Intros shmintros. It's all in the title so let's get to the list already!
1. Scopa (Italian) - Cuba Street
My darling Scopa is the restaurant that I want to eat at every single weekend. Their pizzas are spectacular and affordable. Their pastas are homogenous and well-seasoned. Their tiramisus are the best in Wellington. (Just try to prove me wrong! I've tried them all!) The waiters are refreshingly casual, but attentive, always keeping your water glass topped up. If you fancy a late dinner on a weeknight, it's Scopa that will still be open. And did I mention that Prosecco is on the menu?
It's a popular place, and they don't take reservations. Arrive early or after nine for the best chances at a table, and be prepared to have a drink at the bar while a table frees up.
2. El Matador (Argentinian) - Cuba Street
This Argentinian steak joint and tapas bar is the bees knees. There are so many quality choices on offer that anyone will be satisfied. Don't miss the roasted provolone cheese tapa, and couple it with the ciabatta and chimichurri. It's a match made in gastronomic heaven! Oh, but you also need the patatas bravas, which are better than any I have had in Spain. And sangria. And why not combine steak with tapas and order the grilled flank steak tapa? Basically it's all awesome!
I recommend ordering five tapas for two people. As they're open all afternoon, why not visit around 3-4pm for a late lunch? You'll pretty much have the place to yourself!
3. La Boca Loca (Mexican) - Miramar
Tacos galore! As well as enchiladas and an array of other well prepared Mexican fare. I strongly recommend the multicheese dip with chips to start, followed by pulled pork tacos with a side of refried beans (not for vegetarians as I believe they use the traditional ingredient of lard). When accompanied by a margarita or shot of mezcal, you can have a grand ol fiesta! The bright decor really livens the place up as well.
DO NOT pass up the cheese dip, I'm serious. But if you're not a cheese fan, the salsa is also excellent. My advice for dessert would be to skip the tequila chocolate cake (a bit dense) and opt instead for a spiced hot chocolate. ¡Qué rico!
4. Cicio Cacio Osteria (Italian) - Newtown
Quite a meat-centric osteria, their grilled carne selections are superb. And yet their gnocchi is as soft and delicate as a tiny cloud covered in butter sauce on your tongue. Whether you're in a carnivorous or carby mood, you won't be disappointed. And as soon as you enter (through a mildly dodgy alley/tunnel behind the Moon Bar), the dim lighting and rustic decor transport you to the Old Country. The tiramisu here is also excellent, but the wine-by-the-glass portions are a little on the skimpy side.
5. Pizzeria Napoli (Italian) - Courtenay Place
In a long, thin room on Courtenay Place, Napoli makes some of the best pizza in town. Eat in to enjoy the murals that make it feel as though you are seated at an outdoor table in Naples itself, or if you're in a pinch for time you can takeaway. I usually prefer to stick with more simple pizzas such as the margherita, but there are an abundance of other options as well. If you fancy a night of it, start with the bruschetta and arancini balls and don't miss the tiramisu for dessert (second only to Scopa)!
6. Nicolini's (Italian) - Courtenay Place
Three Italian restaurants in a row? Hell yes! Nicolini's is best for the to-die-for bruschetta and large portions of delicious pasta. My top pick is the Amatriciana, which combines bacon pieces with a spicy tomato sauce and it's difficult to pass up. I always try to fit all of it in my belly because it tastes so good, which is impossible and I inevitably end up asking for a doggy bag. Prepare ahead of time by having as small a lunch as you can manage and not scheduling anything afterwards, especially dancing. You'll probably want to have a lie down.
7. Curry Heaven (Indian) - Newtown
What can I say about Curry Heaven? Well, do you like curry? Then you will love it here! It's very affordable, especially the lunch specials, and the owner is super friendly. If you're a petite individual such as myself, I suggest splitting the curry in half and saving one portion as leftovers. There's a lot of food, and it becomes a bit ridiculous if you also get a naan. I've never eaten in the restaurant itself, preferring to get takeaways, but the interior is cozy and you can people-watch the pedestrians of Riddiford Street out the big window.
Yes, it is better than Planet Spice a few doors down, trust me.
8. Viva Mexico (Mexican) - Left Bank Arcade off Cuba Street
Moar tacos! Maybe I just have a thing for Mexican food, but Viva Mexico is highly regarded among locals. It's affordable and packed full of flavour. It's tucked away on Left Bank Arcade, so if you find yourself wandering down Cuba Street why not pop in? The colourful decor will be sure to make you smile, and once you taste the food you'll be grinning.
9. The Thistle Inn (Gastro Pub) - Thorndon
Typical pub grub? Far from it! The Thistle is one of Wellington's oldest public houses, having opened in 1840, and serve up amazing meals. My favourite will always be the lamb rump with kumara mash. If you can, visit during Wellington On A Plate, as they ofter excellent priced set menus!
It's also a lovely spot for an after work drink. You can feel the history!
10. Mari Luca Ristoro (Italian) - Thorndon
Are you seeing a pattern? Yes, I love Italian food, and yes, five out of my top ten restaurants are Italian eateries. Deal widdit! This little family-run ristoro has an intimate setting so it can be excellent for a date night or family occasion. In the colder months they stoke the wood fire!
Anything you would add or remove from the list? Let me know your opinion in the comments!