Best Of the Best 2021 in Charleston SC
The businesses in this guide, voted on by our readers, are local recommendations into the best Charleston has to offer in dining, nightlife, home services, salons, veterinarians, hotels and anything else you’d want an expert recommendation for before checking out. Even if you’ve lived in the Lowcountry for a long time, there’s a chance you’ll find a new favorite restaurant or hair salon within this guide. From where to buy a boat to where to take your pet, we’ve got recommendations about where to go and what experts to call.
By Elise DeVoe and Jenna Ley-Jamison
Post House Inn, decorated in the style of a coastal tavern, has become a destination for vacationers and Charleston staycationers alike. Chefs at the Mt. Pleasant eatery, near Shem Creek, utilize local ingredients to drive home their contemporary American concept. Diners will find locally-caught seafood, sustainably-sourced meats and fresh produce at the forefront of the menu. Their standout shrimp curry on the dinner menu utilizes two different local purveyors to create one cohesive and satisfying dish.
Xiao Bao Biscuit
Xiao Bao creates dishes originating in China, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam “inspired by kick-ass grandmothers everywhere.” The menu at their trendy downtown location rotates often, but diners can always look forward to their signature Okonomiyaki, a Japanese savory pancake. The owners learned how to make their signature cabbage pancake while farming in Japan and it has become so popular that they ship them nationwide.
Wild Olive has been serving the Charleston community since 2009 and they pride themselves on their house-made pasta and house-cured salumi. Executive Chef Jacques Larson draws from his experience in the Piedmont region of Italy, bringing authentic cuisine to Johns Island. Any of their homemade pastas combined with a thoughtful wine pairing makes the evening feel like a special occasion.
Mex 1 Coastal Cantina
The dishes at Mex 1, with locations in West Ashley, Sullivan’s Island and Park West, are inspired by the bright and bold flavors of the Baja Peninsula. Their Bangin’ Shrimp and Baja Fish tacos topped with fresh salsas burst with flavors from the coast. Pair your food with one of their margaritas made with 100% Blue Agave Tequila and fresh-squeezed fruit juices for the full Baja experience.
Saffron Cafe and Bakery
Saffron has been holding it down on East Bay Street downtown since 1986, serving their Mediterranean and Persian inspired baked goods. At Saffron, all of their freshly baked bread, including a ten grain, semolina and rosemary-infused loaf, along with pastries, desserts, and cakes whole or by the slice are homemade and fresh out the oven. Their bakery offers their products wholesale at select coffee shops and stores.
Melvin’s Barbeque in James Island is home to South Carolina’s original mustard-based BBQ. Melvin’s has been using the same recipe since 1939 and the owner’s commitment to their legacy has made them a Charleston barbeque institution. Diners can enjoy different daily specials and deals, but no matter what you order, make sure you slather it in their signature sauce.
Acme Lowcountry Kitchen
Acme is the place to go for breakfast or brunch by the beach. They are located on Isle of Palms and serve up Southern breakfast staples. Their grit bowl, featuring fried pecan chicken, collard greens, bacon jam and fried eggs, is a great way to start the day and perfect when paired with a Bloody Mary.
Little Jack’s Tavern
The burger at Little Jack’s Tavern was named the Burger of the Year in 2017 by Bon Appétit magazine and the hype is still real. The Tavern Burger is a simple combination of a juicy patty, griddled onions, American cheese and “tavern sauce” on a soft and pillowy bun. Located on King Street in a hip part of downtown, enjoy a single or double patty burger, a shrimp burger or a play on “surf n turf” with a patty of each.
Cru Catering was founded over 20 years ago and they cater it all, from weddings to private events to corporate events. An arm of their sister restaurant Cru Café downtown, they are all about personalizing their services to fit their client’s needs. They offer traditional catering services as well as their “Pit Cru” barbecue catering, “Cru on-the-go” for lunch delivery and offer their own in-house bar service to complement the meal. They are sure to make your event delicious.
Vintage Coffee Café
Vintage has been serving coffee, breakfast and lunch in the heart of Mount Pleasant since the fall of 2015. The interior has a coastal beachy style and an expansive courtyard with a wide variety of coffee, espresso and tea options. They offer plenty of breakfast options and light bites to go with your coffee such as their to-die-for avocado toast with house-made tomato onion marmalade and fresh açai bowls.
Hyman’s is known for their variety of seafood, but patrons specifically seek out their crab cakes. These “Northern style” crab cakes are packed with fresh lump crab meat and served with a tangy remoulade sauce. Guests have their choice of enjoying them in a variety of ways, either broiled or fried, and ordered as an appetizer, in a poboy or as an entree.
The only thing better than a dessert cafe is a dessert cafe that serves drinks, and Carmella’s has both. Carmella’s has a great selection of cakes by the slice, pastries and gelato that are sure to satisfy your sweet tooth. Their goal is to bring to life the ideals of the “Italian Piazza” and encourage people to connect with each other over dessert—two forks please!
Page’s Okra Grill
The casual atmosphere and wraparound porch at Page’s Okra Grill in Mt. Pleasant makes you feel like you’re at a friend’s house for dinner. They specialize in Southern comfort food that is easy to share with the whole family. They are known for their fried chicken and adding a side of collard greens is always recommended.
82 Queen has been serving Lowcountry Cuisine in the heart of the French Quarter in downtown Charleston for over 38 years. Their garden courtyard removes you from the hustle and bustle of the city and provides a peaceful environment for brunch, lunch, or dinner. Enjoy iconic Lowcountry dishes such as fish and grits and she crab soup.
Kid Cashew serves Mediterranean fare with many plant-based and gluten free options at their Mt. Pleasant restaurant. They have an entire section of their menu dedicated to vegan options and their entire menu denotes whether or not an item is gluten free. You will not miss the meat in their vegan options, like the wood-fired portobello mushroom gyro.
Ye Ole Fashioned
Rod Lapin opened this West Ashley café in 1972, and it has been a staple in the Lowcountry ever since. With a selection of over 30 ice cream flavors, including the classics and fun seasonal options, there is something for everyone as well as massive sundaes, milkshakes and famous banana splits. Now they have six locations in the Lowcountry area, including the two Summerville stores owned by Lapin’s son, Todd.
It’s no secret that Boxcar Betty’s has one of the best fried chicken sandwiches in town. Their mission from the beginning has been to bring high-end fried chicken sandwiches to Charleston. Order the Boxcar with a side of sweet potato fries and you will already be planning your next lunch break at this West Ashley eatery.
Daniel Island’s newest seafood restaurant serves bright and clean flavors in a beautiful waterfront space right next to the Wando River. Their seafood is served in both raw and wood-fired preparations and the menu even includes a seafood tower. Pair it all with a rotating draft beer list or specialty cocktails. For an extra special evening, take the ferry over from downtown.
Gathering Cafe in West Ashley creates their menu based on fresh in-season produce from the Carolinas. They specialize in comfort food with a healthy touch and they have plenty of vegetarian and vegan menu options. They also have specials that change daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Tavern & Table
Tavern & Table overlooks Shem Creek and they have a large outdoor area where you can enjoy some of the best sunset views in the Lowcountry. Their cocktails are almost as beautiful as the view and pair nicely with their fresh seafood offerings. Their burnt end Mac and Cheese is also a must try.
Famulari’s was opened back in 2008 in Summerville by a team of friends with 20+ years of pizza-making experience. They’ve since added a location on James Island. You can’t go wrong with any of their pizzas, but they are known for their Chicago style pizza, loaded up with sauce, cheese, and a thick crust that you will no longer question the term “pizza pie.”
Rappahannock Oyster Bar is located in the historic cigar factory on East Bay Street in downtown Charleston. Their indoor space has a rustic feel and the 40-seat wraparound copper bar captures your attention right away. Kick off your meal with a selection of fresh oysters from different regions and enjoy the whole grilled fish or pan seared local fish as an entree.
The stylish and sophisticated dining room and lamplit courtyard at Peninsula Grill downtown is the perfect way to celebrate an anniversary or any special occasion. Patrons make reservations here months in advance for the award-winning wine list and elevated southern food, but the ultimate goal is ending their meal with the famous 12-layer “Ultimate Coconut Cake” served seasonally during the holidays.
Five Loaves Café
Five Loaves is a favorite lunch spot for locals and tourists alike. Their FLC Caesar Salad is unlike any other salad in town—they add in warm cheese tortellini for a special touch. There are also daily special salads like raspberry, feta and pecans over mixed greens. Quality ingredients are key in their mission at their two locations in Mt. Pleasant and Summerville.
Hank’s Seafood Restaurant
Hank’s is located a block-and-a-half off the Charleston City Market in the heart of downtown Charleston. Try a bit of everything with their seafood tower or southern seafood platters bursting with golden brown goodness. Whether you like your seafood raw, grilled, or fried, they have delicious options waiting for you.
Mt. Pleasant Seafood on Shem Creek
Mt. Pleasant Seafood is one of the oldest businesses in the Lowcountry. Locally owned and operated for more than 75 years, this fourth-generation family business is known as the local’s choice for fresh local seafood, from shrimp to crab claws to select oysters. They have the expertise to help you find the perfect fresh catch and offer a “ready-to-go shrimp boil” package with everything you need for the table.
For over 35 years, Oscar's has served Summerville and the surrounding communities with traditional American favorites and creative cuisine in an upscale casual atmosphere. In those 35 years, they have curated a memorable dining experience for guests through attentive service and inviting ambiance. Their signature dishes are their shrimp and grits and steak Oscar.
Barsa’s shareable small plates make this dining experience in downtown Charleston engaging and fun. It’s easy to tell that they take the same amount of time and care preparing their tapas as they would for a large format entree. While they try to stay true to Spanish tradition, they incorporate local ingredients where they can for a Southern flare. Sharing a plate of their signature patatas bravas and pairing them with a Spanish red wine makes for an excellent evening.
Halls is a Charleston institution that has become a coveted experience for any Charleston local. The downtown spot on King Street is known for its attentive service and high-quality steaks, including rare cuts like bone-in filet mignon and a slow roasted prime rib. Their assortment of sides hold their own, with a standout being the pepper jack creamed corn skillet.
The Obstinate Daughter
There are few things better than brunch by the beach. The Obstinate Daughter on Sullivan’s Island serves a delightful mix of sweet and savory items for their brunch alongside signature cocktails. Try their savory “eggs in purgatory” or go the sweet route with their sweet potato waffle. Both of them pair perfectly with a mimosa.
Locals has been “rolling hard” since 2009 with a unique experience in store with their sports pub and sushi combination concept. Their award-winning salmon roll is topped with octopus, jalapeño, lime, ponzu, eel sauce and red tobiko. They have half-priced sushi Mondays at the Mt. Pleasant location and Tuesday night at the West Ashly location. Even though they offer great prices, they don’t skimp on quality.
They say eating the rainbow is one way to make sure you’re eating healthy, and Basic Kitchen’s vibrant plates will help you do just that. The food and cocktail menu at this downtown spot is seasonal and heavily rooted in local ingredients. Try their curry dishes, bowls and pistachio pesto rigatoni for dinner. Most of their dishes are vegetarian or vegan by default and naturally gluten free.
The Boathouse at Breach Inlet
Right over the bridge between Sullivan’s and Isle of Palms sits the Boathouse on Breach Inlet. Their rooftop bar overlooks the iconic waterway, where patrons usually always spot dolphins. If you’re looking for light bites after a day at the beach, their bar menu includes appetizers like sweet corn hush puppies or fresh seafood items such as shrimp cocktail or seasonal oysters.
Avondale Wine and Cheese
Avondale Wine and Cheese makes finding your new favorite wine easy, and you won’t have to break the bank. Situated in West Ashley’s hottest neighborhood, they have $10 tastings every Thursday and $5 glasses of wine on Wednesdays for Ladies Night, which pair perfectly with their cheese-forward menu. They feature bottles from a variety of regions and price ranges, so there is something for everyone.