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We Wellingtonians are pretty good when it comes to eating exotically. Even for the whitest of us, noodles and sushi are as normal a part of our everyday diets as the meat-and-potatoes of previous generations. We’ve long since discovered the joys of tacos and Thai green curry. But have you tried curried goat? Injera? Lechon paksiw? There’s a whole world of food waiting to be discovered here in little old Wellington, so pick a country, and go explore.
If you’re loaded, head to Hippopotamus or Arbitrageur. Otherwise, a crêpe or two for $5–10 each at Crêpes A Go-Go (61 Manners St) should do just fine. Or head up Willis St to French Cancan for expertly made pastries (seriously: co-owner Éric Hausser has had Michelin stars before) for a few bucks each, and even further up to Le Moulin for a baguette the way it should be: hard golden crust on the outside, soft and fluffy on the inside.
It’s simple, really. A bucket of mussels + fries and mayonnaise + fancy beer = happiness. They’ll probably set you back about $30 in total at Leuven (135–7 Featherston St), but totally worth it.
On the corner of Courtenay Place and Taranaki St, Tom’s Chimney Cakes and Langosh sells what could be your new favourite ‘drunk food’. Langosh, or rather lángos, is a kind of deep-fried flat bread made fresh whenever you order. It is gloriously crispy and airy, and it’ll only cost you $8 to have it smothered in cheese, garlic and sour cream (even less if you restrain yourself).
Italian is hardly ‘exotic’ these days, but its enduring popularity makes it hard to leave out. Certified by the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana in Naples, Pizza Pomodoro (down the alleyway next to Hope Bros) is undoubtedly your best option for pizza. $10–20. Tommy Millions, though, is an excellent late-night alternative, at $5 a (massive) slice on Courtenay Place. In terms of proper restaurants: try Ombra (corner of Cuba and Vivian) for little shared plates of Venetian specialties and a Mediterranean ambiance.
Just this year, two Filipino places have emerged, offering an intriguing insight into this unheralded cuisine. Smokin’ Hot Barbeque and Grill is a stall at the just-opened Capital Market at 151 Willis St – get a $10 combo meal of pork/chicken skewers and rice, some pieces of pork belly, or whitebait fritters. Add some vinegar/chili sauce for a bit of zing. And for around $10, Bola Bola (at the Left Bank Night Market) has satisfying meat stews like adobo and lechon paksiw and laing – taro leaves cooked in coconut milk.
Skip all the mediocre BYO spots (I won’t name names) and head to Little Penang (40 Dixon St), which specialises in the unique Nyonya cuisine of Penang, an island in northern Malaysia. Get whatever the special of the day is, and prepare to have your mind blown (the whole menu’s pretty glorious, really). $10–15. KK Malaysian (54 Ghuznee St) is also generally agreed to be pretty damn good.
Much like North Indian food, Thai cuisine in Wellington is largely a story of quantity over quality. No one place particularly stands out, so take a stab in the dark. You’ll probably end up with an adequate, or even a decent, meal, wherever you go.
With the proliferation of Vietnamese restaurants in the last few years, you really are spoilt for choice here. Little Hanoi (down Left Bank of Cuba) is pretty good, as is NAM (in Willis Street Village); they also have takeaway joints next door and at the bottom of the Cable Car, get the $8.50 ‘The Classic’ (bánh mì: a baguette filled with pork, pâté andother stuff). But wherever you go, phở (a beef noodle soup, pronounced kinda like ‘fur’) is always a good choice. Add all the condiments provided (very important), and dive in!
Sichuan food is famous among China’s regions for its spiciness, and although Tiger Restaurant (11 Holland St) doesn’t do Sichuan hot pot, they do have lots of exciting-sounding offal, if that’s what you’re into. Karaoke too. Sichuan Spice, at the Left Bank Night Market, has noodles, soup and dumplings with that famous Sichuan spice, but without any intimidating body parts.
For yum cha, follow my friend Gawin’s advice and skip the overrated Grand Century (84 Tory St) for Dragons (25 Tory St) or Majestic Cuisine (11 Courtenay Place). Go with a bunch of people so you can split as many plates as possible. For barbecued and roasted meat (siu mei), especially duck and pork, HK BBQ (14 Kent Tce) is an excellent and cheap option too. If it’s closer to 3 am, get your fill at KC Cafe (39A Courtenay Place).
We have the Taiwanese to thank for giving the world bubble tea, that delightful, colourful concoction of iced tea, fruit flavours, and tapioca balls (the ‘bubbles’), and sometimes milk. And Noah’s Ark Teahouse (Shop 4, 100 Tory St) does it better than anywhere else in town, $5.50–6.50 for a cup. They also have plenty of Taiwanese snacks ($5–15): chicken gizzards, quail eggs or pork floss sound particularly interesting.
If you’re a large, rowdy group looking for a good place for a BYO, with the thrilling bonus of karaoke rooms you can hire out afterwards, then Newkor (97 Dixon St) should be a good time. Their fried chicken is apparently amazing, and make sure you partake from the little dishes of kimchi too (spicy fermented cabbage, like more-exciting sauerkraut).
There are countless sushi places to choose from, and Hede (43 Cuba St) and Ozeki (ridiculously far up Tory St, amirite?) are ideal for rowdy BYOs, but for something a little bit classier, try the elegant, understated Tatsushi (99 Victoria St, $10–15), or head out to Newtown and slurp down a bowl of soupy goodness at The Ramen Shop (191 Riddiford St, $5–15).
For North Indian food, just take your pick: all curry places have basically the same menu. Try South Indian instead: friends of mine rave about Indian Sweets and Snacks (176 Riddiford St), or try Rasa (200 Cuba St) or Roti Chenai (120 Victoria St). Get an enormous fucking dosa (a thin, crispy pancake-thing filled with spiced potatoes/vegetables) or a thali (rice/bread on a metal platter with lots of curries/chutneys around the edge). $10–20.
Conveniently placed just down from the Embassy, but worth coming for even if you’re not seeing a film, Phoenician Falafel (10 Kent Tce, with a sister restaurant run by the owners’ son at 245 Cuba St) offers authentic Lebanese food – like kebabs, except really really good. There are excellent vegetarian options involving falafel and hummus and stuffed vine leaves, but plenty of lamb and chicken dishes too. $8–15. A $3 slice of baklawa for dessert, layers of sweet, crispy pastry covered in nuts, is absolutely essential.
Since the sad demise of Cuba St institution Café Istanbul, Turkish cuisine in Wellington seems to have been reduced to various indistinguishable kebab places competing for the same drunken 3 am crowd. The self-proclaimed “only Turkish restaurant in town” Café Pasha (62 Dixon St) could be worth a try, although the $20+ mains look a bit expensive. Just get Lebanese instead: it’s close enough.
Owner Barika Darboe may be from the Gambia, but as the name of his restaurant/bar suggests, Afrika’s (18 Cambridge Tce) ever-changing menu draws on a wide range of African influences: mainly West African specialties, like meat stews with Senegalese red rice or orgali (AKA ‘ugali’ or ‘fufu’ – bland maize starch used for soaking up food). $10–20. Also a great place to get your late-night funk on to exciting music you probably won’t have heard before.
The Meeting Tree (Shop 6, 100 Tory St) is the best (and possibly the only) place to taste what is probably the most famed of all African cuisines. Vegetarians and vegans are very well catered for (the $15 Vegan Platter is highly recommended), and everything comes with injera, a kind of spongy pancake-thing which is both a useful eating utensil and mopper-up of all those spicy, earthy flavours. $10.50 lunch meals with injera and rice are good value.
Contrary to popular belief, Petone, in the idyllic Hutt Valley, isn’t that far away from Wellington, and is actually kinda cool. A highlight is On Trays Food Emporium (38 Riddiford St, just off Jackson St), like a mini Moore Wilson’s of exotic food. Walk in the door, grab a free coffee, and let the lovely South Africans behind the counter feed you five different types of biltong. The ‘wetter’ the better when it comes to this delicacy, basically a way-better version of beef jerky.
With a big spit for cooking meat prominent when you walk in, El Matador (196 Cuba St) is heaven for carnivores. Argentina is famous for its asado (barbecue), especially its steaks, and here, there is even mollejas (sweetbreads) and morcilla (blood sausage) on offer for the daring; but there is also a cheaper, lighter menu of tapas-style dishes to choose from. Big sharing plates of meat work out at $20–30 each, with tapas more in the $10–15 range.
Take your cue from the name (Portuguese for ‘We drink’) and head to Bebemos (88 Riddiford St) in Newtown one night for a beer, perhaps a caipirinha (cachaça, sugar and lime) if you’re trying to be all Brazilian. A friend’s flatmate recommends the haloumi, but if there’s a few of you craving some meat, a big $38 sharing pot of feijoada, the seriously hearty stew of black beans, pork and beef which is Brazil’s undisputed national dish, is probably really good too.
Have you ever had a perfectly good hot dog, but felt like something was missing? Then what you need in your life is a completo, a Chilean-style hot dog smothered in avocado, chopped tomatoes and mayonnaise. N I C C E Food and Catering does them for $6 at the Harbourside Market every Sunday, along with other cool, cheap Chilean things, like empanadas (basically little pies, just with a cooler name), doughnuts and cakes.
Nestled down the Left Bank of Cuba Mall, but with a second location in Newtown (180 Riddiford St), Viva Mexico was one of the first and remains one of the best restaurants in the Mexican wave which has swept Wellington in the last few years. Generous portions of hearty, home-style food ($10–20) and strong alty vibes make it a deserved favourite. Friends who have been to newcomer Mexico (41 Dixon St) also highly rate the recent Auckland import. Either way, if you still think Old El Paso kits are ‘real’ Mexican food, then you’re in for a rude awakening.
This is my message to you: don’t worry ‘bout a thing, and head down to Three Little Birds on a Friday night (at the Left Bank Night Market). For $10, get jerk chicken/pork or curried goat (all spicy, delicious Jamaican classics) with ‘rice and beans’, actually coconut rice with red kidney beans. The Bob Marley references may not help, but this place proves that Jamaicans should be known for more than just reggae (and sprinting).