Not only is the food scene in Cape Town more exciting than ever, but it’s also incredibly affordable, as long as you stay away from the tourist traps. And the best way to do that is to avoid the Waterfront at all costs. Nope, don’t care what your hotel concierge says. The Waterfront is a glorified mall full of tourists paying three times more than they would anywhere else in the city, and you’re better than that. The Zara in Times Square will be there when you get home, we promise.
Capetonians love to do two things: drink and spend their days outside. Since neither of these qualities are particularly compatible with running a restaurant, hours probably aren’t what you’re used to (and can feel very random), so it’s a good idea to do a quick Google search before you call your Uber.
This appreciation for the outdoors and alcohol also mean that sundowners - a.k.a. drinks while watching the sunset - are taken very seriously, and you should follow suit. Embrace the insanely inexpensive wine prices and throw back a bottle or three. Don’t know the first thing about South African wine? You know what they say: there’s no better way to learn than by doing, and you’re about to do a whole lot of doing.
Clarke’s is an all-day breakfast spot in a retro diner space located on Bree Street, an area that is full of beautiful, interesting-looking people who likely self-identify as “creatives.” You definitely want to spend an afternoon people watching and shopping on Bree Street, and Clarke’s is a great place to start. Our go-to’s are the Hash Eggs, Huevos Rancheros, and any of the sandwiches - and a Nutella french toast for the table is a must. The spicy Bloody Mary here is the best in Cape Town, and you’re on vacation which means you should definitely order several.
This casual lunch spot is just outside the city center in Woodstock, the artistic hub of the city where you’ll find the best art galleries, antique stores, and independent shops. This is an order-at-the-counter salad and sandwich situation, and the owner is a local celebrity who couldn’t be more welcoming. The Love Sandwich (a massive chicken sandwich stuffed with a lot of good stuff) is legendary, and the daily salads ranging from butternut to cauliflower to barley are great too. A lemon bar for the road is nonnegotiable.
Our dream day in Cape Town looks something like this: a hike up Lion’s Head (much shorter, but more exciting and with better views than Table Mountain), followed by a late breakfast and slice of coconut cake at Manna Epicure at the top of Kloof Street, followed by an afternoon wandering down Kloof and Bree Street and over to Bo-Kaap. As with a lot of Cape Town restaurants, the service at Manna Epicure can sometimes be painfully slow, but the homemade desserts and laid-back environment are the reason you’re here.
Another fantastic lunch or brunch option in Woodstock, Superette is located inside The Woodstock Exchange, which is basically an incubator for local artists and businesses where you’ll find everything from fancy chocolates to jewelry to coffee shops and lots of other interesting things going on. The chicken sandwich at Superette is a favorite, but the all-day breakfast offerings, salads, and banana bread are pretty great too.
Kloof Street House
The service can be hit or miss here, but a boozy lunch sitting in the garden is an afternoon well spent. It’s also a great place to eat some ostrich, which is a dish you shouldn’t leave Cape Town without trying at least once.
Entering Hemelhuijs feels like stepping into a coffee table book about Nordic interior design, and by that we mean that everything is incredibly beautiful and tastefully placed, and the food is as delicious as it is pretty. There’s a more sophisticated crowd that hangs out here, and it’s a nice place to come for brunch or lunch and pretend you’re more interesting than you probably are. The juices are great, and the menu has something for everyone.
If you’re in Cape Town on a Saturday, you go to Old Biscuit Mill. In addition to clothing and gifts, this outdoor market has vendors selling every kind of food imaginable from some of the best restaurants in the city. The mushroom skewers, pizzas, paella, mini pancakes, frozen margaritas, the Love Sandwich, and any baked goods that catch your eye are personal favorites, but we can pretty much promise that anything that looks good will deliver. Spending a few hours alternating between eating and shopping (a.k.a. getting hungry again) is how you want to spend a Saturday morning in Cape Town.
The Test Kitchen
Definitely the best known (and most expensive) restaurant in Cape Town, The Test Kitchen is one of the only places around where it’s next to impossible to get a reservation. The tasting menu is 10 courses, and includes things like “12-hour smoked sea bass, celeriac extraction, frozen horseradish, lime compressed apple.” But somehow (thanks to friendly service and an industrial look), the place doesn’t feel overly pretentious or stuffy. Yes, the food is incredible, but whether or not a meal at The Test Kitchen is worth your while really depends on how much you appreciate fine dining. If you’re the sort of person who can name dozens of chefs off the top of your head, maybe reads Lucky Peach, and is interested to know about the chemistry behind the combination of elderberry and orange emulsion, you should definitely try to get a reservation. Otherwise, we’d suggest checking out the slightly more casual option, The Pot Luck Club, from the same chef.
The Pot Luck Club & Gallery
Located on the top floor of the silo at Old Biscuit Mill, the views of the mountains are pretty surreal and the tapas-style food at Pot Luck Club makes it an ideal spot for a larger group dinner. PLC is a more fun experience than the very fancy Test Kitchen across the street (same chef), and you won’t leave too much poorer than when you walked in - but it’s still a great choice for a special occasion meal.
Camps Bay is not a neighborhood we’d encourage you to spend too much time in, mostly because it’s overpriced and full of tourists, but you should definitely get over here once for just for the views of the beach. And when you come, you should eat at Codfather. Codfather is all about seafood, and serves some of the best you’ll find in Cape Town. The way it works is like this: your server will walk you up to a fish counter, show you all the fresh fish they have that day, you’ll pick the different kinds of fish and how much you want of each, and then the kitchen will cook them up for you while you drink your 16th bottle of South African wine that week.
El Burro serves fantastic Mexican food with a laid-back vibe in Greenpoint. The large tables make it a perfect spot for a boozy group dinner, but lunch on the elevated patio is a strong move too. A pitcher of their strong margaritas and an order of the fish tacos or enchiladas in, and you’re going to have a tough time finding a reason to leave.
Offering a French-ish, meat-heavy menu that changes frequently, Bizerca Bistro is definitely a restaurant on the nicer side of things (which, in Cape Town, means it’s still pretty casual). As seriously as they take their food, the vibe manages to remain very down to earth and there’s nothing pretentious about this place.
The Rumbullion is the more casual of two restaurants located on The Round House estate (basically a country club that doesn’t require membership) at the foot of Table Mountain. You should order some pizza and sundowners, but the real reason you’re here is for the views. Only open during the warmer months, you eat in the garden overlooking the beaches of Camps Bay and the Twelve Apostles, and you’ll feel like you’re somewhere in the South of France.
The menu (simple, fresh proteins and produce-driven stuff) here changes almost daily, but you can be sure that whatever is on the blackboard that day is going to be amazing. This is the sort of fun, relaxed restaurant where you’re going to want to spend the entire night, and given that a bottle of wine in Cape Town is about the same price as that bottle of Fiji you bought at the airport, ordering a few bottles to go with your meal and hanging around all night is encouraged. Definitely make a reservation here as we’re not the only ones who love it.
Our favorite Italian food in the city, Il Leone is a bit off the beaten path in Greenpoint and feels like a local hang. They know their pasta and their wines here, and while everything is really good, they don’t take themselves too seriously. Don’t be afraid to ask for help with the wine list - there are a lot of options and unless you’re an expert in South African wines, you’re going to be pretty lost. We’ve never been disappointed with anything we’ve ordered here, but the simple pastas with seafood always hit the spot.
With five different locations around the city, this is our favorite spot for a burger and beer. They have lots of options - everything from the classic to burgers stuffed with chorizo and cheese to veggie burgers - and lots of different local craft beers on tap. If you’re looking for a quick and easy meal, this is a great move.
Orphanage Cocktail Emporium
Serving fancy drinks on Bree Street, Orphanage is a great spot for a pre or post-dinner drink, especially if drinking a gin and tonic out of a plastic bag or watching the bartender light your drink on fire is your kind of thing. Even if they take themselves a little too seriously, the drinks are very good and it’s always full of people looking to have a fun time.