“I could kill for a laadi.” - Anyone who’s ever had to leave the confines of Maharashtra, ever.
However much we’re accused of global ambitions and a yearning to be more westernised, there’s a lot to be said for the fact that some of our favourite foods are as humble (yet delicious) as the vada pav. Or...anything stuffed into a pav for that matter. While we haven’t gotten quite as opulent as these 100% bacon bun burgers or replaced pavs with deep-fried lasagna yet, we’ll do you one better. Mostly because you won’t suffer an instant heart attack right after you eat these. We’re not ‘Murica-level unhealthy yet and they still taste bloody good.
So we went ahead and compiled a list of the very best dishes across this glorious city of ours that happen to be stuffed into a pav. Please note—we said stuffed into a pav so don’t expect any pav bhajis here. You can, however, expect wilder combinations, fresher pavs and because we’re not purist about our food, or anything else really, we even allowed a few baos onto our list. Don’t like it? Take it up with the pav police.
Before we start though, we’d like to say a little prayer for the weaker amongst us. Dear lord, give us the courage to avoid all pav puns. You are the only one pav-a-ful enough. Goddamn it. Never mind, just scroll on and hope for the best.
I. Mutton Shammi Pav @ Pack-A-Pav
Where: Bandra, Mumbai.
So let’s call a spade a spade. Or for the sake of this article, a pav, a pav. The entire bun-stuffed idea for this disgustingly gluttonous article shone before us when we bit into Rohan Mangalorkar’s perfect, sonnet-worthy shammi kabab pav so he’s earned the top two spots on our list. Allow us to elaborate.
Hot, buttery toasted pavs (the traditional kind) welcome the food entrepreneur’s mother’s melt-in-your-mouth shammi kabab recipe. They are then topped with a generous sprinkling of deep-fried onions and ultimately slathered with the real prize—a hung curd basil dollop of sorts along with a garlic paste. Quite simply put, this is your everyday roadside pav on crack, speed and other performance-enhancing drugs if they were only applicable to edible delights.
The best part? It wasn’t always that easy to get your hands on these as Mangalorkar used to work more as a pop-up food stall and caterer from time to time, but given how successful his food was at every event, he’s worked his way upto his own permanency in Bandra, and now you can get your hands on any of his pav-a-packed meals all day. Read more about his cozy new snack shop here.
Cost: How does that grease song go again? Give me more, give me more @ Rs. 150
In Other Tasty News: He’s got options for ‘chickenatarians’ too. The Tandoori Chicken Pav comes between the same buttery-bread goodness and includes a healthy dose of sriracha for those who like things hot. This is usually our first pick but the Irani chicken seekh pav has some homely goodness about it too.
II. The 4-cheese Chilly Pav @ Pack-A-Pav
Where: Same as above.
Yep. His vegetarian options need a place of their own because we don’t like to err...mince our options when there’s no meat involved. Meet the laadi a la localized version of the indomitable chilly cheese toast. Think all the buttery, hot tastiness of that shammy pav, only stuffed with two kinds of cheese—orange cheddar and white mozzarella to be precise—which are melted tenderly between the pavs only to trap a few crispy green chillies into the mix as well.
Cost: It sounds ludicrous now but wait till you taste it @ Rs. 150
In Other Tasty News: Options make this world go round. In case you want another delicious veggie option, we’d go for the Paneer Cheese Pav. Think fried potatoes stuffed with cheese and paneer along with those incredible caramelised onions that can transform the flavour of just about anything from plain Jane to sexy Sally.
III. Choriz Pau AKA “Bunny Chow” @ The Bombay Canteen
Where: Ground Floor, Process House, Kamala Mills, Near Radio Mirchi Office, S.B. Marg, Lower Parel, Mumbai 400013
Bombay’s latest culinary risk has already created quite a reputation for itself for its refreshing attempt to innovate and transform traditional local food into dishes that tease and appease both the eye and the taste bud. It’s what Floyd Cardoz does best it would seem, and the Choriz Pau is testament to the same.
It’s difficult to screw up the sour goodness of Goan sausage on pav as it is, but you can certainly make it better and that’s exactly what the addition of toppings like broad beans stew and pui saag (spinach) do to this pav-a-packed invention.
Cost: Ahh, the price of innovation @ Rs. 500
In Other Tasty News: There’s a fiery vegetarian option on offer for a far cheaper cost too. Try the Kutchi Dabeli Pao Sandwich for just Rs. 150 with spicy peanuts and potatoes topped with kamal kakdi (cucumber) chips, pomegranate and homemade green chutney. We totally took off the pomegranate because we couldn’t quite fathom that flavour but it’s quite possible your tastebuds will appreciate it. Give it a shot. In other even more tasty news, there’s also the Tandoori Pork Pao.
IV. Bacon Nutella Pav @ Bonobo
Where: 2nd Floor, Kenilworth Mall, Linking Road, Bandra West, Mumbai - 400050
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, we usually go to Bonobo with our stomachs full and our dancing shoes on but every once in a while, it’s worth making an exception. Especially when you’ve heard about their evolved food menu.
Enter the bacon nutella pav, a well-deserved prize for every crispy-pork-meets-chocolate foodie in the city. Trust us, they’re everywhere.
Cost: Oh shush. Just pay up and pav up @ Rs. 260
In Other Tasty News: Oh there’s plenty we’re sure, but even we need more time to sample everything on this all-new menu. Don’t worry, we’ll keep you posted.
V. Tandoori Chicken Makhani Pav/Bao @ The Social
Where: 24, Ground Floor, Glen Rose Building, Behind Taj Mahal Palace, Apollo Bunder, Colaba, Mumbai 400001
The high-meets-low culinary spirit is strong with this one too considering the Social’s carved a niche for itself fancying up our favourite local food whether it’s bhel puri or tandoori chicken. Enter the elusive love-child, that overlapping culinary space between pavs and baos, stuff it with hand-pulled tandoori chicken tossed in a rich makhani gravy, top it with a green apple chutney and add a little, fresh salad by the side to lighten the flavour explosion you’re likely to experience. Died and went to food heaven? Bless your soul, it’s a good way to go.
Much like The Bombay Canteen, Social’s been innovating with local flavours for a longer time at cheaper rates so if your wallet’s feeling a little lighter for some reason, this is the place to go.
Cost: Is everything in a pav affordable? @ Rs. 190
In Other Tasty News: Yes, they have a vegetarian version. They never make our cut first, not because we’re biased but there’s less room for experimentation. Still, this Vada Pav Bao is Jim Carrey good. Replacing the iconic vada pav’s pav for a bao and smothering it with the right amounts of lahsun chutney, mayo and chilli pickle makes for an evening snack we’re well into. Cost is even friendlier @ Rs. 160.
“Time to hit chow on the real, street-side vada pav.”
(Stop judging our terrible poetry and just scroll on for the real thing.)
Yes, the city’s teeming with vada pav vendors at just about every corner and every person has their own ‘this guy’s vada pavs are THE BEST’ vendor but we went by popular choice to narrow it down to these three. All three of which just happen to have featured on our best vada pavs in the city list as well obviously.
VI. Vada Pav @ Ashok Vada Pav Stall
Where: Off Cadel Road, Kirti College Lane, Prabhadevi, Mumbai-400028
Run by Ashok Thakur, this is probably the most popular vada pav stall in the city. Located near Dadar’s Kirti college, it opened its doors to hungry folks 35 years ago after the owner wasn’t able to get a job in the navy and we doubt he ever imagined it would become such a rage. Ashok Vada Pav Stall hasn’t stopped promptly handing out vada pavs ever since. Open from 11AM to 9:30PM, they make only one type of vada pav, which they sell thousands of daily customers at Rs. 15. “I have tried to keep the same quality,” Thakur told DNA. “I use 40 materials to make the chutney and batter. And I can guarantee that I make vada pav of the highest quality.”
Cost: Don’t doubt it, it’s @ Rs. 15
In Other Tasty News: This stall also boasts of a clientele including Shabana Azmi, Madhuri Dixit, Sonu Nigam, Jackie Shroff and Sushmita Sen, he reveals proudly.
VII. Samosa Pav @ Gurukripa
Where: 40, Guru Kripa Building, Road 24, Near SIES College, Sion
One of the city and Sion’s most iconic joints/ restaurants/ watering holes, the place may be swarmed with endless SIES college students who make more noise than the busy street it’s on but it’s still worth the effort to sample one of their divinely fresh and crunchy samosa pavs. The inner filling is moist and flavourful, while the outer crunchy casing gives it a great bite. Plus, their ability to get the mixture of spicy green chutney and reddish meetha chutney just right is unparalleled. If ever there was a reason to go through the clutter at Sion, this. is. it.
Cost: No, seriously. It really is @ Rs. 15
In Other Tasty News: Every morning, over 30,000 samosas are made at this virtual samosa factory and dispersed all over the city for consumption.
VIII. Anda Pav @ Vijay’s Stall
Where: Behind the bus stop outside the main entrance of Churchgate station.
Well, this one is standing, sunny-side-up proof that this city can turn any man who makes a mean omelette and stuffs it between two pavs into a seriously successful business man. Besides, you’ve got to love a street stall that can brave its storefront being bang in front of one of the busiest stations in the city.
The omelettes here aren’t for the weak-hearted, full of fiery flavours thanks to the green chillies, chilli powder, garam masala, just the right amount of salt and freshly chopped onions. What we will guarantee however, is that just one of these slid upon one of those buttery, fresh-off-the-tava pavs, will banish any bad thought you were likely to have for the rest of the day.
Cost: Okay, we get it. The good stuff is cheap @ Rs. 15
In Other Tasty News: We have another guarantee. Sometimes, when you’re hungover and all you need is something to soak it all up, just some of his plain pav fresh off the tawa will do. It will do rather nicely.
“Coz Bao is basically the chinese version of pav.”
(Got a problem with it? Call the pav police. They’re at 1-800-wedontcarejustgiveusourgoddamnPAV)
You heard us just fine. Ever eaten a good bao? If yes, you should know what we’re talking about and if not, give it a shot before you tear down its presence on this list and scroll on for some ridiculously good Asian pav fillings, if you will.
IX. Dutch Pork Belly Braised In Soy Sauce @ Ellipsis
Where: Amarchand Mansion, 16 Madame Cama Road, Colaba, Mumbai
Well, no surprise here. Ellipsis makes it onto our lists as regularly as Bollywood releases a rip-off these days thanks to their penchant for constant culinary innovation but we do have a tiny surprise for you. This particular dish is one of the only completely traditional ones on his menu and it’s still every bit as awesome.
Braised in soy sauce, the top quality pork belly meets ginger, onion and scallions only to be served on homemade steamed baos. Okay, we lied. There’s one new twist. The Asian bao party in your mouth is ultimately garnished with apple butter and homemade kimchi.
Cost: Nothing out of this kitchen comes cheap @ Rs. 900
In Other Tasty News: Check out some of their other incredible pork dishes too, the quality is incredible.
X. Charcoal Lamb Bao @ Yauatcha
Where: Raheja Towers, Bandra Kurla Complex, Bandra East
This stuff is pretty formulaic. When you go to one of the best Asian restaurants in the city and order up lamb that’s taken in the flavours of a charcoal grill, been cooked to perfection and then stuffed well and good into a bao, then drizzled with the kind of Asian flavours that make you want to catch the next flight to anywhere they speak Cantonese fluently, you’re pretty much done for.
Cost: It ain’t cheap getting a taste of China in BKC @ Rs. 475
In Other Tasty News: There is none, move on.
XI. Bao Of Char Siew Pork @ Umame
Where: 1st Floor, East Wing, Cambata Building, Near Eros Theatre, Churchgate, Mumbai
They call Umame the heir to Joss but luckily for all of us, it doesn’t seem to be trying to win the throne just yet, there’s room for both. Still, owner Khambata’s comfort zone lies in Far Eastern cuisines and we don’t care for experimentation because he does it best. The Bao of Char Siew Pork is exactly what you’d expect — just this side of chewy pork, sweetish Asian flavours, lightly sautéed to bring it to the right temperature before its comfortably nestled between the best baos we’ve eaten in the city yet. We’re not sure what sets it apart, but just trust us.
Cost: Like we said. It’s all uphill when you fancy a pav that’s called a bao @ Rs. 340
In Other Tasty News: There’s no need for it. Just shut up and focus on these till you’re sick.
XII. Hoisin Glazed Pork Bao @ The Table
Where: Kalapesi Trust Building, Near Hotel Suba Palace, CS Maharishi Marg, Colaba, Mumbai
You’ve got the drift by now. Pork is always the right move to make when it comes to baos. Better still if it’s hoisin glazed which means, that trickily sweetness is going to have you wondering at what point it becomes impolite for you to have another bao.
Cost: It ain’t easy living the good life, but it sure is tasty @ Rs. 600
In Other Tasty News: The hoisin glazed goat bao holds up just as nicely if you’re not a pig-in-a-bun kinda guy.
XIII. Honey Garlic Chicken Bao @ Joss
Where: Savoy Chambers, Next To Mini Cooper Showroom, Linking Road,Santacruz West, Mumbai
Yeah, we know we said pork’s usually the way to go but trust Joss to show us any meat will suffice when it comes to Joss’ exemplary Asian style chefs. Even the most bland of them all, chicken. How do they do it? It’s the age-old Eastern cuisine formulae. When in doubt, glaze in honey garlic and stuff into a freshly steamed bao. Voila! All is well with the world again.
Cost: Yep, yep, we can do this @ Rs. 320 for a plate
In Other Tasty News: Stop being so greedy, the baos stop here.
XIV. Spicy Mushroom and Broccoli Bao @ Cafe Nemo
Where: Thadani House, 329/A Worli Village, Opposite Indian Coast Guard, Worli, Mumbai
Oh yes we did. We found you a succulent, delicious vegetarian bao option. It wasn’t easy but it was worth it. Haven’t been to Cafe Nemo yet? It’s time to make the trip for this one. Two freshly served buns clamps down over a spicy mushroom and broccoli filling along with peanuts, herbs and pickles, ultimately served with side garnishings of crisps and samba aioli.
As you can probably imagine, the flavours are not only astonishingly good, the textures each bite into this bao provides are unmatched as far as this list is concerned and that’s pretty high praise coming from us.
Cost: Who said vegetarians always have it easier? @ Rs. 346 + taxes.
In Other Tasty News: We didn’t mention it first because our bias towards pork belly is overwhelming but, well, their pork belly bao is truly special so if you’re not in the mood for the green veggies, this is your bao friend, all the way. Also, go check out their pizza options on our Best Pizzas list.
“The Special Mention”
XV. Kheema Ghotala @ Good Luck Cafe
Where: Opposite Mehboob Studios, Near Bandstand, Bandra West, Mumbai
We might be cheating a little bit with this last one considering it doesn’t come stuffed inside the pav but you’re not the boss of us and this is a little too special to be leaving of any list about any food in Bombay quite frankly. Hell, if we could’ve gotten away with it, we’d have put it on the best pizzas in Bombay too but we have to maintain some decorum. And more importantly the best way to eat it, is to stuff it inside the hot, buttered pav it comes with, so just do that and we’ll call it quits. Enough with the defense now though.
Bandra’s oldest Irani joint Good Luck’s super special kheema ghotala is Bandra’s worst kept secret for alcoholics. It’s the ultimate hangover cure and an even better hunger pangs cure what with that perfectly tossed up beef (let’s not talk about that line running through our meat) mutton kheema, scrambled with eggs, mixed up with chopped green chillies and the tears of a little boy or something secret we’ll never know because that’s probably what makes it so damn good. Trust us, this is not replicable in any home kitchen.
Cost: Hello, we’ll take 2 @ Rs. 120 for a plate
In Other Tasty News: They have an emu kheema too. Also, always ask for a slice of cheese on top.
[Hello readers. Know of any pavs that are stuffed better than these? Don’t hold out on us, let us know know in the comments section below. You’ve got the pava!]