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Dining tips and finds for Cape Town

Although recommended, Africa Café and Moyo (at Spier) essentially cater to the well-heeled Western traveler, and many visitors come away nonplussed at how European all the Cape Town dining options (and diners) are.
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Where Are the Africans?
Although recommended, Africa Café and Moyo (at Spier) essentially cater to the well-heeled Western traveler, and many visitors come away nonplussed at how European all the Cape Town dining options (and diners) are. If you'd like to sample South African cuisine along with other Africans (for considerably less money), head for the balcony of the Pan African Market, Long Street (tel. 021/426-4478), for lunch with the traders, or Marco's Place, 15 Rose St. (tel. 021/423-5412). More touristy, but a very authentic "nonrestaurant" experience, is a meal arranged at Lelapa (The Home; tel. 021/694-2681) in Langa -- best to arrange this along with a township tour. Another venue worth considering is Ikhaya Xhosa Restaurant in the Waterfront Clocktower (tel. 021/418-3728), not least because almost every element, from staff recruitment to the wine choices on offer, is linked to an empowerment initiative, though you're still likely to find the majority of black faces on the side that's doing the serving. When it comes to social transformation, Cape Town is taking its time.

High Tea at the Nellie
High tea at the Mount Nelson (tel. 021/483-1198; R85/$13; daily 2:30-5:30 p.m.) is a Cape Town institution: crustless cucumber and salmon sandwiches in a vast sea of tarts and cakes, served buffet style in an elegant chandeliered room littered with comfortable armchairs to sink into while you hum to the sounds of a tinkling piano (or escape to the verdant gardens). It's a wonderful way to experience the grande dame's gracious ambience and watch the creatures who frequent her.

Going Local
If ever there was a queue worth watching, the early-morning caffeine addicts at Vida e Caffé, 34 Kloof St. (tel. 021/426-0627) will do. From those carefully created don't-care student coiffures to queens sporting impeccable labels and girls in inappropriate micro-minis, a table armed with a cappuccino and a Quattro (four-cheese) muffin is the place to watch the city's producers, photographers, students, designers, and edgy housewives hard at (net)work. To view the more laid-back Capetonian in his natural lair, grab a pavement table at super-friendly Daily Deli, 13 Brownlow Rd., Tamboerskloof (tel. 021/426-0250), and order the aubergine bake, followed by a piece of cheesecake. Both are open daily, but not at night. If you like the idea of pizza but could do without the cheese (obviously a victim of colonic irrigation), the best ever is to be found at Limoncello, 8 Breda St. (tel. 021/461-5100), a tiny restaurant in Gardens frequented by locals who love the ultra-thin, "white-based" crispy pizza base (tomato-free), topped with smoked salmon (or aubergine), lemon juice, and fresh rocket (arugula). Or opt for the tender baby squid, flash-fried with chile and garlic. But when it comes to Italian (and Capetonians will curse me for sharing this), you'd be hard-pressed to beat Magica Roma, located in the unassuming suburb of Pinelands, not far from the city center (15 min.), but way off the tourist track. It's jammed full night after night with a (mostly suburban) clientele who know and appreciate that excellent service and superb northern Italian fare (everything on the menu is recommended) don't come at this price anywhere else. Reservations are very much advised.

This is a carnivorous country (you'll still hear the joke that chicken is served as a side order to red meat in some rural areas), but thankfully, veggie Capetonians are blessed with a number of options: Fields, 84 Kloof St. (tel. 021/423-9587), a health-shop-cum-deli, serves strictly vegetarian- and vegan-only meals and freshly squeezed juices in a casual environment; unfortunately, it closes in the evenings between 7 and 8 p.m. A few blocks down the road, in the Kloof Lifestyle Centre, there's Kauai, which serves a good selection of vegetarian dishes (and every meal has a nutritional breakdown) as well as every conceivable health drink (this is, incidentally, a health-food chain). Closer to the city center, Lola's, 228 Long St. (tel. 021/423-0885), is a buzzing pavement cafe.

Picnic Fare
Table Mountain is one big garden, and its "tabletop" makes a great picnic venue, as does Kirstenbosch, particularly during the summer when sunset concerts are held every Sunday from December to March. You can order a picnic hamper from the Picnic Company to be delivered to your door (tel. 021/706-8470; R90/$13 per person plus R50/$7.45 delivery). But for a real feast, take your pick at Melissa's, 94 Kloof St. (tel. 021/424-5540), or order a picnic basket, replete with cutlery. Giovanni's, 103 Main Rd., Green Point (tel. 021/434-6893), is a real Italian deli with mouthwatering prepared meals and sandwiches. To picnic on one of Cape Point's deserted beaches, check out the fare at Kalk Bay's Olympia Café (tel. 021/788-6396).

A great Winelands option is Le Pique Nique (tel. 021/870-4274), at the gorgeous Boschendal Estate, where you can buy a hamper filled with local delicacies and spread out on their oak-shaded lawns.

Eating In
If you're staying in a B&B or self-catering, contact Mr Delivery (tel. 021/423-4177 in City Bowl; tel. 021/439-9916 in Sea Point; tel. 021/761-0040 in Constantia) and ask them to drop off a menu. Mr Delivery delivers meals from more than 20 restaurants and takeout joints, as well as groceries, directly to your door.

The Dining Mile
If you like looking at venues before deciding where to eat, take a stroll down Kloof Street. This is the road that runs parallel to Kloof Nek, which takes you up the saddle of the mountain and over into Camps Bay. Aside from the spots reviewed in full, the street has some lively and eclectic dining choices.

Start at the top, where Bacini's (tel. 021/423-6668; ask for a table outside, next to the faux waterfall) serves up great pizzas in a family-oriented atmosphere, then stroll down the hill to Cafe Paradiso, 110 Kloof St. (tel. 021/423-8653), a sprawling terra-cotta villa with Italian-style decor and Mediterranean-style food that will delight those bored with modern haute cuisine. This is an ideal all-day or balmy evening venue: Book a table under a tree or umbrella on the terrace outside -- the interior is dull and you'll miss the view of the city -- and peruse the no-nonsense menu, which features plenty of vegetarian options. A personal favorite is the tender Greek lamb, served warm on a cold shredded spinach salad and topped with homemade mayo.

Next up, a block down from Melissa's and the vegetarian-only Fields, is Saigon, corner Kloof and Camp (tel. 021/424-7669), an elevated venue with great views that specializes in Vietnamese cuisine (don't miss the crystal prawn spring rolls: steamed prawns, carrots, cucumber, noodles, basil, mint, and a peanut sauce). Asoka "Son of Dharma," 68 Kloof St. (tel. 021/422-0909), next door, doesn't look like much from the outside, but it's a great spot -- an open-plan house artfully renovated around a central courtyard and tree, with soothing lighting and groovy music -- highly recommended for a pre- or postdinner drink. The vibe, created by Cape Town's happening, young (mid-20s and up) crowd, is great, but you'll find better food across the road at Yindee's (tel. 021/422-1012), Cape Town's best Thai restaurant (at least, according to its loyal following).

A little farther down is Cafe Gainsborough, 64 Kloof St. (tel. 021/422-1780), a casual bistro-type restaurant built around an open-plan kitchen. Get there early (no bookings) to grab a table on the sidewalk and enjoy the view of Table Mountain. The small menu has Flemish overtones.

Numerous takeout joints and casual eateries follow, but the next good cluster occurs at the junction of Kloof with Park Road. Head up Park Road and look for Figaro (adjacent to Greens, which, incidentally, offers good-value salads, burgers, and light meals), where lawyers tuck into bottles of Fauchon and the best sandwiches in town under chandeliers. Back on Kloof, and a little farther down, is Vida e Caffé, 34 Kloof St. (tel. 021/426-0627), where the city's trendiest come to quell their addiction to the best coffee in town. Lola's, 228 Long St. (tel. 021/423-0885), within walking distance from here (Kloof merges with Long), is where, in their own words, "faggy Afro-trash meet to slip-sexy music." This is in the heart of the Long Street stretch that fills with backpackers and offers the city's most vibrant nightlife, particularly in summer.

For a complete listing of Frommer's-reviewed restaurants, visit our online dining index.

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