Auckland's best takeaways

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Viva's annual wrap-up of some of the best takeout food Auckland has to offer.

(From left) The Flaming Onion's Alistair Bingle; Toto's metre-long boscaiola pizza; Owner/chef Oanh Huynh of Mekong Vietnamese with a Buddhist salad;and goodies from Little Bird. Photo / Babiche Martens
(From left) The Flaming Onion's Alistair Bingle; Toto's metre-long boscaiola pizza; Owner/chef Oanh Huynh of Mekong Vietnamese with a Buddhist salad;and goodies from Little Bird. Photo / Babiche Martens

Sometimes you just don't feel like cooking. Whether it's the end of a busy day or after a crazy night out, a stress-free, tasty meal created by someone else is incredibly appealing.

In this year's Viva Take Out Awards we celebrate the faithfuls - good burgers, great fish and chips - and embrace the growing diversity of cultures that make our eating experience all the more fabulous. You don't have to travel to Malaysia to find a tasty curry, or to China for scrummy dumplings.

The Viva taste team looked for tradition as well an innovation, it looked for authenticity, fresh and interesting ingredients and, of course, service with a smile.

You don't need a big budget to try the places we recommend, just a big appetite and a sense of adventure to try something new.

MOVEABLE FEASTS

WINNER: The wave of food trucks supplying cheap, fast, fabulous snacks that swept our city last summer has kept on building and we love them. Our top choice is Mexi Kai because we're in love with their "Al Pastor Taco" - 20-hour slow smoked pulled pork, fresh pineapple salsa and mango sauce and for only $5 - (fair enough, we usually need three of them when the hunger hits hard, but who cares when it's this good!) - and everything else they do like the genuine soft corn tortilla, zingy salsas, the way they support sustainable local producers and the happy serving staff. They can be found each weekday lunchtime at Wilson car park, corner Elliott and Victoria St and at the Auckland Night Markets in Glenfield or check out where to find them next at their website and sign up for their tweet alerts.

RUNNER UP: Our next favourite is Maldito Mendez who serve great South American street food with attitude; gazpacho soup with chilli and coriander prawns, crusty rolls with chorizo and chimichurri, churros with chili and cinnamon. The problem is they've been busy on the set of The Hobbit of late but they're about to set up camp in the soon-to-be open Ponsonby Central, so look out for them there this summer and at events in and around the city. Their fabulous food is served up fast, easy to handle and delicious - just as food truck fodder ought to be.

GOODNESS WITH EVERY MOUTHFUL

WINNER: A good, wholesome, vegetarian salad can be hard to find for dinner. We're spoilt for choice from cafes at lunchtime, but come dusk when they've all closed their doors for the day, it's a big ask. Mekong Vietnamese in the Ponsonby International Foodcourt make a vegetarian salad that is packed full of flavour and goodness. Its Vietnamese name is bun chay but it's affectionately known as the Buddhist salad. Shredded lettuce, carrot, bean sprouts, fragrant herbs and slender rice noodles sit beneath a mound of marinated, stir-fried tofu and a sprinkling of peanuts with a just-right salty-sour-sweet sauce. This is a salad that fills you up but leaves you feeling refreshed and energised. It makes a very welcome change to the fried-food coma. The Mekong was apparently the first Vietnamese restaurant in Auckland and this reincarnation at the Ponsonby Food Hall is still run by the same family.

Ponsonby International Food Court, Upstairs/106 Ponsonby Rd, Ponsonby, ph (09) 376 6800.

RUNNER UP: Just walking into Wise Cicada in Newmarket makes you feel healthier. The chefs of this colourful, cluttered, plant-based cafe know how to cram flavour into each dish and the counter overflows with nourishing treats that change daily. Of the hot dishes, we rate the Iranian spinach stew with potato and red kidney beans and the Thai-style massaman curry with tofu and spring veg - both are packed full of spicy flavours - and the salads are the sort that will send your energy through the roof, not the floor. One of our favourites, the sea spaghetti (a pasta-like sea-based vegetable) and kale, is alive with the fresh zing of ginger and sesame. Who says vegetables are boring? 23 Cowhurst St, Newmarket, ph (09) 529 9529.

GOOD OLD FISH 'N' CHIPS

WINNER: "Beer battered fish, hand-cut agria chips with tartare sauce." It's a combination that doesn't sound too different to the fish and chips served in many a cafe or takeaway. But don't be fooled by this simple description. For those in search of the "Holy Grail" of crispy batter, the good news is that it might just have been found at the Takapuna Beach Cafe & Store. For the modest price of $10.50 you get two large pieces of fresh skinless fish coated in a light, still-crispy-10-minutes-later beer batter. This is served together with big, juicy hand-cut, twice cooked chips the size of candles, that make the real difference of turning a simple everyday meal into an absolutely delicious one.

The counter staff manning the store are always friendly and for those pick-up orders, coupled with a quick walk along the beach, they provide a digital red lobster that flashes and vibrates when your takeaway is ready; a small detail but one that always creates a smile. After a busy day it's great to find somewhere local producing lovely simple food. If you're up for it, they also make their own icecreams on site; a single scoop of the rippled cherry yoghurt provides the finishing touch for a great midweek meal. This small treasure can be found next to the boat ramp in Takapuna. 22 The Promenade, Takapuna, ph (09) 484 0002.

RUNNER UP: This year the runner-up award goes to Bema Takeaways, also on the Shore at Cheltenham, because for more than a decade it has served consistently excellent food.

Our researcher regularly buys the snapper, which is a pricey $4 a fillet, but says it's worth it because the fish is thick and generous, moist, tender, and very white. It's the small touches that count here as well. If you order oyster or mussels, they'll throw in a few extra.

Behind the counter you'll find local student David who has worked here for a number of years to help finance his engineering degree at university. His rapport with locals is excellent, he recognises your voice on the phone and always has a joke. That's a simple pleasure that you want from your local.

The shop stands in a lovely group of other locally owned shops, the antique Curiosity Shop, the French shop Chateaubriant and a gift shop, so visiting is really charming. A block away is Cheltenham Beach, and Narrow Neck is just a short stroll up the road. Great memories of long summers and fresh, delightful food.

Bema Takeaways, 87 Vauxhall Rd, Cheltenham, North Shore, ph (09) 445 4441.

PIZZA PARADISE

WINNER: When it comes to takeaway pizza, watching a metre-long rectangle of authentic Italian deliciousness come through the door is quite something to behold. This style of pizza was invented in a small village in southern Italy, and owner and head chef of Toto, Sergio Maglione, says he loves the concept "because it brings all the family members around one table for a meal and conversation - what Italian food and family culture is all about".

We love the metre-long for its impressive good looks, but most importantly, the taste more than stands up to appearances. Maglione says a good pizza starts with a good dough, and Toto uses imported Italian flour to achieve that perfect consistency. The choice of toppings - from a few fresh, high-quality ingredients to a veritable feast - are all tempting. But the ones that have us salivating are the boscaiola (champignon mushrooms, mozzarella, baby spinach, roasted pine nuts, parmesan and truffle oil) and the d'oro (caramelised onions, mozzarella, champagne ham, cream, rosemary, parmesan, extra virgin olive oil).

So next time, you're throwing an impromptu friends and family gathering, do it the Italian way and wait for the utterances of "mamma mia" as those long boxes are opened ...

Toto Pizza, 53 Nelson St, Auckland City. Ph: 0800 TOTO PIZZA.

RUNNER UP: At Il Buco, a tiny Ponsonby hangout, owner Jonny Rudduck does a great job plying his traditional Roman pizza, al taglio (pizza by the slice). Each piece is par-cooked then whacked in the oven once you order it. Rudduck knows his toppings and you'll never see any gimmicks (can't someone ban cranberry and chicken pizza for good?) at Il Buco.

He sticks to the tried and true with fabulous topping combinations of capricciosa - mozzarella, mushroom, artichokes and ham - or the plain sounding but sensational tasting thin leaves of potato, rosemary and Italian sausage.

Jonny treats everyone like a regular and the whole experience is bellissimo.

113 Ponsonby Rd, Ponsonby, ph (09) 360 4414.

BURGERS

WINNER: When a neighbourhood burger bar gives you a page lovingly describing the provenance of each of its ingredients (starting with hand-made pure Angus beef patties, agria hand-cut chips) you know you are in good hands. Chef Alistair Bingle (ex The Engine Room and Euro) and mate Adam Weinstein took over their local chippie in April and transformed it into The Flaming Onion, the type of takeout joint that provides the sort of casual food, done well, that Bingle had admired in London. We loved the beef and cheese burger (yep, they make their own relish and mustard mayo too), $9.50, and the flame grilled chicken burger, $10, was moist and fresh. For those who want fresh fish 'n' chips, they serve these on Fridays.

1 Lydia Rd (cnr Pupuke Rd), Northcote, ph (09) 419 0325. Open 12pm-9pm Fridays, 1pm-9pm Saturdays, 4pm-8.30pm other days. Closed Mondays.

RUNNER UP: When it comes to the gourmet burgers at Waiheke's Island Thyme it's all about quality, not quantity. You won't find these taste sensations oozing into a messy mush because they've been overloaded with too many fillings (don't you hate that?). There are three key burgers on offer - the vegetarian made with crispy falafels, pickled eggplant, feta and rocket; Indonesian chicken topped with pickled cucumber, red cabbage slaw and avocado creme fraiche; and the prime NZ beef burger with tomato, pickle, smoky aioli and onion jam. To this you can add either Harmony free-range bacon, satay sauce or, our favourite, blue cheese. Team it with their chunky hand-cut agria fries and you'll be one happy customer. You can also eat in and then head upstairs to shoot pool at their stylish and intimate pool bar.

Island Thyme, 8 Miami Ave, Surfdale, Waiheke, ph (09) 372 3400. Burgers available Friday and Saturdays, 6pm-8.30pm.

CHINESE

WINNER: Over the past two years Barilla Dumplings has earned a reputation for some of the best dumplings you are likely to find in Auckland. The atmosphere is best described as hospital-esque: bright, white, and plastic, and the service is brief. But the dumplings are cheap, fresh, handmade, and come in delicious flavours - the beef and cumin, pork and prawn, or the ever popular pork and chive are recommended. You can have them steamed or fried, and though they may not look like much served in a gelatinous heap of 20, they're tasty little parcels, particularly when dunked in soy sauce, vinegar and chilli.

It's not just the dumplings that make Barilla a hit though - the fried squid served with carrot, onion, coriander and chilli is a favourite order, a wonderful burst of crispy, sweet, tart and fresh flavours that go especially well when served with the paper thin spring pancakes. And the fried green beans are also a treat - again sweet, crunchy, salty and very more-ish.

If you're getting dumplings to takeaway, make sure you get there to pick them up while they're still steaming and freshly cooked, and have a supply of soy sauce and chilli at home for dunking. Alternatively, why not dine in - it's quick, there's an endless supply of free, refreshing green tea, and you might just get to see the dumplings being hand made right in front of you. 571 Dominion Rd, Balmoral, ph (09) 638 8032. Open 7 days, 11.30am-midnight.

RUNNER UP: It is always exciting to discover Chinese restaurants offering more traditional cuisine and Dominion Rd is proving to be a hot spot for regional Chinese food - Cantonese, Sichuan, Hunanese and Hakka to name a few. The wonderfully named Spicy Joint is fast becoming a favourite with Chinese foodies and the rest of us are taking heed of its popularity. The menu specialises in food from Sichuan (a province in the southwest of China) and is typically cooked with the Sichuan pepper. It has bolder, punchier flavours of sour, pungent, sweet, bitter, salty, aromatic and hot. As its name implies, the dishes are cooked with a lot of chilli and can be nicely spicy. The chilli and chicken consists of small morsels of deep fried chicken cooked with a generous amount of dried chilli. People also rave about the steamed dumplings dressed with chilli oil and garlic. Don't let the chilli put you off, however - the menu is extensive and there are plenty of milder options to go for. The staff are more than happy to recommend from the menu or you can be adventurous and order something new and wildly interesting.

Spicy Joint, 533 Dominion Rd, Mt Eden, ph (09) 623 4983.

MARVELLOUS MALAYSIAN

WINNER: Auckland boasts a good number of Malaysian eateries, and this is a reflection not only of our changing population, but also the growing appreciation of Malaysia's fantastic cuisine. Located in Newmarket, Selera is one of the best places around offering authentic and mouthwatering dishes at affordable prices. Faithful to taste and variety of meals found at street side stalls and hawker centres in Malaysia, Selera is known for producing classic "hawker food" dishes.

High praise must be given to the chicken laksa - a spicy noodle soup made with coconut milk and a curry soup base, a heavenly blend of Chinese and Malay flavours. This hugely popular dish comes in an equally huge portion size, so best to share this one. Another quintessential Malaysian dish is the char kway teow - flat rice noodles stir-fried (until it gets slightly charred) with Chinese sausage, good-sized prawns, bean sprouts, egg and seasoned with soy and chilli sauces.

The Hainanese chicken rice - a simple poached (and oh so succulent) chicken and rice dish is another crowd-pleaser. As is the beef rendang - a dark, rich and aromatic curry made by braising beef in coconut milk and spices for hours. Special mention also goes to the nasi lemak (considered to be Malaysia's national dish), the wonderfully tender mummy chicken - a sticky, and just a little bit sweet, dish marinated in their secret sauce, and the fried "carrot cake" which is not a carrot cake as such but rather a steamed block of rice flour and radish, that is cut into cubes and stir-fried into a plate of yummy goodness.

Selera, 487 Khyber Pass Rd, Newmarket, ph (09) 520 7977. Open 7 days 11.30am till late.

RUNNER UP: The ambience of the Elliot Street food court in the central city could not, by any stretch of the imagination, be considered romantic. Bright lights, hard surfaces, noisy and cavernous. But like many of the cheap Asian restaurants in the city, you don't go for the atmosphere, but for the tucker. The Banana Leaf Malaysian restaurant is one of the best options from the rim of food joints encircling the hall. It's situated against the far wall, near the centre, and has some faux bamboo/palm leaf roofing adorning its fascia and "Banana Leaf" in green neon. Order the Singapore noodles, and rest assured you are ordering the best in the city. Spicy, fragrant, full of great meats and prawns, just-cooked onions and chopped cabbage, it is light on grease and bombastic on flavour.

The other star from the Banana Leaf is the traditional Malaysian chicken curry, which gives KK's Malaysian Restaurant on Manukau Rd a real run for its money. Chicken on the bone, wedges of waxy spuds and a sauce so good you'll take the paint off the plate with the light, buttery roti bread that comes with it. Of course there's more on the menu, but it's difficult not to order these two dishes over and over again.

Food court opening hours: Mon to Wed 7am-6pm; Thu and Fri 7am-7pm; Sat 8am-7pm; Sun & Public Holidays 9am-5pm.

STUNNING SUSHI

WINNER: It may not look like much from the outside but Oki Doki Just Say Sushi's unassuming facade is some of the freshest Japanese food we've enjoyed in Auckland. Situated in the same block at Epsom's Lido Cinema, as well as the usual suspects the sushi on offer includes delicious spider rolls (battered deep-fried soft shell crab), crunchy rolls (deep fried prawns, with the rice topped with a tempura batter), and the delightfully titled eskimo rolls (surimi and avocado inside rice topped with baked salmon). The MSG-free menu also features udon, donburi, tempura, takoyaki, gyoza, and spring rolls, and everything is made to order. Dishes range between about $8-$15, except the dinner special combo platter ($35) and the party platter ($48).

Oki Doki Just Say Sushi, 431 Manukau Rd, Epsom, ph (09) 638 8960. Open Mon-Wed, 10am-8.30pm; Thu-Fri 10am-9pm; Sat 11am-9pm.

RUNNER UP: At the heart of the Grey Lynn shops sits an unassuming little shop called Hana Sushi. Slide open the door and what awaits you is a feast for your eyes and tummy. The variety is fantastic and judging by the presentation of the food, a lot of care and flair was put into the making. You can get tofu pockets filled up high with wonderfully tasty toppings such as tuna, seaweed, teriyaki chicken and pork; fried goodness such as potato balls, meat skewers and takoyaki (octopus balls); and nigiri with generous portions of fresh sashimi, prawn, squid, vegetables, tofu and meats such as pork, beef and chicken. The selection of sushi is also extensive with the usual offerings as well as more interesting versions made different by the use of toppings (seaweed flakes, chilli flakes, sesame seeds) and sauces (mayonnaise, chilli, barbecue). Purists may struggle with some of the combinations, however we salute Hana Sushi's funky take on Japanese fusion cuisine. Prices range from $1.40-$2.50 per item and portion sizes are generous. A selection of dishes (udon, donburi, ramen, sashimi and dumplings) can also be ordered off a small menu but we find it hard to go past the sushi. 596-602 Great North Rd, Grey Lynn, ph (09) 361 2008. Open 10am-3pm Monday to Friday.

SWEET TREATS

WINNER: There's a cake shop in Newmarket that is more than a cake shop - they're a reason why you never have to make your own desserts again. Heart of Flavour are artisanal dessert-makers, tucked in behind a concrete wall and off a sun-filled courtyard that brims with flowers, planted by the owners Michelle and Frederic Louval, both of whom have a love of sweet things. Aside from exquisite cakes, they offer take-home crepe suzettes that come complete with 4-6 tender crepes and a container of orange butter sauce. If you adore those soft centred chocolate puddings they serve in restaurants you can pick those up too. Along with their handmade creamy Cointreau icecream, you have the perfect, ready-made dessert classic.

Heart of Flavour, 4 Roxburgh St, Newmarket, ph (09) 520 1048

RUNNER UP: This year we've loved finding takeout options that were good for us, while still feeling decadent enough to qualify as a treat. Little Bird Organics desserts fit the bill. The handcrafted cheesecakes and tarts from this raw food cafe are truly addictive. We can't stop eating the berry cheesecakes, they're like a miracle; entirely free of dairy and sugar they are so unbelievably creamy and fruity that you'd swear you were eating a regular cheesecake, only better. The bitter cacao ganache tart is a chocolate lover's dream and we kid ourselves there's no guilt attached. And one of the best things about getting takeout desserts from here is interacting with some of the nicest staff on the planet.

385 New North Rd, Kingsland, ph (09) 550 7377.

FABULOUS FINDS

* At the Glenfield Night Markets you'll swear you're somewhere in Asia, at a bustling night market with all manner of goodies to sample. This market is a hidden attraction for a good night of takeaway foods. Jeremy Schmid, head chef and owner of Two Fifteen, is a regular visitor. "I go every couple of weeks and always try the steamed pork buns from Cheeky Buns, the mango smoothies are great and the brownies for dessert. There are always heaps of people and a great very casual night out." Westfield Glenfield, from 5.30pm every Sunday.

* At Tandoori Hutt, pick up a whole tandoor chicken ($20) with a couple of salted or plain mango lassi and you've got a meal. 164D Stoddard Rd, Mt Roskill (closed Sundays) ph (09) 629 0721.

* At Pillayar Indian Mart in Sandringham you'll find string hoppers - a substitute for rice, to be eaten with curry or sambal. Originating in Sri Lanka but also popular in South India and Malaysia, string hoppers are made out of rice flour, the batter pressed through a mould with little circular holes and, once steamed, it forms a light and lacy hopper.

Sample this delicate dish with one of the many delectable curries available at the Indian eateries along the Sandringham strip.

SANDRINGHAM RD

The ambience of Sandringham Village is exotic. Created by the smell of incense and spices, the blaring of Hindi music and conversations in different Indian dialects - I feel like I am in India, even if for a blink. As Auckland's unofficial Little India, this area offers a fantastic array of Indian, Fijian and Sri Lankan food. There are a number of grocery shops that sell fresh produce, spices and groceries brought in from India to cater for these growing ethnic groups. They also offer deliciously fresh and authentic Indian snacks - samosa, vada, roti and sweets.

Adding to the aromas are they many Indian eateries along the strip, and two of note are Paradise and Top in Town. Both specialise in Hyderabadi cuisine and are popular for their biryani - a spicy rice dish with juicy morsels of curried chicken, lamb or goat. Prices are very reasonable (even more so for family-sized options), portions are generous and there are also many curries on offer. Luckily, the staff are friendly so if the choices are too dizzying, you can ask for a recommendation. Pop into Shubh further down the road for vegetarian curries and a wonderful selection of rotis and naans.

VOTE FOR YOUR FAVOURITE

Now it's your chance to judge who is the best of the best for the Viva People's Choice Award. We want you to vote for your favourite from the Viva Takeout Awards winners. To enter the competition, "like" our Facebook page and cast your vote. Entries close 11.59pm, Sunday, November 25. The Viva People's Choice Award will be announced in Viva on Wednesday, November 28, 2012. Everyone who votes will go into the draw to win a six-month Wednesday and Saturday Herald subscription, plus a Viva cookbook.

What do you think about Viva's picks? Tell us your favourite take-away joints.

- NZ Herald

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