Fine dining in Charleston, South Carolina is bountiful, so the trick may be deciding WHERE to eat in Charleston among all the amazing options. “Obstinate” and “ordinary” may lead diners to wonder about restaurants with those words in the name. Wonder no more because they are the buzzwords for hitting the dining jackpot in Charleston restaurants. Prepare to eat well and enjoy the fresh tastes, fun atmosphere, and fabulous service.
Two Favorite Charleston Restaurants
Charleston, SC, is a charmer in every way: history, culture, attractions, and, oh yeah, the FOOD. From the beach locale of The Obstinate Daughter to the downtown delight of The Ordinary, these two Charleston restaurants wowed us with their foodie chops and the relaxed atmospheres. This is high quality dining, so count on shelling out a bit. Also, you should consider if a fine dining experience is appropriate for your family. But if the budget and the family dynamics are up to it, these two Charleston restaurants are well worth it!
1. The Obstinate Daughter
What’s With that Name?
Located on Sullivan’s Island, The Obstinate Daughter is paying homage to the region’s rich Southern revolutionary history. The restaurant’s quirky name comes from a London political cartoon titled, “Miss Carolina Sulivan, one of the obstinate daughters of American 1776.” Calling itself a “food fort,” The Obstinate Daughter is indeed a stalwart of fine dining that will fight off its competitors with its robust menu and elevated food.
I’d say this restaurant is indeed obstinate in the sense the kitchen is unyielding in turning out awesome dishes that you won’t find anywhere else. So its willingness to be inventive and playful in their approach to food could be likened to Carolina Sulivan. Hey, who doesn’t like a great name?
I’d call the design “beach chill without pretension.” Have no doubt, the Obstinate Daughter is upscale, but not snobbish. You won’t find the nautical theme thrown in your face, but the cool blue and earthy tones, lights suspended on ropes, and rough hewn walls reminiscent of wooden ships give the feel of the ocean without being over the top. It is this subtlety that defines the restaurant and makes it such a popular destination.
Chef Jacques Larson and his team are the creative minds behind the inventive menu. The dishes are a culinary mashup of different cuisines. Pizza, pasta, small plates and a raw bar are the focus of the menu. Homemade gnocchi and wood-fired oven pizzas are served up alongside the fresh fish of the day and raw bar items. The coastal ties are strong here, as oysters and seafood arrive fresh off the boat.
Be forewarned: there is no kids’ menu. If your children don’t like to try new cuisines or handle fine dining well, then this isn’t the restaurant you are looking for. My tween is our picky eater, but he was satisfied with pizza. My teen, on the other hand, loves trying new dishes.
After a recommendation from our server, I ordered the steamed mussels for the table to share. I messed up…I should have ordered more! When I returned to the table, the mussels were being devoured by our party of 6. Prepared with nduja, white wine, roasted red pepper, and aioli, the mussels were swimming in flavor. Too bad I didn’t get our photo before my family started eating them. You know it’s a hit when everyone is claiming credit for ordering them!
But my all time favorite dish had to be the ricotta gnocchi with short rib ragu and horseradish gremolata. I was already leaning towards this dish when the server said it was his favorite. Here especially, ask the servers. They know the food and have likely eaten it a lot, so it’s never a bad call to get their input. The Obstinate Daughter makes some of the pasta on site, and the gnocchi were indeed as described: pillows of love. It was divine and sublime.
My tween son noshed on The Moultrie, a pizza of tomato, mozzarella, pepperoni, Mepkin Abbey shitakes, and parmesan. He loved every bite.
From the seared swordfish paella with saffron rice, chorizo, mussel, scallop, and shrimp to the Orecchiette (lamb bolognese, sheep milk ricotta, mint), the food knocked our socks off. Everyone oohed and ahhed, and we stuffed our faces.
Extra brownie points: the restaurant is Green Restaurant Certified, having met exacting standards in areas of water efficiency, recycling, sustainable food, energy, and sustainable durable goods and building materials. I had never heard of this before, so I did some reading. Looks like the wave of the future for conscientious restaurants.
The Bottom Line
The Obstinate Daughter really impressed me and lived up to the foodie billing it has received for the following reasons:
1. Our food was phenomenal!
2. The relaxed boho chic cool atmosphere was perfect for the beach.
3. Diverse food offerings gave everyone in our party something to suit their palates.
If this is obstinate, I don’t want to be any other way.
The Obstinate Daughter
2063 Middle Street
Sullivan’s Island, SC
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2. The Ordinary
Housed in a old bank building, The Ordinary is anything but what its humble name implies. Instead, it is a shellfish lovers mecca! From the moment we stepped into the cavernous main room with its 22 foot ceiling, we knew we were in for a culinary treat. Staring us in the face was a sumptuous raw bar in front of what used to be a bank vault door. It’s also always a good sign when a restaurant is packed the entire time you are there. The energy was vibrant, with lots of laughter and smiles around the room.
It doesn’t hurt that this restaurant is the brainchild of Mike Lata, founder of the award-winning FIG restaurant. When he opened The Ordinary in this former bank building, the foodie world took notice and no surprise, it seems to be making bank.
Much of that is due to the freshness of the ingredients, a fact the restaurant prides itself on in working with local and regional fishermen, crabbers, oystermen, farmers and producers.
Food and Wine included The Ordinary in its list of top oyster bars in America. Joining that list was one of our favorite restaurants from our Boston trip, Island Creek Oyster Bar. It’s not all about shellfish and the raw bar at The Ordinary because the restaurant offers many fresh catch choices.
The Ordinary’s standout dishes included the smoked oysters, the Nova Scotia and Capers Blades oysters, the BBQ shrimp, and the baked stuffed lobster.
When a restaurant calls itself a seafood hall and oyster bar, then you can bet the shellfish will be fresh and that you best order seafood.
For a celebratory meal and the freshest oysters around, this was a wonderful (albeit expensive) option for a family.
The Bottom Line
The Ordinary brims with culinary confidence and exceptional food. The ambiance is fun, the food fabulous, and the freshness is unparalleled, so your belly will be so so happy you ate here. Stick with the seafood tower, ask your server for recommendations and always order them, and give one of The Ordinary’s daiquiris a try. (Not your normal syrupy sweet concoction but true mixology and how daiquiris were intended to be made).
544 King Street
So don’t be Obstinate–or run from the Ordinary. Be sure to check out these two dining gems next time you find yourself in the charismatic city of Charleston, SC!