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Charleston & ME

A Local's Top Picks: 11 Best Restaurants in Downtown Charleston SC for Lowcountry, Southern Coastal flavor

As a top foodie destination with an ever-growing food scene, there are myriad choices when it comes to where to eat in Charleston SC. When traveling, I like to first sample foods that represent the culture of where I am. In Charleston that would be Lowcountry, Southern and Coastal cuisine. And that is exactly what I have rounded up here. This list is a combination of my personal, as a local, best restaurants in Downtown Charleston SC that represent Charleston’s local flavor.


Exterior of Hank's Seafood Restaurant in Charleston
Hank's Seafood, a Top 20 Restaurant in Downtown Charleston SC

Hank’s Seafood Restaurant

Southern Seafood cuisine with everything you’d expect from a Charleston seafood house. Oysters raw, fried, grilled plus generous servings of shrimp & grits, salmon, flounder, swordfish, bouillabaisse, crab cakes, scallops, seafood a la wando plus buttermilk fried chicken for the non-seafood lover in your party. Southern sides include collard greens (delish), coleslaw, stone ground grits, fried green tomatoes and more. Entrees: $28 - $42. 10 Haynes Street.


{Classic Charleston Fish House with an old fashioned saloon-style bar and an exhibition raw bar. White table cloth and white jacket dining without the stuffiness. If reservations are full, try the Community Table or Bar for open seating—arrive by 5 for your best shot}


Why go: Everything about Hank’s is spot on. The interior. The vibe. The quality. The portions (aka value). The service. The experience. This is the sit-down restaurant we visit the most often as locals in Charleston.


Magnolias

Upscale Southern cuisine with a modern approach to classic Lowcountry dishes. An extensive menu with all of the Lowcountry classics. Appetizers ranging from fried green tomatoes, scallops, mussels, deviled eggs, to crab cakes, livers, and Brussels sprouts. Plus soup, salads and sandwiches (BLT, crab cake, rib melt, burger). Entrees include, my favorite, the buttermilk chicken breast with mashed potatoes, collard greens, creamed corn, cracked pepper biscuit, with sausage herb gravy. And also, jambalaya, catfish, bouillabaisse, shellfish over grits, pork chops and more. Entrees: lunch $16 - $35, Dinner $28 - $50 avg. 185 East Bay Street.


{Another Charleston classic. White jacket and white table cloth dining. As with most Charleston locales, make reservations ahead}

Why go: Magnolias is my-go Lowcountry lunch spot for a nicer setting. I absolutely love the buttermilk chicken chicken breast with the southern sides. Another spot where value is king.


82 Queen

Gorgeous Charleston interior, excellent service and a menu to match. You’ll find Carolina Crab Cakes with okra, sweet corn & black-eyed peas succotash served with Charleston red rice and Lowcountry remoulade. And then there’s shrimp & oyster po’ boys, she crab soup, fried green tomatoes, jambalaya, shrimp (or fish) & grits, pork chops, roasted duck and more. Entrees: lunch $18 - $25, dinner $30 - $50 avg. 82 Queen Street.


{classic Charleston establishment serving up Lowcountry cuisine set inside three combined buildings with a gorgeous courtyard in Charleston’s Historic French Quarter}

Why go: There’s something about walking down their alleyway-style entrance to the courtyard. So, right off there’s character. Then, such variety. I go for the crab cakes, again with all those Southern Lowcountry sides included. It feels like a little piece of Charleston history on every visit


The Darling Oyster Bar

Vintage-styled Charleston Raw Bar with a great vibe. And not just raw, there are fried, steamed and baked oysters, mussels, a seafood plateau, and shrimp plus sandwiches and fry baskets and shrimp & grits (make sure to add the fried egg on top), crab tagliatelle, fried chicken, and scallops to name a few. Entrees: $14 - $30 avg. 513 King Street


{Dinner only, 4 - 11pm with Brunch on Sundays opening at 11am. Make reservations or try a walk-in right at opening. You can also find seating at the bar without reservation}


Why go: Here, I am going for the hip vibe. It’s a humming type atmosphere, but not over crowded, that is completely Instagrammable. And again, with the value. Fantastic seafood fix at a reasonable Charleston rate.


Lewis BBQ

Wood smoked Texas-style BBQ from Pitmaster John Lewis. Located in a warehouse style building with a cool Texas themed interior. Go for the beef brisket and stay for the collards, mac n cheese and pickled onions. But, of course there’s also the pulled pork. Okay, go for them both, that’s why they serve sliced to order on trays. $15 - $25 per person avg. 464 N Nassau Street


{Also known for his “Texas Hot Gut Sausages.” Look out for the daily specials too, Sunday is a Texas-sized country fried steak with gravy that’s crazy good. Can get busy with lines, go early}

Why go: The experience. The interior is cool. I love to watch them cutting the meat right there as you order. And well,  here, it is all about the brisket and the sides for me


Rodney Scott’s Whole Hog BBQ

You will find all the pit cooked and smoked essentials here. Pork skins, pimento cheese with smoked sausages, whole hog bbq, pulled pork shoulder, tender beef brisket, pit cooked chicken and turkey breast, Sandwiches with sides or as trays. Did I mention, collard greens, mac n cheese, and potato salad? $12 - $22 per person avg. 1011 King Street.


{Rodney Scott smoked his first pig at age 11. Charleston’s own, and a James Beard Award Winner; Best Chef Southeast. Look around, you are likely to see Rodney while you are there}

Why go: Rodney’s just feels like home. It’s the way I remember BBQ growing up. All the options and the Southern sides. Plus on one of my first visits, Rodney was sitting outside at one of the picnic tables having lunch with a couple of other folks and chatted it up with us as well. Very welcoming. That stuck with me.


 

Lowcountry Cuisine with a Contemporary Spin

Here you will find the second half of this list of Charleston restaurants with Lowcountry flavor. These all have a more contemporary approach to menu dishes and in some cases interior.


Chubby Fish

Raw items, whole fish, small plates and entrees. Menu changes daily based on availability. Expect menu items such as ceviche, crudo, tartare, raw oysters plus small plates with poached fish, grilled oysters, lamb ribs and entrees such as an oyster roll, garlic shrimp, tagliatelle and wreckfish. Entrees: $22 - $40 avg. 252 Coming Street.


{Features seasonal ingredients from local farms, rivers and the Atlantic Ocean. No reservations. Expect a line starting at 4:30 with doors opening at 5pm. Small unassuming space, limited seating.}


FIG

Southern cuisine with a South American and French influence. Expect pairings such as the roasted b-llner snapper with fino sherry, Siberian kale, red grape and almond. Or, chicken liver pate, Parisian style beef tartare, duroc pork schnitzel or cast iron wagyu bavette. Entrees: $42 - $50 avg. 232 Meeting Street.


{Seasonal, locally sourced menu with a modern approach and modern interior. White table cloth dining. The bar offers the full menu without reservations}


The Grocery

Lowcountry cuisine with a Mediterranean spin and Contemporary plating. A sampling of the menu includes fried oysters, crudo, spaghetti nero, poached tilefish with saffron cream, duck liver mousse, and steak tartare. Small plate, a la carte style. $30 - $70 meal. 4 Canon Street.


{Small urban styled space with open kitchen concept, community table and bar seating available. Helmed by Chef Kevin Johnson, a once-upon-a-time vegetarian}


Husk

Contemporary approach to Southern eating. Dishes might include, for example, smoked rigatoni with Broadbent bacon, egg and cheese or Blue Ridge rabbit pot pie with lowland carrots, puff pastry or Brasstown short rib with groundnut grits, baby carrots or black grouper with butterkin pumpkin, harissa spätzle, cabbage. Entrees: $30 - $42 avg. 76 Queen Street.


{Menu changes often depending on seasonally, even daily, available ingredients from Southern providers. Made famous by founding chef and James Beard award winner, Sean Brock (no longer associated with Husk). The exterior is a gorgeous Victorian style, while the interior is modern. Full menu is available at The Bar without reservation}


The Ordinary

Their tagline is “fancy seafood in Charleston.” Raw Bar, fancy seafood towers (their description), caviar service. Plus small and large plates from amberjack pâté, crudo, wagyu steak tartare, Jerusalem artichoke velouté, Baltimore style fish cake to Creole seafood gumbo, triggerfish, and New England style fish chowder. Dinner only. $50 - $100+. 544 King Street.


{Housed in a 1920s renovated bank building with open soaring ceilings and white tile floors. Another option for experiencing The Ordinary is to visit for an appetizer (oysters or lite bites)}


 

The List: A Local's Top Picks of the 11 Best Restaurants in Downtown Charleston SC for Lowcountry, Southern Coastal flavor

  1. Hank’s Seafood Restaurant

  2. 82 Queen

  3. Magnolias

  4. The Darling Oyster Bar

  5. Lewis BBQ

  6. Rodney Scott’s Whole Hog BBQ

  7. Chubby Fish

  8. FIG

  9. The Grocery

  10. Husk

  11. The Ordinary


 

This concludes the Charleston & ME list for locals’ top picks of Lowcountry, Southern Coastal restaurants to try in Downtown Charleston where you are likely to find all the foods Charleston is famous for.


And, if you are looking to experience restaurants with International flavors donning the streets in Charleston, I have a list of 8 places to pick from to add to your itinerary (from a weekly favorite Tex-mex to wood-fired pizza to French, Italian and a modern twist on American).


Oh, I would be remiss if I did not think about your lunch jaunts. Make sure to peruse this list for where locals each lunch in Charleston as well. Happy Eating!


A plate of BBQ greens and Mac n cheese with cornbread at Rodney Scotts BBQ in Downtown Charleston
Rodney Scott BBQ in Downtown Charleston

 

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Charleston local Monica Edwards Photographing at Sullivans Island Beach

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I'm a writer, photographer, explorer and 20+ year former magazine owner. I'm obsessed with adventure, interest and intrigue. And, a curator of Charleston's best.

You're likely to find me exploring Charleston, living large and helping others to do the same.

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