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8 restaurants vital to Charleston

A photo of Red logo
by Stephanie Barna
Updated March 30, 2023

In a city where dinner reservations outweigh historical tours on many travelers’ itineraries, there’s a high bar for restaurants. These dining stars—some city stalwarts, some newer entrants—demonstrate the constant emphasis on innovation required to succeed and stand out in Charleston.

Lowcountry cuisine reaches new heights at a refurbished Victorian-era home on Queen Street. A 26-year-old hotel grill serves a dessert so popular that it has trademark status. A laid-back King Street barbecue joint scored James Beard nods for its sumptuous, slow-cooked pork.

These world-class restaurants use the Holy City’s culinary heritage as a springboard for vibrant and inspiring menus. Read on for a guide to Charleston’s 8 greatest spots to book now.

A photo of Peninsula Grill restaurant
4.7
4.7 (7732)
$50 and over
American
Downtown Charleston
About the restaurant
Peninsula Grill wowed Charleston with its plush setting and exemplary food from the moment it opened in 1997. At the time, chef Robert Carter was the hot young chef in town, and Peninsula Grill was shaking up the fine-dining scene. Fast forward 20-plus years, and Peninsula Grill, now helmed by chef Kalen Fortuna, has reached classic status. The restaurant has resisted trends and instead hewed close to what made it great from the start: attentive service, an extensive wine list, and a menu of decadent Southern-accented classics. Indulge in oysters, caviar, lobster, and steaks along with expertly prepared local heirloom vegetables. Don’t miss the traditional she-crab soup, and end your meal with the Ultimate Coconut Cake™, a cake so famous it has its own trademark and a robust mail-order business.
Top review
Houndduetvip
Dined 2 days ago
Fabulous in all ways. Could not have been better.
A photo of 39 Rue de Jean - Charleston restaurant
4.2
4.2 (4941)
$31 to $50
French
Downtown Charleston
About the restaurant
Classic French brasserie 39 Rue de Jean—or Rue, as it’s affectionately known by locals—has anchored the downtown food scene for more than two decades. Its expansive menu features French favorites including onion soup, steak frites, sweetbreads, and coq a vin. But you’re really here for the moules (a.k.a. mussels). It’s hard to pick a favorite among the five preparations (pistou, red curry, chorizo and tomato, mariniere, and vegetable cream), but you’ll need some extra bread for soaking up the delectable sauce no matter which option you choose. The atmosphere here is convivial and relaxed, with a big bar, cozy booths, and a gorgeous outdoor patio nestled alongside a brick-lined alley. Allow yourself to order a French 75 or two and linger at this charming Charleston mainstay.
Top review
ron8888
Dined 4 days ago
Fantastic French inspired restaurant near the Bennett hotel. Great ambiance, as we felt like we were back in Paris. Highly recommend!
A photo of Tempest restaurant
4.6
4.6 (2292)
$50 and over
Seafood
Downtown Charleston
About the restaurant
For most of the 2010s, dining on Market Street was largely the realm of tourists. Tempest changed that perception, giving locals an incentive to brave the Market for phenomenal dishes such as sheepshead served with shrimp and pirlou, a traditional Lowcountry rice dish. 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. 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 and watch the bustling streetscape.
Top review
OpenTable Diner
Dined on Jun 2, 2024
Food was excellent - unique variations on traditional meals. Of special note was the black garlic sauce with he grouper - so good! Atmosphere was also excellent - furnishing were great, quiet environment, great location. The service was outstanding - our waiter's advice was spot on. Really enjoyed the whole experience!
A photo of Maison restaurant
4.9
4.9 (1579)
$31 to $50
French
Downtown Charleston
About the restaurant
This charming bistro is steered by Vandy Vanderwarker, the former chef de cuisine at locally loved oyster bar The Ordinary. Maison is a city favorite for Parisian-inspired modern plates. Expect creative dishes such as octopus bourguignon and diver scallop schnitzel alongside tarts and escargot on the ever-changing menu. The modestly sized wine list, which leans French, hits all the right notes, featuring 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.
Top review
DaveM
Dined 6 days ago
Our service was incredible; our server was excellent and professional. My wife and I loved celebrating our five-year anniversary here!
A photo of The Establishment restaurant
4.9
4.9 (2451)
$50 and over
Seafood
Downtown Charleston
About the restaurant
The Establishment swept into town in 2018 with a luxurious approach to dining just as Charleston diners were tiring of the rustic farm-to-table trend. They transformed the historic James Gregorie home on Broad Street into a lush and welcoming dining room that quickly attracted the city’s upper crust. Ever since, the restaurant has treated guests to a seafood-focused menu that showcases fresh local catch such as golden tilefish, grouper, and snapper. Grab a seat at the bar overlooking the open kitchen, order something special from the extensive whiskey list—consider the 10-year Pappy Van Winkle—and get ready for the kitchen to woo you.
Top review
RaymondK
Dined 3 days ago
Fabulous- highly recommended Service and food was over the top
A photo of Indaco restaurant
4.8
4.8 (3623)
$30 and under
Italian
Downtown Charleston
About the restaurant
When Indaco debuted in 2013, the open kitchen was novel—tucking into braised pork cavatelli while watching the chef prepare your wood-fired pizza was considered 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. Charleston native chef Mark Bolchoz prepares crispy clam strips with aioli and creamy burrata with butter beans, combining classic Italian flavors with the area’s best ingredients. 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 lineup that insists you try at least a bite of everything on the table.
Top review
DebbieH
Dined 4 days ago
This is a wonderful restaurant. The service right from the front door to the end was exceptional. Our food was so delicious wish we lived here would like to try more of their dishes.
A photo of Oak Steakhouse - Charleston restaurant
4.7
4.7 (5330)
$30 and under
Steakhouse
Downtown Charleston
About the restaurant
Today, Oak Steakhouse is the flagship of a growing chain of restaurants. But before outposts mushroomed across the Southeast, Charleston’s Oak Steakhouse distinguished itself by offering one of the most hospitable experiences in the city. Set in a renovated bank building on Broad Street, the three-story steakhouse caters to diners looking to satisfy their meat cravings. Splurge on the 24-ounce dry-aged bone-in ribeye, add some truffle butter and maybe a lobster tail or some bearnaise sauce, and let your server suggest the perfect bottle of red to pair with your feast. You’ll be in for an unforgettable dining experience that will have you returning again and again.
Top review
OpenTable Diner
Dined 2 days ago
Fabulous food and ambience! Steaks were cooked to perfection! Don’t be afraid to ask server to share a salad. Rolls were yummy and you can’t go wrong with mashed potatoes!
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