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.
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 and treat yourself to one of their homebaked treats. Our favourite has to be their babka, a slice of bread that is swirled with cinnamon and walnuts. Then go back at lunchtime for the sabich pita and at dinner for a full-blown feast—the Lebanese lamb shoulder mustn’t be missed. Don't forget to save room for dessert and get a taste of the knafeh. A bed of melted cheese drenched in honey and sprinkled with crispy filo pastry threads and pistachio, your life will change for the better.
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 they go the extra mile of peeling each chickpea to get the smoothest hummus in town. 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.
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 banging babaganoosh, it's smokey and creamy and top it on some pita bread for a winning combination. It's also 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 vegetarian, Petra will hook you up with a tasty meat-free dish—choose between falafel, a mix platter and fatat hummus.
Ponsonby & Takapuna
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. Fatima's shows us that fast food is capable of more than just burgers and fries because potato koftas trump majority of the fries in our city. Our pick, however, is 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.
Situated in Wynyard Quarter is this beautiful and spacious restaurant serving up dishes inspired by Turkish and Greek cuisine. Feriza's is owned by a brother and sister who cook recipes brought down by their grandmother and are nothing but authentic and full of love. Make sure you order the beef cheek, the slow-cooked beef melts in your mouth and comes with creamy pumpkin puree and a pea salsa which will blow your mind.
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. So take a chance and order whatever pleases the eye and your tastebuds will be pleased for sure.
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. You also can't miss their Turkish mixed grill. A fine selection of the smokiest and juiciest meats, chargrilled on an open fire.
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Image credit: Lauren Matilda Matthews, Ima Cuisine, Fatimas