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Charleston, SC, has long been regarded as one of the culinary capitals of the South along with New Orleans, Nashville, Atlanta and Birmingham, and the Holy City has a collection of James Beard Best Chefs awards to prove it. One of the highlight weeks to discover the culinary pleasures of the charming city is during the Charleston Wine + Food Festival (CHSWFF) held each spring.

I attended the 13th edition of the CHSWFF last month, and I was struck not only by the elevated talent of the chefs and bartenders who were part of the festival, but also by the number of excellent new restaurants I discovered that have opened in the year between the past two festivals. In a town with a ratio of fine restaurants to residents that rivals any destination in the country, you’d think that it would be difficult to continue to come up with new concepts, to attract new culinary talent and to attract new diners when there are legendary chefs and restaurants already dominating the culinary scene. But Charleston restaurateurs are both fearless and talented, and they continue to achieve an extraordinarily high batting average when it comes to opening successful new eateries.

Here’s a roundup of some of the best new restaurant finds in Charleston that have debuted in the past year:

Millers All Day

120 King St., Charleston, SC 29401 • (843) 501-7342

Charleston is definitely a late-night dining city, but a new venture is concentrating on the morning meal instead. Millers All Day has operating hours that are easy to remember, 7 a.m. until 7 p.m., 7 days a week. Serving breakfast, brunch and lunch, Millers has converted an old department store on lower King Street into an airy emporium where diners can experience the best that breakfast has to offer. It doesn’t hurt that one of the co-owners is Greg Johnsman of Geechie Boys Mill, already renowned for providing some of the greatest grains used for grits and baked goods at area restaurants in many of their famous dishes. Now that he has partnered with chef/restaurateur Nathan Thurston, Johnsman is contributing his grains to some of the best plates at Millers.

Johnsman installed an operating grain separator and mill in the front window of Millers to attract customers and allow them to be educated in the artisanal process of grinding heirloom grains. He has also been holding back a unique product especially for this venture: a red corn grain that actually stays pink when cooked, which he calls Unicorn Grits.” You’ll only find these at Millers, along with a menu that features changing daily grits plate specials, Southern breakfast classics like cornmeal pancakes or biscuits and gravy, or lunch/brunch plates, such as fried chicken and hoppin’ John. A separate bakery menu offers up pastries and pies, and a full bar is there for your day-drinking pleasure with classic Bloody Marys and clever refreshing cocktails like the Cucumber Collins. Whether you’re kicking off tonight’s fun or recovering from last night’s revelry, Millers All Day has what you need!

Take a break from a Lower King shopping excursion for a fun meal at Millers.

Millers Mill: Johnsman thinks this is the oldest operating grain separator in the world

Rappahannock Oyster Bar

701 E. Bay St., No. 110, Charleston, SC 29403 • (843) 576-4693

Cousins Travis and Ryan Croxton scrambled to try to get their new oyster bar and restaurant opened in time for the 2017 Charleston Wine + Food Festival, but the inevitable delays involved in construction and permitting caused them to miss their own deadline. So, I’ve been waiting for almost a year to check out this attractive seafood emporium in the rehabilitated historic Cigar Factory Building on East Bay Street. It was definitely worth the wait, because after opening a half-dozen restaurants in addition to their successful oyster farming operation based out of Virginia, the Croxtons may just have found the jewel in their culinary crown.

The bustling dining room is a great spot to enjoy a menu of seafood platters, small plates for sharing and larger a la carte options, but the real action takes place around the massive oval oyster bar. Talented shuckers, including national champion Isabella Cain, who is an entertaining and educational fount of oyster knowledge if you’re lucky enough to sit at her station, crack open dozen after dozen of bivalves from coastal regions around the country. Be sure to sample at least a few from Rappahannock’s own Chesapeake Bay oyster beds, including Rappahannock River Oysters, Rochambeaus and Olde Salts. Paired with a crafty cocktail, a glass of wine off their impressive list or a cold beer, you can make a whole meal out of oysters at Rappahannock, but then you’d be missing out on some other treats from the kitchen. Choose wisely!

NICO | Oysters + Seafood

201 Coleman Blvd., Mt Pleasant, SC 29464 • (843) 352-7969

French Master Chef Nico Romo was already well-known in Charleston for his work at Fish on King Street, so when he decided to open up his own spot on Shem Creek in Mt. Pleasant, there was no doubt that many of his fans would follow him. While the rest of the neighborhood is fairly casual, NICO is a little more upscale without being stuffy. But there’s no doubt that you’re in a French-inspired kitchen as the staff demonstrates all sorts of refined techniques in the preparation of the primarily seafood-centric menu.

More of a casual brasserie than fine dining, per se, NICO encourages sharing platters of seafood over wines by the glass or beers by the bottle. Your server may offer you a Scotch Oyster,” a ritualistic way to enjoy a bivalve that includes slurping the brine from the oyster, pouring scotch whiskey over the shell before eating the oyster and then drinking one more shot of scotch out of the empty shell. Just say yes.

Many of the larger plates at NICO emerge from the wood-fired oven, including vegetables and fish platters. Landlubbers can also avail themselves of steak and chicken dishes cooked over that fire, and nobody will look down on you for not ordering seafood. But really … try an oyster.

Chef Romo runs a tight ship.

In a town with some impressive seafood towers, NICO is a contender for the best.

The striking exterior at NICO

Félix Cocktails et Cuisine

550 King St., Ste. #100, Charleston, SC 29403 • (843) 203-6297

Charleston has a long French history, so it’s logical that NICO isn’t the only Francophile restaurant that has opened of late. Felix Landrum is the proprietor of a new bistro and bar that aims to make you feel like you are dining in a small Parisian cafe in the middle of King Street. An elegant marble bar hosts tipplers looking for high-end cocktails crafted using premium ingredients. A popular after-work gathering spot, the bar at Félix bustles with an attractive crowd sipping French classics like Kir Royals and Sidecars or house cocktails, including several available on draft for convenience.

Small plates are designed to accompany the drinks and wine menus, with delicate bites like lobster deviled eggs, ham and cheese puffed pastries called Torsades, or more substantial dishes like a traditional croque monsieur, which you might just call a ham and cheese sandwich. Whatever name you give it, a drink and a meal at Félix is a refined experience that you deserve. Go ahead and treat yourself!

Félix takes care with every detail of their small plates.

Félix also makes a pretty strong burger.

Tu

430 Meeting St., Charleston, SC 29403 

When people ask me where to eat in Charleston, I often surprise them by sending them to a nondescript converted gas station called Xiao Bao Biscuitwhere husband and wife team Joshua Walker and Duolan Li, along with their friend Joey Ryan, have been serving unpretentious soulful Asian food. They’ve never let me down when it comes to a successful recommendation, so I was really looking forward to discovering their second venture called Tu.

I was definitely surprised by Tu, and pleasantly so. As opposed to their first restaurant, Tu is more modern and trendy than XBB, and even more eclectic in its food offering. With influences ranging from Asian to Southern to Middle Eastern to Latin American, there’s something to tickle every palate at Tu. The restaurant is actually spread over two buildings, a stately historic home and a sleek newer dining space that also features the trendy cocktail bar. You have to know where you’re going though, because there’s no sign on either building to indicate that you’re entering one of the hottest new dining destinations in town. You can’t call to find out where they are either, because there’s no phone, but that’s okay because walk-in dining is encouraged.

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Small plates are designed for sharing while you enjoy drinks and the pulsing beat of the music piping into the bar area. Late nights on weekends feature a separate casual menu of snacks to help keep the party pumping into the wee hours.

The main dining room at Tu is like an extremely classy diner with gorgeous banquettes.

Ground zero for the party people

And now it’s time for a Charleston weekend getaway! Cheers!

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Looking for more tips on where to stay and what to do when traveling? See more here

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