Rigatoni - Butter, Lemon, Saffron, Basil, Grana Padano

We discover some of the tastiest pasta in town at Takapuna’s new pint-sized Italian spot

Few things hold us captive like good Italian food, especially as it leans into this more comfort-seeking time of year. A slow-cooked ragu atop a bowl of homemade pasta — it’s hard to find an offering better. This is a notion to which Chef Tarik Tnaja, wholeheartedly subscribes, having this month set up his permanent food truck, Lil Ragu, on the main street of Takapuna.

Left to right: Oliva Ascolana, Gnocco Fritto, Rigatoni, Arancini, Tagliatelle, Spaghetti, Tiramisú and Pappardelle.

Having always intended to open an intimate operation where he can focus solely on cooking authentic food reminiscent of growing up in Italy, Lil Ragu feels like divine intervention. Tnaja has called Auckland home for eight years, where he has worked in all facets of our local hospitality scene, and this next evolution of his craft might be his most delicious offering yet.

Here, the focus is pasta, “just like Nonna makes it”, he tells me. Fresh pappardelle, tagliatelle, bucatino and rigatoni all grace the menu; some come smothered in a three-hour slow-cooked ragu, others doused in cacio e pepe, with guanciale added atop for good measure. One might describe Lil Ragu as fuss-free food, but Tnaja suggests that the details (like handmaking the pasta-sans-machine and focussing on the best ingredients) are what make it so distinctive.

Left: Tagliatelle with Slow Cooked Bolognese Ragù. Right: Spaghetti with Cacio e Pepe, Guanciale.

Next week will also see the welcome addition of antipasti. Oliva Ascolana, a dish of fried olives stuffed with ragu, is one he hopes to introduce from his hometown, something he tells me that is hard to come by in these parts. Elsewhere, the Gnoccho Fritto will form a moreish helping of deep-fried pizza dough, mortadella, stracciatella, pistachio and olive oil — one that I’m most eager to try. Lil Ragu’s arancini is made of a beetroot risotto, stuffed with ossobuco and mozzarella aplenty, and of course, necessary Tiramisu makes an appearance too. The latter of which Tnaja tells me is a firm crowd favourite, alongside the Tagliatelle & Ragu.

Left: Oliva Ascolana, Pork and Beef Stuffed Deep Fried Olives. Right: Tiramisú, Savoiardi Biscuits, Disaronno Liqueur, Coffee.

With a vision to make Lil Ragu an intimate, mobile restaurant, one that he can drive to summer events at the drop of a hat, finding a home at its Takapuna address has been equally important. And so, Lil Ragu embodies everything we seek in an Italian food purveyor; authenticity, rich indulgence, and a pocket-friendly price point that one could only find in this concept. Hallmarks of a humble yet heavenly dinner, we think.

Opening Hours:
Tuesday until Saturday, 12pm — 3pm & 5:30pm — late

Lil Ragu

3/9 Northcroft Street
Takapuna

www.instagram.com/lilragu.nz

VCA Asset 3 Desktop

Gastronomy

Andiamo’s new set menu is a delicious celebration of autumn
Taking over a coveted spot in Parnell, meet Rhu — the elevated new all-day eatery from an ex-Pasture chef
Raise a glass to rosé as Soul Bar & Bistro launches a month-long celebration of this delicious drop