A trip to Charleston calls for exploration of its celebrated dining scene. Local menus draw from the abundance of local, fresh seafood, and restaurant interiors are worthy of appreciation. And while you can’t hit every Charleston restaurant in two days, you sure can try.

It was a spontaneous trip for two spurred by work opportunities and encouraged by dining possibilities. In preparation for our trip, we reached out to friends for recommendations, sourced local sites for insiders’ suggestions, and plotted our attack on Charleston’s culinary scene. We ate oysters in a former auto body shop, and an old bank, and a 115-year-old storefront. We tried different variations of avocado toast, and snacked on patatas bravas washed down with wine. And then, after eating and drinking our way through town, we left the Holy City full and happy.

For those brave enough to mimic our impressive itinerary, heed advice from seasoned diners: keep your portions small and your eyes on the prize.

12 Charleston Restaurants in 36 Hours

Leon’s Fine Poultry & Oyster Shop

698 King St., Charleston, SC 29403 • (843) 531-6500

Fried chicken and fresh oysters are a Charleston combination as essential as shrimp and grits or fried green tomatoes and pimento cheese. And there is one place in town famous for both the fresh and fried. Leon’s Fine Poultry & Oyster Shop, located in an old body shop on Upper King, was at the top of our list. Dining al fresco, we opted for oysters — hold the fried chicken.

RELATED: 48 Hours in Charleston: An Insider’s Guide

charleston restaurants food

Starting strong with oysters and champagne in one of Charleston’s top-rated spots, Leon’s Fine Poultry & Oyster Shop

The Ordinary

544 King St., Charleston, SC 29403 • (843) 414-7060

Next came The Ordinary and more oysters. The bar offered up two free seats — a rarity on a weekend night, but thankfully, we were weekday travelers. The two-story restaurant occupies a 1920s bank on King Street, updated with fashionable finishes. Although tempted by the many seafood creations of Chef Mike Lata, we kept things light with oysters and potato chips. Next time, we’ll be back for dinner.

charleston restaurants food

Cider and potato chips were the perfect complement to fresh oysters at The Ordinary‘s bar.

167 Raw

289 E Bay St., Charleston, SC 29401 • (843) 579-4997

Individual obligations required us to part ways for dinner, which allowed us to try two different spots. Intrigued by stories of long waits and lines down the block, I headed to 167 Raw. The intimate eatery, abuzz with chatter from the diners and clatter from the kitchen, is worth the wait. Folks rave about the lobster roll and crispy oysters, but I followed my gut to the shrimp tacos. Consider me the newest member of their fan club.

charleston restaurants food

Check the chalkboard behind the bar at 167 Raw for the daily oyster selection. Image: 167 Raw – Charleston

Little Jack’s Tavern

710 King St, Charleston, SC 29403 • (843) 531-6868

Across town at Little Jack’s Tavern, my travel partner savored warm garlic knots and a tavern burger, an impressive 4-ounce patty topped with American cheese, tavern sauce and grilled onions on a sesame bun. The burger has been named the top in the nation, and according to my friend, it lives up to the hype. If you made the mistake of not ordering the burger for dinner, don’t worry. It is also on the dessert menu.

charleston restaurants food

At Little Jack’s Tavern, order a burger, or a double burger, or two double burgers. Image: Tony Tassarotti

The Daily

652 B King St, Charleston, SC 29403 • (843) 619-0151

A worthy stop for caffeine lovers and avocado toast aficionados, The Daily settled on Upper King in 2014 and is best known as Butcher & Bee’s sister spot. We bypassed the grab-and-go section for our preplanned order of avocado toast. Mashed avocado, za’atar and Bull’s Bay sea salt are piled on sourdough to create a memorable, albeit basic, breakfast at this all-day cafe.

charleston restaurants food

Locals love The Daily, which was evident by the seats filled with Charlestonians sipping coffee and grabbing fare to go.

Mercantile & Mash

701 E Bay St, Charleston, SC 29403 • (843) 793-2636

Admittedly, my visit to the Mercantile & Mash “gourmet foods emporium” was quick and consisted only of sipping tea during a work-related meeting, but the wide selection of baked goods, coffees and cocktails, sandwiches, gourmet grab-and-go snacks and local gifts was enough for me to understand why it came highly recommended. Here, within the recently renovated cigar factory designed as a destination for dining and retail, Charleston’s charm is evident.

charleston restaurants food

Mercantile & Mash didn’t get the attention it deserves, but that just gives us a reason to go back. Image: Mercantile and Mash

goat.sheep.cow

804 Meeting St #102, Charleston, SC 29403 • (843) 203-3118

With its offerings of fine cheeses, charcuterie, wine, daily sandwiches and an assortment of pickles and olives, it’s no wonder locals called for an expansion of this small shop on Church Street. With the same offerings, goat.sheep.cow’s second and larger location is a sit-down cafe and wine bar north of downtown. Ringing in at $28, the small cheese and charcuterie board was an unexpected splurge. Given a do-over, we would have skipped the 10-minute trek, created a board of our own at the shop and enjoyed a picnic by the water.

charleston restaurants food

Head north for artfully arranged cheese and charcuterie boards, or visit goat.sheep.cow’s original location to make your own.

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The Darling Oyster Bar

513 King St, Charleston, SC 29403 • (843) 641-0821

Dreamy interiors, just-shucked oysters and happy hour cocktails are just the beginning of a long list of reasons to visit of this King Street seafood spot housed in a 115-year-old storefront. Snag one of the best seats in the house at The Darling Oyster Bar‘s raw bar, where you’ll have a front-row view of oyster shucking. Oh, and order one of those cocktails (perhaps a Paloma).

charleston restaurants food

We can’t imagine a more picture-perfect space for eating oysters than The Darling Oyster Bar.

babas on cannon

11 Cannon St, Charleston, SC 29403

European vibes and an old world café and bar feel are done just right at babas on cannon, with espresso in the morning and apértivo service in the evening. Edward Crouse and Marie Stitt are the notable names behind the charming newcomer on Cannon Street. If you’re lucky, bartender Lane Becker will be behind to bar to offer wine recommendations. If you’re smart, you’ll order the patatas bravas.

charleston restaurants food

Chips and olives are gifted to each babas on cannon patron, a simple touch we haven’t forgotten.

Chubby Fish

6768, 252 Coming St, Charleston, SC 29403 • (854) 222-3949

Serious talent, stellar flavor combinations, a chalkboard menu and a curry dish I haven’t stopped talking about earned Chubby Fish the title of the best meal of the trip, hand’s down. Locals would like to keep this spot to themselves, and we can’t blame them. The beef tartar, topped with trout roe and served with rice, radish, ranch and nori and a smoked fish curry masterfully combining layers of flavors and spice, are why this is a place the world needs to know about.

charleston restaurants food

If you go anywhere on this list, go to Chubby Fish.

Graft Wine Shop & Bar

700b King St, Charleston, SC 29403 • (843) 718-3359

This recommendation came from a Chubby Fish waiter, who insisted we end the evening with a glass of wine at the year-old Graft Wine Shop & Bar. Here, founders Femi Oyediran and Miles White celebrate music and wine in a simple, stylish space. Already a destination for food, beer and cocktails, Charleston is proving itself as a destination for wine.

charleston restaurants food

A glass of wine and live music at Graft Wine Shop & Bar is the ideal nightcap. Image: Graft Wine Shop

The Harbinger

1107 King St, Charleston, SC 29403 • (843) 637-3410

Our final stop was The Harbinger — a coffee shop that’s serious about the food and caters to gluten-free and vegan eaters for breakfast and lunch. Avocado abounds in the Holy City, and at this particularly pretty spot, the toast is elevated with tahini, sriracha and garlic cashews (so good). My travel companion opted for a heartier option: The Harbinger with herb frittata and white cheddar pimento cheese on a ciabatta roll.

charleston restaurants food

Avocado toast is commonplace in Charleston, but at The Harbinger, it stands out.

We considered stopping for oysters once more, but instead hit the road and vowed to return soon because even after 12 stops, we barely skimmed the surface of Charleston’s culinary treasures.

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