Boulcott Street Bistro
Housed in a cozy cottage, with airy white interiors, Boulcott is run by New Zealand star chef Rex Morgan (he often serves as a head judge on television in Masterchef). No reservations are accepted, so often the street in front of the bistro is lined with Champagne-swilling diners patiently waiting for a table. Classic bistro fare is served alongside an excellent wine list.
Another one of Wellington's most iconic cafes and coffee roaster, L'Affare has large, eclectic interiors, complete with mismatched tables and chairs and even a coffee equipment showroom.
Down the street from Caffe L'Affare and Havana Coffee Works, this is a great local spot for lunch in the Te Aro neighborhood. The menu is short and well-edited according to season, with a focus on New Zealand fish and game, as well as a good local wine list.
Havana Coffee Works
A local favorite a bit off the beaten path, the mutli-level Havana is a great place to refuel over a flat white and a sweet snack, like homemade scones and pies.
This local favorite is outside of the city center but it's a good tip for Lord of the Ring fans touring at Weta Workshop, the special effects company that has been working with director Peter Jackson since his early film days. The Larder started out as a casual neighborhood joint run by local chef Jacob Brown (who used to cook at Boulcott Bistro). But word of his innovative menus – more sophisticated than the laid-back ambience belies – got out, and now many locals make the short trip to this suburb (it's about a 15 minute drive) for lunch or dinner.
Logan Brown Restaurant and Bar
One of Wellington's most lauded restaurants, Logan Brown is located inside a restored 1920s bank building, with gorgeous interiors complete with soaring ceilings and polished parquet. It looks like it will be overly formal, but the friendly staff keeps things down to earth. The often-changing menu is full of New Zealand bounty (line-caught hapuku; wild Fjordland venison; Cook Straight octopus) and the wine list is epic. It's a great choice for lunch or dinner.
Neo Café & Eatery
For breakfast that tastes as good as it looks, head to Neo in downtown Wellington. With a bright and inviting atmosphere filled with natural light, cream-colored interiors and pinewood tables, the health-conscious café offers organic, vegetarian and gluten-free options, in addition to daily chalkboard specials. Try one of the homemade toast spreads or the “veggie brekkie”: a delectable combination of grilled halloumi, beetroot, avocado, fresh sprouts and hash browns, drizzled with a homemade balsamic reduction. Daily house specials, pastries and coffee are also available for takeaway.
Ortega Fish Shack
The name is the only thing misleading about this Wellington institution: it's neither shack nor all-fish. Interiors evoke a Mediterranean seafood taverna, with simple wooden tables, ceramic-tiled floors and old black-and-white pictures lining the walls in mismatched frames. But the menu is all-Kiwi, with Kapiti Coast snapper, Kaikoura crayfish and the excellent Bluff oysters (when in season). There are some non-seafood options, including one of the city's best cheese platters.
Smith the Grocer
Located inside the Old Bank Arcade, Wellington's de facto mall in the center of the city, this is a nice spot for a take-away picnic or a quick lunch (salads, sandwiches, traditional pies).
WBC (Wellington Boot Company)
In walking distance to the main shopping and the Te Papa Museum, the WBC serves excellent food in a contemporary dining room. The name derives from the fact that the restaurant sits in a beautifully restored Art Deco building that used to house a boot factory. The seafood dishes in particular are excellent.