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shutterstock_153070277Once again its time to cel­eb­rate the qual­ity and diversity of the Wel­ling­ton region’s culin­ary scene, not at the amuse bouche and som­meli­er end of the spec­trum, but among those cara­vans, cafés, takeaways and tea rooms that offer excep­tion­al bite for your buck.

When we sat down to draft a list of can­did­ates for 2014’s Cheap Eats list, we were struck by the num­ber of excit­ing new play­ers. Once we’d expan­ded to cov­er the Wair­ar­apa and Kapiti Coast, and included some that were unlucky to miss out last year, we decided it would be best to have an entirely fresh, new list.

A year is too short to pick up on mean­ing­ful din­ing trends, but we noticed a few things as we were trav­el­ling the region. Amer­ic­an street and soul food, includ­ing Tex-Mex, Cajun and south­ern bar­be­cue, is becom­ing more estab­lished. Now that it’s no longer a nov­elty, diners are demand­ing more qual­ity and vari­ety, and the mar­ket is respond­ing. Wellington’s also finally get­ting some cuisines that have long been fash­ion­able over­seas, such as ramen and Ethiopi­an food. The glob­al trends towards food trucks, pop-ups and mar­ket stalls are gain­ing momentum here too, though they tend to be more soph­ist­ic­ated and cal­cu­lated ven­tures rather than a nat­ur­al out­growth of Kiwi eat­ing cul­ture. But what else would you expect from the culin­ary capital?


How we chose

The defin­i­tion of ‘cheap’ var­ies with con­text, and of course depends upon who’s pay­ing, but we decided that around $10 for a light meal and $15–18 for mains should do it, and at the top end we expec­ted some­thing spe­cial for the price.

We omit­ted chains, since we wanted to emphas­ise the unique and the loc­al, but included some with a couple of loc­a­tions that might expand into chains later. We wanted everything from sit-down din­ners to kiosks and carts, and we also aimed for geo­graph­ic spread. This year, we spread the net to include the wider region, cov­er­ing the known din­ing hot­spots plus a few out-of-the way gems.

In trim­ming the list to 20, we used research and crowd-sourcing, enlist­ing loc­al know­ledge to help unearth rough dia­monds as well as the old favour­ites. Some very good places were unlucky to miss out: in par­tic­u­lar, Pra­nah and French Can­can, because the former was still closed for the hol­i­days when I vis­ited, and the lat­ter was in the pro­cess of mov­ing to the CBD. Finally, it came down to per­son­al pref­er­ence and a desire for vari­ety, res­ult­ing in a list of 20 afford­able, high-qual­ity and char­ac­ter­ful din­ing places.



Golding’s Free Dive

14 Leeds Street, Te Aro

GoldingsOne of the well-known strengths of Golding’s is that it’s a place to enjoy Pomodoro’s impec­cable piz­zas while savour­ing fine beers and admir­ing even finer beards. But the small snack menu offers cheap­er delights, such as Reuben sand­wiches and ham and moz­zarella melts, and there are often pop-ups offer­ing a glob­al sampling of street food, from hot dogs and Texas chilli to ramen.


Roti Chenai

120 Victoria Street, Te Aro

Roti ChenaiBest roti in town’ is a hotly con­tested title, but I believe we have a win­ner here: per­fectly crisp on the out­side; soft and light with­in. That’s to be expec­ted giv­en that Roti Chenai spe­cial­ises in the south Indian/Tamil vari­ety of Malay­si­an cuisine: ren­dang, varuval, mur­t­abak and dosai. My favour­ite spe­ci­al­ity is the renowned street­side dish kothu bar­rota, where roti and toma­toes are chopped up and stir-fried with veget­ables or mince.

KC Café

39A Courtenay Place, Te Aro

KCI was recently aston­ished to find that some people reg­u­larly dine at KC while sober. As a late-night Cour­tenay Place stom­ach-liner, it’s known as a reli­able altern­at­ive to the usu­al kebab and bur­ger joints, but this bare-bones takeaway offers quick, decent meals from around Asia. In par­tic­u­lar, their pork dishes are highly regarded, and worth put­ting up with the fluor­es­cent lights and brusque service.

Domo Sushi

22 Brandon Street, Wellington Central


There’s no short­age of sushi joints in the Lamb­ton zone, from lacklustre food-court chains to shiny mod­ern­ist temples. But this little place tucked away in Brandon Street feels a little more homely, des­pite its simple fit-out. The sushi is also mostly simple, as in their authen­t­ic sal­mon nigiri, though they also offer play­ful bites such as beef and potato curry cro­quettes with faces drawn on in sauce.



136 Cuba Street, Te Aro

EspressoholicThrough sev­er­al dec­ades and three loc­a­tions, it has always been the 1990s at Espresso­hol­ic. I mean that in a good way, as the var­ied cli­en­tele of stu­dents, sub­urb­an couples on the town and Cuba Street burn-outs makes people-watch­ing as good as ever. The counter serves a famil­i­ar selec­tion of cakes and lasagne slabs, and even though the nachos are not the most authen­t­ic, they’ll always taste of home to me.


Kumutoto Plaza, 33 Customhouse Quay, Wellington Central

QBTQBT stands for ‘quesa­d­illa, burri­tos and tacos’, and they very much do what they say on the tin. On any fine day you’ll find a long but happy queue out­side this hole-in-the-wall, as it’s the favour­ite place of many down­town Wel­ling­to­ni­ans for qual­ity water­front takeaways. It’s hard to argue with Mex­ic­an lunches for $10, espe­cially when they’re as fresh, quick and spicy as this.

Sir Breadwins

144A Lambton Quay, Wellington Central

Sir BreadwinsDon’t let the sleek interi­or fool you: Sir Bread­wins is a long-stand­ing insti­tu­tion on Lamb­ton Quay, and a renov­a­tion a few years ago didn’t dis­suade its loy­al cus­tom­ers or dimin­ish its repu­ta­tion for good-value lunches on the run. All the tea-room staples are here, from saus­age rolls to lam­ing­tons, but its focus is on choose-your-own-ingredi­ents sand­wiches at prices that belie their sat­is­fy­ing quality.


The Laundry

240 Cuba Street, Te Aro

LaundryCom­bin­ing the food truck trend with a corner bar, the Laun­dry quickly fit­ted right into the Cuba Street scene. There’s loc­al beer on tap inside, and a cara­van in the court­yard cook­ing up bur­gers, tacos, toasties and oth­er down-home treats. There’s noth­ing too posh about the bur­gers, just good juicy meat (and vege options) done per­fectly and start­ing at $8, though add bacon and blue cheese sauce if you’re feel­ing fancy.

Raumati Social Club

34 Poplar Avenue, Raumati South

Raumati Social ClubSet in a little hol­low just one row of dunes back from the beach, the former Lem­bas café remains a hub for a com­munity that wants some­thing bet­ter than the Coast­lands chains. The decor could be straight out of Te Aro or New­town, but there’s a def­in­ite fam­ily-centred Kapiti vibe. The food is clas­sic café fare, includ­ing a huge beef bur­ger with beet­root, Ched­dar and pickles.

Mama Brown

250 Wakefield Street, Te Aro

Mama BrownAt first I thought the name was cash­ing in on Sweet Mother’s Kit­chen, and to some extent it’s sim­il­ar, only with few­er hip­sters and more fam­il­ies – and with effi­cient, friendly ser­vice. It’s a now-famil­i­ar mix of tacos and sliders, po’boys and hash browns, with a slightly more soph­ist­ic­ated even­ing menu. Don’t miss the milk­shakes, which with fla­vours such as Oreo and double chocol­ate fudge brownie aren’t exactly aim­ing at the paleo crowd.


Centennial Café

56 Kingsford Smith Street, Rongotai

Centennial CafeJust a block back from the water, the envir­on­ment changes from the dunes and break­ers of Lyall Bay to light-indus­tri­al sheds. It’s worth the trip to find Centen­ni­al, which takes its name and inspir­a­tion from its loc­a­tion on the former site of the Centen­ni­al Exhib­i­tion. It’s very fam­ily-friendly, espe­cially if your fam­ily includes dogs, and high­lights for thrifty diners include cheese­bur­gers for $10 and superb mince on toast with grated Parmes­an for $11.50.

Red Hill

119 Manners Street, Te Aro

Red HillRed Hill serves the most deli­ciously rich and spicy Chinese food I’ve had in Wel­ling­ton, includ­ing melt­ingly tender beef brisket and superb dump­lings. The eat­ery is BYO but also serves cock­tails with intriguing names such as The Three Sov­er­eigns and Calm­ing Fist. What really sets it apart, how­ever, is the fact that on some nights the din­ing room becomes one giant karaoke booth. Cheap and cheer­ful doesn’t come more cheer­ful than that.


Chomp ’n’ Chips

103 Randwick Road, Moera

Chomp n ChipsThere’s been a fish and chip shop on this site since 1927, but it’s now as mod­ern as a chip­pie can get. As well as flaw­lessly fresh fish in bat­ter or seasoned crumbs, and lovely chunky fries, they offer glu­ten-free bat­ters (with sep­ar­ate fry­ers, of course). It’s quite a stretch to say that Moera is becom­ing the new Jack­son Street, but with Zany Zeus and Chomp ’n’ Chops it’s becom­ing a place to watch.


Cuckoo Café

128 Main Street, Greytown

CuckooMost eat­ing places in Greytown are either slick and priced accord­ingly, or cheap and undis­tin­guished. But Cuckoo strikes a pleas­ant middle ground, serving good café food at reas­on­able prices in a relaxed and almost bohemi­an atmo­sphere. There’s a range of dishes and counter food, but the high­lights are piz­zas with ingredi­ents such as lamb cho­ri­zo, roast pump­kin and car­a­mel­ised pear: at $16, the small size makes a good light meal.



4 Rintoul Street, Newtown

MontereyA blend of bar, café and diner, Monterey has rap­idly become a New­town insti­tu­tion. Bur­gers and brunch are good value by Wel­ling­ton stand­ards, but it’s the house-smoked Amer­ic­an bar­be­cue dishes that are the high­light for impe­cuni­ous gour­mands: $14 will get you any­thing from beef brisket to south­ern fried mock duck, all with slaw and bread. At brunch, you can also get $4 bot­tom­less pots of fil­ter cof­fee: single ori­gin, of course.

Toast It

103 Vivian Street, Te Aro

Toast ItSlick and pro­fes­sion­al, Toast It looks to do for the toasted sand­wich what Bur­ger Fuel and Wholly Bagels have done with their respect­ive car­bo­hydrate-deliv­ery mech­an­isms. Com­bin­a­tions include chick­en with avo­cado and car­a­mel­ised onion, sal­mon with lem­on pep­per and cream cheese, and beet­root with spin­ach and feta. They also serve break­fast sand­wiches, dessert sand­wiches, fries, pickles and salads.



Gar Fare

241 Thorndon Quay, Thorndon

Gar FareThis most unpre­pos­sess­ing of greasy spoons is the hid­den gem of Thorndon, pop­u­lar with office work­ers and the hi-vis crowd. Most of the counter food is what you’d expect, but their bur­gers are some­thing spe­cial: huge, fresh and fla­vour­some. The atten­tion to detail even extends to bak­ing their own buns, and it makes an enorm­ous dif­fer­ence com­pared to the run-of-the-mill offer­ings in most tea rooms.



154 Featherston Street, Wellington Central

ThunderbirdThis may be yet anoth­er Tex-Mex/­soul food/Cajun place, but it has a point of dif­fer­ence: it’s at the end of town that nor­mally has to put up with blander options. Mains range from $10 to $17, includ­ing shrimp burri­tos and big bird chilli, and steak and egg for the spice-averse. For sheer heart-attacks-per-dol­lar ratio, you can’t beat the Monte Cristo: a deep-fried ham and cheese toastie served with rasp­berry jam.


The Meeting Tree

100 Tory Street, Te Aro

The Meeting TreeAfter a few attempts at pop-up nights, Wel­ling­ton finally has a per­man­ent Ethiopi­an res­taur­ant. This little space, strangely dec­or­ated after its pre­vi­ously brief life as a Thai res­taur­ant, serves sizz­ling meat dishes and len­til cur­ries with wickedly spicy ber­bere paste and tangy injera bread to scoop it all up. What’s more, when they roast cof­fee beans on a stove on the floor, your head might explode from deli­cious caf­feine overload.


La Boca Loca

19 Park Road, Miramar

La Boca LocaThere are cheap­er meals to be had in Miramar, but few served with such flair and authen­ti­city, and you won’t get Mar­gar­itas with your meal at most of them either. Tacos, burri­tos and quesa­d­illa dishes start at about $16 for veget­ari­an options, and there’s a handy chilli guide to help neo­phytes through the Scov­ille scale. Don’t miss the quesos fun­didos: a glor­i­ously cheesy dip of baked ricotta, Ched­dar and feta with pico de gallo and corn chips.


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