Renzo | Photo by Jonathan Boncek

The Dish Top 50 Fall 2021

It’s not easy to pick the 50 best restaurants in town. When nearly a dozen new places open every six months, we’re constantly weighing which are most deserving of this list. But ultimately it comes down to the same criteria, whether we’re going for upscale or more affordable fare. From a sumptuous steak in a four-star dining room to a fancy hot dog down the street, we want to see the cook’s dedication to putting something delicious on the plate. We’re looking for authenticity, quality and care. When someone comes to us asking for a recommendation, these are the places we don’t hesitate to send them. We’ve organized the restaurants in alphabetical order. 

167 Raw
Seafood
Moderate 
Downtown. 193 King St. (843) 579-4997
167raw.com
Serving Lunch, Dinner (Mon.-Sat.)

Surrounded by high-end boutiques, swanky inns, antique stores and art galleries, 167 Raw’s King Street home sits along a quiet stretch of storefronts. The renowned eatery is still boasting the same lineup of New England bivalves and lobstah rolls that were much-lauded at its original (teeny) East Bay spot. The first floor of the ever-so-charming 19th century building is long and narrow, with original brick walls and a walnut bar. Bar vet Teddy Nixon is behind the long bar, shaking up the good stuff, while owners Jesse Sandole and Darren Harrison-Panes, donning matching aqua hues, greet regulars at the door. Even with four times (at least) as much seating as their original space, 167 Raw gets packed. Arrive early to tuck into your 10-hour carnita taco and bay scallops in stud butter. —Mary Scott Hardaway 

Babas on Cannon 
European 
Moderate 
Downtown. 11 Cannon St. (843) 284-6260
babasoncannon.com
Serving Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner (Tues.-Sun.) 

Babas on Cannon is one of those places that truly does everything well, even more impressive when you glance at its expansive daily menu. There’s strong espresso, baked treats, avocado toast, salads and sandwiches during the day, followed by small bites and aperitifs later at night. Nearly everything is house-made — from peanut milk to banana bread topped with flakey sea salt — and the ingredients are always local.

Want to get in and out in a jiffy? Babas has its own app for easy online ordering. If you’re staying awhile, you’ll find it to be the type of place where the employees want to know your name and remember your order. Babas’ ability to maintain that comfortable neighborhood vibe while keeping customers’ safety front of mind is truly a work of art. With a welcoming space and the food to match, Babas on Cannon delivers on its promise to mimic an old world European cafe.
—Parker Milner 

Bacco 
Italian
Moderate 
Mount Pleasant. 976 Houston Northcutt Blvd.
(843) 884-6969
baccocharleston.com 
Serving Lunch (Tues.-Fri.), Dinner (Tues.–Sat.)

For more than a dozen years, Mount Pleasant’s Bacco has successfully pulled off the idea of that fabled “neighborhood Italian place” you hear about in other cities: small, friendly service with straightforward Southern Italian food that creates regulars out of customers. Start your meal with the fire-roasted olives, warm multi-varietal and multi-textured olives straight out of the wood burning oven. The insalata di polpo, tender braised and grilled octopus, is a highlight of the antipasti.

The Italian focused cocktail menu is no slouch with a barrel-aged negroni and the Ficcho Bello, a fizzy drink with fig infused vodka with rosemary and cherry bitters. The primi course is where chef Michael Scognamiglio shines. The gnocchi bolognese are little airy pillows tossed in meaty bolognese and the Risi e Bisi is a buttery parmesan packed risotto with peas and pancetta. —Robert Donovan

Basic Kitchen
Cafe 
Moderate 
Downtown. 82 Wentworth St.
(843) 789-4568
basickitchen.com
Serving Lunch, Dinner (Mon.-Sat.) Weekend Brunch

In a city filled with hearty Southern cuisine, sometimes it’s tricky to find a flavorful, light meal. Not so at Basic Kitchen — according to co-owner Ben Towill, that has been exactly the goal since opening the restaurant with his wife Kate in 2017. “We want to provide massive flavor and a meal that’s hearty but still feels light.” Since taking over as Basic Kitchen executive chef in July 2019, Robin Hollis has homed in on this mission by creating more wholesome dishes that highlight vegetables from local purveyors. BK’s lunch menu is divided into small plates, bowls, salads, sandwiches and sweets. As for dinner selections, Towill said, “We wanted to narrow our focus by adding more classical entrees.” —Parker Milner 

Bertha’s Kitchen
Soul Food
Inexpensive 
Downtown. 2332 Meeting Street Road. 
(843) 554-6519
Serving Lunch, Dinner (Mon.-Fri.)

Head up Meeting Street until you see a two-story robin’s egg blue building with purple trim and a line stretching out the door. The Southern soul food platters here are so tasty, generous and inexpensive, that the line starts forming well before they open for lunch. Businessmen, laborers and far-flung tourists alike shuffle through the quick cafeteria-style service counter loaded with a smorgasbord of meat and threes, such as fried pork chops, fish specials, yams, stewed greens, home-style mac and cheese, limas nestled with smoked turkey necks, dark roux okra soup, moist cornbread and fried chicken better than anyone’s Grandma ever made.
—Allston McCrady 

Bistronomy by Nico 
French 
Expensive  
Downtown. 64 Spring St. (843) 410-6221
bistronomybynico.com
Serving Dinner (daily) 

One month after getting the keys to 64 Spring St., Bistronomy by Nico co-owners Nico Romo and Dominique Chantepie opened the French bistro after revamping the space previously occupied by Josephine Wine Bar. Since opening in November 2020, Bistronomy has served playful plates like escargot rice dumplings, goat cheese spring rolls and lobster with candied ginger in a setting reminiscent of a Parisian bistro.

The cuisine mirrors the vibrant atmosphere and draws on celebrated dishes from Romo’s 10 years at Fish, which closed in 2017 after 17 years on King Street. Romo calls Bistronomy’s menu approachable French cuisine with an Asian fusion twist. Look for duck steamed buns, tuna tartare with shrimp “chips” and a tomato and panko-fried mozzarella salad in the small plates section, while the entrees consist of plates like truffle chicken, cassoulet and scallops with coconut rice, all under $30. —Parker Milner 

Bowens Island Restaurant 
Seafood
Moderate 
James Island. 1870 Bowens Island Road.
(843) 795-2757
bowensisland.com
Serving Dinner (Tues.-Sat.)

Don’t expect white tablecloth and maitre’d service at Bowens Island. It’s famously no frills, but it’s worth it. The nightly crowds are a testament to the family fish camp. Since its founding in 1946, it’s grown from a grimy, albeit quaint, cinderblock outpost to a pluff-mud pantheon that offers up damn good fried seafood, hushpuppies and cold local beer in its upstairs dining room. Follow your nose downstairs and elbow-out yourself a space at the all-you-can-eat oyster tables and slurp down tasty local oysters by the shovelful that were likely pulled off the marsh that day. Oyster season or not, we have a hard time passing up the Frogmore Stew, a pot full of potatoes, sausage, corn on the cob and shrimp steamed together as God intended it. —Sam Spence 

Butcher & Bee
Mediterranean
Moderate 
Downtown. 1085 Morrison Drive.
(843) 619-0202
butcherandbee.com
Serving Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner (daily), Weekend Brunch

Going on five years since it moved to a bright, sunny building on Morrison Drive, Butcher & Bee is an elevated restaurant that belies its hipster hangout roots in its old dark, tiny space on Upper King Street. B&B’s menu features a large range of dishes with everything from falafel to decadent burgers to carefully crafted fresh seafood and veggie-forward dishes. An excellent feature present on the menu for brunch, lunch and dinner is B&B’s mezze selection, a collection of small plates with a Middle Eastern and Mediterranean influence. 
—Suzanne Cohen

Charleston Grill
Modern American
Very Expensive 
Downtown. 224 King St.
(843) 577-4522
charlestongrill.com
Serving Dinner (daily)

Amid ever-shifting culinary fashions, Charleston Grill has remained one of the city’s crown jewels by delivering a consistently flawless dining experience. Executive chef Michelle Weaver’s dishes can be decadently lush, like her beef tenderloin with bourguignon sauce or seared foie gras with an apple hand pie topped with whipped mascarpone crème fraîche. The best way to experience the full sweep of the cuisine is with Weaver’s four-to-eight course tasting menu, which may well be the most impressive in town. —Robert F. Moss

Chez Nous
French
Expensive 
Downtown. 6 Payne Court.
(843) 579-3060
cheznouschs.com
Serving Lunch,  Dinner (Tues.-Sun.), Sun. Brunch

Most mornings before lunch, the Chez Nous Instagram feed features a picture of the day’s menu, handwritten in black ink on a small white card in executive chef Jill Mathias’ eccentric and highly stylized script. Next comes a separate picture of each and every dish being served that day, taken from above in flawless light. Admittedly, it’s only seven pictures total, since Chez Nous serves just two starters, two entrees and two desserts, and the selection changes daily.  The setting is charmingly old and the cuisine European-inspired, but it’s hardly a throwback to an older mode of dining. Chez Nous stands alone just as it is, an eccentric outlier. With such a dynamic menu, any review of Chez Nous is by necessity a fleeting snapshot. —Robert F. Moss

Chubby Fish 
Seafood 
Expensive 
Downtown. 252 Coming St. (843) 222-3949
Serving Dinner (Tues.-Sat.) 

Executive chef James London serves a hyper-local, daily changing menu at this vibrant Coming Street restaurant. And while the fish selection may vary, London is known for a few signature preparations. Expect raw oysters, crudos and likely one small plate that incorporates caviar, along with heartier options like king mackerel curry, crab tagliatelle and lamb ribs. We recommend ordering several dishes and sharing with the group before finishing off with sweets from Life Raft Treats’ Cynthia Wong, who supplies Chubby Fish with dessert. Chubby Fish doesn’t take reservations, but it’s well worth the wait for one of 30 or so seats inside the restaurant that prides itself on turning under utilized types of fish into dishes you’ll crave for weeks. —Parker Milner 

Coda del Pesce
Italian/Seafood
Expensive 
Isle of Palms. 1130 Ocean Blvd.
(843) 242-8570
codadelpesce.com
Serving Dinner (Mon.-Sat.)

With Coda del Pesce, chef/owner Ken Vedrinski of longtime downtown mainstay Trattoria Lucca headed out to Isle of Palms to create a beachside Italian seafood restaurant. The beautiful second-story dining room has brick walls, reclaimed wood floors and, in a rarity for the Lowcountry, floor-to-ceiling windows offering a lovely view of the Atlantic. It’s an ideal setting for Vedrinski’s signature high-end Italian fare, which offers plenty of bright flavors and unexpected twists. Masterful pasta anchors the primi selection, which includes tagliatelle tossed with blue crab, Colatura di Alici, lemon and basil. The secondi highlight fresh fish like black bass and naturally raised veal “marsala.” Pair any of these with an Italian wine from the impressive list, and you’ll have one splendid fish tale to share with friends. —Robert F. Moss

Daps Breakfast & Imbibe 
Breakfast/Brunch
Inexpensive 
Downtown. 280 Ashley Ave. (843) 718-1098
Serving Breakfast, Brunch (Thurs.-Tues.) 
dapsbreakfast.com 

Breakfast fanatics have found a home at Daps Breakfast & Imbibe, where owners Nick Dowling and Jeremiah Schenzel serve sandwiches, daily specials and whimsical plates like Fruity Pebble pancakes or Cinnamon Toast Crunch sticky buns. But don’t be fooled by the duo’s unorthodox take on the morning meal — each composed plate has a local touch, whether its pork from Holy City Hogs or eggs from Fili-West Farms. The fun-loving atmosphere is the perfect summertime escape, as patrons sip Daps’ canned mimosas on the patio while sinking into the sorghum mayo-topped chickpea sandwich, patty melt or spicy West Coast-style breakfast burrito. —Parker Milner 

Dave’s Carry-Out 
Soul Food/Seafood
Inexpensive 
Downtown. 42-C Morris St.
(843) 577-7943
Serving Lunch, Dinner (Tues.-Sat.) 

This soul food joint offers a true taste of Charleston. For under $10 you can get a takeout box filled to the brim with the best of Lowcountry cooking like pork chops, crispy chicken wings and finger-lickin’ ribs. The selection of sides is small but tasty — try the lima beans, thick steak fries or red beans and rice. The lunch specials change daily, but your best bet is to go with a seafood platter — they range from $7 for a generous portion of shrimp to $13 for shrimp, fish, scallops and devil crab. If you want a true local experience, opt for the lima beans and rice. A few tables allow customers to dine in, but most folks get their Dave’s to-go, whether for lunch or a greasy late-night snack. —Melissa Tunstall

Delaney Oyster House 
Seafood 
Moderate 
Downtown. 115 Calhoun St.
(843) 594-0099.
delaneyoysterhouse.com
Serving Dinner (daily)

The Neighborhood Dining Group — owners of Husk — have converted an old single house on Calhoun Street into a stunner of a seafood restaurant. The raw bar offerings range from local oysters and clams to Kaluga caviar, and executive chef Shamil Velazquez’s inventive small plates are stylish and intensely flavored. Menus have featured rich kombu-poached lobster tossed with orbs of tangy Asian pear, ground peanuts and green Thai basil leaves, while a deconstructed chowder delivers tender clams, mussels, shrimp and a flawless peach-hued scallop within a pool of creamy, savory broth. Each dish is finished with precise visual style that befits the picture-perfect setting. —Robert F. Moss

Edmund’s Oast
Modern American
Expensive 
Downtown. 1081 Morrison Drive.
(843) 727-1145
edmundsoast.com
Serving Dinner (Mon.-Sat.), Sun. Brunch

This hip gastropub has a laid-back vibe. There are communal tables and an expansive outdoor patio. Chef Bob Cook’s menu highlights include the house-made charcuterie and cheese plates, plus upscale bar food like fried tripe, hanger steak or crispy chicken with green curry sauce. The drink menu is every bit as compelling, rife with small batch cocktails, meads and a host of inventive beers brewed on-site.
—Vanessa Wolf

Estadio 
Tapas 
Moderate
Downtown. 122 Spring St
estadio-chs.com
Serving Dinner (daily)

Photo by Ruta Smith

Estadio, which opened on Spring Street in October 2019, is technically the second outpost of a successful Washington, D.C., Spanish-style bar and tapas restaurant. The decor and the deep sherry and gin selection echo the D.C. original, but executive chef Alex Lira’s impressive menu is unique to Charleston. The pintxos and tapas — grilled shrimp on skewers, crisp patatas bravas, tuna-topped “seven minute” eggs — offer beguiling little bites. Fresh local shellfish and savory sofrito- and saffron-laced rice — especially the crispy bits charred to the edges of the flat metal cooking pan — transform the seafood paella into an unforgettable treat. With a slate of sherry cocktails, “gin tonics” made with rare Spanish brands and porróns of wine, Estadio brings a brilliant taste of Spain to the heart of downtown Charleston.
—Robert F. Moss 

EVO
Pizza
Inexpensive
North Charleston. 1075 E. Montague Ave. 
(843) 225-1796
evopizza.com
Serving Lunch, Dinner (daily)

At EVO, the use of fresh, local ingredients is key, and they’ve been keeping it local from the very beginning, back when they were a mobile wood-fired oven serving pizza at the farmers market in Marion Square. Large chalkboards decorate the walls, listing local ingredients from various farms, along with daily specials, ranging from housemade sausages to duck crostini. But we’re partial to the pizza. The crust is thin and slightly charred, and the mozzarella is made fresh and pulled in-house twice a day. The pistachio pesto pie was named one of the best pizzas in the country by Food Network Magazine, and the sinful Pork Trifecta keeps customers coming back. —Kinsey Gidick

Fiery Ron’s Home Team BBQ
Barbecue
Inexpensive 
West Ashley. 1205 Ashley River Road. 
(843) 225-7427
Downtown. 126 Williman St.
(843) 225-7427
Sullivan’s Island. 2209 Middle St.
(843) 225-7427
hometeambbq.com
Serving Lunch, Dinner (daily), Weekend Brunch 

With three Charleston locations plus one up in Columbia and another way out in Aspen, Colorado, pitmasters/chefs Aaron Siegel and Taylor Garrigan have built an acclaimed barbecue empire. Whether you’re at the West Ashley original or at the newer outposts on Sullivan’s Island or downtown, the barbecue offering is anchored by pulled pork, smoked chicken, ribs and a superb salt-and-pepper brisket, all cooked over wood on offset metal pits.

Siegel’s and Garrigan’s fine-dining roots show in an array of creative snacks and tacos, like chopped brisket sliders on brioche buns and smoked shrimp tacos with white bean puree. There’s always a cheffy special or two, like pulled pork empanadas or a pit-smoked pork chop with purple cabbage and apple, and don’t miss out on Home Team’s smoked chicken wings with tangy white Alabama-style sauce. —Robert F. Moss

FIG
Modern American
Very Expensive 
Downtown. 232 Meeting St.
(843) 805-5900
eatatfig.com
Serving Dinner (Mon.-Sat.)

In 2003, Chef Mike Lata set out to prove that “food is good.” After blazing a trail for the robust local farm-to-table restaurant scene, FIG still stands out, winning awards and creating devotees year after year. Although snagging a reservation can be a challenge, the seasonally inspired cuisine and impeccable service are worth the effort. Change is a constant, but stalwart menu standbys like the fish stew provencal and pillowy ricotta gnocchi alla bolognese never fail to satisfy. Be sure to check out the wine offerings, as — along with two nods for Best Chef Southeast — FIG is also a national James Beard award-winner for Outstanding Wine Program. —Vanessa Wolf

The Glass Onion
New Southern
Moderate 
West Ashley. 1219 Savannah Hwy.
(843) 225-1717
ilovetheglassonion.com
Serving Lunch, Dinner (Mon.-Sat.), Sat. Brunch

Since 2008, the Glass Onion has exemplified the “neighborhood favorite” category — a restaurant less formal and ambitious than a fine dining spot but still delivering seriously delicious meals. The offering blends the home cooking of chef/owner Chris Stewart’s native Alabama with dishes and styles he absorbed while working in fine dining kitchens, first in New Orleans and then in Charleston. That means hearty, savory gumbo brimming with okra and sausage, Cajun boudin balls with Creole mustard and crisp okra beignets served with spicy red remoulade. A few more adventurous entrees, like a beguilingly dark rabbit ragout with ricotta gnocchi, pop up with regularity alongside hearty Southern classics like shrimp and grits and fried catfish with red rice. It’s a surefire formula for a satisfying meal. —Robert F. Moss

The Grocery
Modern American
Expensive 
Downtown. 4 Cannon St.
(843) 302-8825
thegrocerycharleston.com
Serving Dinner (Tues.-Sun.), Sun. Brunch

Occupying a space that is at once industrial and inviting, chef/owner Kevin Johnson’s menus are seasonally inspired and passionately local. Utilizing a mix of fresh farmed, fished and foraged ingredients, The Grocery exemplifies farm-to-table dining. The Southern/Mediterranean offerings have included such highlights as fried oysters with deviled egg sauce and bread and butter pickles. Year-round standbys include the generous portions of Lowcountry seafood pilau and the changing varieties of roasted whole fish, cooked in the restaurant’s massive wood-burning oven. Along with a celebrated Sunday brunch, The Grocery’s innovative cocktail program features standouts like the dirty green tomato, a martini made with pickled green tomato juice.—Vanessa Wolf

Husk Restaurant
New Southern
Expensive 
Downtown. 76 Queen St.
(843) 577-2500
huskrestaurant.com
Serving Dinner (daily), Weekend Brunch

Husk has outposts in Nashville, Greenville and Savannah, but this location — housed in a white mansion on Queen Street — is the original. Here, executive chef Travis Grimes carries out the vision of innovative, modern farm-to-table perfection. The kitchen creates such must-try marvels like Southern fried chicken skins, ‘Kentuckyaki’ pigs ear lettuce wraps, or the hulking Carolina heritage pork chop, while dessert offerings include such innovations as the savory-sweet cornbread pudding. There’s a welcoming, rustic atmosphere indoors, but if weather permits, sit out on the upstairs porch and enjoy what is, without hesitation, Southern food at its best. —Vanessa Wolf

Jackrabbit Filly 
Chinese 
Moderate
North Charleston. 4628 Spruill Ave.
(843) 460-0037
jackrabbitfilly.com 
Serving Lunch (Wed.-Sat.), Dinner (Wed.-Sun.)

The menu at Jackrabbit Filly — Shuai and Corrie Wang’s brick-and-mortar jump from their popular Short Grain food truck — takes quintessential Asian fare and adds some vamp. Short Grain’s beloved karaage endures — the meat is juicy, the coating crunchy, and the drizzle of lemon mayo and ponzu, along with some togarashi-induced heat, should be presented with the following disclaimer: “The karaage is a small structure made of chicken. It is delicious, and you are not ready for it.” While no World Famous Jackrabbit Filly twist contest exists (yet), a similar, multi-tiered, two-foot tall trophy sounds about right. Grab some friends, share the love and share it hard. —Vanessa Wolf 

Kwei Fei
Chinese 
Moderate 
James Island. 1977 Maybank Hwy. 
kweifei.com
Serving Dinner (Tues.-Sat.), Sun. Brunch 

Set next door to Charleston Pour House, Kwei Fei’s menu offers an array of appetizers, entrees and veggie-based sides sorted into blocks labeled “Loud,” “Hot” and “Vibes.” The crescent dumplings are an outstanding way to give your tastebuds a crash course in the events to come. Made with ground pork and redolent Sichuan pepper, the five plump dumplings are served in a soy-based, vinegary sauce and topped with fresh cilantro and chives. On the “vibes” side of things, vegetarians are well-taken care of with the dry-fried green beans. Here, some rice makes sense and adds bulk to the delicate haricots verts, which are coated with an intense, chunky garlic and ginger combo with a little spicy kick. —Vanessa Wolf 

Le Farfalle
Italian
Expensive 
Downtown. 15 Beaufain St.
(843) 212-0920
lefarfallecharleston.com
Serving Lunch (Mon.-Sat.), Dinner (daily), Sun. Brunch

Led by celebrated chef Michael Toscano, Le Farfalle is certain to delight. The bright, upscale space is generously laid out with an elegant bar suitable for a quick lunch of agnolotti pasta or a relaxed after-dinner conversation over craft cocktails. Dinner service starts with a slice from the restaurant’s ginormous wedge of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, but matters are then in your own hands. Seasonal appetizer stand outs have included a veal tartare toast served with shoestring fries and a sublime octopus carpaccio. You can’t go wrong with the housemade pastas, and other memorable dinner selections have included a vibrant whole branzino with pine nuts and a tender fried chicken picatta. —Vanessa Wolf

Lenoir
New Southern
Downtown. 68 Wentworth St. (843) 534-9031
dineatlenoir.com
Serving Dinner (Wed.-Sun.)

Chef Vivian Howard’s first restaurants outside Eastern North Carolina opened in Charleston in the first half of 2021. After PBS’ A Chef’s Life introduced Howard to audiences far from her first restaurant, Chef & the Farmer in Kinston, N.C., she now has two concepts open in the Wentworth-facing side of the downtown Renaissance Hotel. Handy & Hot checks the boxes as the hotel’s quick-service lobby cafe (with the addition of snackable hand pies and knockout biscuit sandwiches), but Lenoir is where Howard will make her mark. Tables ring the cozy dining room around a central bar, and a steady stream of reinvented Southern specialties flow from the kitchen. With dishes ranging from local crudo and butterbean agnolotti to the K-town patty melt, Howard’s touch as a chef is apparent without taking things too seriously. Chef Tyson Detzler brings experience at Chef & the Farmer to Howard’s Charleston kitchen, so you know anything local and seasonal will be a good bet on your table. —Sam Spence

Leon’s Fine Poultry & Oysters
Seafood
Moderate 
Downtown. 698 King St.
(843) 531-6500
leonsoystershop.com
Serving Lunch, Dinner (daily)

The chargrilled oysters at Leon’s embody the restaurant’s approach to food: unfussy and delicious. The fish fry platter is a jumble of oysters, shrimp and fish battered and delicately fried and served with a tartar sauce so good we sometimes just dip a fork in it in between bites. If we know anything about restaurateurs Brooks Reitz and Tim Mink, it’s that they know how to design a restaurant that both looks and feels good. This is the kind of place that gets in your regular rotation because it’s comfortable, delicious and reliable. —Stephanie Barna

Lewis Barbecue
Barbecue
Moderate 
Downtown. 464 N. Nassau St.
(843) 805-9500
lewisbarbecue.com
Serving Lunch, Dinner (daily)

Lewis’ building houses four custom built smokers and a sausage smoker that can cook 1,600 links at a time, all hand built by Lewis and his father. Once inside, you’ll queue up to have meat hand-sliced by one of two meat-cutters stationed behind a long counter directing you to opposite ends. Lewis’ “life changing” beef brisket is definitely the star. But, there’s also juicy smoked turkey, pulled pork, pork ribs and Texas sausage called “hot guts.” After your tray is filled with your order of meats, choose your sides from mustardy potato salad, lemon slaw, cowboy beans and rich green chile corn pudding. —Robert Donovan

Maison 
French 
Expensive
Downtown. 708 King St.
(843) 990-9165
maisoncharleston.com
Serving Dinner (Mon.-Sat.) 

Maison shares a low, unassuming King Street building with a climbing gym, but step inside and you’ll find an immaculate invocation of a stylish French bistro. There’s a pewter-topped bar, hexagonal white and black floor tiles and Parisian-style bistro chairs with white and black woven backs. The menu options — escargots, steak frites au poivre, coq au vin — seem to hew to traditional bistro standards at first, but chef Vandy Vanderwarker gives each a creative, flavorful spin. The sultry coq au vin is a deconstructed delight, with long-marinated chicken that’s braised, shredded and blended with roasted ramps into an intensely flavored patty. With deep, intense flavors and a playful sensibility, Maison’s daring interpretations of traditional French plates are a welcome addition to the Charleston scene. —Robert F. Moss 

Malagon
Tapas 
Moderate 
Downtown. 33 Spring St.
(843) 926-0475
Serving Lunch, Dinner (Tues.-Sun.)

Even experienced tapas lovers may find themselves a bit wide-eyed at Malagon — the eight-page menu isn’t fooling around. Rather, it gets right down to some sweet tapas tenderness, starting with familiar snacks like marcona almonds and dates wrapped in ham. The mojama (cured tuna belly) is a classic treat. Firm and salty, it’s often referred to as the jamón of the sea. Accompanied by roughly a dozen baby potatoes, tender chunks of octopus have a silky texture similar to that of a rare scallop. The mild flavors of the two soft ingredients are dominated by the sprinkling of smoked paprika on top. Despite being ‘small plates,’ your meal can be surprisingly filling and notably affordable. Malagon is not only doing something different, they’re doing it extremely well. —Vanessa Wolf 

Melfi’s
Italian 
Expensive 
Downtown. 721 King St.
(843) 513-0307
eatatmelfis.com
Serving Dinner (daily)

Named for the family who once ran a pharmacy in the same space, Melfi’s menu offers updated takes on Italian staples. The polished, old-school dining room is warm and buzzy, providing a welcome backdrop to get your carbs on. Slip into a leather booth and proceed to feast on house-made linguine tossed with pancetta or littleneck clams, or “Roman-ish” pizza, like the Mr. Wally, made with vodka sauce, Fresno peppers, sliced salami and meaty hen-of-the-woods mushrooms. Negroni aficionados will appreciate the choice of seven innovative variations. —Vanessa Wolf 

Nana’s Uptown
Soul Food 
Inexpensive 
North Charleston. 5117 Dorchester Road.
(843) 937-9311
Serving Lunch and Dinner (Tues.-Sat.) 

Downtown’s Nana’s Seafood & Soul closed in 2020 after nearly two decades on Line Street, but fans of the family owned and operated restaurant can still find its affordable Lowcountry fare at Nana’s Uptown, located in North Charleston at 5117 Dorchester Road. Mother-and-son duo Carolyn and Kenyatta McNeil’s takeout- and delivery-only outpost specializes in seafood, with options like flounder, whiting, shrimp, scallops and more. But that’s not all you’ll find at Nana’s. The chicken wings are a must, as are daily specials like crab legs with garlic shrimp. If we’ve learned anything over the past year, it’s that high quality takeout is something that can’t be taken for granted. Nana’s Uptown delivers every time, offering the North Charleston community an affordable option serving authentic eats. —Parker Milner  

Neon Tiger
Vegan
Moderate 
Downtown. 654 King St.
(843) 640-3902
neontiger.com
Serving Dinner (Daily)

One of a handful of all-vegan establishments in Charleston, Neon Tiger doesn’t shy away from getting creative with its upscale offerings. The crispy konjac “shrimp” and trumpet mushroom “calamari” are two standout appetizer options. For a more classic veggie-forward meal, look to main dishes like lentil ragout and the veggie bowl. But, if you want to venture out and see just what the chefs at Neon Tiger can do with an all plant-based menu, opt for the reuben sandwich with seitan smoked meat or the “Big Buffalo Chicken” sandwich that captures everything you love about a chicken sandwich — sans meat. And while you’re at it, order a pizza for the table to split like the barbecue jackfruit or formaggio and champignon. —Samantha Connors

NICO
French 
Expensive 
Mount Pleasant. 201 Coleman Blvd.
(843) 352-7969
Serving Dinner (daily) and Weekend Brunch 

NICO was the fine dining establishment Shem Creek had been waiting for when it opened in 2018. You wouldn’t know it based on the buzzing atmosphere and trendy decor, but NICO is located in a former Pizza Hut, adding to the restaurant’s allure. Executive chef Nico Romo’s menu has hints of flash with beautifully arranged raw bar platters and dishes like whole roasted lobster. Each plate that comes out of the open kitchen is a display of classic French techniques using South Carolina ingredients. 

Eating at NICO feels comfortable and thrilling at the same time, meaning guests are always wanting to come back for more. If you’re looking for ambiance, show-stopping dishes and plenty of fresh oysters, NICO is your spot.—Parker Milner 

Oak Steakhouse
Steakhouse
Expensive
Downtown. 17 Broad St. (843) 722-4220
oaksteakhouserestaurant.com
Serving Dinner (daily)

Located in a restored 150-year-old bank building, Oak is a long-running favorite for a big Charleston night out. Hefty prime ribeyes and strips are the main attractions, with luxurious family-style accompaniments like creamy whipped potatoes and lobster mac and cheese. Within the traditional steakhouse format, there is always a twist or two, like a daily local seafood special or beef belly with sorghum barbecue sauce. The deep wine list focuses on California reds, and the service is reliably top-notch, regardless of whether you eat downstairs in the bar area, with its exposed brick walls and clubby red leather booths, or at the white cloth-draped tables in the second story dining room, its high windows looking out over Broad Street.
—Robert F. Moss 

The Obstinate Daughter
Seafood/Southern
Moderate 
Sullivan’s Island. 2063 Middle St.
(843) 416-5020
theobstinatedaughter.com
Serving Lunch (Mon.-Fri.), Dinner (daily), Weekend Brunch 

At The Obstinate Daughter, executive chef Jacques Larson’s big, open kitchen has a plancha and a wood-fired oven, and he uses it to create a beguiling array of pizzas, pastas and small plates. The pizzas bear tempting toppings, like clams and roasted fennel or pork meatballs and red peppers. The dishes on the rotating “plates” menu range in size from “Marsh Hen frites” (long strips of fried polenta) to a crispy duck with carrot farrotto, cipollini and chermoula. OD boasts a cheery, casual environment for enjoying Larson’s impressive parade of delicate but flavorful dishes. And that makes it one of the best upscale dining destinations not just out on the beaches, but anywhere in town. —Robert F. Moss

The Ordinary
Seafood
Expensive 
Downtown. 544 King St.
(843) 414-7060
eattheordinary.com
Serving Dinner (Tues.-Sun.)

In December 2012, a historic King Street bank building found new life as an upscale oyster hall. The Ordinary — second child of Adam Nemirow and chef Mike Lata — opened with soaring 22-foot ceilings, the promise of locally sourced seafood and lots of buzz. The Ordinary was the first of its kind, and I would argue, still the best. Along with six daily varieties of raw oysters on the half shell, the house-smoked oysters are not to be missed. Presented in an oil and vinegar-filled preserve jar and spiked with slices of crisp pickled celery, the six oysters are so gently smoked that they are still raw. As a result, each is tender and juicy, the delicate hint of ocean flavor touched with woodsy smoke. Served with fancied-up saltines (brushed with butter and Old Bay), rich, cold creme fraiche and vibrant hot sauce, the combination is outstanding: cool, crisp and smoky all at once. —Vanessa Wolf 

Peninsula Grill
New Southern
Very Expensive 
Downtown. 112 N. Market St.
(843) 723-0700
peninsulagrill.com
Serving Dinner (daily)

There are milestones in life that require a fancy steak. Or at least the kind of place where one can get a fancy steak. If you’re in the midst of such an occasion, Peninsula Grill has got you covered. Even after more than two decades, Peninsula Grill continues to impress with its luxurious fare. Take, for instance, the seared foie gras. The dish is deserving of a modeling contract, with the perfectly cooked slice of delicate liver resting atop artful smears of cinnamon-infused strawberry coulis and aged balsamic reduction. Backed by a vibrant fence of fresh strawberry slices and a crisp arugula salad, this is about as good as foie gras gets. —Vanessa Wolf

Pink Cactus 
Mexican 
Moderate 
Downtown. 100 A Spring St.
(843) 764-9343
pinkcactuschs.com 
Serving Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner (Mon.-Sat.) 

Pink Cactus is dishing authentic Oaxacan cuisine on Spring Street, where owner Brooke Warden serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. Warden combines approachable hits like tacos, queso and enchiladas with more experimental plates like her carnitas-stuffed chile relleno or birria taco platter. Wash it all down with Pink Cactus’ signature pink margarita, which is garnished with black sea salt. Boasting one of the best happy hours in Charleston — highlighted by $5 margaritas, $3 Tecates and $5 tacos and queso fundido — Pink Cactus is a favorite among tourists and locals alike. Don’t miss out on breakfast, served Monday-Saturday from 9-11 a.m., when Warden churns out hearty tortas, breakfast tacos, chilaquiles and more. —Parker Milner 

Post House Restaurant  
Modern American
Expensive 
Mount Pleasant. 101 Pitt St.
(843) 203-7678
theposthouseinn.com
Serving Dinner (daily); Weekend Brunch 

Post House Restaurant opened in Mount Pleasant in August 2020 after undergoing significant renovations led by Kate and Ben Towill of design and hospitality firm Basic Projects. Post House is a reincarnation of The Old Village Post House, which closed in February 2019 after 16 years at 101 Pitt St. The Towills completely redesigned the circa-1896 space, which is adorned with antiques, vintage rugs, local art, archival wallpaper and handcrafted fixtures. You’ll find seasonal snacks, raw bar options, fresh pastas, local seafood and an assortment of vegetarian dishes at Post House. Local seafood massaman curry, Carolina heritage farm pork with creamy kimchi collard greens and a “backbar” cheeseburger are some of the main dishes that pair with starters like blue crab toast or Anson Mills cornbread. Post House also features an expansive wine list with bottles from around the world, and those looking for a staycation can grab a room in the quaint inn connected to the restaurant.
—Parker Milner  

Renzo
Pizza
Moderate 
Downtown. 384 Huger St.
(843) 952-7864
renzochs.com
Serving Dinner (Tues.-Sat.), Sun. Brunch

Photo by Jonathan Boncek

This former storefront-turned-hip neighborhood trattoria has a wood-fired oven and knows how to use it. Along with tempting starters like warm homemade sourdough bread or charred cauliflower florets with savory mushoom XO sauce, the menu features a trio of pastas, plus an array of creative Neapolitan-style pizzas. Feeling adventurous? The Cheli offers a tomato base with lamb sausage, tangy pickled peppers, honey and za’atar. Renzo also offers one of the area’s largest selections of natural wine. —Vanessa Wolf 

Rodney Scott’s BBQ
Barbecue
Inexpensive 
Downtown. 1011 King St.
(843) 990-9535
rodneyscottsbbq.com
Serving Lunch, Dinner (daily)

Rodney Scott made waves in 2017 when, after two decades of cooking hogs at his family’s acclaimed operation in Hemingway, he brought his traditional burn barrel style of barbecue down to Charleston. That splendid whole hog — basted in a pepper-laced sauce and pulled into long, succulent strands — remains the foundation of Scott’s offering on King Street, but he’s added a few new options for the city crowd, like meaty spareribs, crisp fried catfish and craft beer on tap. The flawless collards and the ribeye sandwiches, made from pit-smoked steak sliced thin and piled high on soft rolls, are must-try sleepers.
—Robert F. Moss

Royal Tern
Seafood
Expensive 
Johns Island. 3005 Maybank Hwy.
(843) 718-3434
theroyaltern.com 
Serving Dinner (Mon.-Sat.)

Photo by Ruta Smith

Set on Johns Island between Wild Olive and The Fat Hen, The Royal Tern is a welcome and well-positioned addition to that existing pair of successful Maybank Highway restaurants. With a focus on fish, the menu offers an aquarium-full of options. Along with a raw bar, there are fried “and chips” platters, elegant small plates and four variations of cooked oysters. Add to that a handful of sandwiches, a half-dozen seafood entrees and a hat trick of wood-fired steaks. The building is also glorious. Outside, it’s effortlessly stylish and would look just as appropriate nestled amongst a row of upscale beachfront estates. Inside, the chic, airy space boasts wood floors and high ceilings adorned with dramatic lights that resemble giant clusters of white grapes. One of the best-looking joints in the area, The Royal Tern offers a hip place to scratch a variety of seafood itches on Johns Island.
—Vanessa Wolf 

Shiki
Seafood
Moderate 
Downtown. 334 E Bay St.
(843) 720-8568 
shikicharleston.com 
Serving Dinner (Mon.-Sat.)

One of downtown’s longest standing restaurants, Shiki delivers fresh sushi rolls, nigiri and more in a cozy, newly renovated dining room, which is set to reopen this summer. Owner Hae Gon “David” Park opened Shiki at 334 E. Bay St. in 2001 after moving to Charleston from New York City. The chef prides himself on sourcing the highest-quality fish and his technique when making rolls, sashimi and nigiri is second to none. Patrons who want to go big can order the chef’s choice “omakase,” which translates to, “I’ll leave it up to you,” in Japanese.

Chef Park will bring out a seemingly endless assortment of sashimi and nigiri bites, allowing guests to try a little bit of everything. For less devout sushi enthusiasts, there are approachable options like tempura shrimp and avocado rolls, teriyaki beef, pork katsu and more. Shiki’s menu hasn’t changed much over the years, but why would it, as the restaurant helps fill a void in a city that has very few sushi-focused restaurants. —Parker Milner  

Slightly North of Broad
New Southern 
Expensive 
Downtown. 192 East Bay St.
(843) 723-3424
snobcharleston.com
Serving Lunch (Mon.-Fri.), Dinner (daily), Weekend Brunch

Slightly North of Broad (SNOB) is the perfect place to take visiting friends for their first taste of Charleston cuisine, for it embodies so much of what makes the city’s dining scene special. Since taking the reins in 2016, executive chef Russ Moore has deftly balanced the restaurant’s traditional dishes with more forward-looking fare. Pristinely fresh seafood gets an elegant Southern touch on plates like New Bedford scallops with tomato ham hock broth or seared tuna topped with crisp fried oysters and tart yellow “mustard Q” sauce. SNOB was a local charcuterie pioneer and a platter of hearty country pate, savory pork rillettes and lush chicken liver mousse is the perfect evening starter. —Robert F. Moss

Stella’s
Greek
Moderate 
Downtown. 114 St. Philip St. (843) 400-0026
stellascharleston.com
Serving Lunch (Mon.-Fri.), Dinner (Mon.-Sat.)

The braised lamb shank at Stella’s is served over brown butter noodles with house shank sauce | Photo by Jonathan Boncek

It’s hard to say what’s most striking about Stella’s on St. Philip Street. Is it the hip, yet boisterous vibe? The large portions at an incredibly reasonable price point? Or is it the vast, authentic and consistently delicious menu? Regardless of your ultimate conclusion, this is a trifecta worth a visit … or five. The grilled octopus and spanikopita are simple perfection, while the saganaki is a visual showstopper and an excuse to pig out on cheese. Stella’s own recipes — namely her calamari and braised lamb shank with No. 5 noodles and brown butter shank sauce, are at once comforting and elevated, testimony to the woman who inspired it all. —Vanessa Wolf

Wild Olive
Italian
Moderate 
Johns Island. 2867 Maybank Hwy.
(843) 737-4177
wildoliverestaurant.com
Serving Dinner (daily)

Right off Maybank Highway sits Wild Olive, chef Jacques Larson’s haven for exquisite Italian fare. Since 2009, it has served as the go-to place for anniversary dinners and reunions with old friends. A comfortable bar greets those looking for a casual bite, but don’t let that relaxed atmosphere deceive you. Larson’s food is anything but. Incredible (and decadent) risotto fritters stuffed with sausage, spinach, Parmesan and mozzarella are a great way to start. And always ask about the specials, of which there are plenty. Larson is a firm believer in local and his conviction permeates everything on the plate.
—Kinsey Gidick

Xiao Bao Biscuit
Asian Fusion
Moderate 
Downtown. 224 Rutledge Ave.
xiaobaobiscuit.com
Serving Lunch, Dinner (Mon.-Sat.)

What started as a pop-up with a devout following eventually found a dedicated shrine much to the delight of all who crave a wide swath of Asian flavors (Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, Thai, Taiwanese) interpreted with fresh Lowcountry ingredients. The dishes are not for the meek or unadventurous; each packs escalating levels of heat. On the gentler scale is the popular okonomiyaki, a Japanese cabbage pancake criss-crossed with drizzles of sriracha and Japanese mayo, then topped with a runny-yolk egg. On the spicy end of the scale is the mapo dofu, whose cubes of tofu incinerate your taste buds with swirls of chili oil, leaving heat seekers crying through tears of gratitude as they lick their plates clean. Cool your palate with a coconut milk or a (nonalcoholic) lemongrass ginger beer. —Allston McCrady

Zero Restaurant + Bar
Modern American
Very Expensive
Downtown. 0 George St. (843) 817-7900
zerorestaurantcharleston.com
Serving Dinner (Tues.-Sun.)

On the grounds of the elegant Zero George Street Boutique Hotel, Zero Restaurant + Bar’s romantic dining room is set in a former carriage house built in 1804. Here, chef Vinson Petrillo whips up innovative multi-course tasting menus with the option of classic wine pairings for $145 or elevated wine pairings for $200. Selections vary with the seasons, but anticipate such treats as lightly grilled mackerel served with foie gras and local citrus, or venison prepared with vadouvan curry and taleggio cheese. —Vanessa Wolf