Photo by Jessie Mulligan
583 Dominion Rd, Balmoral
Banzai has become a favourite among those with young kids — drawn by the tub of Potato Heads, creatively presented sushi and BYO wine status affording a delicious and cheap night out. Raw tuna sushi comes generously loaded here, but one of our favourites is the virtuous, crunchy green-green sushi — such a great dish for the start of spring.
Japanese, vegetarian friendly, licenced, BYO
183 Symonds St, Central City
Allan Jung’s Bian makes the best sushi in town. We love the salmon inari, with fresh Marlborough salmon and tartare sauce. Three new items have been added to the udon menu: chicken, beef or prawn yaki don with stir-fried noodles. Their potato croquette, especially with the Bian tartare sauce, is highly recommended.
Japanese, vegetarian friendly
3113 Great North Rd, Blockhouse Bay
If you’ve ever been to an izakaya in Japan, this will take you right back there. Fun food for sharing, cute cat characters on the menu, and a cheerful “Irasshaimase” as you walk in. Ingredients are super-fresh and cooked with careful attention to flavour balance. The pork belly and onion yakitori are borderline addictive, and if you like mustard, the mustard mayo chicken with its tender meat and bold sauce is the perfect tangy, creamy chickeny combo.
Japanese, vegetarian friendly, licensed, BYO
167 Symonds St, Central City
The stock is some of the finest around, the toppings very generous and the egg yolk perfectly soft. Ramen Do has a calm feel about it: the kitchen and counter hum along without fuss, and the room, adorned with kooky realist cross-stitching, is often quite quiet save the sound of slurping, despite the fact it’s always full. Here, you needn’t spend more than $14 to feel full, though splurging on $18 braised-pork-belly ramen is worth the extra few dollars.
Japanese, vegetarian friendly
4 Anzac Rd, Browns Bay
If we’re honest, the original Ramen Takara still has it over the new Ponsonby branch: head here for some of the best ramen in the city. Stocks are clean, bassy and full of flavour; you can customise your noodles. There may not be a finer shoyu ramen ($10) in the city. Of the more unusual variants, try the spicy tan-tan ($16), made with a black sesame base, rich and slightly sour. Service is tops, plus it’s licensed.
Japanese, vegetarian friendly, licensed
SAKE BAR NIPPON
415 Manukau Rd, Epsom
Go here for great genki. It’s in the drum-beating, the head-bowing irasshaimases (welcomes) and the general enthusiasm exuded by both waitstaff and customers. Being next door to the Lido helps some, too — that old-fashioned pre- or post-cinema thrill. The firm but yielding whole yakitori squid is superb and the salmon sushi generously filled, but if we’re honest we really go for the karaage chicken: best washed down with a pint of Orion. Kanpai!
13 Anzac Ave, Central City
Whether in a small group or on a solo ramen mission, Tanpopo’s location makes it ideal for a workday lunch. Even the meat-eaters among us especially love the vegetarian miso ramen.
Japanese, licensed, BYO
241 Dominion Rd, Balmoral
A ukulele hangs on one log-cabin-esque wall in this small Japanese restaurant, and if you’re lucky, the owner might give it a strum as you eat. The food’s traditional, with a menu of well-priced bento boxes, donburi and noodles, plus sushi so fresh the colours shine, and available to take away from the street-side window. The okonomiyaki (savoury pancake) is particularly flavoursome.
405 Mt Eden Rd, Mt Eden
Almost every region of Japan has its own version of ramen, and at Zool Zool — sister eatery to Metro Top 50 restaurant Kazuya — there are six classic variations to try, alongside wines chosen to complement each flavour. Izakaya-style snacks and “Zool Men” — reduced broth noodles — are equally great.