Some people say that Palmerston North has the most places to eat per capita than anywhere else in NZ. Of course, Wellington also likes to claim that title, so who knows if it is true. But the fact is that Palmerston North is a student city, and students like to eat out a lot. Over the years, I have sampled my fair share of the restaurants and cafes in this city, and here are my top 10 favourites (in no particular order), that range from the high-class to the cheap and comforting:
1. Bella’s Cafe
“Cafe” is a bit of a misnomer for this cosy and classy restaurant with bright red-painted walls. Josh and I actually went here for the first time two weeks ago for an early “6 years together” anniversary dinner because we were lucky enough to get a voucher that made it more affordable. It isn’t cheap, but the quality of the food is very worth it. This is the kind of place you take someone that you want to impress 🙂
Best things to try: Venison on kumara mash with blue cheese stuffed figs, and their frozen chocolate mousse with pecan brownies.
2. Alexandre Patisserie
I have a good friend called Hannah and she and I used to go out for “tea dates” every week before she went on a student exchange to Spain (Hannah, if you’re reading this, come back soon!). She introduced me to this Parisian-style cafe and I have to say that I couldn’t believe what I had been missing out on. This cafe is crammed with traditional French treats and is surprisingly cheaper than many chain cafes in the vicinity. It also sells freshly made bread every day and Josh and I have got into the habit of buying a baguette every weekend for an easy Sunday dinner. Who knew bread could be so tasty?
Best things to try: I’m a fan of the macarons, and Josh’s favourite is the black forrest mousse cake.
3. Noodles & Dumplings
Ever since moving to New Zealand I have been on the hunt for Asian food that reminds me of home. And nothing came close. Until my brother discovered Noodles & Dumplings (right next to Pompeii’s and under my very nose!) and insisted we go. I have been in love ever since and we go here with my siblings more times than I like to admit. You eat the food here “family style,” there’s free Chinese tea, and the food gets to your table as soon as it is cooked, within about 5-10 mins. It’s perfect when you’re in the middle of a busy week and really don’t want to cook.
Best things to try: Pork & leek fried dumplings, sweet and sour chicken, and the beef fried noodles (or mie goreng, as we call it).
4. Cafe Cuba
This cafe on Palmy’s Cuba Street is always full. Its walls are covered with Cuban and socialist memorabilia and local art and Josh and I like to come here on the weekends for afternoon tea. They’re also open for brunch, lunch, and dinner.
Best things to try: Chocolate silk pie (I dare you to finish this by yourself), old-fashioned milkshakes, homemade sausage rolls.
Barista likes to straddle the ledge between fancy-pants dining and budget art-snob. It’s decor looks like industrial loft meets English tearoom. By day, I like to come here for sweet treats and tea in fine china cups. By night, their tasty mains have brought Josh and I here for quite a few Valentine’s Day and anniversary dinners. Live music often plays here on Saturday nights, they serve High Tea on Sundays from 3-5pm, and there is a mural on the wall that has been growing over the years with images from literature and pop culture.
Best things to try: Steak with garlic butter (the best garlic butter Josh has ever had…and he has had a lot of garlic butters), and their chocolate terrine. That terrine is hands-down the best dessert in Palmerston North. No lie. Go eat it now.
I could hardly contain my glee when this gelato bar and cafe opened up a few years ago. The gelato here is authentically handmade on the premises and the flavours range from the traditional (strawberries and cream) to the intriguing (chocolate and chilli) to the weird (“V” icecream, anyone?). They also serve hot chocolates made with Belgian chocolate.
Best things to try: The dark chocolate, gold rush, and banana flavours have been some of our favourites. They let you try before you buy!
7. Mao Bar
This is another restaurant in Palmy which has a bit of a socialist vibe…I am not sure what this has to say about this town! Hmm. Anyway, Mao Bar is an affordable place to go for birthday or date dinners. They have an upstairs section which is good for socialising over drinks.
Best things to try: Chargrilled chicken & feta salad, lamb shanks.
I like to think that I make a good pizza. But Pompeii’s pizzas leave mine in the dust. I don’t have much more to say on that matter other than: their pizzas are good. Go eat them. Oh, also, they make a great chocolate cake. This place is usually where we go for birthday dinners because they are affordable and I have never once been let down by the food. I recently discovered that they deliver too.
Best things to try: Pizza, duh. The Gladiatorr is our family’s favourite. And that chocolate cake.
9. Mr India
My family and I have always been big fans of Indian food. My dad spent a lot of time experimenting with curries while I was growing up and it was usually the takeaway of choice whenever we could finally reach a consensus (it is hard to get six people to agree on something!). Mr India’s dishes may take awhile to come to the table but their taste is worth it and this family-run business is full of friendly faces.
Best things to try: Garlic naan, pakora, chicken tikka masala.
This is the latest cafe/ restaurant to open on George St. It boasts a large (possibly plastic?) tomato on its roof, reminiscient of the tomato squeezy bottles that many New Zealand homes used to (or still do) have for their tomato sauce. The kiwiana theme is carried on inside with paintings, bits of paua shell, and other kitschy paraphrenalia decorating the walls. The food is a mix of classic Kiwi favourites and Italian.
Best things to try: Blue cheese and mushroom pizza, eggs benedict.
As luck would have it, the vast majority of these places are located close to each other, in and around the Square and George Street. That either means that that’s where the largest concentration of good restaurants are in Palmerston North, or it says something about the fact that we don’t have a car and walk everywhere. Either way, if you don’t like the look of one place, you can always quickly find another!
If you could recommend one restaurant to a visitor to your town, what would it be?