Leading up to the pandemic, Charleston’s dining scene reached a moment of reckoning. Stalwarts that defined Lowcountry cuisine, like Hominy Grill and McCrady’s, shuttered (the former so chef Robert Stehling could develop other ventures and the latter because it was no longer a viable concept with new restrictions on seating capacity). Then in 2020, the most promising newcomers—places like Chubby Fish and Estadio—were forced to shut down for half a year or more. Through closings and staffing issues, however, the Holy City’s restaurants have proven their resilience.
Just when it seemed that Charleston’s star was fading, the city sprung back to life with a spate of pandemic-era restaurant openings. Most notable are several new international options, like Coterie (Indian), Pink Bellies (Vietnamese), and Jackrabbit Filly (Chinese)—welcome additions in a city where culinary diversity has long lagged.
Also exciting: The hotel restaurant has reached perfection. Three of Charleston’s most anticipated recent openings (Frannie & the Fox, Lenoir, and Little Palm) are set inside hotels (Emeline, the Renaissance Charleston Historic District, and the Ryder respectively), yet still meet the city’s high bar for chef-driven restaurants.
Another restaurant exceeding expectations is upscale seafood newcomer Tempest. Although it’s located on Market Street—historically the realm of turn-and-burn tourist joints—it garnered a USA Today Readers’ Choice nod as the best new restaurant in the United States in 2020.
Looking forward to 2022, the Holy City is sure to remain a must-visit for food-loving travelers. To ensure the most delicious visit possible, make a reservation at one of the following eight new restaurants in Charleston, which are among the most talked about by locals right now.
This tropical-themed hangout sits poolside at the Ryder Hotel in downtown Charleston, so it makes sense that cocktails commandeer the menu. Sip a Daydreamer (whiskey with banana cream soda, absinthe, and sherry) while relaxing under an umbrella on the cozy patio, but don’t expect peace and quiet. Little Palm offers a lively social scene, where $72 “Shallow End” buckets of beer (served with chilled tequila, sangrita shooters, and freshly shucked oysters for six people) appear at most tables on Saturday afternoons.
The focus on outdoor revelry belies the simple but inspired “Snacks and Plates” menu, however. The grilled watermelon is the subtle star here, its light char turning an afternoon treat into a palatable wonder complemented by pistachios and arugula. The panisse are another decadent surprise, equally buttery and crisp. Daily pastas and a hearty beef shoulder ensure that those who come hungry get their fill—just remember to wait 30 minutes before diving back into the pool.
Mount Pleasant scored big when husband-wife team Ben and Kate Towill took the reins at Post House, upgrading it from a neighborhood favorite to the suburb’s best eatery. During summer, the restaurant’s local ethos is most appreciated in the Southern panzanella, a blend of peaches, cucumber, heirloom tomatoes, and hearty cornbread crumbles, accented by basil and balsamic. Unlike the Towills’ more vegetarian-leaning Basic Kitchen, Post House emphasizes seafood, including oysters, crudo, and a fish-and-shrimp curry named after the local watermen who supply the catch. Cap your meal with a rich slice of buttermilk pie with blackberries, then retire to one of the inn’s seven handsome guest rooms.
Hot dogs, doughnuts, oysters, and rotisserie chicken may not have much in common, but they come together cohesively at the cocktail-oriented Bar George, set in a James Island strip mall. Velvety couches and a vintage TV-turned-fish-tank welcome you in, along with an impressively stocked bar and an open kitchen that feels like part of the dining room. Order oysters raw or Rockefeller style, sip a top-shelf spicy margarita, and then weigh your options between a salad built from the season’s best or a specialty dog loaded with avocado and potato sticks.
Co-owner Alex Lira’s great uncle was known as the “hot dog king of Norfolk, Virginia,” and that legacy helps set the funky, colorful tone at this unassuming spot, where the $6 dogs snap with perfection. It also doesn’t hurt that Bar George is next door to Paddock, a favorite local whiskey bar, and across the street from the Charleston Pour House music venue.
Park & Grove
Hampton Park Terrace
After a brief closure and renovation, Park Cafe reemerged in late July as the seasonally focused Park & Grove. Restaurateur Karalee Nielsen Fallert compares the reboot process to raising a baby and then relearning how to parent a teenager. Fortunately, Park & Grove skipped the awkward tween years, returning as a refined, flavor-forward destination worthy of venturing north on the peninsula.
Standout appetizers include grilled peaches, crispy fried oysters, and an allium soup with brie crostini, while entrées are simple and protein focused (hanger steak, flounder, pork chop), perfect for pairing with generously portioned sides like butter beans and charred okra. Done up in black and white, the attractive space also features abundant paintings, plant life, and botanical decor. Pair dinner here with a stroll through Hampton Park, Charleston’s public space centerpiece across the street.
Folly Road has always been a dicey avenue for restaurateurs—aim too high and the James Island locals may still opt to head downtown when they want a fancy night out, but shoot low and you’ll never get tourists off the peninsula. CudaCo., a hybrid fish market and upscale lunch counter, strikes the perfect balance. The spot’s $10 Fish Sandy—a simple fried flounder filet on a potato bun with pickles, hot sauce, and American cheese—seems bound to land on lists of Charleston’s essential eats, and the daily ceviche may be the city’s best. It’s wise not to leave without a tub of fish spread for a predinner snack, along with a cut of the local catch or the kitchen’s preseasoned, grab-and-grill tuna kabobs.
Despite the Lowcountry’s distinct foodways, Charleston chefs have never shied away from highlighting the best of other regions—say, a New Orleans roux or Nashville-style chicken. At Vivian Howard’s entry into the city’s dining scene, it’s all about what she knows best: North Carolinian cuisine. Fine-dining staples get brought down to earth, and diner fare gets elevated, meeting at a comfortable middle with her signature chicken wings. Diners can also expect country favorites like cornmeal catfish, seared swordfish, and a patty melt, plus a bourbon-based cocktail made with Howard’s famous blueberry barbecue sauce.
Set inside the Renaissance Charleston Historic District Hotel, but with its own entrance on Wentworth Street, the restaurant is both sophisticated and laid-back. Yellow barstools and a beehive tile floor are balanced by white shiplap, blush pink accents, and a striking wall hung with tobacco sticks and butter-bean pans.
There are two camps of vegans—those happy to eat tofu and those who want to mimic meat in every dish. The latter will find nirvana at Neon Tiger, where chef Doug McNish serves such artful plates as ragout made with lentils, sweet potatoes, and mushrooms, and a barbecue sandwich piled high with shaved seitan ham and barbecued jackfruit. Cocktails match the food’s creativity (an Old Fashioned improved by Italian fig, a spritz with dragon fruit seltzer), while the environs impress with black walls, pink neon lighting, and lots of greenery.
March 2020 was an inopportune time to open a restaurant, especially after having moved across the country and spent a year building your dream. But that’s the backstory of Walter and Cindy Edward and their friend, Forrest Brunton, who all decamped from Seattle to rescue Cindy’s family farm and create a restaurant blending Lowcountry and Pacific Northwest culinary traditions.
During the pandemic, the intrepid team pivoted with style, hosting French, Moroccan, and ramen takeout pop-ups until they were finally able to launch their original concept in June 2021. Now, reclaimed wood floors and walls, plus exposed brick and boxy ironwork frame the rustic-meets-city atmosphere at Chasing Sage. From the kitchen, expect an ever-changing menu full of Charleston’s seasonal bounty, with dishes like octopus with beets and pole beans, and swordfish belly crudo with sungold tomatoes. For an in-the-moment flavor tour, choose the $55 prix fixe and let the kitchen curate your meal.
>>Next: The AFAR Guide to Charleston