When traveling to historic Charleston, SC, you’ll be delighted at the many things to do and places to explore–from sites rich with history like Fort Sumter, to outdoor activities like boating, golfing and lounging on the beach. Located along the coast of South Carolina just two hours south of Myrtle Beach and an hour north of Savannah, GA, the city of Charleston has become a hotspot for travelers.
For years, the city has been named a top destination by reputable outlets like Conde Nast Traveler and Travel + Leisure, leading more people to come experience the rich culture of the Holy City. Although there are dozens of things to do while you’re in town, eating should be at the top of your list as Charleston is a huge culinary destination. If you’re wondering where to eat in Charleston, this list doesn’t even begin to cover all the amazing restaurants and bars in the area, but we did our best to give you the lowdown on some of the best spots in town.
Charleston as a Culinary Destination
Over the last two decades, the culinary world in Charleston has been reshaped and redefined by many great chefs looking to push the boundaries of Southern cuisine. Although you’ll definitely discover some of the best BBQ restaurants in the South here, the food world has really expanded to include a whole range of intriguing cultural cuisines–from Vietnamese and Sichuan to classic French and Indian. It’s the perfect realm for the adventurous eater who wants to try something new—and feel a little pampered.
Best Charleston Restaurants
Not going to brunch on a Sunday afternoon in Charleston is practically sacrilegious. With such beautiful weather year-round, Charlestonians love to find any excuse to spend more time outside—and more excuses to throw back a few brunch cocktails. If you’re heading to brunch during your stay in historic Charleston, SC, check out one of these top spots, but be sure to get there early to beat the long wait times.
Inspired by the covert speakeasy operations that once lined Broad Street in Charleston, the Blind Tiger is a testament to the city’s history. Although the specific building may not have been an actual “blind tiger,” or illegal speakeasy, back in the day, it takes much of its decor from that era. The beautiful brick interior leads through the restaurant and out to a back patio with plenty of room for diners and those just stopping by for a drink. If you’re headed here for brunch, order a pitcher of mimosas for the table and pair it with the avocado toast topped with house pickled shrimp and local tomatoes.
Also located on Broad Street, One Broad is a newbie on the Charleston cuisine scene, but they know how to serve up a brunch like no other. Whether you’re the kind of person who craves sweets in the morning or someone who has a more savory palate, One Broad definitely has something for you. For the sweet tooth of the group, try the (gigantic) frosted cinnamon bun. If you prefer savory, try the shakshuka, the trout schmear bialy or pastrami lox bagel. We promise you won’t be disappointed.
The Park Cafe
A charming little cafe on Rutledge Avenue, Park Cafe has both indoor and outdoor seating with decor inspired by the nearby Hampton Park, giving it a fresh, outdoorsy vibe. Although the restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day, this is one of our favorite places for brunch because of the selection of coffee drinks and morning cocktails, as well as their veggie-forward menu. Order the avocado toast or heirloom tomato toast to share and then dig into the farro plate, classic breakfast dish or, for the meat lovers of the group, the Park Cafe burger.
Depending on where you’re booking your house for rent in Charleston, SC, this destination may be a bit more of a drive, but it’s worth it. The Fat Hen is on Johns Island, about a 25-minute drive from downtown. With indoor/outdoor seating and an outdoor bar, the ambiance here can’t be beat—and the food is out of this world. The French-inspired menu features a killer French onion soup (of course) as well as steak tartare, corned beef, duck and apple sausage gratin, creme brulee French toast and a quiche of the day amongst more Southern dishes like shrimp and grits and a classic fried chicken sandwich.
Big Gun Burger Shop
A top-notch burger joint by day and a funky little dive bar by night, Big Gun Burger Shop is located in the heart of downtown Charleston on Calhoun Street between King and Meeting streets, directly across from Marion Square. Owner Austin Kirkland has been dishing out unique burger creations for nearly 10 years with some of his menu’s stars including the Thin White Duke patty (a burger with mushrooms, bacon, caramelized onions, Swiss cheese and horseradish mayo) and the Jive Turkey (a turkey burger stacked with turkey bacon, avocado, sprouts, gouda cheese and a peach jalapeno mustard). If you’re not feeling the meat today, Big Gun has got you covered with the latest addition to their menu, the vegan beatnik burrito stuffed (and we mean STUFFED) with cauliflower, vegan chili, onion, avocado, rice, pinto beans, cilantro and cashew chipotle sauce.
Queen Street Grocery
Queen Street Grocery doubles as a local lunch spot and a quaint market stocked with local beers, kombucha, snacks and a handful of essential grocery items. Stop by to order one of their sweet or savory breakfast crepes or pick from their list of sandwiches including the Happy Houdini which is stacked with thinly sliced ham, red onion, avocado and a generous helping of goat cheese on ciabatta bread. Enjoy a locally brewed beer with your lunch or keep it healthy with one of their tasty smoothies.
A unique dining hall concept establishment, Workshop features a rotating list of restaurants from classic Mexican cuisine to the latest addition, a Pakistani food stand. Be sure to check the current list of restaurants before you go as they do change regularly. This is the perfect place for a group who can’t agree on the same type of food. Plus, you can sit outside and sip on wine or cocktails in the courtyard, or head over to Edmund’s Oast Brewery next door for a few cold ones. Workshop regularly hosts events like the Night Bazaar as well, making it a great nighttime spot, too.
Mercantile and Mash
This open space coffee shop is located inside one of the coolest buildings in downtown Charleston—the Old Cigar Factory. Pop in for breakfast (served all day) or lunch with sandwiches, salads and other good eats galore. If you’re visiting Charleston for work, Mercantile and Mash is also one of the best coffee shops with Wi-Fi, so you can chill, do some work and eat delicious food. In the evening, head next door to Bar Mash for top shelf whiskey and handcrafted cocktails.
Bon Banh Mi
Everyone loves a good banh mi, and Bon Banh Mi has absolutely perfected the art of crafting one of these Vietnamese sandwiches. Here, the menu is simple: sandwich, salad or tacos. Then, pick your protein, which includes red curry beef, ginger lemongrass chicken, five-spice ground pork, five-spice tofu, country paté and Vietnamese ham or tamarind shrimp. They do serve off-menu specials every day of the week, so be sure to check their menu and see what they’re dishing out that day.
The Obstinate Daughter
Truly a staple in the world of Charleston food and bev, the Obstinate Daughter is located on Sullivan’s Island near the beach. The airy, nautical decor gives off a beachside feel while also remaining elegant. You can pretty much order anything on the menu here, and we promise you’ll be impressed. The homemade pastas and pizza are stars on the menu, but fish specials, oyster trays and much more are sure to satisfy your palate. The Old Danger pizza, which features a fried egg and pancetta, is one of the most popular items on the menu, along with the farro piccolo. Although the perfect place for a romantic dinner, the Obstinate Daughter is also known for their brunch menu.
A funky cocktail bar with a French-inspired menu, Felix is one of the hottest new restaurants in town. Their drink menu is filled with unique creations, like a negroni with strawberry campari, and their dinner menu has everything from lobster deviled eggs and crab croquettes to a tarte flambee and nightly fish special.
If you’re wondering where to eat in Charleston for some of the best seafood in town, The Darling is the place to go. Their raw bar features a range of oysters from up and down the East Coast, king crab legs, ceviche and shrimp, while their full menu boasts a variety of seafood-forward dishes. Though the menu changes regularly, the clam chowder poured over fries (their own take on a poutine) is a mainstay everyone should try. You’ll also find options like blue crab tagliatelle, seared diver scallops, squid ink pasta and a lobster and king crab roll.
When that steak craving hits, Oak Steakhouse is an excellent option for an upscale meal with some of the finest cuts of beef you can find. The interior’s exposed brick gives the restaurant a cozy, romantic feel, which is why so many people head here for date night. The menu features family style meals, incredible sides like lobster mac and cheese and duck fried rice, as well as classic appetizers like burrata to complement your steak.
This Sichuan restaurant on James Island is located right next to the Pourhouse, a local music venue with a funky back porch. At Kwei Fei you can indulge in some truly unique cuisine and then head over to listen to some live music. Many of the items on the menu are spicy, so be warned before you make the trek to this delicious restaurant with options like hot and sour noodles and the chairmen’s ribs. But, there are plenty of other non-spicy options for diners as well including cashew chicken and Mongolian beef.
Bowen’s Island Restaurant
While we’ve tried to highlight a variety of different cuisines in Charleston, Bowen’s Island Restaurant is the ultimate Southern food experience. This unassuming little fish shack is located on, you guessed it, Bowen’s Island, which is just off Folly Road on James Island. This small, sleepy little island is home to just a few large houses, a kayaking company and the restaurant which has stood there, in some form or another, since 1946. The restaurant has been passed down through the family and sticks to their original no-frills roots. The entire menu is pretty simple, offering classic South Carolina dishes like Frogmore Stew (don’t worry, frogs have nothing to do with it), shrimp and grits, fried fish, fried shrimp, fried oyster and steamed oysters. Not only is the food on point, but the marsh view from the back deck is one of the best places in the entire area to catch the sunset.
Rodney Scott’s BBQ
Most people come to the South looking to try the barbecue. And while different states are very adamant about their style of barbecue, we can promise you South Carolina-style is the best. (We’re not biased or anything.) Throughout the city, you’ll find plenty of options for great ’cue, but none quite as good as Rodney Scott’s which opened in 2017 after Rodney Scott himself spent 25 years learning to smoke whole hog barbecue from his family in Hemingway, SC. Now, he’s slinging the best brisket in town and the restaurant has even expanded to Birmingham, AL and Atlanta, GA.
Get a Taste of Charleston
As one of the hottest culinary destinations in the country, Charleston does not disappoint when it comes to dining out options. Whether you’re looking for houses for rent in Charleston, SC, or by one of the beaches like Isle of Palms, you’ll find yourself surrounded by delicious options for breakfast, lunch and dinner. When staying in a vacation rental, most travelers like to get their chef on for at least a few nights, but don’t pass up the opportunity to try some of the city’s best restaurants and indulge in traditional South Carolina fare.