Southern hospitality makes dining nearly anywhere in Charleston, South Carolina, a lovely outing. So it takes next-level service and impeccable food for restaurants to make the cut on our best-of list. We’ve sorted through the new openings and the familiar stalwarts to pick the top 20 from 2016, listed alphabetically.
One of the city’s longest-running restaurants sits next to City Market. A kitchen fire forced them to renovate and rebuild the space, but it reopened this year to glowing reviews. Prepare to feast on Southern seafood favorites such as she-crab soup, friend oysters, and shrimp and grits.
Inspired by a Charleston home, the interior was designed to look as if you’re sitting outside with wrought iron tables and chairs, an enormous skylight, and a surplus of flowers filling the space. Chef Amalia Scatena puts a Mediterranean spin to local ingredients on her menu.
If you are looking for a place to go for top-notch service, five-star food, and one of the country’s finest wine lists, then the Charleston Grill is a must. Chef Michelle Weaver is one of the city’s most prominent chefs, and manager Mickey Bakst makes the greatest host during any evening out.
Tucked away and harder to find, Chez Nous is one of the most adorable restaurants on the list. Located in a house, the two-story space is tiny but extremely charming. The handwritten menu offers the streamlined choices of the day: two options for starters, entrées, and then a dessert to finish things out.
For a romantic dinner, there is no better option than Circa 1886. Located in a former carriage house outside the Wentworth Mansion, the restaurant has arched booths perfect for an intimate evening. Chef Marc Collins often takes risks that pay off, serving things like antelope, truffles, and fried quail that pair nicely with the extensive wine list.
Chef Craig Deihl has been sharpening his skills at Cypress since he was just out of culinary school. Over the years, he has made his mark and developed a strong following for his charcuterie. After his “meat share” became a hot commodity, he and his sous chef Bob Cook opened Artisan Meat Share where diners can go daily for fresh and cured meats or delicious sandwiches.
Beer-lovers come for the PB&J house-brewed beer but quickly find out that they’re in for a night of inventive cocktails and impressive wines. Best of all, Chef Reid Henninger offers a menu full of sharable items that are seasonal and creative.
Plan to be blown away by the seasonally driven menu. Executive chef Jason Stanhope took the reins a few years back but has kept the same impeccable execution thanks to the leadership and guidance of chef and owner Mike Lata. All the dishes feature local products from farmers and purveyors who deliver daily to the back door. Both chefs are James Beard Award-winners, and the restaurant is one of the most difficult to get a reservation at — so book as far out as possible.
The Hall family understands hospitality; as soon as you enter the restaurant, you are welcomed by at least one of them. The service and attention to your well-being is evident throughout the evening. The menu favors steak, and the each of the wonderful sides and wines pair nicely.
Chef Sean Brock made a statement with Husk when he boldly committed to only serving food found in proximity to the restaurant and around the South. He has remained strong to this mission, and, subsequently, the restaurant has become a must-visit spot. Don’t miss the Husk burger at the freestanding Bar at Husk next door, where you can also sample hard-to-find bourbons.
Kiawah Island Resort
This resort, located 20 miles from downtown Charleston, has more than a dozen restaurants, cafés, and lounges. The Ocean Room’s luxurious dining room is the showpiece. Jasmine Porch provides more of a taste of the Lowcountry, while The Atlantic Room showcases sustainable seafood and regional ingredients. Take a few days and stay at the resort to try each one.
Since 1990, Magnolias has been serving true Lowcountry cuisine. It helped pave the way for the city’s culinary renaissance and has received a lot of recognition over the years. The menu classics include fried green tomatoes, chicken livers, seared crab cakes, and boiled peanuts.
Chef Sean Brock recently closed the doors on the original McCrady’s and transformed the space into a new concept. McCrady’s Tavern, which takes up the majority of the older dining space, is livelier with inventive tavern-esque food. The old wine bar was turned into chef’s table private room, and the former Minero space is being turned into a 22-person tasting-menu restaurant. If this concept is anything like what Brock has opened in the past, Charleston is in for an exciting new addition.
Another amazingly talented Italian chef, Jacques Larson has two restaurants, this one at the beach and the other in John’s Island — Wild Olive. The Obstinate Daughter evokes a marine setting with lanterns and buoys hanging from above. The menu includes lots of shareable plates, pizzas, and pastas, and there’s a great wine list.
A longstanding favorite, Peninsula Grill offers the ultimate dining experience as one of the few places to go for white tablecloth, high-end service. As a Relais & Chateaux property, you would not expect anything less. This is the place for caviar service, foie gras, roasted duck, and live Maine lobster.
Slightly North of Broad
This long-standing institution is one of the city’s most recognizable and popular places. At any given lunch, you will find a number of the city’s top business leaders, politicians, and movers and shakers. The kitchen is always bustling with chefs dedicated to preparing items grown at local farms and caught in local waters.
Step into The Grocery and feel as if you are dining at home with a table full of friends. Chef and owner Kevin Johnson cooks from his heart and has fine-tuned his delicious comforting dishes, often served family-style on Le Creuset platters.
Chef Jeremiah Bacon is one of the city’s few chefs born and raised in the area. He knows the waterways and what is grown in local farms better than most. His comfortable spot on Upper King Street offers a delicious menu that changes daily. Check the schedule and go when he hosts a monthly pig roast or special event on the back patio. No evening is complete without a stop upstairs for a night cap at The Cocktail Club.
Chef Mike Lata strikes a popular chord again with The Ordinary. This bright and lively hot spot was a former city bank but was renovated into a wonderful seafood centric establishment that serves towers of fresh oysters, lump crab, clams and fish specials, fish stew, lobster rolls, and more.
You may get a little lost trying to find this tucked-away spot or have a challenge finding a parking spot, but don’t give up — Trattoria Lucca is one of the best restaurants around. Chef Ken Vedrinski and his culinary team serve delicious contemporary Italian cuisine. Wines, all Italian, have rich stories behind their inclusion on the list. (Vedrinski has visited most of the vineyards during trips to Ita