We’ve all been there: You’re planning an impromptu dinner with a few close pals, and some of them ask if they can just bring one friend who’s visiting from out of town, and that one friend has two friends… Before you know it, you have a logistical nightmare.
Though Cape Town has the benefit of an abundance of quaint, intimate eateries, they are just not geared toward this sort of culinary quandary. But rest assured that there are plenty of popular restaurants roomy enough to accommodate the football team–size gathering you’ve somehow found yourself coordinating. Some overlook the water, while others are on hip stretches in the heart of town frequented almost exclusively by locals; what they all have in common are great food and lively vibes. Though reservations are always recommended, most of the time the friendly staff will be more than willing to “make a plan,” as they say in South Africa, and find your group the perfect table.
When to Book: One to two months ahead.
What to Eat: Luke Dale-Roberts is the most celebrated chef in South Africa and he works his magic on a series of small plates divvied up into salty, bitter, sour, sweet and umami tastes. Highlights include smoked pork belly with orange-braised radicchio, Korean fried chicken with pineapple and miso slaw, and fish tacos. For the best Sunday scene in town, book well ahead for brunch—the 360-degree daytime views from the slick space atop an old silo are sublime.
2. La Parada
When to Book: No reservations here, so you might have to order the sangria as you wait for a table.
What to Eat: It’s all about sharing at this tapas joint, which is likely the hottest restaurant in Cape Town these days. Chef Andrés Conde—who moved to the city after stints at Ferran Adrià’s El Bulli and Tickets in Spain—serves Spanish classics: a heady seafood paella, a massive three-pound lamb shoulder slow-roasted for a day, rich prawn or ham croquettes, and tangy patatas bravas.
When to Book: A day or two in advance.
What to Eat: With Grand Café’s picturesque setting on a man-made beach overlooking the water, you’ll be inspired to stick with the seafood: grilled prawns, a Cape Malay–style mussel soup and the kingklip tempura are always crowd-pleasers. The most popular items, especially with large groups, are the thin-crust pizzas that come served on massive wooden slabs.
When to Book: A week ahead.
What to Eat: With a name like Koi, it’s a safe bet that you can expect plenty of Asian–style seafood options. The floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the Atlantic make for some spectacular sunset dining, and the tempura prawn and udon soup, salmon and tuna sashimi, and the expansive list of sushi options have helped the year-old Koi garner raves as the city’s top Japanese restaurant.
When to Book: Same day.
What to Eat: Hearty comfort food is the way to go at this homey space in a rambling Georgian-style house: You’ll find a predominantly local crowd tucking into chef Stéfan Marais’s creamy mushroom risotto, ostrich burger with fries, and prawns daubed generously with garlic and chile. End this cozy candlelit affair with a memorable baked cheesecake.