Ah, Capital Market — a favourite stomping ground of any true Wellingtonian foodie. Dodge the resident sparrows and pigeons, weave your way through the chaotic expanse of tables and stools and sure enough you'll come across a hidden gem you'll want to keep all to yourself.
Shrugging off the stiff competition from its numerous neighbours, small but industrious outfit Xich Lo is a must-visit for any fan of Vietnamese cuisine. The team at Xich Lo works tirelessly to deliver a compact but wide-ranging array of Vietnamese fare, both traditional and fusion-inspired (how many other Vietnamese places you know serve bacon and cheese fries?).
Purists may want to start with some of the more familiar classics — the pork and crispy spring roll noodle salad ($12.50) is among the best you'll find in the city, featuring generous slabs of perfectly cooked pork, crispy, piping hot spring rolls and a slew of fresh vegetables and herbs to spice up your palate. The vermicelli noodles are soft and tender and work as a superb foundation for the dish.
After something a bit warmer to beat off the Wellington blues? Go for their duck curry ($13.50). The flavour-packed juiciness of the slivers of pork are matched only by the rich, gravy-like curry they float in, complemented incredibly by potatoes, peas and other hearty vegetables.
If you're feeling a bit cheeky or looking for something quick to grab and go, check out their range of banh mi and bao burgers. The sriracha mayo beef banh mi burger ($9.90) is a top pick. It does what it says on the tin, really — delicious, tender slices of beef (a la Korean bulgogi) doused in a wicked sriracha sauce, all on a fresh salad bed and encased in a sizeable, chewy banh mi bun.
Don't be put off by Xich Lo's location in an unassuming little corner of Capital Market. The staff are rushed off their feet, even on this relatively quiet early Thursday evening, and it's easy to see why. Fresh, delicious and affordable Vietnamese food is a no-brainer, especially when it's found smack-bang in the heart of Willis Street, easily accessible no matter where in town you're based.
We'll definitely be back to explore more of their menu — we're looking at you, bacon and cheese fries.