The Pioneers: Robert Stehling opened Hominy Grill at Rutledge Avenue and Spring Street in 1996, paving the way for a bevy of eclectic eateries, (from left to right) Hominy Grill, R. Kitchen, Wild Common, Malagón, & Chez Nous.
A century ago, corner groceries dotted the streets of the Cannonborough/Elliotborough neighborhood, which stretches along the south side of the Crosstown Expressway from Upper King Street toward the MUSC campus. Most lapsed into disrepair in the 1950s and ’60s, made obsolete by supermarkets. Now, one by one, those old stores are being renovated and brought back to life as restaurants, prime settings for a new, more casual mode of Charleston fine dining.
Chubby Fish opened in a former corner store at Bogard and Coming streets in 2018; DC-based Estadio joined the Spring Street dining scene in 2019.
Though it opened in 2018, Chubby Fish exemplifies the new mode of Charleston dining that crystallized after COVID-19: smaller in scale, local in focus, and intensely fresh in flavors. Chef-owner James London highlights pristine local seafood, applying novel set pieces to the catch of the day. Citrusy ceviche and avocado shine atop toasted focaccia, while plump grilled oysters await beneath orange caps of ’nduja butter and melted Parmesan. Whether it is a whole roasted fish blanketed in ginger-scallion sauce or a wedge of seared grouper served in an improbably delicious bowl of beet butter, parsnips, and turnip tops, the big menu board at Chubby Fish always has fresh wonders to explore. 252 Coming St., chubbyfishcharleston.com
Spain and the Lowcountry converge at Estadio in an impressive array of small plates accompanied by Iberian wines and a deep list of sherries, vermouths, and gin cocktails. It arrived in fall 2019, a sibling to the Washington, DC, original, but it has a Lowcountry identity all its own. Fresh local seafood—fried flounder, snapper crudo, grilled white shrimp—mingle with imported anchovies, sardines, and almonds. The real showstopper is the paella, its savory rice accented with sofrito, saffron, and yellow aioli and loaded with fresh shrimp, squid, and clams in the shell. 122 Spring St., estadio-chs.com
(From left to right) Laurel, Chasing Sage, & Vern’s.
Just steps from the Crosstown, Chasing Sage makes locally grown vegetables and herbs the stars of the show. It’s the handiwork of two transplanted Pacific Northwest natives, Walter Edward and Forrest Brunton, who cooked together at Tilth in Seattle before heading east to South Carolina, where Edward’s wife, Cindy, was raised. The menu changes along with seasons, bringing unexpected creations like English pea dumplings, sunchoke-filled agnolotti, and parsnip flan served over a slab of braised pork belly. Fresh local seafood plays a prominent role, too, in everything from spicy blue crab lettuce wraps to amberjack tartare. 267 Rutledge Ave., chasingsagerestaurant.com
A Spanish-made Josper oven anchors chef Trae Wilson’s kitchen at Laurel, which opened in March 2021 at the corner of Rutledge and Doughty. Its charcoal fire imparts a smoky kiss to coils of grilled octopus, whole roasted fish, and a splendid Basque spice-rubbed roasted chicken. An array of Spanish- and Portuguese-inspired small plates round out the fare along with a solid slate of Spanish wines. 161 Rutledge Ave., laurelcharleston.com
Daniel and Bethany Heinze met while working at McCrady’s, then headed west to Los Angeles for a few years before returning to launch a New American restaurant all their own, opening their doors in July 2022. Daniel heads the kitchen, and his menu ranges from Gruyère-laced escargot to crisp pork loin along with specials making the most of whatever local purveyors bring in that day. Bethany curates an impressive globe-spanning wine list that’s devoted to natural wines from small scale producers. 41 Bogard St., vernschs.com
Photographs by (Spring Street, Hominy Grill, R. Kitchen, & Chez Nous) Christopher Shane, (Wild Common) Lizzy Smith, & (Malagón) Aleece Sophia & Courtesy of (Constantine Grocery) Historic Charleston Foundation, (Chubby Fish) Mira Adwell, (Laurel) Hailey Morris, & (Vern’s) Elizabeth Ervin & Courtesy of (2) The restaurants