It’s been two years since two of Auckland’s most beloved food courts closed, and many of us still don’t have our favorite stalls. But some of these spots have since been resurrected 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, open at the other end of downtown, just off Karangahape Road. They were bonded by closeness, affordable and tasty meals, indescribable facades and affection in the hearts of Aucklanders.
Since, food courts have become an integral part of the fabric and identity of Tāmaki Makaurauand while Food Alley and Mercury Plaza are surely our most famous, their descendants are scattered throughout the city.
I embarrassingly spent my single-digit years contemptuously lugging bags of McDonald’s through Mercs while my parents sipped generous bowls of tom kha soup and plates of smoked Malaysian noodles. It wasn’t until high school, and then again later, when I moved to towns without perfectly gritty food courts, that I really realized how lucky we were in Auckland. While in college, Food Alley, with its charming murals, hidden dining rooms, and $3.80 glasses of wine, became a regular haunt and, more importantly, my happy place.
Sometimes it’s hard to remember, but before the pandemic we had other (admittedly smaller) issues. 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 diners in Auckland: Food Alley announced on Facebook that it was also closing. May 1 would be the last orders at the food court, which was to be reversed for a building. This expected date was cut short by a month when the country was locked down on March 25.
It was the end of two eras. And while each of their physical buildings is gone, the number of times Mercury Plaza or Food Alley pops up in conversations tells me they’re still lamented. They hold a special place in the shared food memories of many, a nostalgia steeped in ramshackle interiors and joyful food.
Knowing this, we’ve compiled a list of the joints in each food court that have reopened with their own stand-alone stores since the closures, along with maps of where they were in each food court before they closed, drawn by Toby Morris. Hopefully the list will be updated and evolve as more places (fingers crossed) reappear.
Sushi Bar Salmon
Famous for its generous bento boxes and offering what was often described as “the freshest sushi in town,” Sushi Bar Salmon was tucked away on the upper level of the food court. Owner Chul Han Lee spent time in Japan learning about cooking, which led to stints in the kitchens of Japanese restaurants in the UK, Korea and New Zealand, before opening his own restaurant in Mercury Plaza.
In March this year, Lee reopened a new sushi shop called Gurume at the Three Lamps end of Ponsonby Road, with an eye-catching sushi cabinet, as well as nigiri and donburi.
Gurume: Shop12/282 Ponsonby Road, Ponsonby
When Mercury Plaza closed, Chinese cuisine was his oldest activity. Tony and Ming Chan opened their stall in 1994 and started selling their BBQ Pork Wonton Soup and Roast Pork, Duck and Chicken over Rice, which were famous among the All Blacks.
Earlier this month, much to the delight of their original fans, they reopened as a 40-seat stand-alone restaurant in Epsom (although they are only doing take-out at the moment). Tony and Ming’s daughter, Katie Chan, continues her parents’ legacy with their help in the new premises. Despite a two-year hiatus from cooking for the family, I heard from the vine that their kai still tastes the same.
Chinese Food: 17 Pah Road, Epsom
With its fluffy, hand-made noodles and perfectly crafted broth, it’s no surprise that there’s often a long line at Maruten’s checkout. The place was opened by Takeshi Mizuta six years before Mercury Plaza closed and in that time became a favorite of chefs at some of Auckland’s top Japanese restaurants.
They have since reopened on Dominion Road with a space that features a street-front table and a long counter like you find in ramen shops all over Japan. Crowd favorites like their tonkotsu charsyu ramen and buttered corn syo-yu ramen are thankfully still on the menu.
Maruten Ramen: 466 Dominion Road, Mount Eden
It’s the chicken laksa and duck noodle soup from E-Sarn Wok that brings back the fondest memories. While their perfectly 1990s cerulean blue signage and illuminated picture menu are gone, their menu favorites remain at the new location in Mission Bay opened by original owners Booyarit Kummoon and Khwanruethai Thivonruk.
E-Sarn Wok: 35 Tamaki Drive, Mission Bay
Ruang Thong occupied a spacious corner stall in the square for 10 years before it closed. In the bustling open kitchen, chef Cyaowapa Chompooppuek served chicken larb, lava pork and kao kling to hungry customers. Owner Ophas Phetbamrung and Chompooppuek reopened Ruang Thong last year at Mont Albert. The menu looks pleasantly familiar, but with a number of additional Isaan dishes.
Ruang Thong: 942 New North Road, Mount Albert
New Gum Sarn
Although somewhat hidden by the surrounding food stalls, for supermarket aficionados New Gum Sarn was legendary. Whether you were looking for fruit lanterns, industrial sized pots, steamers, incense paper or fresh vegetables – or just a single can of beer to go with your meal – this was the place to go.
The grocery store reopened last year in Panmure. And while it no longer sells fresh produce, everything else looks impressively like the original headquarters.
New Gum Sarn: 151 Pilkington Road, Point England, Panmure
When Food Alley closed Thai E-Sarn had been open for five years and had quickly gained a reputation as not just one of the only, but the best place to enjoy Isaan (Northeast Thailand) cuisine in Auckland. A few weeks go by without me feeling sad about not being able to meet my friends for a plate of som tom pu (spicy papaya salad with pickled crab) with a $3.50 glass of dry white wine from their stall neighbor, Alley Cats, to accompany him.
So I was thrilled, and maybe cried with joy, when Thai E-Sarn was resurrected as a stand-alone store at the opposite end of Hobson Street Last year. They have maintained their extensive Isaan menu and I can guarantee their som tum salads remain unbeaten – sadly no $3.50 glass of wine these days.
Thai E-Sarn: 3/205 Hobson Street, Auckland CBD
Malaysian noodles and rice
It always seemed like every other table in Food Alley had a serving of Malaysian Noodles and Rice’s chicken laksa, mee goreng and hokkien mee, or the popular kurt teaw, a plate of noodles with large prawns, pork and calamari, with the all-important smoky element having found its way into the dish through an extremely hot wok.
Devotees can review this at their new store in West Aucklandwhich was opened shortly after the first lockdown in 2020.
Malaysian Noodles: 301 Lincoln Road, Henderson
Bento boxes are a necessity in the food court and Umaiya delivered. Their boxes of teriyaki and katsu, sushi, salads and dumplings with miso soup were favorites with the crowds of Pekish workers who descended on the food court at lunchtime.
Their new location in Parnellthe menu remains relatively unchanged with udon noodles, donburi and, of course, bento ready to eat in or take out.
Umaiya: 100 Parnell Road, Parnell
Do you know of any other Mercury Plaza or Food Alley reopenings? Contact us: [email protected]