Get Hungry For… Everything
Our 5-Part Cape Town Upside Down Series continues with Our Favorite Cape Town Restaurants for 25 Unique Occasions.
The best thing about Cape Town is its crazy variety.
Variety of everything: plants, cultures, scenery, clouds, activities… you name it and Cape Town’s got so many different options that you can’t possibly get bored here if you’re adventurous.
And if you’re an adventurous eater, it’s equally impossible to get bored with the food because Cape Town’s restaurants capture and express the region’s variety deliciously.
Whatever your craving, budget, or occasion may be, you can be sure to find a Cape Town restaurant that satisfies it.
To whet your appetite and lead you the the most tastebud-tantalizing spots, here are our favorite Cape Town restaurants for various different occasions.
Cape Town Restaurant Map
Save this map of our picks for the best Cape Town restaurants for different occasions to your phone by following the instructions in our post on Google Maps tips.
The Best Cape Town Restaurants For…
1. For an Experience to Tell Your Friends About
Idlanathi Restaurant at Pollsmoor Prison
Idlanathi is located inside South Africa’s most notorious prison, Pollsmoor, and staffed by prisoners.
Don’t get too excited, though.
While the drive through the security gates and across the expansive prison grounds is an experience, you won’t be eating alongside inmates or anything.
The restaurant itself resembles an under-funded community center and, if you didn’t know otherwise, you’d never guess the courteous servers in civilian clothing may be guilty of having robbed naive tourists like you in the past.
Speaking of robbery, the prices are the opposite of one. My full-sized farm-style breakfast was R42, so was the “Chicken Cordon Bleau,” and the most expensive thing on the menu was a R95 T-bone steak.
While it may not be 5-star food, it’s prepared and presented with the care of people who have a lot of time on their hands and it’s definitely closer to gourmet dining than to whatever the prisoners are forced to eat.
2. For a Gourmet African Township Meal
4Roomed eKasi Culture
Townships are areas where, during apartheid, non-whites were dumped into after being extracted from the valuable city center real estate they once called home.
These areas have come a long way since then, but remain an unlikely spot for gourmet dining, which is what you can experience at 4Roomed eKasi Culture.
Located in South Africa’s second biggest and fastest-growing township, Khayelitsha, the restaurant is owned by former MasterChef South Africa contestant Abigail Mbalo, who sticks to her roots with both the cuisine and location of her restaurant.
For a bargain price of just R225 per person, you share a set “Feasting Table Menu” of seven township-inspired main courses all laid out at once, followed by a two-course dessert.
The menu changes regularly but here’s an idea of what to expect:
- Mqa: Pap with butternut, nutmeg, and truffle oil), topped with bisto (homemade roasted tomato relish)
- Umngqusho: Samp cooked in coconut cream and tarragon
- Mleqwa: Fall-off-the-bone “runaway chicken” slowly cooked with fennel flavor
Ironically, it’s well worth leaving the high-value city center real estate to try.
- The area of Khayelitsha 4Roomed is located in is safer than Woodstock or Observatory, so don’t worry about going there independently.
- 4Roomed is only open on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays and you must reserve at least a day in advance.
- As of this writing, 4Roomed doesn’t have a liquor license, so bring your own booze. The corkage fee is R35.
3. For a Kirstenbosch Summer Concert Picnic
Giovanni’s, a little deli and market near Green Point Stadium, is too popular for us.
The stand-up tables on Giovanni’s little front patio are always too crammed with Capetonians enjoying strong coffee and prepared foods from their deli, so we get take out instead. And no better place to take Giovanni’s Deli-cacies than the Kirstenbosch Summer Concerts.
A Giovanni’s + Kirstenbosch concert is a true feast for the senses.
You feel the soft grass you’re sitting on, smell the botanical garden’s flowers, taste Giovanni’s fine food, see the views of Table Mountain and Devil’s Peak, and hear the music all at once.
That, as they say in Cape Town, is EPIC.
- Get the octopus ceviche.
4. For a Relaxing V&A Waterfront Snack
Bascule Bar at the Cape Grace Hotel
The V&A Waterfront is too touristy, overpriced, and chaotic for our liking, but Bascule Bar is none of those things.
It’s peacefully tucked away under the Cape Grace Hotel, which itself is secluded from the V&A vortex on its own private marina.
For such exclusivity, you’d expect to either pay a premium price and get pipsqueak-sized portions, but you don’t. The prices are on par with any other nice restaurant in town, the portions are generous, and the flavors are excellent.
- Bascule Bar is most noteworthy for having one of the largest whiskey collections in the Southern Hemisphere, but even a teetotaler like Kim’s mom will enjoy its food and location. The whiskey is a bonus.
5. For a “Chilled” Working Breakfast
The Strangers Club (E)
The cafe / restaurant / boutique in a residential area on the grounds of what must have once been a private mansion.
It’s got a super “chilled” vibe, as South Africans say, the food’s pretty good and the WiFi’s even better, all of which combines to make it an ideal place to have a bite and get some work done.
Now that we’ve found it, we spend a lot of time there.
Get 2-For-1 at Hundreds of Cape Town Restaurants
We highly, highly recommend the Entertainer App to anyone spending a week or more around Cape Town. With it, you get 2-for-1 mains at hundreds of Cape Town restaurants, including all the ones we’ve marked with an (E) here.
It costs anywhere from R300 to R500, depending on promotions. Use coupon code UNCONVENTIONAL2019 for an extra 10% off.
We get a commission if you use our coupon code, but please believe that that’s not why we’re recommending it. Even if we didn’t get a commission we’d recommend it because we use it all the time ourselves, including over twenty times in the past two months!
It’s perhaps the best deal in Cape Town.
Download the app for free to see all the places (not just restaurants) you can save at and decide for yourself.
A few more of our favorites from the Entertainer App:
- Lou Lou’s (De Waterkant) – The parmesan aubergine dish is so good.
- Stepbrothers (De Waterkant) – The pasta takes a while because it’s made fresh.
- Rafael Lebanese Cafe (Sea Point) – Excellent hummus and falafel.
- Goloso (Sea Point) – No-frills interior, full-of-thrills tasting Italian.
- The Aviary (Woodstock) – The Greek flatbread is big and delicious.
- Addis in Cape (Downtown) – Get half-off on the dinner platter of four different dishes.
- Honeybun (Observatory) – Best chicken burger in Cape Town. Best honey mustard dressing anywhere.
6. For a Table Mountain to Table Meal
Foraged Food with Veld and Sea
For those of you hands-on types who like to learn about, cook with, and taste unique locally-foraged ingredients, Veld and Sea’s various workshops are exactly your cup of buchu tea.
The fynbos botanicals workshop in downtown Cape Town we attended left us full of everything: knowledge about local fynbos, freshly-made snacks made by their “Wild Chef,” self-made gin cocktails, and souvenir bitters and herbs.
If we had a car, we’d have really liked to drive to Cape Point to attend one of their foraging classes, where you collect all sorts of ingredients out in the wild then enjoy a multi-course meal that incorporates them all.
7. For the Best Seafood Dining Experience in Cape Town
Don’t judge Codfather by its name or by its Camps Bay location.
The restaurant isn’t anything as hokey as the name would leave you to believe—they don’t even serve cod!— and it doesn’t have the pretentiousness, pricing, and poor quality of its neighbors.
It’s a great-value local favorite that does only one thing and does it well: seafood.
Instead of making you choose from a menu, your waiter guides you to the fresh seafood display, explains the features of fish and crustacean, and helps you decide how much of whatever you want. You pay by the gram and sides—rice, veggies, potatoes—are included.
Whatever you choose, rest assured it’ll be cooked perfectly.
We take everyone who visits and every single person raved about it.
- Reservations are a must
- For a quieter table, reserve in the wine cellar
- The squid is particularly delicious. Every time people order it, they say next time they’d get more if they return, so get a good portion.
8. For a Hop-On, Hop-Off Lunch
Jonkerhuis at Groot Constantia (E)
This may surprise those of you who know us because it surprised us:
We thought Cape Town’s hop-on, hop-off bus was definitely worth spending a day and about R220 one.
We won’t repeat our experience here because this post is about Cape Town restaurants and we already shared everything we have to say about it in our Cape Town Hop On Hop Off Bus Guide.
Not only is the setting superb, but it’s a perfect opportunity to try some Cape Malay cuisine, the Jonkerhuis’ specialty.
- You can get a 2-for-1 Groot Constantia wine tasting (R90) as well as a 2-for-1 main course at the Jonkerhuis with the Entertainer App. If you and a friend both splurge on the Estate Tasting Plate (R238 each) for a sample of all their Cape Malay flavors and you also do a wine tasting at Groot Constantia’s cellar (R90 each), you’ll save a combined R328, which is pretty much the cost of the app!
9. For the Perfect Start to a Night Out in Gardens
The only thing we don’t like about Black Sheep is the menu.
We don’t mean the food on the menu; we mean the physical menu itself.
The menu changes daily so, to save on printing costs, someone with a doctor’s handwriting scribbles it on a big blackboard at the end of the room.
Even if you’re at a table beside the menu, it’s barely legible, so regulars know to take an up-close photo with their phones or go to Black Sheep’s website, where the menu’s nicely typed-out every day.
“Struggling” with the menu is worth it, though, because they more than make up for penmanship deficiencies with their cooking prowess at Black Sheep.
The food doesn’t look spectacular, but the generously-portioned dishes all have the types of flavors you just can’t replicate at home.
- If you can’t get a reservation, it’s worth going at around 6 p.m. to see if you can squeeze in an early meal. It worked for us.
10. For a Destination Dining Delight
About two hours northwest of Cape Town in the artsy beachside town of Paternoster, Wolfgat provides worthy incentive to veer the opposite direction from the masses who all head southeast towards Hermanus and the Garden Route.
The restaurant is an informal seaside shack that only seats a maximum of twenty people in two sittings a day for a seven-course Michelin-worthy tasting menu (R850 per person).
Or maybe more than Michelin-worthy, seeing as it won the World Restaurant Awards’ 2019 Restaurant of the Year.
Our only wish was that the servers and the head chef would spend more time describing the dishes and showing a little more enthusiasm in their work.
Either that or give us botanical guides to plants of the African West Coast so we decipher menu descriptions like “Amasi: Kei apple and vygie blood; Dovyalis caffra, Mesembryantheum guerichianium.”
- You must book in advance, no matter what. Some Dutch guy tried to bully his way into a table with a classic, “Do you know who I am?” threat and they were not having it.
- To make a day out of your Wolfgat dining experience, stop by West Coast National Park on the way up to photograph flamingos, walk among the wildlife, and take in the turquoise bay, peruse Paternoster’s funky galleries and shops, and stop by aptly-named Darling on the way back. Better yet, spend the night in Paternoster, then have a more relaxing ride back.
11. For World-Class South African Steak
Some say South Africa has the best steaks in the world.
To judge for yourself, go to Hussar Grill, a classic Cape Town steakhouse.
A steakhouse is a steakhouse so nothing much distinguishes Hussar Grill from steakhouses in Argentina, the US, Australian, and Japan other than that the prices are more reasonable, and the meat’s from South Africa.
I suppose steakhouses in other countries don’t occasionally offer zebra and warthog specials either.
- While Hussar Grill has expanded to locations across Cape Town, we recommend the original Rondebosch location, which feels like an old British Pub.
- There is no corkage fee, so feel free to bring the perfect bottle to go with your steak.
- The pork belly is also really good.
12. For Classic Italian
Everything about Osteria Tarantino is classically Italian.
- The limited menu doesn’t try anything fancy. It sticks to the staples of pizza, pasta, antipasti, and Italian meats.
- The servers explain each dish with typical Italian gusto.
- The owner stops by each table to ensure everyone’s enjoying their meal.
- The food is simply excellent.
The prices are right too, so when you’re in the mood for Italian food, Osteria Tarantino is a no-brainer.
13. For a Change of Pace
Rambunctious Dias Tavern feels as if it has been airlifted in from Portugal.
It’s a big, open, second-story hall whose walls are covered with Portuguese yellows, greens, and reds and whose plastic tables and chairs are densely packed with people drinking cheap draft beer, eating fish and peri peri chicken, and noisily chattering with each other to be heard over the crowd while watching soccer out of the corner of their eyes.
One un-Portuguese aspect from our visit, but an entertaining one all the same, was the live music, which included crowd-pleasing Whitney Houston and Bryan Adams covers.
We didn’t think one way or the other about the food, but the ambiance was a fun change of pace from the mellower vibe of most other Cape Town restaurants.
14. For an Awesome Time with Fewer White People
Rands is essentially a big backyard BBQ party where everyone’s invited and, since it’s in the township of Khayelitsha, that means that most of the people who show up aren’t white.
No offense to our fellow white people, but that’s a good thing.
The people who go to Rands know how to have a good time, free-spiritedly dancing and singing along to the DJ’s mix of South African house and American hits while gorging on braai and pap, smoking shisha pipes, drinking from their ice buckets of beer, coolers, and booze, and making friends with adjacent tables.
- To order food, go to the butchery inside Rands and pick the meats and sides you want. Keep your receipt and come back around 15 minutes later to pick it up when it’s ready. Double check everything’s there. Last time we went they forgot a few chicken wings.
- The best time to go is in the early evening to be there while the sun is setting.
- Thursday is African day, with special African dishes for just R40 each.
- Cameras, except for those in cell phones, aren’t allowed.
- The last weekend of the month is the busiest because it’s payday. The second last weekend, which we heard a radio DJ call, “poor weekend,” is the least busy for similar reasons.
- Go with a group or join Siya and Warra of 18 Gangster Museum for a Khayelitsha tour, which concludes at Rands. The insight they’ll give you will enhance your appreciation for the experience.
15. For a Great-Value Sea Point Meal
La Boheme (E)
La Boheme was the most common reply we got whenever we asked agents, landlords, and random strangers for Sea Point restaurant recommendations during our desperate search for an apartment (see: How to Find a Furnished Apartment in Cape Town).
So we went…
And almost walked right past it.
You too could easily walk by La Boheme without noticing it. It’s rarely ever that busy and there’s nothing pretentious about it. It looks like any other of Cape Town’s abundant European-styled bistros.
The menu isn’t pretentious either. It’s got a limited, standard choice. But the food’s exceptional and good-value and the is service much better than most restaurants in Cape Town.
Now we too recommend La Boheme to anyone who asks.
16. For Big, Cheap, Quick Eats Downtown
Eastern Food Bazaar
The Eastern Food Bazaar is a bizarre, faux-oriental-styled downtown food court with Turkish, Chinese, and Indian food stalls that’re all run by the same owner.
There’s nothing glamorous or exciting about the place, but for a gigantic (big enough to for two meals for lighter eaters), cheap (I don’t think any meal is more than R65), quick (as long as you don’t go during peak lunch and dinner hours, when lines get long) downtown meal, it can’t be beat.
- It’s kind of a confusing process to order. After scouting out the different stall’s menus and deciding what you want, you go to the central cashier to pay, then present your receipt to the cook of your stall of choice, who quickly prepares your meal.
17. For The Cheapest Date Ever
Diva Pizza + The Labia Theatre
The Labia Theatre is probably Kim and my favorite movie theatre in the world.
Part of the reason why is that tickets are just R50, popcorn’s just R20, and you can buy a bottle of wine there for less than R100.
But the deals get better.
On Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays, the Labia has a deal with Diva Pizza where you get two movie tickets and two medium pizzas for R110.
That means you get two pizzas for only R10 more than the tickets on their own!
You do have to buy drinks at Diva (they’re cheap) and to pay extra if you want more than one topping (about R7 to R12 per topping), but it still makes for the cheapest dinner and a movie date we’ve ever seen.
- Avoid the crowds by going for an early dinner and catching one of the 6 p.m. shows.
- Don’t worry about sitting in the front row at The Labia. You get the most leg room and it isn’t at all hard on the neck. We sit there every time.
- The Labia offers deals with other restaurants for every other day of the week, too. Check them out here.
18. For a Luxurious Wine Farm Afternoon
The Greenhouse or Babel at Babylonstoren
“Garden variety” normally means “commonplace,” but in the case of Babylonstoren’s restaurants, Greenhouse and Babel, it means the opposite. The garden variety here is outstanding.
Babylonstoren’s restaurants source something like eighty percent of their ingredients directly from the estate’s very own, very beautiful, and very varied, gardens, which you should wander around before your meal to work up an appetite and afterward to help digest.
Make a day out of exploring the rest of the estate, too which has a wine cellar, butchery, chocolate shop, cheesemonger, bakery, and artisanal goods shop, too.
- There is a R10 entrance fee just to drive onto the property. It’s a money grab, but it’s worth it.
- Book ahead to eat at Babel. For Greenhouse, just show up.
- Babylonstoren is one of our favorite wine estates. See our 10 Best Unique and Unforgettable South Africa Wine Tastings for the others.
19. For a Feel-Good Meal
Brownies and Downies
Brownies and Downies is a non-profit café that supports and employs people with intellectual disabilities like down syndrome, fetal alcohol syndrome, and autism.
Among other foods, they sell brownies, including complimentary bites with every coffee.
So now you get the name, Brownies and Downies, right?
Only in South Africa!
Whatever you think of the name—I’ve actually come around to like its lightheartedness—you can’t help but feel better when you stop by, see how happy the staff are to be there working, and are able to contribute.
The tasty brownies don’t hurt, either.
- Brownies and Downies
islocated just downstairs from the VFS immigration office, making it a particularly helpful pick-me-up after a potentially frustrating session there renewing your visa.
20. For Vegan Gluttony
Mary-Ann’s Emporium and Eatery
Mary-Ann’s daughter didn’t seem happy to see us when we—a couple of Canadian friends, Kim, and I—sauntered in for lunch.
She could see the hunger in our eyes and how it increased as we salivated at the bountiful buffet spread before us.
We confirmed her fears, going (vegan) HAM on the salads, cooked veggies, bobotie, curry, pizza and homemade nut spreads, chips, and crackers.
But I think I caught a quick grin from her when she looked over at our table and saw us slouched at our tables, groaning with satisfaction after having finished our second plates.
- Choose between a side plate of as much as you can fit on it for R60 or a big plate of the same with a refill for R120.
- Mary-Ann’s has a newer second location in Mouille Point. We’ve yet to go. If you have, please share your experience in the comments.
21. For the Best Gatsby in Cape Town
Gatsbys are the Western Cape’s traditional go-to late-night food—sort of the like poutine is for you fellow Canadians. They’re gigantic subs overflowing with fries, sauce-slathered meat, cheese, and some veggies.
Honestly, they didn’t sound too appetizing to Kim and me so, for our first couple of months in Cape Town, we didn’t even bother trying one.
It was only after the third or fourth consecutive coloured Uber driver (Gatsbys are particularly popular among the coloured community) implored us to go to Cosy Corner that we finally got the message and gave in.
Surprisingly, the Gatsbys weren’t nearly as greasy or heavy as we’d assumed. Both of the tandoori chicken and rump steak Gatsbys that we split with our friends were fresh and light, so they didn’t make us feel like fat slobs for devouring them…
…but the same can’t be said for the milkshakes we ordered on the side and the koeksisters, which the friendly manager offered to us obvious outsiders free of charge.
22. For the Best Fish & Chips Experience
Kalky’s may be pronounced, “cocky’s,” but there’s nothing cocky about Kalky’s.
It’s a low-key, harbor-side, order up front, take your number, find your own plastic table and chairs, and wait ’till they call you, fish n’ chips joint.
Because of this modesty, and extremely modest prices but immodest portions, Kalky’s attracts hordes of hungry hake-lovers. And, unlike many other Cape Town restaurants listed here which only certain strata of society visit, Kalky’s unites everyone. Kalky’s is for the people!
- Don’t be too put off by long lines. They move fast.
- When you get close to the front of the line, have someone from your group look to secure a table. The staff can help you.
- The best deal is the R95 hake and calamari combo. You get the same amount of hake (R46) and calamari (R58) as you would if you order them individually, but with a huge side of fries as well.
23. For a Cocktail Before or After Eating at Any Cape Town Restaurant
Cause Effect Cocktail Kitchen
Kim and I have a theory that over-consumption of G&T’s has trashed Capetonians’ taste buds’. That’s why most cocktails we’ve had here are super-sweet and loaded with ice.
Most, not all.
Cause Effect‘s cocktails are an exceptional exception.
If you want sweet, they’ll give you sweet, but they also mix a whole tasting wheel worth of cocktails for every possible palate.
They also incorporate a wide variety of local fynbos botanicals, so you can be sure to find flavors here that you won’t taste anywhere else in the world.
The cocktails are expensive by Cape Town standards (starting at R80) but the quality and creativity make them a worthy treat.
24. For A Most Luxurious Afternoon
High Tea at The Mount Nelson Hotel
A key component of the “perfect day in Cape Town” (see video below) I planned for Kim’s birthday was a luxurious afternoon high tea at the Mount Nelson Hotel.
Inside the “Nellie,” you forget you’re smack-dab in the middle of Cape Town. The opulent grounds ad gardens feel like an English countryside manor (albeit a garishly-painted pink one).
The unlimited savory snacks, dessert buffet, and forty-plus tea options aren’t unforgettable-tasting, but we left very happy and very, very full.
- Dress nicely but don’t feel the need to over-do it. I didn’t feel under-dressed wearing a collared shirt, shorts, and sandals.
- Take the opportunity to try some traditional South African desserts like milk tarts and koeksisters.
- Even if you don’t want to splurge on a high tea, it’s worth walking into and wandering around the grounds.
- Afternoon tea costs R395 per person and seating times are either 1 to 3 p.m. or 3:30 to 5:30 p.m.
25. For Pizza
Kiki imported her husband Diego from Italy to show South African’s what real pizza tastes like.
As you can read in their entertaining menus, they originally ran their restaurant illicitly out of their apartment. Soon enough, Ferdinando’s got too popular to hide from the authorities, so they had to move to Observatory and make it official.
But the restaurant still feels like a home. A quirky, eclectic, hippie home with a lot of guests and where every corner smells like cooking dough and melted cheese.
- Try the dessert pizza, a traditional pizza crust with a chocolate sauce, fruit, and ice cream.
- If downstairs feels too boisterous for you, ask for a table upstairs.
- Be extra cautious walking around Observatory, and avoid it at night.
More Cape Town Restaurant Recommendations
Some resources we used to decide which Cape Town restaurants to dig into:
- Cape Town Restaurants – the good, the bad, and the nastyyy is a handy public Facebook group. Use the search function to see what members of the group say about restaurants you’re thinking of dining at.
- Airbnb’s Cape Town Things to Do page consolidates all the recommendations for local hosts.
- Eater’s guide to Cape Town restaurants. We find Eater to be the best site for reliable restaurant recommendations.
Or let us know the best Cape Town restaurants you’ve had, and for what occasion you’d recommend them, in the comments.
More Tasty Cape Town Treats
And by “treats,” I mean the rest of our Cape Town Upside Down series: