Eating out is great. Dining out is a physical experience that intertwines so strongly with memory that a good experience can colour your outlook on a restaurant or even a specific ingredient for as long as you live (and vice versa).
What I love about a restaurant hinges on more than food alone, although that’s important too. It’s the ritual, the act of ceremony: scrolling your way through an online list, flicking through menus to figure out what to eat, anticipation, good company, conversations, tasting something new, fighting over the bill, leaving a restaurant flushed and happy. All that cheesy, romanticised good stuff. And our Restaurant of the Year (ROTY) list is full of places you’ll most likely leave feeling flushed and happy.
Dining out is also, of course, expensive. Meals add up, and sometimes you just can’t splash out on a $70 dinner, no matter how much your friend tells you, “actually, that’s just how Auckland is these days”. So, in the name of public service, we’ve decided to round up the best, most affordable ways to eat at our ROTY 2019 restaurants. ROTY on a budget, let’s call it.
Most of these hacks boil down to simply eating at lunch - no big surprise - which is also a good way of figuring out whether the restaurant is worth splashing out bigger bucks on.
There are also some things that almost go without saying: sharing-plates restaurants will likely be cheaper in groups, and just don’t drink alcohol.
(Please remember, the word ‘affordable’ here is used relatively. For eats under $20, click here.)
God, dining at Culprit can run you up – it’s the trolley service that really does you in. Luckily, you can book in for lunch on Thursday and Friday, where you can put away a two-course lunch for $30pp. The menu changes regularly, but expect to have a few choices per starter, main or dessert, with similar echoes of the full Culprit menu (that is, slightly left-field but always delicious).
As everyone knows, one of the best ways to eat is to sit pretty and watch the food roll out, unprompted, and then feast on whatever lands on your table. You can do that at Gemmayze Street if you say ‘Yalla Jeeb’, and if you do it between 5.30-6pm it’ll cost you $40pp. It’s great value – menu changes depending on the kitchen, but expect hummus and expect tasty. Walk-ins only.
Once you start getting used to Coco’s Cantina’s excellent happy hour, there’s really no going back. From 4-6pm, there’s $13 pasta and you can add on an antipasti or pudding for an extra $5. While there’s always pasta Pomodoro, a happy hour pasta of the week keeps things fresh, too.
If you go right now, Gusto at the Grand are offering a $12 pizza-and-beer deal on weekdays from 5pm-6pm for only $12. Choose between margarita, mushroom or pepperoni pizzas, plus a beer. $12! Say no more.
Café Hanoi won’t be in their current location much longer, so get in quick for their canteen lunch, which will set you back $25. The deal includes 1 bowl and 1 roll, with options like roast duck wrapped in rice paper or a warming pho ga.
Keep an eye out for Orphans Kitchen's two-course dinner menus often offered for about $35; the best way to do so is through their Instagram. They’re likely to align with an event or moment of celebration – the last one was for Root-to-Petal month, where they celebrated spring with fresh, plant-based dishes.
At three courses for $45pp, you’re getting good value, plus the ability to taste a range of dishes from Cassia’s repertoire. If you’re going in a group, or even one other person, order different options to get the most bang for your buck. Another hack is to get two small dishes and one big dish to share between two – it’ll set you back about the same amount.
Dine at a “pre-theatre” time and get two courses from O’Connell St Bistro for $38, a steal if you consider their tasting menu is $105.
Three courses! $45! You get it. Beef tataki, market fish, a scoop of yuzu sorbet. Sorted.
Check if the restaurant is on First Table, a website that allows you to dine for cheaper if you go earlier – “earlybird catches the dinner deal”. Euro and Hugo’s Bistro are both currently on the site.
Restaurant Hub also offers rotating earlybird specials (though at the time of writing none of our Top 50 restaurants was included), as well as individual deals, including offers from Sid at the French Cafe, Euro, Azabu and Rothko.