Updated from March 2015 in March 2016 to include all the great places I visited on my latest trip back home and take off a couple that are no longer quite as good.
Fair warning… I ate out a lot during my visit back to Auckland. Partly this was because my sister had strong memories of the London food tour I’d given her, and was keen to return the favour. It was also a great way to catch up with friends (although I’m hopefully they would still have seen me without the inducement of food). And I was keen to revisit some of my favourites… I’d had dreams of the glories of Sushi Pac that were not disappointed. If you’re looking for somewhere to eat, I’ve listed them by Cafés, Restaurants and Other. I’ve also ranked them $ – $$$$ in terms of budget, and there’s a map at the end so you can work out what’s close to the attractions I recommended here. I visited everywhere of my own accord, and there’s nowhere here that I wouldn’t be happy to return to!
Little King, Milford is an old favourite – I lived two minutes along the road from it, although only for a few months. The coffee (Supreme) is strong and all three brunches were wolfed down with appreciation. My salmon and avocado was served on a chewy glory known as a Best Ugly Bagel and with capers, a nice additional flavour to this classic combo. My sister and her boyfriend split creamy mushrooms and avocado bruschetta to their mutual satisfaction. After you’ve dined, stretch your legs on beautiful nearby Milford beach, or with a wander around Lake Pupuke – a volcanic caldera! $$
Little Bird Unbakery, Ponsonby was top of the list for my sister Zoe, with good reason. It serves food which is mostly raw, organic, vegan, gluten free, dairy free, and without refined cane sugars or soy. You might be wondering what the waffles, acai bowl and chocolate cheesecake above actually taste like, with all that is “missing”, but I can assure you that they taste like nothing is missing at all! Given my lactose intolerance, it was a joy to know that I could order practically everything on the menu. I also loved the cosy but minimalist design and the attentive service. Seriously good. $$-$$$ (and worth it)
The face of someone about to face plant happily into an acai bowl
Federal & Wolfe, CBD is perfectly located for a quick pick-me-up of their delicious house Kokako coffee (and I can never resist the Zinger juice!). It’s also ideal for those wanting to spend some time relaxing with a good book, or soaking up the sun by their lovely big corner french doors. F&W focuses on organic produce with a “gate to plate” vision – they even have the names of their farmers on the menu. When I worked nearby it was a go-to for lunches out of the office, giving us food that was well-thought out and delicious. $$
Shaky Isles, CBD has a similar vibe, and also makes a great working space – I must have been concentrating too hard on the blog as I didn’t manage a snap! Their coffee is also super strong, and there’s free wi-fi, so it’s a great spot to fuel up while planning your next adventure. $$
RAD Cafe, Mount Eden was new to me and my sister, but on my must-visit list after seeing Rebecca from Runaway Kiwi’s post. Believe me, this lady knows both her coffee and her food, so I was expecting good things. I couldn’t go past the eggs benedict either, served not with your usual english muffins, but with potato gratin, ham hock, grated apple, and apple cider hollandaise. Yes, I had to take lactose pills for this one, but sweet goodness it was worth every single mouthful! I wiped that plate clean and then sat back, marvelling at how good inventiveness can taste. $$-$$$
After RAD, a walk up Mount Eden for the views is well-worth it… if you can manage!
Mondays Wholefoods, Kingsland wasn’t around when I lived in this super-central Auckland suburb – more’s the pity. Another spot focusing mainly on raw, vegan and organic produce, I love the emphasis on making these treats not just healthy but also beautiful and mouthwateringly good. It’s teeny, but a spot on their sunny terrace was perfect to while away an afternoon. $$-$$$
My old neighbourhood – and yep I’m pretty sure the sky always looked like that! 😉
Bambina, Ponsonby is somewhat of an institution and the perfect spot for people-watching in Ponsonby, also known as one of Auckland’s chief celebrity neighbourhoods. I wasn’t there to spot soap stars, but to catch up with one of my closest friends over this delicious rare tuna salad. You may have spotted by now that avocado is a common theme – not just in my menu choices but in New Zealand menus generally! $$-$$$
Bungalo, Northcote: Relaxed and casual, the food and coffee here is nevertheless top-notch. This beauty, The Fritz, is a veggie fritter with bacon, spinach, poached eggs and incredibly delicious garlic aioli. Bungalo is child and dog-friendly, with a big deck and views over to Auckland on a nice day. A great spot to chat for hours over coffee! $$
Big J’s, Mount Wellington: this burger might not look like anything special, but it’s actually one of the best I’ve ever eaten. From the hugely unassuming Big J’s, my sister and her boyfriend had been plotting to feed me one of their specialty creations for over a year. They have different specials every week – this is garlic chicken with prosciutto, spicy chutney, salad, and aioli. So good! Eaten on a picnic rug at the nearby Waiatarua Reserve, it was perfection. $
Little & Friday, Belmont: Famous for their baked goods, particularly the pictured doughnuts, Little & Friday is equally good for savoury treats too. I like to visit the original in Belmont and perch on one of their long benches in the sunshine, if it’s around. There’s also branches in Newmarket, Ponsonby and the CBD for those who can’t make it across the Harbour Bridge. It’s also a very popular gift to bring new parents – that sugar-hit is ideal! $$
Honey, Takapuna: not only are the interiors of this gorgeous wee cafe an Instagrammer’s dream, but the food was delicious too. Centrally located in Takapuna, it was bustling but not manic on the weekend we visited. Most unusually for me, I branched out from my standard brunch choices (although not completely, there is avocado) to try their chicken tacos with aioli, spicy chutney and kimchi. I was so glad I did as it was so tasty! $-$$
Takapuna Beach Cafe
St Helier’s Bay Cafe
Takapuna Beach Cafe, Takapuna may be a cafe by name and serve a scrummy scoop of gelato at the store counter, but the quality and flavours of its brunches and main meals push it into restaurant territory in my books. I had the market fish, on this occasion John Dory, with courgette, barley and pine nuts, and an avocado jus. It was mindblowingly good, and it was a seriously sad moment when I had to admit the huge portion defeated me. Fantastic food coupled with its stunning position at one tip of Takapuna Beach mean it gets packed, but is worth a wait. If you’re looking for a similar experience in central Auckland, the Store and St Heliers Bay Cafe & Bistro are both run by the same group and just as good. $$$
Orleans, CBD was so good I nearly forgot to grab a snap at all – and I do apologise for the quality. Hopefully you can still make out the fried chicken with waffles, curly fries, jambalaya and po’ boys that had me scrabbling for my fork, rather than my camera. Orleans espouses soul food and live music, and while it’s nothing fancy, it was rib-stickingly good. $$
The Don, CBD is another old reliable favourite that I’ve been a fan of since my first weeks at university. Tucked down some stairs off central High Street, it serves a wide range of Japanese food, although I can almost never go past the katsu donburi. Fast and cheap, the service is always warm and welcoming, and they’re more than happy for a group of friends to laugh and catchup for hours at a time! $
The Cav, Ponsonby: a bit of an Auckland institution, the new-to-me refit of this grand dame of a pub has been joined by a complete menu overhaul making it a fantastic destination. This prawn and avocado salad was delicious – and just look at that view! The Cav has been around for 150 years and if they keep this up, it should continue at least that long again. $$
Provenance, Waimauku: yes, I’ve already tantalised you with a pic of this incredible cheesecake in my Cascades post, but it’s too good not to share twice. Provenance’s amazing meals focus on fresh produce, sustainably sourced – much of it from their gardens and the local area. The snapper on grains melted in my mouth and I was insanely jealous of Mum’s cheesecake – but at least I got to enjoy its beauty! $$-$$$
Engine Room, Northcote Point is consistently voted one of the best restaurants in Auckland – and well worth travelling over the Harbour Bridge for! Set in an old Post Office, the service is impeccable, while the food itself is virtually flawless. I had a seafood night, starting with hapuka kokoda – a meaty fish set off by a zingy coconut broth. Next up, after spotting it at the neighbouring table I couldn’t go past this beauty of a salmon fillet, paired with quinoa, fennel, tahini and pomegranate. The flavours melded perfectly and I was rolled home absolutely content. $$$$
Sushi Pac, CBD may not look like much, but you’ll be hard put to find tastier takeaway sushi in central Auckland, in my opinion. The rolls are fresh and humongous – the above kept me going for a long afternoon of cricket-watching. The flavours are hugely varied, from the giant spicy chicken roll to tempura prawn or mushroom. It’s takeaway, so you can pick exactly what you’d like and then munch it on the nearby waterfront or one of the squares tucked into the skyscrapers that surround it. Yum! $
Brothers Beer, CBD is part of the hugely popular City Works Depot, which opened not long before I left Auckland two years ago. There’s everything from the previously mentioned Best Ugly Bagels to cafes to a gorgeous beauty salon… but if that’s all sounding a bit lacking in thirst-quenching ability, head to Brothers. This brewery sells over 200 varieties of beer and has 18 on tap – more than enough selection for me! I was very happy in my choice of their IPA, selected after a few tastings courtesy of the friendly bartender. The quirky decor and great atmosphere would make it the perfect choice for a lazy afternoon or to kick off a big night. $$
La Cigale French Market, Parnell is another Auckland classic spot – but one I’d never managed to make it to in all my years living in the city! Sometimes it really does take revisiting a place with a tourist’s eyes, huh?! La Cigale is inspired by French food markets and boasts a wide variety of fresh produce, coupled with bakeries, butchers, cheesemakers, wineries, and many more. I was seized with massive food indecision when I went, but ended up opting for the decidedly un-French but tasty pulled pork taco. I will have to go back for some of those pastries! $-$$
Now, I’ve really saved the best, the most epic, and certainly the most gluttonous for last. When Zoe and her boyfriend proposed what we crowned the Ponsonby Central Food Challenge, I said it couldn’t be done. Four restaurants, in one night? Plus drinks? No way. And (to the sound of buttons popping off our waistlines) I was proven right. But we still gave it a (questionably) commendable effort – sharing between us their top picks at three spots in the dining and entertainment hotspot of Ponsonby Central. First up was the authentic Neapolitan experience at Dante’s, where the simple Marinara is elevated to an art-form – it is officially New Zealand’s best pizza. Then came the meaty goodness of El Sizzling Chorizo, where the meat platter provoked the first questions about whether we’d meet our goal of the night – even shared between three it was huge, and the chimichurri had our tastebuds in ecstasy. After a suitable pause, it was time for Burger Burger. Tom and I had somewhat of a brain freeze and agreed that kumara (sweet potato) fries HAD to be ordered along with half a burger each… a serious mistake. While the burgers were amazing, that was as far as we made it… the gluttony dream was over. Valuable lessons were learnt, and some seriously tasty food was had – which was reward in itself.
And there you have it – my top personal recommendations from March 2015 and January 2016. I’ve always got more suggestions, so feel free to ask! If you liked this, make sure to check out my other Eating My Way Around posts here.