Meat-free eating: 15 excellent vegetarian friendly restaurants in Auckland

by Alice Harbourne / 20 April, 2017
Forget that #cleaneating and #fitspo rubbish: these 15 vegetarian eateries are about enjoying yourself.

Bored with #cleaneating but still prefer to be meat-free? Then we have good news: vegetarian food is shaking off its holier-than-thou rep. Thank vegetarian fast food chains like Lord of the Fries for shaking off the sanctimony surrounding plant-based food, as well as the new movement of “flexitarians”, consumers who see the environmental benefits in a more sustainable diet but aren’t so hung up about fried food, sugar and a bit of salt.

Former lawyer Luke Burrows founded popular plant-based burger stall Wise Boys Burgers along those lines. “We wanted to do something a bit indulgent to take vegan food away from fitspo and clean eating hashtags,” he explains. “And we wanted to offer more than just the token falafel or soy-based burger patty, to do something more exciting for those who have been vegan for a while and are frustrated with the lack of variety and creativity.”

Kokako

At Metro Top 10 cafe Kokako, the menu has always been vegetarian but carnivores rarely notice as the dishes – such as Agria potato hash with soft poached egg, and seasonal pancakes – are so hearty, flavourful and filling. Head chef Plabita Florence says a lot of that comes down to viewing vegetables and grains as the centrepiece of a meal rather than as substitutes for meat. “Cooking vegetarian to me is just cooking,” she says. “Having grown up vegetarian, meat was never really on the agenda. I believe this gives me an advantage when creating new dishes for the menu. I’m not trying to replace the meat or hide the absence of it behind fancy techniques. I simply use humble ingredients, root to leaf, and make sure I’m designing with minimal wastage and composting whatever we can’t use.”

So it is, in fact, possible for a vegetarian to answer the question of what’s for breakfast, lunch and dinner without recourse to a single grain of quinoa. Here are our favourite places in Auckland for plant-based food without the piety.

Fast food options

Lord of the Fries

There was a cult following for this vegetarian fast food chain before it even opened on Karangahape Road earlier this year, thanks to its reputation for cruelty-free deliciousness in Australia. The fries are loaded and the burgers imaginative.

183 Karangahape Rd

Mr Shankly’s

Calling themselves simply “that awesome vegan place”, Mr Shankly’s currently operates as a pop-up, appearing at street food markets on the reg. Comfort food is their thing: nachos, dumplings, wedges, daal and tacos, all gloriously free of animal products.

Find them on Instagram: @Mr_Shanklys

Wise Boys Burgers

Operating from a mobile food truck made of upcycled materials, Wise Boys champion environmentally friendly eating habits through generously sized, loaded vegan burgers, from Spicy Mex (with a kidney bean patty, sweet and chunky homemade salsa and corn chips) to Tempeh Trap (grilled tempeh with caramelised onion and balsamic mushroom, egg-free lemon aioli and relish).

Follow the market regulars on Facebook: @wiseboysburgers

Giapo

The permanent queue that snaked towards The Civic on Queen Street is no more: Giapo Grazioli and Annarosa Petrucci’s haute ice cream store has relocated to bigger premises. Their new menu features imaginative vegan creations, like the Siamu Popo (coconut-based with Samoan caramel) and Peach and Tomatoes (a sorbet made with organic Hawke’s Bay peaches and Curious Croppers tomatoes).

12 Gore St, central city

Il Buco

Fine pizza by the slice, with as many as eight vegan varieties on offer at any time, plus a variety of vegetarian options.

113 Ponsonby Rd, Ponsonby

The best vegetarian restaurants

Petra Shawarma

Petra Shawarma’s owner Dalal Omar is herself a vegetarian, so there’s a good selection of meat-free Jordanian dishes on offer, mostly featuring falafel as the star component. There’s a ban on shop-bought mayo, and with Omar’s light, homemade garlic sauce, you don’t miss it. Don’t leave without a juicy wedge of home-baked baklava.

482 New North Rd, Kingsland

Mr Zhou’s Dumplings

Mr Zhou used to own New Flavour, but when that got a bit tiring, he sold up and moved to New Lynn for the quiet life – at which point dumpling obsessives started heading west and Mr Zhou found himself as busy as ever. The classics are all there: lumpy handmade dumplings, cucumber salad, and the shredded potato. Zhou’s cashew dumplings are the best vegetarian versions in town.

3130 Great North Rd, New Lynn

Mumbai Chaat

The Ambani family’s popular vegetarian eatery is Mumbai fusion, based on chaat (Indian street food). If you’re new to the cuisine, order a platter to experience vada pao (deep-fried potato patties), assemble-your-own puri (bhel puri, pani puri) and other delights like dahi vada – lentil dumplings dunked in a creamy whipped yoghurt. If you’re hungover and just fancy a curry, you’ll also be catered to, with all gravy bases made from scratch in-house.

1A Kitchener Rd, Sandringham

Shubh Restaurant and Takeaways

The thalis at Shubh are excellent value – take your pick of several vegetarian curries, to which roti, rice, pickles and raita is added, and you’ll get change from $10. The samosas with tamarind chutney are also very good, and the bean and potato curry is addictive.

520–524 Sandringham Rd, Sandringham

Ras Vatika

Ras Vatika has been serving its super-cheap vegetarian delights in the same spot on Dominion Road for 14 years. The masala dosa is great, and so are the thalis, and the street snacks come with generous servings of fresh herbs. When available, the patra (taro leaf rolls) are a highlight, and you should definitely try the pistachio-sprinkled rose lassi. 596 Dominion Rd, Balmoral

Vegetarian cafes

Big Sur

A completely vegetarian cafe, Big Sur serves hearty classics like hotcakes, fritters and eggs on toast, but monotony is warded off with international influences, from Japanese-style salads to Indian-spiced fritters.

432 Richmond Rd, Grey Lynn

Ceremony

Ceremony’s menu is short, so there’s not a huge variety of choice for non-meat eaters. However, the gooey, drippy vegetarian sandwich is worth a trip across town: brioche bun, over-easy egg, spiced veges, portobello mushroom and chipotle ketchup. Custom mugs for single-origin filter coffee and an effusive welcome make each visit a joy.

7 Park Rd, Grafton

Mimosa Takapuna

Japanese expat Mayumi Abe’s cafe has long been championing vegetarian, fair-trade and organic food on the shore. Mimosa’s menu has lots of vegan options but our favourite dish is the comforting Japanese-style curry with potato, carrot, onion, spinach and mixed-grain rice.

460 Lake Rd, Takapuna

Kokako

One of the best vegetarian cafes in the city, Kokako’s head chef Plabita Florence plates up seasonality with generosity. Skip the cabinet and order from the à la carte menu for dishes like toasted brioche with ricotta, baked apricots and fennel, or the filling Agria potato hash with soft poached egg, cashew aioli and mushrooms.

537 Great North Rd, Grey Lynn

Water Drop Vegetarian Cafe

Part of a Buddhist temple that’s well worth a visit on its own, the cafe is known for its vege barbecue rice dishes, laksa noodle soups and spicy and sour vermicelli clay pots. Finish your Southeast Asian feast with rose tea to cleanse the palate. Just don’t Instagram it, okay?

Fo Guang Shan temple, 16 Stancombe Rd, Flat Bush

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