Whether you’re in town for a wedding or come each winter to escape the cold, Charleston is a city you visit and think, “Yeah, I could definitely live here.” It has Southern charm, nice weather, and oyster bars everywhere you look, which is why it’s such an easy place to like and find great food in. But more so than ever, there’s a lot to eat in Charleston besides just biscuits, grits, and seafood.
As more visitors move to Charleston, the restaurant scene continues to expand beyond the Lowcountry’s greatest hits and with so many options to choose from, it can be tough deciding where to eat next. That’s where we come in.
Here you’ll find our recommendations for where to eat and drink in Charleston. We’ve included everything from where to get the best oysters and barbecue to a few bars that are perfect for your next bachelor or bachelorette party.
the new-ish spots everyone’s talking about
Leon’s Oyster Bar in the West Side sounds like a restaurant idea we came up with at a bar at 2am. They serve fried chicken, hush puppies, chargrilled oysters, and really good salads, alongside draft rosé, frozen G&Ts, and soft serve, all from inside an old garage. However, their mix of highbrow and lowbrow food and drinks is what makes them one of the busiest restaurants in town. They don’t take reservations, so come when they open at 11am, grab a spot on the patio, and make a day out of it.
Every corner of the U.S. has its own take on barbecue - brisket in Texas, ribs in Missouri - but in South Carolina, it’s all about whole hog and no place does it better than Rodney Scott’s. This North-Central spot smokes entire pigs 24/7 and while there’s always a line, their pulled pork and ribs are worth the wait. Add on some mac and cheese and a few beers and you have yourself the perfect weekend lunch, with a necessary nap scheduled for dessert.
The Darling Oyster Bar is known for being one of the most beautiful restaurants in the city and for serving a very over-the-top Bloody Mary. This spot on King Street has lots of exposed brick and white tile, as well as a huge bar that’s great for a quick drink or eating your weight in seafood. Come for dinner with friends, split the ceviche and some oysters, and finish with the fried shrimp basket and poutine-style chowder over fries. If you opt for brunch instead, the Bloody Mary comes with shrimp, hushpuppies, a king crab leg, and a lobster claw all sticking out the top. This is either insane or genius, but either way we’re into it.
There are good surprises, like when you remember that your favorite leftovers are in your fridge, and bad surprises, like when your roommate eats said-leftovers before you get home. Lucky for us, Xiao Bao Biscuit is a good surprise. This spot in Cannonborough-Elliotborough is located inside an old gas station, but serves really good Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Malay food. Also, they have the word “biscuit” in their name, but are one of the few places in Charleston that doesn’t actually serve biscuits. Split the the shaking beef, yu xiang eggplant, and okonomiyaki with some friends and don’t be surprised if someone sends you links to flights to Charleston next month just to come back here.
Charleston is a very relaxed city, but even so, it’s nice to get out of town and see some of the surrounding wildlife if you get a chance. When that’s the case, we make the 20-minute trip to Sullivan’s Island, which is home to a lot of pretty nature and The Obstinate Daughter. This restaurant is only five minutes from the beach and serves everything from pizza and pasta to Lowcountry classics, along with a huge variety of wine and cocktails. If you head here for brunch, order the shrimp roll and geechie frites - grits fries - and take a walk down to the water afterward. If you make a day out of the trip and come back for dinner, the griddled octopus and quail and mushroom orecchiette are two of our favorites.
Henrietta’s at The Dewberry is a hotel restaurant very much worth going to even if you aren’t staying upstairs. This semi-fancy, all-day bistro in Mazyck-Wraggborough serves a wide range of French and Lowcountry dishes, from a vegetable quiche and boudin bites to their really good burger and glazed lobster omelette. It’s definitely one of the pricier brunch or lunch options in town, but if you’re looking for a great patio, good French food, and somewhere to drink a nice cocktail, Henrietta’s is where to go.
Over the past few years, Charleston has become one of the best barbecue cities in the country and Lewis Barbecue in NoMo is a big reason why. They serve all of the Texas barbecue greatest hits, like smoked sausage and turkey, but the brisket is the real reason to come here. Split a giant tray of different meats and sides - especially the green chile corn pudding - along with a pitcher of margaritas or sangria, and find a spot in their backyard to spend the next few hours. Also, they only serve their massive, Fred Flintstone-sized beef rib on Saturdays so you should do everything in your power to come here on a Saturday.
You’re never too far from a raw bar in Charleston and for good reason: the ocean is super close and fresh seafood is great. But when you want to turn a casual meal of oysters and shrimp into an event, head to The Ordinary on King St. This 1920’s bank-turned-restaurant serves a wide range of seafood dishes, but the main reason to come here is for the shellfish towers, which you can get in one, two, or three layers. Order a drink and a tower, along with a few shared plates like the crispy oyster sliders and snapper ceviche.
Wooden shutters, white tablecloths, and really good Southern food are all things that come to mind when we think of “classic Charleston restaurants.” Really though, we’re just describing Magnolias in the French Quarter. This beloved spot serves upscale takes on fried green tomatoes, crab bisque, and shrimp and grits and is great for special occasions when you want to eat somewhere just slightly fancy. Much like Charleston itself, it’s the kind of place where dressing up isn’t required, but you won’t feel out of place if you do.
Our first thought anytime we go to Hank’s is always, “our dads would love this place.” This classic spot in Ansonborough has the dark wood paneling, worn leather booths, and veteran servers that he’ll eventually email all of his golf buddies about. Also, the food is great, with the seafood towers and platters being two of our favorite dishes to share. Entree-wise, go for the sautéed flounder, seafood a la Wando, or lobster, and if you want something not from the ocean instead, their fried chicken is also some of the best in town.
There are a lot of good spots to celebrate an anniversary or birthday in Charleston, but very few of them are as popular with locals as Slightly North of Broad. This French Quarter spot serves Lowcountry classics like oyster stew, steamed clams, and shrimp and grits and for the past 20 years has been slammed basically every night of the week. Definitely make a reservation if you can or put your name down and grab a drink at The Gin Joint next door while you wait.
Hall’s Chophouse is where you go for a big steak and a few stiff drinks. While this Mazyck-Wraggborough restaurant is definitely a little fancy, it also has nightly live music and a very popular bar, where you can order ribs, nachos, and a really good burger if you aren’t after the full steakhouse experience . If you can’t make it for dinner, make a reservation for their Gospel Brunch instead and enjoy a choir performance over a Chophouse Omelet with mushrooms and creamed spinach.
Poogan’s Porch in the King Street Historic District is the closest many of us will ever get to having a Southern grandma who’s a great cook. This place opened in 1976 inside a Victorian house that’s more than 100 years old and having brunch or lunch on their porch is a Charleston right of passage. Their excellent servers will be happy to suggest dishes, but the shrimp étouffée omelette, pulled pork Benedict, and pimento cheese fritters are always excellent choices.
After you finish dinner and take a walk down to the waterfront, head to Peninsula Grill inside the Planters Inn hotel for dessert. While it’s also a very popular dinner spot, we recommend avoiding the packed dining room and just ordering a slice of their Ultimate Coconut Cake on the cobblestone patio instead. Yes, you still have to adhere to their dress code even if you’re just there for a slice of cake, but it’s worth throwing on a blazer or dress to try the most famous dessert in the city.
There are plenty of oyster bars in Charleston, but Pearlz is one of our favorites because it’s centrally located and has a great Happy Hour. Located in the middle of the French Quarter, this is where to go when you want a dozen oysters, a beer, and a break from activities. Also, on weeknights from 4-7pm, Pearlz serves $1 oysters, $3 champagne, and $4 oyster shooters, which might be our favorite trio in town.
Just like Motown or when your mom texts you a meme, biscuits are good anytime of day. While they’re traditionally reserved for breakfast or lunch, Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit serves their excellent biscuits until 2am on the weekends. Yes, after you’ve spent the night bar hopping on Upper King, you can walk down to Callie’s and get a bacon, egg, and cheddar sandwich on a cheese and chive biscuit. There will be a line anytime you go, but in terms of late-night food options, nothing compares to these biscuits.
Kudu brings two of our favorite things together in one place: really good coffee and beer. They roast all of the coffee on-site and with 20+ beers on tap, many of which are from regional breweries, you’ll definitely be able to find a beer or two that you like. This shop in Radcliffeborough also serves pastries and sandwiches from local bakeries, along with some of the best chocolate chip cookies we’ve ever had. They have a great patio too, so bring that book a friend of yours gave you two months ago that you still haven’t started and make an afternoon out of your visit.
Every bachelor or bachelorette party needs that slightly over-the-top bar that you start or end the night at, which is exactly what the Market Pavilion Rooftop Bar is for. This spot located on top of the Market Pavilion Hotel serves great cocktails and has a wraparound infinity pool with purple underwater lights and spouting jets that someone in your party is going to be super excited about. Bring your group to check out the view earlier in the day, or stop by for a nightcap if you want a more dance-y scene.
The Cocktail Club on Upper King is a place where the bartenders are very focused on creating great drinks and yes, those drinks sometimes take a few minutes to make. But with a large rooftop terrace, a downstairs lounge filled with leather couches, and regular live music, this place never feels too fancy, which is exactly why we like it so much.
Rooftop bars follow a simple logic: Drinks? Good. Drinks with a view? Even better. However, they also have a tendency to attract people looking to relive their frat days. But the Rooftop at Vendue is quieter, more casual, and way more affordable than other rooftop bars in Charleston while still providing you with great views of the harbor. This is a good spot to stop by for a drink right at sunset or if you need to escape from the overly-crowded bars in the French Quarter.