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Prepare to be surprised by the standard of cuisine in this provincial outback. For a town of its size, it has an unbelievable number of very good eateries. Andre L'Escargot Restaurant & Bar, 37-43 Brougham St. (tel. 06/758-4812; www.andres.co.nz), is an elegant New Plymouth institution; it's still good dining, but it's now facing some local competition. It's open Monday through Saturday from 5pm until late and offers reliable classics like filet mignon, confit of duck, and venison rump.

Tables Bistro  at the Nice Hotel (tel. 06/758-6423; www.nicehotel.co.nz), also gets lots of votes. Café Arborio, in Puke Ariki (tel. 06/758-4544), is an Italian cafe that gets my vote as one of the best in town. It's on the first floor on the North Wing of the museum and library complex and is open 8am to 5pm Monday through Friday and 9am to 4pm in weekends. In the South Wing you'll find a great spot for coffee at Daily News Café (tel. 06/758-4544), an espresso bar with a great stack of newspapers and magazines to read.

Another top-quality spot is Pankawalla, 85 Devon St. W. (tel. 06/758-4444; www.pankawalla.co.nz), a classy Indian restaurant that you wouldn't normally expect to find in the provinces. It's reasonably priced and is open daily from 6pm. For the best coffee, head straight for Ozone Bean Store, 47A King St. (tel. 06/757-5404; www.ozonecoffee.co.nz), open daily 8am to 5pm. Another good coffee and light lunch stop is Chaos Cafe, 36 Brougham St. (tel. 06/759-8080), which is enormously popular with locals and always has a lively atmosphere. It's open Monday through Friday from 7:30am to 3:30pm, Saturday 9am to 3pm, Sunday 9:30am until 2pm. Petit Paris, 34 Currie St. (tel. 06/759-0398; www.petitparis.co.nz), meanwhile, has some of the most decadent French pastries and cakes you'll find anywhere. Red walls and Parisian accents set the mood for a tasty light lunch that can include freshly baked baguettes, quiche, salads, and croissant.

MacFarlanes Caffe, 1 Kelly St., Inglewood (tel. 06/756-6665), 20 minutes southeast of New Plymouth, is popular for brunch. It has excellent coffee and a lively nighttime atmosphere on weekends. It's open Sunday through Thursday from 9am to 5pm, Friday and Saturday from 9am to late. To the southwest, Lahar, 64 Carthew St., Okato (tel. 06/752-4864), is a local favorite known for superb coffee and service. It's well worth the 30- to 40-minute drive.

For those in a nocturnal party mood, the moody, contemporary timber interior at Montrose Wine Bar, 49-51 Liardet St. (tel. 06/788-6596), should set the mood. And Frederic's, 34 Egmont St. (tel. 06/759-1227; www.frederics.co.nz), is a popular haunt for locals. It serves light meals - curries, salads, and the like - and is open daily from 11am until late.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.