Celebrating is what Charleston does best, and food is practically a religion in the Holy City. Most festive restaurants in this historically complex, cobblestone town serve cuisine that’s heavily influenced by the locale. The past is infused in every bite: vibrant Gullah Geechee culture, kept alive by descendants of West Africans who were brought to America’s southeastern coast as enslaved people, is well-represented in dishes rich with okra, grits, rice, and collards. Seafood—specifically, shellfish—graces practically every menu.
Whether your reason for celebrating is a birthday, anniversary, promotion, or simply just because, the city’s thriving restaurant scene has the ideal spot. These are the 15 best restaurants in Charleston to ring in any special occasion.
Coterie (Downtown Charleston)
Helmed by co-executive chefs Viraj Borkar and Flint Spencer, this cozy spot, tucked on a small side street downtown, is a charming, cross-cultural restaurant. The menu merges Southern food with the Indian cuisine of Borkar’s homeland, plus Spencer’s Caribbean roots (he hails from Trinidad and Tobago). United by common ingredients such as okra, the food is unique yet familiar. Shrimp and grits are tossed in mustard seeds and tempered with curry leaves; steak is served with saag and vindaloo sauce. Cocktails are also a big draw at Coterie. Standout concoctions include the carlita with tequila, charred grapefruit cordial, lime, and cardamom bitters. Enjoy your meal inside or on Coterie’s photogenic, garden-style patio.
Prohibition (Downtown Charleston)
Local favorites get whimsical twists at this swinging spot, heavy on the 1920s Jazz-era vibes.
The menu mixes trendy plates such as street corn and crispy Brussels sprouts with tried-and-true classics like burgers and shrimp and grits. The tasting menu, featuring the chef’s choice of local and seasonal ingredients for the entire table, is an easy, festive choice.
This is definitely a place to kick up your heels and party, with plenty of live music. A main dining room seats 70 people on banquettes and at the lengthy bar (it holds over 120 standing). If you seek serenity, head to the climate-controlled outdoor patio and enclosed sunroom—also a pleasant backdrop for weekend brunch.
Neon Tiger (Downtown Charleston)
A vegan cocktail bar set in the year 2048, Neon Tiger is a trip into the future. It’s a great spot to celebrate a unique special occasion with a slice of dairy-free pizza or a meat-free burger and a guava the hutt cocktail (rum, fresh guava, allspice dram, vanilla agave). Ten percent of profits support the Agriculture Fairness Alliance, so when you eat here, you can feel good about both the food on your plate and the special occasion you’re here to honor. Pick padded vinyl seats at the pink and purple bar, or sink into the deep, dark booths in the avant-garde dining room. There are a few outdoor tables, but the indoor ambiance is what Neon Tiger is all about.
Husk (Downtown Charleston)
Dine on modern Southern food in a Victorian-era house. This romantic spot is best suited for food lovers celebrating an anniversary. With allegedly the best fried chicken in town, Husk works hard to reinvent Southern classics, resulting in some surprises on the menu. With hits such as glazed pig’s ear lettuce wraps and cornmeal-fried catfish, the food at this Charleston hotspot is always interesting and thoughtful. Husk’s well-known mantra is that “if it doesn’t come from the South, it’s not coming through the door,” which makes it an obvious place to celebrate your Holy City vacation. A separate bar in a carriage house next to the restaurant is a great place for a pre-dinner drink.
Kiki & Rye (Mount Pleasant)
This wood-fired kitchen, featuring coastal fare and farm-fresh food, is a welcome addition to the Mount Pleasant dining scene. Its family-friendly vibe and ample indoor and outdoor space, paired with a stellar brunch menu, make it a great spot to celebrate Mother’s Day on any Sunday. A craft bar program features made-from-scratch ingredients and citrus juice squeezed to order for every single drink. Thanks to its pond front location, patio dining is made extra special with cameos by local waterfowl.
O-Ku (Downtown Charleston)
If sipping premium sake and feasting on sumptuous raw fish is your Platonic ideal of a celebration, O-Ku is the spot for you. This elegant pan Asian spot, with brick walls and sleek, black interiors, is arguably the classiest sushi joint south of the Mason-Dixon Line. Oozing glamour in a city where shorts and flip-flops are often part of the dress code, O-Ku is the place to book when you want to dress to the nines.
Maison (Downtown Charleston)
An evening at Maison is the next best thing to a celebratory night in Paris. The acclaimed French neighborhood brasserie serves up elevated comfort food such as foie gras, coq au vin, and, yes, even escargot. It’s a lively spot for a boisterous celebration; if you prefer a calmer evening, pick a perch on the picturesque patio. Be sure to seek out a selection from the well-curated French wine list, and say “à votre santé” (“to your health”) in style.
Boathouse at Breach Inlet (Isle of Palms)
This rustic-yet-refined beachside spot is known for stellar, Southern-style seafood. The top-notch hush puppies and “best ever” collard greens certainly live up to their name. More sophisticated than some of its Shem Creek counterparts but still casual enough for shorts (and restless children), the Boathouse is also known for its crab cakes, fried platters, and butter-poached lobster tails. There’s something for everyone here, making it a great choice for a large family get-together; the Boathouse makes an extra effort to accommodate groups and special occasions for those who call ahead.
Brasserie la Banque (Downtown Charleston)
A French bistro is a guaranteed place to enjoy a celebratory romantic dinner à deux. This classic Broad Street brasserie, just steps from the iconic Rainbow Row, is named for its previous life as a city bank. The menu was conceived by French chef Jeb Aldrich and features traditional dishes such as foie gras dumplings, crepes, and profiteroles alongside more innovative fare and a raw bar—this is Charleston after all. Before or after dinner, impress your date with a drink at Bar Vaute. Decked with Art Deco furnishings, the intimate watering hole is one of the only below-street-level bars in the city.
Camellias (Downtown Charleston)
Swish service that includes Champagne and caviar (or afternoon tea with macarons) makes Camellias, in the lobby of the luxurious Hotel Bennett, a shoo-in for celebrations. Featuring an extensive collection of bottle and by-the-glass bubbly offerings, plus a decadent selection of caviar, ceviche, and tartare, Camellias is where you toast in style. The oval-shaped space was inspired by the most famous of eggs—the Fabergé. The room glows courtesy of a pink marble bar. Jackets for the gentlemen and hats for the ladies are encouraged, and reservations are a must. Though there’s no outdoor dining, Gabrielle, the fine-dining spot next door, offers tables along Marion Square.
Tempest (Downtown Charleston)
Top Chef alum Jamie Lynch helms this hyper-local, sustainable seafood restaurant. The menu is filled with fresh local shrimp, littleneck clams, king crab legs, and oysters—all are served chilled or roasted in a live-fuel charcoal oven, on single, double, or triple-tiered seafood towers. This is the place for sharing top-notch seafood with a loved one while celebrating your special occasion. The spectacular, 700-square-foot, stained-glass ceiling, featuring an ocean-themed scene, will steal the show wherever you sit in this ornate, historic building. Upstairs, a cozier dining room offers views over Market Street; the brick patio is perfect for people-watching.
Xiao Bao Biscuit (Downtown Charleston)
Find pan Asian soul food inside this hip, converted gas station run by husband-and-wife team Joshua Walker and Duolan Walker-Li. Xiao Bao Biscuit is an inventive, exciting establishment for an easygoing celebration. Urban decor dominates the unpretentious space, decked with cafeteria-style chairs and hand-scrawled specials on chalkboards. Encourage your fellow diners to try the okonomiyaki, XBB’s signature take on the crispy Japanese cabbage pancake. The menu features spicy Asian comfort food such as pad kra pow (Thai-style minced beef, green beans, chile, and basil over rice with a sunny side-up farm egg), mapo tofu, and pork dumplings. There are no reservations at this come-as-you-are neighborhood favorite. The cocktails from co-owner Joey Ryan are sure to up the ante on any special occasion.
Coastal Provisions (Isle of Palms)
This stylish, under-the-radar restaurant at the Boardwalk Inn at Wild Dunes Resort stands out for its ingredient-oriented menu, guided by seasonal harvests. It draws diners looking to celebrate with creative dishes such as roasted fruit with prosciutto and burrata, plus Lowcountry classics like shrimp and grits with pickled okra. The dining room is suited for romantic occasions with big comfy booths along the interior wall. Opt for a window or terrace seat overlooking the courtyard pool.
The Kingstide (Daniel Island)
Suburban Daniel Island has plenty of restaurants. But The Kingstide may be the only culinary destination worthy of a truly special occasion. The light-filled spot regularly attracts diners from downtown and around the metro area for highlights such as tuna tartare with blood orange ponzu and a trout reuben with pickled kohlrabi. The decadent oysters Rockefeller, adorned with hollandaise and bacon, may be the city’s best; the lardon-laced Brussels sprouts are not to be missed. Reserve a table on the patio and you’ll fuel your celebration with sweeping Wando River views.
Peninsula Grill (Downtown Charleston)
Acclaimed chefs including Robert Carter, Sean Brock, and Graham Dailey all have history at this fine-dining mainstay that opened in 1997. Executive chef Kalen Fortuna continues that tradition of excellence, elevating special occasions with elegant dishes such as seared foie gras with smoked pineapple chutney and a lobster trio of ravioli, tempura, and sauteed lobster. Entrees like smoked duck breast and roasted scallops hit the mark when bringing in any special occasion, as does the restaurant’s famous 12-layer coconut cake. The dimly lit dining room and Champagne bar are classic and romantic. When weather permits, courtyard dining at the Peninsula Grill is among the city’s best. Surrounded by greenery and twinkling lights, the space feels a world away from the bustle of Market Street just outside the iron gates.
Stratton Lawrence is a Folly Beach-based food and travel writer, and an enthusiast of oyster roasts, glassy waves, and sunset cocktails.
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