This is not a compilation of the best restaurants in town but rather the hottest ones, the ones with the most buzz, the ones that are generating the most conversation. And we threw in one or two where the buzz may not quite be there yet, but it's coming, so you can get out ahead of the crowds. But buzz isn't the only factor. Execution has to be solid too, so you won't feel disappointed and wonder what all the hype is about. Pick any one of these places — or three or four, for that matter — and eat there. Now.
544 King St. (843) 414-7060
Mike Lata and Adam Nemirow's second venture, The Ordinary, was the most highly anticipated opening of 2012. Such buzz creates high expectations, so make sure you go in knowing what to expect. The atmosphere is stylish and energetic, and the oyster hall concept is a classic one, but this is still a fine-dining restaurant, exhibiting the same passion for top-quality ingredients and close attention to detail that made FIG such a success. I, for one, think it's an exciting, genre-creating step forward for Charleston dining, and I had my best restaurant meal of the past year there. I'm not the only one saying such things. Alan Richman of GQ just named it one of his 12 Most Outstanding Restaurants of the year.
Two Boroughs Larder
186 Coming St. (843) 637-3722
Josh Keeler is perhaps the fastest rising star on the local scene. It took just a few weeks after opening for Two Boroughs Larder, the combination restaurant and market that he and wife Heather run on Coming Street, to catch the attention of local foodies, and now it's a must-try destination for visiting chefs from out of town. Why all the fuss? There's dedicated passion, an obsessive focus on quality, and an adventurousness for serving things like sweetbreads and bone marrow, all of which combine to create deep, memorable flavors. Keeler just snagged a semifinalist spot for the James Beard Award for Best Chef Southeast, and we expect many more laurels to come in the future.
76 Queen St. (843) 577-2500
Yes, Husk has been the hot ticket in town for two years running, and some local diners may be starting to take it for granted. But it still draws a lot of water on the national scene, including getting named the third most important restaurant in America by Bon Appétit. If you're from somewhere else, you owe it to yourself to give it a shot and see for yourself what hyper-Southern cuisine is all about.
2 Unity Alley. (843) 577-0025
McCrady's is Husk's older, more refined sibling, and in some ways it's more experimental and inventive, too. For my money it's where Sean Brock's doing his best work these days, in tandem with his talented Chef de Cuisine Jeremiah Langhorne.
167 East Bay St. (843) 727-0111
Over the past few years, Chef Craig Deihl has steadily built a reputation for himself and Cypress. His superb charcuterie program is what has drawn the most notice, but the bar menu is inventive, too, and Deihl recently re-engineered Cypress' dinner offering to retire the old two-panel format and blend contemporary plates like lamb schnitzel and grilled guinea hen with stately classics like chateaubriand for two.
The Green Door
251 East Bay St. (843) 754-9914
The growing trend these days is for food truck operators who hit upon success to transfer their formula to bricks-and-mortar locations. The guys from Roti Rolls did just that, taking over a space adjoining Big John's Tavern where they now kick out a regular slate of noodle bowls, sandwiches, and burgers along with some crazy-ass specials like kimchi short-rib dumplings, beef tongue cheesesteaks, and fish-head curry.
Xiao Bao Biscuit
224 Rutledge Ave. (843) 743-3880
Joshua Walker and Duolan Li did so well with their Xiao Bao Biscuit pop-up dinners that they set up shop permanently in a converted gas station at the corner of Spring and Rutledge. They've since won over plenty of fans with their simple, soulful, but not-yet familiar Asian food — Japanese okonomiyaki pancakes, a pork and bacon jam-topped banh mi, congee with chicken and acorn squash, duck leg in tamarind curry — served in a hip but laid-back atmosphere.
479 King St. (843) 789-4299
Chef Jeremiah Bacon continues to impress with the slate of tightly-executed, intensely-flavored dishes he creates at the Macintosh. From grilled banded rudderfish with purple cape beans and dashi broth to a crispy duck leg with golden beets and celeriac goat cheese purée, the ever-changing menu always brings inventive and delicious surprises.
The Gin Joint
182 East Bay St. (843) 577-6111
Yes, I know it's a cocktail bar, and it certainly gets my vote as the number one place to drink right now. But don't overlook the food. Be it fried bologna sliders on little pretzel rolls, steamed Korean pork buns, or the superlative housemade beef jerky, chef and co-owner MariElana Raya always knocks out an impressive slate of munchies to enjoy along with her husband Joe's flawless libations.
10 Linguard St. (843) 534-2155
We keep waiting for Charleston to wake up and recognize that Nate Whiting at Tristan is a serious culinary force. His modernist menu evolves week by week, but he consistently starts with simple, fresh ingredients and transforms them into delicate preparations with stunningly rich flavors. Pastry chef Amanee Neirouz's inventive desserts are equally impressive.