One of the most important spiritual destinations in the Hindu religion, Varanasi is an extraordinary place by any standards. The jewel of India’s Ganges River, known as ‘the Great Mother’ to Hindus, once you have absorbed the overwhelming food for the soul on offer here, you’ll need to replenish your body too. Here is our guide to the top ten restaurants.
Pizzeria Vaatika Café
This pleasant and relaxing Café near Assi Ghat offers al fresco pizzas on an elevated garden, overlooking the ceremonial area of the Ganges river. For those in need of a break from curry, the menu offers decent vegetarian pizza, as well as very good Indian dishes. The apple pie and ice cream, a speciality here, is highly coveted. The popular Pizzeria Vaatika Café can get very busy in high season, but is definitely worth a visit for the view and the grub.
Run by the amiable Mohammed Ainbosi from Jordan, Hayat Mediterranean is located by the peaceful Assi Ghat. This is the place to come for a taste of the Middle East in Varanasi. Italian and Indian dishes also feature on the eclectic menu. Hayat Mediterranean welcomes backpackers and foreigners with its relaxed lounge-style seating accentuated by cushions and lighting, and its flavoured sheesha, to be enjoyed while sipping on authentic Middle Eastern drinks. It’s reasonably priced too.
Hayat Mediterranean, Assi Ghat, Varanasi, India, +91 9839991913
At the Radisson Hotel Varanasi, you can count on The Great Kabab Factory. With an expansive kabab menu there is something for everyone. A typical non-vegetarian choice includes two chicken kababs, two mutton kababs and one fish kabab. The vegetarian selection offers six types of kababs crafted from regional ingredients. Speciality Indian breads are served with a lentil and vegetable speciality of the day. They also promise an assortment of tasty desserts.
A Varanasi classic is Varuna in the Taj Ganges Hotel, which features a vast menu of Indian specialties, a comfortable air-conditioned interior, and helpful service. Their piece de resistance is the satvik thali, served on a traditional Varanasi silver platter. The Taj Ganges Hotel also offers another reliable option in its Chowk restaurant which does dinner buffets that are popular and very good value.
The Bread of Life Bakery & Restaurant is reassuringly run by James and Monika Hetherington, an American interior designer and a German flight attendant. Here, on white vinyl-top tables, you can enjoy wholesome Western dishes, freshly baked breads and muffins while making a positive contribution (all profits from the bakery and the silk shop above go to local charities). Freshly prepared daily specials include steaming-hot vegetable moussaka, chickpea goulash, ratatouille, and warm Portuguese salad.
If it’s an oasis of calm you need, a refuge from the intense hustle and bustle, try the laid-back Lotus Lounge, an open-air restaurant on the ghats, offering a bird’s-eye view of the Ganges. Perfect for all-day chilling, a serene-looking Buddha oversees the space, which is operated by an Indo-German couple, Martina and Atul, who vary the menu seasonally. They offer fresh ingredients and wide-ranging international choices, from gazpacho and red Thai curry, to ravioli, and Tibetan-style momos (dumplings). While meat is generally an absolute no-no anywhere near the river, here you can even order fresh chicken.
The oldest hotel in the city, Clarks Hotel dates back to the time of the Raj. Newly renovated, today Clarks is still a perfect place to retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city. 1951, is Varanasi’s newest ‘multi cuisine’ in-hotel dining room, which also specialises in authentic Indian food comprising recipes from pre-independence to the contemporary. Popular dishes include Khansama’s special platter (assorted non vegetable kebabs), Babarchi’s vegetable platter, club chicken tangri, mirch masale ke paneer tikke, and chicken makhani ludhianwi. The new restaurant with its eclectic offerings of continental, Indian and Chinese cuisine, is flanked conveniently by Clarks Hotel café and bar.
Hotel Pradeep’s rooftop restaurant, complete with garden, manicured lawns and wrought-iron furniture, is a very pleasant place for a candlelit evening meal, or a spot of lunch during the day. Their good-quality Indian menu is also complemented with Mexican dishes. A delightful oasis, and respite from the exhilarating madness of Varanasi.
Nestled in a nearly 200-year-old heritage building, Hotel Surya’s excellent main restaurant has a colonial elegance, and on warm evenings you can eat out on the large lawn. Providing good value for money, it’s one of the best of Varanasi’s top-end choices, offering a global hodgepodge that extends from Mexican and Thai to Chinese and Continental. But really, it’s the Indian cuisine that’s excellent, including a wonderful thali.