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A culinary guide to eating your way around South Africa

by | 29 November 2022

Go on a culinary adventure, and eat your way around South Africa’s main destinations while exploring the culture, history and landmarks of our beautiful country. Whether you’re a local who’s lived here all your life, or you’re a tourist visiting for the first time, our culinary guide to South Africa is unlike any restaurant list you’ve ever seen before.

Made up of under-the-radar neighbourhood gems with five-star reviews, the tables at these restaurants are usually filled with locals. So, even if you’re after the finer side of dining or a pocket-friendly meal, eating in South Africa has never been more exciting!

Explore Johannesburg’s culinary scene

There’s no place like the bustling City of Gold. Too often, this vibrant metropolitan isn’t given the respect it deserves but, there’s no denying it, Jo’burg locals are movers and shakers with a discerning taste for the finer things in life! Johannesburg offers a vast and varied culinary scene, so if you’re “in the know” about where to go, you’ll never have a bad meal in Jozi.

Using iconic landmarks as our guide, head straight from Lanseria airport and pay a visit to the Cradle of Humankind and the NIROX Sculpture Park. Once you’ve had your fill of human history and artistic installations, stop in at the Park’s on-site restaurant, And Then There Was Fire. There are few things South Africans love as much as a braai, and this spot celebrates that spirit of cooking over the open fire.

Next, take a tour of South Africa’s largest township, Soweto, and its renowned Vilakazi Street. In between the Mandela House Museum and Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s former home, you’ll find Sakhumzi Restaurant, which is famous for serving up a truly authentic, local culinary experience. You can also drive across town to Houghton and dine at Insights at Sanctuary Mandela. Set in the late president’s primary place of residence, this fine dining restaurant pays tribute to Madiba’s favourite dishes, based on recipes prepared by his long-time personal chef, Xoliswa Ndoyiya.
From there, you’re spoiled for choice. How about a sophisticated Afternoon Tea at the Saxon Hotel, one of Johannesburg’s most iconic locations? You could also find your way to the discreetly hidden Marabi Club which, named after the urban culture born in the 1920s and ‘30s, pays respect to a bygone era with its punchy, locally-inspired menu and lively jazz nights. Or, two blocks across from the Johannesburg Zoo, head to Bespokery, a local favourite where, judging by the reviews, everyone becomes a regular. Their menu is designed to cater for all eaters, be they ketogenic, gluten free, vegan or vegetarian, without compromising on the social element of dining out.
If you’re looking for something in the suburbs, you’ll find some of the best Korean food in the country. A favourite with locals, Banchan’s authentic menu includes Korean barbecue, fried chicken and traditional kimchi jjigae (stew) and is the perfect spot for a night out with mates. If you fancy a slice of authentic Neapolitan pizza, then look no further than Coalition. With two spots in the city, Coalition Pizza Blairgowrie and Park Corner, many say it serves the best slices in Joburg! To end the night, you have to stop by Jozi’s hottest new opening, Acid Food & Wine Bar. Thanks to their wine-forward messaging and ever-changing small plates, Acid is the definition of somewhere you go for the wine but stay for the food!

A “Durbanite’s” guide to restaurants in KZN

It’s a different way of life in KZN. While it may be a little more laid back, the culinary experiences are no less impressive. From the golden beaches of Ballito and Umhlanga, to the buzz of the inner city and the rolling Midlands – and beyond – these are the must-try restaurants that the locals love in Durban.

If your trip to KZN starts with a road trip through the Midlands, Skyfall Casual and Fine Dining restaurants should be on your list. There’s no shortage of things to do while doing the Midlands Meander, but for all foodies, both of Skyfall’s restaurants are not to be missed. As their names suggest, there’s a casual eatery for those after something more easy-going and a fine dining counterpart for special occasions. If you’re coming into Durban via Hillcrest, do yourself a favour and stop at The Black Rabbit. Run by seasoned chef and restaurateur, Chris Black, The Black Rabbit has made a real name for itself in a very short space of time. Following a simple brasserie style, diners can look forward to classic bistro fare. It’s the ideal spot for a friendly get-together or a very special date night.

Once you’re in Durban central, near the harbour is one of the city’s most-loved restaurants, 9th Avenue Waterside – and it’s easy to see why it’s a favourite. Aside from its glorious position overlooking the yachts on the water, 9th Avenue is known for its interesting menu, featuring classics and reimagined bistro dishes.

Further up the coast are a number of spots to choose from. The Ocean Terrace at The Oyster Box Hotel needs no introduction and should be on every foodie’s hit list. Enjoy a meal sitting out on the candy-striped terrace, with views of the Indian Ocean and the iconic Umhlanga Lighthouse. If you’re looking for a memorable and flawless fine dining experience, The Chefs’ Table is a no-brainer. The hundreds of five-star reviews they receive don’t lie – the ever-changing menu showcases the best that local produce has to offer, while the open kitchen lets diners watch the meticulous chefs at work. For something a little more lowkey, Sunsets and Mermaids is a new beach-style bar making waves in Umhlanga and, with an impressive cocktail list, it is the ultimate location for a summery sundowner. Meanwhile, FirelakeGrill, on one of the top floors of the famous Radisson Blu, boasts panoramic views of Durban’s coastline and specialises in open-flame cooking. Tip: Don’t sleep on the specially-crafted cocktails, made by expert mixologists.

Slightly further afield in Umdloti is Bel Punto. When it comes to seafood, it doesn’t get fresher than this. This family-friendly favourite is known for their authentically Italian offering and incredible seaside location, with uninterrupted views. Further south, Trattoria La Terrazza, or “The Tratt” as it has been fondly referred to by locals for the past 30 years, is an ideal spot on the South Coast for refined, yet relaxed dining. Sit on the deck, overlooking the river, and enjoy an Italian-inspired feast. During the off-season, you might even be lucky enough to nab one of their pizzas.

Eat where the locals eat in Cape Town

Known for its world-class food scene, just as much as it is for the beautiful beaches and incredible mountains, the Mother City and its surrounding areas are home to some of the country’s top-rated restaurants and dining experiences. But it’s not all fine dining, all the time. There are some low-key spots, packed with locals, that give the fancy tasting menus a run for their money.

Kick things off in the centre of Cape Town at Clarke’s. Possibly the worst-kept insider secret, Clarke’s is the very definition of a true Cape Town spot. Their diner-style set up makes it the ideal hangout any time of the day or night. Word on the street is they make the best burger in town. If you find yourself near the V & A Waterfront during the day, be sure to stop in at Emazulwini Restaurant at Makers Landing. When looking for a memorable, modern South African dining experience, few are doing it like chef and owner Mmabatho Molefe. Her re-imagination of Zulu heritage cooking is in a league of its own. Nearby is Bao Down. Run by husband-and-wife team, Graham and Philippa Oldfield, it is an old favourite serving sharing-style small plates with big, Asian-inspired flavours. Insider tip: do not skip the cauliflower cake or prawn toast bao.

As the sun starts to set, head to the Gigi Rooftop Restaurant & Bar. Above the aptly named Gorgeous George Hotel, Gigi’s bar boasts a cocktail list as long as their food menu. Be sure to book, though, as everyone in Cape Town has the same idea. Around the corner is Tjing Tjing house, a three-storey, one-stop-shop for inner-city wining and dining. Known for its modern, Japanese-inspired experience, Tjing Tjing Momiji on the second floor offers a seasonal and considered set menu in a tranquil and minimalist dining room. Course after course, diners are in for a refined treat – especially if mochi, their in-house speciality, is on the cards for dessert. Head upstairs to the rooftop bar for world-class cocktails and snacks if you want something a little more raucous.

Close by, on Bree Street, you’ll find Tomson if you know where to look. Capetonians spill out onto the pavement just to get their weekly fill of Chef Andrew Kai’s authentic Cantonese wontons, hoisin duck pancakes, pickled veg sides, and sample their banging wine list. We highly recommend a plate of the salt and pepper prawns – and don’t bank on sharing them once you’ve had your first bite. Tucked away, just off bustling Bree Street, Bouchon is a cosy urban winery. Step into another world and dine between the barrels of a working cellar, choosing tapas from their wonderful menu of small plates that pack a punch. If a heaving bowl of fresh, homemade pasta is more your thing, The Cousins Trattoria is just the ticket. Unassuming from the outside, this is one of Cape Town’s best-loved spots with regulars returning time and again. If you’re looking for some theatrics, the signature Cousin’s Pasta is not only delicious but is finished off, tableside, in a wheel of Grana Padano.

If you’re taking a drive out of the city – and aren’t going quite as far as the winelands just yet – Melkbos Kitchen is undeniably one of the Western Cape’s most-loved neighbourhood gems. Get the best view of the sun setting over Cape Town, while enjoying a sharing platter or deliciously fresh sushi. On the opposite side of the peninsula, you’ll find Aegir Project Brewery & Taproom producing their own incredible craft beers and serving some of the best burgers and pizzas you can find. This crowd-pleaser is the best pitstop after a leisurely drive around Chapman’s Peak.

A Capetownian’s guide to dining in the Winelands

If your favourite thing about Cape Town is getting out of Cape Town, then you’ll know that a day spent exploring one of the Cape’s many wine routes is always a good idea. And there’s certainly no shortage of incredible restaurants to choose from, starting right in the centre of Stellenbosch at Eike. Bertus Basson is a stalwart of South African heritage cooking, which he showcases beautifully at Eike. Housed in a historic building on the famous Dorp Street, Eike’s locally inspired menu is a treat for tourists and locals alike. Neighbouring chef Jess van Dyk has worked in some of the country’s best kitchens, and now owns Post & Pepper, an intimate eatery that promises to deliver on everything you love about fine dining – with none of the stuffiness. Drawing on her heritage, experience and travels, the menu is a refreshing collection of local and Asian flavours.

Make your way out of town, towards The Vine Bistro at Glenelly. You already know (and love) their wines, but their restaurant deserves as much attention. Slightly off the beaten track, the French-inspired menu is the perfect accompaniment to the estate’s wines. Take a turn through the glass museum downstairs to make some room for dessert.

If you find yourself in Franschhoek, Arkeste is a must for all food lovers. Richard Carstens is one of the forefathers of fine dining in South Africa and while his latest venture, Arkeste, on the Chamonix estate changes gear from his previous restaurants, it’s a guaranteed culinary treat. If you’re out for wine tasting, Chardonnay fans will love Glenwood Vineyards. Considering the outstanding sushi paired with their wines, this scenic spot is highly recommended by locals.

There are more than enough reasons to visit Tulbagh, but the 300-year-old Twee Jonge Gezellen Tasting Room at Krone should be at the top of the list. The estate produces a selection of fine, vintage Cap Classiques, and what better way to experience them than in this design-forward tasting room? On the way there or back, stop in at Mila at Doolhof on Bain’s Kloof Pass. A recent addition to the Wellington scene, Mila at Doolhof serves a simple menu of seasonal ingredients. A bonus for those with children, the beautiful setting has lots of space for kids to play.

If the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley is your destination, stop for lunch en-route at The Melting Pot while passing through Grabouw. From humble beginnings as a pop-up in Cape Town, Melting Pot has moved into the iconic Pool Room at Oak Valley. Specialising in small plates, designed to be shared, Melting Pot takes inspiration from Asian street food and turns out punchy, full-on flavours. Continuing towards Bot Rivier is Farro. Having made the move from Johannesburg, to a pop-up in Bree Street, and then to their forever home on Gabriëlskloof wine estate, Farro has drummed up something of a cult following. The menu changes regularly, but if you spot the chicken liver parfait, order two plates of it. Make the last stop on your drive The Frame House at Bosman in Hermanus. Bosman is not only home to some of the valley’s best wines, but the on-site restaurant serves delicious plates of food to share, surrounded by magnificent views.

West Coat & Garden Route: Coast-to-coast eating

Seasoned road trippers know that both the West Coast and Garden Route are worth the trek for the scenic views alone, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not worth visiting for their vibrant, yet relaxed dining experiences. Some of the country’s best cooking is happening in these unexpected destinations. If you’re driving coast to coast this summer, here are just a few of the must-visit eateries to pop in at along the way.

Start on the West Coast, at The Jetty Restaurant at Fryer’s Cove in Doringbaai. A joint project with the local community, The Jetty Restaurant is a celebration of Weskus fare. Pair a cold glass of the crisp Fryer’s Cove Sauvignon Blanc with their famous fish and chips and your lunch will be well worth the drive – we promise. In nearby Paternoster, Oep ve Koep Bistro is the lowkey sister restaurant to award-winning Wolfgat, and showcases the best of Strandveld cooking with a small set menu. The bakery here is also worth a detour.

Cruising over to the Garden Route, you’ll find The Fat Fish in George and Plettenberg Bay. Head here for impeccably fresh seafood and sushi. The Plett location has a prime view of Beacon Isle, while the George spot is nestled amongst a leafy garden. If you’re stopping over in Wilderness, be sure to book a spot at the Serendipity guesthouse’s restaurant. In addition to their serene surroundings, the restaurant is cooking up some incredible, refined fare.

On your way into Plett, there are endless places to choose from. First up, on the way in is Luka Vineyards. If you’re planning a day out to Knysna’s Elephant Park or Wolf Sanctuary, this should be the place you stop past afterwards. Arrange a picnic on the sprawling lawns and kick back with a glass of their excellent wine. If you need somewhere to keep the whole family happy and well-fed once in town, Barrington’s is the place. This small hotel boasts a craft brewery, an all-day restaurant and bar, as well as an organic kitchen garden, bakery, shop and boutique nursery. 

If you’re getting away from the kids for a little bit, Tsala Treetop Lodge will bring the romance. As the name suggests, you’ll have a magical dinner with a view as you dine amongst the treetops in the forest. If you’re staying for a couple of days, be sure to pop in at Zinzi too; their sister restaurant just down the road. Emily Moon is another destination boutique hotel with a beautiful restaurant that overlooks the Bietourivier. Most of the produce used on the menu is sourced from the hotel’s own garden, meaning you’re in for a celebration of the best the Garden Route has to offer.

While on your way out of Plett, make a stop at Newstead Lund Family Vineyards. Considering their award-winning bubbles and the fact that they were one of the 100 most-loved restaurants in South Africa, as reviewed by Dineplan users, this should already be on your hitlist. Tuck into their freshly baked pizzas or book a picnic for a winning lunch break.

If St Francis Bay is your port of call this summer (and it should be!), be sure to stop by Off the Menu Food Emporium. Don’t let the grocer-style look confuse you. Aside from being a treasure trove of niche ingredients and other culinary treats, Off the Menu also has an extensive sit-down offering that the whole family will love. If you’re going as far up the coast as Port Elizabeth, they have a P.E. branch too.

Should you be in search of the best restaurants in South Africa, you can get the information you need at your fingertips with the Dineplan app and website. With over 1,000 restaurants on our app, we’ll help you figure out where to eat in no time! Simply search by location and availability, read guest reviews, and book your table on the go.

  1. PumlasFood

    Thank you for this list.

    Tried off the menu PE. The wagyu burger. Was underwhelmed. Stale bun etc. Much ado about nothing. Money down the drain.

    Looking forward to visiting Emazulwini when I’m Cape Town next year. The reviews are amazing.

    Happy Festive Season yol.

    • Paige Errera

      Thanks for leaving us a comment! Please let us know what you think of Emazulwini once you’ve paid them a visit. Wishing you a very merry festive season and a happy new year!

  2. Andrea Puggia

    Disappointed not to see anything on the Eastern Cape.

    • Paige Errera

      Hi Andrea, unfortunately, we couldn’t include all the amazing restaurants from every region. For this post, we focused on a few main hubs to keep it a manageable length. However, we plan to do more articles in the future, and we’ll be sure to highlight the restaurants in the Eastern Cape as we continue to grow our platform and add more clients from that region.

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