12 romantic restaurants in Charleston for every kind of date

Local bounty features heavily on the seafood-focused menu at Tempest, a nautical dining room in downtown Charleston. | Credit: Tempest

Romance fills Charleston’s cobblestone streets, candlelit verandas, and fiery sunsets. That signature Lowcountry charm also distinguishes the city’s best date-night restaurants.

At an oyster bar on King Street, window seats and fried fish baskets take the edge off first-date jitters. For a transportive evening complete with lamb kebabs and anise cocktails, couples hit one of the area’s only Lebanese restaurants. A classic steakhouse in a restored bank makes an elegant backdrop for an unforgettable proposal.

There’s a table for every kind of date night in one of the South’s most scenic cities. Read on for a guide to 12 Charleston restaurants ready to host your next romantic occasion.

For a first date

The Darling Oyster Bar (Downtown Charleston)

Cocktails and seafood appetizers at The Darling Oyster Bar in downtown Charleston

The Darling’s crowd-pleasing seafood selection and top-notch cocktails fuel flawless first dates. | Credit: Andrew Cebulka

When it comes to planning a flawless first date, the right vibes are just as important as the food; you want a place that isn’t overly loud or too hushed and a setting that smooths over any awkward moments. The Darling checks all those boxes with a crowd-pleasing menu of oyster shooters, seafood towers, fried fish baskets, and burgers. The best seat in the house is by the raw bar near the front window, where you’ll be entertained by bustling King Street views.

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For a second date

Sorghum & Salt (Downtown Charleston)

A local food journey at a rustic-chic spot is bound to impress your date. At Sorghum and Salt, the ultra-seasonal New American menu changes daily, though dishes are always heavy on the produce. Chillier months bring options such as scallops with celery root, shiitake, and watercress or butter beans with focaccia, feta, and sea bean vinaigrette. To focus solely on your date and get better acquainted, leave the decision-making to the chefs and opt for the four- or six-course tasting menu.

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For a cozy and intimate evening

Chez Nous (Downtown Charleston)

Chez Nous is arguably one of Charleston’s most intimate escapes. The tiny antebellum house offers a stunning setting for a recurring date night. Chef Jill Mathias’s handwritten three-course menu changes on a daily basis, meaning you and your SO won’t encounter the same meal twice. Expect hearty but delicate dishes with French, Italian, and Spanish accents such as duck confit stew, lamb with tomato and shallot sauce, and beef bourguignon. End on an extra-sweet note with stellar desserts including meringue with crème anglaise, walnut tart, and cherry clafoutis—and a glass or two from the stellar Old World wine list.

For an anniversary or romantic milestone

Brasserie la Banque (Downtown Charleston)

 Bar Vaute, a watering hole below Brasserie la Banque in downtown Charleston

Pop into Bar Vaute, the cozy bar below Brasserie la Banque, to make your date last a little longer. | Credit: Andrew Cebulka

Nothing enhances a special anniversary like a decadent French meal in a gorgeous dining room. Find both at Brasserie la Banque, a locally beloved spot in historic downtown. Start your celebration with caviar, chilled oysters, escargot, or foie gras. Mains include classics such as steak frites, coq au vin, and duck cassoulet; all pair well with the exceptional French wine list. Be sure to save room for dessert, because the top-notch choices here include crepe cake, chocolate mousse, tarts, and profiteroles. Pro-tip: start—or end—your romantic evening with a martini or a manhattan at Bar Vaute, the cozy bar downstairs.

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Tempest (Downtown Charleston)

Tempest’s nautical dining room is an elegant backdrop for a celebratory night out together. But it’s the installation by local artist Honey McCrary that’s the true scene stealer. The 100,000-piece stained glass creation on the restaurant’s ceiling adds a wow factor to any anniversary or romantic milestone. The seafood-focused menu is just as innovative, featuring local bounty such as Lowcountry oysters from the Ace Basin and sheepshead with perloo (a savory rice dish), shrimp, and sauce Americaine. Whether you and your SO are perched indoors or out, Tempest’s dimly lit atmosphere fits the bill for an enchanting evening.

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For an adventurous and transportive date

Coterie (Downtown Charleston)

 An India-inspired cocktail at Coterie in downtown Charleston.

Coterie’s inventive cocktail menu features drinks with Indian ingredients, such as masala chai-infused gin. | Credit: Coterie

Coterie is for wanderlusting couples who crave a meal that stretches beyond traditional Southern fare. As one of the only Indian spots in downtown Charleston, the restaurant serves up a fresh spin on South Asian cuisine with Lowcountry twists. Indian ingredients make cameos on the inventive cocktail menu: Don’t miss the Okroni (with housemade okra amaro) and the Chai No Lait (with masala chai-infused gin). The menu is equally creative and cross-cultural, filled with dishes such as Bombay shrimp and grits and country captain tikka.

Maison (Downtown Charleston)

Paris is always a romantic idea—and so is escaping to Maison. The petite but popular French bistro is led by executive chef Vandy Vanderwarker (formerly of The Ordinary). Vanderwarker’s menu marries traditional French fare, such as burgundy escargot and rabbit en croute, with more casual dishes including steak frites. Large glass windows allow a peek into the bustling bistro. French wines grace the drinks menu, rounding out the transportive European ambiance for you and your date.

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Leyla Fine Lebanese Cuisine (Downtown Charleston)

Leyla’s Fine Lebanese, one of the few restaurants of its kind in Charleston, is a quiet oasis with warm lighting and cozy seats. The family-owned restaurant has a friendly staff to help you navigate the extensive Middle Eastern menu. Shareable mezze plates are go-tos for group dates, promising a fun, communal dining experience. Dishes range from hummus and baba ghanoush to falafel, kabobs, and shawarma. Wash it all down with wine from Chateau Musar in Ghazir, Lebanon, and you’ll be shuttled to the eastern shores of the Mediterranean for a night.

For a group date

Indaco (Downtown Charleston)

The wooden entrance to Indaco in downtown Charleston

The entrance to Indaco, a rustic Italian spot ideal for group gatherings. | Credit: Andrew Cebulka

Indaco’s farmhouse-inspired interiors, dressed in natural woods and white brick, are ideal for lively conversations. And its rustic Italian plates, which include black pepper tagliatelle with a runny egg yolk, housemade salumi, and wood-fired pizzas, were made for devouring with multiple friends. Parties of four or more can enjoy a meal at a pair of butcher block tables or out on the streetside patio. Sign up for one of Indaco’s regular wine dinners for an exceptionally great group date.

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For an evening of entertainment

The Alley (Downtown Charleston)

If you’re not one for sitting still, take your date to this modern bowling alley just steps from Upper King Street. With nine lanes and a playful food and drinks menu (the latter includes lots of specialty frozen cocktails), the Alley is the place for a cheerful, easygoing evening. You might have to take a bowling break to dig into the boiled peanuts—they’re messy. The menu also consists of snacky foods such as loaded tots, wings, and dumplings plus heartier fare, including eight different types of burgers.

For a proposal-worthy place

Oak Steakhouse (Downtown Charleston)

Royal service awaits at Oak, a classic steakhouse in a former bank building. Each of the three floors boasts a distinctly different vibe: downstairs is where you sit to see and be seen, while the upper levels are more intimate. No matter what vibe and area is right for you, you’ll be treated to attentive service and a luxurious menu, worthy of your momentous evening. Signature steak options include filet mignon, prime ribeye, and a porterhouse to share with upgrade options such as scallops Oscar. The wine selection features an impressive by-the-glass list as well as half bottles and magnums, ideal for your extra-special toast.

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The Kingstide (Daniel Island)

Pop the question at one of the area’s prettiest waterfront restaurants. From Charleston, a visit to The Kingstide begins with a leisurely 30-minute ferry ride to Daniel Island, setting the tone for an epic evening. Executive chef Kevin Getzewich’s menu focuses on fresh and seasonal dishes with solid seafood options such as crab fried rice and Lowcountry chowder. Sit inside the nautical dining room or on one of the multiple terraces overlooking the Wando River. Or propose at The Kingstide’s scenic rooftop, equipped with its own raw bar and small plates menu.

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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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