You won’t get overwhelmed with this game plan.
There are few Southern cities with as dizzying food scenes as Charleston. While in the past, it was known as a sleepy, historic town where visitors could find a plate of genuine shrimp and grits, now the peninsula is packed with some of the region’s best restaurants, and new ones are constantly opening.
For a first-timer, or even a returning visitor, it can be a bit overwhelming trying to decide where to spend precious vacation days. This list mixes classic and current favorites so whether you’re strolling on King Street at breakfast or driving by Hampton Park during lunchtime, you’ll always be able to find an option.
FIG: While you might have to plan your trip a couple of months in advance for a reservation at Chef Mike Lata’s FIG, it’s one completely worth scheduling your trip around. From the Heirloom Tomato Tatin that has its own fan club to the expertly prepared seafood and local produce, there’s a reason even locals still get excited to visit.
Minero: Hidden upstairs on East Bay Street, Chef Sean Brock’s Minero combines thoughtful Mexican dishes from handmade corn tortillas using locally sourced corn to Rancho Gordo beans and roasted shrimp tacos with a casual, no-reservations-needed vibe.
Xiao Bao Biscuit: The Okonomiyaki (a Japanese-inspired cabbage pancake dish) at this colorful pan-Asian cafe inside an old service station still haunts our travel editor’s dreams. Their craft cocktail menu is inspired and affordable, a combination that’s hard to come by.
McCrady’s Tavern: Recently reimagined, McCrady’s has transformed into two restaurants, a tasting menu-only side, and The Tavern, an approachable, cozy gastropub with Franco-American staples done exceptionally well. Looking for a steak or oysters? Make your way down the alley off East Bay Street to its hidden entrance.
Zero Restaurant + Bar: Inside a historic home circa 1804 turned boutique inn, Zero George, the property’s restaurant makes for a worthwhile way to splurge at dinner.
Chez Nous: A locally beloved bistro, their courtyard is a catbird seat within the historic downtown. The menu might be as small as the restaurant’s interior (in the bottom of a historic home as well), but it changes daily with offerings like snapper in garlic broth and raspberry mousse.
Hominy Grill: A charleston staple, The Hominy Grill was one of the city’s first uber popular restaurants and still draws crowds from breakfast till dinner for their shrimp and grits and the Charleston Nasty Biscuit, a fried chicken breast, cheddar cheese and sausage gravy on a house-made bisuit.
Little Jack’s Tavern: Experience the burger that has been hyped as “life-changing” by even some of the most jaded foodies. Owned by Brooks Reitz, founder of Jack Rudy Cocktail Co., the drink menu leans classic with side cars and martinis.
Butcher & Bee: Originally billed as a sandwich shop, Butcher & Bee has grown into a full-blown farm-to-table spot with the same comfortable atmosphere, with the addition of plates of grilled quail with braised field peas, tempura-fried okra, and a peach harissa glaze. The fried chicken sandwiches are evergreen delicious.
Martha Lou’s Kitchen: A Soul Food pilgrimage site, Martha Lou’s is hard to miss with millennial pink walls (painted before it was the cool color) and a mural of Martha Lou Gadsden in pearls. Martha Lou still serves her lowcountry specialties like fried fish, red rice, and lima beans. Do not skip dessert.
Workshop: A micro food hall, Workshop makes satisfying the cravings of your travel companions easy with stalls serving everything from New York-style pizza to Indian and Vietnamese cuisine. Make sure to grab coffee at the Instagram-worth Bad Wolf complete with a bright blue espresso machine.
Bowen’s Island Restaurant: Near Charleston’s Folly Beach, Bowen’s Island has been serving shrimp, crab cake, and oyster platters to locals and visitors since 1946. Perch yourself early on the deck for a sunset view.
The Obstinate Daughter: Although it’s a bit of a drive off Charleston’s main peninsula, the Obstinate Daughter makes for a satisfying incentive to venture out on Sullivan’s Island. The menu is mainly Italian with Lowcountry details like Geechie Frites, fried polenta sourced from nearby Geechie Boy Mill.
Breakfast and Brunch
The Park Cafe: A hidden gem near Hampton Park, this houseplant-dotted spot serves fresh, veggie-focused breakfast and brunch items including an avocado toast that will make the cynics smile, a curried egg scramble, and a nutella waffle for the kids (or you with a drizzle of Strawberry-St. Germaine coulis).
The Glass Onion: A West Ashley pioneer, the Glass Onion makes up for its out-of-the-way location with comforting classics made with fresh, local ingredients. Head there for Saturday Brunch and order a pimento cheese omelette or Carolina Crab Rice.
167 Raw: The line might be off putting at this closet-sized raw bar, but there’s a reason for it. The ceviche is one of the best ways to taste the freshness of the local catches, but for those who prefer cooked seafood, the fish tacos might be the best in the city.
The Ordinary: Mike Lata’s seafood outpost further down King Street offers opulent towers of chilled crab claws and shrimp inside a former bank with massive arched windows. Our favorite seat is at the bar for oyster happy hour.
Lewis BBQ: John Lewis’ new barbecue joint might have traditional touches like butcher paper-lined trays, but this is no roadside stand. Like an elevated mess hall, the white subway-tiled warehouse-sized space also has a courtyard with a picnic tables that are typically covered in pulled pork, potato salad, and green chili corn pudding.
Rodney Scott’s BBQ: Those who used to venture out to Hemingway for a taste of Rodney Scott’s near-mythic whole hog BBQ needn’t venture any further than North King Street where he has set up shop in a former fast food spot.