Feature: The Real Cheap Eats

By Keeara Ofren: city slicker, lover of good food, food poisoning veteran and cheapskate

I’m Keeara and writing this article in response to the many notable lists of ‘cheap’ eats that are

  • Nearing $20 a dish and not helpful for my proletariat budget or for the student population
  • Not assessing the areas close to the university
  • Not authentic and the ‘safe options’

This is the culmination of my journey around the CBD’s food landscape, growing up and studying in the heart of the city, and my experiences with my friends and family. Picks that made my list were chosen on the basis of being integral to exploring the city, having a unique ambience that wasn’t necessarily bougie, having varied and delicious flavours and places that were healthy.  The common denominator is decent food under or around $10.

Picks like, fast food chains, budgie meals and convenience food are already a given, so I will not be mentioning them in my list for today but rather things that may be helpful if you were looking for something new.

Notes:

  • The realest cheap eats are ones that you can make; this is only a work of opinion for those who wish to dine out
  • Stars indicate food on this list that is a little more on the expensive side, with most dishes above $10

Closer to Uni

Barilla Dumpling

Barilla Dumpling

Meat and fried dough has been a fixture in almost every culture’s cuisine, and this place takes the dear dumpling to our campus with a variety of fillings to choose from in a comfortingly oily casing. Always quick and easy and always making me late for my tutorials as these dumplings are irresistible.

Recommended snack: Pork and cabbage dumplings with chili oil

Istanbul Kebab

Across the street from the central library, this place is not only convenient in terms of location and cooking time, but the kebabs are amongst the best I have had in the city. There’s attention to detail in the salads, they’re generous with portions and the food is freshly made with every addition filled with flavour, even the rice. The baklava is never cold and sodden with syrup but is light, crunchy and crispy. All the food is presented well and the taste is even better.

Recommended dish: I usually have the chicken kebab in rice with a side salad and aioli for $8.50 with a $1.50 chocolate and walnut baklava. They also do weekly specials with $5 chargrilled burgers for example. I also adore their large flatbreads with cheese and chicken/beef/lamb/pepperoni/spinach for under $10.

Indochine

Located on High Street and at uni, this has been my go-to if I can’t decide on a place to eat and there are vegetarian options. Not your usual sandwich place, a banh mi is a mix of a buttered French baguette with pate and Vietnamese flavours of spicy grilled meat, cucumber, carrot and coriander. I swear this place eliminated my dislike of coriander. Vietnamese dishes are a great way to explore how different flavours balance each other and how history intersects in the most unexpected ways, such as that of a humble sandwich.

Recommended dish: Chicken Banh Mi $8:50, the Omelette Banh Mi is also good for $6

Kai Eatery

The Colonel better watch out…for Kai Eatery has the fried chicken I daydream about in class before lunchtime. The humble food cart has been the source of many a gem and Kai Eatery is no exception. I adore this place for its humble ambience; the patrons eat at an outdoor table and it makes me feel nostalgic about food culture in Asia. No matter how the small meet up, it’s always nice to meet in the open air on an outdoor table watching people pass by in the busy city, and the food is the crown jewel of that experience. The chicken is always fresh, crispy and moist on the inside with an outside that’s peppery, spicy and with a hint of chicken or duck flavour and the chips carry that same exciting flavour. No-one does fried chicken the same was as they do in Taiwan and it’s a joy that more people get to experience that with the added no-fuss atmosphere and friendly staff.

Recommended dish: $10 XL fried chicken, I like to order the $8 Hei Hei chipotle chicken bao with $4 peri peri hash browns

La Couronne 

The pink bakery on High Street always has the best baked goods for a breakfast or snack on the go. They’ve mastered little cakes if you need an impromptu gift but also various Chinese and French styles of baking. There’s something for everyone, from palmiers to mooncakes to torte to cheesy bread.

Recommended snack/breakfast on the go: Portuguese egg tarts, custard delights with a caramelised top in flaky pastry baskets. The tarts cheer up any morning, no matter how grey. The tarts are happiness condensed. Arrive before lunchtime to get them as they usually sell out fast.

Mentatz

Mentatz

This place is to my friends what Central Perk is to the Friends crew. So much so that “shrimp gyoza and ice cream, serve the ice cream first” has become muscle memory almost as much as “shaken not stirred” is for Bond. Just kidding. Kinda. With most of their rise and noodle dishes under $10 with fresh Japanese flavours and a busy hum of the city captured in the many guests that come to Mentatz, it’s no question as to the appeal of this place. Mentatz takes the humble ramen, the quintessential student food and takes it back to its homemade, simple but creative roots. Ramen is reimagined with in various incarnations, soup stocks, consistencies, vegetables, toppings and it never disappoints.

My only qualm is that it’s often packed and hard to get a seat around noon, but have no fear, another branch has opened on Anzac Avenue with the same beloved dishes.

Recommended dish: Spicy dry ramen for $9, Pork Tonkatsu and of course, shrimp gyoza and green tea ice cream.

Nice Dumpling

Dumplings will always be a godsend. And this place does dumplings too but with a different filling seasoning and a chewy, crunchy dough for those who like it. Also does fried pork and chive buns, pork buns and chicken wings.

Recommended snack: Pork and chive dumplings or chicken and corn dumplings

No. 1 Pancake 

As a 24-hour diner is to subjects of an Edward Hopper painting, is No. ! Pancake is to me after a disappointing day or exam. Each pancake is my haven from the stresses of uni, crispy and crunchy on the outside while doughy, chewy and fluffy on the inside. These ain’t no Betty Crocker mix pancakes, these are the real deal, like a mix between a pancake and a glutinous rice ball from heaven. You can pick sweet or savoury flavours to suit any palate.

Recommended snack: Beef and cheese pancake or the cinnamon and peanut pancake

Nol Bul Ne

Nol Bul Ne*

Don’t let the graffiti-laden stairwell scare you, the food will be worth it. Greeting diners with a Fur Elise tune on their doorbell, this place has a welcoming air and my favourite Korean flavours of the city. Every bite of meat is covered in flavour and not in an overbearing way, but in the Goldilocks way, just right. Some places, you can’t taste the food because of the sauce, oil or excessive onion-to-meat ratio, but this place really knows their stuff. $13 or less and you get a restaurant setting that’s tidy and fancy.

Recommended dish: Bulgogi $13

Stopover Café

Not your usual café, this place is generous and experiments with flavours from around the world, with most needle and sandwich dishes under $10.

Recommended lunch: $8 Satay Sub

Skyworld/Skycity Metro Foodcourt* 

Elliot Mall foodcourt*

Ryo Izakaya*

I always come here for the $10 seasonal specials. You get a main with rice, soup, salad and fried side dishes all for $10! The staff are super friendly and this place has a great interior, relaxed and never too chaotic.

Recommended dish: Chicken nanban, Japanese fried chicken with a mayonnaise sauce on top

Worth the Walk: Places a bit farther away but are on the way to uni or in CBD

Aroy*

Food-hall prices but you’re not settling for food-hall quality, this place has enormous servings that are of good quality with a Thai fusion twist. The interior alone is like that of a restaurant that would charge a hell of a lot more than $12-13 a dish. Highly recommended.

Recommended dish: Thai Fried Rice, Duck Noodle Soup or Som Tam

Food Alley*

Don’t let the early 90s interior or reputation for failing health inspections dissuade you from the other stalls that meet the hygiene standards and serve up what I argue to be the most authentic Asian food in Auckland. This recommendation comes from my parents who said this food hall was there in Auckland before they immigrated here in the early 90s and it had established itself then (and hopefully now) as a place that served food for when you were feeling homesick and wanted the closest thing available. My parents are both Filipino and worked and did their postgrad in Thailand, with my father travelling Southeast Asia for a good part of his life, so I definitely take their word for it as well as their selections. Food Alley makes the Lonely Planet books on Auckland for good reason; the food is unpretentious, authentic and a way to taste the world without leaving the city.

Recommended dish: Massaman curry (coconut cream, cashew and red curry style paste with slow cooked beef from the Thai Cuisine Stall), Crispy fried chicken (from the Chicken stall), Larb (pork mince with roasted rice, tomato, fish sauce and lime from the Isan Thai stall. Warning: Thai levels of spice are much different to Kiwi levels, as much as I like spicy food, I learnt this the hard way), Chicken Inasal (this is the BBQ chicken of champions, Filipino style grilled chicken with a kalamansi (Filipino citrus, palmsugar and garlic seasoning from Manna Kitchen)

Friday Night Markets on Fort St

White Lady

The elusive White Lady on Commerce Street and Newmarket are the answer to New Zealand’s lack of diners. The grilled cheese sandwiches and burgers are hugs on a cold day.

Recommended snack: $5 Grilled cheese or burger, I order with extra onions and tomato or ham which costs me $7

Dishonourable mentions/blind items so I don’t get sued for defamation. The bad cheap eats. Trial and error so you don’t have to.

Dear Diarrhoea

There is a line in Kimbra’s song Cameo Lover that goes “I got high hopes baby, but all you do is take me down to depths that I never knew”. With this place’s neat design and fresh ingredients, I had high hopes that this place would be my new food haunt, the place where my 5+ a day may be fulfilled slightly and that my least favourite food would be refashioned into a quick and easy meal. But oh no, I was taken down to depths that I never knew, or more like… a toilet frequency and gut pain that I never knew. This place however secures a happy clientele and the food always seems good. But safe to say this is not my food haunt any longer. My high hopes, brought down to earth with Imodium.

Botulism Chicken 

This café would have easily secured a place on my list for its convenient location and amazing fruit smoothies…but the nail on the sarcophagus was the mummified chicken. My discovery of the 21st century poultry incarnation of King Tut came from seeing an enticing poster: ”Buffet option! 3 choices for $10”. Buffet? $10? In the same sentence? A dream. Shattered. The food was in those metal buffet trays but it looked like it wasn’t fired up…or covered overnight for that matter. But I was broke and hungry so I swiped my card and was looking forward to my rice, wedges and what was advertised as fried chicken. I cut open the chicken and you know how in KFC, the skin is soft tends to stick to the meat part? This chicken was dry, as in the skin was flaking off in enormous chunks to reveal dark grey coloured meat inside with a bit of blood. I later found out that greying chicken is a sign of mould. Despite this sassy prose, I had no energy that day to ask for a refund or pull a Gordon Ramsay on staff who served chicken that was not cooked properly and had likely been lying in the buffet tins for like a month. Would you believe I still ate that chicken? Yeah, neither can I.

The Evil Eye*

This place is in my bad books for the service. As a retail worker, I definitely understand what it is to be stressed and extremely tired, but what I do not understand is coming right up to a customer as though to square up for a fight. The context of this story was that the cashier had charged for individual toppings when they were already included in the description of the food item, instead of asking for help from a colleague to clarify. The cashier had insisted that the $9 pizza price was only for the dough after I had dined there many times and that not having been the case. After arguing at me for 5 minutes, I decided that this would be the time to fold my deck. Swiped my card and ate my overpriced pizza, which near appeased my bad mood until the same cashier came to clear my table, came right up to my face to tell me “thanks VERY much”. Like a scene of a Spongebob episode, me, like Patrick, had no analytical skills at that moment to utter anything other than “you’re welcome”. I mean…how was I supposed to react?

Word of Mouth Recommendations that I haven’t been to but are worth a try

BBQ Duck* 

Elliot St: Pasta to Go
Recommended dish: Mushroom pasta for $5

Mexican Food Cart at Uni

Star Kebab
Recommended dish: $5 Chicken and chips or $5 rice, salad and meat set

For Vegans

$5 Vegan lunch

Lord of the Fries

Revive

Sunflower Thai

Gone but not Forgotten, RIP

Bamboo Basket

Coo Cup

Rooster on Rice

Spud Hut

 

Swig Café