After clocking over 2,000km behind the wheel throughout New Zealand’s north and south islands, we have compiled a list of the best vegetarian and vegan-friendly restaurants from Wellington’s hip Cuba Street to the revitalized neighborhoods of Christchurch to the adrenaline-filled streets of Queenstown.
While animal products, specifically meat and dairy, are front and center in the typical New Zealand diet, most of food establishments that we sought out had a handful of vegan and vegetarian items from which to choose.
In no particular order, here is New Zealand’s winning list. This post will cover the North Island. My next post will cover the highlights of the South Island.
Little Bird Unbakery, Auckland: At Little Bird Unbakery, the focus is on using the highest quality raw, organic ingredients. It’s that simple. With this dedicated focus, Little Bird has figured out the equation for delicious food in a beautifully designed cafe setting. The ambiance and vibrant energy of this place prepares your mind, body and palate for the incredible food and sensory experience that follows. Little Bird even sprouts its own nuts and seeds to further increase their nutrient content.
Get there early to grab a table as the lunch rush might leave your name on the “pecking order” (below). Alternatively, take your food “to go” and head up to Mt. Etna for a picnic with a view of the city below (that’s what we did!).
The Bird Bowl: A nutritious bowl of cumin spiced quinoa, wild rice and red canihua (baby quinoa) pilaf surrounded by an assortment of delicious salads: avocado & fennel salad, shaved kale with preserved lemon, herbed cashew cheese & activated walnuts, marinated beet & granny smith noodles with mint & parsley and house-made kraut slaw with celery, apple & dill.
The “linguine” special: zucchini linguine with mushroom and walnut “meatballs” in an oregano, olive, caper and tomato sauce and sprinkled with almond-based “parmesan cheese”
Raw chocolate “cheesecake”
Raw passionfruit “cheesecake”
The Little Bird
The light-filled, beautifully designed cafe
Egg-shaped light fixtures
Water jugs chock-full of fresh mint
Hanging egg-shaped plant pots
Little Bird originally started as a macaroon business. It wasn’t until this year that they opened the doors to their “unbakery” and café.
Here are the details for Little Bird Unbakery:
Address: 385 New North Rd, Kingsland, Auckland 1021, New Zealand
Hours: Monday – Sunday, 7am – 4pm
Phone: +64 9-550 7377
Revive, Auckland: Revive caters to the Monday through Friday downtown lunch crowd. Everything is freshly prepared each morning, and as soon as you walk in, you’re able to see the spread of salads in the main case as well as the two hot stews in the large cauldrons perched to the right of the display case. It’s a simple menu, but the straight-forward, what-you-see-is-what-you-get concept works quite well for this lunch-only cafe. Pick a few salads, maybe tack on a side of stew, have it to-go or have it in the cafe — whatever works best for you, Revive has you covered. The cold salads are nutrient-rich and full of delicious vegetables, legumes, and leafy greens. The stews are rich in flavor but aren’t too spicy or sweet. Revive offers the simple, flavorful food that you wish you had the time to cook yourself at home.
The bright green entrance is hard to miss!
A customer contemplating her salad selection
Interested in cooking Revive’s food at home? Revive’s cookbooks are available for purchase at the cafe.
Here are the details for Revive:
Address: 385 New North Rd, Kingsland, Auckland 1021, New Zealand
Hours: Monday – Thursday: 11am-8pm, Friday: 11am-3pm, closed weekends & public holidays
Phone: +64 9-303 0420
Midnight Espresso, Wellington: Midnight Espresso is located on Wellington’s hip and bustling Cuba Street. Within just a few blocks of this vegetarian and vegan cafe, you’ll find multiple record shops, a few tattoo parlors and a recycled clothing store. The cafe has a bit of a “grunge vibe” from the outside, but walk through the front door and head straight to the back where you’ll find an overflowing display case of prepared foods that change on a daily basis. It’s the kind of place where you’re immediately overwhelmed by a feeling of “FOMO” (fear of missing out) because you think that if you don’t try that vegan tortilla or vegan date scone today, it will be gone tomorrow. Bring a friend and sample a few items from the case or order off the menu and grab a bar stool by the window so that you can do some serious people watching on Cuba Street.
From the outside:
From the inside:
The magnificent display case:
The vegan tortilla: layers of creamy corn, black beans, tomato, roasted red pepper and spinach topped with sesame and poppy seeds and served with a fresh tomato salsa
The vegan chili with a warm tortilla and a side salad
Here are the details for Midnight Espresso:
Address: 178 Cuba Street, Wellington 6012, New Zealand
Hours: Monday – Friday: 7:30am – 3:00pm, Saturday – Sunday: 8:00am – 3:00pm
Phone: +64 4-384 7014
Phoenician Falafel, Wellington:
I thought that I had consumed the best falafel in Israel back in 2011, but I’m afraid to stay that Phoenician Falafel has exceed all falafel expectations and is now my new falafel baseline. Order the “Big Meal on Big Plate” so that you can try a little of everything: homemade hummus and baba ghannouj, freshly made falafel, tabbouli, warm pita, dolmades and a side salad. This Wellington falafel institution serves meat, but their vegetarian menu is extensive and is posted right alongside the meat menu. The chickpea base of this Lebanese influenced falafel is finely ground resulting in a more airy and lightweight falafel. If you’re looking for that dense, grainy falafel ball, this probably isn’t the place for you. Make sure to leave room for the cashew-based baklava for dessert. It’s freshly baked (our piece was still warm from the oven!) and has a mild sweetness that won’t leave you with a toothache. Make sure you’re in Wellington for a few days because you’ll want to squeeze in at least two meals at Phoenician Falafel. Or better yet, go twice in one day. I won’t judge!
Phoenician Falafel’s vegetarian menu:
The “Big Meal on Big Plate” was plenty of food for two to share
Here are the details for Phoenician Falafel:
Address: 128 Constable St, Newtown 6021, New Zealand
Hours: Monday – Wednesday 11:30am-9:30pm, Thursday – Saturday: 11:30am-11pm, closed Sunday
Phone: +64 4-385 9997