There’s a reason Charleston was recently voted Best City in the world in 2016.
Among those reasons, Holy City cuisine is so renowned visitors may consider worshipping the local masters of the culinary arts.
The best fine dining restaurants in downtown Charleston, SC, offer meals that punch way above the belt for such a small city. As demonstrated by a recent visit by Anthony Bourdain, Charleston, South Carolina, is on the map for its food culture.
Many Charleston restaurants have gained nation-wide notoriety for their ingredients, their chefs, or their flavors. No visit to Charleston is complete without exploring as many of the fantastic downtown Charleston restaurants as time here permits. So avoid the standard tourist trap restaurants in Charleston and experience some of the best places to eat that the Holy City has to offer. This is especially true if you’re looking for romantic things to do in Charleston.
10 Foods You Need to Try While You’re in Charleston
A foodie paradise, Charleston’s restaurants keep on getting more and more creative every day. But there are always some local staples. There are hundreds of iterations at each of the various restaurants. Some of the top Charleston foods to try while you’re here are:
- Shrimp and grits
- She-crab soup
- Fried green tomatoes
- Red rice
- Boiled peanuts
- Hoppin’ John
- Biscuits and gravy
Top 10 Best Fine Dining Restaurants in Downtown Charleston, South Carolina
Below is my list of the top 10 best fancy restaurants in downtown Charleston, SC. I am more into casual dining, as most of these carry a pricetag too high for any old occasion. There are a ton of options for casual restaurants in Charleston, SC, and many of them are also located downtown.
1. Hominy Grill
Hominy Grill is as Southern as Southern food gets. It’s a must visit for tourists and locals, which is a rare accomplishment for any restaurant. The Chef on board is Robert Stehling, winner of the Best Chef of the Southeast award in 2008 by the James Beard Foundation. Checkout the Charleston Nasty dish for brunch. It is a fried chicken biscuit covered in gravy and is arguably the epitome of comfort food.
You’ll find locals and tourists lined up for Sunday brunch at Hominy Grill. This restaurant showcases Charleston’s taste with menu items like shrimp beignets, okra, catfish creole and much more. The shrimp and grits are highly recommended here.
2. Poogan’s Porch
Poogan’s Porch is one of the oldest restaurants in Charleston on romantic Queen Street. This is the place to experience Lowcountry cuisine staples. Since its beginnings in 1976, Poogan’s is a favorite of many visitors. Autographs line the walls of this Southern institution from:
- famous tourists
- celebrities and locals alike
This attractively restored Victorian building is the perfect spot for lunch, dinner or brunch.
Whether sausage gravy on a homemade buttermilk biscuit for brunch or buttermilk fried chicken, I guarantee the food will be memorable. Be sure to try the fried alligator, she crab soup, or iron tip steak.
Open all through the year, both indoor and outdoor spaces are available. Be sure to take advantage of their special anniversary pricing in February (when they roll-back their food prices to match the rates of their first year in business).
Poogan’s Porch also has a few fascinating ghost stories. The namesake is of the ghostly dog named Poogan that occupies the front porch and snatches-up any food accidentally dropped by diners. He only takes food dropped accidentally, mind-you, so don’t bother making more work cleaning-up for your server. Leave room for one of their amazing biscuits.
FIG was first opened in 2003. The name is an acronym for “Food is Good”. The restaurant continues to be a top destination for perfectly executed plates in downtown Charleston. The food at FIG is the top priority with a seasonally-inspired menu based on locally-procured ingredients. The silky-smooth, rich, chicken liver pâté is highly recommended, but it would be difficult to find a bad meal at this Charlestonian staple. Mike Lata, chef here at FIG, was also awarded the James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef of the Southeast in 2009, by the way.
4. Hall’s Chophouse
For an old-fashioned (and expensive) night on the town, there’s Hall’s Chophouse on Upper King Street. Diners are often entertained by a musician on the piano while enjoying their thick steaks and martinis. Gullah singers are usually at what is one of the fanciest Sunday brunches in Charleston, SC. The restaurant is not that old, but the ambiance feels like it’s from a different decade.
Consistently included at the top of anyone’s list of fancy restaurants in Charleston, Hall’s Chophouse is worth the expense for a special occasion. This is without question a place to dress-up for, and more than a few people go for the hope of rubbing elbows with the cast of the show, Southern Charm. Those are not people I’m friends with, in case you’re wondering.
This is another one of the more high end restaurants found in downtown Charleston. Magnolias is famous for its contemporary upscale dishes in Charleston’s historic district on East Bay Street. On their menu are many Charleston classics with a heavy focus on seafood, like:
- sautéed mussels
- pimiento cheese
6. Hank’s Seafood
Hank’s Seafood is one of the most famous seafood restaurants in downtown Charleston, and overlooks the Historic Charleston City Market. The restaurant is built in a classic 1940’s Charleston Fish House style. This long-time Charleston eating establishment offers patrons specialty meals like Lowcountry bouillabaisse and crab soup. Many visitors to Charleston know of Hank’s Seafood before or shortly after they arrive. Be sure to explore the many other options when it comes to dining here in the Lowcountry.
7. Anson Restaurant
This trendy and stylish restaurant features interesting items recovered from ruined colonial houses:
- iron balconies reminiscent of New Orleans
- Victorian rococo
- Corinthian pilasters
The menu is infused with culinary styles from throughout the Southeast. Regular menu items at Anson Restaurant include:
- sautéed green beans
- cashew-crusted grouper
- champagne cream sauce
A children’s menu is also available for those not feeling quite so adventurous.
8. High Cotton
High Cotton has an atmosphere of warmth and festivity that starts the moment you step into the restaurant. You’ll find it in the expertly made dishes and an extraordinary wine and cocktail collection. From mirth in the bar to the trendy dining rooms of antique brick and pine floors, you’ll come to appreciate true Charleston hospitality. They offer a jazz night and Sunday brunch, as well as private dining rooms for business, weddings and social events.
Two major names in cuisine run Husk:
- Chef de Cuisine Travis Grimes
- Chef Sean Brock (awarded the title of Best Chef of the Southeast by the James Beard Foundation in 2010)
The restaurant works to express the abundance of the Lowcountry and the South in general. At Husk, there is one major rule on what to eat – “if it doesn’t come from the South, it isn’t coming through the door”! They have consistently been true to this promise. They even refused to use olive oil until they could source an olive oil producer in Texas, for example. The restaurant is as laid-back as it is stylish, suggesting a way of life focused on seasonality and the impressive customs of Charleston life. It is a social meeting place for friends, and a target dining location for tourists, with a bit of the South to suit everyone’s palates.
If you’re not feeling dropping a small fortune on dinner at Husk, Husk’s bar is between Husk and Poogan’s Porch. It features lighter fare to go with its drinks.
McCrady’s features contemporary southern cuisine that centers on local ingredients, excellent wines and unmatched service. Chef Sean Brock (recognize the name?) mixes liberal American cuisine with the latest methods with the freshest quality ingredients. This relaxed, opulently detailed and visually sumptuous restaurant is situated in Charleston’s first ever tavern. It was first constructed in 1771. This National Historic Landmark is situated in the middle of the momentous French Quarter neighborhood in downtown Charleston.
Visiting one of these downtown Charleston restaurants is a brilliant plan for a special occasion. Get excited to enjoy fantastic interpretations of the Lowcountry cuisine available in any of these Charleston, SC, restaurants. Enjoying the local cuisine is, without question, one of the best things to do in Charleston, SC!