In a town with as many dining options as Charleston, it's virtually impossible to nail down a list of "must visit" restaurants. This year made things even more difficult as a wave of innovative new ventures opened their doors, some by newcomers, but many of them by the city's most respected chefs. Here, in no particular order, is our selection of the ten spots generating buzz around town right now.
Husk opened in the fall of 2010 with a huge nationwide splash, and it remains the hottest dining ticket in town. A bold experiment in Southern dining, Husk serves food made only with ingredients produced below the Mason-Dixon line. Executive chef Sean Brock brings an obsessive passion for heirloom varieties and traditional preparations. Its brilliant first year run was capped when Bon Appétit named it the top new restaurant of 2011.
There are many in Charleston who put The Macintosh right up there with Husk as the city's most exciting restaurant. From delicate treatments of fresh local fish to the stunning intensity of ribeye deckle, Chef Jeremiah Bacon has stepped into his own with dishes as creative in concept as they are flawless in execution.
An innovative multi-tiered menu, a massive wood-fired oven, and a serious in-house canning program are just a few of the reasons that Kevin Johnson's Grocery has been turning heads since its opening back in December. From tiny snacks of deep-fried pimento cheese to a massive whole wood-roasted beeliner snapper, its offering is fresh, innovative, and perfect for sharing with a large table of friends.
Casual, low-key, and a little off the beaten path, Two Boroughs Larder has a serious eat-local and do-it-yourself flair that is the epitome of today's ingredients-driven cuisine. Be it fluke crudo with bull's blood beets or a breakfast sandwich with housemade scrapple, adventurous diners will find something novel and exciting at this little venue.
For more than a decade, the Ben Berryhill's South-meets-Southwest style made Red Drum a fixture of Lowcountry dining. His newest restaurant, Next Door, lets him stretch his chops and experiment with a more chef-driven cuisine, and it has won rave initial reviews from local diners. It's well worth a trip over the big Ravenel Bridge from downtown to check out.
Perhaps more than anyone, Mike Lata helped launch the farm-to-table aesthetic that defines the contemporary Charleston style. From hyper-fresh fish straight from the Atlantic to delicate treatment of the very best local vegetables, FIG (short for Food Is Good) remains one of the city's essential fine dining experiences. Its cocktail program is top notch, too.
Butcher & Bee promises "honest to goodness sandwiches," and that's just what they deliver. They start with fish, pork, and beef from local fishermen and farmers, and serve it on bread they bake in house and top with their own pickles and condiments. Accompanied with an ever shifting array of fresh sides like sweet-and-sour kimchi or pink-eyed peas in ham broth, it's an offering that's raising eyebrows and winning devoted fans, too.
Ken Vedrinski has garnered multiple James Beard nominations for a simple reason: he's taken the traditional preparations of Old World Italian cuisines and applied them deftly to the very best ingredients from our local fields and waters. He introduced delicate crudo of local fish to the Charleston dining world, and the fresh pastas, rustic trattoria fare, and an always compelling selection of cheeses have made his modest Bogard street restaurant a favorite for local diners.
Craig Deihl is a multifaceted chef: a devotee of heritage breeds of pork and beef, a master of charcuterie, the founder of the innovative CSA-style Artisan Meat Share, and a James Beard Award nominee. His two-part menu offers a slate of classics like crab cakes, steak Diane, and a table-side presentation of Chateaubriand for two along with up-to-date seasonal fare such as Tamworth pork schnitzel, farro verde with Sea Island peas, and the pan roasted versions of fresh local fish. The high-energy upstairs bar is worth a visit in its own right, thanks to a stunning three-story wall of wine, a delightful selection of small plates, and the recently-introduced $5 Burger Night on Mondays.
While most of the media buzz has centered on the fine dining restaurants and the newest new thing, Martha Lou Gadsden has achieved national acclaim for keeping things the same, year in and year out, in the little pink building down on Morrison Street. And that means good old-fashioned Southern home-cooking: fried chicken, catfish, chitlins, lima beans, mac and cheese, and plenty of sweet tea. How good is Martha Lou's? The New York Times's Sam Sifton ranked her right up there with McCrady's and Husk, and last year the Charleston Wine+Food Festival named her an official "Culinary Legend."