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Best restaurants in South Africa on a budget

best restaurants in south africa - ocean basket
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When it comes to restaurants, South Africans are spoiled for choice! The country is rich in culture and agriculture, it has a vast coast, and it has creative chefs eager to express themselves. It is therefore easy to come up with a list of the best restaurants in South Africa.

But there are seven of us, (two parents and five children)!  So while fine dining is lovely – and we certainly do enjoy fine-dining restaurants in South Africa, this is a list of our favorite budget-friendly, family restaurants – the kind of restaurants where the food is good, the servings are big, and you feel happy and satisfied when you leave.

Most of the restaurants on this list are chain restaurants. I realize that this may put a lot of people off because chain-restaurant food in the USA tends to be mediocre. However, the food culture in South Africa is different. More often than not, the food is fresh and delicious. In fact, when we travel to unknown parts of South Africa, we prefer chain restaurants because:

  • We know what we’re going to get, and we know it’s going to be good!
  • For what you get, the prices are also insanely good, (which is good news for a big family like ours).
  • Chain restaurants are easy to access – no need to drive to obscure parts of the country to access them! You can usually find them in the malls.

Many of the restaurants on our list will not necessarily come up in your average google searches for the best restaurants in South Africa. This is not because they’re not great places! Rather, these are local favorites. But don’t take my word for it. Take a walk into any of these restaurants during peak hours, and you will find them packed to capacity.

We stand by these restaurant recommendations. You will not be disappointed. If you have traveled through South Africa and you don’t agree with us, it’s because we have vastly different tastes in food.

The Best Budget-Friendly Family Restaurants In South Africa

We get so excited about eating in South Africa, we ALWAYS create an eating itinerary. This may sound extreme, but there are simply too many good places to eat at, we have limited time, so we need to have an itinerary to ensure we eat at all our favorite restaurants before we have to go home.

All the restaurants on the list below are consistently on our eating itinerary.

Fishmonger, Illovo (Johannesburg)

fishmonger illovo menuThe Fishmonger in Illovo, Johannesburg, is arguably one of our favorite restaurant in the entire world. In the past, we have traveled to Johannesburg just to go to Fishmonger, Illovo. In fact, we will not go to South Africa, without going to the Fishmonger.

Even though this is a family restaurant, it is a white-tablecloth establishment. If you have really small children, ask them to remove the wine glasses before you sit down.

The Fishmonger is a fancy seafood restaurant, but they also serve delicious chicken and steak dishes. The servings are big, the wine selection is vast, and the serving staff is very knowledgeable.

The children’s menu is impressive too.

Perhaps it’s just me, but I’ve been to too many restaurants in the USA where the children’s food leaves a lot to be desired, like Kraft Mac and Cheese, perfectly shaped chicken fingers, stale buns, etc. This is not what you get at The Fishmonger, Illovo. The kiddies’ food looks good enough for grownups to eat! And they have a nice variety to choose from too, like real chicken burgers, grilled or fried fish, chicken fingers, calamari, and prawns. (Because we have 5 children, we always order a few of these plates and split them up for the children to try a few things.)

Finally, they serve crispy, fluffy, delicious buns as appetizers. They are delicious! Be sure to cut your kids (and yourself off) so as to leave some room for your meals.

(There is more than one Fishmonger in Johannesburg, South Africa, but we only go to the one in Illovo.)

Ocean Basket (national chain)

best restaurants in south africa - ocean basketIf you have a negative idea about chain restaurants in general, Ocean Basket, (Primi Piatti, and Mugg and Bean below) will defy that.

They serve only seafood and sushi, and they have a decent selection to choose from, including prawns, mussels, calamari, line fish, etc. If that’s not enough, you can also choose if you want it fried, grilled, or cajun style.

We go to Ocean Basket at least three times on every trip to South Africa.

At the risk of sounding glutton, we always make sure we are hungry because the salads are amazing and the entrees are mouthwatering. And despite going there hungry, we never have enough room for dessert!

Primi Piatti (national chain)

best restaurants in south africa primi piattiIf seafood is not really your thing, you will appreciate Primi Piatti. I like to think of it as the Italian version of Ocean Basket.

All the restaurants are clean and beautiful. The atmosphere is casual and laid-back. They have crates tastefully placed throughout the restaurant to help create that laid-back feeling.

Underestimate this restaurant at your peril! Some people incorrectly assume that the crates and general atmosphere implies mediocre food. They also assume that breakfasts, pizzas, and hamburgers on a menu mean ordinary food is to be expected. They are wrong on both counts. The dishes are creative, flavorful, and always beautifully presented! Their dinner menu is as fancy as it comes, and the meals are always mouthwateringly delectable. And if you happen to have a hamburger, it will probably be one of the most delicious hamburgers you will have in South Africa.

They are also very family-friendly. This is not the case at all the branches, but at some branches, (like the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town), they offer child care. Inside the restaurant, there is a little section where your kids can go make pizzas. They are given pieces of dough to make their own creations. and there’s a “babysitter” who helps them. This is wonderful because parents wait for the food, relax with a cocktail, and watch the kids from afar. Once the food is served, the kids get called to the table. This makes for a relaxing dining experience.

We make sure to go to Primi Piatti at least three times per trip. Our favorite branch is at the V&A Waterfront. If you go, try to go early so that you can get a seat by the windows to enjoy the beautiful view.

Mugg & Bean (national chain)

mugg and bean best restaurants in south africaYes, Mugg & Bean is considered a breakfast/sandwich/coffee shop, but like Primi Piatti above, underestimate it at your peril. They have amazingly creative salads and sit-down meals, like sesame-crusted chicken strips, butter chicken curry pot pie, gourmet burgers…

There are small Mugg & Beans at gas stations, (better known in South Africa as petrol stations) for quick sandwiches and meals. If you are looking for a great meal, ignore these. Instead, go to the restaurants and have a sit-down meal to really experience what they have to offer. They are a good breakfast, lunch and dinner restaurant.

The best fast food restaurants in South Africa

If the above content is anything to go by, I hope you get the sense that the food culture in South Africa is not the same as in the USA. This is not to say that there are no bad restaurants in South Africa. There are, but they’re harder to find.

At home in the USA, we rarely, (if ever) go to fast-food restaurants. In South Africa, however, we enjoy fast-foods. ALL of the fast-food restaurants below are added to our food itinerary.

I should also mention that because these are fast-food restaurants, they are cheap compared to dine-in restaurants.

You can usually find these fast-food restaurants in malls and food plazas. Here are a few of our family favorites.

Anat (Falafel & Shawarma)

If you like Middle Eastern foods, definitely turn to Anat. They serve shawarmas, falafels, laffas or hamburgers, which they prepare in front of you. They have a big variety of colorful and tasty toppings to choose from, like hummus, tahini, chili sauce, pickled vegetables, and sauerkraut.

Anat fast-food restaurants are across the country, mostly in the food courts at malls.


nandos best restaurants in south africaNandos, oh Nandos!

Nandos is a homegrown Portuguese-style fast-food restaurant that serves flame-grilled chicken glazed with peri-peri sauce. While peri-peri is spicy, Nandos is not just for people who like hot and spicy food. You can also have your chicken with a mild peri peri sauce, or lemon and herb seasoning sauce.

Half of our family love spicy foods, the other half does not. Even so, Nandos is a favorite!

Nandos is hugely popular in South Africa, but has now also opened fast-food stores in 35 other countries. However, it is in South Africa that you will find them most widely.

Debonnaire's Pizza

debonairs pizza best restaurants in south africaWith so many good options to choose from, you’re probably wondering why a pizza chain restaurant would make it to our list. Because it’s good! The toppings and varieties of pizzas are so different, we just cannot resist it. Also, the children LOVE it!

They have crammed-crust pizzas and triple-decker pizzas. They also have amazing varieties, like the Club, which has ham, bacon, chicken, and their special debonairs sauce. The “Something Meaty” has ham, pepperoni, bacon, ground beef, and bbq sauce. The “Original Veggie” has mushrooms, olives, pineapple, onion, tomato, and spring onions.

Be sure to buy an extra pizza!  Trust me, you will finish them. The pizzas in South Africa are smaller than your USA chain pizza joints.

King Pie

king pie

King Pie almost didn’t make it to the list because South African pies may be an acquired taste. However, if you love American pot pies, you will enjoy the pies at King Pie, with its savory fillings, enveloped between delicious, flaky pastry.

You can expect fillings like chicken mushroom, pepper steak, spinach and feta cheese, etc.

Also, the prices are a steal! You can get a large pie for under $2 (at the time of this writing). That means, we can feed the entire family for under $20.

As I suggested, South African pies may not be for everyone. However, we make our way to King Pie at least twice per trip because the children love it.

Fournos Bakery, Johannesburg

fournos bakery chocolate croissants

Fournos bakery is another establishment that almost didn’t make it to the list because it’s only in Johannesburg, and there are only 14 branches.

However, if you’re in Johannesburg and you can make it to a Fournos bakery, count yourself lucky.

Fournos is a fine bakery! Everything is delicious, but our favorites are the cheese and chocolate croissants.

A note from the author

One of our favorite things in South Africa is the food. Yes, the culture is wonderful and there are lots of great things to see and do. All that is good, but oh my goodness, the food!

So often, while sitting down for dinner (back home in the USA), we talk about South African foods we enjoy. Everyone around the table says what they are most eager to have on our next trip. It’s fun! 

Call us silly, but when we are in Johannesburg, we try to get accommodation in Rosebank. If we get a place close to the Rosebank Mall, the first one who wakes up can walk over to Fournos (the bakery mentioned above) for several cheese and chocolate croissants. (You can never have enough, so buy extra).

After breakfast, we do our Johannesburg and Pretoria excursions. We grab a light lunch, so as to save room in our bellies for Fishmonger – which is also close to Rosebank.

Quite honestly, we have no problem doing this for 3 days in a row – the routine is that good!Fournos bakery to Fishmonger Illovo


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About The Author

We’re the Cheltens’. We visit South Africa 1-2 times per year. We want to share our experiences with you so that you may make educated decisions when you plan your next trip to the rainbow nation.

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