Best New Restaurant 

Mercato

Mercato

Downtown. 102 N. Market St. 722-6393

A beautiful new restaurant inhabits a space that was once a literal rat trap, thanks to restaurateur and hotelier Hank Holliday of Planters Inn, Peninsula Grill, Hank's Seafood Restaurant, the Doubletree, and the Hayne Street Inn. When the previous tenants vacated the Market Street building, Holliday saw a way to invest in the market and upgrade the property. Previously, the space had been an old biker bar (Chef & Clef), a salsa club (Mitchell's), a pub (O'Hara & Flynn), and a burger joint (Bodacious Burgers). In all its incarnations, the space was a hotbed of rodents and the source of noise and complaints for his hotel guests. So, Holliday worked a deal with property owner Steve Varn to open a new restaurant that would showcase the talents of Jacques Larson, a chef who had worked with Robert Carter at Peninsula Grill and then went on to make a name for himself at Basil's Trattoria in N.C. before returning to work at Union Hall (and later Cintra) down the street. After leaving Cintra, Larson left town for a while to work in Mario Batali's kitchen at Lupa in New York and travel to Italy.

"I'd been talking with Jacques for 10 years about working with him," says Holliday. "He paid his dues, found a love of Italian, and then this opportunity arose."

Mercato is located about halfway between Hank's and Peninsula -- in other words, it's a perfect location for overflow from those two popular restaurants, and Larson is pretty stoked to be in a venture with Holliday.

"The expectations are off the charts, but I think we're living up to those expectations," he says.

The stunning renovation of the space complements a big menu of Italian specialties -- from veal osso bucco to tagliatelle bolognese. Mercato's got a somewhat different feel from its sister restaurants with a bustling bar scene, live music, and a late-night menu that's served until 1 a.m. If you haven't stopped by yet, you should soon. Chances are you'll run into some of the other chefs in town who have made Mercato a regular stop and the best new restaurant in Charleston.


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