As a local, one of the most frequently asked questions I get is where and what to eat while visiting Charleston. It is hard to pinpoint just one iconic local bite, so we’ve created a list of the must-try dishes in The Holy City. Most of these items are permanently on popular restaurant menus that often change daily, which alone says a lot; if a restaurant that rotates its daily listing deems a dish good enough to keep as a fixture, then it must be special.
1. Keegan-Filion Farms Chicken Liver Pate at FIG
Served with pickles, Dijon mustard, and brioche, the chicken liver pate at FIG is one of the most popular dishes in the city. Chef Mike Lata called it the most famous dish at the restaurant, and shared that the secret to the dish is emulsifying the pork fatback and chicken livers with bacon.
Honorable Mentions at FIG: coddled egg; tomato tarte tatin.
2. Warm Cauliflower Sformatino at Trattoria Lucca
This puréed cauliflower dish was added to the menu several years ago after chef Ken Vedrinski was inspired during a trip to Abruzzo, Italy. It’s served warm with a soft farm egg from Jordan Farm, crispy guanciale, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and arugula, making every bite packed full of delicious flavors. Chef Vedrinski’s menu changes daily, but lucky for Charleston, the cauliflower dish is one that has made a more permanent home.
Honorable Mentions at Trattoria Lucca: Spaghettoni nero with diced raw tuna; crudo.
3. Rib-eye Deckle at The Macintosh
A signature dish at The Macintosh, the deckle is tender and full of flavor in every bite. A heavily marbled cap of a rib-eye steak — often called the tastiest part of the steak — it sits atop fingerling potatoes, fresh local mushrooms, and sliced beans topped with a special jus.
Honorable Mentions: bone marrow bread pudding; clam pudding.
4. Fish Schnitzel at The Ordinary
From time to time you will find a fish schnitzel on the regular menu, but thanks to their new weekly specials at The Ordinary, you can have a crispy fish schnitzel every Wednesday. Some past favorites have been local amberjack and triggerfish.
Honorable Mentions: Oyster sliders; razor clams.
5. Seared Flounder at Charleston Grill
The seared flounder at the Charleston Grill features local, sustainable fish topped with crab and a tomato vinaigrette, surrounded by a bed of vegetable succotash. With a fresh and delicious taste, the dish is found appropriately on the “Southern” designated quadrant of the menu.
Honorable Mentions: Crab cakes; seared peach foie gras.
6. Any Pizza at EVO
Owned by two FIG alums, Extra Virgin Oven (EVO) provides the best pizzas in town as it offers wood-fired Neapolitan pizza with seasonal, local ingredients. You can build your own or select from an ever-changing variety that includes the popular chorizo and corn or Pork Trifecta.
Honorable Mention: Any of their fresh salads.
7. Okra Soup at Bertha’s Kitchen
The daily specials at Bertha’s are some of the best in town. The daughters at Bertha’s offer a range of regional classics, including fried fish, pork chops, chicken, stewed lima beans, traditional mac and cheese, and collard greens. However, the best dish hands-down is the okra soup, seasoned with bacon and served in a Styrofoam bowl.
Honorable Mention: Barbecued pigs’ feet.
8. Coconut Cake at Peninsula Grill
We love chef Graham Dailey’s food, but have to give it to the pastry chef Claire Chapman and her popular coconut cake, as it’s a must-have. A media darling, the cake has an official registration mark for its name and has appeared on The Today Show (several times), in The New York Times, and was part of a Bobby Flay Throwdown! episode. It’s 12 towering layers of deliciousness, weighing in at 12 pounds, and can be shipped directly to your doorstep.
Honorable Mention: Lobster three ways.
9. Pickled Shrimp from Edmund’s Oast
A newcomer to the market, chef Andy Henderson’s pickled shrimp has become an instant winner. During one of the first weeks on the menu, the dish caught the eye of The Tasting Table, and it is now one of the restaurant’s most popular items. Arriving to the table with pickled veggies and fresh herbs, the shrimp then surprises your taste buds as you bite into the EVO baked rye bread with a layer of spicy house-made aioli spread in between.
Honorable Mention: Heritage chicken; Carolina Gold Rice porridge.
10. Charleston Nasty at Hominy Grill
A massive breakfast dish popular with locals, the “Nasty” is a buttermilk biscuit filled with a fried chicken breast, covered in Cheddar cheese and sausage gravy.
Honorable Mentions: Shrimp and grits; buttermilk pie
11. Steamed Oysters from Bowen’s Island
The James Beard Foundation designated Bowen’s Island as one of “America’s Classic” restaurants, and the Southern Foodways Alliance produced documentaries on the restaurant and their popular oyster farmer, Goat, making the restaurant a true Charleston treasure. The oysters are caught nearby, cooked on a pit under the main restaurant, and then shoveled onto a table covered in newspaper. Finish them off with a dab of hot sauce on top of a saltine and you have the perfect bite.
Honorable Mentions: Cold local beer; fried shrimp.
12. Okonomiyaki from Xiao Bao Biscuit (XBB)
The XBB menu might change daily, but one item remains front and center: the popular Okonomiyaki pancake, which is available for lunch or dinner. This Japanese cabbage cake comes loaded with special sauce and can be ordered with an egg, bacon, or “pork candy” on top.
Honorable Mention: Whole or specialty fish of the day.
13. Burger at Husk
There is not a top burger list on which the Husk burger is not included, and rightfully so. Benton bacon is ground into the patties, which are then sandwiched by house-made buns and topped with American cheese, shaved onion, house-made pickles, and a special secret sauce.
Honorable Mentions: Cornbread; crispy pig ears.
14. Pulled Squash Sandwich at Butcher & Bee
Really any sandwich is a winner at Butcher & Bee, and with a handwritten daily menu, it is hard to tell what you will find. Luckily, the pulled squash sandwich is a repeat item and comes with barbecued squash, smoked cabbage, and pickles. The housemade bread is some of the best in town, and chef Stuart Tracy makes everything taste delicious.
Honorable Mention: Hummus plate.
15. Charcuterie at Cypress
On the verge of opening a standalone charcuterie shop, chef Craig Deihl’s cured meats and charcuterie are arguably the best in the city. He has studied and perfected the craft over many years, and offers some unusual items such as culatello, cypressata, and picante salami. The meats can be ordered in small or large plates, or for those dedicated to eating as much as possible, order The Motherboard.
Honorable Mention: Tuna sashimi; oysters.
Did we miss a favorite or have a suggestion for an upcoming list? Send it in for consideration.