Charleston has become one of the country’s exceptional food cities, thanks to chefs like Mike Lata at FIG (which, by the way, stands for “Food Is Good”). When he opened FIG, in 2003, Lata has said, “There were lots of lower-end mom-and-pops, delis, chain restaurants, and high-end places. There wasn’t much in the middle. There wasn’t a community restaurant where people could come and break bread and eat food with integrity that wasn’t going to be ridiculously expensive.” So the Massachusetts native-who was inspired by a Julia Child talk to leave college and learn to cook right at the source-made his restaurant that place. And then, in 2013, he opened The Ordinary, a seafood hall where oysters rank high on the appreciation meter. Lata especially loves the Caper’s Blade oyster, which is unique to the Lowcountry and which he features in a cucumber and jalapeño shooter: “It’s briny and feminine,” he says, “with a delicate texture and salty bite.”

Lata’s approach is paying off in praise from the likes of The New York Times, Garden and Gun,   and Southern Living. He was nominated for the James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef Southeast award three years running, and he won in 2009. He’s competed on Food Network’s Iron Chef America, was featured on the network’s The Best Thing I Ever Ate,  and was profiled on  Dateline‘s “Platelist.”

There’s no doubt that this chef is in love with the Lowcountry. On the menu that he and executive chef Jason Stanhope put together, you might find a grilled grey triggerfish with peperonata or a fish stew with Carolina Gold rice. And despite Lata’s restaurants’ unprepossessing names, you’ll find food that’s very far from ordinary.