I’m a dedicated foodie and most happy when I get to discover great food or an exciting energy. You will often find me out and about uncovering even more of the city’s ultimate eating experiences or hosting food tours and events, where I can help to share Auckland’s restaurants, signature dishes and cuisines with like-minded foodies - Lincoln Tan, journalist & foodie.
I’ve worked as a journalist with The New Zealand Herald - first in Albert Street and for the last eight years at Graham Street - and one of the biggest highlights in the 17 years I’ve worked in the central city has been the endless discoveries of great eats. In fact, it was one of the things I missed most when we had to work from home during the Covid-19 pandemic. Thanks to migration and globalisation, you can now find great eats and dining experiences - some I dare say as good as their cities of origin - in the city centre. And even better, many of them are cheap and cheerful. Here are 10 of my most delicious discoveries.
Lunch thali, $15 | New Sensational Kebab and Fried Chicken, 51D Hobson Street
Diagonally across from SkyCity hidden by the building where Denny’s Restaurant is, there’s a newish eatery called New Sensational Kebab. So here’s the secret - they are co-owned by the same owners as the iconic Paradise Indian Restaurant on Sandringham Road and they serve a selection of the same curries! In India, thali refers to a set meal platter, and for $15 you get to choose two curries - I highly recommend the Indian butter chicken and chicken 65. The platter also comes with freshly cooked butter naan, fragrant basmati rice and a side of salad. Best way to eat it is with your fingers - so ditch the cutlery.
Chubby Boy wonton noodles, $14.50| Chubby Boy, 42c High Street
This new Hong Kong restaurant on High Street is by an old hand. Dickson Ho (Chubby Boy) used to work for the previous eatery Cafe BBQ Duck, but is now the boss. Besides the Cantonese-style roast meat, one of the signature dishes there is the Hong Kong-style shrimp and pork wonton noodle soup. In Hong Kong, this is the ultimate comfort dish - something people have to cure hangovers, heartbreaks and even back-to-work blues. Thin egg noodles are served in fragrant clear broth, and the wontons are of decent size filled with shrimp and a touch of pork.
Chinese burger, $8.80 | X-Burger, Shop 4, 18-26 Wellesley Street
Here’s a place where you can take a bite of a 2000-year-old Chinese burger that originated in Xian. Called rou jia mo, it comprises stewed and spiced chopped meat that is stuffed into a flat bread that is similar to pita bread. Originating in Shaanxi, Xian, this dish is said to predate the sandwich and western hamburgers two millennia. There are several places that offer this in the CBD, but my favourite is at X-Burger where this is the signature item. You can pay for additional toppings to be added to the burger, including coriander.
Takoyaki,$12.50 or okonomiyaki, $13.50 | Yooa and Tako, 1 Elliott Street
In Osaka, Japanese folks would find a seat in front of the counter and watch chefs cook their favourite takoyaki and okonomiyaki. Here, if you are lucky enough to get a seat at the streetside container stall on Elliott Street, you also get the bonus of being able to watch the world go by. Takoyaki are soft, round-shaped cakes filled with diced octopus and covered with mayonnaise, shavings of bonito flakes and sauce. They are eaten with toothpicks and absolutely addictive. For something more filling, have the grilled pancake, okonomiyaki. Okonomi translates from Japanese to mean ‘what you like’ and ‘yaki’ means grill. Made of batter with flour, egg, dashi, cabbage, spring onion and seafood or pork belly and fried on a grill, okonomiyaki is served topped with sweet sauce, bonito flakes, mayonnaise and pickled ginger.
Boat Noodle, $18 | Thai Time, Park Central Food Court, 11/35 Albert Street
It began during the Ayutthaya Kingdom in Thailand when hawkers would cook noodles onboard small boats and sell them to people on other vessels or on shore. It became one of Ayutthaya’s most famous dishes called kuaitiao ruea - or simply as ‘boat noodles’. Usually made with dark soy sauce and nam tok, which is cow or pig’s blood mixed in with salt, it can be an acquired taste. Thai Time’s version of this dish is absolutely delicious. This place is a hidden gem, you’ll find Thai Time in the Park Central Food Court on Albert Street where it is the only stall operating.
Khao Soi, $18| Mali Thai, 8/18 Darby Street
I was first introduced to khao soi during my travels to Kanchanaburi in Thailand, near the Burmese border. Unlike its more popular cousin - the pad thai - this Thai noodle dish is one less travelled and a rarity to find on menus of Thai restaurants outside Thailand. Mali Thai on Darby Street is one of the very few Thai restaurants in New Zealand that does them and boy, they do them well. Khao soi is made with two types of noodles - crispy and egg noodles - and has a smokey, coconut flavour with notes of cardamom, ginger, cinnamon and turmeric. It is served with a lemon wedge, chillies and pickled mustard. Mali Thai’s khao soi is on the list of the top 100 iconic Auckland Eats.
Roti canai set, $14.50 | Uncle Man, 100 Halsey Street, Wynyard Quarter
Roti canai is a ghee-enriched Malaysian pancake that is often paired with curry - although I used to love to have it with sugar as a child. Crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside, it is a flexible, popular choice back in Malaysia as breakfast, supper or simply just a snack. Yes you’ll see them on menus at Malaysian restaurants here, but here’s the thing - most are cooked from the factory-made, frozen ones. My favourite for this is at Uncle Man Wynyard Quarter, where owner/chef Amy Najib flips and freshly cooks the roti canai right in front of you. The roti here has a nice buttery fragrance, and you get to feel the texture of the different layers. The basic set is served with dhal curry, and you also get a nice dollop of sambal on request - gives a nice, extra kick of spice.
Biang Biang noodles, $14.80 | Biang Biang, Unit 203, 246 Queen Street
It’s lunch and show time! Watch the chefs and the fascinating technique they use to get the noodles to the required length by pulling, stretching and slapping them against the counter. This is a dish that originated in Xian’s Muslim Quarter and are called biang biang because of the slapping sound made when the noodles are hit on the kneading table. I have read and watched videos about these noodles long before I got to see them make an appearance on Queen Street. The noodles are thicker and wider than any other, and a biang biang lunch is a unique dining offering that’s not to be missed.
Ojingeo Bokkeum, $16 | Dong De Moon, 42D High Street
So you’ve had Korean fried chicken and bibimbap, then perhaps it’s time to try ojingeo bokkeum - or spicy stir-fried squid. If you’re searching for an authentic Korean restaurant, Dong De Moon is the place you head to. The bite-sized squid and squid tentacles are coated in slightly sweet, fermented ‘gochujang’ red pepper paste. The spicy squid is one of several lunch special options, and is served with steamed rice and two ‘banchan’ side dishes.
Xoi Man, $18 | Nam Viet, Atrium on Elliott Food Court, 21/25 Elliott Street
A Vietnamese friend once told me that xoi man, or sticky rice, was what she loved most and that it is a dish that is bursting with flavour. I finally understood why after having it at Atrium Food Court’s Nam Viet. The dish comprises white sticky rice, a spread of liver pate, topped with slices of Vietnamese ham, Chinese sausage, quail eggs, slivers of carrot, fried shallot and spring onion oil. To eat it, you’ve got to use your fork and spoon and mix all the ingredients up. It’s not on the usual menu at Nam Viet, but is served as a blackboard special ever so often. There can be quite a queue during the peak lunch hours, so just be prepared to wait.