From fish and chips to chicken rice, nachos to pad thai, Viva has hunted out the most fabulous fast food in town.
In the fast-paced world we live in, food on the run has become a regular part of our lives - grabbing dinner on the way home from work, after a night out or just as a welcome break from slaving over a hot stove.
Here in Auckland we are spoilt for choice - with a fantastic range of takeout food inspired from all corners of the globe.
The team at Viva has, again, been out and about researching on your behalf to find new places that serve up healthy, fresh and tasty fast foods that - importantly in these times - also provide value for money.
Wok'n'Noodle, 61 Normanby Rd, Mt Eden. Ph: (09) 630 6651.
When it comes to Asian food, we are spoilt for choice - it seems there's a noodle bar on every corner of every suburb. This year the one that has stood out is Wok'n'Noodle in Mt Eden.
From the minute you walk in and are greeted with a warm and generous smile from owner Chang Woo Lee you know this is a place where the people are passionate about what they do.
"I used to run a cafe," explains Lee who is originally from Korea, "but that was not a success because I didn't know the food. Whereas here it is about building on what I know best - food from around Asia. We have chefs from Korea, China and Thailand, who all add their influence to the menu."
The food is fresh and light with clean flavours. Favourites on the takeaway menu are the ever-popular pad thai, the cashew chicken and the Wok'n'Noodle speciality - a scrummy mix of prawns, calamari, cashews, lots of fresh vegetables, coriander and the secret Wok'n'Noodle chilli paste.
"It's a combination of basil, garlic and chilli which is all wok-fried."
Everything comes with rice or noodles, and Lee shops every day for fresh produce.
"It is fun serving great food and I have made many friends here."
Wok'n'Noodle also has tables inside and a lovely shady courtyard, which is so nice on a summer evening, it's tempting to stop at and eat your takeouts right there and then with a glass of crisp sauvignon blanc. Or, head up Mt Eden and dine with a view.
Pizzola, 19 Park Rd, Grafton. Ph: (09) 303 1173.
If there's one person who knows how to tap into our fast-food eating habits, it's Grant Vincent. Grant opened the hugely successful Otto Woo eateries more than seven years ago and introduced us all to Asian-Pacific wokfood served up in trendy little boxes from a sleek, minimal outlet. Grant sold the Ponsonby eatery in 2006 and the one in Nuffield St, Newmarket, in 2007, and took a couple of years off - reading at the beach.
But he always dreamed of a pizzeria and the urge "to get back into the industry because I love starting up businesses and the people you meet" took over and just a month ago he started Pizzola in Grafton.
Like last year's Best Pizza winner (and still hugely popular), Il Buco, Grant sells pizza by the slice. And it's delicious.
"The secret is all in the base," he explains.
"It has to be as thin as possible. And then when it comes to what goes on top, we just work with what's fresh and in season. We have no set plan, each day the toppings change."
Think spinach, egg, tomato and mushrooms; pesto, potato and chilli; chorizo, mushroom, red onion and parmesan; asparagus, mushroom, red pepper and mozzarella - and all for just $5 a slice. Delicious.
For those who are looking for a more hearty version, the wood-fired GPK pizzas hit the spot with our ravenous journalists.
The Muscovy with duck, red onion, roasted kumara, kikorangi blue, rosemary oil, rocket and pear salad ($22.90) shows just how much you can pile on a pizza and still get a great result. The other good news is that GPK Ponsonby (Ph: (09) 360 1113) has just started free home delivery - which makes life even easier.
Ripe, 172 Richmond Rd, Ponsonby, Auckland. Ph: (09) 360 6159.
If you are looking for a truly healthy takeout option, you can't go past Ripe. There's really nowhere else in Auckland that creates such a diverse range of tasty and delicious salads - and so much more.
Owner Angela Redfern ensures the kitchen team keep the salads and food evolving, along with an awareness for special dietary requirements or food allergies.
"We're always listening to what people want and looking for new, fresh ingredients and ideas."
For those wanting to avoid carbs you can get great protein packs of salads and lean meats or a yummy white bean and fish puree wrapped in lettuce leaves, while the beetroot-based Raw Energy salad is pure goodness in every mouthful as is the Brown Rice with seared tuna, nori, pickled ginger, cucumber and wasabi dressing. (Takeaway salads from $9).
But don't think it's all goodness, there are also decadent cakes and slices, and the meanest sausage rolls you can imagine. Plus, they do TV dinners like Parmesan-Crusted Chicken Breast on roast garlic mash with peperonata and broccoli or Goan Fish Curry with coriander rice, raita and Asian greens.
If you live in Mt Eden, you will know about another Viva favourite - The Essential Deli (455b Mt Eden Rd, Mt Eden Village. Ph: (09) 630 6793). Here owner Adrienne Moors turns out mouthwatering salads using only the freshest of ingredients.
The caesar is superb, as is the orzo with chicken, olives and feta. They also sell drumsticks, cold meat, amazing pies, stonking big sandwiches (try the vegetarian with hummus and roast vegetables or the meatloaf with chutney) and there's a whole array of deli products to buy.
Oh Calcutta, 149-155 Parnell Rd, Parnell. Ph: (09) 377 9090.
We've written before about how it's easy to get stuck in a rut with takeaways - going to your regular because it's easy. That's why we decided to revisit Oh Calcutta in Parnell. A winner of these awards back in 2003, it was great to visit an old friend and find things have got even better.
Head chef and owner Meena Anand has ensured it. Meena grew up in Surat in Northern India and remembers the flavours and smells that came from the family kitchen and it is the traditions she learned there that she brings to her kitchen in Parnell.
Having dined in at Oh Calcutta on several occasions we knew that the food and service was superb. With each dish, the layers of flavour are wonderfully distinctive: you can taste the sour of the tamarind, the warmth of the cardamom, the heat of the chilli, the exotic star anise. And so it is with the takeaways.
Share an Oh Calcutta platter ($9.50 per person) for an entree and then tuck into saag ghosht - a famous Punjabi lamb curry in pureed fresh spinach, lightly spiced with fenugreek ($15.90), the Goan fish curry with coriander, lemon and coconut cream ($16.50) or the chicken tikka masala, which is smoked over charcoal, finished in a rich tomato, onion and coriander sauce, and is quite possibly the tenderest chicken we've eaten ($16.50).
We recommend you grab a bottle of wine from the Glengarry store across the road, and then head to the Domain for a summer evening Indian feast alfresco.
For the best Southern Indian, last year's award winner Satya (17 Great North Rd, ph: 361 3612. 271 K'Rd, ph: 377 0007; 515 Sandringham Rd, ph: 845 8451) still remains a hot favourite. (In fact, it was near impossible to choose the winner in this category.)
At Satya the cuisine is lighter and generally healthier than Northern Indian food, but just as tasty. If you haven't tried the dahi puri (crisp squares topped with potato, yoghurt, spices and tamarind), you haven't lived.
Bunga Raya, 3062 Great North Rd, New Lynn. Ph: (09) 827 8666.
Named after the national flower of Malaysia, this little family-owned and run restaurant is a true blossom in the west Auckland suburb of New Lynn. Who would've thought that right next to Lynmall would sit one of (if not the) best Malaysian restaurant in Auckland.
Owned by John and Rita Lim, Bunga Raya began its days in the suburb of Howick, establishing itself favourably with the Asian community there. A few years ago, John and Rita moved to New Lynn and since then there has been no stopping them.
Stepping into the tidy little place in the weekend is literally like taking a trip to an eatery in Malaysia - with a heady smell of delicious cuisine and a cacophony of Chinese, Malay and Indian languages belted out by the high proportion of Malaysian clientele. Browsing through the menu can give you menu anxiety - so many choices, where to start? A good place is with either John or Rita who are always on hand to recommend a dish.
The Kerabu tofu ($18) is like something out of this world. Unlike the tasteless and rubbery tofu you get in a lot of places, the tofu at Bunga Raya has a silky texture with a light crispy coating. It comes drizzled with a chilli and garlic dressing - absolutely divine. Another standout option is the assam (Malay word for tamarind) fish. It is fast becoming the signature dish, a deep fried snapper accompanied with a thick sweetly sour gravy infused with tamarind, lemongrass, garlic, onions, ginger, and garlic.
There is something great about the tactile experience of stripping the flesh from the bones, but it's well worth the effort. Chicken rice ($22) is a staple dish in Malaysia. You may wonder what can be so great about poached chicken on white rice? Well, there is something to be said for simplicity in food and this dish exemplifies that. The tenderness of the chicken, the flavour of the steamed rice cooked in chicken stock is capped with a rich, tasty soy and sesame oil-based sauce. For a bit of a kick, chilli sambal is the perfect accompaniment.
Great food, fantastic and friendly service and a clean kitchen ... it doesn't get any better than this. Even in Malaysia!
Mekong Neua, 438 New North Rd, Kingsland. Ph: (09) 846 0323.
Mekong Neua is a restaurant and takeaway which specialises in northeastern Thai and Laos cuisine. The menu is pretty extensive, ranging from stir-fries, curries and salads to rice and noodle-based dishes. They have the standard range of Thai entrees to whet your appetite - spring rolls, satay, curry puffs, deep-fried tofu with a delicious peanut sauce and money bags - as well as soups and a few more unusual entrees such as mince pork and prawn patties and BBQ pork meatballs.
The menu for the mains is a smorgasbord of delectable options. The larb snapper has a lovely mix of chilli, fish sauce, mint, kaffir lime leaves, coriander, spring onion and sesame seeds combined in a sauce that is drizzled on a deep fried whole snapper. The larb (which can be ordered in chicken, beef or pork) is fantastic - again with a lovely collection of Asian herbs.
There are Laotian specialty dishes such as yum som moo which includes Lao sausage, or gaeng pa, a hot Laos-style country curry with vegetables and your choice of meat including pork meatballs and duck.
The seafood options are also excellent - whole or filleted fish, scallops, tiger prawns and squid - as are the vegetarian options of tofu-based salads and noodle dishes. Many of the dishes on the menu are vegetarian-friendly.
And with all of these wonderful curries and gravies, there is nothing better than khao neo (sticky rice) to soak it all up.
Mekong Neua is open seven days a week so you never have to miss out!
Mexicali Fresh, 29-35 Nuffield St, Newmarket. Ph: (09) 522 0990.
Taco Tuesday is a bit of an institution in America, where Mexican takeaway joints are as common as kebab shops. Unfortunately Auckland is yet to catch on to the wonders of Mexican takeout, with very few Mexican joints in the city. But if you want to start your own Taco Tuesday tradition, your best bet is Mexicali Fresh.
The fitout of the restaurant may be questionably Mexican - there are random surf videos playing on big screens and a Playstation Portable for those who might get bored easily - but there's still the usual Mexican fare.
If you're a fussy eater, this could be the perfect takeaway as you get to choose exactly what fresh ingredients go into your burrito, nacho, quesadilla or taco. Chicken? Steak? Black beans? Vegetables? They also make their own tortilla chips in-house; with fresh hot salsa, they're delicious.
There are two Mexicali Fresh stores in Auckland, both owned by an American family who used to own Mexican restaurants in Oregon. We like the Nuffield St store best for takeout, although we could be tempted into sitting out on the deck of the Prince's Wharf restaurant to watch the ferries while drinking margarita or Mexican beer.
Murder Burger, 128A Ponsonby Rd, Ponsonby, Auckland. Ph: (09) 550 5500.
It's quite hard to ignore a takeaway place called Murder Burger. It's even harder to ignore when their logo features a cute cat with creepy red eyes that looks like it's about to jump out and attack you. Add a weird ad campaign into the mix (ad slogans include "Meat will make you happy"), plus a funny staff wanted ad that became a viral internet hit, and you've got all the ingredients for a much-hyped burger bar that has helped bring a sense of humour into the gourmet burger scene.
Just take a look at their menu for proof: apparently their gourmet double beef BBQ cheeseburger is a brilliant hangover cure, and they describe their super gourmet free range chicken burger as perfect for girlfriends, because "free range is food Prada".
Murder Burger opened in September, after Gary Consalves and Tony Moffat saw a hole in the gourmet burger market.
"We noticed there had been only one gourmet burger chain for a long time," says Consalves.
He says they're aiming to have more upmarket and gourmet burgers with "more meat and less bread".
And while it may seem like these guys are joking around, they're dead serious about burgers. Plus the staff actually seem excited to be working there: when our tester walked out with a classic chicken satay burger, the person behind the counter yelled "goodbye classic chicken satay burger!"
But are there good burgers behind all that marketing and warped sense of humour? Yes. They are yum. Real yum. There's a hierarchy of burgers, from classic to gourmet and super gourmet, and each is made with fresh baked lightly toasted herb buns, mesclun lettuce, fresh onions, and free range mayonnaise.
The meat could be a bit thicker, although we had classic burgers so maybe they keep the thick meat for the super gourmet burgers? We will definitely be going back to see. Sides include kumara chips, chicken nibbles, lamb French cutlets and the best hand cut chips and garlic mayonnaise we've tasted in ages.
As for more stores, Consalves says "people seem to like our burgers, so we'll definitely look to open more stores".
Murder Burger is open every day from 10am, and until 1am on Fridays. Public holidays? "Maybe. Maybe not. We drink a lot."
OTHER FAVES WORTH A MENTION:
Ponsonby International Food Court for the Vietnamese beef and lamb curries. (106 Ponsonby Rd, Ponsonby).
Calimero for super-tasty, greaseless pizza. (59 Long Drive, St Heliers and 547 Remuera Rd, Remuera).
Ichiban for their scrummy Japanese noodles. (17 Albert St, City).
Blitza for their Mediterranean lamb pizza and their smoked salmon pizza (9 Birkenhead Ave, Birkenhead).
Love-A-Duck for the complimentary boil up, hearty soups, the chilli prawns, and sweet and sour chicken. (547 - 549 Dominion Rd, Balmoral).
The Codfather for tasty fish and chips. (84 Hinemoa St, Birkenhead).
The Little Turkish Cafe for their homemade bread and the meat "isn't like process horse roll" like so many kebab places are. (217 K'Rd, Newton).
Clevedon Seafoods for their fresh fish and thin batter. (19a Main Rd, Clevedon).
The Middle East Café for yummy shwarmas and falafels, friendly efficient service and good value. (23a Wellesley St West, City.)
Hand Made Burgers in Kingsland. The Kingpin has a homemade meat patty about as thick as a book and fresh salad. (455 New North Rd, Kingsland).