8 neighborhood restaurants that Charlestonians love

At Sorghum & Salt, a vegan-friendly restaurant in Cannonborough-Elliotborough, the menu changes daily. | Credit: Ruta Smith

Across the Lowcountry, you can find dozens of mediocre shrimp and grits plates. But to really know—and love—a city like Charleston, you have to eat where the locals do.

New American food shines at a versatile, family-owned joint in Isle of Palms. In downtown Charleston, a 15-year-old Mediterranean stalwart wins local hearts for top-notch tagliatelle Bolognese. Though it only opened in 2021, an Indian-inspired Cannonborough-Elliotborough spot already earned neighborhood gem status for its innovative fusion plates and signature okra negroni.

These Charleston restaurants happily serve tourists. But they’ve persisted thanks to strong local support. Read on to make a reservation at eight neighborhood favorites right now.

Sorghum & Salt (Cannonborough-Elliotborough)

Most noteworthy restaurants in Charleston patronize local farmers and fishermen, but this Cannonborough-Elliotborough star puts sourcing at the front and center of its operations. The menu changes daily (the best way to experience it is via the four- or six-course tasting menu), and the servers are eager to tell you about where your triggerfish was caught. Over half the menu is vegan (or available in a vegan preparation), and every dish is beautifully presented to highlight the kitchen’s creativity. It’s fancier than your average neighborhood joint, but the white-washed wood interiors set a casual, easygoing tone.

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Indaco (Downtown Charleston)

Wood-fired pizza, cured sausages, and hand-crafted pasta at Indaco, an Italian standard setter in downtown Charleston. | Credit: Andrew Cebulka

It’s easy to forget that seemingly ubiquitous restaurant concepts, such as the open kitchen and farm-to-table menus, once felt novel and exciting. Indaco’s approach to casual but refined Italian food has served as a template for other restaurateurs since 2013. Fortunately, the rustic-chic spot continues to shine. Its fig pizza, adorned with caramelized onions, prosciutto, and gorgonzola, leaves a distinct flavor memory. The venison osso bucco over polenta is a perfect base for a night of bar hopping on King Street. Weekend brunch is especially popular—if you can, reserve a table on the patio a week or two in advance.

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The Refuge (Isle of Palms)

When summer crowds descend on the Isle of Palms, residents know to rely on this strip-mall spot where the serene dining room reflects the restaurant’s name. In the morning, the Refuge is a coffee shop with an impressive breakfast spread that hits all the marks, from inventive Benedicts to stellar shrimp and grits. Lunch, available during the same hours as breakfast, is all about hand-held classics such as signature Reubens and crab cake sandwiches. After 5 pm, the Refuge transforms into a fine-ish dining establishment. Must-tries include the cioppino (shellfish stew) and the Lowcountry etouffee.

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Coterie – Charleston (Downtown Charleston)

Coterie quickly became an adored neighborhood bistro after opening in 2021, courtesy of its Indian-inspired dishes. | Credit: Coterie

When this Indian-inspired restaurant opened in 2021, it signaled a sea change for Charleston’s dining scene. Despite all of the national accolades the city’s restaurants have earned, they’ve long lacked international flavors. Thanks to recent openings including Jackrabbit Filly, Pink Bellies, and, of course, Coterie, that’s no longer the case. Set in Cannonborough-Elliotborough, Coterie also fills the role of neighborhood bistro and watering hole. Locals sip innovative cocktails, such as the signature okra negroni, and gather over fusion dishes including country captain tikka and tandoor-spiced steak.

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The Kingstide (Daniel Island)

This Daniel Island destination draws regulars for its wraparound porches and open-air deck, made for happy hours and sunset views. People also return for its wood-fired grill staples: Oysters Rockefeller, prepped with hollandaise, bacon, and breadcrumbs, are among the city’s best. If you’re with a crowd, splurge on the signature seafood tower (oysters, clams, shrimp, crab). If you’re just grabbing a bite with drinks, don’t overlook the trout Reuben, brought to life with pickled cabbage and caraway.

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Muse Restaurant (Downtown Charleston)

Muse, which opened in 2007, feels like the old guard in Charleston’s dynamic dining scene. Its success lies in a combination of dependability and creativity. Dining rooms in the historic Society Street home take their inspiration from Pompeii’s Villa of the Mysteries, with bold colors summoning an old world vibe. Staples including merguez (lamb) sausage and tagliatelle Bolognese complement seasonal fish and the always-available flash-fried sea bass. With 75 wines served by the glass, pairing options are endless. Tucked off King Street, Muse expertly serves both a loyal contingent of walk-to-dinner locals and an ever-changing stream of visitors.

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Neon Tiger (Downtown Charleston)

Omnivores shouldn’t fear the Neon Tiger, an all-vegan restaurant that opened in 2021. The deeply innovative food that emerges from this kitchen serves as a window into what’s possible when animal proteins aren’t an option. A Philly cheesesteak (made with black pepper and Dijon seitan) or a “Big Buffalo Chicken” sandwich aren’t typical vegan options, even at restaurants that cater to their plant-friendly audience. This dimly lit spot (reservations are essential) reminds people that eating vegan doesn’t mean sacrificing. If you don’t tell your meat-loving dining companion, they might not even notice the difference.

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Jalisco Taqueria & Tequila (James Island)

At Jalisco Taqueria & Tequila, daily specials on margaritas and tacos keep James Islanders coming. | Credit: Jalisco Taqueria & Tequila

The building housing this Mexican restaurant has endured nine lives, morphing from an Applebee’s to short-lived concepts such as a budget meat-and-three. Jalisco, which opened in 2020, may be the one that sticks, thanks to local enthusiasm for its mole enchiladas, grilled ribeye carne asada, and an array of tacos with veggie options such as mushroom chorizo and avocado with queso fresco. The savory goodness emerges from an open kitchen that fronts a long, welcoming bar, framing the dining room in between. Daily specials on margaritas, tacos, and a salsa trio keep James Islanders coming.

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Stratton Lawrence is a Folly Beach-based food and travel writer, and an enthusiast of oyster roasts, glassy waves, and sunset cocktails.

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