1. Chef Zero
Chef Zero is by far the best restaurant in Tongatapu – if not all of Tonga. Their chef was trained internationally and has mastered the art of preparing local Tongan and seafood dishes for an affordable price. The interior of the restaurant is plain and accented with green décor, apparently the chef’s school colors, allowing the dishes to stand out on their own. Most regulars come for the lobster. You can BYOB and there’s no corkage fee – score!
2. Marco’s Pizza and Pasta
A friendly pizza joint on Unga Road, a hidden side street off the main drag. It’s often packed with locals and expats working in Nuku’alofa rather than tourists. The service is fast and friendly, and the pizzas are good value considering their price.
3. Billfish Bar and Restaurant
The local hang out spot for salty dogs with sun-scorched skin, local Tongans, and the young expat scene. Every night, a DJ plays a variety of music that ranges from country to hip hop to reggae. It’s a great place to come with friends and play drinking games or a round of darts. Those who are hungry will order the signature Billfish Burger or heaping plate of nachos. It’s loud, a bit boisterous, but makes for a fun night out. Unfortunately, there’s not much for vegans/vegetarians (you might get a plate of tortilla chips with lettuce chucked on top) and they can’t seem to stick to a drink price – they’ll claim the menu is outdated.
4. Carpe Diem
A small café a short walk from the main road, this café makes for a great stop if you’re on the hunt for something healthy and fresh. Their menu features vegetarian burritos, salads (in this part of the Pacific! So rare…), burgers and fries, tacos, and hot cups of coffee. A little expensive to visit every day but worth the spend every now and then.
5. Mom’s Café
This local restaurant serves authentic Tongan meals on the cheap. It’s often packed with locals during lunch time. The menu is simple and sells fish and chips, stir fried vegetables and meat, sides of root crops, all for around 10 pa’anga per meal.
6. Café Escape
A quiet, clean café that is best for breakfast and sells a variety of paninis, egg dishes, burgers, and of course, fish and chips. Their coffee is some of the best in town and there is a steady rotation of regulars coming in and out throughout the day. If you’re a vegetarian and not finding much on the menu, ask for their egg dishes without pork or order a panini with chosen ingredients – their staff is friendly and happy to accommodate.
7. Seaview Lodge
A restaurant in one of Nuku’alofa’s most peaceful stretches of beach. Tucked inside a small hotel, Seaview serves food fine-dining style and most dishes are centered around pork, chicken, fish, and beef. Some dishes have a heavy Indo-fijian influence (such as, red snapper with curry). The only downside is that soup and bread seem to be the best options for vegetarians on the menu. Don’t leave without finishing your meal with a few scoops of chocolate mousse.
8. Luna Rossa
Luna Rossa offers a family dining experience a few minutes outside of Nuku’alofa’s main drag. The ambiance is somewhat lackluster but you’ll quickly forget about that after getting your bowl of complimentary soup. Stick to the Italian menu items and be sure to say hi to Marco, the owner who stops by regularly. Portions are huge.
Waterfront is one of the better upscale restaurants in Tonga that serves seafood, steaks, Italian mains, and some of the island’s best desserts in a beautifully decorated venue on the harbor. Check the calendar to see when they’ll be serving high tea – apparently it books up very quickly and anyone who is anyone in Nuku’alofa will be there.
If you want your dinner with a show, head to Liku’alofa for sunset where you’ll feast on authentic Tongan fare and watch dancers perform to Pacifika music. Sure, not all of it is 100% authentic, but it is a lot of fun and there are many true Polynesian dances in the mix. Food is served buffet style and you’ll want to make a booking in advance so that they cook enough food for all. If you’re not sure what to do on a sleepy Sunday in Tonga, come here.
Vegan and vegetarian food in Tonga
Being a vegetarian or vegan in Tonga is a challenge. You’ll have a hard time conveying your wishes at Tongan restaurants and might find it difficult to order anything more than fried potato or cassava. Some dishes come with meat and stir-fried vegetables – you might have luck ordering it without the meat. Your best bet is to prepare meals yourself with produce found at roadside stalls or ready-made dishes from CostLow, Tonga’s version of Costco that sells Kirkland brand products and microwaveable veggie meals.
Can’t get enough of Tonga? Check out the podcast, Tonga: Adventure on Island Time, by World Nomads.