This is an impossible list for a lot of reasons, but here’s one: we humans consume a lot of food. That means mealtimes have to be filled, over and over, day in and day out, leaving a lot of opportunity for culinary exploration. In food, variety is everything.
My dining calendar is crowded, popularised by the high and the low, and I can tell you for certain that there are many places in Auckland worth your time. It is, without question, the greatest food city in New Zealand, so reducing it down to a group of 10 feels a little bit crazy.
But we all love a list. So, while I’d encourage further individual searching beyond these, the 10 places below represent a selection of the restaurants, bars, and casual joints (in no particular order) that feel the most ‘Auckland’ right now, curated for people who love food, drink, and maybe a little something off the beaten track.
It would be a travesty to leave off this list the only game meat-focused restaurant in Auckland, where deer get carved up out the back and moreish venison hearts appear on the table for snacks. Cazador is a family restaurant; the current owners, Dariush Lolaiy and Rebecca Smidt, took over from Lolaiy’s parents in 2012. There are two options here,a la carte or feast, and we recommend the latter – hand over $80 and let food come to you. There will likely be Persian flatbread, their famous charcuterie selection, hearts, a wild-game main, and dark chocolate mousse to finish. Also worth checking out is the recently opened Cazador Deli next door, which does very, very tasty pies.
854 Dominion Rd, Mt Eden
Perhaps this is cheating, but it’s incredibly telling that all three of BusinessDesk’s most recent restaurant reviews (Gochu, The Lodge, and Ahi) are housed in Britomart’s Commercial Bay precinct. While it’s a place for shopping, I believe it’s the eating that really draws in the crowds, including the jam-packed Harbour Eats food hall, where nabbing a table to chow down on your hot dog from Good Dog Bad Dog or dumplings from Sunny Town is often a real mission. My top pick here is Gochu, the modern Korean restaurant that somehow manages to create its own vibe while bookended by two other eating places, and serves up considered, bold flavours.
Commercial Bay Precinct, 7 Queen St, Auckland CBD
There aren’t a lot of cocktail places that take their drinks quite as seriously – in fact, the only other one might be Caretaker, its sister joint over Britomart way. Deadshot is all dark and moody, a quintessential speakeasy-style drinking place that will make you whatever the hell you feel like. They eschew a traditional menu for a more personalised consultation and will whip something up to your specifications (usually strong). And, since it’s open until 2am every day, it’s a great option for an after-dinner tipple.
45 Ponsonby Rd, Grey Lynn
Auckland is awash with restaurants from an increasing number of regions in Mainland China, some hidden away in suburbs like Albany or Somerville, some lining the streets of the inner-city. But it’s still Mt Eden, specifically Dominion Rd, that’s the hot mecca of chilli-oiled noodles and punchy, refreshing cucumber salad, and almost no other restaurant is more a symbol of Auckland than Eden Noodles, Chinese or not. The storefront blares siren red and beckons with a steady line stretching out beyond the glass doors, and you’ll often spot high-end chefs downing a bowl or two of dan dan on their days off – always a good sign. All in all, it just feels good to eat somewhere buzzy that the locals love so much.
105 Dominion Rd, Mt Eden
How we go about utilising our resources – and getting the best out of them – is a big conversation in the food world, and Forest answers some of those questions with its hyper-local concept. The majority of the ingredients that chef/owner Plabita Florence uses are grown nearby, a lot just down the road from her restaurant at the Organic Market Garden (OMG), which means menu offerings change by the week, sometimes by the day. It’s a thoughtful, interesting way of running a restaurant, and having to react to what’s available often results in unique, experimental fare. Plus, that carrot fanta? Very good.
177 Symonds St, Eden Terrace
Mezcal is agave’s lesser-known spirit, related to tequila but not quite as discerning: tequila is made from the blue agave plant and can be produced only in the state of Jalisco, whereas mezcal can be made from any type and anywhere. It’s alluring and smoky, a grown-up sipping drink often paired with earthy worm salt (sal de gusano). La Fuente has a great range, for beginners to experts, with a knowledgeable guide on hand (owner Edmundo Farrera) to steer you on the right track. It also has an impressive number of international wines by the glass and bottle to drink there or take home.
Snickel Lane, 23 Customs St East, Auckland CBD
Satya Chai Lounge
The Chai Lounge is one of my favourite places to eat in the city, mostly because I always have such a good time there. Both spots – in Sandringham and Karangahape Rd – have a great vibe, with unnecessarily uncomfortable seats that only add to the experience. Go with a big group so you can order as many plates as you can, including Paneer 555, Vegetarian Manchurian, Chicken 65, and the Curry Flower (cauliflower). The lounge also does mean cocktails (at the Karangahape Rd branch, its sister bar, GG x Flamingo, is right next door) like its Spiced Negroni, and a humungous selection of beers.
515 Sandringham Rd, Sandringham | 271 Karangahape Rd, Auckland city
Mizu Bread started as a small kiosk at Japanese fine-dining restaurant Kazuya, with baker Yuko Segawa consistently selling out her selection of breads, sandwiches and desserts a few days a week. No doubt the lengthening lines told her she was on to something here, because Segawa packed up the cabinet and opened a stand-alone cafe just down the road, still in Eden Terrace. There, you can sample an array of baked goods, including mochi breadsticks, fruit swiss rolls, cream pan (bun), tiramisu, plus, of course, Mizu Bread’s katsu sandwiches, which feature the fluffiest, lightest milk bread, made to order.
187 Symonds St, Eden Terrace
Even if you have only a passing interest in Auckland’s gastronomical scene, it would be hard to miss Pasture’s rapid ascent to becoming one of the country’s best restaurants – and, in fact, one of the best in the world, according to Food & Wine magazine. Chef/restaurateur Ed Verner has also just been appointed the House of Krug Champagne's first New Zealand culinary ambassador. At this small six-seater in Parnell, you’ll more than likely find yourself with your forearms on the chef’s counter, leaning forward to watch the methodical work that goes into the night’s many courses, intrigued by how the ingredients might end up on your plate: pāua tenderised then sliced just so, arranged into a single textural bite, or fresh dough folded up then hand-cut into noodles for tsukemen. Now, with the opening of their cocktail bar, Boxer, a night of dining starts there before flowing on towards the Pasture room at Boxer’s back.
235 Parnell Rd, Parnell
Situated adjacent to the entrance hall of Flat Bush’s sprawling Fo Guang Shan Buddhist Temple, the Water Drop Vegetarian Cafe is known for its completely plant-based meals. Using soy-based fake meat, coconut-milk soups and fresh vegetables, its menu maintains much of the same flavour you’re used to of Cantonese/Malaysian food without any of the meat. Particularly goodare the Laksa Deluxe Edition, BBQ Wonton Noodles, and Goodwish Rice. What makes this place special, though, is the opportunity to walk freely (and respectfully) through the temple’s beautifully manicured grounds before or after your meal. Well worth a visit.
16 Stancombe Rd, Flat Bush
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