Nestled in the Northland region of New Zealand is Whangarei, the country’s northernmost city. Despite being somewhat isolated from the rest of the country, Whangarei is as cosmopolitan as they come, with a restaurant scene to rival that of Auckland and Wellington. Here, we list 10 of the city’s best dining spots.
There’s nothing wrong with simple food when it is done brilliantly, and there is doubly nothing wrong when it is priced as fairly as the food at Serenity Cafe. The focus is on quality when it comes to ingredients, so the food doesn’t need to be overly fancy. The location is great, being right in town, so it has views of the Clock Museum and the flower-covered sundial. Crucially, it has plenty of outdoor seating so that everyone can enjoy those glorious Northland days! The reason it’s always packed? Because it’s always good.
The food at Suk Jai Thai Restaurant is authentic and spot on; everything you’d expect from a Thai restaurant, from hot soups to stir-fries. But its with duck and seafood that Sukjai Thai really excels. A local favourite, it’s worth calling ahead to book a table even if you’re planning on visiting on a weekday evening.
Perched on the tip of a peninsula, the windows of Topsail’s dining room afford panoramic views over Whangarei Harbour. The dishes here are beautifully presented and make the most of local, seasonal ingredients. The result is a dining experience that feels both cosy and contemporary. The menu is ever-changing, but tends to revolve around fresh seafood and game. This is a consistent favourite with locals and visitors alike.
Parua Bay Tavern is a gastropub right by the water on Whangarei’s eastern side. Décor-wise, the place is a celebration of the town and its history, with old photos and newspaper clippings on the walls. Outside, there’s a large covered deck and a jetty that extends out over the water from which, on a good day, you can spot dolphins and orcas swimming in the harbour. The menu is traditional pub fare with a range of fresh seafood dishes, plus homemade burgers and stone-baked pizzas.
Just down the road from another one of our faves – The Split Restaurant and Bar – is Mean’s Vietnamese Cafe. Don’t worry, there’s nothing mean about it, unless you’re using ‘mean’ in the local vernacular, which stands for awesome or epic. This is the kind of refreshing, healthy cuisine that you often want, but don’t often get in a restaurant. Try the mussels if you want that taste of Whangarei, but the Pho if you think your taste buds deserve a little shot of euphoria. This is guilt-free goodness.
Over on Walton Street, Shiraz is one of the first Indian restaurants in Whangarei. The business has expanded of late; there is now a second Shiraz on the opposite side of town and another in Dargaville, about an hour’s drive to the west. At each location you’ll find a menu so extensive you could go there 20 times without ordering the same thing twice. Made from locally sourced ingredients, this is north Indian food done authentically and well.
Tonic is an intimate 30-seater joint inauspiciously located on the edge of Whangarei. Established in 1998, Tonic’s menu mixes tradition with innovation. The atmosphere is relaxed, the wine list is extensive and the prices are more than reasonable. Tonic offers a catering service, too, so you can fine dine in the comfort of your own home.
As with all good restaurants in New Zealand, the clever people at Split Restaurant and Bar are hell-bent on using the freshest local ingredients to whip up their scrumptious meals. The lamb and beef all come from New Zealand as you would hope, and the result is rather spectacular. Set in a cosy atmosphere that’s totally lacking in the pretentiousness that the food merits, this is a winner. You can even head out the back and watch rugby with one of their expertly made cocktails on hand.
Tucked away along a quiet downtown street, The Fat Camel has what many locals consider to be the best falafel in Whangarei. On the menu is everything you might expect from a Middle Eastern restaurant, plus a couple of comparative culinary rarities. The atmosphere is great, and the service is friendly and fast.
Taking tractability to a new level is The Quay. Not only do these guys and girls make sure that they source their ingredients locally, they even have their own farm in the Waikato that raises their meat! Even the vegies are grown in their very own gardens. This gives the customer added confidence in every bite. Give a vegetarian option a go – whether you’re a vegetarian or not – and taste the potato and ricotta gnocchi.