Spotlight on Auckland: Where to eat and drink in the City of Sails (New Zealand)

Located on the North Island of New Zealand, Auckland is renowned as one of the major cities of the Oceania ecozone, an increasingly popular destination for those that use the city as a comfortable base for exploring the wider natural surrounds. The city is also a frequent stop for business travelers in the Southern Hemisphere, so it’s necessary to look at what to do with limited time in the city, and with plenty of options on the table, I thought it best to bring you seven of my favourite spots to eat and drink in the CBD and surrounds, based on a recent weekend stay in Auckland.

Better Burger

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Coming from Sydney, a city which has been frenzied over good burgers for years now, of course I was going to try seek out the best burgers in Auckland with respect to the little time I had to eat my way through the scene. Better Burger came as a recommendation from a burger-loving community known as the Fatties Burger Appreciation Society, being one of the most recognisable burger brands in the city.

Better Burger has two locations, a pretty ambitious name, and bright white and red neon accents making each store stick out. You can head down to Britomart near the wharf for the flagship store which operates to much later trading hours, or you can head to the hip and happening Vulcan Lane, which shoots off hipster-haven High Street.

The menu is the first thing you’ll notice before you enter, highlighting in bright red with the top option being a $5 hamburger – yep, FIVE DOLLARS. This could have gone either way – a burger that cheap indicates disaster – but praise must be given to the business, they’ve struck a nice balance between cost and quality using fresh, local ingredients to present a delicious, simple, easy-to-eat burger. 50 cents extra will cop you a cheeseburger too, and there are plenty of options to add-on alongside shakes, sodas, and fries.

Address:
19 Vulcan Lane, Auckland Central
31 Galway Street, Bitromart
Website: betterburger.co.nz

The White Lady

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Online documentaries have been made about this Auckland institution, an original food truck which has been roaming the streets for over 60 years. There was a time when the future of The White Lady was in doubt with an oversaturation of ever-changing food trends but the power of legacy kicked in at some point and the food truck is still going strong, parked up near the wharf at 18 Commerce street and serving out their traditional-style burgers and shakes all-night (and by all-night I mean 24 hours over weekends; until 4am on weekdays). Hot drinks, milk shakes, sodas, sides, and burgers feature on the menu, and even though their recipe may be a bit dated – closer to the classic pub-style burgers seen before American-style indulgence took priority – grabbing one of these perfectly decent, inexpensive beasts pretty much any time you want is something very welcome for the Auckland visitor.

Address: 18 Commerce Street, Auckland
Website: thewhitelady.co.nz

Federal Delicatessan

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During my stay in Auckland I spent three nights at the very well located Crowne Plaza Auckland, so finding the best eateries in that immediate area was my first priority. Luckily I was also attending the inaugural Auckland City Limits, where some of the best food outlets in Auckland had set up stalls. Federal Delicatessan was one of these outlets, and being a huge fan of New York style delis (Katz is still one of my favourite places in the world) I couldn’t resist working through their limited festival-friendly menu. Aside from the buzzing of headliner Kendrick Lamar when I left the grounds that night, I took with me a mouth-watering desire to visit the actual Federal Deli; it was an inner-fist-pump moment when I found out that it was basically across the street from where I was staying.

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Federal Deli has all bases covered: breakfast, lunch, dinner, and late-night; perfect for the 12am hunger pains. Their “Late Shift” menu on Fridays and Saturdays is an extension of their best dinner options, so heading here before they shut up at 1am and ordering some takeaway is one of the smartest late-night options in the city. On my first visit, I grabbed the Fed Grilled Truffle n Cheese ($10.50) and took it back to my room; the three-cheese mix (gruyere, swiss, and cheese curds) is incredibly indulgent and perfectly melted, almost gluing both slices together as the overwhelming smell of truffle salt smacks the nostrils. It’s oily and rich, on soft toasted rye; you’ll feel a bit guilty after, but it’ll be worth it.

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I visited Fed Deli a total of three times over the weekend, not able to get enough of their Katz-like vibes. The necessary Toasted Reuben ($22) is a bit on the pricey side, but it’s got some high quality cuts of pastrami on rye with swiss, sauerkraut, mustard, and Russian dressing. There are plenty of options here for breakfast to dinner, with a nice selection of cocktails, wines, and even some hand-crafted sodas from Wellington’s exceptional Six Barrel Soda Co..

Address: 86 Federal Street, Auckland
Website: thefed.co.nz

Tony’s Lord Nelson Restaurant

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Like the above mentioned Fed Deli, the Tony’s Lord Nelson Restaurant was another restaurant in the immediate vicinity of the Crowne Plaza, even closer in fact. Opposite the Skyscreamer on Victoria Street is where you’ll find Lord Nelson, and it was a happy accident for me stumbling upon this rather mysterious, old-world looking restaurant. Lord Nelson is open until quite late each night, and it’ll be fairly quiet the closer you get to closing time. On my visit, the British-inspired pub-style space was dotted with maybe two or three other groups of diners, providing at least some noise while I took my place in one of the empty booths.

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Steak is the main calling here, and Lord Nelson obviously pride themselves on different cuts seeing as the options are vast. There are many kinds of steaks here, but I felt like the left-field choice of the Shaslick Royale ($38) which is a massive skewer of juicy fillet and bacon-wrapped oysters. It’s fatty and full of smoky, rich flavours, the oysters soft while the meat is chewy. Other choices on the menu include oyster-stuffed Carpetbag Steak, and their pride cut Fillet Provencal with classic claret and bone marrow sauce. There’s also a range of pastas, chowders, seafood dishes, pub-standard sides, and other meats on the menu too, but steak should be the go-to here.

Address: 37 Victoria St W, Auckland
Website: lordnelson.co.nz

Ponsonby Central

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No hungry visit to Auckland is really complete without stepping into the city’s renowned hipster-full district of Ponsonby. The suburb is a long strip of some of Auckland’s most renowned casual and high-end eats and some of the best small bars in New Zealand, including oddity The Golden Dawn (more on that below), grounded by the popularity of Ponsonby Central. This is where most of the younger crowd spend their nights before pulling up at one of the nearby bars, navigating the well-designed mish-mash of both open-air and sheltered food outlets, designer shops, and pop-ups.

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It’s a buzzing atmosphere and it’s here that I finally found what I would consider (out of the handful of ones I’ve tried – a list that unfortunately does not, yet, include the acclaimed Big J’s) to be the best burger in the city, served up at the curiously named Burger Burger. You may need to wait for a table here, it’s packed at any given hour with the young and hip scoffing down burgers, truffled potato skins, mint coleslaw, and charred broccoli. There are six burgers on the menu as well as a rotating “Burger of the Week”. They use lightly toasted, fluffy and sweet buns sourced from a baker down the street, using meat provided by a butcher nearby; it’s all local here, all fresh, and all sourced with ethics in mind. The burgers are truly exceptional, best enjoyed with either a shake, a glass of champagne, or a selection from their NZ-focused craft beer list; get the simple cheeseburger with beef and consider yourself a regular.

Adjoining Ramen and Whisky bar Chop Chop is worth a look as well. The selection of Whiskies focuses more on inexpensive, casual releases, but going through this list won’t break the bank so it’s worth sitting down for a few hours and going through this odd but necessary combination of spirit and ramen. The Crispy Fried Jerk Chicken Ramen ($18) wasn’t as impressive as I thought it would be, but on second thought I should have taken the recommendation of the signature Cobra Kai Super Mega Ramen ($25) with a choice of crispy fried chicken, pork belly, or BBQ pork, with kimchi, mushrooms, and rye noodles with a Whisky-based The Street Fighter cocktail. They also do a mean soft shell crab bun! (pictured above)

Address: 136/146 Ponsonby Rd, Ponsonby, Auckland
Website: ponsonbycentral.co.nz

Golden Dawn Bar

As mentioned above, I was at Auckland City Limits for one of the days spent in the City of Sails, where the debut festival had a small, bizarre stage dubbed Golden Dawn. It housed some of the more experimental and raw acts throughout the day, but having not known it was named after an actual bar in Auckland, I wasn’t able to fully grasp the concept. That was until I walked out of Ponsonby Central, reeling from the weight of two dinners (I try to make the most of the short time I have) and was struck with the sound of loud drums and off-kilter jazz. It seemed like a house party from the outside, the windows were purposely obfuscating the inside, and it took me a few minutes before I actually found the proper entrance to what is The Golden Dawn. This space is dark, lit only by the bar with but a few people scattered around listening to the very loud, very strange sounds coming from a local three-piece perched up on a small stage.

This is a bohemian cocktail bar that champions live music and really knows how to make an impression. It’s distinctive, memorable, and the bar serves up some really balanced, full-flavoured concoctions that went down well with the head-nodding jazz. It was so dark that the bartender needed to carefully wait until light would flash over the bench so he could properly slice the ingredients needed to make me a walnut-infused, rum-based cocktail that was unequivocally the best drink I had over the weekend. I can easily see myself as a regular here.

Address: 134 Ponsonby Rd, Ponsonby, Auckland
Website: goldendawn.co.nz

Vultures’ Lane Craft Beer Bar

Auckland’s craft beer scene doesn’t seem to be as pronounced or well-rounded as that in Wellington, but at least they have this beautifully rustic, no-nonsense bar on Vulcan Lane, one of the city’s most essential laneways, also home to aforementioned Better Burger. Directly opposite the neon-lit burger joint stands Vultures’ Lane. It’s a sticky-floored, sticky-tabled, and incredibly busy craft beer bar constantly dishing out the goods on a regularly rotating menu of bottled and tap beers. You’ll find all the rockstars of New Zealand’s craft beer scene on here, including my personal favourite Garage Project.

Exploring the variety of craft beer seems to be a strong focus here, the menu detailed in information about each beer which happens to be on the taps at the time. The bar staff are busy and seem rushed, but are personable and friendly enough to talk you through the scene and the current brews that get them all weak in the knees. It’s best to hand over control to them and let the recommendations come out as you sit and sip while watching all the action that spills out across Vulcan Lane. Grab a burger from Better Burger after all that beer (or take a short walk to The White Lady).

Address: 10 Vulcan Ln, Auckland,
Website: vultureslane.co.nz