Cheap Eats 2016: Chinese
The best places in Auckland to eat Chinese food for under $20.
571 Dominion Rd, Balmoral
There’s a simple reason there’s often a bit of a wait for a table at Barilla: their dumplings are little pillows of joy. Not-to-miss fillings include beef and carrot — slightly sweet, with a meaty presence — and pork and fennel, dancing between savoury and perfumed, the fennel balancing the fattiness of the pork.
Northern Chinese, vegetarian friendly, open late
Shop 7/Unit 6 119 Meadowlands Drive, Meadowlands
Hotter than Sichuan cuisine, Chongqing is known for its serious spice. And we mean it; don’t be brave here. The cold, Sichuan peppercorn-heavy pigs’ ears are the go-to side — they’re cooked to a perfect crunch with lip-smacking chilli heat. Try the classic dan dan mian noodles, too (rich in preserved mustard leaf), and the glorious, slow-cooked pork belly and shiitake mushroom noodle soup. Best of all, a bowl of noodles and a cold side easily come under $20.
Chongquing, new listing
4 Owairaka Ave, Mt Albert
It’s near-impossible to describe this place without uttering the word “hipster”, but to do so seems to diminish how well this Asian street-food-inspired canteen has been curated. Come here for gua bao with homemade sauces and expertly cooked fillings, stay for the lively atmosphere and the short but sweet craft-led drinks list.
Chinese fusion, licensed
105 Dominion Rd, Balmoral
You may have to queue out the door on this windy strip of Dominion Rd, but when you do get a table, it’s worth it. We can almost never go past the dan dan noodles, or the dumplings, in a spicy, sweet pool of chilli oil. The Chinese pickles on the side are a great call, too.
GOGO MUSIC CAFE
559 Dominion Rd, Balmoral
Dinner at Gogo is quite the experience. Skewers are barbecued in the open kitchen, steam billowing out. The country-and-western murals and décor give you plenty to look at, and the big bottles of Chinese beer are cheap. Spicy Xinjiang chicken comes out in a huge bowl for your table to share; look out for bones and offal among the dried chillis and fat noodles. It’s fun for a group, and it’s open late, too.
Sichuan, new listing, licensed, open late
GOLDEN BARBEQUE NOODLE HOUSE
296D Dominion Rd, Balmoral
Consistently dishing up fresh, uncomplicated Cantonese flavours, Golden Barbecue is one of the best of the city’s dwindling barbecue joints. It’s as great for a quick $10 fill of roast pork on rice as it is for a big shared spread with family or friends — the green beans are some of the best in the city, the crispy squid is right on and the combination claypot is pure piping-hot, slippery comfort.
Cantonese, new listing
660 Dominion Rd, Balmoral
As well as hand-shaved noodles, hot pots and, of course, barbecue, Jiuzhou BBQ serves Dezhou chicken, a fried and aromatic braised dish. It’s their specialty, all the way from Shandong province, and cooked from a recipe dating back more than 300 years. There are ample toys, too, to keep the kids happy.
Shandong, new listing, vegetarian friendly, open late
248 Dominion Rd, Balmoral
This Dominion Rd stalwart has, in our opinion, been serving Auckland’s best xiao long bao (dumplings filled with soup) since 2002. The chef has changed, but the commitment to authentic Shanghai cuisine, which is typically defined by its sweetness, has remained. Try the wonton soup and the cold Shanghai duck, or simply let owner Lei “Kelvin” Zhang guide you through the menu.
Shanghainese, licensed, BYO
LUCKY LUCKY DUMPLINGS
339 Karangahape Rd, K’Rd Precinct
Lucky Lucky used to be a strip club, and still looks like one. As you can imagine, it’s fun, it’s loud and it’s cheap, in all senses of the word. The menu is short but good and there are cocktails served in bubble tea cups with ridiculously large straws. The dumplings are not to be missed. Also great are bao with pork belly, soft and pillowy, or the fried chicken brushed with shrimp paste.
Modern Chinese, licensed, new listing
27 Cross St, K R’d Precinct
Like the (now-closed) Little Sheep Hotpot, which was in this spot before, you cook your own food at Master Bowl in a simmering bowl of stock. The big difference is Master Bowl’s version is Sichuan, so be prepared for aromatic, mouth-numbing Sichuan peppers. Try the half-and-half hot pot, but save room for the fragrant dan-dan noodles and crispy spring onion pancakes. A cooling cucumber garlic salad is advised.
Sichuan, new listing, licensed, BYO
150 Queens Rd, Panmure
C0-owner Peter Deng was taught how to roast and barbecue meats by his dad, and his roast pork or duck, barbecue pork or soya sauce chicken on rice are all scrumptious. As is traditional in Cantonese restaurants, a typical meal starts with complimentary lai tong (house soup). Get a group of four or more together and order the Peking duck done two ways: with pancake wrap and san choy bao in lettuce wrap ($48). Or try green beans with black olives, salted and spiced squid, salted and spicy fish and stewed pork belly with taro. As for the house-made egg tofu, it will convert even hardened tofu sceptics.
MR ZHOU’S DUMPLINGS
3130 Great North Rd, New Lynn
New Lynn has a smart new train station and bus terminal, a strikingly eye-catching tower block and all sorts of growth and rejuvenation, but the place that leads the way is Mr Zhou’s Dumplings. Bin Zhou was a pioneer in Balmoral, with New Flavour, and now he’s happily doing it all over again out west. This is how cities grow: planners plan, but it comes to nothing unless clever people come along and do things.
Northern Chinese, vegetarian friendly
541 Dominion Rd, Balmoral
This famous dumpling house is as popular as ever, and deservedly so. Choose from 23 different varieties of house-made dumplings, but also try dishes like spicy pork mince on hand-pulled noodles, braised eggplant with sweet, garlicky brown sauce and the tofu and cucumber salad. If there’s room at the end, the kumara in hot toffee is also delicious.
Northern Chinese, vegetarian friendly, open late, BYO
368 Queen St, Central City
Central Auckland’s newest food court is also one of its smallest and best. The 10 or so stalls include well-known names like the Indian Bikanervala and Bombay Chinese, along with new outlets such as the Brazilian stall Bite. Best of all: Gui Rice Noodles, where the crispy fried pork is simply delectable. Queens Court is right opposite the Town Hall: terribly convenient if you’ve got a show there or at Q Theatre just up the road. It’s not licensed, though, so if you want a drink, leave yourself time to get one at the Town Hall or theatre bar.
Food court, new listing, vegetarian friendly
776 Manukau Rd, Royal Oak
We wonder if they’re the best barbecue pork buns in town, with their incredibly fluffy exterior and sweet, spicy, sticky filling. They also do their dumplings extremely well — either in your standard plate-of-20 way (fried or steamed, we love the pork and fennel, obviously) or in smaller dim-sum styles. Try the coriander and shrimp, or the pork siu mai. And don’t forget the Chinese vegetables on the side.
SHA XIAN SNACK
285 Dominion Rd, Balmoral
Sha xian snacks are delicacies from Sha county in Fujian province, southeast China. The cuisine is famous for dumplings and other bite-size foods, very light broths and also spicy options. And this eatery is famous for its service, which is fast and very friendly. We specially love the spicy beef noodles, with big tender hunks of meat and a deliciously rich broth. Hand-torn noodles cost a dollar more.
Fujian, new listing
SHAOLIN KUNG FU NOODLE
636 Dominion Rd, Balmoral
The restaurant with the best name in the whole city also has some of the best hand-pulled noodles, best spicy lamb dishes and some pretty fine flatbreads, too. The owners are from Henan and their cooking is influenced by the foods of the local Muslim community. Slip into a wooden stall or search for a table upstairs, and ready yourself for savoury delights. We’re very keen on the fried noodles with lamb, cumin and chilli. Also at 486 Queen St in the central city.
Northern Chinese, open late
557 Dominion Rd, Balmoral
Spicy House isn’t one of the biggest names in the Balmoral shops, and it’s a pretty simple box of a room to sit in, too. But don’t let any of that put you off. Their chive dumplings are outstanding and the rest of the menu isn’t far behind. And those big wall signs advertising special intestine dishes? Be brave. You won’t regret it.
Sichuan, vegetarian friendly, open late
919 Dominion Rd, Mt Roskill
Tasty Noodles has a sort of diner feel — fancy booths with vinyl banquettes and Formica tables. There are hand-pulled noodles — make sure you order them “dry” with sour-spicy pork — and lamb dumplings, and a superb side of black mushrooms with mustard chilli sauce. But the thing you really, really need to try is the “jar soup”, a traditional medicinal soup cooked in a giant urn over slowly smouldering charcoal, deeply flavoured with bones and umami.
TIANZE DUMPLING HOUSE
695 Sandringham Rd, Sandringham
Eggplant may not spring to mind as the stand-out dish at a dumpling house, but believe us when we say the pork-stuffed eggplant at Tianze is so very good. The fried green beans are a favourite, too. And so are their dumplings: as good as anywhere else in town, we think, especially when they’re fried.
Northern Chinese, vegetarian friendly, open late
TOP CAFE DUMPLING HOUSE
22A Cross St, K’Rd Precinct
Hidden away behind Karangahape Rd, Top Cafe keeps things simple: it’s dumplings all the way. Pot-stickers or steamed, 11 in a serve, mostly $11 per serve, all plump, just-right chewy and freshly made. While you can’t go wrong with the pork and chives or beef and carrot options, it’s worth branching out: their tofu, cabbage, coriander and “black fungus” vegan dumplings are real flavour bombs. We come here for lunch or to fill up before a boozy night out.
Northern Chinese, new listing
WANG WANG SPRING PANCAKE
704 Dominion Rd, Balmoral
In a strip full of dumplings and hand-pulled noodles, a lighter dinner can be found at Wang Wang Spring Pancake. As the name suggests, you purchase a pile of pancakes — perfectly thin and light — and then pick your fillings. The Peking pork is a favourite; it’s rich and unctuous and offset perfectly with raw spring onion on the side. We love it.
XI’AN FOOD BAR
11 Anzac Ave, Central City
They still have the quirky calculator ordering system, and the bright orange décor. The menu has Chinese burgers, dumplings and a good array of vegetable dishes, but it’s very hard to go past the braised-pork noodles. Complex flavours, slowly cooked pork, and a good level of heat. It’s served atop their signature hand-pulled noodles: fat, soft and chewy — in a good way.
1238 Dominion Rd, Mt Roskill
There’s an extensive menu to work through but go for the Hunanese classics here — smoked pork, the slow-braised dishes and
cold sides. Hunanese cuisine features chilli balanced by vinegar, so you’ll find pickled vegetables help ease the heat. One of the very large main dishes, plus several small sides, can easily satisfy two budget-conscious diners.
Hunanese, licensed, BYO