Located on the North Island of New Zealand, Auckland is the nation’s biggest and most vibrant city. It's also home to a booming culinary scene that’d be impressive anywhere, let alone on an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean half the size of Texas.
Trending areas like Britomart, Federal Street, and Ponsonby Road have become foodie hotspots, mixing global flavors from near (Asia) and far (Europe) with local ingredients and even indigenous Maori cooking techniques. Consider that there’s also a singularly fantastic coffee culture, a wine industry so vibrant it recently became the third biggest exporter to the US, and a “curd nerd” who plays heavy metal music to his cheeses, and you might as well book a plane ticket right now.
“We have an undiscovered food scene and some of the most sought-after ingredients in the world fresh on our doorstep,” says Elle Armon-Jones, who leads culinary tours around the city through her company The Big Foody. “There are endless great restaurants and cafes to enjoy, some that have been there for over 20 years and new ones popping up every month.”
There’s no wrong time of year to visit Auckland, but travel if you travel in August you'll have a chance to sample some of the best the city has to offer for The American Express Restaurant Month, with cardmember offers and exclusive events. To help you celebrate, we've put together a handy guide to Auckland's best chefs and restaurants.
When it comes to kiwi cuisine, there are few better ambassadors than Al Brown. Eschewing fine dining stuffiness and molecular experimentation, he wants his food to be an accessible way to bring people together. He got his start in Wellington, but after 12 years helming Wellington's acclaimed Logan Brown he migrated north to Auckland and took his love of seafood and wood-fired cooking with him to start Depot Eatery & Oyster Bar, Federal Delicatessen, and Best Ugly Bagels, a Montreal-style bakery that might just have the best bagels outside of North America.
Indigenous Maori people cuisine has just recently broken onto the foodie landscape, thanks to chefs like Monique Fiso. Her culinary pedigree is unquestionable with stints at Michelin-starred restaurant in New York City, which she displays in a pop-up series called Haikai that’s known to sell out immediately. She incorporates native ingredients like Manuka honey, underappreciated proteins like hapuka fish (served in a tartare style), and ancient techniques like cooking in underground ovens over hot rocks. The results are meals that look and taste as spectacular as any fancy French prix fixe, but with a true sense of New Zealand history.
Exclusive pop-ups and tough to score reservations create restaurant scene buzz, but what really builds a local food culture is bringing good food to the masses. Through Jackie Grant’s Hip Group, he feeds 4.5 million customers a year. The philosophy is local and seasonal, some of their produce is even grown on their own farm in Kumeu. The empire started with casual cafe Kohi Corner in 2004 and has since grown to 10 restaurants, several that helped transform Britomart into one of the trendiest neighborhoods in the world.
It may be a contradiction of terms, raw is very hot right now in Auckland. Credit is largely due to Megan May. The NZ Herald places her alongside Al Brown as the city’s second most influential chef, so it’s no surprise that it might be tough to score a table at lunchtime at one of her three Unbakery cafes. From raw nori rolls to superfood salads to sweet macaroons, the menu offers fresh and light meals that don’t sacrifice flavor. Plus, she’s also filling retail shelves with her line of “activated” nutrient-rich snacks like hazelnuts and buckwheat, and superfans can recreate all her classics of at home thanks to her Little Bird Goodness cookbook.
Good luck finding anyone more passionate about cheese than Calum Hodgson. A self-proclaimed “curd nerd,” he holds court at luxe Italian marketplace, Sabato, pushing samples of small-batch cheeses. He scours the country for the very best and sometimes even plays a personal role in developing their flavors with experimental techniques like wrapping cheese in activated charcoal or playing heavy metal music while it matures. His methods may seem unconventional, but his dairy evangelist is passionate enough to convince even the most suspicious skeptics.
Coffee often gets ignored in the culinary world, but Auckland’s coffee culture is one of the city’s best kept secrets. Roasters like Coffee Supreme elevate the locally roasted landscape, and excellent flat whites are everywhere, but obsessed professionals like Hanna Teramoto, co-founder of Catalyst Coffee, take it to a whole different level. She pushes the boundaries by offering coffees imported from luxe roasting companies in Norway and Germany, prepared by world championship caliber baristas (yes, coffee competitions are indeed a thing). Stop by her hidden shop in Remuera for one of the best espressos you’ll ever drink (or a damn fine flat white).
Kyle Street and Jordan Macdonald
Alums of Al Brown’s iconic Depot, Kyle Street and Jordan Macdonald are doing extraordinary things at Culprit, a two-year-old experiment in an inventive dim sum cart system serving some of the city’s most beautiful dishes. Flat iron steak tartare, lamb prosciutto with gold beetroot, and fresh sashimi are hard to turn down when they’re wheeled past, but regulars have learned to save room for larger shareable plates like braised pig face, the mana lamb shoulder, and pork stuffed roast duck. A meal there is an experience, but for those looking for a quick bite they’ve also just opened Lowbrow, a more casual outpost with a street food mentality and impressive natural wine list.
Fly business class on Air New Zealand and you might catch a whiff of Chef Peter Gordon’s food. Land in Auckland and you’ll be smelling his signature fusion style everywhere. For over thirty years he’s been an innovator at mixing culinary cultures, unafraid to sneak Asian ingredients into traditional European dishes. Climb to Level 53 of the Sky Tower, and you’ll find reboot of The Sugar Club with creative takes on pasta like Otago saffron linguine or taste the delicate pork flavors of Jamon Iberico at his Spanish outpost Bellota. He’s also an ambassador abroad, with restaurants in London and Istanbul, as well as a small library worth of cookbooks he’s authored that are worthy of inclusion in any chef’s kitchen.
Orphan’s Kitchen doesn’t look too different from any other cafe, but wait until you taste the food from Metro Magazine’s Best Chef of 2016, Tom Hishon. Seasonality isn’t just a buzzword, it drives everything they do, and the menu is known to change like… the weather. You might arrive to find that the restaurant has suddenly gone vegan for the week, become obsessed with kelp, or are experimenting with new ways to cook up a fresh catch of underappreciated native seafood. Even the cliche millennial classic brunch dish avocado toast comes topped with unexpected local ingredients like kiwifruit chili sauce and sauerkraut. And they also take a serious approach to sustainability, recently hosting a pop-up in conjunction with UK zero waste restaurant Silo.