Kesar Da Dhaba (vegetarian only)
This Amritsar icon dating to 1916 is tricky to navigate, but the walk through the old city alleyway is well worth the effort. Kesar’s velvety dal fry, slow-cooked overnight and tempered freshly before being served, is legendary. The ‘secret’ recipe has stayed much the same since its inception. Seniors recall the eatery’s pre-Partition past when loath-to-cook single men and housewives paid a daily visit to Kesar for its dal. The creamy urad addiction would be doled out, one ladle at a time, into bowls brought from home by the lazy home cooks. The palak paneer is a must-try, as are the stuffed parathas. Save some room for the phirni, sinfully thick, with the consistency of freshly made fudge.
Chowk Passian, Near Telephone Exchange, Amritsar Cantonment
Bharawan Da Dhaba (vegetarian only)
Though the kulchas disappoint at Bharawan (too doughy and a tad tasteless), the flaky lachcha paranthas here are among the best in the city. The bharta, the palak paneer, the shahi paneer and the dal makhani are all first rate, creating the quintessential dhaba experience—hearty, unpretentious and VFM. Don’t miss the kheer—creamy yet light as a dream, a testament to the superlative quality of milk in Amritsar. The waiters navigate the large, packed-to-the-gills space with an air of brusque efficiency. Don’t expect patience or politeness.
Hall Bazar, Golden Temple Out Road, Town Hall, Katra Ahluwalia
Brother’s Dhaba (vegetarian only)
Started in 2001 by the older brother of the man who owns Bharawan, this one’s a modern, upmarket version of a dhaba, with greater attention to seating, service and cleanliness. The menu includes a mix of typical dhaba dishes, as well as dosas, chowmein and the like. Is the food better than Bharawan? The jury’s still out on that one.
Adjacent to Bhrawan Da Dhaba, Near Town Hall, Katra Ahluwalia
All India Famous Amritsari Kulcha (vegetarian only)
No visit to Amritsar is complete without a taste of its delicious kulchas (made of maida and baked in a tandoor as opposed to paranthas, which are made of atta and fried on a tawa). Seated on a rickety plastic chair, you can view the kulcha-making process in all its deft glory. A veteran stuffs a spiced potato and cauliflower mixture into a maida ball, a second rolls it out and tosses the kulcha disc to the third, who catches it midair and plasters it onto the tandoor. The final touch: the slathering of unreal amounts of butter on the freshly made bread. No need for a menu here; the sole offering is the mixed stuffed kulcha, served with a side of chana masala and sliced onions in a runny tamarind-mint chutney.
Maqbool Road, Chungi Crossing
Kanha Sweets (vegetarian only)
Another culinary gem, this Lawrence Road eatery is famed for its puri chana served with a tangy aloo launji. The puris are larger than usual, crisp with a thin layer of masala stuffing. The food, though delicious, is often less than piping hot, a downer to an otherwise memorable meal. The place also serves Amritsari staples such as aloo kulchas. Plus, you can also buy a range of freshly fried savoury items, including satpura, Amritsar’s answer to puff pastry.
Shop 1, Opposite Bijli Pehalwan Mandir, Lawrence Road
Pal Da Dhaba
With all of three tables, this tiny hole-in-the-wall eatery makes up in taste what it lacks in real estate. Pal offers the best kharode (lamb trotters soup) in town. Come winter and locals head to the bring-your-own-booze hotspot in the evening, bottle of whiskey in tow, to get their daily fix of kharode and tandoori roti. The gelatinous broth made with lamb trotters (paya) is acquired taste for some, but Pal’s delicious chicken tikkas and keema naans are confirmed crowd-pleasers.
Beera Chicken House
The popularity of the butter chicken in Punjab has led many to jokingly refer to it as the national bird of the state. But Beera’s butter chicken plays second fiddle to its BBQ items such as roasted chicken and chicken tikkas cooked over a charcoal and marked by their absence of red colour. The dhaba’s reputation of being Amritsar’s chicken paradise doesn’t quite measure up. The fare is clearly overrated. If you must eat, do it from your car (as locals do) instead of packing a takeaway. The dishes taste less than stellar when cold.
Majitha Road, Sehaj Avenue, Opposite Bandari Hospital
Makhan Fish and Chicken Corner
Makhan lives up to its reputation of being the city’s go-to place for fish Amritsari. One bite of the batter-fried sole (sourced fresh from the Beas and the Harike wetland) spiked with ajwain (carom seeds), and you’re in fish heaven. The firm-fleshed fish is deliciously light, thanks to the famed ‘sweet’ water of Amritsar. Curry dishes such as karhai chicken are worth a try here, as are the silken malai chicken tikkas. The air-conditioned seating is a blessing in summer.
Basant Nagar, 21 A, Near Madaan Hospital. Majitha Road
Surjit Food Plaza
Another hotspot for fish Amritsari. Run by none other than the cousin of Makhan’s owner (surprise, surprise). The tandoori chicken at Surjit is as popular as the fried fish, although it was the latter that first catapulted this upmarket dhaba to culinary stardom.
No. 3-4, Ground Floor, Nehru Shopping Complex, Lawrence Road, Joshi Colony
Sharma Ji Ki Dukan
Though not your typical dhaba serving meals, this popular roadside kiosk at Hathi Gate draws locals by the hundreds for its bun samosa (the slightly sweet bun is delightfully retro) and elaichi chai made on a wood fire.
Hathi Gate, near DAV College
Tips to make the most of your dhaba-hop:
• All kulcha joints in Amritsar shut by about 3pm. So, aim to go there for breakfast or lunch
• BYOB is big in Amritsar. Carrying a bottle of booze is standard practice at most dhabas, especially the non-vegetarian ones.
• Many hole-in-the-wall dhabas (such as Pal and Beera) are quite cramped and lack air-conditioning. It’s best to order and eat in your car