In a city where people go loco for Asian fusion and the next dessert craze, it’s easy to forget about other cuisines. But, there’s one that definitely deserves your (and your taste buds’) attention: Middle Eastern.
The Middle East is responsible for shawarmas, hummus, mezze and our beloved 3am-sober-up kebabs—the kinda food that fills the belly and warms the soul. If you want to know your fattoush from your falafel, then this is the list for you. There is a tribe of eateries in Auckland serving up some of the best Middle Eastern food you’ll find this side of well, the Middle East. Here they are.
Named after the bustling dining district in Beirut, Gemmayze St has brought Lebanon to none other than St Kevin’s Arcade. With Samir Allen at the helm—a Kiwi chef with Lebanese roots—this Lebanese restaurant will put any hunger pangs to rest with its authentic, flavour-packed menu. We’re talking lamb with pomegranate molasses, mint and pine nuts, classic fried cauliflower and knafeh—a cheese-based dessert that will blow your mind. The place itself is brought together with copper panels, funky lamps, marble and patterned chairs. There’s also Arabic script lining a wall and family portraits that remind you of how family-orientated Middle Eastern cuisine is.
Step into Beirut and you’ll understand why it’s one of the best contemporary Middle Eastern restaurants in Auckland. This CBD spot lets you devour sharing plates and cocktails in a beautiful setting. Start your Beirut journey with smoked yoghurt labna and bubba (burnt eggplant) before feasting on slow braised goat and wedding tabouleh feat. zucchini flower, kadaif pastry, goats cheese and heirloom tomato. The cocktails are 100 per cent worth a try too. Our pick is the zesty Phoenician Sour—bourbon, fig, cardamom, sumac, egg white and fresh lemon.
While Petra Shawarma’s fit out isn’t as fancy as the above eateries, it makes up for it with its totally addictive food. They make a badass babaganoosh and it’s no surprise that their shawarmas are some of the best in Auckland. We also can’t get enough of the Mandi rice—grilled meat on raisin and cashew nut rice, hummus, salad and yoghurt. If you’re a vego, Petra will hook you up with a tasty meat-free dish—choose between falafel, a mix platter and fatat hummus.
For when the thought of putting on proper clothes is too much, get your Middle Eastern feed from Fatima’s. These guys are known for providing delish takeaway tucker—simply call, pick up and head home to enjoy pitas, salads and potato koftas in your fat pants. Our pick, however, are the chawarmas. Go for the spiced lamb or vegetarian—pumpkin, lentil and corn croquettes, spinach, green slaw, mung beans, mango chutney, cashew nut sauce and minted yoghurt sauce. Your taste buds won’t know what to do with themselves.
There are whispers that Tulay’s Kitchen serves up some of the best Turkish food in Auckland and, guess what? Those whispers are spot on. Hidden in Orakei, Tulay’s Kitchen will have you munching on doner kebabs, shish kebabs, meat with rice, hummus, tzaziki, tabouleh and Turkish bread, and gourmet pizzas. Y-um.
Ima translates to ‘mother’ in Hebrew and, we’re not joking when we say the food is probably better than your mothers (just don’t tell her that). A trip to this Fort Street restaurant will introduce you to lovingly made, Israeli and Middle Eastern food. Head there for a breakfast of home-made baked beans on Turkish pide, bourekas (puff pastry filled with kashkaval, feta and ricotta) or laktes. Then go back at lunchtime for shakshuka and at dinner for a full-blown feast—the Lebanese lamb shoulder mustn’t be missed. BYO appetite.
Café Midnight Express
Step into this Mediterranean and Middle Eastern joint and you’ll feel worlds away from Auckland. Since 1989, Café Midnight Express has been educating Aucklanders on what’s what in Middle Eastern cuisine. From grilled halloumi and garlic prawns to grilled chicken, mousakka and kofte, there isn’t much we can fault this CBD restaurant on. They also have a decent wine list to wash it all down and their baklava will provide a sweet, sweet ending.
Caspian Pizza & Grill
Howick is turning it on when it comes to Middle Eastern food in Auckland. At Caspian Pizza & Grill, there’s doner kebabs, an epic selection of dips as well as a great range of dishes on their ‘specials’ menu. We’re talking grill kofte, shish chicken, moussaka, silk road satay and Persian spiced lamb. It can be easy to miss but make sure you don’t.
Rumi Persian Cuisine
As Auckland’s only Persian restaurant, Rumi has a lot to live up to. It’s family-owned and strives to transport you to Persia in one delicious dining hit. Don’t expect kebabs and kofta here—Rumi serves the likes of sautéed eggplant, joojeh, momtaz, zereshk polo and so much more. You might not know what you’re ordering, but you can be sure that Rumi will have you coming back for more.
An oldie but a goodie, Paasha continues to produce top-notch Turkish tucker out of their Pukekohe restaurant. This special spot knows the secret to the perfect dolma (vine leaves stuffed with rice, pinenuts and spices), muska boregi (filo pastry triangles with spinach and feta) and lamb casserole. Their home-made Turkish bread is just what you need to mop it all up.
Sylvia Park & Orewa
Shopping can get the hunger pangs going and when they arrive, make your way to Casablanca Café. Situated in Sylvia Park (and Orewa), this Mediterranean restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, offering a huge menu of flavour-packed delights. We’re particularly obsessed with their taramasalata (fish roe dip), Anatolian Bride’s soup and citron chicken tagine. Get there.
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Image credit: Lauren Matilda Matthews