Auckland CBD eats?
My wife and I are coming to Auckland 22-26 December. We're staying at the Rydges Auckland while there. Where's good to eat for B-L-D nearby? What's open during the holidays? Any hidden treasures we should check out?
Khao Thai on O'Connell Street is great. I work in the building above there and they have good menu, cheap prices. 90% of the menu is under NZ$20.
The bad news, part 1: topography. You'll be on the west side of the CBD; the food on the east side tends to be slightly better and cheaper -- except on the campuses, where the food is much cheaper and much worse. Separating east and west is Queen Street (the main street) which is basically a valley sloping down towards the harbour. So it takes more time and effort to walk from one side of the CBD to the other than you might think when looking at a map. There's also a north-south gradient: up the hill on Karangahape Road -- almost always abbreviated to K Road -- there are a lot of cheap and interesting eats, while by the waterfront most things cost more than they should. The good news is that if you're willing to walk, you can not only eat well but also burn off any extra calories you may have consumed.
The bad news, part 2: "New Zealandish" food tends to be much better in homes than in restaurants, especially at the inexpensive end, so if you want roast lamb your best bet is to make friends with a Kiwi. Otherwise, just look for a pub with a menu that interests you and take your chances. (The gastropub trend is just beginning to make an impact on NZ, but it needs to hurry up.)
One major exception to the above is Pie Mania (36 Wellesley St), the second-best pie shop in Auckland -- the absolute best is Greenland Bakery, but that's way out in Botany -- and conveniently close to your hotel to boot.
The other good news is that the average quality of Asian food in Auckland, including Indian but excluding Middle Eastern, is pretty high, probably better than the Bay Area (where I spend most of my time), though the Bay Area has more elite-level places. In general, NZ seafood + Asian preps = good eats. Your best strategy might be to go to the food courts; the best-known of these is Food Alley (9-11 Albert St), also near your hotel. I used to like the Indonesian stall there but I don't know if it's still good.
Some specific recommendations follow, but bear in mind I'm only in Auckland for one month a year now -- my last visit was July-August -- so I can't keep up like I used to.
For Chinese, you're not too far from Grand Harbour (at Pakenham St & Custom St), my pick for yum cha/dim sum. Holds its own against all but the very top places in the Bay Area. Sunshine (39 Market Place), its main competition, is nearby if you want to do a comparison. In the east CBD, Mei Long Zhen (9 Gore St) has decent Shanghainese, and there's a Sichuan place near there whose name I'm blanking on.
My noodle bar ranking on my last trip was 1. Men Tatz (east CBD: 28 Lorne St), 2. Tanpopo (east: 13 Anzac Ave), 3. Daikoku (several branches; the one I went to was at 25 Victoria St in the west CBD -- this was sort of an izakaya). Kiraku (Elliot St) has its fans as well. I have a hard time keeping the yakitori places straight but all the ones I've been to have been fine. Ditto for Korean.
Southeast Asian food is not as good as it should be, with exceptions. My top pick is Zap 4 (east: 6 Commerce St) for Thai; go for the Lao/Issan dishes on the whiteboard. Lots of decent Malaysian places; Angie's Kitchen (east: 17 Mount St) has the advantage of assam laksa. If Angie's is full, as it often is, Princeton Restaurant (30 Symonds St) for Cambodian is nearby.
Go to Satya for South Indian and chaat. Nearest branch is 271 K Road.
There are many, many doner kebab places and most of them are rubbish. Fortunately it's easy to pick out the reasonable places: just look at the meat on the spits. If the meat is sliced, it's worth a shot; if it looks like mystery meat, get out of there.
Finally, the two best Asian restaurants in town IMO (with Satya a close third) are fairly short bus or taxi rides away: Tom Yum Eden (257 Dominion Road, Mt Eden) and HP8 (49 Nuffield St, Newmarket, not the Carlton Gore branch). At Tom Yum Eden, much of the best stuff is on the Thai-language menu; if you're adventurous, try asking for the pad sataw. The Newmarket HP8 can get expensive (the signature water-boiled fish is $48, although it's a very large dish) but remains the best Sichuanese I've had, having never been to China (besides Hong Kong). Bear in mind that HP8's owners seems to be putting more effort into their more lucrative yum cha restaurant, so HP8 might not be great, or even open, for long.
Auckland is a very multicultural city, and with over 10% of the population of Asian heritage, you will find excellent quality Asian restaurants mixed in average ones. You have to seek out the good ones - My number 1 pick for Asian food in Auckland is Korean followed by Thai then Japanese. Auckland has 30,000 Koreans and they like to eat out - here are the best Korean restaurants with a few menu recommendations:
1) Nolbune Restaurant; 436 Queen St, City
This is the best Korean food in Auckland. How do I know? Because I worked at the Korean consulate for 2 years and this restaurant is the first choice of the Consul-General and Korean diplomats I worked with. The flavours are the closest to what you would find in Korea, and there are some delightfully unusual options on the menu. Also this restaurant has fast and friendly service. My recommendations:
* Ggotgyetang - spicy fresh crab soup with vegetables
* Ggorigomtang - ox tail in a clear broth, always tender and succulent, non spicy
* Daegutang - Cod fish soup to die for, aromatic succulent and spicy
* Osambulgogi - a medley of fresh squid and pork belly mixed in rustic spicy gochujang on a sizzlinig plate
* samgyetang - whole spatchcock stuffed with ginseng and sticky rice cooked in a clear broth in a stone bowl
* Naengmyeon - buckwheat noodles beautifully presented with fresh vegetables in a light beef broth, chilled with ice cubes - traditional summer food
On the more unusual side:
* Agujjim - frogfish cooked with bean sprouts, very spicy (not sure what frogfish is, but it tastes like and has the consistency of a freshwater fish)
* Doganitang - beef tendon slow cooked to gooey perfection in a clear broth
2) Faro; Lorne St, City
This is a new restaurant that has only been open for 2 months and has an upmarket contemporary Korean decor with loads of atmosphere. One of the few places in Central Auckland where you can get a traditional charcoal BBQ to grill your kalbi and samgyupsal at the table. I've only eaten here twice but had good experiences both times - except they were understaffed - I particularly enjoyed the galbijjim - beef rib stew - so it is nice for a more 'fine dining Korean' experience though the consular staff still swear by Nolbune's food!
For Thai - see earlier posts about Zap 2 and Zap 4, and Tom Yum Eden - though I would highly recommend the Thai House, 25 Ponsonby Road, for a more upmarket feel. Their Goong Share (raw prawns w/ chilli, garlic, and lemon juice is exceptional as is their chilli fried snapper). There is also a lovely Thai in Mission Bay called Ruaan Thai which is slightly more geared to western tastes but still good and is worth a visit for their exquisite royal thai decor, its very romantic and right on the sea.
I would advise to take care with other Thai and Korean restaurants in NZ as they tend to alter the flavours to cater for 'NZ tastes' and things start getting served drowned in salty brown sauces with frozen peas sneaking in ...
Lastly, there is an excellent Japanese on Queen St diagonally opposite Nolbune called TANUKI - this is where I head for authentic Japanese in the city - try their sashimi platter, beef tataki, and teriyaki salmon all at very reasonable prices. YOu could try ramen at Tanpopo, 13 Anzac Ave, City - however the best tasting ramen in Auckland hands down is in the northern suburb of Browns Bay, at 4 Anzac Road, Browns Bay. Their noodles are succulent with just the right amount of firmness, their sliced pork and soup bases bursting with flavour and quite how they can elicit such a heavenly flavour from a humble egg boiled in soy sauce i will never know! Also try their negu charshu spics pork salad if you are game to make the bus trip (there is a nice swimming beach beach there and an excellent French cafe with delicious Paris brests and religieuses - La Tropezienne at 92 Clyde Court, Browns Bay so it may be a nice afternoon excursion in the summer).
For 'NZ / european' style food in my opinion there are only a handful worth spending your money on in Auckland - they are listed in the top 10 Auckland restaurants on trip advisor - the French Cafe, The Grove, Dine, etc and are probably your best shots for this kind of cuisine. Not cheap but made more affordable if you are bringing $US. Happy eating!!
Oh one more thing lastly try Yumcha for brunch one day - excellent dim sums are available in Auckland - Grand Harbour is recommended but I find their service too slow and there are queues for tables - good alternatives are Dynasty, 57-59 Wakefield St where you'll just about always get a table or China, 2 Beach Rd under the Scene Apartment complex.
By the way, in the Korean restaurant if you are having BBQ, make sure to request a saucer of sesame oil with salt in it. Dip your BBQ meat in here first then in the saucer of brown bean paste, before wrapping it in a parcel with the lettuce and sesame leaf. if they don't provide these, demand them!
For Yakitori - Ken Yakitori at 89 Karangahape Rd or alternatively at 55 Anzac Ave, City; Tanuki's Cave at 319 Queen St (downstairs). For Teppanyaki - Daikoku at 148 Quay St, city :-)
Yes - thanks everyone -Ive been off the boards for a bit so when I took a peek this morning it was fab to see all these posts about auckland food!
Brigade- great to see you picking up on the Belgian Beer pubs - its ironic but whenever overseas guests are coming to NZ one of the first places I think to take them for real Kiwi food is one of these Belgian Beer pubs! They may be billed as "belgian" but they serve up probably the best value, iconic NZ shellfish dish - the green lipped mussel pots. Short of going to a local Kiwi's house for dinner, you are not going to find such great value Kiwi seafood anywhere else. OK so the beer is Belgian not Kiwi but with a few exceptions aside - Belgian beer is head and shoulders over the Kiwi stuff anyway - I cant think of a better combo than a pint of Leffe and a big pot of mussels - yum!
Brad - thanks as always for your tips - and dont worry, things dont change that fast around here so i think everything you mention as far as I know is still bang on! - sorry I wasnt able to hook up on your last trip but hopefully will happen when you are next back - must check your blog to see what you have been eating elsewhere so i can get very jealous!!
And Ssamjang - so great to see all your posts on the Auckland CBD thread - your expertise on Korean menus in Auckland is second to none - thanks for sharing your tips!!! Completely agree with you about Bongane being fantastic (thanks to your recommendation!) - have been there are few times but cant wait to try some of the items you have listed on your post - am getting a craving for Naengmyeon as I write...!
Personal picks going into the New Year - most of my all time Auckland faves have been covered already (Tom Yum Eden being probably my all time top auckland food addiction - their current special "Pla Sam Rose" - deep fried snapper in a tamarind/kaffir lime leaf sauce is spectacular as is the Prawn with Vermicelli - served in a iron pot with wood fungus - really really REALLY good!).
A couple of new observations:
- Kaya and Toast - a very unassuming Malaysian place right at the entrance to the (hideously ugly!) Sky City Cinema complex on Queen Street (right beside Borders). You will see (nay SMELL!) Burger King on your left - go through the automatic doors and immediately to your left you will see a small staircase heading to a tiny cafe- Kaya and Toast. As the name suggests, this is a cafe serving classic Malaysian drinks (Kopi-O, Teh Tarik etc - think they even do that iconic "tea and coffee mixed together" drink - think that its called "Chum" :) anyway cant comment on quality of drinks, but the food I have had is great - all the usual Malaysian tea shop classics - I had the "yardstick" dish (my personal measure of how good a malaysian place is!) Nasi Lemak - big ups for the coconut rice and lovely anchovy tasting pickle. Not a huge menu, very casual but definitely delivering the goods. Perfect pre movie chow down and runs rings over anything else I have had in the tres depressing, neon jungle that is the Sky City food court!
The other place I wanted to mention for a quick CBD fix in Auckland - and this will no doubt have me struck off any foodie list but here goes.... St Pierres Sushi! Having been to Japan and experienced the most divine sushi I have ever tasted, Auckland is, to be honest, just not up there in the sushi stakes! OK so it tends to improve as you move from a sushi bar/cafe to a restaurant (and SSamjang - completely agree Tanuki is fab) - its still at best a shadow of the real deal in my experience. I dont know why this is but suspect its something to do with the rice as the fish here is great but I just havent been completely blown away as I was in Japan.
Anyway I have slowly, painfully, come to accept the fact that Auckland sushi doesnt quite cut it compared with Japan (but please foodies, let me know if you know a place that contradicts my opinion and I will try) - and have lowered my expectations on Auckland sushi - especially when it comes to your "quick fix lunchtime" number. On the way down my "expectation lowering" journey I met St Pierres and was somewhat impressed- why? you gasp in horror?!! The first is price - every day they do a "sushi of the day" pack which is only $4.90 for 8 pieces - some days you want to run a mile e.g when the filling is crabstick - but other times you hit the bingo - esp Fridays when the filling is raw salmon. Turnover is high and the sushi tastes way fresher than any other lunch spot Ive been to in the CBD. But if you really want to push the boat out and try St Pierres at its finest, then ask them to make up a pack of something which isnt out -a good pick as I have never seen this one sitting there on the counter therefore always need to ask for it to be made, is the fresh tuna "dynamite" rolls. Whilst they may apologise for you having to wait while they make it, you as a fussy foodie will be smugly standing there, pleased as pie that you are getting to have absolutely freshly made sushi.
So, in summary, its not top notch sushi but the sushi of the day is extraordinarily good value (depending on the day of the week!) and so ubiquitous (there are branches all over town) its probably my fall back for a quick healthy bite to eat.
So strike me down....!!