Black Sesame Crusted Halibut at Félix Cocktails et Cuisine | Photo by Rūta Smith

City Paper contributor Robert Moss wrote, “2020 is a very good time to be eating in the Holy City” in the winter edition of Dish. Moss, like the rest of us, could not have fathomed the hardships Charleston’s food and beverage industry was about to endure when he wrote those words nine months ago. 

We selected each of those 50 restaurants in January for a reason, and the ones that have stuck around on this edition’s list are proving just how nimble, determined and crafty they are. Did you ever think you’d see the day when FIG and The Ordinary would serve lunch? Could you have pictured Edmund’s Oast revamping with a delicious, takeout-friendly menu? Or Xiao Bao Biscuit selling frozen okonomiyaki? 

The days of crowding inside intimate dining rooms are on pause, so places got creative with outdoor seating. Malagon transformed an alley, Felix used a sidewalk and Jackrabbit Filly converted its parking lot. Is it the same? Of course not, but it’s more than we could ever ask for in the midst of a pandemic. 

Remembering the places we lost from last winter’s Top 50 should give us a heightened appreciation for the ones that still stand tall. Nana’s Seafood & Soul closed after 19 years on Line Street. McCrady’s shut the revered space where Sean Brock made a name for himself. Minero will no longer serve cheese-covered burritos and Valentina-doused wings upstairs at 153 East Bay St. 

The five newcomers to this edition have quickly gained footing in Charleston since opening. Babas on Cannon serves all day, putting its own spin on each service. Felix offers its take on French classics, as does NICO, where you’ll find raw bar platters and wood-fired specials. Royal Tern brought a refined seafood-forward concept to Johns Island. And last but not least, there’s Hannibal’s Kitchen, an Eastside soul food spot that’s been churning out crab rice, turkey wings and collards for decades.

This might not be the year of dining we thought it would be, but Moss was right — 2020 is a great time to be enjoying food from local restaurants in Charleston.

As of publication, we’ve noted any temporary hours or dine-in changes. Please see restaurants for daily updates.

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 new King Street home sits along a quiet stretch of storefronts. But fear not, they’re still boasting the same lineup of New England bivalves and lobstah rolls that were much-lauded at their 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 new walnut bar. Bar vet Teddy Nixon is behind the long bar, shaking up the good stuff, while owners Jesse Sandole and 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’ shrimp | Photo by Rūta Smith
Babas on Cannon 

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

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 goods, 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 flaky sea salt — and the ingredients are always local. Want to get in and out quickly? 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. If you’ve made it this far the secondi course serves up dishes like beefy tomato and red wine braised meatballs with polenta, an Italian take on chicken cordon bleu and sausage and peppers that would make your Nona proud. —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 says, “We wanted to narrow our focus by adding more classical entrees, and Nathan Wentworth has enhanced our wine program by making it all natural, biodynamic wines.” —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 

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 Lunch, Dinner (Wed.-Mon.), Weekend Brunch

Since it moved to a bright, sunny building on Morrison Drive, Butcher & Bee has become 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. It’s safe to say that pretty much anything you order from here will be incredibly creative.
—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 dishes are balanced, ingredient-centric creations, like a delicate charred octopus tossed with chorizo croquettes, served with smooth adobo aioli, while contemporary spins on Southern cuisine are bold and satisfying. 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 (@cheznouscharleston) 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. On my last visit each of the courses balanced a dark, heavier dish with a brighter fish-based option, and each was splendid, though in very different ways.
—Robert F. Moss

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 there’s a little heavier fare, too, like 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

Dave’s Carry-Out 

Soul Food/Seafood

Cheap 

Downtown. 42-C Morris St. (843) 577-7943

Servingt 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 $8 for a generous portion of shrimp to $14 for shrimp, fish, scallops and deviled crab. If you want a true local experience, opt for the lima beans and rice. It’s meaty and filling. 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 Lunch, Dinner (daily)

The Neighborhood Dining Group — owners of Husk and Minero — 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 is 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. Grab a seat out on the second floor piazza, order a glass of chilled red wine, and dive in. —Robert F. Moss

Edmund’s Oast

Modern American

Expensive 

Downtown. 1081 Morrison Drive. (843) 727-1145

edmundsoast.com

Serving Lunch, Dinner (Mon.-Sat.), Sun. Brunch

This hip gastropub has a laid-back vibe. There are communal tables, as well as a chef’s counter 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. And $4 happy hour in The Bower when the weather’s nice, well, the price and vibes cannot be beat. —Vanessa Wolf

The Establishment 

MODERN AMERICAN

Very Expensive 

Downtown. 28 Broad St. (843) 789-4028

establishmentchs.com 

Serving Dinner (Mon.-Sat.)

With something of a Midas touch, everything about The Establishment works: Buzzy, popular and teeming with energy around the bar, service remains personal and intimate. The space itself feels historic, with high ceilings and portions of artfully exposed brick, yet the large, digital aquarium and chef’s table dining area are fresh and contemporary. Fun meets foundation: There’s undeniable chemistry from the start. The ‘Taste’ portion of the menu features chilled local shrimp, crispy duck confit and chilled deckle. The entree selection, ‘Savor,’ veers seafood heavy — dive in with the swordfish, served with fresh-shelled beans, salsa verde and brown butter. —Vanessa Wolf

Photo by Rūta Smith
Estadio 

Tapas
TEMP CLOSED
Moderate
Downtown. 122 Spring St
estadio-chs.com
Serving Dinner (daily), Weekend Brunch 

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. In normal times, 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. Check out the beer list for what’s on tap, and you’ll find plenty of local brews to keep your inner beer snob happy. —Kinsey Gidick

Fat Hen

French
Moderate
Johns Island. 3140 Maybank Hwy. 
(843) 559-9090
thefathen.com
Serving Dinner (Tues.-Sat.) 

Folks in the know, especially those from Kiawah, head for this adorable cottage on Johns Island nightly for sumptuous dinners. The hyper-local menu includes favorites like fried green tomatoes with pimento goat cheese; the shrimp and crab with spicy hoppin’ John; coq au vin half-chicken; and the braised short rib with veal broth, red wine, mashed potatoes and spinach. End with a pluff mud pie, passion fruit creme brulee, or local seasonal ice cream, then treat your food coma to a peaceful moment beneath the nearby ancient Angel Oak, said to be the oldest living tree east of the Mississippi. —Allston McCrady

Félix Cocktails et Cuisine 

French
Moderate 
Downtown. 550 King St.
(843) 203-6297
felixchs.com
Serving Lunch (Mon.-Fri.), Dinner (daily), Weekend Brunch 

Front and center on its swanky website — well, right below the martini-quaffing frog GIF — Félix Cocktails et Cuisine declares its intent to serve “creative cocktails and small plates, all with the flare of today’s Paris.” Félix has nailed its stylish intent with respect to a hip, European vibe. The food is polished. The decor is suitably chill, while effortlessly chic, and accompanied by jazzy music playing softly overhead. Félix’s food is predominantly small portions with an emphasis on familiar French classics like croque monsieur and steak frites. Executive chef Benjamin Simon added a seasonal approach after taking over, giving the restaurant more substantial mains to pair with popular small plates like crab croquettes and chicken liver mousse. Overall, Félix itself is resolutely thoughtful and perfectly executed. Whether you’re looking to sample the broad array of custom cocktails, share some small plates or simply enjoy a conversation in an environment in which you can actually hear yourself talk, it’s a welcome addition to the Upper King scene. —Vanessa Wolf 

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, pitmaster/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. Pristine local seafood makes for fresh, satisfying plates, like pan-roasted flounder served over tender braised beans and thick mashed potatoes. 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

goat.sheep.cow.north

Cafe
TEMP CLOSED
Moderate 
Downtown. 804 Meeting St.
(843) 203-3118
goatsheepcow.com
Serving Lunch, Dinner (Mon.-Sat.)

Although arguably goat.sheep.cow.north’s menu is more about curating than cooking, the varied cheese, charcuterie and combo boards showcase those impressive skills well. Each board represents products from each of the animals and provides a thorough smattering of textures — expect a solid bang for your cheese-loving buck. Those looking for something more substantial might appreciate the signature grilled cheese, muffuletta, or any one of the special daily sandwiches. The welcoming, refined space features an extensive wine list, with dozens of by-the-glass and whole bottle options, as well as a beer and cider selection. —Vanessa Wolf

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

Hannibal’s Kitchen

Soul Food
Inexpensive  
Downtown. 16 Blake St.
(843) 722-2256
hannibalkitchen.com
Serving Lunch and Dinner (Mon.-Sat.)

This family-owned and operated soul food kitchen has “been feeding the soul of the city” since opening on the Eastside in 1985. When founder Ronald “Hannibal” Huger died in 2005, his son L.J. took over the restaurant located at Blake and Drake streets, passing it on to his daughters Sani and Felicity. They continue to serve a lunch and dinner crowd affordable Southern staples with an emphasis on seafood. Try shark steak or the famous crab rice — both are less than $9 — with a side of collards or okra soup. There’s also fried chicken, barbecue ribs and oxtail with rice. Hannibal’s is a must for those searching for a taste of the Lowcountry.  —Parker Milner

Husk Restaurant

New Southern
Expensive 
Downtown. 76 Queen St.
(843) 577-2500
huskrestaurant.com
Serving Lunch (Mon.-Sat.), Dinner (daily), Sun. 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.-Sat.), Sun. Brunch

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. The pork and cabbage dumplings are where Yangtze meets Ganges, with a rich mix of pork, cabbage, ginger and coriander encased inside the perfectly cooked pasta wrapper. Topped with a pungent chinkiang vinegar and Lao Gan Ma chili crisp sauce, the first bite is like suddenly finding something you hadn’t even realized was missing. 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 Lunch, Dinner (Mon.-Sat.) 

Set next door to Charleston Pour House in the space previously occupied by The Lot, Kwei Fei’s interior looks the same-ish, except now the chairs are yellow and you’ll find some Asian knick knacks scattered about. But the updates are the only understated thing about Kwei Fei. Pretty much nothing else — from the food to the music to the chef himself — can be described as subtle. Kwei Fei’s menu is an equally wild ride, offering 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. Hot, sour, salty, sweet: everyone’s here. 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 Dinner (daily)

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

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. The infinitely tender meat has a salty, peppery crust and shines with melted fat. But there’s also juicy smoked turkey, pulled pork, pork ribs and Texas sausage called “hot guts” available and priced by the pound (or hot guts by the link). 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

The Macintosh 

Modern American
Expensive 
Downtown. 479B King St.
(843) 789-4299
themacintoshcharleston.com
Serving Dinner (daily), Sun. Brunch

Back in 2011, the Macintosh was among the wave of pioneering Upper King restaurants that helped transform Charleston into an international dining destination. An enduring passion for local ingredients prepared with the focus and discipline of a classical kitchen keeps it vigorous and relevant today. Intensely beefy ribeye deckle, flawlessly tender ricotta gnudi and luxurious bone marrow bread pudding are now long-running favorites of the restaurant’s regulars. Chef-partner Jeremiah Bacon keeps things moving forward, too, with seasonal plates that highlight the freshest local seafood and produce: seared flounder with Jimmy Red grits, chilled shrimp with tigre de leche and mint, a medley of brassicas with romesco and mustard. An innovative in-house seafood charcuterie program incorporates heads and trimmings into tempting morsels like wreckfish rillettes and fish bologna, the perfect foundation for a stunning seafood slider. —Robert F. Moss

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. A thick wedge of monkfish tail has a smooth, buttery bite beneath its golden brown sear, heightened by the unexpected richness of roasted chicken butter sauce. 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’ and probably owing in part to all the potatoes, 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
TEMP CLOSED
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. Don’t miss the delicate tuna crudo with buttery pine nuts and Calabrian chile vinaigrette. Negroni aficionados will appreciate the choice of seven innovative variations. —Vanessa Wolf 

Photo by Jonathan Boncek
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. Take his bouillabaisse de Marseille, which incorporates local fish, shrimp, mussels, clams and scallops, resulting in a perfect rendition of the famous French dish. 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 “Geechie frites” (long strips of fried polenta) to a crispy duck with with carrot farrotto, cipollini and chermoula. Fluffy ricotta gnocchi are topped with an intensely flavorful short rib ragu with tender strands of beef in a pool of reddish orange tomato-tinged jus. 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. Today such concepts are a dime a dozen (on the half-shell, please). But The Ordinary was the first of its kind, and, I would argue, still the best. While regularly packed and filled with an upbeat ambiance, the high ceilings diffuse the jovial noise to a pleasant buzz. 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

Purlieu

French
TEMP CLOSED
Expensive 
Downtown. 237 Fishburne St. (843) 300-2253
purlieucharleston.com
Serving Dinner (Tues.-Sat.)

Stepping into this intimate, relaxed Westside bistro is almost like being transported to a Parisian neighborhood. Chef John Zucker’s seasonal menu offers traditional French dishes like escargot and Parisian herb gnocchi, plus reimagined classics such as mache salad with duck prosciutto or a refined bouillabaisse filled with local seafood. The warm, cozy space is filled with reclaimed wood ceilings and tile walls, providing a distinctly European ambiance. The carefully chosen wine list only adds to the experience. —Vanessa Wolf

Renzo

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

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. Also, Renzo offers one of the area’s largest selections of nat 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. Now, with a second restaurant open in Birmingham and two more in the works, Rodney Scott is exporting South Carolina-style whole hog cookery across the entire South. —Robert F. Moss

Royal Tern

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

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 Hwy 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. The interior incorporates a number of current trends, including an open kitchen, marble-topped bar and miles of banquette seating. 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 

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. Dishes like grilled Carolina quail stuffed with dirty rice which delivers a “wow”-inducing burst of richness from the very first bite. Or pristinely fresh seafood that 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

Sorghum & Salt 

Modern American
Expensive 
Downtown. 186 Coming St.
(843) 872-6393
sorghumandsalt.com
Serving Dinner (Tues.-Sun,)

Situated in the space that once held the beloved Two Boroughs Larder, chef Tres Jackson’s Sorghum & Salt has more than enough chops to fill those shoes. Tenaciously fresh and unapologetically creative, Jackson’s cuisine offers a mix of familiar and foreign in ways that are fresh and unexpected. The menu is as continually in flux as the ever-shifting Lowcountry weather, but don’t miss a chance to try the superlative salt-roasted beets or sweet, yet savory Ambrose Farms radishes. An obvious labor of love, anticipate thoughtful, provocative food prepared and served by people who are clearly proud of it. —Vanessa Wolf

Stella’s braised lamb | File photo by Jonathan Boncek
Stella’s

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

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

Photo by Rūta Smith
Tu 

Asian Fusion 
Moderate 
Downtown. 430 Meeting St.
tu-charleston.com 
Serving Dinner (Thurs.-Sat.)

The culinary team behind Xiao Bao Biscuit continues to push the boundaries at Tu, a Meeting St. eatery that got a new focus and menu in August. Tu 3.0, as executive chef Josh Walker calls it, serves Asian-inspired street food, lending itself to outdoor dining on the restaurant’s expanded covered patio. Lemongrass pork satay, samosa with local peaches and bao buns with pork vindaloo are just a few of the dishes Walker has served in the short time since rebranding the restaurant. The crowning jewel of the new menu is the Korean fried chicken, a sandwich featuring a thick, delicately-fried spicy chicken breast with papaya salad inside a doughy bun. Tu’s cuisine is still just as hard to describe in one or two words as it was when the restaurant opened three years ago, but that’s all part of the fun. A meal at Tu has no boundaries; it’s an adventure with dishes from throughout the largest continent in the world, allowing guests to simultaneously learn the differences in the cuisine from each region. It’s quirky, hip, spicy and lively, and you’ll love every minute of it. —Parker Milner

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. A past highlight was a pappardelle with proscuitto, pork and escarole. Larson is a firm believer in local and his conviction permeates everything on the plate. —Kinsey Gidick

Xiao Bao Biscuit

Asian Fusion
Inexpensive 
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
Expensive
Downtown. 0 George St.
(843) 817-7900
zerogeorge.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 tasting menus with the option of four or seven courses, plus optional wine pairings. 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. Hit up happy hour for a craft cocktail; whether wielding a lead pipe or the candlestick, the bourbon-based Colonel Mustard is sure to pack a punch. —Vanessa Wolf