Adelaide’s cafe scene rarely feels as ambitious as our restaurants and bars. But in the past couple of years, there have been glimmers of hope from cafe operators punching above their weight. No longer content with avo on toast, local diners are seeking out restaurant-level meals with service – and design – to match. And venues are delivering. This year we’ve been tucking into sticky, barbeque pulled eggplant and fried corn “ribs”; blue swimmer crab with XO sauce; and sandwiches packed with native produce.

Gang Gang

Parkside’s breezy new neighbourhood diner, Gang Gang began life as a Central Market pop-up before graduating to become one of Adelaide’s most popular food trucks. Its permanent space opened on Unley Road last month, tapping into Gang Gang’s winning formula – Asian-leaning, fresh, plant-heavy ‘burgs – with some notable additions. There’s a new brunch burger; katsu chicken and miso eggplant sandwiches; Indonesian-style corn fritters; and tortillas filled with shredded Balinese chicken and sesame mayo. Owner-chef Nina Hadinata is currently developing a vegan menu, too, and the kitchen has “a designated coeliac fryer” (so all the fries are gluten-free). There’s also coffee from Adelaide micro-roaster Two Fish and pastries from Abbots and Kinney.

Part Time Lover

This breezy Palm Springs-inspired diner – from the team behind Whistle & Flute and the Port Admiral Hotel – is one of the coolest new additions to the CBD, taking a disused glass-roofed gazebo and turning it into a beautifully designed all-rounder. It could easily have gone into our restaurant wrap, but we’ve included it here for its focus on daytime trade. The food is crowd-pleasing and thoughtful and leans heavily on Asian flavours. A third of the dishes are plant-based, such as sticky, barbeque pulled eggplant and fried corn “ribs”. To drink, there are beers and wines on tap and a concise cocktail list.

Bottega Gelateria

Bottega Gelateria moved into Henley Beach last summer, bringing the gelato-making process front and centre. Behind a huge pane of glass, owner Adriano Macri makes everything from scratch, by hand. Everything he does is on display – except the final product – actual gelati itself – which is hidden under lids in deep steel canisters (called pozzetti) where it’s protected from light, air and moisture. Flavours are seasonal – persimmon sorbet, or organic fig and ricotta, say – but the classics, including hazelnut, pistachio, salted caramel and chocolate are mainstays. Go all-out and have the inside of your cone coated in chocolate flowing from an undulating chocolate fountain. Or there’s the stracciatella strewn with hardened shards of it – Cottee’s Ice Magic style.

Banksia Tree Cafe

This 19th-century building has had a lot of lives. It was a butcher shop, the Brunswick Pier Hotel, a pharmacy and a short-lived hotdog joint. In early 2019 it quietly re-opened as an ambitious brunch spot under husband-and-wife pair Fabian and Halie Folghera. The menu deals in brunch standards, jazzed up: French toast with fresh figs, vino cotto, toasted nuts, honey, Australian river mint and pashmak (Iranian fairy floss); or blue swimmer crab with XO sauce and smoked hummus. Prompted by the food waste they’ve witnessed in various kitchens, the pair aim to make their cafe waste-free by 2020.

Saudade

When there’s only one item on the menu, you know it’s good. Saudade’s pastéis de nata (Portuguese custard tarts) elicit blissful eye-rolls from those who taste them. Portuguese-born owners – couples Carla and Miguel Alemao, and Mafalda Azevo and Joao Valle – quietly closed their original location earlier this year to move into a bigger space just a few metres away in Mitcham Shopping Centre. Now you can marvel at the tart-making magic through huge panes of glass behind the counter before you tuck into the impossibly flaky, perfectly blistered, deliciously creamy results. There's also locally roasted Segafredo coffee, Lobethal-made Besa Juice and Portuguese soft drinks.

Yeah Nah Yeah

Yeah Nah Yeah opened earlier this year in the site of homey cafe Nana’s Kitchen Table. It’s now a light, bright contemporary cafe with a blush-pink, neon-clad feature wall, sleek black furnishings, and dangling greenery. “I’ve been to so many [brunch] places hungover where there’s nothing [greasy],” Kempster told us in May. Here, you can replenish with a “big, fat” eggs benny; fluffy hotcakes; a hash-brown stack with all the breakfast trimmings; and popcorn cauliflower. There’s also a cabinet-full of ready-to-go sangas and muffins and tarts baked in-house. Coffee is by Underdale roaster Show Pony (a second, premium label by the illusive BLK MRKT team).

Abbots & Kinney

“I’ve always thought Abbots and Kinney was more of a suburban cafe; it was just situated in the CBD,” says Jonny Pisanelli. Earlier this year he launched its fourth location – the first outside the city – on Croydon’s Elizabeth Street in the former Red Door Bakery site. Pisanelli tapped Crafty Design's Candice Papagiannis to freshen up the vibe. The red door received a lick of pastel pink paint, and pink tiles now contrast with an otherwise muted colour scheme of black paint, concrete and timber panelling. Pisanelli’s signature pastries are turned out daily, along with pies, pasties and sausage rolls. There're also sourdoughs, ciabattas, baguettes and more baked in-house, as well as gelato made from-scratch. Find it out front in a gorgeous pastel pink gelato cart.

Billy’s Table

Billy’s Table – in the former Croydon Social site on Elizabeth Street – is a homecoming of sorts for owner Billy Petropoulos, who was founding chef at enduring neighbourhood favourite Queen Street Cafe a few doors down. A piece of Croydon Social remains – a hulking Corten steel woodfired oven out of which comes charred stuffed capsicums, blistered green beans, breakfast pide and Neapolitan-style pizzas; it’s wholesome, home-style cooking that doesn’t adhere to any one cuisine. There’s also French press coffee, roasted a few doors down by Willow Bend. There's dinner service, too, now that the liquor license is in effect. Expect local and European wines by the glass or bottle plus a tight edit of craft beers.

Octeine Coffee

Food and coffee seekers once had little reason to stop on King William Street in Kent Town. Then pizza and wine bar Pan & Vine and cafe Rustic Gourmet opened on the ground floor of the Verde apartment building last year. Now Octeine has moved in across the road. Owner Pete Mann spent 2018 bouncing between De Groot Coffee Co at Port Elliott and Seafaring Fools at Glenelg South, where he learned coffee roasting and making, respectively. He’s now roasting his own under the Octeine label, offering a seasonal house blend and single-origin options. Fleurieu Milk is the standard, but he has at least two variations of every milk alternative. The concise menu includes acai bowls, granola, and sourdough toast loaded with toppings, plus Portuguese tarts from Saudade.

Pippo

In October the couple behind Bowlsome, Public and Way Back When opened their seventh venue, a light-filled, pastel-clad all-rounder open morning till night every day. On Pippo’s weekend brunch menu you’ll find French toast with caramelised banana, pistachio gelato and strawberries; and a zucchini-and-chorizo omelette with toasted pine nuts and labneh. Pasta is made in-house and available from brunch until dinner. Larger proteins include parmesan-and-thyme-crumbed veal cottoletta; Atlantic salmon; and woodfired chicken. If you’re in the mood for sharing, there’s slow-cooked rosemary lamb shoulder, or a whole woodfired fish. For a quick snack, the grab-and-go counter offers sandwiches with charcuterie, and pastries made by in-house pastry chef Domenico Derosa.

Honorable mentions

Elementary
Elementary Coffee opened a second site this year – a tiny standing-room only spot at Adelaide railway station. It’s pumping out Elementary’s expert coffee using owner-roaster Brad Nixon’s house blend and a rotating selection of single-origin beans alongside grab-and-go sandwiches made with native ingredients.

Mornings Konbini
Next door, Mornings Coffee launched its third venue and a whole new concept – a Japanese-inspired coffee shop and convenience store serving pre-made sandos, onigiri (Japanese rice balls) and cheese tarts from Mr Cheese. The hole-in-the-wall spot also pumps out Mornings’ signature double-shot coffee, supplied by local roaster Sublime.

Real Falafel
Mitch Aldawsari produces some of the city’s best falafel. Last month he closed shop on his old Central Market stall and moved to a larger site just a few feet away. The new and improved Real Falafel brings over the existing menu and introduces Middle Eastern breakfasts such as shakshuka (two types – classic and “messy”, which is a scrambled-egg version) and an “Arabian smoothie bowl” with tahini, dates and cinnamon. There’s organic coffee, too.

Recess
The crew behind Bank Street Social opened hole-in-the-wall lunch spot Recess – just a few doors down – in October. The menu is inspired by the robust, nourishing food of Yotam Ottolenghi and Sydney-turned-Brooklyn chef Hetty McKinnon. Salads are the centrepiece: there’s a Thai larb; orecchiette with greens, provolone and chilli oil; and blackened cauliflower with pomegranate and baba ganoush. There's also sandwich options made with breads baked in-house. The Coffee is local roaster Soho’s Dark Horse blend.