The region of Dharamsala in India consists of three different tiers: a rustic lower town, the Dalai Lama’s exiled home and the busy traveller town of Mcleod Ganj at the top. All are connected by steep paths, with monkeys hiding in dense trees. Mountain air and exercise combine to make a healthy appetite, which is perhaps why the highest tier boasts such a selection of restaurants and eateries. We check out 10 of the best.
Dharamsala is home to 10,000 Tibetans and their exiled leader, so, unsurprisingly, there are dozens of Tibetan restaurants. One of the best is the simply named Tibet Kitchen, which offers a wide variety of all the dishes typical to the country: steamed vegetable dumplings, called momos; soupy noodles, called thukpa; and golden fried baby corn. The waiters are patient as guests ponder over the menu and are quick to serve the food once the order has been made.
Given the type of hippy travellers who usually flock to Mcloud Ganj, many of the cafés have a relaxed lounge-like feel. And the Crepe Pancake Hut, with low tables, cushions on the floor and stacks of second hand books, has one of the most chilled atmospheres of them all. Come here for a slow start to the day with a chocolate pancake, scrambled eggs or some perfect sticky ginger cake. If not in the mood to eat, just enjoy a pot of mint tea and a good book beside the red robed monks who are often found chatting and reading inside.
What Namghal Café is best at is rather specific; vegetarian pizza. If you prefer your pizza covered in peperoni and sausages then you may be disappointed, but this restaurant is worth a visit even if you’re not enticed by the food. It is set within the Dalai Lama’s temple and most of the waiters are volunteers from a school for Tibetan Refugee children. Lounge on the sunny roof terrace and admire the view or flick through the Buddhist books on offer in the cosy interior.
If books are what you’re looking for, then check out the tranquil, idyllically-positioned café Illiterati. Owned by a charming Belgian, this place has a big balcony with spectacular views over Dharamsala’s rolling green hills. It doubles up as a library and has neat shelves of books, used and new, which can be borrowed or bought. It is elegantly furnished with polished wood, wide windows and a piano at one corner. The owner or his guests often play a tune on the piano as others read and eat. The food is fresh and mostly appealing to those with European tastes, ranging from tomato soup to pizza, lasagna and fresh salads. The teas and coffees are excellent. An ideal place for a lazy, literary brunch.
You get what you’re promised in this casual two-storey restaurant: chicken tandoori, yellow dahl, vegetable biryani and aloo gobi, all heavy with Indian spice and sold for less than £3 a plate. The upper deck is full of plant life and simple wooden tables with open walls in good weather.
The little Peace Café is a great place to enjoy a plate of stir-fried noodles amongst chattering monks. Enjoy the peace and tranquillity suggested in the restaurant’s title, relax whilst taking in breathtaking views and watching Indian life pass by. Peace Café is also a good breakfast pit stop offering masala tea, fresh juices and deliciously steamed Tibetan bread.
Perched above the noisy main square, Mclo Restaurant is crammed with people nightly. Its popularity comes as a result of the comparably late closing time (11pm) and the chef’s incredible capacity to make food from all corners of the world. The menu consists of Indian, Chinese, Italian, French and Tibetan cuisine; you will be offered everything from momos to grilled trout and spaghetti. The top floor terrace is a sociable place in which to drink a late night beer whilst listening to European pop music and chattering to travellers.
Come to Ogo’s Italian Café for a sumptuous repast. The chocolate puddings are particularly famed, evoking feelings of indulgence and summoning the Amalfi Coast, with beautifully fresh ingredients and oodles of flavour.
Hidden away in the basement of Black Magic restaurant, Woeser Bakery is definitely worth searching out. Its position offers a calm refuge from the orchestra of horns on Jogiwara Road and the owner is an absolute charmer. Tendill Sangmo named the bakery after her daughter and has worked tirelessly on perfecting the best carrot cake in Dharamsala. Most reviewers will agree that she has achieved her goal. The homemade cappuccinos are everything they should be and if you’re feeling decadent, then simply dip a chocolate covered cherry into the creamy froth. Don’t miss the chocolate brownies.
Combining views of snow-capped mountains with excellent Italian food, Nick’s Italian Kitchen can’t fail to impress. The huge, open terrace looks out over the Himalayan foothills and the menu offers classic Italian specialities such as cannelloni, pizza, spaghetti, gnocchi and risotto. Star dishes include the lasagne and aptly christened ‘pizza everything’.