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.
Think good seafood means frozen, flash-fried fish from continents away? Well, bless your heart. Thankfully, Charleston's seafood restaurants will forever change your beliefs. Leon's Oyster Shop, for example, is often hailed for serving up one of the best seafood restaurant experiences in the country–according to both locals and visitors alike.
Several other Charleston seafood restaurants are also known just as well for their atmosphere as their fresh, local fish, shrimp and oysters. The Ordinary, housed in a historic old bank building, offers an impressive daily selection of local and exotic raw bar delicacies. 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. At Hank's downtown, an elegant setting and old world service come together for a truly authentic Charleston seafood meal.
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
Leon's Oyster Shop
Many a local will recommend Leon's Oyster Shop for many a reason. As its name implies, Leon's specializes in oysters, and the shellfish appear on the menu raw with saltines, char-grilled, fried Rockefeller, and as oysters casino. Indeed, Leon's does oysters a service in offering them with simple, pure preparations. But Leon's has so much more in store than oysters. Settle in to a cozy indoor table or sidle up to the long bar space, and dig into your oysters, following them with a 2-piece, half, or whole fried chicken order. There's fried fish, too. For a wholly sea-sourced meal, opt for the Fry Up--fried fish served alongside fried oysters or shrimp. If the weather's ideal, take your oysters to the outside patio, set next to the street with charming string lights and potted plants. ((843) 531-6500)
Opened February 2016, The Darling Oyster Bar has given an old building a fresh new face, serving a lot more than just oysters. There are oysters a plenty, of course, along with crab claws and the like at The Darling's window-front raw bar, but there's even more in the way or hot and cold starter and entree options. Consider the chilled Crab Parfait (a classed-up crab salad) to start, and follow up with a mandatory order of Geechie Boy hushpuppies. Shrimp and Grits are offered, of course, but so are Oyster Spaghetti and Lobster Pot Pie, rarer shellfish combinations. Seafood haters, opt for the Fried Chicken Sandwich.
Come dressed up or dressed down; The Darling accommodates a night out of all kinds. Sit at sea-foam green booths with a larger party, or consider the raw bar counter and high top stools at the main bar for more one-on-one time. (843-641-0821)
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)
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)
Housed in a grand old bank building on Upper King, this downtown oyster bar and seafood restaurant serves only the highest quality fish and shellfish, sourcing locally and sustainably. The Ordinary also offers a few 'exotic' (or at least adventurous) items on a daily basis, too, including Razor Clams, Spanish Octopus, among others. The freshness of the ingredients and the artistic nature of the presentation, is evidence of the care and leadership of head chef Mike Lata (also at FIG). Speaking of presentation, do you take your seafood in tower form? Bring a group shellfish lovers to The Ordinary, and mark the occasion with a double--or triple--Shellfish Tower. (843-414-7060)
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.
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