Think you know South Carolina’s Holy City? It’s high time you experienced Kardea Brown’s hometown her way.

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"Being away from Charleston for periods of time made me appreciate where I'm from and the richness of the city—you know, the food, the culture. Just the serenity of being here is what I love most," says chef Kardea Brown, who grew up spending time between the sea isle of Wadmalaw Island and the suburb of West Ashley. She was raised by her mother and grandmother, who taught her all about Gullah cooking, and it's those foodways and traditions that she celebrates in her Food Network series, Delicious Miss Brown (the fourth season aired this winter).

As with her show, which highlights a side of the well-loved South Carolina city that outsiders don't often see, Brown's Charleston is one that's drenched in nostalgia, where the shiny, new, gushed-over spots often take a back seat to old family favorites that likely won't appear in a guidebook. In other words, it's home—a place that she's clinging to even as the city grows by leaps and bounds.

"Things have changed a lot throughout the years in Charleston, just as far as the infrastructure," she says. "More and more people are moving here. Johns Island is adjacent to Wadmalaw, and seeing how that [once very rural] area has blossomed really takes me back. It's like wow! When did they build this? I don't remember it being here." The amount of traffic is something else she's noticed. "It's a little crazy! My grandmother doesn't drive as much now, but when she does, it's like, 'Oh my gosh, I don't remember there being as many people living here.' It's definitely changed," she says.

But even as the landscape shifts and the number of cars rolling through downtown's narrow streets increases, Brown says the soul of her city, its warmth, is very much intact. "Charleston is one of the most friendly cities in the U.S. and the world, and I think that surprises a lot of people. It's kind of, like, scary friendly," she says with a laugh. "My producers are from New York—and not to say that people from there aren't nice, because they are—but whenever they come, they always say, 'Why is everyone so nice? Everybody is smiling; what's going on?' People just take their time. Things are really slow and friendly here, and I think that speaks volumes about this place."

Kardea Brown's Charleston, South Carolina
Credit: Getty Images; Illustration: Kendyll Hillegas

Kardea’s Charleston

Her childhood favorites, plus a few new ones

Bear-E-Patch Cafe
"Every time someone asks me, 'Where can I get a good breakfast?' that's the first place I say: Bear-E-Patch. And you've got to get the Harbour Sauté."
bearepatchcafe.com, 843-766-6490, 1980-A Ashley River Road, Charleston, SC 29407

WildFlour Pastry's sticky buns
Brown loves a Sunday stop at WildFlour Pastry. It’s the only day they make their famous sticky buns.
| Credit: Peter Frank Edwards

WildFlour Pastry
"The sticky buns will blow your mind. You can get them only one day out of the week [Sunday]."
wildflourpastry.com, 843-327-2621, 1750 Savannah Highway, Charleston, SC 29407

Ravenel Seafood
"It's a little bit outside the city limits, but they have some of the freshest seafood you can get in Charleston. I love them for their fried fish platters as well."
facebook.com/ravenelseafood, 843-889-9500, 5925 Savannah Highway, Ravenel, SC 29470

Horse drawn carriage outside of Charleston's City Market
Credit: Peter Frank Edwards

Sweetgrass Basket Makers Highway
"It's an important part of the area's history," says Brown of the basketmaking tradition brought to the Lowcountry by West African slaves. Talking to the artists, whether they have a stand along U.S. 17 in Mount Pleasant or a stall at the Charleston City Market downtown, is a must, she notes. "They have a wealth of information."
experiencemountpleasant.com; thecharlestoncitymarket.com

Ella & Ollie's on Edisto Island, SC
Credit: Peter Frank Edwards

Ella & Ollie's on Edisto Island
"I tell everyone, 'If you come to Charleston, take an hour of your time to travel out to Edisto Island and visit my friends at Ella & Ollie's.' It's some of the best food that I've ever eaten in my whole life. The barbecue shrimp is my favorite."
ellaandollies.com, 843-869-4968, 21 Fairway Drive, Edisto Island, SC 29438

Little Jack’s on King Street
Credit: Peter Frank Edwards

Little Jack's Tavern
"Their Tavern Burger is the best I've ever tasted. I get a double, and I'm not ashamed to say that!"
littlejackstavern.com, 843-531-6868, 710 King Street, Charleston, SC 29403

Saltwater Cycle
"It's a boat that you have to pedal to power. They take you on this scenic journey along the Ashley River. It's beautiful and fun."
saltwatercycle.com, 843-901-9836, 8 Ashley Point Drive, Charleston, SC 29407