City Guide: Charleston

Charleston's dining scene is sort of like Hollywood during its big-studio heyday: The culinary capital of the lowcountry is a small town that's riveting a nation of diners starved for glamour, gossip and artistic achievement. This is where line cooks' dreams lead: A visiting chef with an overscheduled eating itinerary and a restaurant-opening scheme is as much a mainstay of Charleston's cocktail bars as a bottle of Madeira. But the city's charms aren't spent entirely on industry insiders. Charleston has converted its legacy of monied entertaining into an accessible dining scene that celebrates the region's year-round bounty. Ideally situated on the southern edge of cold-climate crop zones and the northern boundary of tropical growing areas, Charleston is perpetually ready for dinner.

  1. FIG

    FIG

    Charleston, South Carolina

    FIG is an acronym for "food is good," a no-frills philosophy that continues to guide Mike Lata's award- winning kitchen. The restaurant functions as a clubhouse for food lovers, who appreciate a dining room in which conviviality's the rule.

  2. The Ordinary

    The Ordinary

    Charleston, South Carolina

    Located in a grandly restored bank, The Ordinary is a repository of East Coast seafood traditions, polished for a contemporary audience and paired with precisely the right drinks.

  3. McCrady's Tavern

    McCrady's Tavern

    Charleston, South Carolina

    George Washington didn't sleep here, but he drank Madeira in a tavern located on the site of present-day McCrady's, where guests now feast on intensely modern food drawn from the Southern landscape.

  4. The Grocery

    The Grocery

    Charleston, South Carolina

    In a city ruled by growing seasons, it's not uncommon to encounter the same ingredients at every restaurant over the course of a week. But The Grocery's thoughtful preparations of just-plucked vegetables are reliably exceptional.

  5. Butcher & Bee

    Butcher & Bee

    Charleston, South Carolina

    Proving daily that there's no shame in sandwiches, Butcher & Bee brings an Israeli sensibility to the lowcountry larder, turning out inspired renditions of noontime classics.

  6. Trattoria Lucca

    Trattoria Lucca

    Charleston, South Carolina

    Although the freshly made pastas at Lucca could wow wearing nothing but olive oil, the changing line-up of sophisticated sauces has cultivated countless fans for this intimate Italian bistro (which also assembles a mean antipasti plate.)

  7. Husk

    Husk

    Charleston, South Carolina

    Perhaps the epicenter of Charleston's current dining revolution, Husk's witty, Southern-bound dishes from chef Sean Brock have helped restore eaters' faith in odd pig parts and chicken skin.

  8. Peninsula Grill

    Peninsula Grill

    Charleston, South Carolina

    The quintessential "fancy" restaurant, but with excellent food to boot, Peninsula Grill achieves an almost cinematic elegance. The coconut cake is legendary, but there are plenty of savory dishes here which deserve the same status.

  9. Monza

    Monza

    Charleston, South Carolina

    Beyond its jaw-dropping history and architecture, Charleston is still a college town, and has oodles of pizzerias to show for it. But no joint does better by the Neopolitan pie than the bustling Monza, local master of the floppy crust.

  10. Hominy Grill

    Hominy Grill

    Charleston, South Carolina

    Don't let the weekend crowds scare you off: Hominy Grill is home to Charleston's best vegetable plate. The changing roster of choices is a tribute to the region's ingredients and generations of folk cookery.

  11. EVO Pizzeria

    EVO Pizzeria

    North Charleston, South Carolina

    EVO is best known for its outstanding thin-crust pizza, but the quality produce here doesn't need a bread-and-cheese crutch: The restaurant's salads are rightly beloved by vegetarians and omnivores alike.

  12. Edmund's Oast

    Edmund's Oast

    Charleston, South Carolina

    Housed in a timber-framed 6,000-square-foot warehouse, it's the kind of brewery-restaurant that has a lot of everything for everyone. There are 40-plus beers on tap, plus Southern-inspired snacks.

  13. R. Kitchen

    R. Kitchen

    Charleston, South Carolina

    A side project from Leaf Restaurant's chef, tiny R. Kitchen was conceived as a play space for local chefs who needed a break from she-crab soup and other touristy requisites. The result is a meandering menu, casual service and, quite often, very good food.

  14. Platia Food Truck

    Platia Food Truck

    Charleston, South Carolina

    Until Platia rolled into town, chefs were stuck with Waffle House after work. Now they gravitate toward this food truck for smart renditions of Greek street snacks, prepared by a pair of young South Carolinians of Greek descent who went back to the old country to snag a starter for their house-made yogurt. Don't miss the feta pimento cheese.

  15. Acme Lowcountry Kitchen

    Acme Lowcountry Kitchen

    Isle of Palms, South Carolina

    South Carolina's shrimp season is short, but the urge to eat local is strong. Acme Lowcountry Kitchen, a loveable roadhouse with a rowdy past, solved the conundrum by buying two tons of shrimp and freezing it for the winter (they go through a total of five tons a year). The plump, sweet shellfish show up in multiple versions of shrimp and grits and other iconic dishes.

  16. The Watch Rooftop Kitchen and Spirits

    The Watch Rooftop Kitchen a...

    Charleston, South Carolina

    Atop The Restoration hotel in Downtown Charleston, "bacon and eggs" means local farm eggs, deviled and sprinkled with bits of bacon and smoked paprika. The focus for chef Chad Anderson, formerly of Oak Steakhouse Atlanta, is Southern comfort food with a twist. Be sure to take in the Lowcountry seafood, like Maine-style lobster rolls with a whisper of lemon aioli and the must-order grilled oyster with fermented black garlic, along with the views.

  17. Leon's

    Leon's

    Charleston, South Carolina

    Restaurateur Brooks Reitz's fried chicken and oysters joint in Peninsular Charleston is everything right about casual Southern fare. Specializing in all things fried, from shrimp and fish to juicy chicken, it's the perfect place to unwind over a selection from the Sparkling and Expensive Champagne menu. The restaurant is housed in a former auto shop, where eclectic paintings and quirky knickknacks line the walls, and home to lighter dishes, too, like napa cabbage salad with avocado and fried shallots, and, obviously, freshly shucked oysters.

  18. Slightly North of Broad Restaurant

    Slightly North of Broad Res...

    Charleston, South Carolina

    Chef Frank Lee's Downtown bistro gets its moniker from the area of Charleston historically reserved for those slightly less wealthy than South of Broad Street residents. However, the charming restaurant is a favorite among all Charlestonians and is celebrated as one of the original innovators of Lowcountry cuisine. Classics, like duck breast with blue cheese bread pudding and shrimp and Geechie Boy grits, are must-orders, but the restaurant also offers a gluten-free lunch menu.

  19. Xiao Bao Biscuit

    Xiao Bao Biscuit

    Charleston, South Carolina

    You won't find any biscuits at this trendy Southern spot off in Cannonborough, but you won't miss them. Chef Josh Walker's ever-changing menu pulls flavors and dishes from Asia, spanning from China to India. Stop by the old gas station for a quick lunch of mapo tofu or go full-on family style during dinner with butter curry with cauliflower and eggplant, and okonomiyaki, served with "what you like" (aka bacon, egg and pork candy toppers).

  20. The Gin Joint

    The Gin Joint

    Charleston, South Carolina

    Easily Charleston's most accomplished cocktail bar, The Gin Joint is forever tweaking its engaging list of updated classics and newfangled drinks. Don't miss the snacks.

  21. The Bar at Husk

    The Bar at Husk

    Charleston, South Carolina

    Husk's freestanding bar was originally conceived as a haven for bourbon aficionados, but the list at this brick-walled haunt has effortlessly strayed beyond brown liquor. Even without the corn emphasis, the room still evokes the tavern culture of yesteryear.

  22. Bin 152

    Bin 152

    Charleston, South Carolina

    With a cheese list as carefully curated as its wine roster, Bin 152 is the best Charleston wine bar at which to start or end an evening in elegant fashion.

  23. Proof

    Proof

    Charleston, South Carolina

    A resolutely basic drinking den, Proof distinguishes itself with exceptional renditions of classic cocktails and a boiled peanut hummus that pairs well with its impressive selection of craft beers.

  24. The Rooftop

    The Rooftop

    Charleston, South Carolina

    The Rooftop offers Downtown's best view of Charleston Harbor (unless you count the parking decks, where it's illegal to sip on Gin Fizzes and rosemary-infused rum). And because there's no better time to train eyes on the skyscape than sunset, The Rooftop serves a range of aperitifs for patrons on their way to dinner.

  25. Faculty Lounge

    Faculty Lounge

    Charleston, South Carolina

    There are very few Downtown Charleston bars that can boast an interracial crowd, so it's to The Faculty Lounge's credit that it draws drinkers of all cultural backgrounds. Tiki drinks add to the appeal, as well as a dance floor that's always comfortably crowded with folks having fun. Don't let the scrapbook photos of Janet Jackson dancing at the decades-old club intimidate you.

  26. The Recovery Room Tavern

    The Recovery Room Tavern

    Charleston, South Carolina

    Renowned as the nation's second top seller of canned PBR, The Recovery Room is a classic dive bar, equipped with pinball machines and a heavy metal jukebox. The beer is domestic, cold and cheap, and the food menu runs from chicken wings to "tater tachos," or nachos made with tater tots instead of tortilla chips.

  27. The Belmont

    The Belmont

    Charleston, South Carolina

    One of the best-kept secrets among beverage industry folks is this quiet, 40-seat cocktail bar on Upper King Street. It's a favorite among local bartenders, thanks to the wide variety of spirits on the shelves, not just for show but for actual use. Order like the pros by skipping the bar menu in favor of the Bartender's Choice.

  28. Closed for Business

    Closed for Business

    Charleston, South Carolina

    Contrary to its name, this King Street bar is open seven days a week and equipped with 42 taps and counting. Local, regional, domestic and imported beers rotate daily, but our money's on the flight of the day, which always features a local brew from Joseph Fields Farms, Keegan-Filion Farm, Mepkin Abbey, Yon Family Farms or Blackbird Farms. As for food, order something filling, like the Pork Slap sandwich, a fried pork cutlet topped with beer-braised pulled pork, pickled green tomato and Swiss cheese.

  29. Black Tap Coffee

    Black Tap Coffee

    Charleston, South Carolina

    The nexus of Charleston coffee geekery, Black Tap produces the city's finest pour-over.

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