With multiple James Beard Award-winning and nominated chefs, bartenders, and restaurants, there’s no denying that Charleston’s culinary scene is on par with the best in the country. From cozy Italian joints to Lowcountry classics, there’s never been a better time to go out for dinner (or lunch, or breakfast) in Charleston. Below, you’ll find some of our favorite restaurants, followed by the overall essential spots that continue to turn out incredible flavors. Prepare your tastebuds: they’ve got a lot of catching up to do.
“The freshest seafood our oceans have to offer”
Maybe you need a coffee and a cinnamon biscuit in the morning, and a chicken biscuit loaded with pimento cheese late at night. Hey, we don’t judge. In fact, we are probably in line behind you at Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit. These small but mighty biscuits are one of the best things about good Charleston parties, and man, are we happy they are now democratically available to all.
Simple and romantic French cuisine served in an old Charleston single
The menu — two apps, two entrees, and two desserts — is written by hand daily. There are only a few offerings, but don’t let that dissuade you. The food is thoughtful and beautiful and damn delicious, and the setting, in a Charleston single house, is charming in the least stuffy way. Chez Nous is French, and has that je ne sais quoi in a Charleston culinary scene full of it.
Beautiful mid-century modern hotel that is the perfect place for a some great drinks with friends.
15-year old award-winning Charleston mainstay
This restaurant is beyond the hype; it’s consistently one of the best in Charleston. And with Jason Stanhope, winner of the 2015 James Beard Southeast Best Chef award, as its executive chef, it hasn’t missed a beat. Stanhope’s elegant approach to Lowcountry ingredients highlights his excellent learning skills under mentor chef Mike Lata. Right now, don’t miss the wreckfish, served with sea island red pea pomodoro.
A classic steakhouse with a serious emphasis on service.Thousands (literal thousands) of reviewers agree that Halls Chophouse is a 5-star dining experience. Considering the price tag definitely makes this more of a special occasion destination versus and everyday haunt, Halls delivers on portions, flavor, and service in a way that’s hard to beat in the Holy City. Their OG filet practically melts on your tongue, and when paired with one of their family style sides — we recommend the creamed corn or pepperjack grits — you might have trouble enjoying a steak from anywhere else again.
From chef, cookbook author and PBS star, Vivian Howard, LENOIR reminds people that the South is a nuanced place with a storied history and disparate terrain that shapes us as well as our food traditions. Here we cook to perpetuate, honor and evolve the cuisine of the rural, agricultural South, and we back it up with hospitality that buys into the idea that food with a story tastes better. Named for Vivian’s home county in eastern North Carolina, LENOIR exalts the pillars of Southern hospitality and leaves people feeling like they are guests in our home rather than patrons in our restaurant.
Hip neighborhood spot known for oysters (duh) and fried chicken
Those sunny yellow umbrellas beckon you in for summer, but once you’re at Leon’s, it’s the fried chicken, oysters, and great playlist that beg you to stay. That’s easy, though, since you’ll probably want an order of Char-Grilled Oysters, you need to try that Siam Salad with Napa cabbage and shrimp you keep hearing about, and you’re down to the last sip of your frozen G&T. And then there’s soft serve for dessert, so of course, you’ll have to save room for that. Actually, just plan to spend everyday here.
Seriously good sushi, cocktails, and nightlife
Serious sushi seekers (and less-serious sushi lovers) will enjoy an inventive roll menu at O-Kui that includes ingredients like shoestring potatoes alongside traditional offerings. However, dishes such as Yellowtail Carpaccio, Local White Fish Crudo, and Spicy Sesame Pork Belly place this firmly in the fine dining experience category. For extra points, O-Ku converts to a dance club after 11pm.
Refined seafood dishes and craft cocktails in a chic space
This is the gold standard for seafood in Charleston. With the menu returning to its classic “Hot” and “Cold” organization and the addition of desserts along with the presence of all those rums, there is always a time to visit for Caribbean fish stew or oysters sliders or smoked oysters with saltines. Bonus: Any recollection of said visit makes whoever you tell instantly jealous.
Asian fusion cafe with a seasonally changing food and cocktails
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). The Borneo Sunrise — which includes rum and orange water — is a great sip to try with your pancake order.