One of my all time favorite things about travelling is the food! I am always excited to try exciting new flavors, cuisine, and fresh local produce. New Zealand is not only known for their unbelievable natural scenery, Lord of the Ring movies, and a massive population of sheep, but also their amazing food. Their cuisine is an interesting mix of Polynesian, Asian, and European flavors.
Eating on this trip is slightly different than what we have been used to, since we were traveling across New Zealand in a campervan, staying away from the major cities, and cooking meals on our tiny gas camp stove. Each morning we would start our day with a creamy golden-orange egg sandwich that we made ourselves. For the most part we kept it simple and cooked easy stuff. On rainy days, we would huddle inside our van, cooking up instant noodles. When the weather got nice, we’d be out grilling sausages, tomatoes, mushrooms, asparagus, and mussels – all amazingly fresh ingredients found at the local grocery store. The tomatoes were bursting with sweet ripeness and the seafood was straight out of the ocean.
While driving around we had countless meat pies and flat whites on the road. There were also a few times when we passed through town and decided to treat ourselves to a delicious meal at a restaurant, since it’s nice to not have to worry about the cooking or cleaning up afterwards. Below is a list of our favorites places we ate at around the country:
The Frying Scotsman – Cook’s Beach is pretty quiet during the off-season, and there were not many dining options. We asked around and decided to have our first meal at a hole-in-the-wall fish and chips place called The Frying Scotsman. This local favorite sells takeout food like fish and chips, juicy burgers, pizza, ice-cream, and milkshakes at a reasonable price. We got two fish and chips, fried salt & pepper squid, and crumbed scallops on the side. That ended up being way too much for the two of us since the portion sizes were huge. The seafood tasted fresh and the batter was nice and crisp, which is key to a good fish and chips. We took the food back to our cottage and called it an early night because we were still exhausted from our long flight.
Serial Griller – On the second night at Cook’s Beach, we ventured out to the nearby Mercury Bay Estate on the recommendation from the front desk at the cottage. The estate is a boutique winery located at Cooks Beach overlooking the beautiful Mercury Bay. Every Sunday, the vineyard teams up with Serial Griller, a burger truck to provide locals and visitors the ideal dining option to finish off the weekend. The event also had live music and alcohol served by Mercury Bay Estate. The dining terrace was located on the highest point on the grounds and had a stunning view overlooking the vineyard and nearby bay.
The place was packed when we came at 7 pm, and the wait for the burgers was almost an hour. While waiting for our food to come, we got to try the local wine and beer. When it finally came, the burger was big and juicy and very satisfying. It was definitely worth the wait.
Maori Hangi – While visiting Whakarewarewa Village in Rotorua, we got to enjoy a hangi meal, prepared the traditional way. The Hangi basically consists of putting meat and vegetables in baskets and cooking them slowly over steam vents and thermal water. Meat and vegetables are put in deep pits filled with hot stones and covered so the thermal steam does not escape. After about 6 hours, the cover is removed and the food is ready. The traditional Maori feast is often made up of meat, vegetables, and potatoes – all of which have a distinctive smoky flavor. The meat and vegetables come out nice and tender and still retain all of their sweetness.
Oreti Restaurant – One of my absolutely favorite restaurants in New Zealand was an unassuming place near Lake Taupo. Usually restaurants that are attached to hotels are not the greatest, so my expectations were low, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that the the food was amazingly good. It was their slow night, so we were able to just walk right in without a reservation.
This little hidden gem has a well-furnished dining room overlooking the lake. The service was also top notch with an attentive and helpful staff. However, the shinning star is definitely the food. We got scallops with cauliflower puree, blood sausage, and bacon bits; lamb that was cooked to perfection; and a salmon in seafood coconut broth that was also divine. The food tasted like it came from a Michelin starred restaurant.
Restaurant 88 – I had read somewhere that Wellington has more restaurants per capita than NY, which is impressive because there are a lot of restaurants in New York. With so many options for good restaurants to choose from, we couldn’t decide where to go. And since we had to spend the night on a ferry, we didn’t want to indulge in any overly rich food. At the end, we settled on a nice bowl of pho to warm our soul. Restaurant 88 is an eatery with a great selection of the diverse flavors of Vietnamese cuisine . The menu has typical Vietnamese dishes like spring rolls and unique items such as banh khot, a small fried pancake topped with shrimp. I had the Pho Bo, a beef noodle soup with sliced sirloin, beef balls, and topped with green onion, sprouts and cilantro. The broth was on the blander side but the beef was out of this world. The thinly sliced sirloin was so tender, I wouldn’t be surprised if there were an army of Vietnamese cooks in the back pounding on the beef. The only shocking part was the price, the bowl of pho cost $20 NZD, which is a bit steep.
Urban Oyster Bar and Eatery – After a long night on the inter-island ferry, we decided to make a stop in Nelson, a small town on the South Island, to grab a quick lunch. This highly rated restaurant is helmed by a Michelin-trained chef who has worked with many of the greats including Marco Pierre White. They have a constantly changing menu showcasing local produce at its best, where everything is fresh and in season.
We ordered a few tapas dishes, each with their own unique flavors. The fresh sashimi marinated in nuoc cham accompanied with crunchy noodles and micro herbs, provided contrasting texture that was fun to eat . The fried soft shell crab was light and crispy housed inside a fluffy home-made bun. The basket of chicken was fried to perfection and moist on the inside. The oysters were succulent and creamy, with a sweet note at the end. The whole meal including tax and tip cost us $90 NZD, which is surprising considering the quality of the food. It has ceased to to amaze me that there are restaurants of this caliber in small towns scattered around New Zealand.
Thai Siam – After over a week of eating pasta and instant noodles, we got a reprieve when we got to Wanaka and discovered an authentic Thai restaurant located right in the middle of town. They offered a variety of dishes, from the usual noodles and curries to whole fish. The restaurant was full of people when we came in, so we opted to do take-out instead. This gave us a chance to head back to our campsite and eat by the lake. The food tasted amazing, but to be honest, we were both starving and anything would have tasted great.
Pedro’s House of Lamb – We’d both heard about how New Zealand is the place with more sheep than people, so we expected to be eating lamb every day, which was surprisingly not the case. So when we got to Queenstown and found out about Pedro’s, we decided that was where we were going to get our dinner. It’s a small shop that serves only one thing – lamb. The massive lamb shoulder was rubbed down with rosemary and garlic and slow cooked in a savory butter sauce and served with a side of scalloped potatoes. The meat is cooked until it is soft and tender and falls right off of the bone. The huge portion looked like it was way too much for the two of us, but we managed to finished the whole thing in 15 minutes flat. It’s not very often that you finish a meal with a smile on your face, and a deep feeling of satisfaction and happiness.
Tanoshi Teppan and Sake Restaurant – This popular restaurant in the heart of Queenstown brings a contemporary twist on classic Japanese dishes. This hidden gem is tucked away down a laneway off one of the main streets. The restaurant is small and intimate, with a minimalist but modern décor that’s both comfortable and inviting. Since space is limited, it’s best to make reservations a few days ahead of time.
Tanoshi is headed by chef Minori Yoneda who works the Teppan grill most nights. It has a small and straightforward menu with standout dishes. Our favorites were the rib-eye, which was tender with nicely balanced flavors and lots of crunchy bits. It’s worth noting that when we were there for dinner at 8:30pm, a few of their dishes were already sold out. On top of the great food, we were also blown away by the attentive service.
Patagonia – Patagonia, conveniently located at the lake-front in Queenstown, is a dessert place focusing on all things sugary and sweet. The owners manufacture their own chocolate and have the best ice cream in town. The hand-crafted chocolates (in milk, dark, white, and sugar free varieties) are made in-house. The menu also offers delicious desserts such as churros, crepes, waffles, cakes, and fondue. There were many ice cream flavors to choose from, from the rich dark chocolate to the hokey pokey, a local favorite. If you are ever in New Zealand you have to try the hokey pokey, a vanilla ice cream with chunks of honeycomb toffee, at least once.
Fergburger – This place has the lofty reputation as the world’s best burger joint. Fergburger started as a late-night hole in the wall that grew by old-school word of mouth. This place has gained so much popularity in recent years that it’s not abnormal to wait in line for 45min -1 hour. The restaurant is open 21 hours a day, and there are always a mob of people crowded around waiting to get their grease on. This has become the compulsory stop in Queenstown, almost like a tourist attraction.
I wanted to know if the burger lived up to the hype. We showed up at 11 am, and there was already a line out the door. Luckily, it moved pretty quickly and you can peruse the extensive menu while you wait. There are over 20 different gourmet burgers to choose from, some with crazy names like Southern Swine (beef, bacon, avocado), Chief Wiggum (pork belly), Bun Laden (falafel), Codfather (cod), Little Lamby (lamb burger), Sweet Bambi (venison), and the Holier than Thou (tofu). We decided to go simple and order the Fergburger with cheese. If you’re really hungry, you can order up a Big Al with a double serving of beef, two eggs, bacon, and a whole lot of cheddar cheese.
After you order, you wait around until your number is called while trying to snag one of the coveted tables. The total wait time was about 30-45 minutes both times we were there – yes, we went back. Our burgers finally came out and they were HUGE, almost as big my head. We took the obligatory burger selfie and tucked into this juicy goodness. The homemade bun seamlessly squashed down to fit over the burger patty and the rest of the fillings. One of my pet peeves is burgers that are too big for my mouth. Each component of the burger worked together to enhance the taste, from the crunchy lettuce-tomato-onion to the sharp cheddar cheese to the creamy sweetness of the aioli and the smokey tomato relish. It was a satisfying end to a long wait. I don’t know if it’s the world’s best burger, but it was pretty damn good.