This guide has been a long time coming, and as a result, I've been obsessing over it. Wanting to get it *just* right, not wanting to miss a single spot! Wanting this one blog post to singlehandedly convince everyone that my home is truly pure magic. IT IS!!! But here's the thing - in this tremendous, maddening city of 22 million people, this guide is already missing thousands of spots. So I'm opening this guide with an important disclaimer: at the end of the day, I'm just a South Bombay girl, who grew up in a little corner of this big and incredibly diverse city. This guide is very delicious, but it is also deeply personal and just barely scratches the surface. Nevertheless, I hope it can help you all fall in love with the city I love so, so much.
- Sana Javeri Kadri
We've asked some of our absolute favourite Mumbaikars to share their recs with us. So I'll go first, but please scroll down for the inside scoop from the very best in the biz! And before we dig in:
- THE custom Google map of all our combined recs!
- A reading list with a mix of fiction and non-fiction, to prep you for the city and its many, many avatars.
- You could say that the entire industry of Bollywood is in some way or another an ode to Bombay, but trust me and start with Gully Boy - a movie that captures so much of what is so infectious and incredible about our city of dreams.
First, let's discuss street food! It's the beating heart of how this city eats, and where you'll definitely find some of the best meals we have to offer. There are the legendary khau-gallis (snack lanes), the nostalgic spots outside all our schools and colleges that popped up to service hungry students, and the roadside stalls tucked into the smallest archways and alleys that keep the entire neighbourhoods fueled. Everyone has their favourite street food spots, and I'm not about to be that South Bombay snob trying to convince you of mine. So here are the general concepts that you need to know, and what to look for to assess whether it's gonna be delicious or not:
- Sev Puri - I have four sev puri wallas on my street and after rigorous taste testing, have realised that the best one isn't the one with the crunchiest sev, or the spiciest chutney. Instead, like most chaat, it's the one nailing the perfect ratio of sweet : spicy : sour : salty : crunchy : soft into one bite. Look for a sev puri walla that is balanced in their boiled potato to chopped onion to spicy green chutney to sweet tamarind chutney to lemon to chaat masala to nylon sev to chopped cilantro proportions! Excessive veggies to stingy chutney ratios shall not be tolerated. And of course, a solid flock of office goers crowding a stall for a snack before catching their buses home is ALWAYS a good sign.
- Vada Pav - Bombay's signature sandwich and the most delightful potato-and-bread carb overload. You want a piping hot, freshly fried vada (nothing that's been sitting around!), stuffed into a fluffy white pao, a generous slather of both lasooni (garlic) and hirvi (cilantro and mint) chutneys. Bonus points if there's a salt encrusted freshly fried green chilli crammed in there too. No better breakfast or 4pm snack! Our friend Thomas recommends the OG spot - Ashok Vada Pav!
- Bombay Sandwiches - These are heftier, more expensive, and make a damn good Rs. 75 meal. You want your sandwich be made on the spongiest, whitest of sliced bread - Wibs is the nostalgia brand but anything soft and squishy will do. Next, call me old school, but you wanna make sure they have the kind of sandwich toaster that cooks over coals. No electric panini press here, the flavor and crunch from the coals are incomparable! The bread should be slathered with an atrocious amount of Amul butter (very salty! very good!) and spicy green chutney before being filled with thinly sliced tomatoes, beets, boiled potatoes, green bell peppers, and cucumber. The sandwich walla should dust it with chaat masala and grate a worryingly tall pile of Amul cheese on top so that the two pieces of bread are literally stretching to close. You can get it with a side of Maggi ketchup or topped with extra chutney and crispy sev, but I find that to be too much!
- Pav bhaji - By now you'll have caught on that filling, carb-forward dishes that can fuel a city full of incredibly hardworking, busy people is the Bombay street food ethos, and pav bhaji is no different. You want the bhaji to be a chunky mix of veggies (not gloopy and overloaded with potatoes!) that is spicy, umami and significantly brightened when showered with chopped red onions and a generous squeeze of lemon. For the pav - it should be (very) buttery and crispy on the edges but still perfectly soft and fluffy. That way you're getting textural contrast and still have enough fluff to soak up the juicy bhaji. My local favourites can be found at Santosh Sagar and Shiv Sagar but I hope you find your own too!
- Masala chai - A necessity. A blood type? Please consume everywhere! Multiple times a day! You want a chai stall that is grating lots of fresh ginger into their chai, crushing in a not insignificant quantity of cardamom, double boiling the heck out of it all, and dramatically aerating it to get the milk, sugar, spices and black tea perfectly frothy and silky to drink!
Notable omissions here are Pani Puri and Dahi Batata Puri. The water and dairy content of these delicacies make them *too risky* for the delicate digestive systems of *most* foreigners! I say go wild and get an IV drip later, but my mom would scold me! For her sake, please play it safe and get the restaurant versions made with filtered water at Elco, Swati Snacks, or Punjab Sweet House (all recs from our sourcing manager Kumud!). They are almost as good as their roadside counterparts!
The Bombay Canteen - My favourite restaurant in the city, and arguably THE WORLD. So much so that for the Diaspora fifth birthday celebrations, we flew them out to cook a series of dinners with us, and it was an absolute dream. The menu changes regularly but as a rule the chhotas (small plates) tend to be miles better than the badas (sharing plates), the cocktails are excellent, the desserts are a revelation and the hospitality is second to none. And when you do go, give the team a big squeeze from me!
Udupi restaurants - Mumbai is often called the City of Dreams, and back in the 30s and 40s, the city saw a huge influx of South Indian migrants from Udupi, Karnataka dreaming of a better life. These pure veg, multi-generational family run restaurants quickly became known for affordable, clean, and quick service South Indian food. There is nothing more fun than spending a Sunday morning wandering around the leafy, Art-Deco filled streets of Matunga eating your way from Ayyappan Idli (get the thatte idli and the garden delight dosa!), to Cafe Madras (get literally everything, but especially the rasam, the rava dosa and the filter coffee!), to Idli House (get the seasonal jackfruit idlis, the moode steamed in screw pine leaves, and feast on the best selection of chutneys in the city).
Crab - In my family, crab is our celebration food. Birthdays, reunions, anniversaries are all marked with the over the top extravagance of a butter garlic crab (BGC). The irony is that while BGC is an Indo-Chinese concoction (laden with MSG!), its one that you'll only find at Mangalorean restaurants, I don't make the rules! We rotate between Gajalee, Trishna, and Ferry Wharf (run by the matriarch of the Gajalee family). In general, a jumbo crab will run you anywhere from Rs. 3,000 to Rs. 5,000 (it's a lot!) whereas literally every other dish on these menus (get the crispy fried bombil, refreshing glasses of sol kadhi, coconut laden clam sukka, silky prawn gassi with light-as-air neer dose) will be under Rs 500. If BGC isn't your scene, might I recommend Gajalee's second non-Mangalorean pricy show pony - the tandoori crab!
Irani Cafes - Once a key part of the social fabric of 20th century Indian cities, Irani cafes were originally set up by Zoroastrians and Shia Muslims fleeing persecution in Iran, to be affordable, efficient eating & meeting places, but are now slowly fading as cities urbanise. Of the few left, Kyani & Co. is the spot of my school days where the kheema pav, bun maska, mutton puff, mava cakes, and raspberry soda have all been perfectly delicious since est. 1904! For heavier fare, at Britannia & Co. famous for being run by arguably Bombay's favorite Parsi uncle (RIP Mr. Kohinoor), order the famous berry pulao, salli boti (a mutton curry topped with crispy potato bits), caramel custard, and a crisp fresh lime soda to wash it all down with. Iranian cafes are famous for their bheja (brain) dishes, and Kumud (our sourcing manager) introduced me to the liver masala, kheema pav and bheja fry at Olympia Coffee House, all excellent!
Mohammed Ali Road - Especially during Ramzan when the streets of this iconic Muslim neighbourhood are at their most festive, M. Ali Road is home to some of the best food in the city. I highly recommend Khaki Tours' Mohalla Munch walk for an in-depth guide, but here's my highlights reel if you wanna do a self-guided version. Begin hungry, and pace yourself! Start at Haji Tikka where the seekh kebabs and kasoori chicken tikka are unreal. Move on to Surti 12 Handi where the twelve parts of a goat are cooked in twelve separate pots over charcoal so each part is cooked to perfection. You should order the nalli nihari and the paya and anything else the owner Nayeem Uncle recommends! If it's winter there will be haleem (a slow cooked meat porridge) and khichda (a more delicate Bohri version) vendors walking the streets, and if so you must stop to try a small bowl. If it's early afternoon/evening, you'll find kheema samosa vendors - another obligatory pit stop. For dessert, you can either head to the 136 year old Taj Ice Cream for the best hand churned seasonal fruit ice creams (I love the sitaphal flavor) OR you can walk a little further towards Noorani Milk & Sweets for divine kesar badam milkshakes and freshly fried malpuas. And if by some miracle you have room for a final kebab stop, there is an incredible khiri (cow udder) kebab vendor right outside Noorani that makes the detour worthwhile!
Subko Coffee (multiple locations) - The global specialty coffee movement thus far has mostly been about producers in the global South, making beautiful coffee for consumers in the Western world. I guess that's why the Indian specialty coffee movement right now feels so special - it's Indian coffee for and by Indian farmers, roasters and baristas. The coffee is very good (all hail the rise of Robusta!), and the pastries are truly excellent.
Chaitanya Malvani - There are countless Malvani (coastal Maharashtran) restaurants in the city, and oftentimes, Agri/Koli restaurants get confused with the Malvani ones because the differences are so subtle. But the legendary Chaitanya Malvani is one place where the curry is as real as it gets. Redolent with the aroma of tirphal (a hot and sour spice abundantly used in the region) and ground to a "gandh", or the smooth consistency of sandalwood paste, the curries need little else apart from rice and a side of fried fish.
Soam - Soam is where I go in a blink for home style Gujarati food minus the indulgence of a thali. The Turiya Patra nu shaak (ridge gourd and steamed colocasia leaf roundels cooked in a green gravy) served with Biscuit Bhakri is my absolute favourite. Finishing off with the baby-sized garam jalebis is a must!
Masque - Not a place one dines at thrice a week for sure, but Masque tops my list for a special meal out. They are constantly striving to surprise, but using ingredients from our own backyard. The menu keeps changing, but I have the fondest memories of a particular sorrel and pineapple sorbet that they once made, and I hope they'll bring it back, soon!
Ashok Vada Pav - Yes, vada pav is a Bombay cliché, but if you wait in line and grab a vada pav (or three) at Ashok Vada Pav in Dadar, you'll be reminded why this unassuming carb overload of a sandwich is so iconic and popular. What makes this spot stand out for me is the fact that you always get hot vada pavs no matter what time of day and the leftover batter for the vada is fried in hot oil and added to the sandwich to add a crispy crunchy element.
O Pedro - O Pedro is a wonderful homage to India's sunshine state of Goa, and the Portuguese and other influences in its cuisine. The chic restaurant interiors transport you away from the hustle and bustle of Bombay; and Executive Chef Hussain Shahzad's technique-driven dishes like the Mushroom Ceviche, Beef Cutless Tartare, and the Nishte Rawa Fry will keep you coming back over and over again. They also make the best poee outside of Goa; and a pastel de nata which puts even bakeries in Portugal to shame.
Shree Thaker Bhojanalay - Vegetarian food may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of an indulgent meal, and yet, the Gujarati thali at Shree Thaker Bhojanalay, with a limitless array of snacks, chutneys, curries and other seasonal delicacies, will leave even the most ardent meat-eater weak in their knees. All I can say is go hungry and early. There's typically a long wait to be seated on weekdays.
Tanjore Tiffin Room - The food here is yummy and soulful. I love that they offer a sampler of every curry so you can taste each one before deciding which to get. The nethili fry and jackfruit cutlets are also great.
Mahim galli, diagonally opposite from Baba Falooda - There's a variety of delights in this kahu galli, but the kebabs are my personal favorite!
Baghdadi - I love the fried potato, chicken, and buff fry at Baghdadi. The buff(alo) is surprisingly tender.
Queen Margherita - If you want a break from Indian food (why?), grab a simple and accessible Neopolitan pizza here.
Sneha - This is my ultimate college nostalgia spot. We would rush out after kitchen practicals, pick up some mandeli fry and Kingfisher beer, and then sit at Dadar beach under a tadpatri. If we were still hungry, we'd stop by the chaat guy nearby.
Kala Ghoda Cafe - You'll often find me here reading over a light lunch, a cup of well-sourced coffee, and dessert. It's been an organic café way before the entire city caught on to the trend and serves the creamiest scrambled eggs you will ever eat.
Sandwizza, Santacruz station - Formerly known as Swastik Sandwich, the magic here is all in their special red chutney. It's made with dried pomegranate seeds and a mix of dried red chillies. My guess is it's a blend of Byadgi and Kashmiri chillies, and it's pretty insane. A simple crispy butter toast with just that chutney made my school days a lot more bearable.
Janata and PJs - These are my preferred dive bars in Bandra. Grab a table and catch up with friends over a Kingfisher beer and bar snacks like masala-fried papad, cheese garlic naan, masala peanuts, and bombil fry.
Vada Pao - My favourite is the un-named stall outside the Worli petrol pump, near the Diaspora Bombay HQ! The palak pakoda monsoon special is worth waiting around (in the rain!) for. He only sets up the stall at 4 pm and gets sold out by 8 pm! Doesn't bother to open on Sundays. He the man!
Not Just Jazz By The Bay - This used to be an epic karaoke club named Not Just Jazz By The Bay that I would frequent in the late 90s. Now it's my spot for pure nostalgia and a Bombay Masala thin-crust pizza.
K. Rustoms & co. Ice Cream - I think we all could do with more ice cream sandwiches in our lives. Go for the Rum & Raisin flavour combo here, it hits hard!
Last but not least, few reliable chains for wherever in the city you are:
- Zen Cafe - Robusta coffee is under-appreciated in my book. Zen Cafe does it right.
- China Gate - This is my go-to for old-school, lazy Susan, family-style dining for Chinese food.
- Kitchen Garden - The best-balanced breakfast sandwiches in the city.
Hotel Deluxe - I go to Deluxe when I'm craving Keralan for lunch and get the sadhya - a traditional vegetarian meal served on a banana leaf. The crowd is a mix of neighbourhood office goers and loyal customers. I always have mine with sandhya, a side of surmai fry to get my seafood fix, and opt for red rice to go with my sambhar instead of the normal white rice.
Acharekar’s Malvan Katta - There are very few thalis that compete with a good Malwani thali. Archarekar's is my port of call when I am craving one. Since you are in Bombay, I would make sure bombil fry is part of this meal. Bombil is also known as Bombay duck - but don't worry, it's fish!
+1 for Kala Ghoda Cafe - KGC is my safe space in this city. The staff is warm, the food and music remains consistently good, and their wine list has a very well curated set of Indian and international wines. They also make a delicious Chocolate Almond Cake. Basically, KGC serves my many moods.
Canara - This hole-in-the-wall spot is a super local watering hole. I really love the vibe because it takes me back to my days as a young kitchen executive. Be sure to get the squid recheado, Malvani prawn pulao, chakli chutney, and leppo fry.
Mizu - Call it the "umami tusnami" - Mizu is run by a young chef doing fun stuff with Izakaya fare. Get the hamachi with garam masala ponzu and salmon & foie gras nigiri.
Highway Gomantak - This was the one spot I'd always visit with Chef Floyd when he was in India. The consistently good food and daily seafood menu kept us coming back for more. My favorites include the mandeli fry, clams sukka, and kingfish curry.
Bademiya - The melt-in-your-mouth seekh kebab with rumali rotis are must-tries.
Jaffer Bhai's Delhi Darbar - Their mutton dum biryani and mutton nalli nihari are famous for good reason!
Aaswad Upahar & Mithai Gruh - This is my wife and my favorite spot for authentic vegetarian Maharashtran food.
+1 Acharekar's Malvan Katta for Malvani thali!
Noor Mohammedi - If there's a wait to get in - there usually is - grab a seat at a bench next to the a massive fan or explore one of the little shops selling Urdu school books or religious decor items. When you do get a table, their ‘Dal Ghee’ and ’Tandoor roti’ combo is to die for and if you're lucky, grab one of their beef seekh kebabs before they sell out. They also have a brilliant chicken hakimi and - uff! - their beef Yakhni pulao is so simple but so flavourful! For dessert they have caramel custard and a rich rabdi, which comes in a very small earthen pot. To top it off, the restaurant also has an MF Hussain original painted on a tile, which they managed to preserve during their recent renovation.
Woodside Inn, Colaba - All my favourite date nights and birthday parties have been at the cozy Woodside in Colaba. I always start with their Sweet Potato crisps with Artichoke and spinach dip OR the Truffle Parmesan Rosemary Fries. For mains, it's a tie between the Trio Mushroom Risotto and their signature dish - Grilled Rawas with Lemon Caper Sauce and grilled veggies. For dessert, I love their Belgian Chocolate Torte and Salted Caramel Ice cream.
+1 Hotel Deluxe - In addition to the sadhya (with red rice!) I love their jeera paani. If you're feeling like non-veg food, my partner loves their mutton biryani and mutton pepper roast. I always leave Deluxe with my heart full - South Indian connection I guess!
The Harbour Bar at the Taj - The cheesy popcorn and masala nuts have all the panache of old-school Indian fine dining, but if you love cocktails you need to order their signature drink “From the Harbour since 1933.” It's a gin-based concoction that includes a flambé of Green Chartreuse and was supposedly created in celebration of the end of prohibition in the US!
Dave Farsan Mart - Next to the Babulanth temple in South Bombay, you’ll often see a crowd around this tiny stall with a garage door. The farsans (Gujarati snacks) at Dave are really good, but the samosas are the main reason to come. A dark, crisply shattering crust and a high filling-to-crust ratio make this boi second to none - especially when hot out of the fryer! Of the other farsans, the dhoklas and handvos are excellent.
+1 Highway Gomantak - Every seafood-eating Mumbaikar has their favourite seafood joint, and this is mine. I typically like smaller fish and go with a whole bangada (mackerel) curry, with a side of bombil rava fry, and a clams sukké (stir fry) - three different types of seafood, three different cooking techniques. If they have crab available, consider yourself lucky! With your thali, get the tandalachi bhakir (rice rotis) and a serving of sol kadhi (drink made with kokum and coconut milk).
Americano - You can’t go wrong with anything here. Food, drinks, vibe, people - everything is sexy. The Worli Bird is a cocktail you can have on repeat - a perfectly spicy tequila & pineapple concoction.
PCO - Originally from Delhi, this pioneering cocktail bar now has an outpost at Lower Parel. Forget the menu: chat with the bartenders and let them figure out your drink. It never hurts to end the night by hopping from PCO at The Bombay Canteen for their spicy gimlet. If they say it’s not on the menu, name drop me and say I’ve sent you.
+1 Woodside Inn - With a rotating selection of craft beers and happy hours until 8pm, this remains my go-to neighbourhood. bar!