Ultimate guide to the best eats in Wellington

From crave-worthy coffees to boutique beers and slick seafood, New Zealand’s capital city Wellington is a foodie match made in heaven. Here are the places you have to try.

Wellington harbor cityscape at night
  • Alice Galletly
  • October 2018

Wellington, the capital city of New Zealand, does two things better than most places on earth. No, we’re not talking gale-force winds and The Lord of The Rings tours, we’re talking food and beer. With Visa Wellington on a Plate and Beervana held back-to-back, August in Wellington is a magical month of eating, drinking and spending too much, preferably while dressed in stretch pants. But if you’re not going to be in town for either festival, don’t despair. Welly is a great place to overindulge any day of the year, with a ridiculous number of cool little cafés, craft beer destinations and top-notch restaurants waiting to woo you.

With so many new eateries opening in the city each month (and what feels like a new craft brewery every other day), knowing exactly where to drink and dine can be hard. To help you navigate this moveable feast, here’s a guide to the best of the bunch.

How to spend a perfect day in Wellington

Coffee Calling

There’s no need to ever set foot in a Starbucks in Wellington, or, in fact, settle for any coffee that’s less than transformative. Instead, make like a local and start your day at Customs on Ghuznee opens in new window Street, the flagship café of roasters Coffee Supreme, and ground zero for the city’s hippest coffee nerds. They offer filter or espresso, with a rotating line-up of single origin beans and blends. Bonus points for the uber-stylish retro decor and the Little Dough Co doughnuts available Friday to Sunday.

If you fancy a second cup, another of the city’s best coffee shops, Milk Crate opens in new window, is right next door. The beans come courtesy of local roasters Rich Coffee and there’s a great range of fresh cabinet food if you’re feeling peckish. A word of warning: Milk Crate shares a space with beautiful design store Precinct 35 opens in new window, so keep your eyes on your flat white if you’re trying not to splurge.

Finally, The Hangar opens in new window on the corner of Willis and Dixon streets is the cosy, always-bustling home of local roasters Flight Coffee opens in new window. As well as a full menu and boozy cocktails, they offer specialty coffee served every which way, with tasting notes on all the beans to help you choose. If you cop out and simply order a flat white, that’s fine too.

Brunch or Lunch?

Maranui Cafe opens in new window occupies the top floor of the Maranui Surf Lifesaving Club in Lyall Bay, serving up hearty, hangover-curing brunches, strong coffee and excellent views over the water (best experienced during a full-blown storm).

There’s always a queue on weekends, but thankfully the owners recently opened a second café in Petone, Seashore Cabaret opens in new window, which offers the same mix of colourful Kiwi beach vibes and dramatic sea views. For something more refined, Nikau Café opens in new window at the City Gallery Wellington has been the place to take everyone from your hip foodie friend to your grandma for more than two decades. The sage-fried eggs are buttery perfection on a plate, and the kedgeree and pan-fried halloumi are legendary among locals.

Don’t forget to get a sweet treat from the baking cabinet on your way out. Also in the CBD, Field & Green opens in new window serves up the world’s best cheese scones (have two and call it lunch and no one would blame you), but that’s not the only reason to visit. The repertoire of ‘European soul food’ changes constantly, but you can count on getting elegant takes on French and English classics. Think duck livers and sautéed spinach on toast, posh fish finger sandwiches, and Eccles cakes.

Dive into Dinner

It’s not often locals and TripAdvisor reviewers agree on a city’s best restaurant, but with Ortega Fish Shack opens in new window the vote is unanimous. The slick seafood-focused menu could belong to a much fussier fine-dining establishment, but instead they’ve kept things casual with a Mediterranean seaside-taverna vibe. Add one of the city’s best wine lists (including some amazing sherries) and staff who go out of their way to spoil you, and it’s easy to see why Ortega has earned so many fans.

Over in Newtown, Cicio Cacio Osteria opens in new window is exactly the sort of place you hope to stumble across on a cold winter’s night. Low ceilings, a roaring open fire and wood panelling lend the place a cosy, Alpine chalet vibe; authentic Italian cuisine and wine by the tumbler seal the deal. The menu changes so regularly they don’t even print one out, but you’re always safe in the hands of chef Giulio Ricatti (previously of Ombra). One of the city’s latest and greatest additions is Rita opens in new window, a tiny restaurant with just 28 seats in Aro Valley. Chef Kelda Hains, co-owner of Nikau Café, is at the helm, and she changes the three-course set menu daily according to what’s in season. Dining here is like going to a brilliant cook’s house for a dinner party — you don’t get to choose what you eat, but you always know it’s going to be good. Bookings are essential.

Finally, for a cheap and cheerful night out, Wellington has a glut of excellent Malaysian eateries dotted around the city centre. Some locals are loyal to KK Malaysian Restaurant opens in new window, others swear by Little Penang opens in new window. My top pick is Rasa opens in new window, just off Cuba Street, which serves South Indian and Malaysian dishes in a warm and friendly setting. Go for masala dosai and beef rendang.

Have a Beer

Visiting Wellington and not drinking beer would be like going to a baseball game and not having a hot dog. There are so many breweries, brew pubs and beer bars crammed into the self-styled ‘craft beer capital’, you’d have to go out of your way to avoid them.

Dedicated beer tourists can download a trail map of the city’s best beer spots from craftbeercapital.com opens in new window, but if you only have time to visit one bar make it Golding’s Free Dive opens in new window. Inspired by American dive bars, this Leeds Street gem is a cosy nook of coloured fairy lights, Star Wars memorabilia, comfortable leather stools and well-chosen tap brews.

Got time for one more? Head to Hashigo Zake opens in new window on Taranaki Street for adventurous, high-octane beers imported from the US, Japan and beyond. If it’s beer fresh from the brewery tanks you’re after, you have plenty of options. Down a graffiti-covered alley off Ghuznee Street, HUSK opens in new windowis the home of Choice Bros brewery as well as an all-day eatery, roastery and bar – try the confit duck burger washed down with a raspberry and lime sour ale and thank me later.

Another of the city’s best breweries, Parrotdog opens in new window, recently opened a cool little cellar door-takeaway shop in Lyall Bay. It’s not a licensed bar, but you can stop by for free tastings and a chinwag and leave with a flagon of your favourite drop. Of course, the undisputed darling of the city’s beer scene is Garage Project opens in new window. Equally beloved for their boundary-pushing, mad-science creations as their crowd-pleasing lagers and hoppy ales, they have a cellar door at the brewery and a lovely little bar to cater for their legions of fans. The two premises are located within a stone’s throw of each other on Aro Street, so hit the bar first, then wander down to the cellar to grab some takeaways and a T-shirt to take home as souvenirs.

Still Got Space?

Head to the Hannah Factory Laneway precinct (entrance from either Courtney Place or Leeds Street) for a tour of some of Wellington’s favourite artisan producers. Pop into the Wellington Chocolate Factory opens in new window for a cup of rich, silky hot chocolate, Fix & Fogg opens in new window for toast topped with the best peanut butter you’ve ever had and the Leeds Street Bakery opens in new window for salted caramel cookies. At this point, it’s definitely time to pull out the stretch pants.