Auckland is a summer city, there’s no doubt about it.
We really come alive on sunny days. That’s when we’re at our best. The rest of the time, we grump and groan.
And one of the best things about summer is outdoor dining. It warms my heart to see street food starting to infiltrate the CBD. It’s like our city is finally growing up.
My new favourite street eats can be found on Shortland St at District Five. You can’t miss it – it’s basically adjacent to that big, slightly skeevy carpark that sits between Fort St and Shortland St.
I’ve been on a mission to find a good banh mi sandwich in Auckland, and had had a string of miserable failures. Sorry, guys. There’s too many Pakehas trying, and not delivering. I won’t name names, though.
While there is a white dude manning the till at District Five, all the other staff are Asian (and, presumably/hopefully, Vietnamese). And I’m pleased to say they do a pretty awesome banh mi. Every element hits all the right notes. It put a smile – nay, a BEAM – on my jaded face.
I wouldn’t rate the pho as highly, but I would order it again. I remember those first few delicious soups in Ho Chi Minh so well – having fallen sick as soon as we crossed into Vietnam, I couldn’t finish the bowl in front of me. But good god, was it sublime, full of subtle and delicate flavours and bursting with freshness.
I’m not much of a small town person, and one of the reasons for that is simply that I love food. And usually, cities are where it’s at for eating.
But the West Coast surprised me with amazingly simple, fresh pub grub and café eats. (I already raved about the degustation dinner at Te Waonui.) If you’re ever travelling up or down the coast, here are a few places I heartily recommend.
We arrived in Greymouth around lunchtime on a Sunday on the TranzAlpine only to find most of the town shut. One place that was open was Freddy’s, tucked away upstairs on Mackay St. A couple of doors down was a chain cafe that we actually spotted first, but when faced with a franchise vs an indie? I’ll almost always try the local offering.
While the sweet treats in the cabinet looked tempting, what we really needed was a proper lunch. I went for the classic fish and chips and was not disappointed. Generous plate, with a side salad to boot. If I recall right, my lunch buddy had the whitebait fritter special – not as big but apparently excellent.
We decided to follow the path of least resistance and dine in. If you’ve got the dosh and the desire for a somewhat upmarket dinner experience, the Ocean View restaurant is the way to go. But we wanted something more casual and a little cheaper, so we opted for the Coasters bar (it’s in the building in front). There were locals winding down with a beer after work, and a wall paying homage to local sporting talent that have done the town proud over the years.
I ordered the paprika hotpot, which arrived steaming and topped off with a fluffy pie crust. I’m still not quite sure how you’re supposed to actually go about eating a dish like that, but I think a bit of mess is inevitable.
Afterwards, it was back to my room for a soak in the spa bath while listening to my happy playlist on Spotify.
Donaldo’s is a neat spot in Westport – Carter’s Beach to be specific – looking out to the ocean that was humming with locals when we popped in for dinner.
I must confess, I don’t really get the appeal of whitebait. But I figured I’d give it another shot while I was here. It was prime whitebaiting season, after all – what better time to sample it? And while the whitebait fritters were crazy fresh, I can’t lie … I still think whitebait is plain and boring, no matter how much lemon or salt you add. But hey, a lot of people love it.
In short: whitebait ain’t for me, but this is a great place to eat whitebait if you do.
Denniston Dog, in the main Westport township, came highly recommended. We wound up eating here not once but twice – first, an early breakfast, then for afternoon tea in anticipation of the plane ride home.
I’m personally leery of anything Mexican down under, but my buddy had the breakfast quesadilla and had good things to say about it. I went for the breakfast stack myself and was absolutely blown away – every aspect was out of this world. I cannot fault the crispy hash brown, the perfectly poached egg, the hollandaise or any of the accompanying veggies. Also recommended: the cabinet snacks and the fresh fruit smoothies.
Ever find yourself doing the weekly grocery shop on autopilot, stuck in a rut?
It’s very much a first world problem, but one we’re particularly prone to.
Food delivery services are starting to take off here, and there’s now a number of different companies doing produce delivery boxes.
Probably the biggest one, in Auckland anyway, is Ooooby. So we figured we’d start our experiment there.
Ooooby has a range of different box options, with varying prices based on amounts and whether the contents are wholly organic or not. Bonus: they also sell a bunch of other yummy goodies that you can add to your order, from breads to spreads and cordials to coffee (the ciabatta is delicious!).
All went well. Although broccoli was included in that first week’s contents, I was able to email the team to get it blacklisted for our account and swapped out for something else. And when I realised I had put in the wrong address (the house behind us), I emailed them to change that and they were super responsive. The box turned up, on schedule, packed with goodies.
And I mean PACKED. I’ll be honest – we eat a lot healthier than we used to but probably still nowhere near 5+ a day. And the small, couples-sized Lil Mix box was still too much for us. So we changed to fortnightly instead of weekly delivery.
A couple of other things became apparent:
1) The only delivery day to our area (mid week) was just not meshing well with our food routine, which includes main grocery shopping at the weekend
2) The lack of customisation was actually a bit much for us. We thought we wanted to totally be surprised every week, but in truth we want a bit of control
I figured we’d try out a different company; Foodbox was another I’d had my eye on.
Nothing against Ooooby at all – zero complaints! – but for us, Foodbox turned out to be a better fit in this instance. They deliver to our area on Mondays, which goes well with our weekend grocery shop, and they allow personalisation of your delivery, with easy online account management on the website.
An email goes out on Friday summarising what’s in the next box. I log in, and from there I can change the quantities of each to suit (and set rules like ‘never include this’ or ‘always include this’), as well as add on other extra produce items that happen to be available but not part of that week’s bundle.
They’ve also just teamed up with Neat Meat to offer meat packs, so we may be giving that a whirl soon too.
What do I like about produce delivery boxes? Obviously, convenience is the number one factor. You don’t have to think too much about it, and it comes to your doorstep – generally for about the same cost as buying from a normal shop (Examples: $2.79 for a bunch of asparagus or $1.99 for a kilo of potatoes; however spring onions and cucumbers tend to be on the expensive end). You’re supporting local business (though we mostly get produce from FruitWorld, which as far as I know is local). Everything is fresh – occasionally too fresh? Hah.
Speaking of freshness, one downside is that you obviously don’t get to handpick items (and this has always been my reservation about online food shopping). For example, once we got a few avocadoes, none of which were ready to eat yet. We’d planned to use them that day or next but had to wait until later in the week. Also, I had expected to receive, say, one exotic item a week, but that hasn’t really happened. The most exciting thing to date we’ve received is some sort of kale.
… You may become a gastronomic snob and forever struggle to fulfil your cravings at home.
We have a lot of great Asian cuisine in Auckland, but pickin’s are a bit slim on some of the other fronts.
I’ve ranted on here enough times about it; I won’t blather on about the nonexistent Mexican scene anymore. I do think we can do better on the North American front overall, though. Americana seems to be the latest fad, but having so recently been through the US I just can’t get excited about most of the new options here (to say nothing of the portion sizes).
But the biggest letdown I’ve had came a few weeks ago, when we bought ostensibly fresh burrata from the Parnell farmer’s market. Now, it was made locally, by genuine Italians, but it was so far off the mark compared to what we ate in Italy. Consider the difference between good and bad squid – lightly cooked vs rubbery and tough. This burrata was stringy and dryish – edible, but a pale imitation.
My twenties have seen me become a lot more picky about food. I’m more concerned with taste and quality than price these days, even moreso after returning from our travels. Sorry to everyone who eats out with me – I know I’m a high maintenance nightmare these days…
Anyway, as a result my regular grocery shopping habits have definitely changed.
I’m a cereal fiend. But while I used to subsist off Cocoa Puffs, Chex and the occasional box of Nutri Grain, nowdays I buy more muesli-style cereal (the flakey type, not the oaty type). It’s a bit hard to swallow when these are often more than $5 a box, but it’s filling and healthy and I can usually find at least one variety on special in any given week.
The so-called supermarket ‘bread wars’ have seen home brand bread loaves return to $1 a loaf, but I’m trying to stick to buying quality loaves for the most part. Better bread is way more expensive, but goes a longer way and is better for us. I’m talking brown, grainy and or seedy, rather than the cheap, super refined white stuff.
I have a new pantry staple. It’s not as crucial as, say, flour or chicken stock or whatever, but it’s definitely a regular in the rotation. What am I talking about? Roasted peppers. A jar, as far as I can tell, doesn’t really work out much expensive than buying individual capsicums and then going through the trouble of roasting them. Having them on demand is amazing. (We once tried this with pre-minced garlic but weren’t really fans – fresh garlic definitely beats the convenience of the jar for us.)
Even before we left to travel, I knew we were missing out on good Mexican food here. Mexican Cafe and Mexicali Fresh? Blah. Mexican Specialities also underwhelmed us. Ahsi Itzcali closed down awhile ago. There are plenty of trendy new-ish Mexican restaurants in town, many of which I’ve tried and been impressed by, but they’re all at the gourmet end of the market. I just want a simple big plate of rice, refried beans, salad and a burrito. That ain’t gonna happen here, though. (Those closest we’ve gotten to scratching that itch, if you’re interested, is with the burritos at new chain Mad Mex.)
Seriously, if anyone is keen to move to Auckland and start a humble Mexican neighbourhood joint (nothing fancy; a beans’n’rice type place, as a worldly acquaintance of mine puts it) you would have no competition. Would the margins work? I dunno; the hospitality business is a lean, tough one. But T and I would be your most loyal customers and I’d take it upon myself to spread the gospel and convert newbies.
Anyway, in the meantime I’ve been forced to try to learn to make good Mexican at home. I’ve found pinto beans at East West Organics, around the corner from my house (they also sell other interesting things I’ve read about online but never seen in shops here, like steel cut oats). Alas, they are permanently out of stock of dried pinto beans, though at least they always have canned ones.
But try as I may to make my own refried beans I can’t seem to get the flavour right (we’ve been experimenting with the likes of garlic, lemon, chili, cumin). The best version we had included copious amounts of salt and three grated cloves of garlic. How do I season them properly? What spices do you use?
(I could just buy premade refried beans but simply refuse to pay $4.50/$5 for a can of refried beans when plain pinto beans are at least $1 cheaper.)
I’ve had the pleasure of some pretty mouthwatering meals over the past few weeks. That got me thinking – where would I take you out to eat if you were visiting me (assuming, of course, we share similar tastes)?
The frugal food tour
Breakfast: Muzza’s Pies – because pies are awesome and Muzza’s is the real deal.
Lunch: Dominion Rd for delicious Asian food – whether it’s silken noodles at Shaolin Kung Fu, spicy pork mince dan dan noodles at Eden Noodle, dumplings at Barilla/New Flavour, or something else. There is no shortage of mouthwatering choice.
Dinner: Burger Burger – the best damn burgers I’ve ever had in my life. Bun, patty, vegetables, cheese, sauce – every ingredient is pitch-perfect and together create a completely scrumptious symphony in your mouth.
We have SO many good Chinese restaurants in Auckland, it’s hard to pick. So I figured I’d zero right in specifically on noodle houses. Shaolin Kung Fu Noodle House and its handpulled noodles are where it’s at right now. Bonus points for being open through January, when most of the other Asian eateries along that stretch of Dominion Rd are still closed.
I’m also going to put in a quiet plug for my new local dumpling house, Mr Zhou in New Lynn. Quietly, because it’s already getting popular and I don’t want it to become overrun
But the best of all, IMO, is KK Malaysianin Epsom. There’s a reason it’s always packed, and usually with a pretty good mix of nationalities. Book ahead.
Oh, and if anyone can recommend a place to get GREAT assam laksa in Auckland? I’ll be forever in your debt. That dish is getting harder and harder to find.
Favourite Auckland Indian restaurant
Again, so many choices, but I’ll throw my hat in the ring with Satya. They have a few different branches but I’ve only ever been to the Sandringham one. Satya gets an extra gold star because they put on a free Christmas meal every year and offer to send out vouchers to anyone in need.
For vegetarians, Jai Jalaram Khaman across the road is hard to beat. And for a meal on the go, the Pakistani takeaway down at the Mt Albert Rd/Sandringham Rd intersection is fiery and intense.
Favourite Auckland Thai restaurant
A local food writer once bemoaned the fact that there’s nowhere to get really good Thai food in Auckland. Now that I’ve been to Thailand, I am inclined to agree. There are still people who’ll happily eat at Mai Thai and rave about it because they don’t know any better. Heck, I used to be one of them.
But if you want better than bland and overpriced, try a food court – or head to Narm Thongin Roskill South. Delightful.
Breakfast is one meal in which I just cannot embrace the healthy option.
I can do muesli / oats for a while but eventually get sick of it after a few days/weeks and need to change it up.
I love cereal – but it’s expensive, as is milk. And too often I wake up at the end of the week, only to find we’re out of milk because T drinks the stuff like it’s the elixir of life.
Toast doesn’t fill me up.
My main problem with breakfast is I get hungry an hour or two later, so I guess I need protein. Now I’m back at work focusing and using my brain 8-plus hours a day, I’m also back to being constantly hungry, unlike while we were travelling.
Maybe eggs are the solution? The big trays are reasonably cost effective, and while I refuse to cook on weekday mornings, eggs are fast.