Charleston, South Carolina is an undeniably great food town. It’s the home base of classic southern Lowcountry cuisine, with its abundance of seafood and stews, and has also become the base of operations for some of the country’s leading chefs, like Sean Brock and Mike Lata, who are elevating Southern cuisine to new heights. On top of all that, it’s an incredibly historic and picturesque city. Add it all up, and you end up with one of the country’s culinary capitals.
In order to assemble our ranking of Charleston’s best restaurants, we first consulted our rankings of the 101 Best Restaurants in America, the 50 Best Casual Restaurants in America, America’s Best Steakhouses, The 101 Best Burgers in America, and the 15 Best Dishes in Charleston. We also supplemented our list with pre-existing rankings in both print and online from some of Charleston’s leading authorities, including the Charleston CVB, Charleston Mag, the Post and Courier, Meet Charleston, and Discover Charleston. In the end, one thing is clear: there are some truly amazing restaurants in Charleston. Here are the 10 best restaurants in Charleston.
Owned by two FIG alums, Extra Virgin Oven (EVO) served wood-fired Neapolitan pizza with seasonal, local ingredients. You can build your own or select from an ever-changing spread that includes the popular chorizo and corn or Pork Trifecta. Their fresh salads aren’t to be missed, either.
Chef Craig Deihl’s cured meats and charcuterie are arguably the best in the city, and the regular menu is nothing to sneeze at as well. 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.
Don’t miss the tuna sashimi or the oysters, either.
#8 The Grocery
At The Grocery, chef/owner Kevin Johnson has crafted a warm and welcoming space with equally welcoming seasonal fare and cocktails. The menu is based on fresh ingredients sourced from local and regional farmers and fishermen, and some surprising things are on the menu, like housemade charcuterie, house-canned items, and items cooked in a wood-burning oven. Don’t miss the “piggy plate,” with five cured meats, or the twice-cooked duck wings, roasted king mackerel, or corn agnolotti.
#7 The Glass Onion
Serving one of the best brunches in Charleston, The Glass Onion is chefs Chris Stewart and Sarah O’Kelley’s soulful addition to Charleston’s comfort food scene. In the sandwich department, the specialty is po’ boys, including the quite interesting fried pig ear variety. For a thrilling adventure, go for the buttermilk fried quail: you won’t be disappointed, unless you really, really don’t like gamey birds. In addition, Tuesday nights are fried chicken nights, and are definitely worth it for The Glass Onion’s exceptional brined chicken. The drinks are not to be ignored, either, as the restaurant features a wine list of sustainable, organic, and biodynamic choices.
#6 The Ordinary
Chef Mike Lata and partner Adam Nemirow brought something new and exciting to the Charleston culinary landscape when they opened The Ordinary in 2013, which was named The Daily Meal’s 2013 Restaurant of the Year. Like that of its sister restaurant FIG, the kitchen here creates some of the most delicious food in the city and the atmosphere, service, and bar program are all top-notch and make the experience unforgettable. The Ordinary is a Southern-inspired seafood and oyster bar and the menu features fresh and mostly locally caught products by some of the hardest working fishermen, crabbers, oystermen, and producers in the area. Even though the menu changes often, some items not to miss are the oyster platters or the infamous oyster tower (though pricey), their fish pate, tartare or ceviche, the amberjack schnitzel, and the oyster sliders. Awards for the hotspot have been continuous since opening including being named The Daily Meal’s 2013 Restaurant of the Year, Esquire’s Best New Restaurants 2013, and Southern Living’s No. 1 Restaurant of the Year 2013, to name a few.
#5 OAK Steakhouse
Chef Jeremiah Bacon, who’s spent time in kitchens including New York’s Le Bernardin and Per Se, might have a porky last name, but beef is the star of the show at his Charleston steakhouse. The dry-aged certified Angus steaks come sizzling on a hot platter (with local shrimp compound butter on top), and while the steak, including a Prime bone-in ribeye and a New York strip, is certainly the menu’s centerpiece, Bacon brings a farm-to-table approach to the entire menu with standout dishes like housemade charcuterie, pan-seared sea scallops with smoked grapefruit purée, and a daily rotating seafood selection depending on what’s available at the market that morning.
When a restaurant is so venerable that it lands a spot on the National Register of Historic Places and Landmarks, you probably expect a classic menu that doesn’t rock the boat. But McCrady’s is anything but traditional, with an innovative menu that changes daily. Chef Sean Brock weaves touches of modernity into his definitely Southern-based cuisine; calico scallops with hominy and butter peas, pork belly with sunchokes and huckleberries, Grassroots Farms chicken with turnip and onion, and frozen grits parfait are examples. The bar has become known for its specialty pre-Prohibition-style cocktails.
#3 Hominy Grill
Unpretentious, classic Southern dishes are key at downtown Charleston’s Hominy Grill, where chef/owner Robert Stehling serves up stone-ground grits, house-made sausages, and fried green tomatoes in a onetime barbershop. The classic 1950s diner signage, extra-comfortable wooden chairs, and seasonal desserts like persimmon pudding embody everything comfort food stands for.
With seasonally inspired food using locally sourced, sustainable ingredients — many of which come straight from the farm — this downtown Charleston spot run by James Beard Award winning chef Mike Lata and business partner Adam Nemirow is a great place to eat well and clean, and is our pick for the best restaurant in Charleston. Chef Jason Stanhope offers a rotating menu of simple, locally grown and harvested cuisine. Think purée of rutabaga soup with granny smith apples, sautéed golden tilefish with Carolina Gold Rice grits, and Sea Island Ossabaw braised pork shoulder. This delicious restaurant has also nabbed a few accolades for its bar service, with whiskey a specialty.
Chef Sean Brock very well might be the reigning king of Southern cuisine, which makes his Charleston restaurant, Husk, his throne. Named 2011’s Best New Restaurant in America by Bon Appétit and located right in the heart of the Charleston’s historic and beautiful downtown, Husk celebrates heirloom indigenous Southern products like no other restaurant can: if it’s not Southern, they won’t cook with it, even olive oil. But that strict rule doesn’t hinder the restaurant at all; in fact, it’s the best thing about it — just try the slow-smoked sweet-and-sour Tennessee pork ribs, chicken and dumplings, or slow-cooked heritage pork and you’ll agree. And if you can’t make it to Charleston, a second outpost opened in Nashville last year.
Additional reporting by Angel Postell and Kate Kolenda. Click here for all Charleston content.
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