We travelled around Lonavala to bring you a two-part series on eating out, that will cover everything from the best dhabas, street-side snacks to the most iconic dining institutions and its little known secrets
Of the countless reasons why we Mumbaikars choose to cool our heels in the invigoratingly crisp environs offered by the twin Maharashtrian hill stations of Khandala and Lonavala, our top four are: going for a drive, experiencing the monsoons, trekking, pit stopping for a lunch en route to Aamby Valley.
We’ve all been there before, and chances are NH4 will lead us back there again. For you, we’ve done all the hog-work. Here’s a two-part guide that will cover everything from the best dhabas, street-side snacks and chikkiwalas to the most iconic dining institutions and its little known secrets.
If there ever was a better, breaking fast and meeting point than this landmark 26-year-old, highway-touch Udipi eatery, we can’t say. But as of 2016, just about anyone visiting Lonavala or driving through on the old Mumbai-Pune highway, ends up stretching and eating at least one piping hot portion of RK’s idli sambar. On weekends, come rain or shine, the Shetty-run establishment plates up a staggering 500 steaming rice roundels drowned in spicy-hot sambar served with freshly grated, green coconut chutney (Rs 55), says manager Somnath Shetty. Finally, contrary to popular belief, RK serves meat and in fact, makes a mean butter chicken besides for housing a well-stocked domestic bar.
From: 7 am to 11 pm
Call: +91 2114 273600
Address: Golwada, Mumbai-Pune Road
If you’re having difficulty getting your friends and family out of the house, we suggest you lean over and whisper: Kailash Parbat and chole bhature, in no particular order. Thirty minutes later, you may find yourself seated in front of two greasy, globe-size bhaturas accompanied by a big bowl of spicy curried chickpeas. This somewhat unofficial dish of New Delhi finds countless takers in plateau country simply because KP ensures that their bread is delicious on its own: crisp yet soft. So… make no ceremony, rip off a piece and scoop up the well-spiced chole to eat well.
From: 11 am to 3.30 pm and 7 pm to 11 pm
Call: +91 2114 273085
Address: Kailash Parbat, Mumbai-Pune Road
There’s a three-decade-old adage that’s been doing the rounds of the valleys between Lonavala and Khandala. It goes something like this: “They checked into Fariyas but they breakfasted at Buwa’s.” Buwa, being the proprietor of Buwachi missal. No one calls it Hotel Sainath’s misal. Historically speaking, authentic Maharashtrian misal is made of usal (a curried sprouted lentil and bean jus), poha, chivda, farsan, onions and tomato. And that’s exactly what you get here for R50, with two pavs. Those who can’t handle spice, ask owner Ashok Gaikwad to hold the usal and add extra farsan. Be warned, the weekend wait can be long and painful.
From: 9 am to 7.30 pm or till food lasts, on Sundays 7 am to 11 pm
Call: +91 2114 270078
Address: Above Fariyas, near Silver Hills Resort
Lonavala’s a salubrious location — it’s perched between the Deccan Plateau and the lush Konkan belt of Maharashtra — has rendered it a haven for sanatoriums. Of the countless rest homes and their canteens, we like Kapol Niwas and Narayani Dham. But, Maneklal is our favourite. Off-the beaten path and a little hard to find, this treasure has had the same Mahesh Maharaj making great ghar ka khana for 18 years. Today, Rs 140 to Rs 175 will buy you a thali teaming with not too sweet and not too spicy vegetable, potatoes and pulse bhaji, dal or kadi, rice, roti and farsan. It’s the sort of place that still makes bakri, khichdi-kadi and kantoda bhaji. Our recommendation? Get in early for their Sunday special: puran poli and khandvi.
From:11.30 am to 3 pm
Call: +91 2114 277193
Address: Arogya Bhuvan, Irani Wadi, 128, A, Bara Bunglow Road
Sometimes, rituals are everything and for most children of the ’80s, no trip to Lonavala was complete without shopping at Bakerally & Sons followed by a cold coffee and ice cream treat at Pragati. Take a whiff of the air anywhere near this general store-cum-coffee shop, especially on a cool night, and get ready to be assaulted with the seductive aroma of freshly brewed coffee paired with the very nostalgic smell of sweet, drinking chocolate powder. For 31 years, Pragati has been mixing together Pune’s Chitale milk, coffee, sugar, vanilla ice cream and a hill of chocolate powder to make a cold coffee so good that children, celebrities and we, are all reduced to silly smiles.
From: 10 am to 11 pm
Call: +91 2114 271603
Address: Lunav Retreat, Shop 1, MG Road
Golden Wada Pav
If you ask a native where they go to get a vada pav, after much mumbling and grumbling about fat queues and traffic jams, you’ll hear, “Golden”. Admittedly, to the unaware eye, it’s a blink-and-miss shop on NH4, were it not for the long line and a lone man continuously frying vadas, bhajiyas, moong dal pakodas, samosas and jalebis. The pakodas are great but it's the Jain (garlic-free) vada pav that everyone files up for. The secret, we’re told, is in the fiery thecha chutney, which the Khandelwals use liberally to flavour the potato patty. All that’s left to do is batter it, fry and bite.
From: 9 am to 9 pm
Call: +91 9890007011
Address: Mumbai-Pune Road
For some in Mumbai, fudge is Cooper’s and Cooper’s is fudge. In our opinion, Lonavala’s founding ‘fudge’ father Noshir Cooper struck chocolate walnut heaven 85 years ago with his-still secret recipe (maybe all you me-toos could stop trying?). These days, the current keeper of the prized-formula is niece Rashna Phiroze Irani (right in picture) who plans to pass the mantle to her daughter Marzia, “when the time is right.” With no outlets and no plans to expand, this delightful shop should be on the top of your to-visit while in Lonavala list. Available in quarter, half and one kilo (Rs 1,200) in signature white and red boxes with an ergonomically designed flat fudge spoon, the crushed walnuts, cocoa powder, drinking chocolate, sugar and maybe milk treat makes for the perfect take-away.
From: 11 am to 1 pm and 3 pm till stock lasts, closed on Wednesdays
Call: +91 2114 272 564
Address: MG Road, opposite the Railway Station
If you’re looking for hygienic vegetarian Maharashtrian meals — breakfast, lunch or snacks — drive to Suvarna Kanpile’s canteen inside the Manashakti Research Centre. Started in 1988, this open-air, self-service place that holds steel tables and plastic chairs serves up some of the freshest sabudana khichdi, crunchy thalipeeth and fluffy poha. But if there is only one thing you want to try at this highway hospice, let it be Kanpile’s vada misal (a batata vada dunked in a fiery Goda-masala spiced misal with three different kinds of beans). To cool off, order a tumbler of kokum sharbat.
From: 7 am to 7 pm
Call: +91 2114 234342
Address: 76, Manashakti Research Centre, Mumbai-Pune Road
Given a choice between Hotel Lonavala and Kamat’s El Taj, we’d pick the latter. Your parents, the countless biking gangs of greater Mumbai and locals, all agree because Taj’s service is highly efficient — most of their waiters have been here for 30 years — the quantities are generous, the pricing is VFM, the seating is spread out albeit a little rough and the menu is endless. Our old-timer Parsi friends from Khandala swear by their tandoori selection and we love that everything here can be called for in either a half or full plate.
From: 10.30 am to 4 pm and 7 pm to 11.30 pm
Call: +91 2114 269124
Address: Kamat Hotel, Mumbai-Pune Road
This is a family-run affair that started as a charming mom-and-pop (now grandma and grandpa) bungalow shop in 1962 before expanding into a hotel in 1987. Think of it as an upmarket Friends Union Joshi Club with all the frills for R350, per regular thali. Today, son Anish Ganatra may man the full operation — kitchen, housekeeping and rooms — but grandpa and grandma Ganatra are always around wearing a smile while seating guests, welcoming the weekend crowds or zipping in and out of the kitchen. What we love most? Besides the spot-on traditional Gujarati seasonal preparations like undhiyu, there is always an element of fusion on the thali. We sampled a sweet, sour and spicy chole paneer but you may get a triple sandwich dhokla.
From: 11.30 am to 3 pm and 7.30 pm to 10 pm
Call: +912114 272294
Address: Near Lonavala Bus Stand and Post Office, opposite Mumbai-Pune, NH 4
Of Lonavala's three most-renowned chikki-makers, we crush out the details on who breaks it best.
Maganlal & Sons
For a majority of Lonavala locals, sweets, chikki, peda, ladoo or any mithai means Maganlal & Sons. The oldest, most-cherished sweetmeat shop’s fourth generation owner, Ashutosh Agarwal says he can date his family’s chikki-retail legacy back to 135 years ago when the foundation for the Kalyan-Lonavala train tracks was being laid. The secret behind their long-lasting prosperity? A protein-packed portable snack: gud-dani or peanut chikki, which the railway workers favoured by the kilo, followed by truck, bus and taxi drivers. Look for the ‘original’ shop on Bazaar road before Cooper’s; you’ll know it by a blue signage, instead of the regular red and yellow Maganlal signs you see littering the highway.
From: 8.30 am to 9 pm, closed on Wednesdays
Call: +91 2114 272314
Address: MG Road, opposite the Railway Station
Peanuts, jaggery and ghee? Who could have guessed that three simple ingredients could spell sweet success for so many Rajasthani immigrant families in a tiny hill station nestled in the Sahyadri ranges? Certainly not Abhaykumar Parakh, whose grandfather set up National in 1922. Staying true to his ancestry, Parakh still shelves his grandfather’s top sellers: groundnut, kurmura (puffed rice) and rajgira (amaranth brittle) chikki besides poha (beaten rice) chiwda. This apart from the 30-plus modern chikki flavours such as strawberry, mango and almond with saffron. Locals swear by their namkeen, in particular the flavoured sev (chillies, tomatoes, potato and cheese, garlic, mint and more) range.
From: 9.30 am to 8.30 pm, closed on Wednesdays
Call: +91 2114 272421
Address: 7, Marker Manzil, Bazaar Road
The last stop on our list is located a few shops down from National. Ashok Gupta’s 36-year one-stop-shop is the newest kid on the sticky chikki-producing block and offers a delectable array of new-age brittle thick squares of candied dry fruit topped with gulkand-esque rose petals, in a vintage black, white and grey shop that packs your purchases in old-school personalised wrapping paper. Farsan lovers, our resident insiders tell us that they tend to bulk buy cornflake chiwda, flavoured sev, gathiya, papdi, mathri, chakli and bakarwadi from Rupam. Not travelling to Lonavala anytime soon? Order their goods online for delivery to Mumbai, Pune, UAE, Oman, USA and Canada.
From: 9 am to 8.30 pm, on Thursday 10.30 am to 1 pm and 5.30 pm to 8 pm
Call: +91 2114 272303
Address: 4, Marker Manzil, Bazaar Road