Must-have dishes to eat in Wellington (2024)

This is where Wellington’s food lovers go when they want a good meal.

Ask anyone about their favourite dish in a city and it’s a question of specificities: Who are you when you are eating, when you are unburdened by price or place or time, when you have to distil

The chefs and food lovers we surveyed for this story on the essential dishes to eat in Wellington recommended meals full of the exact kind of compilations you want for lunch or just about any time — scores of noodles, hand-pulled and slurpable, in a bath of nourishing broth; a sour, crunchy salad that can’t be put down; spicy duck in cups of iceberg lettuce that practically beckons; a hearty soup borne from patience.

They are dishes that are obligatory not only because they are good but because they are, for reasons of the heart and the stomach, entirely necessary. Discover them below.

Must-have dishes to eat in Wellington (1)

Miso dengaku eggplant with pepitas, puffed grains and nori at Koji

The miso dengaku eggplant with pepitas, puffed grains and nori at Koji is a tantalising dance of smoky allure and sweet-savoury seduction. An eggplant, its glossy, char-kissed exterior yielding to reveal a creamy, almost custard-like flesh within, kissed by the flames of a blowtorch. The miso glaze, a symphony of flavours the salty tang of fermented soybean paste, harmonised with the sweet notes of mirin and a twist an addictive crumb of puffed black rice, nori, sesame and pepitas all bound together. There is a reason that the dish holds an enduring place in the centuries-old tapestry of Japanese gastronomy; the interplay of tender flesh and caramelised exterior, the intermingling of umami richness and subtle sweetness, elevate each bite to a moment of pure bliss. At Koji, it’s a dish to savour, to celebrate, and I remember it long after the final mouthful has been enjoyed. — Martin Bosley, owner of seafood company Yellow Brick Road Oyster and Fish Shack

Wonton noodle soup with black bean sauce at Nature Vegetarian

Noodles bring me comfort. They remind me of my childhood travels through Asia. The restaurants in the Hutt Valley are incredibly diverse, and Nature Vegetarian is one that has been around since I was young. One dish that is a regular order with my family is their wonton noodle soup with black bean sauce. I’ve been a pescatarian for five years now but have always had an affinity with mock meats. The mock char siu in this dish is familiar (the meat version was a childhood favourite). I always make sure to portion each bite of yellow noodles coated in black sauce with a bite of mock char siu. Served on the side are mock meat wontons in a gingery vegetarian broth that feels gentle and nourishing. It’s a perfect accompaniment. — Marlar Boon, chef and co-owner of Burmese restaurant Mabel’s

Pāua ravioli with lime beurre blanc sauce from Logan Brown

Pāua ravioli with lime beurre blanc sauce has been an entree dish on Logan Brown’s menu since December 13, 1996. (It was briefly removed by a rather rash chef returning from Sydney, before a wave of guests’ protests reversed that crazy decision in a week!) Besides being a wonderful blend of sweet, salty and citrus flavours and silky smooth, meaty and crunchy textures, it tells the story of New Zealand cuisine. Here we are situated at the bottom of the globe, a country looking up to the rest of the world with a curious and open mind. It takes our beautiful indigenous pāua meat, seasons it with Asian flavours, folds it into Italian pasta, smothers it with a French butter sauce and garnishes it with crunchy kūmara crisps introduced by our Pacific island brothers who had fetched it from Peru a 1000 years ago. A taste of our place. — Steve Logan, chef and co-owner of fine-dining restaurant Logan Brown

Hainanese chicken rice at R & S Satay Noodle House

One of my go-to eats around town is right in the middle of Cuba St. It’s the Hainanese chicken rice (option S9) at R & S Satay Noodle House. A lot of the dishes here evoke the feeling of sitting in a crowded, muggy hawker centre, which means they suit both a nice, balmy day or a drizzly, moody evening. With their Hainanese chicken, they give you the choice to pick either fried or boiled chicken but here, the fried is unbeatable. The fried chicken has this little lacey crisp on the outside which is then topped with an umami-packed soy gravy. Then there’s the garlic rice (which, of course, cannot be bad) as well as a light, fragrant bowl of chicken broth on the side. Add a bit of white pepper to that broth and some chilli powder to the chicken and you’ve got yourself a serious winner. — TK, owner of neighbourhood whiskey bar Dee’s Place

Must-have dishes to eat in Wellington (3)

La phet thok at Mabel’s

We are incredibly lucky to have a Burmese restaurant in Wellington, and Mabel’s on Tory St is excellent. Named after co-owner Marlar Boon’s grandmother, Mabel’s is perfect for large groups, cute dates, solo lunches and pre-show snacks. A favourite of mine is their la phet thok (pickled tea leaf salad). It’s astringent, sour, spicy, crunchy and absolutely delicious. At Mabel’s, they make theirs with la phet (pickled green tea leaves), sliced cabbage, dried shrimp, crispy dhal, fish sauce and lemon juice. Order it alongside a bowl of white rice, kyan thee hin (spiced eggplant curry), Burmese fried chicken and some balachaung (dried shrimp relish) on the side. — Romesh Dissanayake, author of When I Open The Shop

Spicy duck in lettuce cups at The Beijing

Wellington’s wide range of restaurants and cafes serve a vast range of delectable dishes, so isolating a single essential dish is difficult. My criteria are those you crave deeply. They spring into your thoughts unbidden as your stomach rumbles, with thoughts of their aroma and taste. Essential as in absolutely necessary, for me, is the spicy duck in lettuce cups at The Beijing, a suburban restaurant in Newtown. It’s owned by husband-and-wife team Liu Xin and Le Zhong, who specialise in Sichuan cuisine. There are days when the spicy duck calls to me out of the blue, the crisp counterpoint of the iceberg lettuce cup surrounding the carefully diced, slightly sweet, spicy duck and vegetables is sublime. We have frequented this establishment for 25 years. It’s a favourite with numerous Wellington hospo people. You get to know the regulars; it is like a dining room of friends and acquaintances all after their own essential Beijing dish. — Julie Clark, co-owner of eateries Floriditas and Loretta

French onion soup at Boulcott Street Bistro

For me, it’s the French onion soup at Boulcott Street Bistro. Classically made, with beef stock, you can tell the time and effort that goes into making it. I wouldn’t have the patience at home to execute such a dish, so it’s a real treat and something I savour each time I go. Otherwise, any of the sandwiches from Myrtle. — Dean White, founder of restaurants Ombra, Kisa and Mr Gos

Barbecue roast pork wonton noodle soup (dry) at KC Café

The appearance of KC Café is unassuming, but it is undeniably an iconic Wellington institution. Most Wellingtonians will have a go-to order, some might even go one step further and have a go-to dish for when they’re sober and another for when they’re heading home after a night out. I have a few favourites at KC (the pork and eggplant claypot rice is worth a try, as is the beef brisket noodle soup) but the barbecue roast pork wonton noodle soup (dish 22) done dry is my absolute favourite. The pork is the star, deliciously sweet and not too fatty. The combo of the barbecue pork paired with the silky wontons and the bite of the noodles is a delicious comfort to me and while the dish is described as dry, the generous amount of savoury sauce at the bottom of the plate ties everything together perfectly. — Kalliana Kong, founder of Instagram food surveyor @Wellingnoms

Must-have dishes to eat in Wellington (5)

Yo po mian from Taste of Home

We are spoilt for choice here in Wellington and place importance on owner-operated eateries with hand-crafted food. For me, it’s yo po mian from Taste of Home. Not only are these noodles hand-pulled but they are also simply delicious. You can choose your topping, be it squid, tofu or pork belly, and that, together with the combination of ginger, chilli, peanuts and bok choy, makes for a delicious takeaway and a flavour combination I can’t resist. — Theo Papouis, chef and owner of Greek restaurant Oikos. Read our profile on the restaurateur here.

Dan dan noodles from Taste of Home

One of my favourite Wellington dishes is the dan dan noodles from Taste of Home, usually with medium spice. The juicy hand-pulled noodles are the perfect vessel for the minced pork sauce, and carry the Sichuan beautifully. I consider myself pretty spice-tolerant, but would recommend staying on the mild/medium side unless you’re very confident you can handle it. The dish is super flavourful, hot and comforting — perfect for the change in weather. — Jessie Wong, founder of Yu Mei. Read our profile on the handbag designer here.

Where else to eat in Wellington

From cafes to pies across Pōneke.

The best brunch spots in Wellington. For immaculate vibes and an astonishing array of eggs, this is where to go.

Wellington’s best cafes, from hot new things to historic institutions. Read on for all the caffeine and character you could possibly need.

Pies are political. But does Wellington make the leading pastries? From high-end to humble, Te Whanganui-a-Tara has an array of hot pie candidates.

Jesse Mulligan: Wellington’s classy home for cheddar puffs and cold martinis. Jesse Mulligan travels to the capital’s Cuba St for a solid bistro.

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