From its famously fantastic curries to stellar seafood, Durban and the surrounding areas has always been a favourite holiday destination. After a burst of new openings and the rapid growth of the restaurant scene, the East Coast city pumps all year round with cool tapas spots, fresh seafood and casual café-style fare.
This selection comprises all the Durban restaurants that made the cut for the 2018 Eat Out 500, the list of best restaurants in the country as rated and reviewed by our panel of critics for the 2018 edition of Eat Out magazine (on sale now). But we know the city is crammed with loads more gems and mainstays that didn’t crack the nod. Please tell us about your favourites in the comments at the end!
1904 Bistro Américain (Kloof)
The massive American-themed menu here includes everything from bagels and chowder to gourmet dogs. Highlights are Cajun fish with spiced rice; the Coney Island dog served in a pretzel roll with lashings of ketchup, red onions, mustard and cheese; and the po’boy prawn sandwich. End on warm blueberry pie.
Republik (Durban North) – 2017 Eat Out Savanna Best Burger Eatery in KZN
The menu at this popular burger bar seems inspired by hangovers; it’s crazy delicious! Burgers are the focus, made from local, ethically sourced 100% grass-fed meat. If you don’t choose juicy beef, there are lamb, ostrich, chicken and veg patties. Sauces range from bacon jam to chilli chocolate; sides are potato or zucchini fries. Try the deep-fried Bar-One bites.
Smokin’ Joe’s (Berea)
Burgers and milkshakes make this a family favourite. Toppings include the likes of jalapeños and cream cheese or roasted tomatoes, caramelised onions and a secret sauce. Try the butterscotch ice cream for dessert. There’s a good milkshake selection, including a tasty Vietnamese coffee shake, and excellent coffee.
Greedy Buddha (Umhlanga Rocks)
Buns, noodles and wok-fried dishes populate the diverse menu at Greedy Buddha. Start with pot-stickers, wontons and crystal dumplings stuffed with delicious gifts of seafood or duck, chilli and candied nuts. The signature pork belly comes with a show-stealing side of smoked potato purée. Lime panna cotta and lemongrass crème brûlée are satisfyingly light endings.
Quo Restaurant (Gillitts)
This is a place that encourages lingering. You might start with pan-fried calamari in pad Thai sauce; mussels in spicy chilli, sake, ginger and garlic; or hand-cut steak tartare. The signature pork belly is absolute melt-in-the-mouth perfection. End off on a high with a coffee milkshake.
9th Avenue Bistro (Morningside) – 2017 highly commended bistro in KZN
Husband-and-wife team Graham and Gina Neilson create beautiful food with seasonal flavours and locally sourced ingredients. Beginnings could include roasted butternut ravioli, creamy shellfish orzo or free-range chicken crostillant. Move onto mains of prawn fettucine or truffled porcini-and-leek risotto with a dainty nest of crispy leeks and fudgy confit egg yolk. End on crème brûlée with pineapple salsa or pavlova with lemon curd, cream and berry sorbet.
Fourteen on Chartwell (Umhlanga Rocks)
The menu at this stylish Umhlanga Village bar is a fanciful mix of nostalgic noshings taken up a notch to gastro-pub standards. From lamb-shank pie and lobster mac and cheese to jaffles, steaks and pastas, there’s a variety of wonderful comfort food. The Cherry Cabernet burger is topped with caramelised onions and emmenthal and hugged between two brioche buns. For dessert, the mojito cheesecake is fun, topped with lemongrass-and-lime syrup, and the white chocolate-and-cranberry bread-and-butter pudding is pure indulgence.
Market Restaurant (Essenwood)
This popular garden café is situated in a quiet courtyard behind a classic 1930s colonial building. A seasonal menu makes use of locally sourced and mostly organic ingredients. All-day breakfasts cover the bases and casual lunches embrace global flavours in options of flame-grilled steak, pan-fried calamari, seafood chowder or warm hoisin-plum shredded duck salad. For dinner, think chilli-rubbed prawns with coriander pesto and lemongrass spaghetti, crusted Karoo lamb rack, and grilled brinjal stacks layered with lentil-and-tomato relish. Desserts could be cheesecake, lemon tart or cashew nut brownies.
Afro’s Chicken (South Beach)
The signature chicken burgers at this sun-yellow beachside container are still as popular as ever – and with good reason. Flour-dusted rolls are filled with succulent chicken breasts that have been braaied to perfection and then topped with tangy lemon marinade or fiery chilli. Messy in the best possible way. Carb dodgers can also get their fix with chicken salad or juicy strips. The hand-cut ‘tjips’ are the real deal, and there’s coleslaw, avo-and-mango salsa, or pineapple relish.
Bellevue Café (Kloof)
Comforting soul food can be expected at this cosy Kloof favourite. Breakfasts are popular; think eggs, toasted bagels, and comfortingly cheesy Welsh rarebit. Lunches and dinners feature satisfying sandwiches, salads, classic fish and chips and home-made pastas. Start with duck spring rolls or salt-and-pepper calamari with ingenious ginger mayo. Hearty mains include burgers, slow-cooked Karoo lamb shank with rosemary, mash and veg, and the glorious pie of the day. The dark liquid-centred chocolate pudding is wonderfully rich. Alternatively, pick your favourite from the pastry counter.
Delish Sisters (Salt Rock)
Don’t expect standard café food here. Boring breakfasts are eschewed for arrestingly beautiful smoothie bowls, poached eggs and creamy scrambles. Lunch is a mosaic of salads, tarts, quiches and roasts, with popular sticky pork sausages with onion marmalade, baby marrow fritters, mushroom-and-thyme phyllo pastry cigars, short rib in an umami-rich sauce, and beetroot gnocchi in a creamy dill-and-lemon sauce. End on tarts and cakes – there are dairy-free and sugar-free options.
Freedom Café (Greyville)
Fresh ingredients, flavourful food, a creative menu and a relaxed vibe are what makes this spot so popular. The brunch menu offers an imaginative list of six eggs Benedict options. Other inspired choices include avo and biltong on toast; Sri Lankan lamb over coconut rice; pulled pork slow-cooked in cola; and a beef burger with mayo and kimchi. Peruse the affogato bar part of the menu for afters.
The Glenwood Bakery (Glenwood)
The Glenwood Bakery is the baseline against which all other bakeries in town are measured. Slow-fermented bread is baked before dawn and sold out before noon. Dishes like soft-poached eggs on rosemary-potato loaf with caramelised baby tomatoes honour each ingredient. Come for pizza dinners every Monday and Tuesday. House-made ice cream flavours change as often as the pizza toppings.
Parc Café (Glenwood)
Comfort food made with love is what you’ll find at this laid-back sidewalk café. Local ingredients star in all-day breakfasts, sandwiches and light meals. Toasted brioche with rosewater-poached peaches and pistachios; soft polenta with smoked tomato concasse, creamed spinach and mushroom, poached eggs, pancetta and parmesan; and brown- and wild-rice salad with spiced pumpkin and beetroot, feta and molasses are sensational. End on cake.
Surf Riders Food Shack (Addington Beach)
Head to this seaside spot for great all-day dining options and chilled-out Durban vibes. Soft-poached eggs, muesli jars and tuna Benedict challenge the usual breakfast expectations. A wood-fired oven turns out delicious pizzas. Burgers of KZN grass-fed beef come with toppings of habanero and camembert. Desserts include chocolate mud pie, sticky toffee pudding and churros. The ice cream with peanut butter and dog biscuits is a highlight for any hound.
Capsicum (Durban Central)
The take-away kitchen here sells thousands of signature mutton bunny chows every month. Starters include fish cakes, chicken livers, puri patha rolls and samoosas with the full range of fillings. Curries dominate, in variations from chops chutney to fish roe, chicken and prawn, crab, and tripe and trotters. Most are served fiery hot, so be warned. Dessert options are brownies, malva pudding, soji or burfee ice cream.
Indian Summer (Glenashley)
Chef-patron Anand Pacholy delivers an authentic north and south Indian culinary experience. Mumbai street food appears in chaats such as pani puri with cold mint juice and Punjabi samoosa. The paneer and dhal makhanis are rich, creamy and delicately aromatic. Chicken korma, vindaloo and lamb rogan josh are excellent, especially mopped up with hot butter naans. The gajar halwa dessert, made with carrots and cardamom, is a bowl of happiness.
Mali’s Indian Restaurant (Morningside)
Mali’s embraces traditional south Indian cuisine, typically more aromatic than its northern cousin and dominated by vegetarian food. Onion pakoda, idli, medu vadai, masala dosa and incredible mushroom Manchurian are tempting beginnings. Curries are centrepieces for the mains, from tandoori to tikka masala, rogan josh, vindaloo, chettinad and masala with veg, chicken, lamb and seafood options. All sambals, rice, rotis and naans are served separately. Finish up with sooji, gulab jamun or a lassi.
Al Firenze (La Lucia)
This is a true neighbourhood gem with Italian flare. Tempting starters include luscious roasted brinjal, plump mussels and juicy octopus. Veg options are sprinkled among the extensive list of pasta dishes and creative thin-based pizzas, while meat eaters will be happy with the tender fillet or rump, each with generous Italian trimmings. The dessert standout is the sublimely light tiramisu.
Bel Punto (Umdloti)
The emphasis here is on fresh seafood, from Knysna oysters to line fish, calamari and shellfish. Enticing starters are deep-fried olives or squid. The mains embrace the sea, but red meat and poultry dishes are equally appealing as specials. Cherries flambé, Italian kisses and home-made ice cream round off the meal. Book a spot on the balcony for blue ocean views.
The Glenwood Restaurant (Glenwood)
Chef Adam Robinson – of Glenwood Bakery fame – is a genius with simple, fresh ingredients. Crab bisque with crème fraîche or stuffed zucchini flowers appeal, but pastas here are the main event. The rabbit pappardelle and cherry tomato tagliatelle are sublime. End on saffron ice cream, grapefruit sorbet or something baked.
La Casa Nostra (Umdloti)
Shared antipasti is the best way to start here, along with complimentary chewy garlic focaccia with lashings of chilli, balsamic and olive oil. The olive ripiene fritte is compulsory, rich with ricotta stuffing, deep-fried in a light crust. You won’t go wrong with any fresh pasta, but the spinach-and-ricotta cannelloni is rich and full of flavour, and the risotto di mare is an unctuous mix of tomato, prawns, calamari, white wine and mussels. Pizzas are blazed in the wood-fired oven, as are a few mains such as the popular quail. Finish off with a delicious tiramisu, which flies out of the kitchen for a reason.
Lupa Osteria (Durban North)
Co-founded by the formidable team of chef Chris Black and Guy Cluver, Lupa has an entrenched pedigree. The spaghetti and meatballs is certainly worth a bowl – or three – and the gnocchi with gorgonzola cream and Bolognese sauce is a pillow for your palate. There’s a variety of wood-fired pizzas and the lamb shank is legendary, tender enough to slide off the bone. Bomboloni, which are Italian-style doughnuts dusted in cinnamon sugar and served with a cognac-chocolate sauce and vanilla ice cream, will guarantee happiness. Home-made gelati work well in the warm weather.
Old Town Italy (Umhlanga)
This is an Italian deli with a twist. Pick up top ingredients, ready-made dishes and treats, or linger for a meal. While the traditional wood-fired pizza oven churns out favourites, you can also create your own deli board of charcuterie and cheeses, or order more substantial pepper-crusted beef fillet or grilled salmon with lemon-caper sauce. There’s no shortage of sweet treats; don’t miss the Nutella bomboloni and gelato station.
Remo’s Originale (Mount Edgecombe)
This is top territory for a sociable coffee, bite and chat. There are loads of breakfast options, sandwiches and pastries. Later on, go for Neapolitan-style pizzas, home-made gnocchi with creamy gorgonzola and chopped walnuts, or the River Café pasta with sautéed prawn tails and courgette. For dinner, choose from specials such as braised lamb shank or salmon linguini with creamy vodka sauce. Sweet tooth? Order yoghurt panna cotta with mixed berry compote or a Crunchie milkshake.
Spiga D’Oro (Morningside)
This family-owned and -managed restaurant is still the place to enjoy a breakfast meeting, relaxing lunch, or night on the town. Mornings are bustling, with patrons vying for their first cuppa and perhaps a cornetto. Order the bruschetta di pomodoro and let the simple flavours transport you to a street café in Italy. The Don Corleone meatball pizza is memorable and the Retro Rolls are the stuff of late-night legends – these babies have been going for over 35 years! Satisfy your sweet tooth with tiramisu or chocolate volcano.
Café 1999 (Musgrave)
Sharing is encouraged with Café 1999’s exciting menu divided into titbits. Deep-fried kalamata olives stuffed with ricotta are the go-to nibble at the start of every meal; or opt for chargrilled calamari tentacles and chorizo with parsley, chilli and caper sauce. The more hungry might opt for specials of line fish, sirloin, roasted spring chicken or a vegetarian curry. The delicate vanilla-and-rooibos crème brûlée is a wonderful ending.
NIKOS Coalgrill Greek (Durban North)
Expect fun and festive Greek food that’s great for a crowd. If you feel like sharing, meze is the way to go. Try baked feta in phyllo with a drizzle of honey and grapes, or the brinjal stack with feta (also a great veg main). The tiropita and spanakopita are top notch, and pita breads deserve a special mention. The souvlaki (coal-fired chicken, beef fillet or pork) is tender and generously plated with chips, pita bread, salad and your choice of dip. The halva ice cream and Turkish delight are great, but baklava takes the prize.
031 Bar and Restaurant at Distillery 031 (Morningside)
Look forward to gourmet street food such as Korean fried-chicken burgers, Coney Island chilli dogs and cauliflower katzu. Alternatively, share Karoo popcorn (biltong, dried fruit and nuts), bowls of wors, chicken wings or fries with dhal and cheese. Eclectic desserts include koeksisters with the 031 vanilla- and-baobab apéritif, lime and coconut.
The Chefs Table (Umhlanga Rocks)
The menu of chef Kayla-Ann Osborn, the winner of the Eat Out Rising Star Award for 2017, celebrates the best of seasonal produce, cooked well and presented beautifully. Think intense roast lamb rib and smoked marrow bone with mint jelly and jewels of pickled onion, and a hero dish of wood-fired prawns served with garlic butter foam. The lemon posset with caramelised rind and toasted pumpkin seeds is a winner.
Ray’s Kitchen at Dunkirk (Salt Rock)
A focused breakfast menu here invites you to start the day with simple eggs and extras or the likes of mince and sharp cheddar or smashed avo with feta and basil on toast. The mushroom-and-broccoli risotto is sensational, and the crispy squid heads with ginger, lime and coriander mayo are moreish. Thin-crust pizzas fly out of the kitchen, as do the creative salads and sandwiches. End on standard desserts such as oozy chocolate fondant, tiramisu or crème brûlée.
Pintxada Tapas Bar and Restaurant (Umhlanga Rocks)
Expect creative, beautiful food that’s perfect for sharing. The chalkboard options make choosing almost impossible: crispy calamari with grilled pineapple; flash-fried salmon and prawns; venison with peppercorn sauce; seared tuna with Japanese garnishes; succulent Karoo lamb riblet; or seasonal watermelon-and-feta fattoush? End with affogato or delicate crème brûlée.
S43 Home to That Brewing Co. (Morningside) – 2017 highly commended Eat Out Savanna Burger Eatery in KZN
Creative tapas dishes are the real pull here. We’re talking pulled-pork tacos with coleslaw; butter chicken bunny; salt-and-pepper squid with Vietnamese pineapple salad; beer-battered onion rings and sticky chicken wings. Leave space for the beer-and-honey ice cream waffle with salted caramel and macadamia nut praline.
Neo Café (North Beach)
This unpretentious venue one block from the beachfront captures old-style Mozambique. Starters include flame-grilled chorizo, squid heads, crumbed mushrooms, prawn rissoles and chicken livers, while mains focus on seafood (line fish, prawns and calamari); peri-peri or lemon-and-herb baby chickens; and stews or steaks. Combos and platters are popular. Desserts are more traditional SA style: think malva pudding and ice cream with chocolate sauce.
The Fat Fish (Westville)
This is an unlikely location, but it serves some of the best fresh fish in town. Thai fish cakes and tuna tacos with avo, toasted sesame seeds and tangy mayo are offered alongside line fish of the day, with classic julienned veg, a potato rösti and creamy lemon sauce. The most popular dessert is malva with custard and ice cream.
Ile Maurice (Umhlanga Rocks)
A favourite for special occasions. Perfectly plump Mozambique langoustines and Creole-style langoustine curries are signatures. Begin with tender calamari or the salt cod salad, and move onto octopus curry or plump barracuda bites. Fans also return for oxtail casserole, rabbit and duck à l’orange. The flambéed crêpes Suzette are an appealing ending.
Jack Salmon Fish House (Glenashley)
The focus here is on fresh seafood. The salmon carpaccio is a beautiful start, with delicate ribbons and caviar jewels, but don’t pass up fresh oysters or plump mussels. The catch of the day is bound to be melt-in-your-mouth succulent, expertly grilled with lemon butter and served with chips and salad. There’s an exciting sushi menu, too. End on crème brûlée.
Butcher Block Florida Road (Berea)
While the lunch and dinner menu is the same as at Butcher Block’s siblings, breakfast is available here, with the usual suspects and interesting additions like jaffles, flatbreads and pressed juices. The oozy halloumi skewers with sweet plum dipping sauce and the lemon-butter calamari tubes stand out as starters. Choose your cut of beef, wet-aged for a minimum of 21 days, or broaden your view to oxtail simmered in Guinness or pinotage pot-roast lamb shank. Deep-fried Oreos are popular desserts, as are koeksisters and hot malva pudding.
Butcher Boys (Umhlanga Rocks)
No bones about it, you come here to eat meat, whether it’s prime rib, a great, big, juicy T-bone cooked to perfection, or sticky, finger-licking pork ribs. The starter platter includes delectable buffalo wings, boerie bites, chicken livers and flash-fried halloumi strips, but the rich, roasted marrow bones are irresistible. The boys pride themselves on perfectly wet- or dry-aged meat, as well as gourmet burgers, choice game cuts and the legendary slow-roasted lamb shank. Melting chocolate lava pud and apple malva with bourbon-and-butterscotch sauce are standout desserts.
Havana Grill (Suncoast Casino)
Steaks here are wet- and dry-aged, with field-to-fork traceability. Start with delicious salmon ceviche or tempura fish cakes. Big meat eaters with exotic tastes might try the camembert rump with onion marmalade or the jalapeño- and feta-stuffed fillet wrapped in bacon. Seafood is the other signature. Expect daily specials with seasonal flair. For a sweet ending, both the hot chocolate fondant, with its liquid Callebaut centre, and the pecan nut bread-and-butter pud with butterscotch sauce and ice cream are worth keeping space for.
The Joint Jazz Café (South Beach)
Locals and tourists are offered a taste of shisa nyama here, which features braai-style meat cooked on an open flame with a secret basting sauce and locally inspired sides. Cuts range from traditional wors, beef chuck and brisket to free-range rump, T-bone and succulent chicken. There are also burgers, wors rolls, and a hot bunny chow of the day. Sensational chicken wings, Durban-inspired tacos, coleslaw with candied pecans and yoghurt mayo are winners. If there’s room for dessert, banana-and-rooibos waffles with honeycomb and lavender might hit the spot.
Little Havana (Umhlanga Rocks)
This smart steakhouse is still a favourite and it’s no surprise why. Salmon-and-shrimp fish cakes, duck spring rolls, deconstructed prawn samoosas, roasted marrow bones and steak tartare are a handful of the starter temptations. Patrons have a dazzling choice of aged steaks – grain-fed versus grass-fed rump, bone-in fillet, chimichurri sirloin and entrecôte béarnaise – with fries, baked or mashed potato, or rice. End on a sorbet, cappuccino mousse, chocolate fondant or the ‘not quite a cheeseboard’ of caramelised pears, brandy snaps and gorgonzola parfait.
Unity Brasserie and Bar (Musgrave)
Hearty and unpretentious grub with a nod to Durban is what to expect here. Kick off with deep-fried olives, salt-and-pepper squid or sweetcorn samoosas. Carefully cooked steaks, spot-on ribs, burgers, pulled-pork sliders and beer- battered fish and chips are all winners. End on a beer-and-honey ice-cream sundae with peanut brittle. The cheesecake also deserves a high five.
This selection comprises all the Durban restaurants that made the cut for the 2018 Eat Out 500, the list of best restaurants in the country as rated and reviewed by our panel of critics for the 2018 edition of Eat Out magazine (on sale now). But we know the city is crammed with loads more gems and mainstays that didn’t crack the nod. Please tell us about your favourites in the comments.