This story is from thespinoff.co.nz team.
It’s been two years since two of Auckland’s most beloved restaurants closed, and many of us still miss our favorite stalls. But some of these sites have since been revived elsewhere – here’s where to find them.
When Food Alley opened in downtown Auckland in 1992, it was the city’s first Asian food court. Two years later, another Asian food court, Mercury Plaza, opened at the other end of the city centre, off Karangahap Road.
They’ve been linked by their closeness, delicious and affordable meals, unspeakable facades and the fondness of Aucklanders’ hearts.
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Since then, food courts have become part of the fabric and identity of Tāmaki Makaurau, and while Food Alley and Mercury Plaza are certainly our most famous, their descendants are scattered all over the city.
I embarrassingly spent my number one years contemptuously carrying bags of McDonald’s to Mercs while my parents spilled generous bowls of tom kha soup and Malaysian smoked noodle bowls.
It was only in high school, and then again later when I moved to towns that totally lacked gritty dining halls, I really realized how lucky we were in Auckland.
While in university, Food Alley, with its charming murals, hidden dining areas, and $3.80 glasses of wine, became a regular, and most importantly – my happy place.
It’s hard to remember sometimes, but before the pandemic we had other (smaller) problems. In July 2019, it was announced that Mercury Plaza would close in October to make way for Karangahape Station as part of the new City Rail Link project.
Then, in January 2020, another hit for Auckland diner-goers: Food Alley announced on Facebook that it was also closing.
May 1 will be the last of the orders at the food court, which was due to go out in an apartment building. That expected date was cut short by a month when the country went into lockdown on March 25.
It was the end of two eras. And while every one of their physical buildings has disappeared, the number of times Mercury Plaza or Food Alley have appeared in conversations tells me they still feel sorry. They hold a special place in the shared dining memories of many, a nostalgia steeped in ramshackle interiors and delightful food.
Knowing this, we’ve compiled a list of joints from every food court that has reopened with its standalone stores since the closing, as well as maps of where they were in each dining area before they closed, drawn by Toby Morris.
I hope the list will be updated and evolve as more places appear (via fingers).
salmon sushi bar
Known for its generous bento boxes, Sushi Bar Salmon boasts what is often described as “the freshest sushi in town,” and is located on the top floor of the food court.
Owner Chul Han Lee spent time in Japan learning the cuisine, which resulted in stints in the kitchens of Japanese restaurants in the UK, Korea and New Zealand, before opening his own venue in Mercury Plaza.
In March of this year, Lee reopened a new sushi shop called Gurume at the end of Three Lamps on Ponsonby Road, with its eye-catching sushi cabinet, along with nigiri and donburi.
Gorum: Shop12/282 Ponsonby Road, Ponsonby
When Mercury Plaza closed, Chinese cuisine was his longest running business. Tony and Ming Chan opened their stall in 1994 and began selling roasted pork soup, pork, duck and chicken over rice, which was popular among all blacks.
Earlier this month, to the delight of their original fans, they reopened their standalone 40-seat restaurant in Epsom (although they only serve takeaway for now).
Tony and Ming’s daughter Katie Chan continues her parents’ legacy by helping them with the new building. Although the family took a two-year break from the kitchen, I heard through the grapevine that their cayenne taste as always.
Chinese Cuisine: 17 Bah Road, Epsom
With handcrafted pasta and a fully developed broth, it is no surprise that there is often a long line at Maruten.
The place was opened by Takeshi Mizuta six years before Mercury Plaza closed and in that time has become a chef favorite of some of Auckland’s best Japanese restaurants.
They’ve since reopened on Dominion Street with a space that features a street-front table and counter stool like you’d find in ramen shops all over Japan. Still favorites are tonkotsu charsyu ramen and syo-yu butter corn ramen.
Marutain Ramen: 466 Dominion Road, Mount Eden
It’s the chicken laksa and duck noodle soup from E-Sarn Wok that brings up the fondest memories for me. Although the blue ornate porcelain signage and luminous photo slate completely disappeared in the 1990s, their favorites remain at the new location in Mission Bay opened by original owners Booyarit Kummoon and Khwanruethi Thivonruk.
E-Sarn Wok: 35 Tamaki Drive, Mission Bay
Ruang Thong occupied a spacious corner booth in the plaza for 10 years before it closed.
In the bustling open kitchen, chef Cyaowapa Chompooppuek has been pumping chicken fry, pork lava and kao kling for hungry customers.
Owner Ophas Phetbamrung and Chompooppuek reopened Ruang Thong last year in Mt. Albert. The menu looks pleasantly familiar, but with a number of additional Isan dishes.
Ruang Thong: 942 New North Road, Mount Albert
new sarn gum
While somewhat hidden by the surrounding food stalls, for supermarket lovers, New Gum Sarn was legendary.
Whether you’re looking for fruit lanterns, industrial-sized decanters, steamers, joe leaves, fresh veggies – or just a single can of beer to accompany your meal – this is the place for you.
The supermarket reopened last year in Panmore. And while it no longer sells fresh produce, everything else looks impressively similar to the original headquarters.
New Jam Sarn: 151 Pilkington Rd, Point England, Panmore
When Food Alley closed, Thai E-Sarn had been open for five years and quickly developed a reputation for not only being one of the best places to get Isaan (Northeast Thailand) cuisine in Auckland.
A few weeks go by where I’m not sad that I can’t meet my friends for a plate of som tom po (spicy papaya salad with pickled crab) with a $3.50 glass of dry white wine from their next door stall, Alley Cats, to accompany him.
So I was happy, and maybe cried or not, when Thai E-Sarn was revived as a stand-alone store at the other end of Hobson Street last year. They’ve maintained their extensive Izan menu and I can vouch that their salads remain undefeated – unfortunately there are no $3.50 glasses of wine these days.
Thai E-Sarn: 3/205 Hobson Street, Auckland CBD
Malaysian noodles and rice
It always seemed like every second table at Food Alley had a serving of Malaysian noodles and chicken laksa rice, mee goreng and hokkien mee, or the famous kurt chai, a dish of noodles filled with prawns, pork, and squid, with each-important smoky ingredient finding its way onto the plate. Through a very hot frying pan.
Fans can revisit that at their new West Auckland store, which opened shortly after the first closing in 2020.
Malaysian Noodles: 301 Lincoln Rd, Henderson
A bento is a necessity in the dining hall, and Umayyah delivered it. Boxes of teriyaki, katsu, sushi, salad, and dumplings with a side of miso soup were favorites among the crowds of bakish workers who descended into the dining hall at lunchtime.
At their new Parnell location, the menu has remained relatively unchanged with udon noodles, donburi, and of course a ready-to-eat bento to eat there or take away.
Umea: 100 Parnell Road, Parnell