Skip to main content


And by cas­u­al, I really mean cas­u­al. Some crit­ics con­sider a res­taur­ant with $40 mains ‘cas­u­al’ if the som­meli­er isn’t French, but for the major­ity of us it means we’re in danger of ketch­up stains, spilt BYO Shiraz and the occa­sion­al seagull attack.

The biggest trend I noticed while select­ing a new batch of cheap eats this year is that the bur­ger scene has grown up… lit­er­ally. Some places still serve the usu­ally mis­named sliders, but res­taur­ants are real­ising that their pat­rons can’t be bothered with those fiddly little bites: they crave a prop­er bur­ger instead. It’s part of a glob­al trend, and no doubt helped along by the annu­al Wel­ling­ton on a Plate bur­ger com­pet­i­tion, but it’s on the verge of becom­ing as much of a Te Aro cliché as craft beer and Chemex.

Just please don’t call it ‘dude food’: it’s the 21st cen­tury and surely we’ve grown out of the embar­rass­ing old myth that food has a gender. What people of all genders want is filling, tasty food that won’t empty their pock­ets, and they don’t want to be pat­ron­ised when they’re hungry. So here’s to the savvy busi­ness people who are deliv­er­ing the goods.


How it works

Every­one has their own idea of what counts as cheap. The pro­cess star­ted with a rough guide that $10 for lunch and $15–20 for din­ner should be reas­on­able, even though that would’ve been out of my range when I tried to get by on freel­ance writ­ing for a while last year. In the end it came down to value in the con­text of qual­ity: at the upper end we expec­ted to be wowed, but some­thing rel­at­ively ordin­ary could qual­i­fy if it was an utter bargain.

As usu­al, we excluded chains. If you want a slab of deep-fried card­board from a mul­tina­tion­al that profits from zero-hour con­tracts, then you’ll know where to get it. Fish­Head’s job is to high­light the quirky loc­al favour­ites, the fresh up-and-comers, and the tire­less small busi­nesses that have kept the impe­cuni­ous in pies and scones for decades.

Din­ing choices are sub­ject­ive, per­haps espe­cially at the greasy spoon end of the mar­ket, so don’t be dis­ap­poin­ted if your loc­al chip­pie missed out. I can­vassed the opin­ions of loc­als where I could, but it’s not a pop­u­lar choice awards. It’s not even a com­pet­i­tion, just a per­son­al selec­tion that we hope reflects the vari­ety of afford­able din­ing across the region.




Beach Road Deli 

5 Beach Road, Paekakariki

Beach Road Deli

Paekakariki retains some of the vil­lage atmo­sphere that has suc­cumbed to sprawl fur­ther up the coast, with a par­tic­u­larly col­our­ful cluster of shops near the rail­way line. Beach Road Deli might be the slick­est of the cafés here, but it also offers decent value and pleas­ant out­door seat­ing. In addi­tion to qual­ity cof­fee, scones, small goods, sand­wiches and ice cream, they sell wood-fired piz­zas based on fresh Medi­ter­ranean ingredi­ents, with an afford­able ‘medium’-sized option.

Burger Liquor

129 Willis Street, Te Aro

Burger Liquor

This brash and lively combo of diner and bar is bet­ter value than it might look. Some of their bur­gers cost less than those at the good food trucks, and while the servings are not huge, they offer more exot­ic ingredi­ents: pork belly, ven­ison and a spec­tac­u­lar duck bur­ger. It’s not BYO, but with $9 cock­tails and some quaf­fable wines for under $30 a bottle, it’s an enter­tain­ing option for a rel­at­ively inex­pens­ive night out.

Capital Market

151 Willis Street, Te Aro

Capital Market

The food and archi­tec­ture can’t match the ven­er­able Set­tle­ment res­taur­ant that once stood here, but at least the notori­ous Chow broth­ers’ tem­por­ary ven­ture has brought life back to the site. Des­pite feel­ing more like a food court in a tent than a mar­ket, there’s plenty of vari­ety and a couple of gems. Where’s Charlie? provides decent Viet­namese food, but for many, Miss Kangsta’s Korean street food (bul­gogi, bib­im­bap, toasties and pop­corn chick­en) is the stand-out.

Fed Up Fast Foods

40 Marine Parade, Paraparaumu Beach

Fed Up Fast Foods

Par­a­pa­raumu Beach is less chain-driv­en than the main town, with inde­pend­ent vendors such as Fed Up instead of Mac­cas. While Fed Up have no artis­an pre­ten­sions (the chips are McCain’s), the fish is fresh and the bat­ter is delight­fully crisp, and they’ve been keep­ing loc­als happy for over 15 years. Their wider offer­ings include bur­gers and kebabs, but it’s the sea­food din­ners (includ­ing king prawns and Nel­son scal­lops) that are best suited to their dune-side location.

Ekim Burgers

257 Cuba Street, Te Aro

Ekim Burgers

When we last met Ekim Bur­gers (2013), they were work­ing out of a van in a Lyall Bay car park. Since mov­ing into the city, they have lost the surfer and dog walk­er crowds, but even in bur­ger-mad Cuba Street (Laun­dry; Grill Meats Beer) they stand out enough to gen­er­ate long queues for their messily suc­cu­lent bur­gers and spicy chips. Their trans­form­a­tion of a car yard into a glee­fully sham­bol­ic, ever-evolving sunny court­yard just adds to the appeal.

Goose Shack HQ

461 Adelaide Road, Berhampore

Goose Shack HQ 2

The mobile Goose Shack also roosts com­fort­ably in the south­ern sub­urbs, serving up char­coal-roas­ted deli­cious­ness, cof­fee and cock­tails on a sunny street corner. Aside from the more sub­stan­tial mains, they offer small plates, sand­wiches and bar snacks that hit the spot for min­im­al out­lay. You can also bal­ance the rich­ness of smoked pork cro­quettes, Ber­ham­pore fried chick­en or Tuatara beer-braised beef sand­wiches with coconut-mar­in­ated fish, charred cucum­ber and purslane, and boozy sorbet desserts.

House of Dumplings

117 Taranaki Street, Te Aro

House of Dumplings

After a long time as a stealthy pop-up oper­a­tion with a cult fol­low­ing, House of Dump­lings now has an actu­al house. Well, more of a shack: it’s little more than a hole in the wall for pick­ing up these jew­el-like treats. They’re so more­ish that it’s easy to get car­ried away and gorge on Korean ses­ame beef, Japan­ese six-mush­room and Nepalese spiced lamb, but with restraint, a miserly $10 will get you five mouth­wa­ter­ing dumplings.

Huckle & Co.

31A Dundas Street, Seatoun

Huckle & Co

When a fish and chip shop’s read­ing mater­i­al is not Top Gear and Women’s Weekly, but Fish­Head, Art News and craft beer magazines, you know not to expect your aver­age greasies. With fresh tara­kihi and ware­hou, chi­potle mayo, three types of chips and Zany Zeus hal­loumi salad, this chip­pie is clearly aimed at the afflu­ent Seatoun demo­graph­ic. But good, basic fish ’n’ chips are still just $7, and you’re only one block from the beach.

John’s Kitchen and Takeaways

112 Lambton Quay, Wellington Central

John's Kitchen and Takeaways

Enter­ing this bar­ren alley at the gov­ern­ment end of Lamb­ton Quay feels like fall­ing through a worm­hole back to Glid­ing On days, but thank­fully that includes (to some extent) the prices. What you won’t find at John’s: quinoa sliders, tat­tooed baris­tas or any sense that time has passed since 1992. What you will get: a deli­cious savoury pin­wheel or Dag­wood sand­wich, plus a huge scone and a drink, and change for a tenner.

Long Thai

32 Miramar Avenue, Miramar

Long Thai

When it comes to unpre­pos­sess­ing loc­a­tions for a res­taur­ant, it would be hard to beat upstairs in a Nis­sen hut above a sub­urb­an sports and pokies bar. But Long Thai and its pre­de­cessors have become a favour­ite with Miramar loc­als. It’s mostly famil­i­ar Thai fare (tom yum, pad thai, gang panang) with a touch of Isan cuisine (larb), but what it lacks in ori­gin­al­ity it makes up in value, with most mains only $14 includ­ing rice.


167 Riddiford Street, Newtown

Moon 2

New­town has long been full of musi­cians, but it hasn’t had much in the way of live-music ven­ues. Not only does Moon now put the depleted cent­ral city gig scene to shame, they offer pizza to com­ple­ment their ser­i­ous beer offer­ings, includ­ing the excel­lent Light­ning Tape Wolf: mānuka smoked ham, fontina cheese and thyme with rum and pine­apple pickle. It’s good value at any time, but Wed­nes­days are even bet­ter: that’s $10 pizza night.

Nam D

Cable Car Lane, Wellington Central

Noah's Ark 2

The canny oper­at­ors of the suc­cess­ful Nam have now opened up a hole in the wall in Cable Car Lane to cap­ture the passing tor­rents of stu­dents, Kel­burn res­id­ents and cruise-ship pas­sen­gers. Spe­cials include beef phở and five-spice chick­en with rice, but they’re primar­ily a bánh mì vendor. The options for your $8.50 crunchy baguette, beside the usu­al pâté, chilli, pickle and veget­ables, include lem­on­grass pork, five-spice beef, roast chick­en and spicy tofu.

Noah’s Ark Teahouse

4/100 Tory Street, Te Aro

Nam D

It’s easy to over­look this little Taiwanese tea house, espe­cially if like many of us you’re usu­ally look­ing for BYO res­taur­ants (it’s unli­censed). Think of it more as a café than a res­taur­ant, albeit with some tasty and gen­er­ously pro­por­tioned dishes (try the pop­corn shrimp and the braised pork belly). In lieu of alco­hol, they have a stag­ger­ing selec­tion of iced teas, milk teas and yoghurt juices, in col­ours as lumin­ous as the accom­pa­ny­ing Thai pop videos.


158 Cuba Street, Te Aro

Origami 2

In its ori­gin­al Kent Ter­race loc­a­tion, Ori­gami failed to make much impact. In Cuba Street it has more oppor­tun­ity, and while some grumble about its lack of authen­ti­city, there’s much to enjoy for those who don’t mind a bit of fusion. Tuna salsa might raise some eye­brows, but chopped avo­cado and onion com­bined with ponzu dress­ing makes a tangy match for seared tuna slices. There’s also a bewil­der­ing array of sushi, ramen and bento sets.

Palace Café

117 Jackson Street, Petone

Palace Cafe

Pitched some­where between a 1990s café and a 1970s caff, Palace might not be the most fash­ion­able stop on the Jack­son Street strip, but it’s still deservedly pop­u­lar. Aside from the brunch stand­bys of the last couple of dec­ades (eggs Bene­dict, Caesar salad, nachos), they serve hearty truck-stop fare such as bangers ’n’ beans, mac ’n’ cheese and gar­gan­tu­an mounds of mince on toast. It’s simple, famil­i­ar, café com­fort food, done cheaply and done well.

Puro Chile

Shop 2, 16 Willis Street, Wellington Central

Puro Chile

Tucked just out of sight of the Wil­lis Street crowds, this cheery little Grand Arcade spot is worth pop­ping into for lunch. There are empanadas, of course, with reg­u­lar and spe­cial fillings that include crab meat and cheese; ham, olive and tomato; and slow-cooked beef with green beans. But they also have com­ple­tos (a Chilean take on hot dogs), pies and sand­wiches, with a pos­sibly sur­pris­ing range of veget­ari­an options.

The Ramen Shop

191 Riddiford Street, Newtown

Ramen Shop

Newtown’s diverse pop­u­la­tion (and cheap retail rents) makes it an increas­ingly pop­u­lar loc­a­tion for innov­at­ive new din­ing ven­tures, and when the time came for the pop­u­lar pop-up Ramen Shop to set down roots, they chose Rid­di­ford Street. They aim for invent­ive­ness rather than abso­lute authen­ti­city (radish with ash salt is a sig­na­ture side dish), and they’re not quite a super-cheap Tokyo noodle bar, but their rich and filling bowls of broth and noodles are still excel­lent value.

Satay Malaysia

255 Cuba Street, Te Aro

Satay Malaysia

This is an infam­ously ‘cursed’ loc­a­tion, but Satay Malay­sia has been around in vari­ous guises for years, so they should make a suc­cess of it. Their ren­dang and sam­bal dishes are richly spiced, and good value even if they’re push­ing the ‘cheap eats’ defin­i­tion [They’re cheap­er at lunch — Ed.]; go for laksa or mee goreng if you’re on a really tight budget. Just don’t skimp on the roti, which are so light they’re pretty much just air held togeth­er with deliciousness.

Town and Country Café

74–76 Fitzherbert Street, Featherston

Town and Country Cafe

Featherston’s still not the food­ie des­tin­a­tion that Mar­tin­bor­ough and Greytown have become, and des­pite a good bakery and cheese shop, attempts to intro­duce café cul­ture have gen­er­ally been lacklustre. For­tu­nately, some of the unas­sum­ing old pro­vin­cial tea rooms and takeaways still do the basics right. At Town and Coun­try, try the jumbo bur­ger: it’s pretty much every clas­sic bur­ger ingredi­ent (pat­tie, bacon, ham, beet­root, egg, cheese) stacked in a bun: a bar­gain heart attack for only $8.50.

Wellington Night Market

116 Cuba Street, Te Aro

Wellington Night Market

As the name sug­gests, the Wel­ling­ton Night Market’s hours are more lim­ited than at Cap­it­al Mar­ket, but it has a prop­erly fest­ive mar­ket feel, and a broad­er and more inter­est­ing selec­tion of food and enter­tain­ment. Sichuan:Spice’s Panda Pack­ets and Panda Sheets (read: dump­lings and noodle salad) are a big crowd favour­ite, and you can also eat Filipino dim sum, Moroc­can wraps, Hun­gari­an chim­ney cakes, Armeni­an lahma­joon or Dutch wafels while enjoy­ing bands, photo booths and, some­times, karaoke.