Charleston is not only that charming historic city that the world is drawn to for history and culture, but it has an amazing food scene. If food is your passion, then Charleston is your dream destination.
Foodies come from all around the world to taste the flavors of the many award winning restaurants in Charleston. From fine dining to casual restaurants, you will find some of the best food in the country.
Not a single restaurant we visited in our last two visits to this harbor city has disappointed us. We jokingly say that you go into any restaurant blindfolded and still come out one happy customer.
The city by the sea sits below the Sandhills, the original coastline of the ancient seas across the Carolinas, hence it’s referred to as the “Lowcountry”. So the food that comes out of this region is popularly known as Lowcountry cuisine. Classic examples are shrimp and grits, she-crab soup, oysters, fried green tomatoes and Frogmore stew.
All come out of this fertile coastal region from culinary influences from African, French, English and European cuisines. Get ready and excited to try some of the best food in the world. They not only have amazing local flavors, but a whole city full of many ethnic flavors from all over the world. Be it Greek or Lebanese or any Asian cuisine, they have it all… the best of the best.
Don’t limit yourself just to one type of food, but embrace all the varied flavors the city has to offer. We have tried a few of the restaurants Charleston has to offer in our couple of short visits. Here they are…
1. The Swamp Fox at the Francis Marion Hotel
The Swamp Fox overlooks historic Marion Square park, right in downtown in the Francis Marion hotel. This is where we tried our favorite shrimp and grits, which we came to know is their award winning dish. Great to experience classic low country specialties like she crab soup and fried green tomatoes. This is also a great choice for breakfast to start your day right.
2. Barsa Tapas Lounge & Bar
This is our favorite restaurant in Charleston so far. We love to explore different world cuisine wherever we go, and this Tapas lounge is where we will go every single time we come back to Charleston. Their small plates are designed to be shared among family and friends.
The atmosphere is very cozy and relaxed. Order your favorite wine and devour one tapas after another before heading into mains. We tried their empanadas, lamb meatballs, shrimp with serrano peppers and garlic and cilantro (this one surely got me inspired to cook for GypsyPlate sometime soon in future).
Jason ordered grouper with chimichurri sauce… divine. Then the main course was of course paella with seafood and chorizo… Everything 5⭐.
This is a very popular restaurant and you need to make reservations online well in advance to ensure you get a seat. If you like Greek food, this is IT. Start with meze to share like keftedes along with dips like melitzanosalata (which is grilled eggplant dip with garlic, onion, lemon and extra virgin olive oil), hummus, tzatziki, taramosalata (traditional caviar dip) all served with grilled pita.
Saganaki is very popular, which is flaming cheese coming to your table that’s devoured with pitas. Try their shrimp dishes like shrimp santorini, or classic souvlaki or moussaka for mains. So, so fulfilling. Oh… save some room for their desserts like loukoumades, delicious honey rich pastry puffs. Divine…
4. Hyman’s Seafood Restaurant
Voted as the #1 Seafood Restaurant in the Southeast by Southern Living Magazine 9 years in a row, we had to try this. Located right in downtown, this iconic restaurant is very popular with tourists and is massive with 3 levels of dining.
Enjoy the relaxed atmosphere and Southern homestyle food in cozy ambience. You will find the restaurant filled with all the photos and plaques from every celebrity imaginable.
We tried their signature “Carolina Delight” which is their version of shrimp and grits. And we of course had a go with she-crab soup. Sometimes I like to sample this local delicacy in every single low country restaurant, just to know their style of cooking this creamy delicious concoction.
Jason tried one of their fried shrimp Po Boys, which didn’t disappoint. They had a pretty extensive menu of seafood and southern fare from crab cakes to gumbo to fried flounder. We would recommend a lunch visit in this popular joint. There would be long lines, so reservation is recommended.
We absolutely adored this Fusion Asian restaurant on our quick lunch break. All the menu is a modern take on traditional Southeast Asian cuisine. In Vietnamese, “CO” is the word for feast. And it felt like a feast in the afternoon.
We tried their pork and ginger dumplings and Malaysian chili wings (chicken wings marinated in coconut milk marinade, tossed in a pineapple, ginger, lemongrass & chili sauce) for starters. So, so good.
Then we tried their spicy ramen pho (absolutely slurp worthy till the last spoon), along with one of the banh mi sandwiches. Little slow service, but will definitely return for great food.
6. Thai Zapp Restaurant and Bar
One night we felt like a little spicy and hungry for some food with zing, so decided to try this brand new Thai restaurant in downtown. Exceptionally great service and great fresh food.
We tried their pad krapow gai, that is Thai basil chicken. If you follow GypsyPlate, that’s one of my favorite Thai dishes. You can peak at our recipe for pad krapow gai. Well, they didn’t disappoint me with theirs. We ordered Thai spicy, so had the correct heat with beautiful lingering sauce and plenty of basil. Perfect. We devoured it so quick we forgot to take a picture!
We had regular few dumplings before as well as beef noodle soup.
FIG, simply meaning Food Is Good. It’s one the popular award winning restaurant in Charleston. If you are looking for some innovative dishes and eclectic entrées, try FIG. It’s located right in downtown. Make a reservation far in advance.
8. Xiao Bao Biscuit
This is another great Asian eatery with a menu full of some great authentic dishes from China, Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam. There is always something new and interesting to sample at Xio Bao Biscuit. Their signature dish is Okonomiyaki, a savory Japanese pancake.
9. High Cotton
Get true Charleston hospitality in this cozy atmosphere. Great low country and American cuisine at its best. Great seafood collection and worth the pricey tag.
10. Republic Ice Cream
Wrap it up with sweet something in Republic Ice Cream. We love our ice cream. It’s located right dang in downtown, so whatever you are doing take a break in between, walk in and grab some ice cream… Yum.
So there you go, the next time you are in Charleston, here are 10 great restaurants for you to try. If you’re a foodie like me, this gorgeous city is a must visit destination.
While you’re here, check out my guide of the top things to do in Charleston. And be sure to subscribe to the GypsyPlate newsletter. We’re always cooking up new recipes for you to try, and will soon be adding new travel guides.
Until next time…
Welcome to GypsyPlate! I'm Alpana, former wordwide tour manager and professional caterer, now full time blogger. I love exploring cuisines from around the world, and my recipes have been featured on sites such as MSN, Parade, Brit + Co, CNET and AOL. You can explore my entire collection of sortable recipes in my Recipe Index or learn more about me here.
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