Incessant screaming, cramped legs, endless hours of boredom. Road trips are just so magical aren’t they? Despite all the little inconveniences these journeys with an unimaginable number of people all squashed together in a confined space can result in the happiest memories. There are really only two things that can successfully ruin a road trip. Needing to pee and being ravenously hungry. Now you’re on your own for that first one (good luck with the public toilets) but for the second, we’ve put together a list of the best dhabas across the country so no matter where you are, you’re guaranteed to find a place to fill your empty belly and ensure a smooth ‘hanger’ free journey. Honestly, some of these are so good, it’s worth doing a road trip just to visit them at all.
Given the fact that our country is basically a mini continent, we thought it wise to make the breakdown a little bit easier on your minds and maps by breaking it down region wise--starting with Dhaba central itself, North India.
I. Aabshar Kandaghat [Kalka – Shimla Highway]
…Drive-through Pakodas, anyone?
At the turning for Kandaghat on your way to Shimla you’ll probably come across a huge huddle of Dhabas just waiting to be explored. Yet the one we’d keep going back to is Aabshar, not least because of their fresh and flavourful pakodas. Their food has a homely air and the hot chai sits just right with their snacks—particularly if you’ve chosen to take this route closer to winter time. Best of all, they serve it to you right in your car so you don’t even need to move a muscle. Particularly useful if you’ve found yourself permanently stuck in a position that allows you to fit with everyone else. Thanks to your super efficient pit-stop, you’ll have plenty of time to spare for detours, and there’s an ancient Pandava cave not too far away which has a waterfall that’s well worth seeing too.
II. Cheetal Grand – [Khatauli]
…Totally tubular tastes
The proud owner Mr. Rana claims his establishment outranks the 200 other dhabas on the stretch between Delhi and Dehradun. This bold claim is proved true the moment you dig in to any of the dozens of delectable dishes. You can get any range of familiar favourites like roti, paranthas and dal. Feeling a South Indian vibe? They can provide some stellar options. Or you could try their western range of sandwiches, omelettes or cutlets. We recommend the unusual tubular omelette washed down with a cold coffee for an extra satisfied stomach. They also get featured often for their collection of caged, exotic birds. They’re definitely gorgeous but personally, we’d prefer to see them back in the open skies where they belong.
III. Deepak Dhaba [Dhanaula, NH 71]
…Where the buttermilk flows freely
On the road between Patiala and Jaisalmer, this 24-hour haven outside Sangrur serves the wholesome, filling food that you need to make it through an otherwise long and gruelling road trip. They specialize in typical Punjabi fare like Makki ki roti and Sarson ka Saag, which are cooked to perfection. And if you’re still feeling peckish you can always fill up on their unlimited buttermilk, which is made all the more delicious because it’s free! It’s also a particularly good remedy for all those motion sick travelers who need something cooling to tone down the queasiness.
IV. Grand Lassi Shop – [Zirakpur-Patiala Road, NH 21]
…Let There Be Lassi
Hardcore Lassi fans won’t want to miss this gem. Although they specialise in - you guessed it - Lassi, they also serve an impressive range of typical Punjabi food that toe the line between artery clogging and utter perfection. Their aloo paranthas topped with melting butter are a fan favourite but if you feel like something heartier try the Chana with yoghurt that is also to die for.
V. Mr. Sanjay Dhaba – [Srinagar-Leh Highway]
…The Magic Of The Mountains
This small, concrete shack in the middle of nowhere has become a well-known destination for vacationers from all over the world. Hot paranthas and gobi ki subzi are just the perfect comfort food for the weary traveler. The picturesque hills make the simple food and sweet cups of chai taste truly magical. Once you’ve seen the sunrise over snow-capped peaks while clutching hot steaming mugs of black tea nothing can quite compare.
VI. Pahalwan Dhaba [Murthal, NH 1]
Murthal is a stretch of highway on the way to Chandigarh that is practically overflowing with Dhabas. They line themselves up along the way like a pack of dominoes on either side of the road so it can be a little daunting to pick just one. Fortunately for you, we’ve already made your selection for you. Pahalwan is one of those tried and tested gems that’s been around longer than most, made forever famous thanks to their parantha skills. Aloo, gobi, paneer, pyaaz, stuff their perfect paranthas with just about anything that you’re craving. Then let them slather it in butter, serve it alongside piping hot chai and you’ll be ready to hit the road refueled.
VII. Prince Bhojanalaya – [Dalhousie – Chandigarh Highway]
…One Stop Veggie Delights
If you happen to be on the way out of Dalhousie heading to Chandigarh this ramshackle dhaba is the best place to address those unexpected hunger pangs. In this vegetarian retreat, the waiters don’t bother with little things like menus and instead rattle off the day’s specials which will hopefully include the aloo matter, channa masala and the kaali daal chawal which you should wash down with a glass of their kadak masala chai.
VIII. Puran Singh Da Dhaba – [Near Ambala City, NH1]
…The Authentic Experience
Nobody visits a dhaba for five star treatment and Puran Singh is definitely a place where you should be concentrating strictly on your meal. Although once you tuck in to their Punjabi treats we doubt you’ll be able to think about anything else. Meat is featured heavily on their menu and the must-trys are Keema Kaleji, Chicken or Mutton curry with ‘Kadak’ Tandoori Roti. Vegetarians don’t despair! Their Kadai Chawal is also outstanding so there’s no way anyone can leave this place unsatisfied.
IX. Samaroh En Dees Dhaba – [Bhomoraguri – Sonitpur Highway 37A]
...A Taste Of The Tribal
Perched on the edge of a river this is a must see if you’re on the way to Tezpur. Overlooking the water in the midst of a tribal themed paradise is the best way to experience authentic Assamese cuisine. The aloo pitika is the embodiment of the perfect snack food but the dish that really tickled our fancy was the Pigeon Curry. We’ve all wanted to off a pigeon at some point or the other and this is probably the tastiest way to exact your revenge. Although, this dish should probably be served hot.
X. Azad Hind Dhaba – [Kolkata, NH 1]
...Punjab Away From Punjab
If you’re travelling through the night a feel like you need a pick-me-up, Azad Hind is the place to go. Open 24 hours a day, it’s always there to provide you with your Punjabi fix. Be it Chicken tikka masala or good ol’ Dal Makhani this place serves some of the most authentic Punjabi cuisine outside Punjab, a meal here will make you want to abandon your journey and stay .
XI. Chilika Dhaba – [Barkul, NH 5, Orissa]
...Prepare Your Stomach For A Seafood Extravaganza
Lie back on a ‘manji’ (woven wood bed) and soak up the bustling atmosphere of this super popular pitstop. The massive space is filled with wooden chairs and tables at which you can plant yourself and gorge on seafood til you drop. The chilli prawns and giant crabs will leave you begging for more. If you’re too full to resume your journey, you can always head down to the nearby Chilika Lake for a quick siesta
XII. Sher-E-Punjab Dhaba – [Kolkata-Digha Road, NH 6]
…Punjabi Khana Zindabad!
This amalgation of a restaurant and a dhaba may be firmly in Bengal but that doesn’t stop them from being thoroughly and unapologetically Punjabi. If you happen to be passing this way and have a hankering for paranthas or tikka masala this is the place for you. This is a big favourite with frequent travelers and the food more than does justice to their proud Punjabi heritage.
XIII. Hotel Gurukripa – [Gunnavante]
…Dosa By The Dozen
This place is legen-wait for it-dosa! Legendosa! Ok, perhaps the joke wasn’t great but the ghee dosas definitely are. People from miles around know Gurukripa and it’s a good thing they do because you’ll probably need help finding this small roadside eatery. Watched over by gods and gurus on one side and bodybuilders on the other, you can challenge your arteries to the ghee-soaked creation that’s cooked over a wood fire and served with an unbeatable coconut chutney.
XIV. Manipuzha Vysali Family Restaurant – [Kottayam, Kerala M.C Road]
…Delicacies Of The South
On the road to Kodimatha you can find this small typically Keralite joint where you can indulge in a true South Indian feast complete with Avial, Naadan Crab and Molee (Seer fish). Wash it down with a cooling glass of Moru (buttermilk) to experience the true perfection of roadside eating.
XV. Sachin Ka Dhaba – [Thoraipakkam, Old Mahabalipuram Road, Chennai]
...Catch Of The Dhaba
Although recommending seafood at a Dhaba makes us look a little sadistic we promise that you will leave Sachin ka Dhaba satiated and more importantly, without any dubious diseases. The low wooden chairs and khatiyas will ensure your comfort as you gorge yourself on the Punjabi fare, the Fish Amritsari, Malai Kebab are Chicken Punjabi particularly good but you absolutely have to order the Dum Biryani. Everyone loves Biryani, right?
XVI. Hotel Ummiya Annapurna – [Anand district, NH 8, Gujarat]
…Old Favorites With A New Flavour
Gujarati food has developed a reputation for being sweet to the point of madness but here all those preconceptions will be knocked off their feet. Kathiyawad cuisine is a whole new aspect to Gujarati eating, be warned though this is not for the faint hearted as they are very generous with the spices. If you’re looking for rustic traditional food this is the place to be. Most of their dishes are cooked over a wood fire and their breads are all made in a clay tavdi. Try their Lassan Aloo and sev tamatar with the local Rotla (a bread which comes with jaggery and ghee) and be ready to reevaluate your world.
XVII. Satara Highway Dhaba – [Satara, NH 4]
…Rainbow Pride Never Tasted This Good
In the thoroughly repressed society that is India this dhaba is a beacon of hope for the future. Entirely run by transgenders this place is definitely worth a visit for all of us hoping for a more progressive tomorrow. That being said the food is also phenomenal, try the kadak chai with a plate of capsicum Masala to get the best of this revolutionary eatery.
XVIII. Sharma Dhaba – [Jaipur, NH 11]
…Fresh, Fast, Fantastic
This is the perfect mix of modern ideals and traditional dhaba comfort food. The ingredients are all sourced fresh from the farm and their authentic cooking has made it a popular destination for people from all walks of life that want a break and a hearty meal or just want to stop and chat with the owner who is famous for his friendly manner and amusing anecdotes. Almost everything on this menu is perfect but nothing beats the hot, fresh mawarotis fresh from the tawa.
XIX. Sunny Da Dhaba – [Old Mumbai-Pune Highway]
…A Place For Good Food And Better Memories
If you’ve grown up in Mumbai or Pune there’s a good chance you’ll have heard tales of Sunny Da Dhaba. This rickety old tin shed has been the highlight of many late night Lonavla trips and their decorated tables have become almost iconic. For the best experience try the Rajoli Kabab, Tandoori Pomfret, Dal Bati and Jalebi here.
XX. Shree Sai Ashirwad Dhaba – [Muskura, NH 7]
…The Ideal Road Trip Haven
The food here is exactly the kind of fare you need on a long journey, filling enough to keep you going but not so heavy that you’ll be falling asleep at the wheel. Whether you’re a regular or a first time customer this place is sure to capture your heart…and your stomach. The rainbow interiors will lift the spirits of even the crankiest road-tripper and the delicious dal bafla is sure to keep you going till you reach the end of your journey.