You get no points for finding a brilliant restaurant in Auckland; there are too many of them for that to be considered a feat. And a good number of them are offering world-class cuisine at very affordable prices. The predominant cuisines are ethnic and Pacific Rim or fusion, the latter being that variable trend of combining the freshest, high-quality ingredients with whatever cultural element (theoretically Pacific-based) grabs the chef's fancy. As you can imagine, the interpretations are endless.
Although restaurants are scattered all over the city, you'll find they rub shoulders with each other in the Viaduct Harbour area, in the Britomart Precinct, and along Ponsonby Road -- still the trendiest areas and favorites with big spenders. There is also a good haul along the downtown waterfront, at Mission Bay, and in Devonport and Takapuna on the North Shore. You can take your pick from innumerable Italian/Mediterranean-style eateries with starched white tablecloths and timber floors, and fashionable California/New York-style brasseries and elegant bistros. If you're looking for cheap eats, they abound throughout the city. There are literally thousands of places to choose from and you're seldom far from any of them -- Asian restaurants and sushi bars in particular.
If you've singled out a popular favorite, it's a good idea to make reservations, especially on weekends, but in many cases you can simply stroll and choose. Tipping is perfectly in order but is not a custom anywhere in New Zealand.
A word on wine: New Zealand restaurants are generally classified as licensed (to sell beer, wine, and spirits) or BYO (bring your own). Some stipulate wine only (and may charge a corkage fee), or are unlicensed.
Do the Hokey Pokey -- A blend of vanilla ice cream with pieces of toffee, Hokey Pokey ice cream is unique to New Zealand and was first manufactured by the Meadowgold Ice Cream Company of Papatoetoe, Auckland, in the 1940s.
In the Inner City
Sky-High Dining -- Enjoy seared scallops or smoked duck confit followed by roast filet of Angus beef at New Zealand's only revolving restaurant, Orbit, 190m (295 ft.) up in the Sky Tower, Victoria & Federal sts. (tel. 09/363-6355; www.skytower.co.nz). In addition to award-winning a la carte cuisine, you get unforgettable, changing 360-degree views. The dining room rotates fully once every hour. Admission to the Observation deck and Sky Lounge Café & Bar is complimentary for Orbit guests 45 minutes prior to dining, or after you've finished your meal. Orbit is open for lunch Monday through Friday (11:30am-2:15pm); dinner daily (5:30-9:45pm); dessert daily (10-10:30pm); brunch Saturday and Sunday (10am-2:30pm); and high tea Saturday and Sunday (2:30-4:30pm). Main courses run from NZ$34 to NZ$42, with a NZ$30 per person minimum lunch and dinner. Bookings are essential and all credit cards are accepted.
New Eats --Throughout 2011 and into 2012, you'll find a host of new bars, cafes, restaurants, and excellent food to go in the Britomart Precinct, which covers a block between Queen Street (behind the Britomart Transport Centre), Quay Street, Customs Street East, and Britomart Place. We don't have the space to list all the new discoveries here, and half the fun of any meal is discovering something special for yourself, so head for Britomart and look out for French cafes, delis, upmarket grocers, espresso bars, classy clubs, and tucked-away bars. Check www.britomart.org to see what's coming next.
A Cheap Feed at the Food Halls -- If you're after a dollar-stretching fill-up, the city has plenty of food courts, where even NZ$5 to NZ$15 will satisfy the hunger pangs. One of the most popular is in Downtown Shopping Centre, QEII Square on Quay Street. It's open Monday through Thursday from 7am to 6pm, Friday from 7am to 8pm, and Saturday and Sunday from 7am to 4pm. There is an international food boulevard at SKYCITY Metro, 291-297 Queen St., open daily from 9am until late.
At the Atrium Food Gallery, Atrium Shopping Centre, on Elliot Street between Victoria and Wellesley streets, you'll find everything from McDonald's to pasta, kabobs, Chinese, sushi, and a bakery. It's open Monday through Thursday from 7am to 6pm, Friday from 7am to 9pm, Saturday from 7am to 6pm, and Sunday from 7:30am to 6pm. Also in this area and a few notches higher in style is Elliott Stables, 39-41 Elliott St. (tel. 09/308-9331; www.elliottstables.co.nz), which is a little epicurean lane filled with over a dozen specialty food stores and restaurants. There are artisan wine suppliers, cheesemakers, sushi joints, a chocolate cake company, and French and Italian cafes.
In Ponsonby/Herne Bay
Expensive -- Also try the fine Italian cafe Prego, 226 Ponsonby Rd. (tel. 09/376-3095; www.prego.co.nz), which is open daily for lunch and dinner from noon until late. Lovers of fine food must try the culinary finesse of Sidart, Level 1, Three Lamps Plaza, 283 Ponsonby Rd. (tel. 09/360-2122; www.sidart.co.nz), which sits among the top ranks of Auckland's restaurants and is open Tuesday through Saturday for dinner from 6pm and Thursday and Friday lunch from noon. The Dining Room, located in Mollies on Tweed, 6 Tweed St., St Marys Bay (tel. 09/376-3489; www.mollies.co.nz), is the best romantic choice for anyone who believes dining should be a full sensual experience. It features neo-classical treasures, opera recitals, fine service, and food to match. Open daily from 6:30pm.
The Healthy Stuff -- Rocket Kitchen, 234A Ponsonby Rd. (tel. 09/360-8834; www.rocketkitchen.co.nz), is a yummy little urban food store selling great deli and takeout food items. Greys Ave Deli, 108 Greys Ave. (tel. 09/373-2908; firstname.lastname@example.org), provides all things kosher; and Ripe Delicatessen, 172 Richmond Rd., Grey Lynn (tel. 09/360-6159; www.ripedeli.co.nz), offers a wide range of takeout meals, salads, and goodies in general. It's very easy to find -- just turn into Richmond Road off Ponsonby Road and drive for about 3 minutes. It will be on a corner on your left. They make terrific treat-filled baskets and for a minimal cost they will courier them anywhere in central Auckland, so you don't ever have to leave your hotel.
In Mount Eden/Eden Tce/Epsom/Grey Lynn
Try One Tree Grill, 9 Pah Rd., Greenwoods Corner, Epsom (tel. 09/625-6407; www.onetreegrill.co.nz), a smart little restaurant with a cute-as-a-button bar upstairs. It's hugely popular with locals and has excellent service. Another highly recommended option is Bowmans, 597 Mount Eden Rd., Mount Eden (tel. 09/638-9676; www.bowmansrestaurant.co.nz), which puts many inner city establishments to shame with its top service and consistently good food. Molten, 42 Mount Eden Rd., Mount Eden (tel. 09/638-7236; www.molten.co.nz), is another suburban treasure producing great meals bound to impress.
Circus, Circus, 447 Mount Eden Rd., Mount Eden(tel. 09/623-3833; www.circuscircus.co.nz), is a little gem of a cafe filled with circus memorabilia and show posters, along with food and staff that make it worth visiting. It's open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Delicious, 472 Richmond Rd., Grey Lynn (tel. 09/360-7590; www.delicious.co.nz), is a divine little Italian that's big on melt-in-the-mouth handmade pastas -- the eggplant, walnut, and ricotta tortelloni with taleggio cream is to die for. The tables are a bit close but you won't regret it. Make sure you reserve a table -- and save room for their delicious tiramisu.
Expensive --In contrast to Ponsonby's artsiness, Parnell attracts a trendy corporate crowd -- the work-hard, play-hard crew. The result is icons such as Veranda Bar & Grill, or VBG, 279 Parnell Rd. (tel. 09/309-6289), where expensive Pacific Rim cuisine and a party atmosphere reign supreme. For an elegant fine-dining experience, head for Antoines, 333 Parnell Rd. (tel. 09/379-8756; www.antoinesrestaurant.co.nz), which attracts a well-heeled clientele with rich French cuisine and impeccable service.
Moderate -- In Newmarket, try Tasca Newmarket, 8/25 Nuffield St. (tel. 09/522-4443), for Spanish food; Caffe Massimo, 23-27 Nuffield St. (tel. 09/522-6700), has excellent counter food, a lively atmosphere, and big windows that open to the street.
Bread Bites -- In recent years, Auckland has been swamped with fabulous bakeries making the perfect crusty loaves for picnics. Here are a few of the best for you to try. Zarbo Bakery, 24 Morrow St., Newmarket (tel. 09/520-2721; www.nzbaker.co.nz), for tasty ciabatta and Turkish pide; Pandoro Panetteria, 427 Parnell Rd. (tel. 09/358-1962; www.pandoro.co.nz), for wild sourdoughs and regional Italian breads; and Wild Wheat, 811 Mount Eden Rd., Mount Eden (tel. 09/631-7012; www.wildwheat.co.nz), for sourdough and crusty Italian Puglia.
The Maple Room, 93-95 Upland Rd., Benson Road Village (tel. 09/522-1672; www.themapleroom.co.nz), scores big points for its tapas-style dishes and main courses like duck risotto and mint-and-chili lamb rump. It's open Monday through Saturday from 5pm until late, and for lunch on Thursday and Friday from 11am.Sierra Café, 367 Remuera Rd. (tel. 09/523-1527; www.sierracoffee.co.nz), has good counter food and their freshly baked pies, quiches, frittatas, and extravagant cakes make for an over-the-top picnic. Tucked behind the Remuera shops, the Thai Village, 10/415 Remuera Rd. (tel. 09/523-3005; www.thaivillagerestaurant.co.nz), has a nice ambience and can always be trusted to deliver an excellent dining experience. For a traditional French lunch, or cake and coffee, make sure you go to Le P'tit Pyrénées, 371 Remuera Rd. (tel. 09/520-2900; www.pyreneesdeli.co.nz). Their French breads and pastries are worth traveling for.
Your best choices in this area include The Engine Room, 115 Queen St., Northcote Point (tel. 09/480-9502; www.engineroom.net.nz), an award-winning bistro famous for its good food, personal service, and attention to detail. Eight.Two, 82 Hinemoa St., Birkenhead (tel. 09/419-9082; www.eightpointtwo.co.nz), serves innovative New Zealand cuisine, and is frequently noted among Auckland's Top 50 list.In Devonport, Monsoon, 71 Victoria Rd. (tel. 09/445-4263), is a snappy little Thai/Malaysian place. Because it's so popular, either go early or reserve. Devonport Deli Café, Victoria Rd., Devonport (tel. 09/445-7777), is a good coffee stop that's popular with locals. It's open daily from 6:45am to 5:30pm.
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.