinner and their Bacon Happy Hour (named after chef Jeremiah Bacon), where a small, pork-y dish is $5. The setting is cool, but comfortable — an ideal backdrop for Bacon’s menu, which spans from his famous deckle to a bone marrow bread pudding to the seasonal vegetable plate (yes, there’s more than just pork).
When folks are looking for an old-school night on the town, they look to Hall’s Chophouse. There’s usually a enthusiastic singer on the piano, hearty steaks, jumbo shrimp cocktail, ladies in their best dresses, men in suits patting each other on the back, and plenty of martinis. The restaurant isn’t very old, but the atmosphere feels like another decade.
The little corner fish shack Dave’s Carry-Out is laid-back stop off the hectic hustle of King Street. With its plastic tablecloths, styrofoam platters, and soap operas (or baseball) on the television, Dave’s is where you go when you want to get away from the crowds and be amongst in-the-know locals. For years, this corner shop has consistently serve up big plates of crisp, golden-fried fresh catches and fixin’s. Pair the buttery flounder with a side of creamy lima beans and rice, and you’ll be very happy.
Chef Kevin Johnson and team consistently put out a fresh and innovative menu at The Grocery. If you’re looking for seasonal produce, Johnson is usually one of the first chefs to put just-off-the-farm products on the menu — like butternut squash in the fall or tomatoes in the summer. The Cannon Street space is a great stop for drinks during happy hour or a place to share as many plates as the table can handle.
Mike Lata and Adam Nemirow created an homage to all things from the sea with The Ordinary. The duo set out to build the best raw bar around and it landed them on numerous national “best of” lists. Go for the oyster sliders and stay for the triple tower.
This Spring Street sandwich shop is small and filled with stacks of meat and Instagram-worthy lunch specials. All the charcuterie and bread, and most of the condiments are made in-house. There’s local beer on tap, friendly conversation, and messy menu options Seriously, most sandwiches require at least three, if not five, napkins. (Get There while you can, Closing Soon)
Quaint destination Chez Nous is rustic, French, and romantic. Chefs Jill Mathias and Juan Cassalett are behind the stove, serving a selection of two appetizers, two entrees, and two desserts. They post the menu daily on social media, along with dreamy pictures of the plates. Go with a partner, order a bottle of wine, and have one of each of the offerings.
Chef Ken Vedrinski’s Trattoria Lucca is home to some of the freshest Italian cuisine in Charleston. Vedrinski, who grew up cooking with his grandmother and traveled extensively in Italy to hone his craft, rolls out the fresh pastas daily at the Elliotborough mainstay.
Hominy Grill is about as Southern as Southern can get. It’s a must stop for tourists and locals alike, which is a rare achievement for a restaurant. Chef Robert Stehling won the James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southeast in 2008. Try the Charleston Nasty if you’re there for brunch — the gravy-covered fried chicken biscuit is the definition of comfort food.
Xiao Bao Biscuit is brilliant in that it can be a quick stop for lunch, a place to meet for cocktails or a full-on family-style meal. The menu pulls inspiration from China, Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam, so there’s always something new and interesting to sample.
The secret is out about Lowcountry legend Hannibal’s. Tucked away in the Eastside neighborhood, Hannibal’s has served classic Charleston dishes since 1985. Off the tourist path on Blake Street, this soul kitchen plates some of the best examples of Gullah cuisine, like crab rice, lima beans with smoked neck bones, okra soup, and local shark. Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner Hannibal’s can meet your needs for authentic Lowcountry flavors any time of the day.
Combine fancy champagne, cheap beer, fried chicken, and a casual raw bar all housed in an old auto body shop, and you’d find Leon’s Oyster Shop. The menu has plenty of salads for the lunch crowds and soft serve for the kids. Restaurateurs Tim Mink and Brooks Reitz put a lot of thought into every detail of this latest eatery, so go marvel at the wondrous interiors in between chargrilled oysters.
Airy eatery Park Cafe is a regular neighborhood haunt for the Wagener Terrace set. The restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner with a coffee bar and free wifi to boot. The new American menu ranges from fancy toasts in the morning to vegetable-heavy plates in the evening. Park Cafe is an easy spot to have a business meeting or a romantic evening.
If you’re looking for seafood, soul, or real-deal Gullah-Geechie menu items, Nana’s is the place to be. Mother and son team Carolyn and Kenyatta McNeil create Lowcountry classics, with local products, in their small Line Street restaurant. For $10, patrons can score a giant piece of perfectly-fried whiting, fried cabbage on rice, lima beans, and a sweet piece of cornbread — really, it’s enough for two people. The trick is to keep up with the restaurant’s Instagram feed to check when crab rice or garlic crabs are on the menu (two of the most popular dishes).
Spero co-owners Rob Laudicina and RJ Moody may take food seriously but have a sense of humor about the restaurant business. The small plates menu should be shared with friends, so you can sample as many tastes as possible. Don’t miss the bread and butter flight with beef tallow biscuits and horseradish creme — as the menu states, “made fresh daily, unless we don’t sell enough, then you get old stuff.” If you find yourself there alone, the lamb barbacoa sandwich with lemon pickled jalapeños, mayonnaise, North Carolina barbecue sauce, and queso fresco is a winner.
Tattooed Moose has two locations to satisfy all your dive bar, high-class sandwich, yet family-friendly needs. The downtown store is more raucous than the Johns Island address, and both can feed your need for crisp fries, craft beer (or PBRs), and a double decker duck club sandwich that has its own fan club.
Beer nerds, cocktail enthusiasts, cured meat aficionados, and fans of farm-fresh food will find something to love at NoMo idol Edmund’s Oast. Chef Reid Henninger, head bartender Jayce McConnell, and brewer Cameron Reed bring the heat on a nightly basis. The hip interiors are usually hopping and the buzz continues well past the opening year.
Mezze master Butcher & Bee rejoins the Eater 38 after its move to a bigger space on Morrison Drive. The hip address offers interesting breakfasts like whipped ricotta toast with chili honey and lunches of fresh, local vegetables, like heirloom beans with jalapeño vinaigrette, and Jimmy Red cornbread, or massive sandwiches like the roast beef with smoked onion jam, red peppers, miso mayo, and roasted tomato. Dinners combine the midday elements with kebab platters and crispy half chicken. It’s a choose-your-own-adventure style of dining.
Established in 1979, iconic soul food stop Bertha’s Kitchen is known for their fried chicken and fish, and heralded for their Southern sides like slow-simmered lima beans. Everyone from famous chefs and food writers to locals and tourists make the trek to Bertha’s to take in the now-famous dishes created by the late founder Albertha Grant.
Long-standing EVO Pizzeria excels at taking what’s fresh and local and utilizing the products for innovative pies, salads, and other specials. Spring offerings recently included a cucumber gazpacho with strawberries, roasted corn, watermelon radish, and toasted black sesame seeds.
One of the only spots to find lengua tacos, free salsas, and giant cheap beers in towns. For authentic Mexican fare, travel to North Charleston and hit up La Nortena. Don’t let the picture-heavy menu distract you from the delectable corn tortilla tacos.
Chef/owner Michael Scognamiglio struck out on his own with Bacco in 2007, following a stint at Al Di La. His kitchen has been quietly turning out delicious, authentic, unpretentious Italian dishes to an ever-growing cadre of loyal diners ever since. House-made pasta, house-pulled mozzarella, and house-baked bread punctuate the standard menu, while regular diversions like the bi-annual Festa di Mare feature a complete menu rewrite. A recently-retooled, Negroni-focused cocktail menu doesn’t hurt one bit.
Long-standing Red Drum combines wood-fire cooking with the spice of Texas and the flavors of the Lowcountry. Chef Ben Berryhill’s restaurant has been a hit with the Mount Pleasant set since it opened in 2005. Stop in for charred octopus, tamales of sweet corn pudding, or shrimp and grits with Texas venison sausage.
Eat pizza, pasta, and fresh seafood by the ocean. From the skilled hands of executive chef Jacques Larson and chef de cuisine Will Fincher, The Obstinate Daughter offers a stunning dining room to spend your lunch, brunch, or dinner hour. Order a craft cocktail, a few oysters, and try the ricotta gnocchi with short rib ragu at least once.