India is one of the few countries where food is not just part of the journey, it is the journey itself. And highway Dhabas are a testimony to how far we will drive just to get a sip of gingery kadak chai or a bite into generously stuffed paranthas drenched with desi ghee.
Unlike some of the fancy eateries we see now, dhabas were originally modest roadside shacks serving homemade food to fatigued truck drivers. Now most dhabas are modern and cater to all types of travellers who are craving for simple rustic flavours with a whole lot of white buttery love.
We’ve picked out our top 14 dhabas to feed your hungry wandering soul:
1. Pahalwan Dhaba, Murthal, NH 1
If Dhaba paradise exists on Earth, it is here in Murthal on NH 1, enroute Chandigarh. Murthal is packed with dhabas on both sides of the road doling out north indian delights round the clock. You could dhaba hop and try something new in each dhaba. If you have a gastronomical agenda, then Murthal could become a long stopover – there’s too much to relish from desserts to drinks!
Our favourite is Pahalwan Dhaba, a long standing establishment, famous for its paranthas. Super economical yet rich in taste and portions.
What’s so special:
- Paranthas of every kind – aloo, gobi, pyaaz, paneer with generous dollops of white butter.
- Big cups of chai in traditional glasses.
2. Karnal Haveli, Murthal, NH 1
More of a grand restaurant than a dhaba, Karnal Haveli is another famous gem in the Murthal circuit but vastly different from Pahalwan. Modelled after a haveli and designed to show off its traditional true blue Punjabi roots, it serves authentic Punjabi cuisine. Largely thronged by families because of its clean washrooms and amusement park.
What’s so special:
- Kadhi and Amritsari Chole are a must try!
- Get a glimpse into Punjabi Haveli life: their decor is resplendent with paintings and antiques.
3. Old Rao Dhaba, Dharuhera, NH 8
If you’re on the Delhi – Jaipur highway, make sure to stop at the original Old Rao dhaba (HINT: it’s the one with the maximum cars in the parking). Don’t let the name confuse you – it’s famous for its north Indian cuisine and caters to both vegetarians and nonvegetarians. Be prepared with a huge appetite and a light wallet when you eat here.
What’s so special:
- Generous and unlimited supply of salad and ghee.
- Simple setup with efficient service. You’ll be in and out of here in 30 minutes.
- Everything is awesome but their star dishes are Stuffed Naan, Daal Fry, Daal Makhani and Channa Masala.
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4. Giani da dhaba, Kalka Shimla highway
A 2 hour drive from Delhi on the Kalka Shimla highway takes you to Giani Da Dhaba, Dharampur. This has been a regular haunt for most travellers heading to Shimla or Kasauli. Unlike its modern cousins in the outskirts of Delhi, this dhaba oozes with old world charm.
- Butter Chicken and Lemon Chicken are the favourites here.
- Drown in their Thandi kheer with grated coconut.
- Chilled beer and a Baskin Robbins ice cream outlet.
5. Modern Dhaba, Kalka Shimla highway
If you’re craving for some good old Rajma Chawal, then Modern Dhaba, close to Giani da Dhaba is the place to go. A small joint in a concrete building, this place serves pure vegetarian food that promises to be homely and wholesome.
- Rajma Chawal is rich and flavourful here.
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6. Aabshar, before Kandaghat, Kalka – Shimla highway
After crossing Solan and before turning at Kandaghat on the Kalka – Shimla highway, you’ll come across an area with dhabas huddled together. Amongst this cluster, Aabshar is highly recommended for its fresh and homely food, chai and zippy service.
- In car service! Great for chai stopovers – their piping hot pakodas are delicious.
- There’s an ancient Pandava cave and a waterfall nearby.
7. Prince Bhojanalaya, outskirts of Dalhousie
An hour away from Dalhousie on the way to Chandigarh, lies the Prince Bhojanalaya restaurant. The place is a little ramshackle but that adds to the charm. The fact that there isn’t a menu and the waiter rattles off the day’s specials is a clear indication that they make what they know best.
- The usual vegetarian fare of aloo mattar, channa masala, kaali daal and chawal are lip smacking and oh so satisfying.
- Drink up some warm goodness with their kadak masala chai.
8. Sharma Vaishno Dhaba, Kufri Chail road
Well this humble dhaba is not located on a highway but if you’re travelling to Chail from Kufri, then this tiny dhaba is the place to get your fix of homemade food. This humble joint is located 3 km after Chail market and is run by a couple who lovingly cook and serve the best vegetarian food.
- Everything is fresh and delicious – you’ll return with a full stomach and a happy heart!
- Hot favourites are aloo mattar, kadhi pakoda, rajma, chutney and chai
9. Bheemu Dhaba, Mandi Manali road
Manali– The Bheemu dhaba in the outskirts of Mandi, is unknown to the world but is popular amongst the locals. To reach this place, cross Mandi bus stop and keep driving for 3 – 4 km after the petrol pump. Bheemu dhaba serves fresh and healthy food at very reasonable prices and is a respite for hungry travellers.
- Rajma, Kaali Daal, Paranthas with heaps of white butter.
- Fondly known as 4 meel (mile) locally – useful to know if you’re trying to find your way here.
10. Zamindara dhaba, near Ludhiana airport, NH 1
You’ll go back in time when you eat at Zamindara dhaba, a popular dhaba that has changed little since its inception. Their food has also retained much of its traditional Punjabi flavours, making it a pitstop for all types of travellers. Stop by at this rustic dhaba for a bite of authentic Punjabi culture and cuisine.
- Their entire menu is fantastic though we must mention that their Kadi Chawal and Sandhu Daal are mouthwatering.
11. Lucky Dhaba, near Jalandhar, NH 1
Initially started in 1967 as a pitstop for truck drivers, Lucky Dhaba has now transformed into a modern bustling establishment. Easily located on the highway, it is air conditioned so you can relish your food comfortably at leisure.
- Highly recommended to stop for breakfast and have their steaming chai.
- For bigger eats, their Mix Veg, Yellow Daal, and varieties of Missi Roti, Tandoori Roti and Laccha Paranthas are incredible.
12. Sharma Dhaba, Shoghi in the outskirts of Shimla
Open 24 hours a day, Sharma Dhaba is a quaint eatery and has been catering to weary travellers for generations. Its fresh and tasty food has made it a popular choice and regulars swear that the cuisine has still preserved its delicious flavours.
- Stop any time of the day for a great homely meal.
13. Deepak Dhaba, Dhanaula, NH 71
As you head out of Patiala and towards Jaisalmer, you cannot miss this busy dhaba after crossing Sangrur. It serves hearty meals round the clock so you won’t have to worry about going hungry at odd hours.
- The typical Punjabi Makki ki roti and Sarson ka saag is heavenly here.
- Jugs of buttermilk and did we mention it’s unlimited and free!
14. Bhajan Tadka Dhaba, Gajraula, NH 24
If you are heading towards Kumaon, Uttaranchal stop by at Bhajan Tadka Dhaba for a very unique experience. Eat your heart out under the cool canopy of a thatched hut in this beautiful place. What sets them apart is their focus on hygiene and organic food – the vegetables cooked in their kitchen come from their own organic gardens.
- Paneer Butter Masala, Chana Masala, Kadhi Pakora and Garlic Laccha parantha are out of this world.
So if you’re looking to fuel up on your adventures on the road, stop by at these dhabas to savour the rustic wholesome flavours of our north indian cuisine. And if you know of any quaint ones, let us know – we’re hungry for more!
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