F&W’s roundup of the best restaurants in Charleston, from one that has its roots as a mobile pizza operation to the longstanding McCrady’s. For more great restaurants, check out our guide to the best places to eat in the country.
Courtesy McCrady’s Restaurant
Sean Brock, the young chef who took over the kitchen at McCrady’s last year, has brought some of the experimental techniques associated with molecular gastronomy to this stalwart Charleston restaurant: He cooks many of his dishes sous-vide and uses ingredients like methylcellulose. The handsome, clubby space, with leather banquettes, exposed beams and a mahogany bar, reflects the restaurant’s past life as an 18th-century tavern.
The pommes frites at La Fourchette are locally famous—they’re fried twice in duck fat, after all—but fans of traditional bistro cooking will find many other noteworthy items on the menu, including a fine cassoulet that arrives at the table in the earthenware casserole dish in which it’s cooked.
Cordavi’s Corey Elliott and David Szlam are at the fore of Charleston’s new culinary vanguard, which is looking to expand this city’s dining scene beyond the grits-and-gravy mainstays. The pair are arguably less cutting-edge than Sean Brock of McCrady’s but still exciting, preparing dishes like asparagus soup with bacon froth.
© Peter Frank Edwards
Situated in what was once a Navy debarkation point, this maritime-themed restaurant decorated with orange life preservers is Tradd and Weesie Newton’s much-anticipated follow-up to McCrady’s. Their gently priced menu celebrates the local catch—superb barbecued oysters or low-country shrimp boil with smoky sausage and okra. The best tables can be found outside, on the wraparound deck overlooking Charleston Harbor.
© Peter Frank Edwards
Following the example of his mentor, famed Southern cook Bill Neal, Robert Stehling remains loyal to low-country cooking traditions yet finds a way to add his own imprimatur using the best local ingredients. The results are unpretentious, creative and delicious: sautéed chicken livers in gravy flavored with country ham; grits served with scallions, mushrooms, and local shrimp.
Last March, a wildly popular mobile pizza operation that makes the rounds among local farmers’ markets expanded to add a proper restaurant in North Charleston’s Park Circle neighborhood. Owners Matt McIntosh and Ricky Hacker continue to produce exceptional pies: Toppings consist of locally grown vegetables and homemade mozzarella and sausage on signature crusts that have been perfectly charred on their quick trip inside the 700-degree wood-fired oven.
When Hominy Grill’s chef-owner Robert Stehling wants to feast on local seafood, he heads to this signless shack—built on the site of a shipwrecked trawler, 10 minutes outside Charleston in Mount Pleasant—for fried oysters, she-crab soup and boiled shrimp. (They also offer London broil, but it comes with this unsettling disclaimer: “This is a seafood house claiming no expertise in the preparation of red meat... No returns!!!!!!!!”)
Food Sightseeing Stops
Every Saturday, farmers assemble in Marion Square, a 10-acre park in downtown Charleston, to sell fruits and vegetables that inspire chefs throughout the city, including local shrimp, green peanuts (for boiling) and heirloom tomatoes from John’s Island.
This gorgeous working tea plantation on Wadmalaw Island, only about 20 miles outside of Charleston, makes for a great day trip. You can tour its 127 acres and sample tea with Bill Hall, a third-generation tea taster.
Housed in a 19th-century Georgian building, Planters Inn is a fantasy of gracious Southern living. Rooms have high ceilings and four-poster beds; the ones to book also have a terrace overlooking the hotel’s landscaped piazza.
With sweeping lobby staircases and a pool with a retractable glass roof, this downtown hotel is the luxurious choice of many visiting dignitaries. Book a south-facing second-floor room—they offer panoramic views of the City Market.
Updated July 2009