Even if you’ve finished the Cooper River Bridge Run dozens of times before, there’s no reason you should have to celebrate the accomplishment in the same old way. Charleston gains restaurants at a pace that few other U.S. cities can match: To put it in running terms, the city belongs in the first corral.
Of course, not every new restaurant is designed for a festive Saturday night: Many of the most exciting additions to the local dining scene since the last Bridge Run are healthy lunch specialists. But the following restaurants are sure to make your Saturday night special, assuming you can get a seat.
Rappahannock Oyster Bar
Officially, Rappahannock is a chain, with restaurant locations in Richmond, Va., Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. But the rest of the world tends to fade away in the presence of chef Kevin Kelly’s delicate cooking, which takes its cues from the local catch, not a corporate spreadsheet. If you can’t stick around for baked clams and charred octopus, it’s worth dropping by the copper-topped raw bar for expertly shucked oysters.
701 East Bay St. No. 110, 843-576-4693, rroysters.com/restaurants/rappoysterbarchs
Wood & Grain
Mount Pleasant dining had a banner 2017, with half a dozen established chefs opening restaurants that didn’t condescend to eaters on their side of the Cooper River. One of the standouts is Wood & Grain, an intensely personal project from Patrick Owens, whose talent has long been confined to the fine dining realm. Wood & Grain is small, loud and terrific fun, with wood-fired shellfish and pizzas to press the good timing along.
778 S. Shelmore Blvd. No. 102, 843-971-6070, owensdininggroup.com/woodandgrainmtp
Another Mount Pleasant highlight, The Shellmore is a ridiculously good restaurant disguised as an ordinary neighborhood wine bar. New York City transplant Eric Milley has an uncanny mastery of flavor that forces diners to reckon with commonplace dishes, such as shrimp cocktail, steak tartare and a Bolognese that’s a near-constant on the very short chalkboard menu. Also, the wine bar bit isn’t merely a front: The Shellmore’s pouring smart picks at fair prices.
357 N. Shelmore Blvd., 843-654-9278, Instagram.com/theshellmore
Chef John Zucker took his time in opening Purlieu, a French-inspired restaurant on the Westside, at least in the opinion of Cru Cafe’s devoted fans. But he didn’t have to worry about rushing his ideas into the marketplace, since the restaurant is built on a foundation of classic dishes and timelessly considerate service. The cozy bistro is warmed by candlelight and the happy conversation that unfolds over frog leg tartes, roast chicken and bouillabaisse.
237 Fishburne St., 843-300-2253, purlieucharleston.com
The breathtakingly handsome Vintage Lounge is more of a place to start the night than spend it, but it takes a degree of willpower to walk away from this Upper King Street wine bar. The list is as sophisticated as the golden-hued room, complete with gilded ceiling and plush banquettes. Still, Vintage hasn’t drained the fun out of drinking: Customers who correctly identify a blind pour get the wine for free. (And if you end up staying, there’s fondue on the food menu.)
545 King St., 843-818-4282, vintagechs.com
When Juliet opened at the back of The Daily’s parking lot, it didn’t have signage that could be seen from the street, and the restaurant’s owners refused to reveal their chef’s name. Those opening mysteries have been resolved by a bit of neon and local favorite Nate Whiting, who in July took over the kitchen and began perfecting his pizza crust. In addition to very classy pizza, the quietly stylish Juliet serves pasta and crudo.
654 King St., 843-329-7543, julietchs.com
It’s not uncommon to be greeted at Goulette with a remaining chicken count. The rotisserie-borne bird is the star of Perig Goulet’s follow-up to La Fourchette, along with the French fries that get a share of every plate. But the steak, Merguez sausages and lamb chops are equally lovely in the reflected light of Goulet’s famously gregarious service, which gives the room a homey feel that’s scarce in contemporary Charleston.
98 Cannon St., 843-805-6699, facebook.com/Goulette-470229133335980/