Charleston’s 6 hottest restaurant openings of 2023

Pakistani sensation Ma’am Saab took over the site of a revered meat-and-three in May. | Credit: Ma’am Saab
A lunchtime platter featuring saag paneer, cauliflower and potato curry, raita, and basmati rice at Ma’am Saab in Charleston

The vibe has recently shifted in Charleston’s dining scene. Not too long ago, shrimp and grits dominated the city’s menus. But nowadays, the newest and most standout restaurants are serving flavors that are way more diverse.

A glamorous Pakistani restaurant by a locally loved duo took over the site of a former meat-and-three downtown. A lauded chocolatier opened a popular French bistro in West Ashley. Nearby, an acclaimed Chicago chef unveiled an eagerly anticipated fine-dining spot—minus the pretension. 

Charleston’s hottest openings of the year are ambitious, cosmopolitan, and—most importantly—delicious. Read on for a guide to the city’s six hottest restaurant debuts of 2023.

Ma’am Saab (Downtown)

Deep purple lights and a projection screen at Ma’am Saab in Charleston
The sultry, jewel-toned interiors at Ma’am Saab include a projection screen that shows footage from street life in Pakistan. | Credit: Ma’am Saab

No single place symbolizes the evolution of Charleston’s restaurant scene more than Ma’am Saab, a Pakistani restaurant that took over a revered meat-and-three in May. What was once a no-frills diner known for sweet tea and fried chicken is now a jewel-toned room where you can find mango lassi and lamb biryani, and the transformation—led by owners Maryam Ghaznavi and Raheel Gauba—is nothing short of remarkable. Come for flavor-packed Pakistani hits with a dash of Southern charm, and you’ll see why this opulent new place is one of the most buzzed-about newcomers downtown.

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La Bonne Franquette (West Ashley)

A white-tableclothed table topped with mussels and an arugula, cherry tomato, poached shrimp, and smoked salmon salad at La Bonne Franquette in Charleston
Third-generation chocolatier Christophe Paume and his wife Carly Paume opened a quaint French bistro in May. | Credit: Candace Herriott

Charlestonians have always been fans of third-generation chocolatier Christophe Paume’s hand-painted truffles and pastries at his namesake shop in Ansonborough. So when Paume and his wife Carly Paume opened a French spot in May, locals flocked here. The quaint restaurant quickly scored neighborhood gem status for its sunny patio and simply prepared bistro classics like steak frites, croque monsieur, and escargot. Paume flexes his dessert muscles on La Bonne’s brunch menu, so head to this charming newcomer on a weekend if you want to dig into the sweet treats he’s built his career on.

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Bearcat (West Ashley)

Charleston first heard about Bearcat in 2020 when acclaimed Chicago chef George Kovach was experimenting with pop-ups around town. But a permanent version landed in West Ashley in May, where Kovach brings MICHELIN firepower from restaurants like Elizabeth and Band of Bohemia to a modern American menu here. Stay tuned for a full chef’s tasting menu, but in the meantime, feast on creative New American dishes like Berkshire pork tenderloin with apple hoisin and wood-fired oysters with wagyu fat. Kovach’s giving Charleston a unique fine-dining experience—but without any of the fuss. 

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The Habit (Downtown)

Peacock wallpaper and hanging lanterns at The Habit in Charleston
Crowds fill one of the many bar areas at The Habit, a multi-tiered party paradise on East Bay Street. | Credit: The Habit

When this multi-tiered party paradise landed on East Bay Street in September, it turned heads for revitalizing a part of Charleston that used to be the city’s nightlife headquarters (until Upper King Street took over). The Habit is a unique all-day dining destination complete with live music and burlesque performances. Its Art Deco interiors—gilded mirrors, peacock wallpaper, neon signs—have plenty of Instagrammable backdrops for the see-and-be-seen crowd, plus cozy corners for more private conversations. But its most popular perch is the rooftop bar where you can sip a killer dirty martini, dip fried chicken bites into ranch caviar dip, and take in delicious Charleston Harbor views. 

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Bintü Atelier (East Side)

It’s fitting that Bintü Atelier’s opening coincided with the debut of Charleston’s stunning International African American Museum in July. The Black-owned, African-inspired restaurant shows the deep connection between Southern and African cuisine. Owner Bintou N’Daw’s petite spot in the East Side—a historic Black neighborhood—dishes up West African dishes like groundnut stew (mafé), pepper soup, and jollof, a precursor to Charleston red rice. Since debuting, it’s quickly expanded from a takeout-only operation to a full-service restaurant with a sought-after outdoor patio and a neighboring cottage for dining. The rave reviews and votes of confidence from press highlight that Bintü Atelier is a much-needed addition to Charleston, and one that celebrates the often overlooked contributions of the city’s Black community.

Beautiful South (Cannonborough)

David and Tina Schuttenberg, the geniuses behind Sichuan superstar Kwei Fei (Eater Charleston’s Restaurant of the Year in 2019), debuted a new Chinese restaurant serving less fiery food in August. The restaurant’s warehouse setting is splashed in shades of blue, complete white and cobalt ceramic art pieces. But you’re here for the reimagined southern Chinese food, which includes a glorious crab rangoon—less fried dumpling and more whipped dip with fried wontons—and green beans sprinkled with tofu, olives, and mustard greens. Beautiful South takes familiar Chinese dishes and remixes them, and that’s one of the major reasons it’s taken Charleston’s restaurant scene by a storm.

Tried them all? Check out other options here.

Stephanie Barna is a food writer based in Charleston, SC. As the former editor of Charleston City Paper, she has chronicled the Charleston food scene for two decades and has been to every single Charleston Wine + Food Festival since it started. You can follow her dining exploits (and—fair warning—her Weimaraner’s misadventures) on Instagram @stef_barna.

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