The Pioneers: Chef Fred Neuville launched the French-inspired Fat Hen on Maybank Highway in 2007. Two years later, he opened Wild Olive across the way. Before then, dining out in that area meant a drive to Kiawah Island. (Pictured from left to right) Wild Olive, Fat Hen, & The Ocean Room at Kiawah Island Golf Resort.
A decade ago, if you headed out from Charleston down Maybank Highway, you could stop off for farm-to-table Italian at Wild Olive or hearty French plates at Fat Hen. After that, your best bet was to hit the gas for a 20-mile ride out to Kiawah Island. These days, diners have a lot more options for interesting meals along the increasingly busy James and John’s Island corridor.
(From left to right) The Royal Tern & Bar George.
The Royal Tern
The Royal Tern opened at the beginning of 2019, giving John’s Island an upscale array of seafood in a sleek, airy space with high ceilings and a long marble-topped bar. Towers of raw shellfish are accompanied by baked and wood-grilled oysters, followed by fresh grilled and fried fish and a selection of wood-fired steaks. 3005 Maybank Hwy., theroyaltern.com
High meets low at this Riverland Terrace gem that was launched in May 2020 by a group of Charleston F&B vets. Eager to bring a downtown vibe to their James Island neighborhood, their small but amped-up food menu goes far beyond typical bar fare. It starts with fresh oysters, crudo, and Greek caviar dip and ranges up to whole roasted fish and grilled Peruvian chickens with a couple of gussied-up hot dogs thrown in for good measure. To go alongside, there are glasses of wine and serious craft cocktails, or you can keep things downscale with an affordable domestic beer or a throwback boilermaker. 1956 Maybank Hwy., bar-georgechs.com
(From left to right) Kwei Fei, Chef Shamil Velázquez at Minero Mexican Grill and Cantina.
In the restaurant adjoining the Charleston Pour House, chef David Schuttenberg brings the heat with his homage to the flavors of Sichuan. That means bold noodle bowls—“tingly” braised beef shanks, mapo tofu, and dan dan wheat noodles laced with black pepper and sesame—plus small plates that turn the spice up loud on everything from tender lamb dumplings to dry-rubbed chicken wings. 1977 Maybank Hwy., kweifei.com
Minero’s history is emblematic of the recent trajectory of Charleston dining. Casual in style but obsessively ingredient-focused, it was opened on East Bay Street in 2014 by chef Sean Brock of McCrady’s and Husk fame. While Brock departed for Nashville a few years later, the flavorful Mexican-inspired fare remained a local favorite until the restaurant shuttered in April 2020 in the wake of COVID-19 restrictions. Two years later, though, Minero returned in a larger format out on John’s Island, taking over the building that formerly housed Fat Hen. Ten miles west from the original restaurant row location, all the old Minero favorites are still going strong—tacos on heirloom corn tortillas, hefty foil-wrapped burritos, and charcoal-grilled wings tossed tableside with Valentina sauce. 3140 Maybank Hwy., minerojohnsisland.com
Photographs by (Wild Olive exterior) Amanda Bouknight, (Jaques Larson & Wild Olive food) Andrew Cebulka, & (Ocean Room) Christopher Shane, (The Royal Tern, Bar George, & Minero exteriors) Amanda Bouknight & (Minero chef) Andrew Cebulka & Courtesy of (2) the restaurants