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Will travel for food.
Trying new restaurants is obviously one of the best reasons to go on vacay, which is why Charleston has become a must-visit destination in recent years. With a dynamic food scene that’s evolving faster than eaters can keep up, the Holy City is filled with amazing restaurants, from its constant rotation of new and trendy eateries to all of the classic and quintessentially Charleston spots that have been serving locals and tourists alike for years. In fact, while there’s plenty to do in Charleston, most locals will tell you that one of their favorite activities is eating and drinking—which is why we put together a list of all of the best restaurants you absolutely must try on your next trip. Actually, we even went one step further and just launched a new travel biz called CosmoTrips, where you can book your *entire* trip to Charleston without doing any of the stressful planning yourself!
But back to the food, we wanted to pass along a few pointers before you eat your way through the city. First, you’re in the Lowcountry, which means the food is infused with both Southern ingredients and the area’s rich Gullah and Creole history. Second, you can’t leave without trying some seafood; it reigns supreme here. When you can, order the fresh catch, the locally-mined oysters, the SheCrab soup, or the shrimp (specifically, the shrimp n’ grits, a dreamy mix of local shrimp with creamy grits that’s served every which way until Sunday, depending on where you visit). Finally and perhaps most importantly, understand that food is kind of a religion in Charleston, as ingrained into the city’s cultural identity as just about anything else—so remember that tasting the city’s food is basically like tasting the city itself. Got all that? Good. Now get going on those reservations…you’re going to need them!
You can’t visit (or even think of) Charleston food without thinking of Husk, the restaurant that started it all. The brainchild of Chef Sean Brock, who got his start in Charleston and has since moved on to restauranteering in Nashville, Husk is as quintessential Charleston as it gets. They’re famous for their chicken and seafood, variations of which are offered on the ever-changing menu. If you can’t snag a reservation or want something more low-key, head next door to the Bar & Patio at Husk. There, you can sample the South’s best bourbons against an indoor brick façade, and even taste a few of Husk’s famous dishes.
Leon’s Oyster Shop has been a Charleston favorite for as long as it has been on King Street, thanks to its award-winning raw bar and fried chicken sandwich, which has the power to send a vegetarian tumbling off the wagon. The breading uses seafood seasoning, and the tender filet is topped with Duke’s mayo and Asian slaw tossed with fish sauce. Their cocktails also reign supreme, with frozen favorites like the frozen G&T or the rosé slushie.
At home in buzzy NoMo in the city’s Upper Peninsula, Lewis Barbecue is a Charleston tradition. Led by renowned Austin pitmaster John Lewis, the menu is simple but abundant, with large slabs of slow-smoked, melt-in-your-mouth brisket, smoked sausages, pulled chicken and pork, and sides of fluffy cornbread and tangy coleslaw.
To keep up with demand and continue his passion for smoking hearty meats, Lewis recently opened up another brick-and-mortar called Rancho Lewis, an homage to the food Lewis grew up eating in West Texas, Chihuahua, Mexico, and New Mexico. Here you’ll find enchiladas, to-die-for tacos, and the coldest (and tastiest) margaritas in town.
There’s no better way to treat yourself than dinner and a stay at the intimate Zero George Hotel and Restaurant. The restaurant, which seats only eight people per half hour, features acclaimed chef Vinson Petrillo, who offers inventive spins on everyday dishes on menus that change daily. As of this year, there’s a caviar bar (!) as well, which was carefully crafted by Chef Vinson to showcase his love for the delicacy. Each evening comes with a caviar presentation, featuring half an ounce of caviar paired with a few classic accompaniments, like soft-boiled eggs and toasted brioche. This is a definite date-night splurge, but trust us: It’s well worth the price tag.
The ultimate brunch spot for bachelorette parties and girls’ trips, High Cotton has been a staple on East Bay Street for years. Their signature Bellini bar will 100% leave you buzzed, so don’t forget to eat all of the food, too (their flaky crab eggs benedict is *chef’s kiss*). Bonus: Brunch here is served on both Saturdays and Sundays (a rarity in Charleston), and it comes complete with a trio of bluegrass musicians.
Located on sunny Sullivan’s Island, this bright and cheerful restaurant is another local favorite. The food, a brainchild of local celebrity chef Jacques Larson, is innovative yet humble, with dishes like Frogmore chowder (a Gullah-inspired stew made with shrimp and sausage) and smoked local fish on the Sunday brunch menu. The décor is also as beautiful as the food, with chic country accents like rustic wood-paneled walls and natural light that streams through the floor-to-ceiling windows.
There is perhaps no better way to take advantage of Charleston’s fresh seafood than a meal at either 167 Raw, a small restaurant and fish market on East Bay Street, or 167 Sushi, their new sister restaurant. With most of the food sourced locally, they also have the unique advantage of having a sister property in Nantucket, shipping over some of the world’s best oysters for Charleston consumption.
In 2022, the team behind the Oyster Bar decided to take their love and passion for seafood and showcase it in a new way with 167 Sushi. Here, you’ll find their take on classic nigiri, sashimi, and rolls, plus izakaya options like pork belly bao. As a bonus, the restaurant is elaborately decorated with Japanese flair, making it the ultimate background for your ‘grams.
You can’t miss the candy-colored walls and bold murals of the Share House and Bodega, two new restaurants that sit across from the Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry.
For a laid-back California vibe, hit up Share House and get into the tuna sliders or coconut lime mussels, then wash it all down with one of their photo-worthy cocktails (the Point Pleasant Punch is, well, on point). For a taste of New York, pop right next door to Bodega, a Big Apple-inspired sandwich and coffee shop serving up classics like the Halpert, a dill tuna sandwich on a soft brioche bun, and the Gropfather, a hearty creation layered with a fried chicken cutlet, marinara, pesto, and mozzarella for the ultimate cheese pull.
A little outside of the city in neighboring Mount Pleasant, Malika Canteen is worth the 20-minute commute. Run by husband and wife duo Maryam Ghaznavi and Raheel Gauba, Malika serves up Pakistani classics that they both grew up eating. The chicken masala, the most popular item on the menu, will make your jaw drop, as will their masala fries and chicken biryani. Although their Mount Pleasant location is constantly popping, they’re bringing their cuisine downtown this fall at a brick-and-mortar named Ma’am Saab.
Often regarded as one of the first restaurants to put Charleston on the food map, Fig has been creating some of the city’s most renowned dishes at their downtown location on Meeting Street (one of the city’s most popping food streets) for almost 20 years.
With a heftier price tag, this is a great date night splurge or meal to have if you’re traveling with the ‘rents. All of their food is locally sourced, so you can’t go wrong with any of their rotating menu items, which often include crowd faves like chicken liver pâté and ricotta gnocchi with lamb bolognese. Be sure to make a res before you go, as they book up weeks in advance.
Located in West Ashley, Florence’s Lowcountry Kitchen gives cozy diner vibes while serving up monstrous portions of their Lowcountry classics. A great place for brunch—especially if you ~imbibed~ in a few too many cocktails the night before—Florence’s offers dishes inspired by the restaurant group owner’s very Southern grandma, including chicken and pancakes, a homemade tomato pie, and their sharable pimento cheese. Pro tip: Order Granny’s Rum Punch, a delightful mix of Caribbean rums, ginger beer, pineapple, and orange juice.
If oysters are your jam, you have to make your way to The Ordinary. Housed in a 1920s bank, the large vaulted ceilings pave the way for the floor-to-ceiling windows that leave the restaurant bathed in natural light. If you can, grab a seat at the seafood counter, which puts you right in front of their impressive selection of oysters, clams, mussels, and other fresh seafood. Also noteworthy? Their “ordinaries” cocktails, like the Port of Spain (mixed with port wine and dark rum) or the Ron Con Cola, a frozen blend of rums, vermouth, ginger, and cola.
Tucked away and very much unassuming, Hannibal’s has been serving up the best soul food in Charleston since 1985. Far from the hustle and bustle of Charleston’s busiest streets, Hannibal’s is a local institution. Started by the Hugers, a family of longtime locals, this Gullah restaurant is famous for its Gullah staples, like the oxtail and rice, local shark steak, and chicken liver meal. Also delicious: their fall-off-the-bone BBQ ribs, and crab and shrimp rice.
If your love language is small plates, cozy dark corners, and French wine, Chez Nous is your place. Another Charleston favorite for both locals and tourists, this intimate bistro is known for its food inspired by Southern France, Northern Italy, and Spain. The handwritten menus change daily and offer only two appetizers, two entrées, and two desserts. Reservations are a must, as this tiny bistro has limited seating (only 56 spots available).
Made famous thanks to their success as a food truck, Pink Bellies is known for their eclectic takes on classic Vietnamese fare. Their garlic noodles are a crowd favorite, but their newer dishes, like the Sui Cao Dumplings and the Bun Cha Gio, are also the talk of the town.
Beyond the food, people are also drawn to the restaurant’s decor, thanks to its neon lights, loads of plants, and brightly-colored chairs and wall accents. It’s *the* place to go if you’re looking for delicious food and an IG-worthy backdrop.
If you’re craving a break from traditional Southern cuisine, stop into Maison, an on-trend French bistro off of bustling King Street. The menu is full of French favorites (steak frites and escargot, anyone?), but pays homage to Charleston’s bounty of fresh seafood and produce, too. Try the steamed flounder or mussel bourride with a heaping side of pommes frites and a tall glass of Laurent-Perrier to feel oh-so-Parisian.
Located in the hip, artsy, funky, and full-of-soul Park Circle neighborhood in North Charleston, Three Sirens is a place to see and be seen. With their iconic logo of the three Sirens—named after the three daughters of Achelous who lured sailors to their death in Greek Mythology—this hip new eatery offers up North Charleston’s best seafood, from fresh and charbroiled oysters to ceviche to Kombo steamed bass. Pair your meal with one of their famed cocktails, like the Stormfront (made with rye whiskey and ginger syrup), and the Bitter Siren (made with gin and green chartreuse).
The ultimate place to sit and watch the city come to life with your crew, the Gin Joint is one of the most popular bars in town. Locals and tourists alike flock to this speakeasy-themed bar on waterfront East Bay Street for specialty gin or rye whiskey cocktails from the bow-tie-wearing bartenders. The appetizers are A+, too, especially the whipped bone marrow, oysters, and a small-but-mighty cheese selection.
Paying homage to the building’s 1980s roots, the newly-reopened Sullivan’s Fish Camp looks straight out of a 1970s postcard, featuring an eclectic collection of sea-inspired art, a rich mahogany bar, and a check-in desk/soft-serve ice cream booth. With a reimagined menu, you’ll find campy cocktails with tongue-in-cheek names, like the vodka-based Pool Boy, and classic seafood dishes paired with new-age ones, like the peel n’ eat shrimp bucket and the togarashi tuna. Perfect for families, brunch, and everything in between, this spot is the ultimate weekend vibe.
As one of the pioneers of Lowcountry cuisine, you’d be remiss not to try some of this area’s most famous dishes under the sparkling lights of 82 Queen’s intimate and dazzling courtyard. Not much has changed since the restaurant opened in 1982, and that’s a good thing. The team is still passionate about local ingredients, and they’ve still got that slap-a-smile-on-your-face Southern hospitality that’s kept the restaurant open for 40 years. This is the place to try shrimp and grits, especially because it comes decked out with homemade bourbon BBQ sauce. And don’t miss their fried green tomatoes or their award-winning SheCrab Soup, either. Both family-friendly and super romantic, this place is a warm and fuzzy home to anyone.
No Charleston food list is complete without a shout-out to Xiao Bao Biscuit. A staple in Charleston since it opened its doors in 2012, Xiao Bao is a legend in the Holy City. At home in a redesigned gas station, the vibe is as cool as the okonomiyaki is viral (it’s been featured just about everywhere). Beyond these famed Japanese pancakes, you can also find a revolving selection of dishes inspired by the owner’s passion for Asian cuisine, including pork dumplings, pad kra pow (Thai-style minced beef), and soft and fluffy bao buns.