Must-Try Restaurants in Hamilton, New Zealand

Waikato River, Hamilton Central, New Zealand
Waikato River, Hamilton Central, New Zealand | Photo by Callum Hill on Unsplash
Penelope Barker

Hamilton, in the Waikato Region on the North Island, is New Zealand’s largest inland city, and is nestled on the banks of the Waikato River. The nearby Waitomo Caves are world-famous, and the Te Aroha Mineral Pools and Raglan beach are great tourist spots. Hamilton’s dining opportunities match its stellar tourism credentials, particularly at these top ten restaurants.

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Scotts Epicurean

Spaghetti with chili, garlic, parsley and mussels

This elegant restaurant has received a string of top awards every year since siblings Jason and Mandy Scott established it in 2000 in a heritage building on Victoria Street. They have since made Scotts Epicurean into one of Hamilton’s most affluent cafe-restaurants. The team at Scotts is legendary for its high quality, professional service, eclectic menu featuring luscious desserts and quality espresso made by the city’s best baristas. Try the pytti panna, Swedish bubble-and-squeak, or the aglio olio: Scotts’ famous and rather addictive spaghetti with chili, garlic, parsley, olive oil and Italian parmesan.They serve a breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner menu weekdays and weekends.

For a taste of Hamilton cuisine, try the popular, multi-award winning Smith & Mackenzie Chophouse, a tribute to New York steakhouses, with a modern twist. The interior atmosphere is warm, decorated with wood, stainless steel and a surprising collection of butchers’ blocks and meat hooks. As for the food, quality steaks are carefully sourced to ensure a top class meal. Enjoy the signature dish of tender aged prime rib or grass fed Hereford, slow roasted for 18 hours and served medium rare with a choice of two side dishes and sauce.

The Sugar Bowl Café

The Australasian cuisine offered by The Sugar Bowl Café, a local favorite in suburban Maeroa, Hamilton, will delight those seeking a hearty and tasty breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner, or anyone wanting to just grab a coffee and take advantage of the free Wifi service. The chef, Donna, is famous for her Asian fusion cooking, especially her soups and delicious mussel fritters. The dedication of co-owners Rachel and Aaron shows in the quality of meals and Aaron is known for his skills as a barista. He uses New Zealand’s best coffee, called Weka, roasted locally. Sugar Bowl also has a well-stocked bar and caters for functions or drinks and snacks in the comfortable and warm surroundings.

Foundation Bar Kitchen Lounge

For a truly satisfying experience complete with Kiwi style and flair, visit Foundation Bar at Te Rapa in the northwest of central Hamilton. This new addition to Te Awa, at The Base, offers classy surroundings in warm comfort, while remaining true to its Kiwi foundations with its chic rustic atmosphere. Foundation is the place to meet people, drink and enjoy the freshest cuisine that the region has to offer. The menu varies from fabulous fish and chips to paired pork fillet wrapped in bacon or crispy pork belly with parsnip puree, stewed red cabbage and apple and yellow potatoes. Don’t miss the mouth-watering grilled scotch fillet with potato gratin, wilted spinach and sauteed oyster mushrooms. Foundation proudly pours ‘Beer Craft of New Zealand’ beer.

Chim Choo Ree

Located on Bridge Street, Chim Choo Ree restaurant is open and fresh with its casual atmosphere, kitsch art, clattering bentwood chairs and concrete floor. The food has thrilled the critics, from the five-course tasting menu, to the mains such as duck breast, eye fillet, lyonnais with blue cheese beignets, sardelaise and caramel shallot. Try the venison loin with mushroom, beetroot, smoked yoghurt and porcini jus. And for pudding, you can’t beat roasted white chocolate with sour cherry, dark chocolate and fig leaf ice cream. The smooth texture of the rice pudding mousse is also a favorite.

Rocket Coffee

Coffee beans

Locals say the coolest thing about Hamilton is the Rocket Coffee cafe and roastery in Barton Street. The cafe looks like a warehouse and roasting on-site entices caffeine fiends to the communal table strewn with newspapers. Rocket is always on the lookout for coffees in season, so they travel to the growers. The espresso blend is roasted fresh each day and they usually buy enough green coffee beans for the blend to last four to eight weeks, so purists can be assured of a fresh cup. They also have three or more single origin coffees available, but they change every week, so patrons should keep an eye on what’s available. The management runs a two-hour training course, Espresso – The Very Basics, on Thursdays from 1pm to 3pm. Rocket also sells espresso machines.

River Kitchen

For coffee, cakes, gourmet breakfasts and fresh lunches, as well as gluten free and organic options, multi-award winning River Kitchen on Victoria Street is the place for you. Opened in 2007, this cafe has a barista who knows his beans, and an array of luscious cakes, gourmet breakfasts and fresh seasonal lunches (try the salmon hash). The cafe is renowned for its fresh interior and friendly staff. On its website, River notes that the breakfast menu runs daily until 2pm and offers classic combinations as well as a few twists on the usual fare.


Simple, sophisticated, multi-award winning Palate opened in February 2005 on Alma Street, Hamilton, and has quickly established itself as a leading restaurant in Waikato, with a reputation for raising the culinary bar across regional New Zealand. Head chef and owner Mat McLean and his team provide fresh, seasonal, top quality produce matched to an extensive wine list. Enjoy the intimate atmosphere in their red wine cellar with a view of the restaurant; the perfect environment for diners looking for a private setting. Try one of these from the classic lunch menu: free range pig’s cheek, scampi and hazelnut Waldorf salad with cauliflower cream, scotch fillet, shallot puree, crispy poached egg, smoked Portobello mushroom and potato dauphinoise; or red roasted duck with honey roasted parsnips, seared scallops, shiitake and chili.

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