The city’s foodie brigade was in for a shock when The Dhaba, a landmark eatery on Ballygunge Phari Crossing (in business since the 1930s) pulled down its shutters for good in July, when it’s owners decided to retire. And, while it will take some time for The Dhaba’s loyal fans to come to terms with their loss, here is taking a look at some of the best places in the city, where you could grab a hearty dhaba-style meal.
Punjabee Rasoi is not exactly a dhaba, in the strict sense of the term, but this six-year-old eatery, tucked in an inconspicuous Kasba neighbourhood, is by-far your best bet in the city, if you want to feast on some typical Punjabi food. The star dish here is the Adrak ke Punje (spice-laced goat ribs grilled on charcoal). Plus, they turn out a fantastic dal makhni, which I personally like to pair with some kabuli naan that comes with a nut-studded crust.
Or, stop at Sharma Dhaba a saviour really for pub-hoppers looking for a late hunger fix. This unassuming eatery in posh Ballygunge is one of your top-bets in this city, if you fancy rich, buttery gravies and smoky kababs. A personal favourite here is the mammoth reshmi kabab roll (wrapped in rumali roti). If you want to keep it light, try their buttery chicken bharta, along with a few tandoori rotis to mop up the creamy gravy.
Balwant Singh Eating House, a vegetarian eatery on Harish Mukherjee Road, is as popular with late-nighters as it is with early risers. Their thick, saffron-infused kesari chai is a rage among morning walkers, who often stop by for a hearty (albeit greasy) breakfast of piping hot kachori-sabzi or crisp cutting nimki, served with spiced green chillies. But Balwant Singh’s most curious, and popular, offering is perhaps the doodh-cola – a cloying concoction of cola and milk. For a wholesome late-night meal, try their masala kulcha and malai kofta.
The Russel Punjabi Dhaba (originally the Bharat Hindu Hotel) on Russell Street has been in business since the 1950’s. You could expect a crowd of patrons outside this nondescript eatery anytime of the day, sipping on their legendary chai, fragranced with a secret mix of spices. A must-try here is the crisp, generously stuffed aloo paratha (they cut it up in bite size pieces) served with a dollop of butter and a piquant achaar. Wash it down with some lassi.
I quite like their anda tadka, a delicious mix of lentils and scrambled eggs (well, this is the city’s favourite Punjabi dish, though no one in Punjab is likely to have heard of it, and a mandatory entry on every dhaba menu) paired with a few piping hot rotis. The iconic Bachhan’s Dhaba, in Rashbehari, also turns out a superlative tadka. Incidentally, the eponymous owner Bachhan Singh, a taxi driver, regularly drove Satyajit Ray to the sets of his films. If you happen to be in the vicinity, grab a pot of anda or chicken tadka, to take home for dinner.
Another popular late-night dining destination, Jai Hind Dhaba on Paddapukur turns out a commendable selection of typical dhaba favourites. They have an air-conditioned mezzanine section, or you could grab a meal sitting in your car. The chicken bharta and the spicy aloo-do-pyaaza are top picks here. Their butter chicken has quite a fan following too.
Honey da Dhaba in Kankurgachhi, almost three decades old, hardly resembles a dhaba anymore, except the spread is quintessentially dhaba-esque, and mostly good. This is good place to drop-by if you want to stuff yourself with smoky kababs – try the lahsuni kababs and tandoori chicken here. Or, settle for a simple meal of luscious dal tadka and tandoori rotis.
Rang de Basanti Dhaba serves a quintessential dhaba-style spread in a fun, contemporary setting. They make a neat Delhi-style butter chicken (one of the bestsellers here) best paired with some ghee-smeared kulchas or naan. A must-try dish here is the spicy Keema Kaleji, one of their signature numbers.
Sanjha Chulha on EM Bypass (they have a few other outlets in the city now) is another popular stop for a dhaba-style meal. A personal favourite here is the Lahori keema, paired with lachha parathas. Also, sample their rendition of chicken 65 – a particularly good pick to wash down with some beer. They serve a bankable Indo-Chinese spread, but it is best to stick to their trademark dhaba fare.
On the other hand, if you want to pack in a dinner-and-drive plan for the weekend, a good place to go to is the Sher-e-Punjab near Barasat, on Jessore Road. Sher-e-Punjab is something of an institution, almost synonymous with the city’s dhaba-culture. They turn out some superlative kababs and dhaba-style meaty curries. The rara mutton is a star dish here.
Finally, there is Azad Hind, one of the oldest players of the dhaba game that now runs a chain in the city. However, their original outpost in Ballygunge remains its most popular. Old-timers crib about deteriorating standards, yet when it comes to dhaba-style meals, Azad Hind remains the go-to place in the city. Most people order for popular dishes such as kali daal and chicken tikka butter masala, but those in the know, go for their saag chicken, easily one of their best dishes.
An independent journalist based out of Calcutta and a dedicated food enthusiast, she writes mostly about food and travel, and has worked and written for publications India Today, The Telegraph, Live Mint as also Lonely Planet India’s website. She also loves to experiment in her kitchen and runs a food blog – allthatsdelicious.com. But mostly she eats, frets about how much she eats and then eats some more.