The following is a list of places where tasty and cheap meet. Nobody knows how they do it. Don’t ask, just eat.
It’s often said that Wellington has more cafes per capita than New York. But for all of us who need to keep a watchful eye on our bank statements, it can be a real challenge making the most of the city’s culinary offerings without spiralling quickly into overdraft and beyond. So we’ve put together this little guide to help. Some of these are specials. Some are just cheap always. All are befitting your brilliant belly.
$10 Bacon and eggs — Pravda Cafe
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Pravda oozes class. It oozes out onto the sidewalk and creates all kinds of hazards for passersby, who soon find themselves seated inside with their shirts tucked in reading the New Yorker and sipping a macchiato. While it’s classy, it’s certainly not above the occasional cheap breakfast deal.
$10 Paneer fried rice — Higher Taste
This is the go-to place for cheap vegetarian and vegan meals in the business end of Wellington. And it’s not just the food — the serene atmosphere is welcome respite from the midday chaos of Lambton Quay.
$12.50 Fish po boy — Sweet Mother’s Kitchen
This New Orleans-inspired classic is a staple at the now-iconic Sweet Mother’s Kitchen. It’s notoriously good, and it’s this cheap every day.
$12 Nasi Campur — Aunty Mena Vegetarian Cafe
Don’t let the low-key look of the place fool you—the food here is so good that it’s been known to turn carnivores into vegetarians. It’s been documented. This place is great for a quick and tasty meal on your way into town.
$6 Blue cheese and peanut wontons — Chow
Chow is great any night of the week, but on Mondays, when mains go 2 for 1, it’s irresistible. It’s open late too, so perfect for a late dinner after a movie.
$16 Big Bay Breakfast with regular coffee — Maranui Cafe
Alright, so this one’s not strictly $15 or less, but it’s such a damn good deal that the math can look the other way. Located beach-side in the old surf club building, Maranui is the stand-out eatery in Lyall Bay. Make it out for this Tuesday breakfast deal — this place gets busy on the weekends.
$10 Cajun-spiced free range chicken, ‘slaw, barbeque sauce and mayor burger — Monterey
Monterey is home to the best burgers in Newtown, and Tuesdays are when you’ll get them cheap. Pop on in and challenge your friends to a board game. It’s so homely you’ll loiter.
$8 Margherita Pizza — Scopa
Here’s a fact which some people may deny, but if they do, they’re either lying or tasteless: there is no food greater than pizza and there never will be. As such, you may as well pencil this deal into your calendar now. Get in between 11 and 3 and it’s yours.
$5 American hotdog with fries — Preservatorium Cafe and Cannery
Cafe food this cheap? Seriously, this is a thing. The american hotdog is but one of a range of absurdly cheap lunch options. If it’s a Tuesday, be here.
$9.25 Spicy lemongrass chicken — Rock Yard
On 2 for 1 mains Tuesday, if you get 2 mains, you’ll get each half price. But seriously, this Vietnamese joint is a contender for best cheap BYO in Wellington. It’s cheap, delicious, and somehow it manages to be classy too.
$10 Large margherita pizza— Pizza Pomodoro
Tucked away up the alley on Leeds Street just across the way from Golding’s Free Dive, Pizza Pomodoro is out of sight, but once you get in there, I doubt it’ll soon be out of mind. Note: this deal is for pickup only and with no alterations to the pizza.
$15 Roast lunch — Southern Cross
Dealer in cheap lunches is just one of the many hats Southern Cross wears. Classy bar, maker of quality brunches, site of family-friendly courtyard, host of great gigs—the list goes on. A roast lunch for $15? Unheard of.
$12.50 Chicken and bamboo noodle soup — Little Hanoi
Little Hanoi is hidden away up Left Bank, which is not because it doesn’t deserve to be in the spotlight. It’s fully licensed and BYO so you may as well bring a bottle of wine and make an evening of it.
$7 Steak — Meow
Meow is quickly emerging as the replacement for recently deceased Wellington legends like Mighty Mighty and Puppies (RIP). Things happen there. But with food deals this bizarrely cheap — I mean, the steak is organic scotch fillet steak with chimichurri, red wine jus or french butter, for God’s sake—you’d be a sucker for thinking it’s just a venue for quality music. Eat the meat.
$7.50 Banh Mi Thit — Nam D
Banh Mi = crispy baguette + butter + pate + meat combo + coriander + chilli + pickled carrot + radish. Phone off your holiday to Vietnam — this is street food of the quality you’ll find on the streets of Hanoi. You’ll find this little place burrowed away up Cable Car Lane.
$10.50 Ron’s Winner burger — Thunderbird
This beast is comprised of BBQ pulled pork with chipotle mayo and dressed coleslaw, and it’s but one of a range of delicious burgers on offer. Situated on Featherston Street, Thunderbird is a taste oasis in the desert of corporate chain outlets.
$5 Vegetarian noodles — Chef’s Palette
Chef’s Palette got me through uni. And based upon the lines that stretch out its doors every lunch time, I don’t think I’m the only one. Chef’s only has a few options, but that’s the beauty of the place. It all comes down to the sauces you choose. I’ve been waging a long campaign for the sichuan chilli and honey soya combo — I’d appreciate it if you joined me.
$10 Good Ole’ Blue Bulls — Little Beer Quarter
Translation: beef brisket braised in a beery barbeque sauce with roquette and blue cheese. With all lunches $10 on Thursdays, this quaintly named dish is but one of a number of affordable options at LBQ. And with one of Wellington’s best selections of beer, you may as well set aside the afternoon too.
$10 Steak — Gasworks
Thursdays is steak night at this Miramar joint. If you’re out airport-way and the stomach grumbles, set your sights for this place.
$4.50 Eggs — Milk and Honey
Every day is egg day at this classy spot on Victoria University’s Kelburn Campus. Eggs are two for one before 11am. And these are eggs done right, whichever way you like them.
$9 Hot pork belly sandwich with house-cut chips and lemon mayo — Gooseshack
Gooseshack is the place that is breathing life into Berhampore, the long slumbering suburb just beyond Newtown. If you can make it there for Friday lunch, sandwich deals of this calibre are all yours.
$11.50 Singapore Hokkien Noodles — Chumeez
This place is the Diagon Alley of Wellington Singaporean eateries. It’s way down the Parliament end of Lambton Quay and is literally in a windowless room underground. You won’t find it unless you look for it. But look you should.
$3.30 Six pieces of sushi — Sushi Bi
Sushi Bi is the peak of Wellington’s sushi mountain. Many rumours circulate as to how they make it taste the way they do, but no one is certain of the answer. All you need to know though is that all sushi is half price after 4pm. Choose wisely and you can score filling sushi meals for prices that make economists cry.
$5 Panda pot — Sichuan Spice
This is the pick of the litter at the Friday night markets in Left Bank. Sources on the ground have called it the best Chinese in Wellington. It’s all about that classic Sichuan spice flavour, except it’s up to you just how far around you turn the spice dial. If you think you’re hot stuff, ask for ‘extreme claw’ spice. Go on, tough guy.
$12 Jalapenos Rellenos — Viva Mexico
Stuffed jalapenos with cheese is the kind of Mexican food that you’ll only find in the kind of authentic eatery that Viva Mexico most certainly is. High quality stuff.
$10 Sojok — Phoenician Cuisine
When this Lebanese joint boasts of making the best kebabs in Wellington, it doesn’t come across as arrogant. Try one and you’ll understand why. But this place is far more than a mere kebabery. Branch out and try the sojok—Lebanese sausage served in pita with fresh tomato and gherkin.
$5.50 Baguette — Le Moulin Bakery
Le Moulin has earned a reputation for the best baguettes and pastries in Wellington. It’s a little out of the way and it certainly looks like nothing special from the outside, but it’s the closest you’ll get to an authentic baguette this side of Marseille.
$6 Three Japanese Six Mushroom Dumplings — House of Dumplings
By contrast to the grand metropolises of Auckland and Sydney, Wellington has long had an alarming dumpling deficit. House of Dumplings is the corrective to that problem. And these aren’t your reheated once-frozen sorts; these are the hand-made and right into the pan kind. Now located on both Manners and Taranaki streets, you can grab your fix regardless of which side of town you’re on.
$12 Beef with thick rice noodle soup — Fisherman’s Plate
The customers of Fisherman’s Plate are a loyal bunch. While the place is unassuming from the outside—it looks like your standard nothing-fancy fish and chip shop—the food served within is something to return for.
$7 Spicy bratwurst — Fritz’s Wieners
It’s Sunday morning and you’re down at the waterfront market, veges in hand. Then you buy a bratwurst. It’s just how the story goes and how it always will. Tasty sausages.
$12 Shoyu shiitake ramen — The Ramen Shop
Although it’s way out in Newtown, this place has been making waves, and for good reason. It’s ramen with a Kiwi twist, which pretty much means it’s delicious. Well worth the long stroll out.
$10 Heineken and half a large pizza — Fidel’s
No compendium of Wellington eateries would be complete without reference to Fidel’s, the Rock of Gibraltar to the Gibraltar of Wellington’s culinary scene. Strictly speaking this deal is for two Heinekens with one large pizza for $20, but bring a friend and you’ve got one sweet deal on your hands.
$15 Char-grilled octopus with polenta, fennel and olive — The Bresolin
The Bresolin discovered that elusive space where classy and cheap meet. Nobody knows how they do it. Don’t ask, just eat.
$9.90 Two piece quarter pack — Kentucky Fried Chicken
I won’t tell anyone.
This feature originally appeared in Concrete Playground.