Not to be confused with Charley’s Crab House next door to Hudson’s, seafood lovers will enjoy the experience down near Sea Pines at Charlie’s L’Etoile Verte (8 New Orleans Rd., 843/785-9277, www.charliesofhiltonhead.com , lunch Tues.–Sat. 11:30 a.m.–2 p.m., dinner Mon.–Sat. 6–9:30 p.m., $25–40), which is considered by many connoisseurs to be Hilton Head ’s single best restaurant.
The emphasis here is on “French country kitchen” cuisine—think Provence, not Paris. In keeping, each day’s menu is concocted from scratch and handwritten. Listen to these recent entrées and feel your mouth water: flounder saute Meuniere, grilled wild coho salmon with a basil pesto, and breast of duck in a raspberry demi-glace. Get the picture?
Of course you’ll want to start with the escargot and leeks vol-au-vent, the house paté, or even some pan-roasted Bluffton oysters. As you’d expect the wine selection is celestial. Reservations are essential.
Perhaps the most unique restaurant on Hilton Head is Red Fish (8 Archer Rd., 843/686-3388, www.redfishofhiltonhead.com , lunch Mon.–Sat. 11:30 a.m.–2 p.m., dinner daily beginning with early-bird specials at 5 p.m., $20–37). Strongly Caribbean in decor as well as menu, with romanticism and panache to match, this is a great place for couples.
The creative but accessible menu by Executive Chef Sean Walsh incorporates unique spices, fruits, and vegetables for a fresh, zesty palate. The recommended course of action is to pick your own wine from the truly vast, thousand-bottle-plus, award-winning selection in the attached wine shop and cellar to go with your dinner (there’s a small corkage fee).
You can’t go wrong with any entrée here, but highlights include the grilled grouper with a mango avocado salsa, the horseradish-encrusted salmon, and the Dominican braised pork cooked in coconut milk with cilantro, chilies, fried bananas, jasmine rice, and Cuban black beans. Reservations are essential.
It’s not cheap, but fresh seafood lovers will enjoy one of Hilton Head ’s staples, the huge Hudson’s on the Docks (1 Hudson Rd., 843/681-2772, www.hudsonsonthedocks.com , lunch daily 11 a.m.–4 p.m., opens for dinner at 5 p.m., $14–23) on Skull Creek just off Squire Pope Road on the less-developed north side. Much of the catch—though not all of it by any means—comes directly off the boats you’ll see dockside. Built on the old family oyster factory, Hudson’s is now owned by transplants from, of all places, Long Island, New York. Still, its record of satisfied customers, heavy on the families, remains intact.
Try the stuffed shrimp, filled with crabmeat, or just go for a combination platter. Leave room for one of the homemade desserts by Ms. Bessie, a 30-year Hudson’s veteran employee.