Charleston

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Whether you prefer your shrimp served over a scoop of humble, hominy grits or stuffed into lobster tail with a white wine reduction, Charleston's got what you want (unless you don't like seafood, that is). Restaurants range from old-fashioned Lowcountry dives to haute French bistros.

Top Restaurants in Charleston

AW Shucks

This longtime seafood joint does big business in crab dip, pitchers of beer, and AW Shucks logo t-shirts ("Big Mussels, Great Legs, and Fantastic Tails”).

70 State St., SC, 843-723-1151, www.a-w-shucks.com
Tags: moderate | seafood | american

Charleston Grill

If one can dine in town only once, the plush Charleston Grill is the place to go. In the evening, the copious wine list, including surprisingly affordable selections, and the live jazz set an appealing tone even before the food arrives. Chef Michelle Weaver's large menu is divvied up into several sections, but the Southern delights reign supreme: The Carolina hen with onion gravy is so rich and flavorful, it doesn't seem like earthly poultry.

224 King St., SC, 843-577-4522, www.charlestongrill.com
Tags: notable wine list | new american

FIG

The award for resourcefulness should be bestowed on Mike Lata of FIG, or Food Is Good, who has breathed new life into Charleston's culinary scene by keeping the focus on regional preparations while choosing often overlooked local ingredients. Lata's nuanced selection of menu items is just part of the reason he and his laid-back Southern brasserie won the James Beard Foundation's Best Chef: Southeast award last year. The modern, warmly lit bistro focuses on local, seasonal food that is casually, yet elegantly, prepared - think sautéed triggerfish with local mushrooms and rustic apple crisp with homemade honey ice cream. Triggerfish have traditionally been considered low on the seafood totem pole, perhaps because they are so plentiful around Charleston, but Lata was a fan of the sweet taste and firm texture (reminiscent of crab). He decided to give them a starring role, by serving triggerfish dusted with cornmeal or in a broth made from local clams, depending on the season. They earn their marquee billing with every bite. All the once-humble ingredients on the menu, even the creamy Silver Queen corn, are elevated with the same panache.

232 Meeting St., SC, 843-805-5900, www.eatatfig.com
Tags: expensive | editor pick | smart splurge | trendy | new american

Hank's Seafood Restaurant

Hank's Seafood Restaurant, owned by Hank Holliday (owner of Planters Inn and several other local restaurants), has a straightforward focus on fresh seafood, culled from the surrounding waters as well as all over the East Coast. The restaurant draws groups of happy-looking locals with its great-looking and airy dining room, finished with charming sea-themed paintings and gleaming woodwork.

10 Hayne St., SC, 843-723-3474, www.hanksseafoodrestaurant.com
Tags: seafood | local favorite

Hyman's Seafood

A longtime favorite with locals and tourists alike, boisterous Hyman's attracts enormous crowds with it's she-crab soup and oysters on the half-shell. Expect a line.

215 Meeting St., SC, 843-723-6000, www.hymanseafood.com
Tags: family | moderate | seafood | american | editor pick | local favorite

Jestine's Kitchen

South Carolina soul food at its finest, this homey cafe has checkered tablecloths and to-die-for fried chicken, catfish, and cornbread. Wash it all down with gallons of intensely sweet tea.

251 Meeting St., SC, 843-722-7224
Tags: family | budget | american | great value

McCrady's

At McCrady’s, chef Sean Brock presides over a uniquely Charleston institution. He takes Southern food seriously, sourcing it locally and serving it on white tablecloths in a historic brick building. McCrady's serves a type of cuisine that one might call "haute Southern farm stand" in an intimate setting. The low lighting, atmospheric brick walls, and alleyway entrance contribute to the romantic ambience, ideal for the couple sharing the perfect meal from this topflight kitchen: agnolotti with crab and ramps, followed by rib eye dry-aged on premises.

And at his brand-new eatery down the block, Husk, Brock is upping the ante while simultaneously lowering the price point. “At Husk we’re going to be even more strict about Southern and local,” he says of the casual bistro. “We’re maniacs.” Proof of his dedication can be found in his pantry. He’s curing 50 country hams at any given moment, and in the fall he was busy preserving 800 pounds of tomatoes to have on hand for the winter. Diners are digging into dishes that reflect Brock’s unique take on regional traditions: deviled eggs with pickled okra and trout roe; South Carolina shrimp and Choppee okra stew with Carolina gold rice and flowering basil. 2010 Smart Luxury Award winner

2 Unity Alley, SC, 843-577-0025, www.mccradysrestaurant.com
Tags: romance | smart luxury winner | new american

Peninsula Grill

Toast your prime beef and lobster dinner with Veuve Cliquot at the swanky Peninsula Grill, attached to the Planters Inn (also check out the famous coconut cake). A traditional, well-heeled clientele populate the dark-wood dining room.

112 North Market St., SC, 843-723-0700, www.peninsulagrill.com
Tags: seafood | expensive | american | steakhouse

Sugar Bakeshop

Sugar Bakeshop is home to Charleston's most memorable cupcakes (try the red velvet ones with cream cheese frosting) and other sweet treats. Owner Bill Bowick and his partner, David Bouffard, moved to town from Brooklyn six years ago, part of an emigration from New York by open-minded types who wanted to see what other cities (including Portland, Oregon, and Austin, Texas, as well as Charleston) had to offer.

59½ Cannon St., SC, 843-579-2891, www.sugarbake.com
Tags: bakery

Virginia's on King

Virginia's serves seriously old-school specials like okra soup and "lowcountryboil" - a delicious jumble of corn on the cob, shrimp, and potatoes - all in a down-home setting.

412 King St., SC, 843-735-5800
Tags: family | budget | southern

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