Stroll between King Street and East Bay Street in downtown Charleston and you will encounter extraordinary restaurants that will tickle your tastebuds with excellent southern cuisine. Alternatively, you can head to the islands for a more chill dining vibe. Select from hip breakfast stops, raucous rooftop bars, neighborhood pubs, and fine dining restaurants. Below, are the best restaurants in Charleston.
Note: Some information in this piece was obtained during a sponsored press trip, but all recommendations are my own.
15 Best Restaurants Charleston SC Has to Offer
Fried Chicken, Fried Green Tomatoes, And Grits
Fried chicken, fried green tomatoes, and grits should be on your personal menu at least once during your stay. These ubiquitous southern classics will have you grinning with pleasure. These soul food classics are served slightly different — just the way mamma made it or the updated cheffy version — but all bursting with delicious state-wide pride and flavor.
1. Circa 1886
The award-winning, fine-dining restaurant, Circa 1886, is the best spot for a luxurious dinner and is easily one of the best restaurants in Charleston. Part of the historic Wentworth Mansion, Circa 1886 serves beautiful and elevated southern food. The chef-driven menu tells a lovely food story taking diners on a focused journey across the state’s foodie landscape and also has a rotating seasonal menu.
Circa 1886’s foie gras appetizer is served with cassava pudding, strawberry jam, and hazelnuts; it simply melts in your mouth. The inspired paring of perfectly-grilled sea scallops resting atop blue corn grits plays against the silky carrot sauce and vanilla bean vinaigrette.
Circa 1886 is perfect for a special occasion celebration. It is also just the spot to enjoy a celebration of exceptional cuisine in one of the best Charleston restaurants.
Pro Tip: Add the well-researched wine pairing option to elevate your dining experience.
2. The Rooftop
Try the Red Moon Margarita to kick start your night. Jalapeno-infused tequila joins forces with Cointreau, blood orange, lime, and sparkling wine for a “let’s get this party started” moment.
Pro Tip: The line at street level waiting for a lift on the small elevator can be long. It moves fairly quickly as guests come and go from the Rooftop.
3. Peninsula Grill
Fine dining at Peninsula Grill offers guests a beautiful setting, fabulous menu, and an extensive wine-by-the-glass menu. It’s the best recipe for a perfect night on the town with friends and family.
Start your evening with a bowl of their silky She Crab Soup followed by one of their renowned steak options. Rib eye, New York strip, porterhouse, and tomahawk — they have all the full-flavor beef cuts. Prepped to perfection, you will love their beef-centric dishes. Be sure to save room for a slice of their famous Ultimate Coconut Cake.
Pro Tip: You can order the Ultimate Coconut Cake and have it shipped across the country.
4. The Crab Shack
Fun and beachy, the Crab Shack on Folly’s Beach is just what you are looking for after a day in the sunshine. All seafood, including She Crab Soup, — all the time (except for the burger option) — completes your coastal Carolina day of fun.
Tuck into the house-made Carolina crab cakes; everyone who bites into one immediately turns into a southerner. Wash it down with their Charleston Rum Runner where Captain Morgan, Cruzan Coconut, and Myers dark rum meld with a touch of fruit juice just to keep it “healthy!”
Pro Tip: No reservations are accepted at the Crab Shack. It is a first-come, first-serve restaurant.
5. Jasmine Porch
When you find yourself exploring coastal Charleston, Kiawah Island is a beautiful spot for lunch and a walk along the beach. Jasmine Porch is anchored in the Sanctuary, a luxurious oceanfront resort. Soaring ceilings, rich wood paneling, and garden views create a casual elegance reminiscent of an earlier time.
The way they fry their green tomatoes with benne seeds, creamed corn, and chow-chow take this classic dish into the 21st century. For a heartier fair, order the grilled cheese and heirloom tomato soup duo. The hefty sandwich is all about the American and Muenster cheese — there is a lot of cheese on this luncheon plate.
Pro Tip: You need a pass to drive past the guard shack to the Sanctuary. It is located on a private section of the island. Simply let the guard know you are heading to Jasmine Porch for lunch and you will be on your way to an elegant midday repast.
6. High Cotton
If you find yourself strolling along East Bay Street and hunger pangs strike, pop into High Cotton and see if you can grab a table. Reservations are often required, but it is always a good idea to ask for an open table.
Start with the roasted beet salad dressed with creamy burrata, Fresno chilis, horseradish, pistachios, and pomegranate molasses for an upgraded remake on this classic starter. Beautiful steaks and seafood are the star entrées. Their updated take on shrimp & grits includes tasso ham, tomatoes, okra, fennels, and saffron gravy.
Pro Tip: High Cotton has happy hour between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. Order a shrimp roll & bubbles combo for some fancy day drinking and a nosh.
Magnolias is a pretty downtown restaurant offering delectable southern dishes and exemplary service. Old world style and sophisticated elegance meld seamlessly at Magnolias.
The cauliflower and cheese side is a must-have. The cheese sauce is rich and creamy while the cauliflower adds a fresh bite and light feel to the dish. The braised beef short ribs with collards is a delicious and satisfying option that will fuel you up for a walk to Rainbow Row.
A quote from a diner, David Vance: “Pulled pork mustard BBQ is the truth. I’d take a picture, but it’s gone. Get it.”
Other tasty spreads include fried chicken, low country seafood, muscles, pork chops, blue crab bisque, and duck.
Pro Tip: Make your dinner reservations before you leave for your getaway. Magnolias’ tables are scooped up quickly. Alternatively, you can enjoy an early dinner or late lunch with easier-to-secure reservations. Dinner service begins at 4 p.m.
8. Millers All Day
When you want breakfast in the morning, or anytime during the day, Millers All Day has got you covered.
If you desire simply delicious yogurt, granola, and fruit for a healthful start to your busy day, the Millers bowl full will get you off and running. Alternatively, order the classic southern biscuits & gravy, “Millers’ Version” with two eggs, sausage gravy, bacon jam, and pickled okra — add some extra chicken if you like — will leave you happy and satisfied.
Pro Tip: Millers All Day is extremely popular. There can be a line waiting when they open the door at 8 a.m. Plan to arrive early if you are hungry to get a good seat.
9. Bowens Island
Located in the Folly Beach area, Bowens Island Restaurant cooks up amazing local produce and ingredients offering a lowcountry cuisine extravaganza.
Their popular frogmore stew is a play on a lowcountry boil filled with shrimp, sausage, corn on the cob, and potatoes. Order several seafood platters like the shrimp platter and the Fried Oyster Platter then share with your bestie. Or if you prefer your seafood raw they have an extensive oyster bar.
Pro Tip: Bowens Island is super casual, their focus is on delivering amazing fresh seafood for your dining enjoyment.
The most coveted reservation in Charleston is a dinner date at FIG. The ever-changing menu is a cornucopia of finely-crafted cuisine.
The Salad Lyonnaise, a dish of poached egg, duck confit, and sourdough, will satisfy the most discerning diner. The grilled grey triggerfish served with burgundy sweet potato, brussels sprouts, and Siberian kale farrotto is a plated masterpiece.
One of the diners, Nicolas L. said: “The Chicken Liver Pate came out first. Wow! This dish was amazing! The pate was creamy and lightly salty and paired with spicy Dijon mustard, tangy pickles, and crisp brioche bread. It was the perfect combination of flavors and textures.”
Pro Tip: Securing a reservation at FIG requires pre-planning. They accept reservations in advance beginning at 12 p.m., 4 weeks out from your preferred date.
11. Leon’s Poultry And Oyster Shop
Add a “repurposed garage space gone casual dining with a chic uptown vibe” to your dining bucket list. Leon’s Poultry And Oyster Shop is the spot for authentic southern fried chicken. With options from a two-piece chicken dinner to their Big Chicken Platter with sides, Leon’s is perfect for solo dining or feeding the entire gang.
12. Zero Restaurant And Bar
When you don’t know what to order, the chef-driven, multi-course tasting menu with wine pairings takes all the guesswork out of what to eat. The daily menu presents the chef’s take on highlighting the freshest local ingredients available.
13. Little Jack’s
Little Jack’s is an old-fashioned tavern right on upper King Street is perfect for soaking up the Charleston neighborhood restaurant vibe. Little Jack’s offers a southern hunt club feel that works with the menu offerings like their fish and chips with minted pea puree or their Double Tavern Burger.
14. Poe’s Tavern
Poe’s Tavern on Sullivan Island is a fun spot for burgers after a day playing on the beach. Burgers with fun Edgar Allen Poe namesakes like the Pit and the Pendulum with applewood bacon and cheddar cheese on top or the Amontillado piled high with guacamole, jalapeño jack cheese, pico de gallo, and a chipotle sour cream. Poe’s offers their burger options with a beef, chicken, or veggie pattie so everyone can enjoy their favorite burger protein.
Poe’s is one of those places that will become a ritual when visiting Charleston’s coastal waters.
Charleston is home to many fabulous restaurants and Husk is definitely one of them. Offering a Queen Street location, the kitchen at Husk transforms classic southern dishes, elevating them past delicious food to modern culinary masterpieces.
The Deviled Pimento Cheese appetizer is happily dressed with a mouth-watering green tomato relish. While the menu changes frequently, the entrée options are nothing less than spectacular. The fried catfish served with Hoppin’ John, bacon, mustard greens, and topped with tomato gravy is a delicious upscale version of a down-home classic.
Husk is on the pricey side but most diners (including the celebrities that are often seen there) don’t mind.
Downtown Charleston And Beyond
The best restaurants in Charleston deliver a selection of delicious cuisine from elevated southern fare to time-honored classic dishes. Whether you stroll down King Street, East Bay Street, or out to the beaches, the best restaurants in Charleston are just a step away.
Having said that, don’t limit your visit to just dining as there are many other awesome things to do in Charleston.
Not all of your activities in Charleston are going to cost you money as there are numerous totally free things to do there. So, why waste the opportunity?
What Food Is Charleston, South Carolina, Famous For?
Marrying the southern culture Charleston is known for with its eclectic seafood scene, shrimp and grits is Charleston’s most notable food. Taking charge of its Lowcountry cuisine, the town features this dish at several of its restaurants.
What Is The Best Street In Charleston For Restaurants?
A one-stop-shop for both dining and shopping, King Street is the most famous street in Charleston for restaurants. With choices like The Darling Oyster Bar and Charleston Grill, visitors will not go hungry while exploring the downtown area.
Which Restaurants in Charleston Should I Avoid?
You should avoid T-Bonz, Hyman’s Seafood, Bubba Gump Shrimp, Charleston Crab House, and Sticky Fingers. Most of these are not horrible, just not good enough to bother with when there are so many fantastic restaurants in Charleston. In Addition, Poogan’s Porch and 82 Queen are past their prime and living on reputation only.
Where Do Celebrities Hang Out in Charleston, SC?
Husk is one of the exclusive clubs and eateries in Charleston that are loved by celebrities. Famous people frequently dine at these places or show up at private events which are held there. In fact, Bill Murray calls Charleston his home and so do Darius Rucker, Stephen Colbert, and Shepard Fairey.