Thursday, March 10, 2011

Review: New Zealand Cafe

When I first moved to Charlotte last May, my immediate mission was to scout out all the staples I would need to survive in this new town – great pizza, great Mexican, a Chinese take-out spot and most importantly – SUSHI! Finding myself land-locked for the first time in my life, I set the bar low when I began my quest for toro. Luckily, I didn’t have to search too far or long to find what I can honestly say may just be the Best. Sushi. Ever.

Yes – I know, that is a BOLD statement coming from someone who worships at the altar of Nobu and Katsuya, and recently went all the way to Tokyo for sushi (ok, I went for work, but my sushi experience there was indeed transcendental).

I spent much time researching the options – and many paths kept steering me back to the same spot – New Zealand Café. I was very skeptical to give this place a try, the name made little sense to me, it was located in a shady strip mall (with security guards), and the website touted that I should give this restaurant a try because Lord of the Rings was filmed in New Zealand. Huh??

I finally decided to visit, and have returned about 20 times over the past several months. There is absolutely no better deal in town for lunch – Entrees range from $5.95-$9.95, and come with more food than you can handle – a house salad, fried shrimp, crab & cheese wontons, and either noodles or brown rice are served with each entree. It’s a challenge for me to not go for sushi, but I have tried a few of the entrée dishes and have been blown away by them all.

Consensus in my household is that we haven’t had a bad dish yet – but our favorite for its value and taste is the Queenstown’s Crispy Chicken at $5.95! Think sweet and sour meets honey garlic – prepared to perfection. The Malaysia’s Butter Shrimp is also quite succulent, and the “brown rice” is actually more of a fried rice, so keep that in mind when you order. All dishes are served with their house made shrimp sauce which is unreal on everything (ask for extra). If you stick with the entrees, there really is no better deal in town. However, it is always the sushi that beckons.

The sushi menu is so extensive I haven’t been able to scratch the surface, as its hard not to order the same items I have grown to crave. I have sampled the Crunchy Spicy Tuna Roll, the Super Tom Roll, the Crispy Bagel Roll, the Sushi Pizza, and the Fried Oyster Roll - none have disappointed. Hands down, my two favorites on which I bestow the honor of best roll ever are the Crunchy Spicy Tuna Roll and the Crispy Bagel Roll – and they work so well together. To me, any roll topped with tempura flakes is going to win my heart – and they have absolutely created the ultimate spicy tuna – perfect heat, perfect texture, and truly a testament to the quality of the ingredients they use. The Crispy Bagel Roll is hard to describe – its savory, sweet and very surprising – hands down the best fushi roll I have experienced. Sometimes just one of these rolls is not enough.

The same sushi chef has been there since I started going, and sitting at the bar to watch him prepare each piece is a real treat. You can see the pride, time and care he puts into each and every roll he creates. Service is exceptional, and the setting is unpretentious and warm. I often eyeball the dishes around me, and the servers are always happy to tell me what everyone is having. And they always remember me, which is always nice. A little vortex of happiness if you will.

Apparently, the secret is out about this place. Expect a wait at lunch (shorter wait if you sit at the sushi counter), with a line out the door. Looks like many people out there have also found their one-stop go-to place for the best sushi and Asian dishes in town. I heart you New Zealand Café, no matter what your name is.


1717 N. Sardis Rd (at Monroe and Sardis Road North intersection)

New Zealand Cafe on Urbanspoon

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