The Lowcountry Fresh Catch: Charleston's Best Seaside Fare
By Clare Sweeney
Charleston Local Expert
The soul of any great harbor town dwells in the finest fresh seafood of its own waters. In Charleston, SC, expectations of excellent seafood abound in the anticipations of eager travelers and lowcountry locals alike. Charleston chefs and restaurants proudly serve the very best in traditional and contemporary styles of classic seaside dishes.
For simple fried seafood baskets, hushpuppies, and cold brews, look no further than Red's Icehouse on serene Shem Creek in Mount Pleasant, especially perfect after a paddleboarding or kayaking excursion in the area. Several other Charleston seafood restaurants are also known just as well for their atmosphere as their fresh, local fish, shrimp and oysters. Enjoy the outdoor waterfront deck on a summer night at Fleet Landing or the pristine marsh views from Bowen's Island Restaurant.
There's nothing like a fresh, beautifully presented lunch or dinner to refuel dedicated shoppers on a mission along Charleston's famous streets. While strolling along Upper King, stop by Fish for small and large plates, an impressive wine selection, attentive service, and the streetside patio - perfect for people watching. Another centrally located lunch or dinner option is the small, but flavor-packed 167 Raw, a mini-market and seafood joint specializing in New England style po' boys and lobster rolls. For the very best in Charleston seafood, make a reservation at Hank's, voted Best Seafood in Charleston over a dozen years in a row. Here, an elegant fine dining setting and old world service come together for a truly authentic Charleston seafood experience.
Looking for a casual, local's hangout where there's music, outdoor dining, and great fried seafood? When a spectacular ocean view is just as important as the menu, venture out to Red's Icehouse on Shem Creek in Mount Pleasant. Red's is more fun-dining than fine dining, offering up "Little Nibbles" like Coconut Shrimp and Barbeque Scallop Skewers, salads, dips to start your seaside meal. For lunch or dinner try a finger-licking basket of Fish, Oyster, Shrimp, or Scallops & Chips, all served with a spicy Jalepe�o Hushpuppy. If a sandwich is more your style, opt for a Fried Shrimp Po'Boy or Crab Cake Sandwich topped with Red's own Key Lime Mustard Sauce. All dishes come with uninhibited views of the water, marsh, and dolphins that make their home in Shem Creek. (843-388-0003)
Bowens Island Restaurant
Bownen's Island Restaurant is the only restaurant on it's own 13 acre island, and is self-described as an, "island, restaurant, and state of mind," all at once. Founded in 1946 by May and Jimmy Bowen, this seafood and oyster joint on James Island is only 5 minutes from Folly Beach, and offers up fantastic sunset and salt marsh views from its wrap-around porch deck. While Bowen's Island Restaurant offers fried seafood options, the all you can eat steamed oysters, served to the table by the shovelful, are the shining stars of the menu. Inexpensive beers, hushpuppies, and fires go perfectly with your sunset water views and steamed local oysters in this ultra casual island joint. (843-795-2757)
Amen Street Fish and Raw Bar
Amen Street Fish & Raw bar is a street corner seafood gem in the historic district of downtown Charleston. While Amen Street Fish and Raw Bar offers a full menu of starters, salads, entrees, raw bar, and dessert, it is best known for its fresh raw bar and savory fried seafood platters, po boys, and seafood pastas. Warm up your appetite with a bowl of She Crab Soup or Amen Street's Famous Shrimp Corndogs. Raw Bar items include local oysters, clams, and Tuna Carpaccio. Amazing seafood choices, cozy booths, and a brick walled interior - can I get an AMEN? (843-853-8600)
COAST Bar and Grill
If you can seek out COAST, elusively situated on a short path off of John Street, you will be generously rewarded with fresh seafood, an upscale menu in a laid-back beachy atmosphere, and an extensive wine and beverage list. The generous menu features appetizers of Crab & Avocado Ravioli and Baja Fish Tacos, and such entrees as the Snapper Almondine, Carolina Lump Crab Cakes, and Seafood Paella. Your choice/any style wood grilled fish and fried seafood plates, served with blue cheese slaw, allow diners to customize their COAST seafood experience. Coast is also committed to the environment as a restaurant partner in the Sustainable Seafood Initiative. (843-722-8838)
Head to Charleston's newest New England influence 167 Raw's charming seafood mini-market and restaurant for fish and chips, lobster rolls, seafood tacos and more. Undoubtedly, 167 Raw is the long-awaited New England answer to Charleston's historic love of seafood, in the form of lobster rolls, scallop po boys, ceviche and raw bar oysters. This small, yet cozy seafood restaurant and take-away market is situated into an unassuming space on busy East Bay Street, slightly removed from the more popular tourist areas of the lower peninsula. Opened by a group from Nantucket Island, MA in 2014, 167 Raw is a sister restaurant to their first New England seafood joint back home, the "167" Market. Thankfully, this couple brought their love and keen knowledge of seaside fare to the lowcountry, further adding to the value and variety of Charleston's seafood restaurant selection. (843-579-4997)
Fish restaurant, located in the Upper King design district next to the iconic American Theatre, specializes in French-Asian cuisine with an obvious flair for fruits de mer. For dinner, try one of Fish's Large Plates like the Spicy SC Triggerfish a la Plancha, served with cheese fried rice balls and green curry, or for something simpler, the Naked Fish entree, served "simply and fresh off the dock." Never judge a book by its cover - Fish serves up more than just fish. Dig in to Dim Sum style Caramel Pork Belly or Ginger Honey Fried Tofu. Looking for something even sweeter? Try Fish's 8 dessert Dim Sum options like a pb&j ice cream pop, pumpkin cheesecake, chocolate banana tart and salted caramel panna cotta. (843-722-3474)
Cypress Lowcountry Grille
Chef Craig Deihl, a 2010 nominee and 2011 finalist for the James Beard Best Chef Southeast Award, themes the Cypress menu around locally sourced produce, meat, and seafood, giving each dish and authentically Charleston taste. Seafood shines in the dinner menu, with main course entrees like Smoked Salmon Wellington, Crispy Wasabi Tuna in a ginger-garlic glaze, or the seasonal Braised Charleston Wreckfish. But it's not just the tasty local catch that keeps this historic warehouse restaurant popular with vacationers and Charlestonians alike. An extensive wine list features over 4,500 bottles, all displayed in an impressive floor to ceiling wine wall. Color changing lighting, a loft-style bar upstairs, and over sized, high-backed dining chairs give the space a luxe, modern ambiance. (843-727-0111)
Fleet Landing Restaurant & Bar
If you ask around for a downtown seafood restaurant with waterfront dining, you'll find Fleet Landing the most popular recommendation. Fleet Landing's outdoor deck is refreshing after a long day of walking and exploring, and even the indoor "Main Deck" dining area offers fantastic views of the harbor. The Fresh Catch menu offers shrimp, scallop, or fish options pan-fried or seared in your choice of house-made marinades. Dishes like the Charleston Shrimp 'n Grits and the Fried Southern Flounder with Apricot Glaze pair perfectly with your harbor views. Families are welcomed and a kids menu is available. All facilities are handicap accessible. (843-722-8100)
Blossom is sister restaurant to Magnolia's, located just next door, and Cypress, just further down the block on East Bay Street. House specialties include homemade pizzas, pastas and risottos. If the weather permitting, dine al fresco on the beautifully landscaped private courtyard patio.Sunday brunch is popular, with options such as crawfish and shrimp etouffee, honey-pumpkin stuffed French toast, a grilled salmon-fried egg sandwich, pulled pork hash, and a sausage and shrimp omelette. Here, expect to find great Southern-American and Seafood dishes in an upscale yet inviting atmosphere. Blossom is highly recommended for fine dining celebrations and group gatherings, as well as intimate date nights. (843-722-9200)
Hank's Seafood Restaurant
Voted the "Best Seafood Restaurant" in Charleston 13 years in a row, Hank's on the corner of Hayne and Church street serves up fresh seafood entrees and raw bar items for dinner 7 days a week. Hugely popular with locals and visitors alike, Hank's elegant, sophisticated atmosphere compliments top-notch entrees like the Lowcountry Bouillabaisse, Rare Seared Tuna, and Roast Grouper with Lobster Risotto. Appetizers include Fish & Shellfish Ceviche, Tuna Tartare, and Oyster Stew, while the Raw Bar serves up classic items such as Gulf Oysters, Peel 'n Eat Shrimp, and Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail. When in Hank's stick to seafood entrees, and ask about nightly fish and shellfish specials! (843-723-3474)
About Clare Sweeney
A South Carolina native and avid locavore, Clare also ventured abroad to Spain and north to Boston before returning to Charleston and her beloved Lowcountry.
Clare works and plays in downtown Charleston, spending her days enjoying the city’s perpetually sunny weather, nearby beaches and ever-growing food and craft beer scene. Follow Clare on Twitter @LocalExpertCHS for the latest in local happenings!
Read more about Clare Sweeney here.