It’s time for the summer update of the Eater 18, your answer and ours to any question that begins, “Can you recommend a restaurant?” This group of restaurants is part of the city’s intrinsic cultural tapestry — the places that have impacted or represent the constantly evolving culinary canon of Charleston. Ultimately, Eater Carolinas’ list showcases the restaurants that make dining in the Lowcountry memorable during this unique moment; in 2022, these businesses are still reshaping what it means to serve communities under conditions of uncertainty. Removal from the Eater 18 does not mean a restaurant isn’t still great and won’t return in the future, but allows for new additions, keeping the 18 fresh, inclusive, and geographically representative.Read More
18 Essential Restaurants in Charleston
Where to find plates of smoky pulled pork, spicy Thai dishes, and crunchy fried shrimp
Chinese-American restaurant Jackrabbit Filly comes from the minds behind the super sought-after food truck Short Grain. Corrie and Shuai Wang bring the flavors of Shuai’s Chinese family to the menu with some Japanese and American influences thrown in. Many of the offerings conjure takeout menu comfort food vibes, like fried rice with ham and pineapple or pork and cabbage dumplings. The chirashi bowl is a solid lunch choice and brunch offers one of the area’s only dim sum menus.
Established in 1979, iconic soul food stop Bertha’s Kitchen is known for its fried chicken, fish, and sides, like slow-simmered lima beans. Tourists and locals in search of Southern comfort make the trek to the big turquoise house in North Charleston to take in the dishes established by the late founder Albertha Grant, like smothered pork chops and oxtails. Bertha’s has even drawn its fair share of critical acclaim. In 2017, the restaurant took home the James Beard Award for America’s Classic.
Pitmaster John Lewis brought the best-ever brisket to Charleston by way of Austin, and it’s been a hit since day one. The airy dining room is unlike any other barbecue space — it’s clean and modern with several nods to Texas and Mexico, including an 8-foot longhorn head mounted on the wall and imported Oaxacan tile on the service counter. Some of the most popular dishes include the hot guts (sausage links), fatty brisket, green chili corn pudding, and ultra-moist turkey slices.
Rodney Scott's BBQ
James Beard-winning pitmaster Rodney Scott brought whole hog barbecue to Charleston by way of Hemingway, South Carolina, and it became an instant classic. Settle into a red booth at the North Central restaurant and order smoky pulled pork with a hint of vinegar or a comforting ribeye sandwich — don’t forget the collards and cornbread. There are plenty of picnic tables outdoors and takeout is easy at Rodney Scott’s BBQ. Everyone should leave with a bag of skins for snacking later on.
Restaurateurs Erik Hutson and Nayda Friere (of hip bar Faculty Lounge) opened North Central spot Renzo to feel like a party every night — the best kind of party, a pizza party. The gold embellished bar takes up half the room, with views of the kitchen and Friere’s extensive collection of natural wines. The booths are usually full of groups sharing the creative wood-fired pizzas, like the Cheli with lamb sausage, feta, honey, and za’atar. For non-pie items, the gnudi in a roasted tomato vinaigrette is a standout choice.
Breezy French restaurant Maison highlights the precision and craft of chef Vandy Vanderwarker (formerly of the Ordinary). The seasonal menu is likely to offer dishes spanning from steak tartare and mussels bourride to dry-aged duck. Regardless, the plating here is beautiful enough to give pause on any Instagram feed. For a deal, customers should stop in for the $5 champagne happy hour and stay for dinner.
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Tucked away in the Eastside neighborhood, this Lowcountry legend has served classic Charleston dishes since 1985. Far off the tourist path on Blake Street, try Gullah Geechee cuisine staples like crab rice, lima beans with smoked turkey neck bones, okra soup, and local shark. Open for lunch and dinner, this casual spot meets the need for Lowcountry flavors in a convenient all-day format.
Leon's Oyster Shop
Combine fancy champagne, cheap beer, fried chicken, and a casual raw bar — all housed in a retrofitted auto body shop — and you get Leon’s Oyster Shop. The menu has plenty of salads, like the iceberg stack covered in buttermilk dressing, for the lunch crowds and soft serve for the kids. The owners put a lot of thought into every detail, so go marvel at the wondrous interiors of the former auto body shop, full of custom art and thrift store finds, in between chargrilled oysters.
Cannonborough/Elliotborough restaurant Chubby Fish is tucked away from the normal downtown cluster of eateries, so it almost feels like a secret when diners find it. The sailor-themed dining room is always packed with customers looking to discover what chef James London has created with the day’s fresh catch. Wahoo crudo, poached black grouper, and grilled oysters with lamb sausage round out the menu and are worth the wait (Chubby Fish doesn’t take reservations, so expect a wait).
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At this rustic, romantic French destination, chef Jill Mathias serves a concise selection of two appetizers, two entrees, and two desserts. The staff posts the menu daily on Instagram, but it’s usually a safe bet to grab a table without knowing what plates will delight the dining room that day. Recent offerings included seared trout with creamy fennel, a crab and melon salad, and a lavender custard to round out the meal.
Spring Street restaurant Wild Common is a tasting menu restaurant for people who don’t normally like tasting menus. It’s not stuffy or pretentious, but rather a chill atmosphere full of light installations, art, and vegetation — a place that makes it easy to relax into the four-course meal at $85 a person. Four courses may not sound like much, but the first course, “Bites,” includes substantial samples of rich chicken shio ramen, crab rice with kimchi, and chicken har gao. For those really wanting to indulge, chef Orlando Pagán can include a caviar supplement served atop a layered potato cake crisped in duck fat.
Xiao Bao Biscuit
Asian soul food spot Xiao Bao Biscuit was one of a kind when it opened on Spring Street in 2012. The kitchen offers items not commonly seen in downtown Charleston, like okonomiyaki covered in “pork candy” and the extra spicy mapo tofu. The menu pulls inspiration from China, Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam, so there’s always something new and unexpected to sample.
The little corner fish shack is a laid-back stop off the hectic hustle of King Street; as its name implies, the kitchen is very adept at the carryout game. For years, this corner shop has consistently served up big plates of crisp, golden-fried fresh catch and fixin’s. Those in the know pair the buttery flounder with a side of creamy lima beans and rice.
Mike Lata and Adam Nemirow opened FIG in 2003, and the Ansonborough restaurant continues to be a top destination for pristinely executed plates in Charleston. Go for innovative takes on seasonal produce, like the highly anticipated tomato tarte tatin, which appears each summer, and always opt for the chicken liver pate or the ricotta gnocchi topped with lamb bolognese. Make a reservation far in advance for one of the white-clothed tables or go right at 5 p.m. to grab a seat at the bar.
167 Raw Oyster Bar
Perpetually packed seafood restaurant 167 Raw showcases the best that the ocean has to offer. The dining room feels like a party with a full room of friends and families enjoying plenty of cold frosé, oysters on the half shell, baked crab dip, and rich lobster rolls. 167 Raw doesn’t take reservations, so sign into the queue and take a walk around Charleston while waiting for the restaurant to text.
Combine Peruvian roast chicken, oysters on the half shell, inventive hot dog combinations, and a few surprises along the way to come up with the unique menu at James Island spot Bar George. Here, diners can eagerly expect the unexpected from the kitchen and the bar. The cocktail list ranges from a yuzu dirty martini to a shot of banana-flavored Jameson with a Miller High Life pony. It’s no surprise, then, that no matter what night you land, you’ll find a fun time at Bar George.
Charleston was severely lacking in Sichuan options before chef David Schuttenberg came to town via multiple venerated kitchens in New York. His restaurant Kwei Fei brings the heat on James Island to adoring fans looking for lamb dumplings, spicy noodles, and mapo tofu. Order several dishes, like dan dan noodles and lamb dumplings, because leftovers are just as good the next day.
The Obstinate Daughter
Visitors to Sullivan’s Island can dine on wood-fired pizza, filling pasta, and fresh seafood by the ocean in a stylish, nautical-themed dining room. The Obstinate Daughter offers a bright space to spend the lunch, brunch, or dinner hour; the menu includes the signature William Moultrie cocktail made from local gin and key lime juice, oysters on the half shell, and a sumptuous ricotta gnocchi with short rib ragu.