For an island of under 9,000 population, the quality and choice of dining on Waiheke is exceptional. Of course, it does not hurt to have a million-population city on the other side of the ferry.
In general, food in New Zealand is outstanding because it is fresh and pure. With year-round rainfall in the farming districts and a temperate climate, the variety and flavour of food gives a great starting point for the restaurants and cafes. The sophistication of the food is a recent change in New Zealand that occurred in the mid 1990's. Tourism NZ asked departing visitors what they liked, and disliked, with food, wine and coffee getting bad reviews. So they brought in world-class chefs and baristas and put on a road-show. Within a matter of years, New Zealand has earned a reputation of excellence.
The wine was another story. There were a few pioneers, like Kim Goldwater and Stephen White who proved that Waiheke can make wines that win top prizes world-wide. There are now 22 listed vineyards and perhaps double that in total, many of which include tasting rooms or complete fine dining.
Walk or bike into Oneroa and the choice broadens. The Cove is the latest, run by Americans into craft beer, it is light food and great music as well as really good craft beer. Next to that is Red Crab, a classic Thai restaurant with good food and reasonable prices. Below is the Wai carry-out (or sit on stools & bean bags). Wai restaurant is above, and this is part of the same establishment. Perfect for a takeaway to carry to the beach.
Fish and Chips is a few doors up... and they really do a great job. More great views on their deck. Vino-Vino is next to the Wine store - one of the original restaurants in Oneroa. We have not tried it in a few years, so no reviews.
And, what else? There is Delight Cafe, a Turkish place for coffee with great views, Solar cafe, a local hangout with 29 solar panels on the roof and an ethos of free-range, local foods, and then for something completely different, Dragonfired on the beach at Little Oneroa. It serves "organic artisan woodfired food" from a portable stand and then you it it on the beach.
Both Church Bay and Oneroa are a brisk walk or a close bicycle ride. Oneroa offers multiple places to go for coffee and writing in your journal.
Fenice is owned by the chef, who used to work at MudBrick. Inside, it has the intimacy of a northern Italian cafe, and it is not unusual to hear three or four languages spoken... both by guests and waiters.
The food is innovative, the coffee outstanding, the fireplace makes it welcoming, with indoor and outdoor dining. Open early to late.
Wai Kitchen is our favorite for casual view dining. The view over Oneroa Bay is incomparable and Wai has an all-glass wall facing it. On sunny days or rainy, it is welcoming and the staff gets to know you soon ("the usual?", they will ask).
Oyster Inn has taken an upstairs verandah that resembles Raj England crossed with Cape Code prep to make a world-renown hangout for the trendy. Jonathan and Andrew have created a delightful place and their personal attention is what keeps it delightful.
Anna Schwartz was a finalist in the NZ Master Chef competition, and after that she decided to learn how to make ice cream, which of course, she did brilliantly. When fruits are in season on the island, it will become the day's gelato. Even the architecture is brilliant. New Zealand lives on its containers... everything arrives by container, and everything it sells abroad goes out in them. So Anna commissioned a container as ice cream store. It also has the side benefit of avoiding the increasingly draconian building permit process - after all, what can you inspect when the building is solid steel and made to survive repeated ocean journeys? A must-do stop in Oneroa, especially if you are on an ebike. Island Gelato.
Little Frog is across the street from Island Gelato in Oneroa. In new French ownership, it's a great place for coffee or lunch and writing in your diary.
Also a drive, Cat Vosper created and runs Castia Miro, a Spanish Tapas style restaurant on an Onetangi vineyard. Great food, great wine and Cat is lovely. Another must do.
And then, there is The Shed at Te Motu Vineyard. Chef Bronwen Laight produces the most amazing dinners. People we bring there, including sophisticated diners who have travelled world-wide say it's the best meal they have found anywhere. It really is in a converted vineyard shed. Well done but not stuffy at all. If you are a wine connoisseur, this is a must do. If not, it still is a must do... but make sure Bronwen is cooking.
On Onetangi Beach, which is one of the world's finest, Charlie Farley restaurant is one of those local secrets. Anywhere else, it would be an over-priced tourist trap given the fantastic views. On Waiheke though, it's a place for the locals. Good food and drink, it's best enjoyed when you can sit outside, which is most of the year except winter or when a storm is passing through. Either before or after, walk the beach which is about a mile.
Poderi Chrisi is a drive to the bottom end of the island, along unpaved roads. With such a trek to get there, the fact you have to book a reservation in order to get served is a commentary on the dining experience. It is expensive but worth the price.
If you would rather make your own, in addition to the usual supermarket, Waiheke has local proprietors.
Two food shops in Oneroa, plus the butcher. Fruit and Veg has really interesting stuff, including an amazing collection of chocolate.
How many butchers quote George Orwell on their sign? Excellent and varied choice of meats, including NZ Venison and various exotics.
Fantastic local bakery, the ciabatta is as good as it gets... especially dipped in local olive oil. It's a drive though, too far to walk or bike (unless you are serious about biking)... it's in Ostend.