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The hungry beach bum's guide to 25 of north Goa's best restaurants
CNNGo travels the length of northern Goa to uncover the best places to fill your tummy in 2010
Whether you're a fan of shoreline shacks, riverside restaurants, treehouse tables or candlelit cliff-top dining, north Goa has a really eclectic variety of places to put your beach tote down and get your fingers greasy.
Whether it's rustic Italian pizzas, gourmet Greek, fine French, Asian noodles, a BBQ steak, classic Goan prawn curry and all manner of fresh seafood these are the 25 best restaurants in north Goa for 2010. Not forgetting dessert, for our writer practically has a degree in chocolate hunting in Goa, India's hippie-style, global-vibe beach destination.
1. Pepperoni pizzas at Fellini's Italian Restaurant & Pizzeria, Arambol
Amongst the meandering shop lined lanes of the Russian appropriated Arambol, is a well hidden shack-style restaurant. Plastic chairs and fold-up tables serve as the no-nonsense décor that comes with some very, very serious pizza eating. Run by Moses Fernandes, pizza worshipers visit Fellini’s to try an exhaustive selection of oven fresh massive thaali-sized pizzas. Mozzarella melts in a delicious mess, the tomato sauce is just perfectly tangy and sweet, and each herb infused slice of salami pizza bends over with its generous helping of toppings. Your search for the best pizza along the Goan coast will end here, where a young staff of local boys have been trained in the art of pizza crafting. Socoillo Vaddo, Main Arambol Beach Road, Arambol Pernem Goa; tel. +91 9764893896, 9881461224; email@example.com
2. Liver pate or chocolate pancakes at La Plage, Ashwem
Over the years our love affair with La Plage has not only survived, but become stronger, despite an infiltration by chi chi crowds who make this an essential daily stop over. La Plage could be without a doubt the most stylish shack ambience and finest French food in Goa. Up three stone steps just off the hip Ashwem beach, La Plage appears like a fairy in white on a sand dune. Accented by billowing colourful muslin curtains cordoning off the outside sand seating from the larger open deck area one step up. An abundance of deck chairs, soft jazz or eclectic hip-hop and a finger-licking French cuisine make this one of the few places you actually need to reserve in advance. Off Ashwem beach; tel. +91 9822121712; firstname.lastname@example.org
3. Brownies and apple pie with ice-cream at Pink Orange, Ashwem
As shacks go, Pink Orange isn’t particularly spectacular. Chances are you’ll probably miss the inconspicuous blackboard that acts as a sign. Cheek-to-jowl with a sarong selling tent, and another with a menu of Goan food written in Russian, Pink Orange’s popularity has mostly spread through word of mouth. Dreadlocked owners Jai and his girlfriend Alex create a familial atmosphere, where seating comprises cushions on bamboo chattais and hammocks. Their toddler paddles around in her plastic blow-up tub with other the guest toddlers, while the mother shoots orders to the kitchen and her father handles other niceties. A completely vegetarian menu makes this the perfect detox vacation spot, where you can gorge yourself silly on salads, juices and spinach lasagne. Your only sin here will be Alex’s desserts, which aside from her regular brownies and apple pie offerings also include a daily experimental surprise. Beach Village, Morjim-Ashvem Beach; tel. +919822347462; email@example.com; www.myspace.com/pinkorangegoa
3. Chocolate fondant at Sur La Mer, Morjim
This Italian style villa, with hints of Spanish and Moroccan influence has rooms that open out onto a large swimming pool and courtyard is perfect for those looking to get off the beaten hotel and shack route. Tastefully done up, the retreat’s excellent cuisine comes courtesy of food aficionado owner Aneel Verma, who spent years travelling the globe taking fancy cooking courses. The military like attention to detail of the food is countered by a flexible eat-where-you-want rule in the rest of the resort. Sur La Mer serves what could be called a rich, brilliantly textured chocolate fondant and filo pastry. Precede this with the escargot, clam chowder, beef carpacio, lobster thermador or baked goat cheese salad with balsamic sauce, ruccola and cherry tomatoes. All with fruits, herbs and vegetables that are grown organically on this property. Morjim-Ashwem road, Morjim; tel. +91 9850056742, 9811253521
4. Hot ham and cheese croque-monsieur at Sharewood Treehouse Café, Vagator
Put me in a tree house, and you have a winner. Put me in a tree house with orange-pineapple juice and the best ham and cheese and I’ll never leave. Every tree has a tree house and sunlight streams into the bamboo environs of each magical floating room, where round tables painted in monochromatic Zebra stripes add a dash of funky colour. Your state of mind will be as if a magician is holding you hostage. And it seems he may be holding the staff too. Despite the fact that they seemed to be constantly dashing in and out, we waited 45 minutes for each juice, ham toasty ham sandwich and chocolate banana pancake to come. But we couldn’t complain. Chapora Vagator Road, Daul Vaddo, Vagator, Bardez; +91 9881832230, 9767019248
5. Greek food and profiteroles at Thalassa, Vagator
In the Aesops fables, Thalassa appears as a woman formed of sea water rising up from her native element. An eerily similar vision is formed as you enter the muslin-curtained, mirror-filled, all-white Grecian restaurant near Nine Bar in Vagator. The welcome from the proprietor Mariketty makes you feel like you’re in her home. Amongst patrons, who looked like they could be at any voguish carefully laidback restaurant in Mykonos, low key waiters hover, taking orders of prawn or chicken souvlaki, mousakka and greek salad. End this mythical evening with plates of the deliciously addictive profiterole balls. Little Vagator beach, near Nine Bar, Vagator; tel. +91 9850033537; www.myspace.com/thalassagoa
6. Beef burgers at Salt and Pepper, Vagator
A glorified Goan dhaba, a father and daughter team run Salt and Pepper -- a simple bamboo shack with orange-yellow walls and a couple of archetypical Goan plastic beach chairs. The only reason we flock here year after year are the beef burgers made by Pepper the elder daughter. Without any decipherable signboards, the place is hippie and makes no pretensions about it. Aside from personal favourite of the homemade burgers, try their pepper steak, and chicken escalope.
7. White Nigger chocolate soufflé at Zooris, Anjuna
It doesn’t really get more old school than Zooris, and its proprietor Mr Zoori. Both have been around for longer than even the most wizened hippies can remember. The big “no drugs" sign, garishly landscaped faux fountain, big chillum-smoking mural of Mr Zoori himself, all precariously overlook Anjuna beach. Fantastic for a chilled out sunset, sprawl out on the worn out cushions or lie inert on the bed this balcony restaurant serves excellent staples. The humus pita bread, a delicious gooey mousse hidden inside a chocolate cake (with the somewhat controversial moniker White Nigger), crunchy tostadas topped with Gouda, olives and fresh veggies, washed down with a chocolate milkshake -- just keep coming, in no particular order, accompanied by glass after glass of mint tea.
8. Mustard Fish at Sublime, Saligao
After moving from the forests in Anjuna to a house in Saligao, resto-bar Sublime has reinvented itself with a subliminally more sophisticated, high-end avatar. Owner Christopher Agha Bee and his trademark faux-hauk (whose other claim to fame is being the son of comedian and actor Jelal Agha) runs a tight ship at the recently taken over house, that is a restaurant downstairs and lounge bar upstairs. Dinner can be had downstairs under a thatch and coconut tree-enclosed area, on simple rustic minimalist chairs, at dining tables strewn with flower petals, or you can make do with a drink upstairs on lounge beds. Their menu is as simple and classy as the interiors. Highly recommend are the Greek Pastry Filo with olives and sun-dried tomatoes in a ruccola based sauce and the mustard fish with baby potatoes, asparagus and dil sauce. Get plastered by their Goa Blast, a fenni and aarakh concoction. H No 1/9-A, Grande Morod, Saligao; tel. +91 9881154892
9. Sandwiches, Shawarma, Steak and fresh Strawberry juice in Chapora
Ganesh Fruit Juice Centre, Chapora
Despite the lack of a beach and shady by lanes, Chapora is quiet a hub for tourists. A little red wall is home to a no-nonsense juice stall dhaba style, where shoulders rub -- from the fancy Prada bag ones to the dreadlock framed leather pouched ones. Though juice is pretty much the Goan tourist’s staple diet, we put out for the undeniably best juice in Goa at Ganesh Fruit Juice Centre. The fresh strawberry and avocado juice is pulpy and smooth all at the same time, while the more conventional mixes of beetroot and carrot, or pineapple and orange are just the right consistency without even a hint of artificial sweetening, flavor or thinned out with extra water.
In Chapora, the two other places that captured our imagination and our stomachs are both little, inconspicuous stalls. La Befa’s sandwiches made by the owner himself are addictively popular. And anyone can tell you addictive sandwiches have secrets in them that even the most effusive chef won’t part with. At this small four or five table sit out, the owner places delicious bits of parma ham, or aubergine seasoned with olive oil and his other secret ingredients in between slices of fresh locally made French bread. Toto are we in Goa?
Clara’s Shawarma and Falafel in Chapora is recognized as the best, most authentic shawarma in North Goa. Here you only get two things as the name suggests, and the stall, run by a French lady, has no place to sit. Ask for the spiciness according to your palette, and chose between the vegetarian or non-vegetarian shawarma envelopes, either in local Goan poie bread or traditional pita.
Post the Ganesh Fruit Juice Centre, Clara’s Shawarma and Falafel is on the main Chapora street right after the fork, while La Befa is on the left just after the fork. Chapora Market road, Chapora.
10. Barbeque and steak at Lloyd’s Steak & Grill, Candolim
Lloyd’s proves that good things come in small packages. In this blink-and-you-miss-it garage by the side of the road, a five-foot something Goan is busy over the tiniest grill ever. Always packed with everyone from tourists to locals, and even other restaurant owners, Lloyd’s Steak and Grill is almost like eating steak by a roadside stall. A one-man army, Lloyd manages all his clients like a tiny illusionist. Conjuring steaks out of previously marinated meats, the jovial, cheery atmosphere won’t let you ever feel you were kept waiting for your meal. Without a doubt this garage serves the best beef, chicken and pork steaks in Goa and maybe even the country. It’s a no fuss, no sauces kind of place. Only good old, manly meat eating. The secret is in the way you cut the meats. The only problem you might have is in finding it. We could give you hints, like spa, hotel and the only vegetarian restaurant on Candolim but that would really spoil the fun. Saipem, Candolim, Near Candolim Church; tel. +91 9823032273
11. Burma Tea Leaf Salad at Bombras, Candolim
In the hustle-bustle neon lit brightness of Calangute, the understated elegance of a little Burmese restaurant does threaten to get overshadowed. Yet, Bombras mud floor and walls and low bamboo seating have withstood the assault of its louder neighbours and come through a winner. Mostly because the chef Bawmra Jap is simply a genius. Gushingly called the best Burmese restaurant in the world, its basic tree and sky-lined ceiling is coupled with some divine Chinese and Thai inspired Burmese cuisine. Favourites here are the beef salad with cucumber, crackling pork pomelo and the very Burmese Tea Leaf Salad. For your main course check out the softly boiled snapper with lemon grass, chili, fish sauce or the slow cooked belly pork cashew nut crust, lentils, spinach apple chutney, and end this with a sinful not–so-South-Asian chocolate fondue. The Bombras special cocktail is a weirdly tasty mix of lemon grass, sugarcane juice, ginger juice and vodka. 247 Fort Aquada Road, Candolim; tel. +91 9822106236
12. Pad Thai with caramelized prawns at Republic of Noodles, Candolim
Despite the manufactured, chain restaurant feel of Republic of Noodles, we actually stumbled across it while walking down Calangute. So, given the excitement of a Columbus-like discovery, the food was way more than just a pleasant surprise. What it lacked in personalised service or ownership it made up in the quality of the food. Republic Of Noodles is where Goa’s best South East Asian food is to be found. In the very Balinese interiors, you can either choose to sit at the bar of a Tepenyaki kitchen or amongst the black sandstone décor with little Zen fountain areas. The noodles are a satisfying bowl of stir-fried vegetables with a plethora of sea food to choose from, the pork ribs are succulent and juicy and the Javanese duck dish curry scrumptious. Amarante Beach Resort, Vadi, Candolim; tel. +91 832 3988188
13. High Tea at Café Chocolatti, Candolim
Searching for in-between meal munchies in Goa is never really a problem. Just off the main Candolim road, a small garden path leads you away from the hustle-bustle of Candolim to a tree-enclosed, white umbrella-covered garden bakery, café and chocolatier. Run by the London born Nazneen Sarosh-Rebelo, who after 15 years in Goa considers herself a local, the café’s homemade sweet-tooth satiating menu is pretty sinful. It includes brownies that are just the right consistency of chewy, gooey and sweet, a carrot cake with a cinnamon aroma, a ginger cake with lime icing that explodes in your nose and the special chocolatti cake that is a multi-layered chocolate heaven. For days when you feel especially royal come in for Nazeen’s high-tea spread, complete with a tea cozied tea pot, scones, strawberry jam and fresh bread. Everything, says the matronly Nazeen, is made in limited quantities and hand made at home. Yes, even the bread. 409A Fort Aguada Road, Candolim; tel. +91 9326112006
14. Grilled fish, potatoes and vegetables at J&A’s Little Italy, Baga River
Along the edge of the beautiful Baga River, upon a bed of gravel, sits a Portuguese cottage that greets you with softly lit sandpaper textured walls and rustic wood beam-enclosed corners where you sit. Host couple and owners Jamshed and Ayesha, who set up this Mediterranean-style restaurant with an extensive Italian menu in 1995, might not be around all the time but the warm staff make up for it. The best place to praise this place is in the loo. We're serious! The guest book placed in the all-white toilet is where guests jot down feedback notes. 560, Villa Rodrigues, Baga River Road, Baga-Calungute, Bardez, Goa; tel. +91 9823139488; www.italyingoa.com
15. Croissants at Lila Café, Baga River
Breakfast is a very important meal in Goa. That’s why it’s only here that a place can do fabulously well, open only between 8:30am to sunset. Along Baga River, just past the bridge, the tiled roof and white billowing canopies that cordon Lila Café off from the road, are succour for the late night revellers coming in search of morning munchies, the business patron who comes for a quick deliciously healthy breakfast or lunch, and for anyone else who generally aims to sit around aimlessly. Sink into a wicker chair and keep your shirt on (as politely asked to by a shirtless muscleman painted on a sign outside the café) and make your way through a veritable smorgasbord of European breakfast foods. Try the apple pie, Rösti, liver pate, pumpernickel bread and for the main course check out the beef goulashes with pasta and smoked fish. Along the Baga River, Arpora-Baga; tel. +91 832 2279843
16. Lobster at i-95, Calangute
For Goa’s chic, i95 is perfect. Hosts Tina Dehal, Sunil Singh and chef Sumera Bhalla met on the Royal Carribean Cruise, from where their common love for great food and personalised service led them to the shores of Goa. A bookings-only place, the open air, moonlight lit restaurant is rustic in its red stone, waist high mud wall partitions and bamboo covering. Dinner comes discreetly, the hosts without being intrusive constantly check in on diners and I revelled in the modish, well-heeled crowds that trickled in. The cuisine is amalgamated from all over the world, and the grilled meats have a smoky taste enhanced by lava stones. The tangy beef carpaccio melts in your mouth, while the lobster is spiced simply with salt and pepper, and the grilled tuna and cilantro risotto are also delicious. They also have some of the best house wines. Castello Vermelho, behind the Art chamber, 1/115A Gauravado, Near Kamats Holiday Homes, Calangute; tel. +91 832 2275213, 9881301184, 9823128567
17. Prawn curry and crab xacuti at Souza Lobo, Calangute
Souza Lobo is a Goa institution with spicy coastal food to satiate both a local and traveler’s desire for authenticity. Patrons have been coming here for generations, to this long restaurant with glorified dhaba interiors, plastic chairs, cheap table cloths and faux garden scenes painted on faux windows. The one obviously aesthetically pleasing bit is its sea-facing seating area. After the mandatory long wait be prepared to scarf down some subliminal prawn curry, fried fish, Goan sausages and crab xacuti. We’ve heard the occasional complaint that the turnover causes them to have to re-heat already prepared dishes, and the blips of the microwave that occasionally filter above the dining chatter should act as a warning for the fussy. But the quality, as far as we could tell, was as good as ever. Calangute beach, tel. +91 832 228 1234
18. Burgers at Travel Bar, Calangute
Travel Bar’s innocuous name suits its innocuous front façade. Driving past you’d be forgiven for assuming that the long bench outside a door and window simply opens into someone’s house. It’s a nice surprise to walk through the frugal chapel like reception which is actually a travel desk and emerge into a fully fledged restaurant. Hosts Vinay and Angelique are as eager to discuss the seasoning of your fish as they are to help you plan your next road trip to Hampi. The hosts wanted an atmosphere of travel story telling, that is if the average Indian traveller does decide to get off his high bar stool and mingle. A big plus is that it’s also open in the off-season. Opposite Tarkar Ice Factory, Calangute, Bardez; +919845400223, +919850471639
19. Prawn and crab curry at Brittos, Calangute
Eating at Brittos, especially during peak season means having to navigate the muck that is Baga -- the crowds, the dirty beach, smells of a brackish seaside, traffic jams and if you’re a woman lots of groping hands. But for the institution that is Brittos we’ve braved all that and more, time and again, just for the extremely spicy crab and prawn curries. Set up in 1965 by owner-chef Cajie, Brittos is the oldest restaurant in Goa and is now run by his son Cajeten. Its very basic feel has been spruced up over the years and now has elements of a resto-bar type shack. The best seats in the house are still the sea facing ones, and the pork vindaloo is almost as much a reason to come here as the prawn curry. For the weak hearted, you can choose the coconut milk based prawn curry, or dry your tears after the spicy dishes with a strangely out-of-place sounding Alpine chocolate mousse.
20. Pizzas at Fiesta, Calangute
Sitting on a sand dune, Fiesta has been touted as the most romantic restaurant and by some, one of the best in India. Just opposite the once very happening Club Titos, we do give Fiesta full marks for its amorous Portuguese inspired décor. The expansive foliage covered restaurant has seating arrangements all different from one another, intersected by gravel pathways or coloured clay flooring that merge into either mud benches or those seemingly carved into singe tree trunks all subtly overlooking the Arabian sea. It attracts a clearly well-heeled crowd, not just from its haute décor, but also because of its steep prices. Mediterranean cuisine includes some excellent salads, delicious thin crust pizzas, parma ham and fungi and a wide selection of meat and sea food platters. 7/35, Sauntavado, Calangute; tel. +91 832 2281440
21. Finger foods at Infantaria, Calangute
Not really the haunt of the young, upwardly mobile tourist or the hectic rave scheduled hippy, Infantaria is the one-stop-shop for the locals and older hippies. Sans the Goa vibe or the beach, locals come here for breakfast and post work meals. A wide gamut of food hunger pangs can be satiated here, with a menu that starts at an excellent breakfast of juice, scrambled eggs (in butter) and meats to breads (that are more than full dishes), chicken in European sauces, excellent pastas and even a delicious selection of local dishes, like the seafood curies. The service leaves much to be desired but that’s typical in Goa, it’s the yummy foods and dessert counter that bring the regulars back time and again. Old school music and a mostly day menu, makes this place a landmark food pit stop. Umta Vado, Calangute Junction, Calangute; tel. +91 8323291290
22. Japanese style tuna with sesame at A Reverie, Calangute
As fine dining gets increasingly reinvented in laid back Goa, A Reverie puts a new twist on holiday dining. A Reverie’s unexpected décor is slightly decadent. Huge pillars support the lounge and dining areas. Both are individually covered to give you the option of sitting inside under chandeliers or al fresco, with unusual chairs, plush sofas, weird lamps and even disco balls -- all, somehow, creating a hauntingly beautiful ambience. Run by a young couple Aakritee and Virendra, food is an eclectic mix of international cuisines from local ingredients with a smattering of global spices. French smoked duck, mushroom cappuccino soup, prawns in Wasabi and Himalayan Trout are some of the delicious main course suggestions, while the desserts range from a spicy berry sorbet to chocolate mousse. Jazz sessions warm up the weekends. Next to Hotel Goan Heritage, Holiday Street, Calangute; tel. +91 9823174927
23. Goan sausages at Mom’s Kitchen, Panjim
The team at Mom’s Kitchen have a cause. Ronzy and Suzette Martin are dedicated to reviving the cuisine of Goa lost to fusion bastardisation. Walking into Mom’s Kitchen the décor actually recreates the feeling of sitting in someone’s house. The walls are like a Goan kitchen and the tables are topped with local tiles. Amongst their local fare their prawn hoonam is exactly what you would get in local Goan homes and the delcious harem mas is similar to what you’d get in Catholic Goan homes, but the marinated Goan sausages are legendary. What makes Suzette’s Goan food different is her absolute obsession with keeping spices and recipes authentic, sourced as they are from mothers’ cook books across the state. Of course if you aren’t feeling the local vibe, their regalo di mare (prawns and squid in a tomato vinaigrette dressing served) and crespelle con gamberi (crepes stuffed with seafood) are pretty delectable too. 854, Martins Building, DB Street, Panjim-Miramar; tel. +91 9822175559
24. Chicken Xacuti at Hotel Venite, Panjim
The centre of Goa’s commercial capital Panjim, in the hustle and bustle of traders, government officials and office goers, Hotel Venite looks into the street from quaint Portuguese style balconies. From these wooden sit outs you can watch passers by and take in the colourfully roofed buildings. A versatile menu ranges from pepper steak to fish Portuguese, fried fish with spicy, home-made chips, the fish balchao (fish in coconut and feni, the local brew) to chicken xacuti (chicken with roasted spices). Aside from their local cuisine, even their global dishes have a touch of local Goan spice. Hotel Venite, 31st January Road, Sao Tome; tel. +91 832 242663725. Pork Ribs at Ernesto's, Panjim
Under the heritage protected zone in old Panjim, the 400 year-old houses that make up this neighbourhood make you feel like you’re part of a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel. And amongst the red tiled, wide courtyard and pristine white facade is the house inside which Ernestos Alavres runs his bistro. Ernesto’s menu has an interesting array of international dishes, made famous by his barbeque skills. There are even some Brazilian dishes here. You can choose to sit inside or al fresco on Vietnamese garden furniture courtesy of an Italian lady who sells her furniture under the same roof -- all Euclyptus wood and wrought iron. The laidback, non-commercial atmosphere allows you a genuine foodie experience as you start off with their batter fried squid or fusion oriental prawns with Thai chillies and tempura vegetables. Main courses can flow into pork ribs and steaks, while to-die-for desserts include the caramelised banana with rum and apple juice reduction with pannacotta on the side. House No. 49, Mala, Fontainhas, Panjim; +91 9823015921