citrus salad.jpg (copy)

Citrus salad at Bar Normandy.

File/Grace Beahm/Staff

Critics are forever being asked to name the city’s best restaurant. It’s an impossible question to answer, since at best it is an ambiguous concept (and I’ll spare you the rest of the spiel for now). But the following restaurants are the sources of some of Charleston’s peak eating experiences.

Bar Normandy

Proudly a restaurant worker's restaurant, Bar Normandy doesn't have printed menus or servers or even a space of its own. It nightly inhabits Normandy Farms Bakery, pulling off a presto change-o that consists primarily of dimming the lights and plugging in a pair of induction burners. Chef Alex Lira's loving interpretations of local ingredients are equally magical. 19 Broad St., 843-789-4509, instagram.com/barnormandy19

+3 
okrasoup Bertha's Kitchen (copy)

The okra soup at Bertha's Kitchen, which was recognized in 2017 by the James Beard Foundation as an America's Classic restaurant.

File/Wade Spees/Staff

Bertha’s Kitchen and Martha Lou’s Kitchen

Diners like to debate the merits of Bertha’s Kitchen and Martha Lou’s. The proprietors of the venerable soul food joints aren’t too invested in the rivalry: They’ve catered each other’s events. Follow their lead and patronize both restaurants if you can. Don’t miss the outstanding fried pork chop and okra soup at Bertha’s, one of five restaurants in 2017 to receive a prestigious America's Classic award from the James Beard Foundation. 2332 Meeting St. Road, North Charleston, 843-554-6519. Seek out the fried chicken and cornbread at Martha Lou’s, 1068 Morrison Drive, Charleston, 843-577-9583, marthalouskitchen.com

Bowen’s Island Restaurant

Yes, nitpickers will claim the iconic restaurant hasn’t regained its animating spirit since a devastating fire forced a total rebuild. More roasted oysters for the rest of us then. Perhaps the only restaurant where eaters calculate their appetite by the shovelful, Bowen’s is a fortress of Lowcountry oyster culture. 1870 Bowen’s Island Road, James Island, 843-795-2757, bowensislandrestaurant.com

Butcher & Bee

After years as the region’s favorite high-end sandwich shop, Butcher & Bee — equally renowned for its accomplished baked goods and Middle Eastern-tinged takes on Lowcountry vegetables — is now a sophisticated sit-down restaurant, with an impressive wine list and perhaps the city's best breakfast menu. 1085 Morrison Drive, 843-619-0202, butcherandbee.com

Edmund’s Oast

Although it bears a name that would have made more sense to drinkers a century ago (an oast is a hop-drying kiln), this playhouse of beer and dynamic food tends to look forward with dishes such as hot-and-sour tilefish over Charleston Gold rice, created by new hire Bob Cook; Edmund's snapped up the Artisan Meat Share chef after that beloved charcuterie counter closed. 1081 Morrison Drive, 843-727-1145, edmundsoast.com

FIG

Now headed up by Jason Stanhope, the reigning best chef in the Southeast (at least in the James Beard Foundation’s estimation), this Mike Lata’s award-winning restaurant was instrumental in forging contemporary Charleston’s relationship with food. Its signature dishes, such as the handsome nine-vegetable salad, are studies in seriousness, refinement and ingredient respect. 232 Meeting St., 843-805-5900, eatatfig.com

The Glass Onion

The comfortably casual Glass Onion is a delicious antidote to the Southern food burnout that’s become a real risk of eating out in America these days. The restaurant restores dignity and meaning to simple dishes such as fried chicken and deviled eggs. 1219 Savannah Highway, 843-225-1717, ilovetheglassonion.com

The Grocery

The perfect answer to the “where to take out-of-town guests” question that’s a fixture of Charleston living. At The Grocery, chef Kevin Johnson makes trendy techniques such as pickling and preserving painless for skeptical patrons; the endearingly scruffy, scrupulously sourced dishes are worthy homages to the region’s bounty. 4 Cannon St., 843-302-8825, thegrocerycharleston.com

Husk

At its best during the lunch hour, Husk is the restaurant that secured Charleston’s spot in the national culinary pantheon. The South’s edible glories are celebrated here in playful dishes that subtly draw from Asian techniques: The pig’s ear lettuce wraps are a mainstay of the otherwise changing menu. 76 Queen St., 843-577-2500, huskrestaurant.com

Indaco

Bringing accessible class to Upper King Street, the Italian representative in Steve Palmer’s Indigo Road restaurant collection is the energetic Indaco, serving up quasi-Italian pastas and seafood dishes with a farmhouse bent. The brightly cosmopolitan pizzas, baked in a wood-fired oven, are the prize. 526 King St., 843-727-1228, indacocharleston.com

Leon’s Oyster Shop

It’s a brilliant strategem, really: By serving impeccably fried chicken, Leon’s kitchen can get away with a roster of California-influenced salads that might not otherwise fly in a joint that smartly salutes the ragged South. The chargrilled oysters are less healthy, but not to be missed. 698 King St., 843-531-6500, leonsoystershop.com

+3 
From beans to bar at Little Jack’s (copy)

Little Jack's Tavern is stylishly retro.

File/Paul Zoeller/Staff

Little Jack's Tavern

There's more to Little Jack's than its justly popular tavern burger, although it likely would have made this list on the slider's strength alone. This knowingly retro steakhouse is a warm celebration of everything a racehorse owner would favor in 1952, including stiff martinis and crab Louie. 710 King St., 843-531-6868, littlejackstavern.com

+3 
rib eye sandwich.jpg (copy)

Rib-eye sandwich with sides mac-and-cheese and potato salad served at Rodney Scott's BBQ.

File/Grace Beahm/Staff

Rodney Scott's BBQ

One of the world's great food cities and one of the best whole hog pit masters on the planet were bound to meet, considering both are located in South Carolina. Rodney Scott this year left Scott's BBQ in Hemingway to open his own store in Charleston, and the meat's as magnificent as promised (especially in the unexpected form of a rib-eye sandwich.) 1011 King St., 843-990-9535, rodneyscottsbbq.com

Trattoria Lucca

Chef Ken Vedrinski last opened Coda del Pesca, where his rigorous brand of Italian cookery meets beachside views, but the food is every bit as delicious at the quietly romantic Lucca. Adding to the enchanted air is the regionally appropriate wine list, which strays far beyond the expected standards. 41 Bogard St., 843-973-3323, luccacharleston.com

Minero

Leave it to Neighborhood Dining Group, home of executive chef Sean Brock, to solve the problem of Mexican food in downtown Charleston (namely, there wasn’t much). The best dishes here cannily reference the Lowcountry, such as the exceptional benne salsa. 153 E. Bay St., 843-789-2241, minerorestaurant.com

The Obstinate Daughter

Having already catapulted Wild Olive into the essential realm, chef Jacques Larson opened The Obstinate Daughter on Sullivan’s Island, forcing eaters to rethink their low expectations of beachy restaurants. There’s pizza and pasta, but the rustic Italian preparations of local seafood are the beacon here. 2063 Middle St., Sullivan’s Island, 843-4165020, theobstinatedaughter.com

The Ordinary

When the building that houses The Ordinary served as a bank, it safeguarded money. Now under chef Mike Lata’s supervision, the grand Upper King Street structure is a depository for eaters’ seafood affections. The lively restaurant is the city’s top destination for smart and elegant shellfish preparations. 544 King St., 843-414-7060, eattheordinary.com

The Wreck of the Richard and Charlene

This weathered joint on the banks of Shem Creek is the area’s best bet for fried seafood, including estimable deviled crabs. As the name suggests, the restaurant isn’t much to look at, but the mingling aromas of salty French fries and the coastal air drifting across the screened-in porch more than make up for the visuals. 106 Haddrell St., Mount Pleasant, 843-884-0052, wreckrc.com

Xiao Bao Biscuit

Charlestonians like to wail about the local dearth of traditional Asian food, but the city has something a sight better in Xiao Bao, the brainchild of three restaurateurs smitten with Sichuan peppers and black beans, among other Far Eastern pantry staples. Housed in a converted gas station, the vibrant restaurant is relentlessly creative. 224 Rutledge Ave., xiaobaobiscuit.com

Reach Hanna Raskin at 843-937-5560 and follow her on Twitter @hannaraskin.

Food editor and chief critic

Eating all of the chicken livers just as fast as I can.