Charleston’s 12 Greatest Restaurants

Welcome to The Greats, a series on the restaurants around the country that define their cities. Here now, a guide to the Charleston Greats.

In a city where dinner reservations outweigh historic tours on many travelers’s itineraries, there’s a high bar for restaurants. These dozen establishments—some city stalwarts, some newer entrants—demonstrate the constant emphasis on innovation required to succeed and stand out in Charleston. They define and propel Lowcountry cuisine to new heights, use the city’s culinary heritage as a springboard for vibrant and inspiring menus, and weave in influences from overseas. These are the Charleston Greats. 

Husk (Downtown)

Credit: Andrew Cebulka

Say you’re from Charleston, and folks are likely to comment on the city’s dynamic restaurant scene. That wasn’t always the case, and Husk was the harbinger of a turning tide. James Beard Award-winning chef Sean Brock’s Southern passion project drew flocks for its “farmers first, flavors will follow” philosophy when it opened doors in 2010. And though Brock handed over the reins in 2018, this Queen Street landmark, a refurbished Victorian-era home, still adheres to the hyperlocal sourcing—and frequently changing menu—he championed. Hallmarks such as the restaurant’s teriyaki pig ears wrapped in Bibb lettuce and deviled eggs with pickled okra and trout roe prove that much like his predecessor, executive chef Ray England is a proud proponent of regional produce and modern Southern fare.

Dining at the restaurant: Husk is open for indoor and outdoor dining on a garden-clad patio.

Takeout: The restaurant offers delivery through third-party apps.

Anson (Downtown)

Since 1992, this City Market stalwart has dished up dignified Southern seafood in a century-old warehouse. And though its operations ceased for nearly two years after a damaging Christmas Eve fire in 2013, Anson bounced back bravely, continuing to serve coastal favorites such as a hearty she-crab soup, enlivened with a splash of sherry and just the right amount of cream, and the decadent oysters roasted in garlic butter, layered with bread crumbs and parmesan. This is the spot to indulge in a whole flounder or a grouper filet, but in a city where shrimp and grits even makes appearances on beach bar menus, Anson’s bacon-forward take on the classic—the grits are house ground, thanks to an onsite mill—is a cut above the rest.

Dining at the restaurant: Anson is open for indoor dining; the bar is first-come, first-served.

Takeout: To order takeout, call the restaurant directly.

FIG (Downtown)

This Meeting Street mainstay remains relevant and in demand, even years after its kitchen scooped up a duo of James Beard Awards for Best Chef: Southeast (owner and original chef Mike Lata earned the honor in 2009 and current head chef Jason Stanhope scored it in 2015). The seasonal bistro continues to set city standards for ingredient sourcing, wine selection, and service in Charleston. The menu changes daily, determined by what comes through the back door from local boats and farms. From whole black sea bass to lamb tartare, there’s no wrong order. Food Is Good, and at FIG, that mantra remains front and center.

Dining at the restaurant: FIG is open for indoor dining.

Takeout: The restaurant doesn’t offer takeout or delivery.

The Darling Oyster Bar (Downtown)

Credit: Aleece Sophia

This Upper King Street hotspot had a plan when it placed a raw bar inside a glass wall fronting the sidewalk—it’s impossible to stroll by and not be tempted to duck in for a few local oysters. Once seated at the sophisticated bar, framed by exposed brick and black-and-white tiles, you glance at the menu and realize you’re staying for dinner—the lobster and king crab roll just can’t be passed up. By now, it’s 9 pm and you’re in the midst of one of downtown’s most buzzing nightlife scenes. Order a shoulder monkey cocktail (scotch, sage syrup, pineapple), and settle in.

Dining at the restaurant: The Darling Oyster Bar is open for indoor dining.

Takeout: Takeout is available by calling the restaurant directly.

Tempest (Downtown)

For most of the 2010s, dining on Market Street was largely the realm of tourists. Tempest helped change that perception, giving locals an incentive to brave the Market for swordfish confit with bearnaise sauce and ceviche marinated with elderflower poached beets. Tempest is a sibling restaurant to the neighboring Church and Union and has its origins in the Charlotte-based 5th Street Group. These investors know to put the food first—Top Chef veteran Jamie Lynch guides Tempest’s menu, and USA Today gave the restaurant an enthusiastic nod in 2020. Inside, the dining room’s ceiling is a showstopping stained-glass mosaic, but it’s also worth grabbing a table on the patio, where you can slow down with a perfect old fashioned and watch the bustling streetscape.

Dining at the restaurant: Tempest is open for indoor and outdoor dining.

Takeout: Takeout is available by calling the restaurant directly.

Maison (Downtown)

This charming bistro, steered by Vandy Vanderwarker, the former chef de cuisine at the locally loved oyster bar, The Ordinary, is a favorite for Parisian-inspired modern plates such as dry-aged duck or octopus bourguignon. The modestly sized wine list, which leans French, hits all the right notes, including chenin blancs, chardonnays, and cabs carefully selected by vintage. Black-and-white barstools and tiles complement navy blues to set a posh tone, whether you’re dining at the welcoming bar or on the cozy patio.

Dining at the restaurant: Maison is open for indoor and outdoor dining.

Takeout: Takeout is available by calling the restaurant directly.

Butcher & Bee (NoMo)

Credit: Andrew Cebulka

Since 2011, Michael Shemtov’s Mediterranean-leaning spot, set in an expansive, light-filled North Morrison space, has quietly propelled Charleston’s food scene. Diners feast on shareable treats such as dates with bacon and romesco, lamb kebabs, and a veggie-forward mezze selection. In 2022, Butcher & Bee received the accolades it has long deserved, garnering a James Beard nomination for Outstanding Restaurant. Fortunately, the vibe remains unassuming. This is a spot to pop in for a jar of fermented honey, highlighted in the restaurant’s spin on the bee’s knees cocktail crafted with local gin, or an iced Israeli sachlav coffee dusted with cinnamon and coconut.

Dining at the restaurant: Butcher & Bee is open for indoor dining along with al fresco meals on the patio.

Takeout: Takeout and delivery are available through the restaurant’s website or by calling Butcher & Bee directly.

Rodney Scott’s BBQ (King Street)

In rural Hemingway, South Carolina, the Scott family’s pit-style pulled pork has long beckoned motorists far down swampy backroads for a divine taste of this sweet and vinegary meat. After harnessing attention at Charleston events and in publications such as Garden & Gun, Rodney struck out from his parents’ business and took his skills to the city. He opened his laidback downtown Charleston joint and promptly received a Best Chef: Southeast award from the James Beard Foundation in 2018, making him the second pitmaster to win a Beard award. And even as he’s expanded to Alabama and Atlanta, Rodney hasn’t fiddled with what works: slow-cooked whole hog pork, ideal for mopping with sauce, served with white bread. Although diners may be inclined to branch out—the catfish king platter and the spare ribs are also worth writing home about—save it for your second visit.

Dining at the restaurant: The restaurant is open for indoor and outdoor dining.

Takeout: Order online through the website for pick-up; delivery is available via third-party apps.

Coterie (Downtown)

Credit: Coterie

Before opening this India-meets-Lowcountry amalgam in downtown Charleston, Jeremy Buck spent two years gathering ideas for cocktail flavors in south and southeast Asia. That creative fire spreads to the menu, with its origins in New York City pop-ups that Buck hosted with longtime friend and restaurant partner, chef Viraj Borkar. Culture-spanning ingredients such as okra are flavored with cilantro, cumin, and ginger; the humble vegetable also finds its way into a negroni with okra-infused amaro. But Charleston staples aren’t neglected—the shrimp and grits get the Mumbai treatment with coconut oil and mustard. Country Captain, a traditional Southern entrée, is served chopped and spiced with Indian flair. Coterie’s small but welcoming space is just off King Street, and includes a patio laden with greenery.

Dining at the restaurant: Coterie is open for indoor and outdoor dining.

Takeout: Delivery and takeout are available through third-party apps.

Xiao Bao Biscuit  (Cannonborough-Elliotborough)

XBB’s claim to fame may be its okonomiyaki—since 2012, the Japanese cabbage pancake, served with shreds of pork candy and a fried egg, has made many a must-try list in Charleston. Flavor and creativity abound in the restaurant’s pan-Asian approach. Sichuan spices spike the Brussels sprouts and the mapo tofu, tempered by bao buns and sour curries. Spice and sweetness also find balance at the bar through cocktails such as the Sun Wukong, a tasty blend of chile honey, apple, ginger, and tequila. Housed in a former service station, seating can be tight here, but there’s often room at the bar or at one of the inviting picnic tables on Rutledge Avenue.

Dining at the restaurant: Xiao Bao Biscuit is open for indoor and outdoor dining.

Takeout: Pick-up and delivery are available through third-party apps.

Indaco (Downtown)

When Indaco debuted in 2013, the open kitchen was novel—tucking into sweet potato agnolotti while watching the chef prepare your next course was a new indulgence. But now that handmade pastas, open kitchens, and deliberate local sourcing are the norm for restaurants in Charleston, early trendsetter Indaco still hasn’t let off the gas. Chef Mark Bolchoz, a Charleston native, prepares crispy local oysters with aioli and squid ink spaghetti with blue crab meat from the city’s renowned waterways. Cocktails are brought to life with housemade sodas, and the wine list is extensive. Whether you’re eating on the porch or in the bustling dining room, Indaco shines thanks to a menu that insists you try at least a bite of everything on the table.

Dining at the restaurant: Indaco is open for indoor and outdoor dining.

Takeout: Order takeout by calling the restaurant directly.

Mesu (Downtown Charleston)

Though it serves Mexican Japanese fusion plates, this colorful Upper King spot on the ground floor of the Hyatt House hotel isn’t forcing wasabi into tacos. The hybrid offerings stick to elegant and accessible flavors such as habanero edamame, ginger-glazed chicken wings, wisps of orange in the fried pork tacos, and a signature sushi roll with tuna, salsa, and cilantro. Decor is festive and the atmosphere is convivial—order a margarita and a few caramel-filled churros and take in the screen print art by Charleston-bred artist, Shephard Fairey, known for creating the iconic “Hope” portrait for Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign. 

Dining at the restaurant: Mesu is open for indoor dining.

Takeout: Order sushi platters to-go from the restaurant’s website.

Tried them all? Check out other options here.

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