Cape Town has towering mountains and scenery so unbelievable it looks like another planet. So sometimes it feels like a much bigger place than it really is - but there aren’t a lot of ways to do Cape Town wrong as long as you follow these two rules: plan your days around sunrise and sunset, and never miss a meal.
For the first part of that, make sure to have “sundowners,” sunset drinks and snacks with friends at a scenic overlook, as frequently as possible. Which shouldn’t be too hard with the average bottle of wine here coming in at 60 rand (under four dollars).
But if you’re anything like us, along with figuring out where to stay (Camps Bay or Kloof Street) and where to explore (Gardens, Woodstock, and the Seaboard instead of the very-touristy Waterfront and Camps Bay Strip), you’ll want to know where to eat. We have you covered with the best restaurants, bars, wineries, and markets to check out on your next trip.
The South African fine dining scene is unique - there are tons of options and they’re way more accessible than you might expect. Most places offer seven or more courses for less money than you’d pay for a boozy airport meal and the food typically involves creative twists on South African dishes with indigenous ingredients that you just don’t see anywhere else.
The Test Kitchen is the best restaurant in Cape Town. Dinner here is elaborate and involves 16 courses, complimentary cocktails, and surprises like homemade, infused gummy bears or vintage South African brandy. Your table even relocates halfway through. But despite the fact that you’ll eat things like “lime-compressed apple,” the Test Kitchen feels more like an extravagant holiday dinner at a friend’s house than a stuffy restaurant. It’s the hardest reservation to get in the city, so set an alarm for 8am SAST on the first of the month, three months prior to your trip and make sure to be on your neighbor’s extra-fast WiFi.
We could send you to The Potluck Club just for the view alone - it’s on the top floor of the tallest building in The Old Biscuit Mill complex - but you’d miss out on the best small plates in the city if you left after a picture. This place is always lively and full of people, so it’s a great choice for a big group dinner or birthday celebration, or to start the night before taking a 10-minute ride to Bree, Kloof, and Long Streets, the main area for bars and nightlife. To order, you mark which creative small plates you want on a paper checklist and give it to your server. With the most expensive items topping out at $12 USD, you can put as many marks in those boxes as you want and still end up with a bill that won’t set off your fraud alert. Just make sure multiple rounds of fish tacos are on your table.
If you’re looking for a really special dinner but want to stay in the City Bowl (the center of town), Chefs Warehouse is the best spot. This place lands somewhere between a tasting menu and small plates restaurant, serving eight shared dishes across three courses for two people to split for R800 (a convoluted math problem that works out to $25 a person). They don’t take reservations, so it’s best to show up around 5:30pm, put your name down before they close the list (which can be as early as 6pm in the summer), then wait it out at their bar next door, No Reservations, or at Gigi’s Rooftop Bar a few blocks away.
South Africans are serious about their braai (Afrikaans term for barbecue), and if you’re looking to try some creative takes on it, Belly of the Beast is the place to go. There are 20 seats, no menus, and only one seating time (7pm) when you’ll eat some of the best cuts of sustainably-sourced meat in the city. Pescatarians or vegetarians can just as happily enjoy a meal here, just make sure to let them know in advance. The nightly menu is kept a secret, but past highlights included curried lamb afval (tripe) with basmati rice foam or Saldanha Bay mussels with oyster emulsion and spicy vierge sauce.
The "capetonian cool" spots
When you want a night off from the multi-course, multiple-hour fine dining spots, there’s a whole other category of places where Saffas (slang for South Africans) eat fantastic food in beautiful settings, but also wear ripped jeans and have friends “rock up” and take a seat halfway through. We suggest you rock up too.
Between the big leather chairs, candelabras, antique photographs, and outdoor garden with string lights, Kloof Street House looks like a Victorian-era dinner party thrown by Jay Gatsby. The menu has options for everyone - from an ostrich fillet to vegan risotto - but we always order the truffled parmesan polenta chips, kingklip, and one of every dessert. Make your reservation here for 30-40 minutes after sunset to fit in sundowners at Kloof Corner, Bakoven Beach, the boulders at Glen Beach, or “The Rock” first. Also, KSH is open on Sundays and until 2am - worth noting because Sundays are oddly the best night of the week to go out here.
For a city so close to a body of water, it’s surprisingly difficult to find a seafood restaurant that checks all the boxes. There are touristy, overpriced options and the casual neighborhood standbys, but Seabreeze is the standalone (and best) choice for high-quality fish in a cool setting. It has a great oyster Happy Hour, fantastic wine, and a beautiful dining room and patio. It’s also perfectly located on Bree Street, one of the main areas for restaurants and bars in the city center. Eat dishes like hake and chips, Cape Malay curry, and aubergine fries before heading down the road for drinks at Orphanage for a great one-two punch.
When the average bottle of wine in South Africa costs about $4, it’s hard to imagine spending $7 on a granola bowl or $12 on burrata. But breakfast at Between Us is one of our favorites in the city. Start with their apricot and rhubarb shrub or the ylang-ylang latte before eating dishes like lavender honey, rose, and salted butter porridge. And if you need to take a few more pictures of their bohemian farmhouse-look for your “dream living room” mood board, they also serve lunch and dinner - the oyster mushrooms are a must-order.
The Commissary is a small, graffiti-covered space in the center of town from the same team as The Test Kitchen and The Potluck Club. But instead of plates that were definitely constructed with tweezers, the food here can only be described as American carnival food with an Asian twist - things like barbecue pork belly with toasted coconut and deep-fried, skewered shrimp “prawn dogs.” They don’t take reservations, but you can wait for your table over beers at The House of Machines next door.
A trip to Cape Town usually involves lots of outdoor activities, which means you’ll sometimes need to fit in a casual meal before a tour or in between a hike and the beach. This is our shortlist for where to go to maximize your time and hit as many Cape Town institutions as possible. Just do us a favor and take the time you would’ve spent googling where to go and spend it on the mountain instead.
If you only have brunch once while you’re here, Jason is the place to go. When you’re heading here before or after a hike, there are healthier options like shakshuka and almond-and-baked-apple oats - but if you’re looking for something to help with a hangover, go for the breakfast sandwiches and the aubergine skillet with eggs, potatoes, and deep-fried eggplant. There are two locations, but the one in Green Point is newer and bigger. We recommend grabbing some baked goods to go, and enjoying them at the top of Lions Head or Table Mountain (our favorite routes are Skeleton’s Gorge, Kasteelspoort, or, if you’re brave, India Venster).
The Strangers Club is a leafy, semi-outdoor bungalow hidden on a side street in Green Point that looks like it would host yoga retreats - which means that their menu of smoothie bowls and salads makes a lot of sense. TSC is full of the international model/surfer set, but the atmosphere is so laid back that the occasional “yaaaa bruuu!” being thrown across the room is just part of the experience. This is another great choice for breakfast and if you don’t make it to the Oranjezicht City Farm Market (more on that later), they also sell our favorite pastries from Thank Goodness Foods here.
Bo-Kaap, a historic and colorful neighborhood in the center of the city, is a must-visit, and the best way to see it is from the roof of Harvest Cafe. You’ll find a perfect view of the rainbow houses on Wale Street, a unique coffee menu (focus on this, though they have food, too), and a barista who is some sort of latte-art Picasso. The best and most South African pick would be a red cappuccino: South African rooibos (decaffeinated herbal tea) and milk. Make a whole morning out of it by stopping in at Honest Chocolate Cafe down the block before heading to the African Crafts Market on Long Street. Beeline for the back wall and ask for Mama D, a tailor who uses kitenge (African print fabric) to make custom items in 24-48 hours.
Part coffee shop, part restaurant, and part concert venue, the bright pink Raptor Room is a great daytime option before or after exploring the District Six Museum. It’s a very cool-feeling place that serves national staples like gatsbys (sub sandwiches stuffed with french fries), vetkoeks (savory donuts stuffed with meat or french fries), and peri peri chicken. We love the mac and cheese with rooibos-roasted tomatoes, or the “F*K bread” salad for a lighter option. Make sure not to overlook the sauce wall near the front door.
The Poke Co. is your best choice before a hike or day trip when you’re looking to grab something “now now” (a real phrase used by people across the country to describe “immediately”). This is the local go-to fast-casual spot because of the high-quality, sustainable fish they serve and sauces so good that we may have had friends smuggle a few bottles on their flight home. If you’re in town for First Thursdays - when art galleries, bars, and restaurants open late and everyone fills the streets - you’ll find lots of locals starting their nights here.
If Lisa Frank grew up to become a vegan yoga instructor who lives in a treehouse, that treehouse would be Nourish’d. There’s a lot of glitter, even more plants, and a sign that reads “unwind, get naked, relax” (please don’t, though). They serve delicious, inexpensive smoothies and bowls that have been put together with more care than most people exert getting ready in the morning. Unlike The Stranger’s Club, this is not the place to have a leisurely sit-down breakfast because there’s little seating and it can only be described as chaotic. But it’s close to the Pipe Track and serves the type of food you’ll want after a trail run or long walk.
Unframed serves Cape Town’s best ice cream, and was named the best ice cream parlor in the world (which seems like a hard call to make, but we’ll take it). The speculoos, blue coconut, and honeycomb are our favorites, and the vegan options are all on par with the dairy ones. They also post their flavors on Instagram every morning in case you need a few hours to think before committing to just one. There are two locations, one on Kloof Street and one in the Food Market at the Waterfront (this being one of the only two semi-reasonable reasons to go to the Waterfront other than the Watershed shops next door). Most importantly, though, Unframed tastes best after a day spent at Clifton, Glen, or Llandudno Beach.
If your group is exhausted and about to drop $30 on a piece of fish at the Waterfront out of convenience, or because you can’t bear to see another menu with the words “celeriac reduction,” reroute everyone straight to Woodlands Eatery. It’s located in Vredehoek, a residential area that’s only about a 10-minute drive away. You can sip a local Pinotage on the light-strung patio while trying to decide whose suitcase will be sacrificed to carry back all the wine you bought. Woodlands Eatery is a winner for any food preference and any circumstance, but the gnocchi is a must-order. It’s also one of the few places open on Sundays.
Capetonians are very serious about their markets. The city is scattered with food halls and craft market stalls, and on top of that, there are two to three weekly markets open on any given day. They’re a great place to try all things South African, but two things you can’t leave without tasting are biltong (natural jerky) and rooibos tea. The full list of markets is overwhelming and no two are the same, so here are our top picks.
What started as a small urban farm’s produce market somehow blossomed into the best weekend activity and the best market in town. With a perfect location between the World Cup stadium and the ocean, the OZCF market is the place to come hungry and try everything you pass. We recommend lapping the whole thing once, if not twice, and then posting up at an outdoor table. Our favorites are the Thank Goodness Foods pastries, Lunchworks rosti plate, and Good Egg breakfast sandwich. A weekend morning here is such an unmissable part of Cape Town that we highly recommend planning your trip around it (only open Saturdays and Sundays).
Before OCZF Market became popular, The Old Biscuit Mill was the place to be on the weekends. And if you have the time and enjoy strolling through lively, bustling markets, we recommend checking out both. The Biscuit Mill is less about food and more of a lifestyle market. There are shops and stalls that focus on home goods, wine, and clothing running up and down Sir Lowry Road. If you get hungry, stop at the best stall, Edo Wraps (in the far left corner serving proteins wrapped in rice and seaweed), then sample all the chocolate at Cocoa Fair. Make sure to get there by 10am or so, as the tourist crowds swarm by noon.
If you aren’t in town for a weekend market, are looking for a quick bite, or have a big group that doesn’t want to sit around a table talking to each other anymore, Mojo Market in Seapoint is a great dinner spot. There are over a dozen food stalls, live music every night, ocean views, and a huge seating area with crowds of people drinking Drifter beer and G&Ts. Our favorite stall here is Merle’s, a family-run place that will show you how a chicken schnitzel should be made. For the greatest possible commute there, head to Camps Bay about 40-50 minutes prior and walk (or if you’re ambitious, run) to Sea Point along Victoria Road for stunning cliffside views.
Cape Town’s bars fall into a few categories depending on what type of night you’re looking for. Whether you want to grab a beer and hang out outside, drink a fancy cocktail, listen to Afrikaner-influenced rock, or go “out out,” there are plenty of options for each. But if you have a limited amount of time, here are two places we like a lot.
An evening at The Power & The Glory is the best way to experience Cape Town at night. People gather here in such high numbers that they spill down the street every evening, drinking CBC beer or a local Chenin, eating their infamous hot dogs, and talking to the famous bouncer. It also shares a wall with Publik, Cape Town’s main wine bar, in case you don’t make it to wine country.
Gin and tonics are the unofficial drink of Cape Town and there’s no better place to drink them than at this tiny, antique-filled bar with over 50 local gin varieties. It’s hidden in a back room through a courtyard behind Honest Chocolate Cafe, though hidden may be the wrong word given the massive chalkboard sign screaming “SECRET GIN BAR →” right outside the chocolate shop. Drink out in the beautiful courtyard between 5-9pm when both the bar and chocolate cafe are open, or come when it gets livelier after 9 or 10pm.
wine country picks
The Western Cape is one of the most stunning and underrated wine regions in the world. Yes, we’re incredibly biased, but we’re also right. There are hundreds of wineries, all offering four or five tastings for under five dollars, with high-end restaurants, Dutch cottages that look like dollhouses, and picnics so ornate you can’t believe someone went to such lengths so you could eat on the ground. It can be overwhelming to plan, so we’ve simplified it - here are our favorites in Constantia and Stellenbosch.
Stellenbosch and Franschoek are the most well-known wine regions, but some of the best wine in the country comes from a tiny valley just 20 minutes from the city in Constantia. Since it’s a quick Uber around Table Mountain, this is where you should go if only have a few hours for wine touring. Start at Constantia Glen for the views and charcuterie platter, then head to nearby vineyards Buitenverwachting and Constantia Uitsig for more tastings. When it’s time for dinner, our picks are Foxcroft or Chef’s Warehouse at Beau Constantia. If it’s a Sunday, make sure to head to the evening “jol” (party) at La Parada Constantia Nek around 5pm.
Babylonstoren is one of the most popular vineyards in the area, and our favorite place in Stellenbosch for a lunch break. Stroll through the Versailles-esque gardens pretending to not be someone who kills plants in a day, then pick between Babel, a fancier option serving produce from the gardens, and Greenhouse, a quicker, more laid-back option in the very back of the property. Make sure to check out the actual greenhouse on your way out and pick up the free, freshly-picked fruit on offer that day. This place is close to a lot of other great wineries, so when you’re all set here, head to Warwick for wine, Tokara, Zorgvliet, and Delaire Graff for views, or Boschendal for both.
While Cape Town itself is tiny, the surrounding area - a few hours in any direction - has so much to do that it would take weeks to see everything. For bigger trips, we recommend hiking in The Cederberg or whale watching in Hermanus. But if you need to choose just two, our top picks are visiting a township and a day spent driving down the coast. Here’s where to eat for both.
The townships in the Cape Flats are where the majority of the population was forcibly moved during Apartheid. This region has a distinct culture and learning about that history is a must while you’re here. The best way to do that is through the seven-course lunch at 4Roomed Ekasi Culture. You’ll learn about Xhosa (the predominant African culture in the Western Cape) traditions through the $15 tasting menu with dishes like pap, a common starch, served here with butternut, nutmeg, and truffle oil. One of the best parts is chatting up the staff, so make sure to ask tons of questions. Start your day here with a big group lunch before heading to Rands for an afternoon of dancing.
Everyone in the townships is at Rands for the first Sunday of the month, though any Saturday or Sunday spent here will be unforgettable. This is the spot to drink Castle Light, eat unbelievable shisa nyama (Xhosa term for barbecue), and spend hours dancing to afrobeats. We can almost guarantee that this day will be the first thing you tell people about when they ask about your trip.
While the Cape of Good Hope itself is fairly overrated, swimming with penguins at Boulders Beach (make sure you go to the entrance on the far right), surfing in Muizenberg, and eating fish and chips in Kalk Bay are not. The Kalk Bay Harbour down the southern peninsula is where the fisherman return with each day’s catch, so you’re pretty much as close to the source as you can get. The classic fish and chips shop is Kalky’s, but we prefer Lucky Fish, a local fast-food chain with a location directly across the road. The best call is to get a parcel of fried hake from each one and decide for yourself.
After a day spent driving down the coast pretending you’re in a Jeep commercial, stop in Noordhoek, a tiny, hippy town 30-minutes from Cape Town. Noordhoek Farm Village has great restaurants, kitschy trinket shops, and some of the best ice cream at Kirsten’s Kick-Ass Ice Cream. Before that, though, (or after, we’re not your parents) grab a quick bite or pick up locally-made snacks for sundowners from Foodbarn Deli. Make sure to take Chapman’s Peak Drive on your way back and stop at the lookout point to watch the sunset.