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Borscht on the Beach

Vivek Menezes gorges his way through the state’s best restaurants.

Vegan in the land of vindaloo? Do you seek borscht instead of bebinca? Want to eat at the best Burmese restaurant on the planet? You’ve come to the right place. Goa has it all, with world-class chefs hidden away behind coconut palms, and an amazingly diverse culinary landscape during the tourist season.
 

Let’s be clear – the majority of restaurants and shacks in this state are mediocre and overpriced, and it is very easy to lose your way as you wander the thickets of food outlets that line every beach road. But we’ve checked all those indifferent places out so that you don’t have to. Keep your eyes on our top 21 restaurants in Goa and you just can’t go wrong. These are establishments with a track record of excellence. They are simply the best Goa has to offer.
 
Avanti
Unless you have a seriously skilled Goan grandmother, this is the closest you’re going to get to the soul of Goan Catholic home cooking. Michael Fernandes and his wife and mother-in-law run this cheery boite of a restaurant like an extension of their own home, packed daily with regular customers who know they’ve found a good thing. Take Michael’s advice on the day’s catch, and try the beef chili fry without fail.
Fontainhas, Panjim (0832-243-1788). Mon-Sat 11am-3pm, 7-10pm. Meal for two approx Rs 500.
 
Bean Me Up
More a mini-conglomerate than a mere restaurant, this wonderful North Goa institution boasts of rooms for hire, a massage area, an excellent delicatessen, a surprisingly complete boutique, a children’s area, and, oh, yes, a huge range of vegetarian dishes featuring world-class home-made tofu, tempeh, seitan and other natural food products.
1639 Deulvaddo, near petrol pump, Anjuna-Vagator (0832-227-3479). Daily 9.30am-10.30pm. Meal for two approx Rs 800.
 
Bomra’s
Yes, it really is true. This is the best Burmese restaurant in the world. London-trained Bawmra Jap is an inspired dynamo in the kitchen. The flavours of Burma and his Kachin homeland dance at his fingertips. It’s stunningly original and delicious food. We think it’s worth a trip to Goa just to eat at Bomra’s.
Souza Vaddo,Candolim (98221-49633). Daily noon-2.30pm, 7-10pm. Meal for two approx Rs 1,200.
 
Café Chocolatti
The best lunch place on the North Goa tourist strip. Great grilled sandwiches, bountiful salads and an outstanding selection of fresh-baked biscuits and cakes. Don’t miss the hand-made chili chocolate truffles, and much more for sale in the little shop attached. The kids will love this cute garden restaurant.
Fort Aguada Road (0832-247-9340). Mon-Sat 9.30am-7pm. Meal for two approx Rs 600.
 
The Copper Bowl
We generally don’t like the restaurants in the luxury hotels of Goa. But Pousada Tauma is different, a highly distinctive, terracotta-shaded property that’s full of charm. The in-house restaurant is amazingly secluded and private. This is a serious contender for best Goan food in the state.
Pousada Tauma Porbavaddo, Calangute (0832-227-9061). Daily 7.30am-10.30pm. Meal for two approx Rs 1,500.
 
Ernesto’s
This is the clubhouse you’ve been waiting for all your life. High ceilings, comfortable armchairs, great music on the stereo, constant breezes coming from the Municipal Garden that’s spread below the double-height windows – all of this adds up to an unbeatable combination. And now you also have the inspired cooking of Chef Vasquito to bring you back to this lovely relic of Old Panjim.
Clube Vasco da Gama, Souza Towers, Municipal Garden (98230-15921). Daily11am-3pm, 6.30-11pm. Meal for two approx Rs 400.
 
Fiesta
Page 3-types, you’ve found your mecca. This undeniably stylish restaurant, run by two ex-models, is the in-house clubhouse of the flashbulb-friendly set when they’re in Goa. We have always liked Fiesta, and think especially highly of its mouthwatering desserts. But all that bling is getting to us, as is this rapidly deteriorating location that forces you to drive through crowds that resemble Churchgate at rush hour. 
Saunta Vaddo, Baga (0832-227-9894). Wed-Mon 7pm-midnight. Meal for two approx Rs 2,000.
 
Fisherman’s Wharf
This is a South Goa rarity – a reliable, international-standard restaurant that’s outside the mammoth five-star complexes that have come to dominate this part of the coast. It’s a genuinely beautiful spot, right bang on the slow-moving River Sal, and this is a tightly ticking professional set-up that consistently delivers good value for money.
Mobor, Cavelossim (93261-29810). Daily 11am-midnight. Meal for two approx Rs 1,200.
 
Home
It sits right on Patnem beach, one of the prettiest and most pristine strands of the Goan coastline. The layout couldn’t be more picturesque, tables laid out in the sand with the ocean blue as backdrop, with comfortable floor-level seating on one side. But don’t be fooled by the idyllic setting. This is a hard-working, professional set-up that specialises in Italian-influenced vegetarian food, and even serves Lavazza coffee.
Patnem Beach (0832-264-3916). Daily 8.30am-5.30pm. Meal for two approx Rs 600.
 
Horseshoe
It takes a tough man to create such tender interpretations of the food he loves best. They don’t come any tougher than Chef Vasco Silveira, ex-commando, who served in the Portuguese forces in Angola. His food evokes the Lusophone arc that stretches from Mozambique to Macau. Call ahead so that he has time to prepare his bacalhao: his version is hands down the best of any restaurant in Goa
Rua de Ourem, Fontainhas, Panjim (0832-243-1788). Mon-Sat 12.30-2pm, 7-10pm. Meal for two approx Rs 1,000.
 
 I-95
Just two years after opening, there’s no denying this restaurant its place among the very best in the state. It’s on one of the few quiet enclaves remaining right off the main tourism drag of North Goa. But it’s the very solid modern cooking that draws us back – robust Maryland crab cakes, curried lobster served with clove-scented pilaf, and a killer banana cream pie with gingered crust. 
Castelo Vermelho, 1/115 Gauravaddo, Calangute (0832-227-5213). Daily 7-11.30pm. Meal for two approx Rs 1,500.
 
J&A
Run by the ebullient Jamshed Madon and his wife, the self-taught chef Ayesha Billimoria, J&A has been one of the great successes of the Goan tourism marketplace. What’s more, it has become a kind of clubhouse for a revolving array of India’s cultural and business elite, who are particularly ubiquitous around New Year. Alas, this has meant that this otherwise super restaurant has become less friendly to the rest of us plebs.
Baga Creek (98231-39488). Daily 6pm-midnight. Meal for two approx Rs 2,000.
 
La Fenice
Come in through the nondescript entrance on the ground floor, and you’re quite unprepared for what comes above, as this unexpectedly fine Italian restaurant unfolds upwards to a series of broad terraces that are open to stars. Run by two energetic Italians, this is zestful cooking from the boot country of the Mediterranean, bursting with flavour and always deeply satisfying.
Opposite Tarcar Ice Factory, Gauravaddo, Calangute (0832-228-1182). Daily 10.30am-11pm. Meal for two approx Rs 1,000.
 
La Plage
Gorgeous location on a sand dune on a pristine North Goa beach. Spirited French cooking, with every item on the menu a well-conceived winner. There are many reasons to love this restaurant, and we have always thought very highly of it. But then the service became alarmingly slack last season. We hope it was a temporary problem.
Ashvem Beach (98221-21712). Daily 8.30am-10pm. Meal for two approx Rs 1,000.
 
Lila Café
This bright, spacious German-run restaurant is among the most successful establishments in North Goa, with a fanatically loyal multinational clientele that keeps the space buzzing all through the season. Try the spatzle and goulash, the water-buffalo ham, and eggplant pate, all unusually fine and served with a smile by an unusually efficient, friendly staff.
Baga Creek (0832-227-9843). Wed-Mon 9am-6pm. Meal for two approx Rs 800.
 
Mum’s Kitchen
This increasingly popular restaurant prides itself on “a mission to save Goan food”. To that end, the management recruited a cross-section of expert aunties to share recipes for a wide range of Hindu and Catholic traditional Goan dishes. These make Mum’s Kitchen a kind of one-stop emporium for the flavours of Goa. Focus on the delightful Goan vegetarian dishes like uddamethi, and keel khotkhotem, made from banana shoots.
DB Road, Miramar (93261-00873). Daily 11am-11pm. Meal for two approx Rs 1,200. 
 
Nostalgia
When he died earlier this year, Chef Fernando da Costa was eulogised as a fighter for traditional Goan cooking. This is a man whose fragrant pulaos were always made with homemade chicken stock, who insisted that red-flecked Goan rice was the authentic companion to prawn curry. The maestro is gone, but the tradition lives on in scenic Raia village.
Uzro, Raia (0832-277-7098). Daily 11am-11pm. Meal for two approx Rs 600.
 
Ritz Classic
If you took a Goa-wide poll for best restaurant, this place would win hands down. You can test this for yourself by trying to get a table during peak hours at lunch or dinner – every seat is always taken, and there may be as many as 50 eager customers hanging around in the aisles and corridors, quietly salivating about the piscine bonanza that’s unfolding around them. Remember Trishna 25 years ago? That’s what we’re talking about.
Wagle Vision, 18th June Road, Panjim (0832-564-4796). Daily 11am-3pm, 7-11pm. Meal for two approx Rs 500.
 
Venite
Over the years, this charming little restaurant has become established as a must-visit for foreign travellers to Goa. It’s easy to see why. Venite has a beautiful setting in the Latinate ward of San Tome that leads to Fontainhas, and features cute pocket-sized balconies which are unbeatable for soaking in the old-world vibe. Try the no-label feni (the editor of this magazine swears by it).
31st January Road, Panjim (0832-242-5537). Meal for two approx Rs 800. Mon-Sat 8.30am-10.30pm.
 
Viva Panjim  
Why are we so enamoured of this modest restaurant, which serves basic Goan and international tourist fare? Because of the location, tucked in the middle of a fairytale stretch of old Fontainhas. Because of the relaxed setting, with tables spilling out of a family’s parlour. And mostly because of Linda D’Souza, ex-Mumbai, a warm, chatty genuine Goan Aunty who will take care of you just like you need her to.
 
Off 31st January Road, Fontainhas (0832-242-2405). Mon-Sat 11am-3pm, 7-11.30pm, Sun dinner only. Meal for two approx Rs 500.
 
 
Zeebop  
 
Okay, so the food here is pretty uneven, and nothing to get excited about. And, oh yeah, the staff is opportunistic and often quite rude in denying the best tables to unknown customers. So why is Zeebop on our list? Location, location, location. This is a
dream-like beach setting, with the sand kept powder-soft and perfectly clean by daily sifting and sweeping.

Zeebop Utorda Beach, opposite Kenilworth Beach Resort (0832-275-5333). Daily 10am-10pm. Meal for two approx Rs 800.

 
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