Courtesy of Kwei Fei
Courtesy of Kwei Fei
Yes, you can get shrimp and grits in Charleston, but made room for spectacular Sichuan at Kwei Fei.
For a city known for its food, these eight newcomers are worth a reservation.
With a restaurant scene that rivals those of much bigger cities, it’s no surprise that eating tops the to-do list of many trips to Charleston. While you can still find classics like shrimp and grits and biscuits at time-honored establishments around town, Charleston’s food culture is about so much more than Southern cuisine. You’ll discover that to be especially true at these eight new restaurants that opened this year, where you can eat everything from spicy Sichuan to French-tinged comfort food and modern takes on classic Italian trattoria fare.
Consider this our must-eat list for your next trip:
Previously a weekend-only pop-up in North Central Charleston, Kwei Fei opened a permanent spot on James Island in November 2018 that now serves dinner five nights a week and a dim sum brunch on Sundays. The space—decorated with banana leaf plants and an all-wood bar—is new, but the menu is full of the spicy (but not overwhelming) Sichuan favorites that locals have come to love. Don’t miss the dry-rubbed chicken wings, cucumbers marinated in garlic and sesame, and Sea Island noodles. And trust us, you’ll want two orders of the Crescent dumplings.Renzo
In the nine months since Renzo made its debut in March 2018 on a quiet block in Charleston’s North Central neighborhood, this pizzeria has gained a devoted local following that packs its wooden booths and bar seats most nights. Now, the tourists are figuring out it’s worth the Uber drive for its extensive list of natural wines and inventive takes on Mediterranean food.
Although the wood-fired pizzas like the Mister Sir (mozzarella, lardo, and locally sourced pickled peppers on sourdough crust) are good, the small plates shine here. The menu changes often, but be sure to order a plate of the boquerones, fresh anchovies hugging slices of grapefruit finished with a glug of olive oil and black pepper. The refreshing citrus is the perfect match for the saltiness of the fish.
Even though The Establishment just opened in May 2018 on Charleston’s famed Broad Street downtown, the building it’s housed in dates back to 1791.The wood-panelled ceilings and walls complement the historic digs, the service is attentive and helpful, and the wine list is lengthy.
The menu—created by two alums of Charleston’s beloved FIG restaurant—is separated into two sections. “Taste” includes smaller plates like beet-cured mackerel and an ultra-tender beef deckle served with shiitake mushrooms and black vinegar. The larger “Savor” portions focus on seafood—expect monkfish, wreckfish, and swordfish to pop up on the menu on any given day.
The latest venture from the owners of local favorites like Leon’s and Little Jack’s, Melfi’s opened across the street in September 2018 in an inviting space with green leather banquettes and exposed brick walls. The fare is a modern take on classic Italian trattoria food with fritti appetizers, fresh pasta courses, and larger steak and chicken entrées. The “Roman-ish” thin crust pizza selection has everything from a clam pie to one with a vodka-based sauce and hen-of-the-woods mushrooms. But you’ll want the Stretch Armstrong, a red sauce pie topped with housemade stracciatella and basil. It’s so simple, yet so good you could polish off an entire pie by yourself.
Enjoy it with something from the special Negroni menu that features six different takes on the classic cocktail including a refreshing Negroni and Tonic, made with local Jack Rudy tonic water.
After closing the 17-year-old Fish on one of the busiest blocks of Upper King Street in 2017, Charleston’s Patrick Properties Hospitality Group reopened the space as Parcel 32 in June 2018. The breezy vibe is ideal for brunch (think comfy couches in the living-room like entryway) but refined enough for dinner (see the gold light fixtures and lucite stools in the bar area).
There are some crossovers between both menus, like the pecan-meal hush puppies topped with pimento cheese and Benton’s smoked bacon powder, but you’ll want to make a special visit to try the blended mushroom-beef smash burger on the bar menu. Only $10 on Tuesday nights between 4:30 to 10 p.m. with a draught beer of your choice, it’s one of the best deals in a city known for its happy hours. There’s more to look forward at the space, too. On New Year’s Eve 2018, The Parlour will open in the restaurant’s upstairs cocktail bar space with classics like Boulevardiers and Paper Planes.
While everything else on this list opened in 2018, an exception was made to include Purlieu, which opened in late November 2017. This French-tinged corner joint, on Charleston’s rapidly gentrifying Westside, is that good. The French dip sandwich made with falling-apart brisket and an intense au jus is a must-order, but if you have room left, you’ll also want the artichoke heart au gratin dip, crab gnocchi with smoked bacon lardons, and the pear fig and burrata salad with toasted pine nuts. The best seats in the house are at the counter seats that overlook the kitchen and can be booked ahead.
Millers All Day
The “All Day” in Millers All Day is a bit of a misnomer considering its all-day breakfast menu is only served until it closes at 3 p.m. on weekdays and 4 p.m. on weekends. But we’ll forgive them for it to be able to eat their fried chicken biscuit sandwich slathered with sorghum mustard well past noon. Opened in March 2018 on Lower King Street by Greg Johnsman of Geechie Boy Mills, the midcentury decorated space is designed for all types of diners.
In the back, you’ll find a living-room like lounge with a couch and record player plus a full bar underneath a cheeky sign that reads “Prescriptions.” Larger groups will enjoy the plaid-upholstered booths and farm tables in the center of the dining room, while solo diners can grab a counter seat up front for a cup of coffee and a slice of honey pecan pie.
In June 2018, Chubby Fish opened on a quiet intersection just two blocks off bustling Upper King Street, but far enough away that you can easily walk in and grab a table without stressing too much over the no-reservation policy. Featuring a fun seafood-forward menu that doesn’t overreach, the small space never feels too cramped, and the staff is friendly without being overbearing. The smoked mackerel curry served with pumpkin and peanuts, may sound strange at first, but the mix of textures and flavors make each bite slightly different, without becoming overly complex. Another highlight on the menu is the blowfish tail tempura, an incredibly tender dish served with lemon and soy beurre blanc on the side.
For dessert, Chubby Fish offers inventive frozen goods from local purveyor Life Raft Treats. Order the “Not Fried Chicken”: waffle-flavored ice cream in the shape of a drumstick, “fried” in cornflakes and waffle cone bits, with a chocolate-covered cookie “bone” in the center.
Additional reporting done by Nicole Antonio, Arabella Bowen, Ann Shields, and Rosalie Tinelli.
>> Next: Plan Your Trip with AFAR’s Guide to Charleston
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