If you live in Charleston or have visited recently, you may have noticed that pizzerias and Italian restaurants are not at the forefront of the Charleston restaurant scene. Many of the restaurants that have been acclaimed are Lowcountry eateries, restaurants, and cafes. BUT, if you’re like me and love Italian cuisine, I assure you, there are some GREAT places in the Charleston area—most of which are hidden treasures!
Since I’ve pretty much tried every Italian restaurant known to man in the Charleston area, here are my TOP picks for the best ones:
1. La Pizzeria
Price range: $10 – $15 per entree
Food: Whether you just want a slice of thin-crust, authentic pizza or are in the mood for a plate of mouthwatering spaghetti and meatballs, La Pizzeria has it all. From panini to lasagna Bolognese, chicken parmesan to fresh salads, and gnocchi to “create your own” pizzas, La Pizzeria is every Italian-cuisine-lover’s dream.
It’s also important to note that the owner is from Italy and most of their staple ingredients are imported directly from Italy.
Oh, and if you love desserts, you’ll LOVE the homemade Italian desserts at La Pizzeria (try the tiramisu—it’s my favorite!).
Ambiance: With an eclectic and supercasual ambiance, La Pizzeria offers exceptional Italian cuisine without all of the frills. There are seating areas both inside and outside.
Service: It’s hard not to feel like one big Italian family when you walk into La Pizzeria! The same people have been working there for years, and they are all extremely friendly and knowledgeable about the ingredients in each and every dish at the restaurant.
Price range: Higher-end dining with entrees ranging from $15 – $30
Food: Great food all around, Mercato offers nightly specials in addition to their regular menu. Some of the best entrees at Mercato include the chicken picatta (currently, it says veal picatta on the menu, but you can ask to substitute the veal for chicken, if you’d like!), lamb osso bucco, housemade gnocchi, tagliatelle Bolognese, lamb and ricotta pizza, margherita pizza, and more. They also have great starters, including ceasar salad and fried calamari.
Image above taken from the Mercato website
Ambiance: With dim lighting, cherry wood accents, dark leather seats, and deep colored walls, Mercato definitely has that authentic Italian feel and romantic ambiance. But if you’re looking for a quiet, intimate dinner, Mercato probably is not the place for you, since it can be a bit loud at times—especially when they have their live jazz (which is wonderful!).
Service: The service is great and very professional. The staff is knowledgeable about the dishes served and is always attentive.
3. Giovanni’s Pizza
Price range: under $10 per entrée
Food: Some of the best pizza you’ll ever have, Giovanni’s Pizza offers exceptional, New York-style pizza. The slices are HUGE, so just beware. But I promise, you won’t be disappointed. Much of the staff is from New York, so they definitely know how to make a mean pizza!
Ambiance: The ambiance is very casual. You can sit anywhere you’d like and order from the counter. There’s nothing fancy at all about the ambiance. If you want just a piece of pizza without the frills, this is the place to go.
Because Giovanni’s Pizza stays open late night on the weekends, you’ll find a practically mile-long line after the bars let out! A little secret: If you want a late night pizza and don’t want to wait an hour online, call ahead and order a pizza! You can go right up to the counter and pay.
Service: The order-at-the-counter setup always produces quick service (unless it’s late night, as mentioned above). You never have to wait very long for a pizza pie or a slice.
4. Wild Olive
Price range: Higher-end prices, with entrée prices ranging from $15 – $26
Food: Some of the best Italian cuisine you’ll ever have, the chefs at Wild Olive use fresh, local ingredients, as well as imported Italian ingredients to bring the rich spirit of Italian cuisine to life. It’s also important to note that all of their pasta is in-house made.
Some of the must-try dishes at Wild Olive include their house-cured salumi (as a starter), chicken parmesan, seared sea scallops and gnocchi, baked penne with sweet sausage, and ravioli (stuffed with collards and cheese, ham hock sugo, and spiced pecans).
Image above take from the Wild Olive website
Ambiance: Romantic, intimate, and quaint, the ambiance at Wild Olive is great for a relaxing dinner for two, and combines traditional Italian décor with comfortable seating.
Service: The intimate atmosphere ensures excellent service—and similar to all the other restaurants mentioned in this post, the staff is extremely knowledgeable about all the cuisine served.
Have you tried any of the above Italian restaurants in Charleston? Or do you have any more you’d add to the list? Let us know in our comments section–we’d love to hear from you!