A group of students congregate at the polystyrene boxes trying to decide what to have for dinner because the house is free - "the parents are away". At face value you would expect them to say nachos, bolognaise or lasagna. They are students after all.
But this is Mt Albert Market, with the best meat prices in town (well, in markets), where you can buy restaurant quality meat at exceptional prices. So a 10-minute discussion ensues on whether to barbecue a butterfly lamb leg or slow roast beef short rib.
The Neat Meat stand is the reason I frequently visit Mt Albert Market. This visit cost just over $90, and saved me more than $30, had I bought it at the nearest Countdown. My meatfest included a piece of scotch fillet for the family roast ($38 for 1.5kg), free-range Harmony pork fillets (three for $10), and Neat Meat's signature wagyu mince, with a hint of star anise - soft and rich.
I added to my haul with a wide range of George's Garden fruit and vege, from West Auckland - from George's son who tallied up the plastic punnets as I emptied them into my reusable bag. The total for a week's worth of spray-free produce was only $24.
Market creator and owner Jon Wild accepts that a dozen stalls within the confines on a former petrol station forecourt cannot compete with sprawling big markets on the outskirts of town. But nor should it.
"There was nothing bringing people together as a community in Mt Albert. It's intended to be a hub and the locals always bump into someone they know."
He walks the talk, making the market's delicious crispy bacon (and optional egg) baps each week, while his partner and their children pop in after school sports.
"It is a small, quality market. It was always intended to be somewhere people from the neighbourhood could congregate, catch up over a snack, and grab a few items for a great meal back home."
There is certainly everything you could need for a top-notch dinner party - and so much more for the week ahead.
DINNER IS SERVED: Sunday roast beef and all the vege was kicked off with Bread and Butter's organic sourdough with Turkish dips and olives, and Matakana Smokehouse Salmon. Dessert was spray-free tamarillo poached and made into a crumble.
OFF THE MENU: You're only a few kilometres from the Portage Licensing Trust catchment area. You can buy wine and beer in the supermarket closer to the city, but not from the one further west. Make sure you choose the right one when getting a bottle to go with that meat.
BEST COFFEE: Is Coffee Lab, found as part of the on-site Taco Loco cafe (in what would have been the counter of the aforementioned gas station). Great staff - they even sought me out as I went meandering and forgot to collect my brew.
SAY CHEESE: The last two weekends of the month bring Over the Moon - artisan cheeses from the Waikato. A small cheesemaker that is making inroads in supermarkets too, Over the Moon mixes sheep, cows and buffalo milk to make award-winning blends. Definitely try the Black Truffle Brie, or Tomme made from buffalo and goat. I took home halloumi to top my mid-week salad.
SWEET OR SAVOURY? With stalls side by side I couldn't have favourites ... so I chose a supersized sausage roll from the nearby organic store Bread and Butter, followed by a light and tasty crepe from Crepe du Andre.
SOMETHING OLD, SOMETHING NEW. While you're in the area, pop into the two adjacent shops. Retro Addiction is a trip down memory lane for many, where secondhand (and possibly third, fourth, or fifth) goods line the shelves and fill the basement. And you will find all sorts of gifts for others - and you - from Good Thing next door, that, as the sandwich board says "buy good things from local people".
HOWDY, NEIGHBOUR. Once you've shopped up a storm, only a couple of kilometres away is the market's namesake, Mt Albert - where you can climb to the summit and see the city from a different perspective. Take the kids to burn energy at the Rocket Park just down the road. Or visit the reputedly haunted Alberton House to learn about the history of this suburb that has been described as "city fringe's urban grit".
VERDICT: If you live in central Auckland check it out, especially to stock up the freezer.
GETTING THERE: It is a three-minute walk from Mt Albert station - that's a 30-minute train ride from Britomart.
KIDS: Most definitely. There is a lovely fenced play area in the back of Taco Loco.
ATM: Yes, inside Taco Loco.