Food Alley Thai Noodles REVIEW

9-11 Albert Street, Auckland CBD

4 stars

MY PARTNER IN crime Gary Steel may wonder why I’m reviewing a non-vegetarian eatery on this most vegetarian of NZ sites. I guess it’s because I’ve got a soft spot for this little place – you can’t really call it a restaurant, it’s one of the many stalls operating in the semi-legendary Food Alley food hall down near the bottom of Albert Street in Auckland.

The reason I’ve got a soft spot is that I’ve been eating here since late 2000, the year I first arrived in NZ. In all that time, I’ve had more meals than I can shake a stick at and every single one has been a pleasure. The same smiling ladies are cooking away at the woks after over a decade and the prices have only gone up by a couple of dollars in that time.

There’s a big list of vegetarian options but I almost always have the vegetarian Pad Thai, and it’s still enjoyable after dozens of times. It’s filled with interesting mushrooms and a couple of strange looking fungi and it’s something of a delight. Lately however, I’ve been eating the vegetarian noodle soup, which is a bowl of thin, mild soup filled with heaps of fresh vegetables, noodles and tofu chunks with just the right amount of herbs to set it off. It’s quite unlike a Tom Yom soup in terms of the heat but a goodly dose of the chili flakes or chili vinegar will add enough spice for even the most jaded palette. At last count I’ve had this soup around 20 times since I got back to NZ in February, so you can take it as gospel that it’s tasty. The portion sizes are enough for even my big appetite.

Friends of mine who’ve tried other vegetarian dishes here usually rave about them.

Some points to note:

1. This isn’t a vegetarian eatery, nor is Food Alley the most vegetarian friendly venue in the city – not even close. If you’re averse to seeing stalls that serve nothing but chicken or lashings of BBQ duck, then avoid, avoid, avoid.

2. You need to specify that you want the fully vegetarian option with the soup – ask for vegetable stock and you’ll get it. The specially ordered vegetarian noodle soup I ate this evening (see photo) looked quite different to the standard vegetarian noodle soup that my friend got, although she seemed to enjoy hers at least as much as I did. When you order, it’s worth pointing out that you want the totally vegetarian version of any of the other meals just in case. No oyster sauce, for instance.

3. Food Alley isn’t a flash food hall in the Westfield tradition, it’s more like an authentic Asian food hall but I don’t recall seeing anything but an “A” hygiene grade on any of the eateries, so it’s safe if you’re at all worried about that kind of stuff. I’ve had more food poisoning from Burger Fuel (twice) than I’ve ever had here (zero).

I don’t hold the first two provisos against the team at Thai Noodles, mostly because I’m a realist. Much as I agree with Gary that it would be nice to eat in totally vegetarian restaurants all the time, I accept that this isn’t likely to happen unless I make some major compromises. As long as you’re okay with the reality of the situation, and you’re not shy about asking for the right kind of meal, then you’ll find cheap vegetarian eats here that will satisfy every time. That kind of consistency is worth a lot these days.

(NB, this is the Thai Noodles place way down the back of Food Alley at the opposite side of the main Albert Street entrance)


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