Food and Drink in Auckland
Waterfront dining: Auckland is set on one of the prettiest harbours in the world and it's well worth exploring its restaurants, bars and cafe scene. Start by following sure-footed caffeine junkies to Mojo (20 Viaduct Harbour) where you can sit and philosophise over a piccolo or two and plot your next move on your Auckland offline map app. Head over to the Viaduct to The Crab Shack (137 Quay Street), where NZ seafood -- and especially the crab -- is sacred and you can twist and crack to your heart's content with no judgment from your fellow seafood lovers.
Sit amid the cool kids, drinking and gossiping, at Saint Alice, a waterfront bar and eatery looking over the Viaduct Harbour (Level 1, 204 Quay Street). Kaimoana (seafood) here is king so do order the fried oyster McMuffins with woodfired king prawns. Nearby at Hello Beasty (95-97 Customs Street West) is where you will find award-winning chef Stuart Rogan plating up pan-Asian cuisine that roams the globe from Japan to Korea and China then back to North Island New Zealand.
Masterchef NZ judge Simon Gualt presides over Euro (Shed 22, Princes Wharf), where locals swoon over dishes such as fresh crumpets with pastrami and salmon caviar and Hawke's Bay lamb rack. Gault knows his way around a bar menu, too, with fried chicken the go-to at sister restaurant, Giraffe (85/89 Customs Street West).
The Mexican wave has well and truly arrived in Auckland with a plethora of colourful places to choose from, hidden amid Auckland's extravagant rejuvenation plans. Frida (85-89 Customs Street West) is also on the waterfront and primed to charm: settle around a table in the colourful courtyard, which draws a lively crowd for its reinvented Mexican street cuisine. Try classic dishes of enchiladas and ceviche and indulge in a few Jalapeno-infused tequilas from the lengthy list of bebidas (drinks).
The Maori Kitchen (89 Quay Street, Queens Wharf Village) has its own hangi pits onsite and draws on this 1000-year-old tradition to deliver traditional indigenous Maori cuisine. Here, food such as fish, chicken, and kumara (sweet potato) have been cooked in a pit dug in the ground. Try the hangi tuturu (the works) or a hangi burrito, a mash-up of Maori and Mexican cuisine.
The 2011 Rugby World Cup gave the City of Sails a bit of a nudge in the right direction, prompting the redevelopment of the Auckland Art Gallery and revitalisation of the Britomart neighbourhood. If you do nothing else in Auckland, have lunch at Ortolana (33 Tyler Street, Britomart), which means "market gardener" in reference to the fact chef Jo Pearson sources the best local, seasonal produce from the restaurant's own farm. Try the crayfish ravioli, which is served wallowing in a shellfish bisque.
There are so many amazing eateries around the Auckland waterfront that the best bet is to choose what feels right for you in the moment. Amano is one of Auckland's top restaurants and the Italian-themed restaurant, bar and artisan bakery is where to go to see and be seen.
Bar bites are also big in Auckland. Settle in for the afternoon at Saint Alice (Level 1/204 Quay Street), a sun-soaked space down by the water, to enjoy share plates of woodfired broccoli or a roasted butternut salad. Expect a soundtrack of squawking gulls at Soul Bar & Bistro (cnr Lower Hobson Street and Customs Street West), a popular spot to have a beverage while watching the sun set. Vegetarians are made to feel more than welcome with a set menu of veg-led dishes such as the brassica bowl or salt-baked kumara.
To discover what's fuelling Aucklanders, visit The Parasol & Swing Company, which won an Outstanding New Venue award in 2018 and has a killer view over the marina. Yes, you can wolf down burgers and waffles, but it's the cocktail menu at this rooftop watering hole that makes this bar a must for merrymaking. Chat to the barkeeps: they love to tell a few tales over a tipple.
HeadQuarters Viaduct (115 Customs Street West) is a semi-permanent pop-up that aims to stick around long enough to see the America's Cup successfully defended in 2021. There are DJs here Wednesday to Sunday and crowds of sports fans fidgeting while watching their team on an oversized LED screen. But it's the white yachts bobbing on the water and gulls dancing and reeling that is the real lure. Fight for a table by the window and order Wakanui Scotch fillet alongside a Tuatara Kapai NZ Pale Ale.
While it's easy to bounce from one bar to the next in Auckland, you can also settle in for a rowdy session at Dr Rudi's Bowling Alley & Bar (Level 2/204 Quay Street). The two bowling lanes are free for all to use so the rooftop brewery bar can get raucous. Tenpin bowling is a sport that marries well with beer and finger food such as cocktail samosas and spring rolls, making Dr Rudi's one of the most popular venues for hens and bucks parties in Auckland. Those who enjoy a bit of performance art over a beverage or two will enjoy Holey Moley Golf Club (204 Quay Street) for rounds of putt-putt, karaoke and two-for-one hot dogs.**
Downtown (Big Night -- or Day -- Out): Harbourside specialises in seafood and the finest harbour views from its second-floor outdoor deck; definitely try to snag one of those tables on a nice day (or night). Locals unanimously recommend The French Cafe (210 Symonds Street), awarded two hats in the Cuisine NZ Good Food Awards. Don't miss out on the gin-cured Big Glory Bay Salmon (and a great local wine list) at the O'Connell Street Bistro (3 O'Connell Street), an Auckland institution.
Downtown's Sky City: This massive entertainment and dining complex houses some of the city's best -- and trendiest -- restaurants. Go to The Grill by Sean Connolly (90 Federal Street). It's got fabulous local seafood (oysters, king crab) and outstanding steaks with duck fat French fries. Depot Eatery and Oyster Bar (86 Federal Street) is a fast-paced oyster bar headed by chef Al Brown that wouldn't feel out of place in New Orleans. And, for romantic evenings, try The Sugar Club by Peter Gordon (53rd Floor, Sky City, cnr Federal and Victoria Streets).
The Neighbourhoods: You really can just stroll up and down the main drag in Ponsonby and pick an eatery based on your mood (they come in all shapes and sizes). After browsing the boutiques, which is in itself a pleasure, head to Prego (226 Ponsonby Road) for wood-fired pizzas. Options in posh-as Ponsonby include Malaysian, Thai, Japanese, regional New Zealand, French, Italian, and on and on. The restaurants are pretty much clustered in the 100 to 200 blocks of Ponsonby Road, which is just 10 minutes from Auckland's CBD. Nightclubbers take note: there's a lot of action here after dinner as well.
Waiheke Island: Waiheke was once famed as a nesting spot for people in search of alternative lifestyles and really gained prominence as a destination for boho tribes in the 1970s. These days, it attracts Auckland commuters and active types drawn to its great beaches and water sports. It also appeals to connoisseurs of food and wine. The ferry ride is NZ$36.50 (AUD$35) return.
VinoVino Restaurant & Bar (153 Ocean View Road) is the only place in the town of Oneroa on Waiheke that offers scenic waterfront dining. Order a dozen oysters, which are plucked from Te Matuku Bay, on Waiheke Island, and the "scallops from hell", which have a roundhouse kick of chilli. For a first-time visit to Waiheke, book The Premium Waiheke Wine & Food Experience with Ananda Tours**