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Best Hilton Head Island Restaurants

AOL PICK from our Editors
Hilton Head, to be frank, has not had the best reputation for gourmet dining. There are plenty of restaurants, yes, but many of these are overpriced and focus more on their bar menus than their food. That said, things do seem to be on the upswing. Several fine new restaurants have opened in recent years, many of which focus on local, seasonal ingredients. The island has better luck with casual dining. Eating on the deck at one of the many waterfront restaurants is one of the great pleasures of visiting Hilton Head. After a day full of golfing or swimming, a big juicy burger or a plate of crab cakes always hits the spot. Hilton Head's better restaurants do tend to fill up fast during high season. Plan on reserving well in advance, especially on weekends. Even the fanciest restaurants don't stand on ceremony when it comes to dress code—it's the rare establishment that doesn't have a table or two of polo-shirted, khaki-clad golfers.  

Red Fish

Neighborhood: Hilton Head Price: Expensive
This perpetually crowded urban-chic restaurant is one of Hilton Head's top picks for upscale fresh seafood. Start with the calamari in smoked tomato sauce, then move on to the Lowcountry shrimp and grits, which are tarted up with chorizo sausage and sautéed kale. If you're feeling flush, add a side of lobster mac n' cheese. Burgers are widely considered the island's best. The full bar churns out everything from glasses of merlot to sugary chocolate martinis. The two-course early bird menu is a good value, and will help you beat the crowds. The dining room is upscale-casual, with black bistro tables and contemporary light fixtures. Crowds are mixed in age and attire—you'll feel comfortable in anything from jeans to a cocktail dress (well, if you're a woman. You know what I mean!).

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Red Fish  

Old Fort Pub

Neighborhood: Hilton Head Price: Expensive
Set beneath Spanish moss-dripping oaks on the banks of the Intracoastal waterway, this New Southern seafood joint is one of Hilton Head's most scenic dining spots. Favorite menu items include the she-crab soup, the Lowcountry crawfish cakes, and the key lime pie. Seafood shunners have plenty of beef, chicken, lamb and pasta dishes to choose from, as well. The early dinner, a three-course prix fixe menu, is an excellent value for those who can work up an appetite before 5:45PM. In nice weather, the patio is absolutely the only place to sit. You can even bring your dog. Despite the high prices, the Old Fort definitely retains a casual pub vibe, so if you're traveling with children, they'll feel right at home.

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Old Fort Pub  

The Studio

Neighborhood: Hilton Head Price: Expensive
Yeah, the motto—"An artistic dining experience"—is a touch pretentious. But this restaurant/art gallery is one of Hilton Head's most highly-rated fine-dining establishments. The eclectic menu roams the globe, from a Caribbean snapper to an Indian-style lamb to a Southern Vidalia onion and crab bisque. Paintings by artist Lunonia Colella, chef Paul Colella's wife, cover the walls. They're all for sale. Some may find the live art demos a bit much. There's live music many nights, including the retro crooning of Armand DeMille on Fridays and Saturdays. The decor is upscale bistro-style, with yellow walls and deep red accents. Diners are mostly couples, as the intimate vibe is not particularly conducive to large group meals. The wine list gets two thumbs up from picky oenophiles.

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The Studio  

Dye's Gullah Fixin's

Neighborhood: Hilton Head Price: Moderate
Gullah cuisine, a mix of Southern ingredients and West African cooking techniques, is one of South Carolina's regional treasures. Taste it for yourself at Dye's, which turns out gut-busting portions of Gullah classics. Try the Lowcountry boil, a pot full of boiled shrimp, sausage, eggs and peppers. The Friday night all-you-can eat buffet is a good way to taste a bit of everything. The menu is written partly in Gullah Creole, a mix of English and West African words and pronunciations—shrimp becomes 'swimp,' with becomes 'wit,' etc. The atmosphere is casual and family-friendly. Kids will particularly appreciate homemade desserts like blackberry dump (imagine a cobbler that's been through an earthquake).

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Dye's Gullah Fixin's  

Michael Anthony's

Neighborhood: Hilton Head Price: Moderate
This midrange Italian joint is the kind of likeable, slightly retro place that Hilton Head regulars return to over and over again. Menu items range from old-fashioned red sauce classics like tagliatelle alla bolognese and veal scaloppine to creative modern fare like beet salad with goat cheese or lobster ravioli. Always finish with the tiramisu classico, of course. The atmosphere is upscale, but family-friendly, with a large dining room and bubbly wait staff. Chef Michael Cirafesi runs a cooking school, with both hands-on and demo-style classes.

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Michael Anthony's  

Hudson's on the Docks

Neighborhood: Hilton Head Price: Moderate
Hilton Head's oldest restaurant is well-loved for its no-frills seafood and convivial atmosphere. Order a bucket of steamed clams to share, and then follow up with a bowl of she-crab soup and a plate of fried scallops or shrimp. Combo platters are truly massive. The dining room is country-casual, with blue-checkered tablecloths and a long wooden bar decorated with nautical odds and ends. The outdoor picnic tables overlooking the water fill up fast when the weather's nice. The staff, many of them longtime locals, is friendly as can be. Crowds range from families with children to sunburned golfers working on their fifth beers.

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Hudson's on the Docks  

Giuseppi's Pizza and Pasta

Neighborhood: Hilton Head Price: Budget
A Hilton Head standby for its tasty pizzas and classic pasta dishes, like fettuccini Alfredo and spaghetti with meatballs, casual Giuseppe's is always a good pick for a quick lunch or family dinner. Try a weggie, Giuseppe's signature overstuffed sandwich, made with leftover pizza dough. Wash it down with one of Giuseppe's own raspberry sodas. The restaurant, in one of Hilton Head's many strip malls, has a crowded, casual dining room and an open kitchen. There's a small bit of outdoor seating, but it's not very scenic.

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Giuseppi's Pizza and Pasta  

Signe's Heaven Bound Bakery & Cafe

Neighborhood: Hilton Head Price: Budget
For nearly 40 years, Signe Gardo has been baking up sweet, old-fashioned pies, cakes and breads for Hilton Headers young and old. Signature items at this sunny cafe include Signe's thick, tart key lime pie, her fluffy and fanciful Jessica pink lemonade cake (butter cake with layers of lemon curd, raspberry jam and butter cream), and her pecan praline pound cake. If those sound a little rich for your blood, grab a sandwich, quiche or salad. Breakfast, served anytime, is a favorite. Try the deep dish French toast, as seen on the Food Network. Decor is granny-cute, all checkered tablecloths and framed floral prints.

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Signe's Heaven Bound Bakery & Cafe  

Pino Gelato

Neighborhood: HiltonHead Price: Budget
Everyone's been raving about this new gelato shop, which dishes up gelatos and sorbets in creative flavors like blueberry-pomegranate, pumpkin and key lime. Kids will dig the "pizza cones"—an ice cream cone-shaped rollup of, well, pizza. Adults might want to stick to the crepes. The small, cheerful shop has sherbet-color walls and minimalist metal barstools. Tiny as it is, the place can get crowded, especially on weekend evenings. Take-home gelato cakes are always a hit at dinner parties.

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Pino Gelato  

Salty Dog Cafe

Neighborhood: HiltonHead Price: Budget
Whether or not you've been to Hilton Head before, you've probably seen the iconic dog-in-yellow hat logo of this beloved island institution on the back of a T-shirt somewhere. In the quaint village at South Beach, the dockside restaurant serves a variety of casual American fare—crab cake sandwiches, fried fish platters, burgers. But, really, you don't come here for the food; you come here for the atmosphere. Groups of golfers drink beer on the wooden patio, while families with small children snap pictures next to the life-sized pirate statues inside. Crowds can be unnervingly huge, especially on weekends. Buying a T-shirt is practically mandatory. The dog, by the way, is Jake, who, legend says, rescued his owner from drowning at sea.

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Salty Dog Cafe  
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