Wellington used to have the best concentration of restaurants and cafes of any city in New Zealand, but Auckland has edged it out. However, it’s still crammed with a variety that reflects its cosmopolitan population. Everything is within walking distance and priced for all budgets. The visitor center’s Wine & Food Guide gives an excellent introduction to many of the leading lights. Ethnic restaurants -- Turkish, Greek, Indian, Thai, Mongolian, Japanese, Malaysian, Chinese, Korean, and more -- abound and are found in the biggest concentration around Cuba Street and Courtenay Place. Cuba Street has become one of the hippest places to eat and a number of excellent restaurants and cafes there have loyal followers among locals. You’ll also find a cluster of newer eateries in pockets along the waterfront, near Te Papa. And don’t forget the suburbs: Thorndon, Mount Victoria, Oriental Parade, and Eastbourne, just for starters, have little pockets of culinary magic.
Situated strategically between the ever-expanding winegrowing regions of Marlborough and Wairarapa, Wellington couldn’t be better placed to introduce you to the sublime delights of New Zealand’s finest wines. It’s wall-to-wall food and wine out here -- go for it!
In the Inner City
Moderate -- If you enjoy Indian food, Great India Restaurant, 141 Manners St. (tel. 04/384-5755), comes highly recommended; it’s open for lunch Monday through Friday midday to 2pm, and for dinner daily 5pm until late. Reservations are advised. I recommend Ernesto, 132 Cuba St. (tel. 04/801-6878), if you want a relaxed, sunny cafe to read the morning paper. It’s a little more relaxed than nearby Floriditas , but the service can be patchy.
Inexpensive -- New Dynasty, 25 Tory St. (tel. 04/384-3288), is a great place for traditional Chinese yum cha lunch—fat little dumplings and the like. The Green Parrot, Taranaki and Wakefield streets (tel. 04/384-6080), is a backpacker regular that’s been serving up big, old-fashioned meals for over 30 years. On Courtenay Place are numerous kabob houses that stay open late. One Red Dog, 9-11 Blair St. (tel. 04/384-9777), has cheap wood-fired pizzas and good service.
This is my favorite bohemian part of Wellington with great food joints that shouldn't be missed. Top of the list is Midnight Espresso, 178 Cuba St. (tel. 04/384-7014), an iconic, slightly scruffy melting pot of people and color. Quintessentially Cuba Street, it serves fabulous counter food and espresso late into the night. Simply Paris, 181 Cuba St. (tel. 04/801-5486), is a French-owned cafe and patisserie with cakes to die for; I can never walk past it. Caffe Italiano, 229 Cuba St. (tel. 04/385-2703), has an excellent deli and a lively weekend brunch scene that often includes the Italian community; and farther down, the French-owned bistro, Le Metropolitain, 146 Cuba St. (tel. 04/801-8007; www.lemetropolitain.co.nz), has legions of fans that love the authentic provincial dishes and noisy atmosphere. Matterhorn Bar & Restaurant, 106 Cuba St. (tel. 04/384-3359; www.matterhorn.co.nz), is a popular, award-winning choice -- a dark, moody place where both the food and the service are superb. It turns into a classy nightspot after dinner and is also open for lunch.
For a laid-back spot to put a smile on your face, head for Backbencher Pub & Café, 34 Molesworth St. (opposite Parliament; tel. 04/472-3065), where you’ll find a great pub atmosphere that lightheartedly mocks the local parliamentarians. It’s best summed up as cheap and cheerful. In Kelburn, seek out the pocket-size delights of Kelburn Café, 87-89 Upland Rd., Kelburn (tel. 04/475-8381), which is open daily 9am to 5pm, serving great coffee and fabulous cakes.
Near the Airport
To call this area a culinary backwater is an understatement, and restaurants here seem to change like the weather. If you’re staying in this area, consult with the locals. The best option is Maranui Café, the Parade, Lyall Bay (tel. 04/387-2829), which is a quirky joint located in the distinctive Maranui Surf Life Saving Club building on the windy waterfront. It’s a terrific place for coffee, big cakes, and light lunches, and with gulls soaring just outside the upstairs windows at table level, you’ll soon forget all about the rush of the city. It’s open daily 7:30am to 5pm. Make sure you check out the historic surf club photos in the stairwell. Soi Café & Bar, 305 Evans Bay Parade, Haitaitai (tel. 04/386-3830; www.soicafebar.co.nz), is a new addition to Great Point Wharf. It’s light, bright, and contemporary, and a lovely place to unwind over fish and salad or risotto before hitting the airport 5 minutes away. As the name suggests, there’s an Asian undertone to the menu.
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.