Mike Lata, Chef, FIG, Food Is Good, Charleston, SC, South Carolina, Best Chef in the Southeast, James Beard, Seasonal Fresh Food, Cafe, Bistro


Chef Mike Lata’s recommendations on where to eat and shop in Charleston, North Carolina, Atlanta, New Orleans, Boston, and Martha’s Vineyard.


FIG Chef/owner Mike Lata may be a New Englander by birth, but he’s embraced Lowcountry cuisine like a native son. He describes his restaurant as part neighborhood cafe/part elegant bistro with an emphasis on seasonal and sustainable foods. Throw in a mix of straightforward Yankee technique with Southern charm and you can see why Charleston is proud to call him a local.

Before chef Lata landed in Charleston, he had many stops along the road working in professional kitchens in Boston, Martha’s Vineyard, New Orleans, Atlanta, and France. In 2009, chef Lata won a James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef in the Southeast.


Q. FIG is:

A. a neighborhood bistro serving simple and seasonal cuisine with an emphasis on local and sustainable foods.


Q. You’re often photographed with your bike... what cool little food destinations have you discovered on your road trips?

A. Well, when we ride, we ride all day and in very rural areas. We look for meat and three’s, taquerias and the like. Even if they aren’t the best ever, they are usually reflective of the locale…which is fun.

John’s Island Tomato Tarte Tatin

But the best meal I had on the road was at Lantern in Chapel Hill. I came in at last call, pretty grungy, and the staff welcomed me in and fed me a welcome, delicious meal.


Q. Is there a cookbook, new or vintage that is like a bible to you and why?

A. “Cooking with Daniel Boulud” was my first book. I got it secondhand from the food editor at the Atlanta Journal Constitution. I had always wanted to go to Italy to cook, and his book really ignited my love for French technique. I referenced it for years to come. 


Q. If you’re going to splurge on one cooking item, it should be (fill in the blank):

A. A wood-burning oven.

Q. Any exciting projects in your future?

A. We are working towards a documentary-style farm project. The cook in me is all for it. The business man in me is a bit tentative. Time and money are hard to come by and mother nature is a tough boss.

Q. Is there a recipe we can get you to share?

A. Burrata, roasted peaches and fried rosemary…on the menu now at FIG.  It is completely satisfying.


Q. Among your fellow chefs, whom do you admire and/or look to for advice?

A. Frank Stitt. He is the elder statesman of local cooking in the south. He does it with grace, talent and passion. 

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Q. What cool ingredient/gadget/product have you discovered recently that you’re excited about? 

A. The sharpest knife is the best tool. I probably have 50 knives, but I have been using three or four primary knives for a number of years.

My chef’s knife was reclaimed from an old warehouse in New York. It was made in the 30’s and it’s all carbon—it weighs about a pound. I could perform surgery with it!

Others are Sabatier, a Aritsugu, and one Japanese knife brought back from Japan from the oldest knife manufacturer in Osaka.

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Q. What food purveyor inspires your creativity, which product, and why? 

A. Glenn Roberts at Anson Mills. His genius only comes around once in a lifetime.

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Q. Are there specific food markets around the world that you love? 

A. The central market in Lyon (France) is a gastronomical landmark. Don’t go just to spectate. Rent a cottage in the country and cook from that market every day. You will understand the French and that their passion for cuisine starts with delicious product.

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Q. What are the local Charleston dishes a visitor should experience?

A. They should eat as much fish as they can get their hands on.

Q. And where should they go for fish? 

 A. Fig, Lucca, McCrady’s, and Bowens Island.

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Q. Restaurants you’ve loved in places you’ve lived, what you liked about them, and what should we order? 

A. Boston:

Too young and broke, so for me, Shawarma King was incredible. My college friends would go to Taco Boy and I would ditch them for a Falafel Shawarma. I once ran fifteen blocks for one from the bus stop en route to the vineyard.  

But recently, Neptune Oyster rocked…get the ‘hot lobster roll.’

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Martha’s Vineyard:

Breakfast at the Black Dog Tavern. ‘Jacks gone fishing.’

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New Orleans:

Then: We lived out of the Verti Marte on Governor Nicholls street…French fry po’boy ($2.50).

Now: Crab and Potato Gnocci from August.

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I lived in all these places just before Charleston, to which I moved when I was twenty-five. We ate cheap and simple. There was a time when paella and a sangria from La Fonda Latina, nothing too special, was perfect. 

Also, the roast jerk chicken from Eats was the best and tastiest value in town. 

But now, Holeman and Finch…for all of it.

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San Sebastian, Spain:

Mugaritz in San Sebastian takes the cake. I was there with chefs Johnny Izzuni and George Mendes. We had a 6 hour lunch and it was unforgettable.

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Q. Any place that you think they’re doing great things with cocktails or wine?

A. Alembic in San Francisco was a recent memorable experience. They taught me Vermouth can be a very wonderful thing.

Carpano Antica Formula redefined my impression of an ingredient that is normally thought little of.

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- The Lee Brothers

- Matt Lewis of Baked


Chef Mike Lata’s recommendations on where to eat and shop in Charleston, North Carolina, Atlanta, New Orleans, Boston, and Martha’s Vineyard.





232 Meeting Street

Charleston, SC 29401 (view map)

T: 843.805.5900 (make a reservation)




Mon - Thu: 5:30pm - 10:30pm

Fri - Sat: 5:30pm - 11:00pm

Sun: Closed