Knowing the latest big-ticket restaurants is no big deal. It’s the hidden gems, the under-the-radar late-night eateries that are the real finds. These are places where chefs craft delectably unpretentious dishes that always manage to hit the right spots. But how do you sniff out these spots? We reached out to nine culinary kings to find out where they go to grab a bite when they aren’t in the kitchen. Their picks are delightfully relaxed and refreshingly wallet-friendly. Make sure to add them to your ‘must visit’ list.
1. Ranveer Brar, Head Chef at TAG GourmArt Kitchen
Bade Miyan Kheer Waale, Old Delhi.
To reach this 150-year old kheer shop in old Delhi, you have to dodge rickshaws, carts, people and animals. But the kheer is worth the trouble. Opposite Badal Begh Masjid (below the erstwhile residence of the famous Indian actress Meena Kumari) in a small shop sits Jamaluddin a 60-something gentleman, who has only one thing on his mind the Kheer. It’s made from rice, milk and sugar but the beauty is that it’s cooked on wooden flames that imparts a nice and smokey flavour to it. This shop is frequented by commoners and bureaucrats alike after an evening of spicy food in Old Delhi. Jamaluddin is happy selling just kheer at his shop and his next generation has no interest in kheer or the legacy. So better visit Bade Miyan kheer in the next couple of years before it gets lost in the annals of history.
Image Courtesy: Shutterstock
Image of kheer used for representational purpose only
2. Paul Kinny, Director Culinary, Bellona Hospitality
Shubha Lunch Home, Lower Parel, Mumbai
This is the best place for some home-style coastal seafood. My favourite here is sukka prawns with rice. It’s very home-like, non-oily but extremely spicy. They make it ‘kami thikat’ (less spicy) for me. It comes with a coconut gravy and some rice. The komdi vade too is superlative. The décor is very basic with bench seating. I mostly eat lunch here.
3. Hari Nayak, Restaurateur, Author and Culinary Consultant in North America
Mitra Samaj, Udupi, Karnataka
Though I live in the USA, I visit my hometown twice a year. Udipi is the town where I was born and grew up. I visit India twice a year and make it a point to drop in at Mitra Samaj at least twice during each visit. This is a small family-run cafe within the vicinity of the famous Udupi Sri Krishna temple. The ambience is very basic. They serve Udupi cuisine. There are so many vegetarian dishes there that can qualify as comfort food. But they are known for their 'Goli Bhaje' which is a soft, pillowy, savory doughnut flavored with ginger, green chilies and served with coconut chutney. I just love it.
4. Gaggan Anand, Owner and Executive Chef of Gaggan in Bangkok
Kasturi, Ballygunge, Kolkata
Having born and brought up in West Bengal I have fond memories of the food there. One place I still visit whenever I am in India is Kasturi. They serve some of the best Bengali-Bangladeshi food. The ambience is very basic and the food is inexpensive. I love the Dab chingri here. The Prawns are soft and juicy and the gravy is smooth and spicy. But the star dish here is the Kachu patai chingri bhapa. It’s a traditional Bengali dish with prawn and aroid leaves with a slight pungency of mustard. I just love it. Be warned of the never-ending queue of people who are hungry for this restaurant’s star dishes, but it will be worth the wait.
5. Chef Vicky Ratnani Head Chef, The Korner House by Chef Vicky Ratnani
Gurudas Ram Jalebi Wale, Amritsar
A local friend took me to Gurudas Ram Jalebi Wale and I have been a fan ever since. This is one of the oldest and smallest shops in Amritsar and located in what is aptly called the Jalebi Wala Chowk. The jalebis here are thicker than what you get elsewhere but also crunchier and syrupy. The best part is that they are fresh off the kadai. A plate costs Rs 20 and holds 3-4 pieces. It’s light, tasty and hit the right spots. I keep my jalebi date at least once a year.
6. Saransh Goila, Chef, Anchor and Food Consultant
Café Madras, Matunga, Mumbai
I have been a Mumbaiite for a few years now. A friend took me to Madras Café, one of the most popular South Indian eateries and ever since I've made it a point to visit or grab a takeout at least once a month. It’s a no frills place where the food is piping hot and fresh. While there are plenty of ‘Udipi’ restaurants, no one does a Upma Podi (a preparation of brown broken rice, dry roasted lentils and spices) like Café Madras in Matunga. The dosa is crisp, idli is fluffy and the filter coffee is simply unbeatable. It’s difficult to grab a table on weekends and waiting of at least half an hour is the norm.
7. Manish Mehrotra, Corporate Chef, Indian Accent, New Delhi
Swati Snacks, Tardeo, Mumbai
Whenever I am in Mumbai a visit to Swati Snacks is a must. It is one of the most iconic places in Mumbai. I was surprised to see that simple vegetarian food can be so tasty. My favourites here include Pankhi (savoury rice pancakes steamed in banana leaf), bajra khichdi and sugarcane juice. The kadhi served with khichdi is also very compelling. The setting is down-to-earth and there is always a waiting but the food here is worth the wait.
8. Manu Chandra, Chef, Restaurateur - Monkey Bar, The Fatty Bao & Toast and Tonic
Wild Spice, Carippa Bhavan, Residency Road, Bengaluru
I don’t eat out often, but I do order in. The one place I keep returning to is Wild Spice at Carippa Bhavan. It’s a Coorgi joint and the pandi curry (pork curry) here is wonderful. Mountainous food is not so much about complexities but wholesome, honest flavours. The owners are Coorgis and they do a pretty good job. The food is simple and comforting – just the way I like it. It’s traditionally had with kadambuttu (steamed rice balls) but I like it with rice. It’s my favourite late night snack while catching up on some TV shows.
9. Kunal Kapur, Celebrity Chef
Dimcha, Nehru Place Metro Station, Nehru Place, New Delhi
Dim sums are one of my favourite meal options and I am forever looking for places that serve the fresh variety. My recent discovery is Dimcha. Chanced on this place just as I was exiting the metro at Nehru Place. The setting is spartan but the dim sum selection, the ingredients and cooking are exceptional. The Burmese khao suey is another must try here. I love the way fresh dim sums keep coming to my table. They also innovate with South Asian flavours which make the dim sums quite unique. Don’t miss the hot roasted, sweet spicy peanuts here.