Charleston's 15 Best Restaurants (Slideshow)
May 2, 2014
15) Charleston Grill
Frequently receiving accolades as one of the best restaurants in the city, this jazz and food hot spot serves four categories of dishes: pure, lush, cosmopolitan, and Southern — each with its own theme (for example, the “pure” plates value simplicity). The experience isn’t nearly as pretentious as it sounds. This is simple Southern food made gourmet with careful flavoring and near-artistic plating. As lesser old-school Charleston institutions have fallen by the wayside, chef Michelle Weaver keeps the menu inspired.
14) Fat Hen
A John’s Island favorite, Fat Hen delivers everything you’d want from a French-Lowcountry crossover spot. Chef Fred Neuville sources local ingredients to create dishes that are sure to comfort, satisfy, and slowly expand your waist band. Bacon cheese grits? Potato au gratin? Pomme frites? Merci. The brunch is also a favorite among locals. How could anyone possibly argue with crème brûlée French toast?
13) Two Boroughs Larder
The New York Times invented the word “Momofukuesque” to describe the forward-thinking menu at Two Boroughsthat doesn’t slouch on flavor. Heather and Josh Keeler’s locally-sourced dishes give Charlestonians an inventive dining experience that breaks away from local customs, but still features Lowcountry touches. Charred asparagus with bone marrow, nasturtium, and miner’s lettuce may not sound rib-sticking, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t delicious. If you’re not feeling adventurous, breakfast sandwiches like the artisanal pork scrapple with farm egg and aged cheddar are house favorites and served-all-day.
12) Wild Olive
While downtown has some great Italian options, one of the best spots to get fresh seafood-infused Italian dishes in the greater Charleston area is on John’s Island, where Wild Olive locally sources ingredients to deliver no-fuss Italian. We’re talking cured meats, calamari, and homemade lasagna. And of course, it all goes down better with a glass of wine, and Wild Olive’s list is extensive.
11) Circa 1886
The first thing you’ll notice entering Circa 1886 is that the space is flat-out stunning. The Wentworth Street location features a brick façade with an outdoor garden in front. Inside you’ll find Southern delicacies with a focus on health, a departure from most Lowcountry food which tends to be deep-fried and shellacked with butter. Here, chef Marc Collins tones down the butter and cream without sacrificing flavor, and delivers fine-dining with a Lowcountry slant and a local, seasonal menu to keep the dishes fresh.
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 at his Charleston steakhouse, it’s the beef that’s the star of the show. His 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 rib-eye 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.
9) The Grocery
Recently James Beard-nominated executive chef and owner Kevin Johnson showcases seasonal ingredients at this Charleston spot, which features an atmosphere reminiscent of a small-town grocery. Local and regional farmers and fishermen stock the kitchen for house-made charcuteries and seafood dishes on his urban agrarian menu. The cordial atmosphere accents a neutral interior with colorful jars of vegetables and condiments. These products of the in-house canning program testify to the restaurant’s mission to celebrate artisanal producers year-round by preserving fresh produce for the menu. Hierarchically ranked from “snacks” to “plates,” chose from internationally inspired dishes featuring regional ingredients. Snack on chicken liver mousse with delicious persimmon jam or, for a meal, chose the golden tilefish with parsnip puree in Vermouth broth with a pine nut relish. Vegetarians can try their pig skin pad Thai, which surprisingly features crispy tofu, or their wood-roasted carrot salad, topped with a pistachio crumble with dates, Greek yogurt and feta. Wash your meal down with lively specialty cocktails, such as the Dirty Green Tomato Martini brightened with green tomato pickle juice.
8) 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. Like sister restaurant, FIG, the kitchen 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. 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 hot spot 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.
7) Peninsula Grill
Housed in the Planter’s Inn on Market Street, Peninsula Grill’s meat and seafood-centric new Southern menu is decadent stuff, but that isn’t to say this cuisine rests on high-calorie laurels alone and lacks aspiration or invention. Take chef Graham Dailey’s champagne menu option, the “Lobster 3 Way,” featuring lobster ravioli, lobster tempura, and sautéed lobster in warm tomato basil vinaigrette. For dessert, the cinnamon crème brûlée with Port wine and almond brittle is just as good as it sounds. And their ultimate coconut cake has such a devoted following that they’ll overnight it to you anywhere in the country if you need a fix.
6) Trattoria Lucca
A bit further uptown than its contemporaries on the list, Trattoria Lucca is absolutely worth the trek for some of the best Northern Italian food in the city. Anyone who has been to Trattoria Lucca will tell you the same thing: It doesn’t matter which dish you order, just make sure there’s pasta involved; After all, this is house-made stuff. Chef Ken Vedrinski sees to it that everything from the tagliolini and cavatelli to bucatini is rolled by hand.
5) Slightly North of Broad
Lovingly known to locals as “SNOB,” Slightly North of Broad has been packing its room since it opened in December 1993, just as the Spoleto Festival was boosting Charleston’s boom as a food scene and cultural center. Executive chef Frank Lee is Charleston culinary legend, and for good reason — his unpretentious menu is emblematic of everything great about Lowcountry cuisine. Simple Southern dishes like shrimp and grits, banana cream pie, and cornbread-stuffed quail are things of beauty. There’s a reason Slightly North of Broad is still a tough table 20 years later.
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, S.C. spot is a great place to eat well and clean. James Beard Award nominated chefs Mike Lata and Adam Nemirow offer a rotating menu of simple, locally grown and harvested cuisine. Think purée of rutabaga soup with granny smith apples, sauteed 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 ruling king of Southern cuisine which makes his Charleston restaurant, Husk, his throne. Named 2011’s Best New Restaurant in America by Bon Appetit 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.