The City Paper’s list of top seven Italian restaurants in Charleston spans the entire Lowcountry, from downtown to Sullivan’s and Johns Islands. And while you’ll of course find Italian staples, the chefs at these destinations find ways to impart cuisine and flavors from all the regions in Italy. There’s no shortage of options, but we’re here to help narrow down the list with a couple local favorites from our Dish Top 50 Spring 2021 Restaurants.
On the City Paper’s list of top seven Italian restaurants in Charleston, you’ll find a beachfront eatery with the seafood-forward fare to match, a polished, old school dining room with modern takes on Italian pizzas and pastas and so much more. Plus, we added in a couple honorable mentions that are also worth checking out.
So without further ado, here are the City Paper’s top seven Italian restaurants in Charleston.
Mount Pleasant. 976 Houston Northcutt Blvd.
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 the restaurant 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
Coda del Pesce
Isle of Palms. 1130 Ocean Blvd.
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
Downtown. 15 Beaufain St.
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
Downtown. 721 King St.
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
The Obstinate Daughter
Sullivan’s Island. 2063 Middle St.
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 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
Downtown. 384 Huger St.
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. There’s a bagel brunch on Sundays, plus Renzo offers one of the area’s largest selections of nat wine. —Vanessa Wolf
Johns Island. 2867 Maybank Hwy.
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 prosciutto, pork and escarole. Larson is a firm believer in local and his conviction permeates everything on the plate. —Kinsey Gidick
Al Di La
West Ashley. 25 Magnolia Road.
Serving Dinner (Tues.-Sun.)
Mount Pleasant. 1161 Basketweave Dr.
Serving Dinner (Daily)
Fratello’s Italian Tavern
North Charleston. 1050 East Montague Ave.
Serving Lunch, Dinner (Mon.-Sat.)
Downtown. 526 King St.
Serving Dinner (Daily)
James Island. 915 Folly Road.
Serving Dinner (Mon.-Sat.)