The 13 best restaurants in Charleston

Filled with highly regarded, James Beard award-winning and -nominated chefs, the best restaurants in Charleston deliver
By Sydney Gallimore |
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The city of Charleston is known for a few things: white sandy beaches, a rich cultural history, hospitable and welcoming residents and a culinary scene that’s on par with that of Paris and New York City. The city is home to a number of James Beard award-winning and -nominated chefs and restaurants, which means that you have plenty of opportunities to have an amazing meal within the Holy City. No matter what you’re craving—from fried chicken to pizza to tacos and everything in between—there’s so much great food to be eaten at the best restaurants in Charleston.

Best restaurants in Charleston

1
Zero Restaurant + Bar
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Sydney G.

Zero Restaurant + Bar

What is it: An upscale cafe helmed by chef Vinson Petrillo that’s one of the most romantic and under-the-radar restaurants in Charleston. On offer is a luxurious prix-fixe, six-course menu that’s creative and plated like a work of art. The restaurant’s setting, within a boutique hotel, affords it a one-of-a-kind ambiance that has diners feel like they’re consuming a meal right in the chef’s home.  
Why go
: If you think of food as an experience that involves all five of your senses, then Zero George is the perfect place to dine. Chef Petrillo takes molecular gastronomy and makes it approachable, while also inviting you to think of food in a whole new way.
Price
: Blowout

2
Wild Olive Restaurant
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Abby C.

Wild Olive Restaurant

What is it: This cozy Italian eatery has a homey, rustic feel, making it the perfect place for a weeknight get-together with friends, a casual date night or dinner with the whole family. The wine list is extensive and the food menu is so large that you could return here regularly and never eat the same thing twice.
Why go:
Italian food is pretty universally beloved and Wild Olive serves it in a way that’s comforting, approachable and just darn delicious. The chicken parmesan is not to be overlooked—always perfectly prepared and perpetually a crowd pleaser.
Price:
Pricey

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3
Stella’s
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Sydney G.

Stella’s

What is it: A lively, homestyle Greek kitchen serving meze and Mediterranean fare. The restaurant is a neighborhood favorite and is always crowded, so you’ll definitely want to make a reservation ahead of time. The menu is a great combination of classic and modern Greek food, which pairs perfectly with the specialty cocktails and Greek wine list.
Why go
: It’s the perfect place to visit with a big group, as the menu is so extensive that you’ll want to try everything on it. Since the specialty are the mezes, the more people you visit with, the more things you’ll get to try.
Price:
Pricey

4
Cuban Gypsy Pantry
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Scotty C.

Cuban Gypsy Pantry

What is it: This food truck-turned-brick-and-mortar-restaurant might be small, but what it lacks in square footage, it more than makes up for in the flavor of the food. It’s arguably the best Cuban cuisine in Charleston, serving classic favorites like lomo saltado, Cuban sandwiches and ropa vieja that instantly transport your taste buds to Havana.
Why go
: The food is seriously good. And for just $10 for a Cuban sandwich with chips, it’s a great option for lunch or dinner.
Price
: Bargain

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5
Halls Chophouse
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/David R.

Halls Chophouse

What is it: An upscale steakhouse in downtown Charleston offering some seriously good cuts of meat. When it comes to steak, you’d be hard pressed to find a better one than the one served at Halls. The food, coupled with the restaurant’s dark wood features, muted lighting and emphasis on hospitality, make it the perfect place to celebrate a special occasion.
Why go
: Whether for dinner or brunch on a Sunday, a meal at Halls Chophouse is always cause for celebration.
Price
: Blowout

6
Rodney Scott’s
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Cathy H.

Rodney Scott’s

What is it: A casual counter-service barbecue joint specializing in pulled pork, ribs and all the fixins. It feels like an old fast food restaurant that’s been converted into a much cooler space, and while the food does come out pretty quickly, the quality is much better than most fast-service style restaurants.
Why go
: Chef Rodney Scott definitely earned his James Beard award this year for a reason—as proven by each bite of his famous barbecue.
Price
: Bargain

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7
Balao
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Sydney G.

Balao

What is it: Charleston’s newest rooftop bar opened just in time to usher in summer weather. The space is quaint and cozy, with lots of natural browns, blues and wood elements to complement the restaurant’s ocean theme. The menu itself changes daily based on what’s available, although the tuna nachos seem to be a set standard—and for good reason, too. The combination of poblano queso, blackened tuna and guacamole with their house-made tortilla chips is a real winner.
Why go
: There’s something about sipping a craft cocktail and eating fresh seafood on a rooftop that just makes it seem like you’re living your best life. And with food this good, you’ll never want to leave.
Price
: Average

8
Millers All Day
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Millers All Day

Millers All Day

What is it: Millers All Day is the perfect place for those who think that brunch should not be limited to just the weekends. Millers serves a great menu full of favorites—think waffles, biscuits and gravy, and a rotating grits bowl—every day of the week. And since it’s not really brunch without a proper drink, the venue’s specialty cocktails (like the super popular brunch punch, a frozen concoction that’s deceivingly delicious and easy to drink) make the perfect pairing with any menu item.
Why go
: The restaurant itself feels like a midcentury modern diner, complete with a coffee bar, bakery and an old school photo booth. If you like breakfast foods and quality cocktails, you’ll absolutely love it here.
Price
: Pricey

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9
Workshop
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Workshop

Workshop

What is it: Charleston’s first (and, as of now, only) food hall is in Wagener Terrace downtown and features a rotating residence of innovative (and sometimes experimental) restaurants and pop-ups. It’s infusing some much needed variety into Charleston’s culinary scene, with flavors and cuisines that had previously been missing from the city’s dining options.
Why go
: Since the restaurants change every few months, there’s always something new to discover. Think of it as an adult food court where you can get your hands on a burrito, some Cuban croquettes, a banh mi, some sushi and a frozen cocktail all at the same place.
Price
: Average

10
R Kitchen
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Ups C.

R Kitchen

What is it: The great thing about R Kitchen is that pretty much every seat in the restaurant is the chef’s table, so you really get a front row seat to admire how each meal is prepared.
Why go
: The five-course, prix-fixe meal can easily be altered to meet pretty much any dietary restriction and, at just $35 a person, it’s practically a steal. Menus are decided on daily so you’ll probably not know what you’re eating until you actually get to the restaurant. Think of it as a magical mystery culinary tour for your tastebuds.
Price
: Pricey

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11
Martha Lou’s
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Kimberly T.

Martha Lou’s

What is it: This downhome, bright pink cinderblock building has been a staple of Charleston’s NoMo neighborhood since before it even had a moniker. Martha Lou and her daughters have been serving quality, no-frills soul food for years, and they don’t show any signs of stopping. It basically feels as if you dropped into someone’s grandmother’s house for dinner and have been greeted with a whole lot of excitement. That sort of hospitality is contagious.
Why go
: The fried chicken is definitely the standout here and totally worth the wait for a fresh batch.
Price
: Bargain

12
The Darling Oyster Bar
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Lisa Marie K.

The Darling Oyster Bar

What is it: With a gorgeous vintage-style dining room and a lively raw bar, The Darling is a seafood lover’s dream restaurant. The menu is full of creative and popular seafood dishes (like the hand-cut French fries topped with house-made clam chowder) that are sure to impress even the pickiest of eaters.
Why
go: While dinner and the raw bar are mainstays, the brunch service—including the “Captain,” a Bloody Mary topped with a lobster claw, crab leg, olives, pickled shrimp and hushpuppy—is the true reason you should be running here.
Price
: Average

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13
Sorghum and Salt
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Sydney G.

Sorghum and Salt

What is it: With a menu comprised mostly of small plates and shareable items, Sorghum and Salt’s locally-sourced and Southern-inspired cuisine is meant to be enjoyed amongst friends. The trendy and hip vibe inside the restaurant is a fun backdrop to chef Tres Jackson’s creative and impressive menu that’ll make you feel like you’re gourmet dining without the gourmet price tag.
Why go:
The menu changes seasonally, which means there’s always a reason to come back and try something new. We suggest you take a seat at the chef’s table for $75 per person to revel in a truly one-of-a-kind experience.
Price
: Pricey

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