Delhi's Paharganj —once considered a hippie haven and seedy backpacker district—is evolving. These days, even middle-class Indians are heading there for its bargain shopping, and budget places to eat and drink. Here's the pick of bars and restaurants in the vicinity of Paharganj's Main Bazaar.
Vivek Hotel is home to longstanding Sam's Cafe on the rooftop, which attracts the standard motley assortment of travelers, plus more the upmarket and formal Sam's Restaurant and Bar on street level. The rooftop garden cafe is open 24 hours, making it a sought-after hangout spot, while the restaurant is ideal for people watching by the window with a beer. It's open daily from 11.30 a.m. to midnight. Both places serve a medley of Indian, Italian, and Israeli dishes.
Metropolis Restaurant and Bar, on the rooftop of the Metropolis Tourist Home, is a landmark Paharganj eatery that's been in business for more than 30 years. It’s a bit more costly than most (prices have skyrocketed in recent years) but the quality and variety of food is a definite step up from the usual suspects. The ambiance is great too, with a dose of old-world charm. Both Indian and western cuisine is served, including wood-fired pizza. Service is friendly, fast, and efficient. Opening hours are 8 a.m. until 11 p.m. daily.
Another friendly rooftop restaurant with a view that's popular with travelers in Paharganj, this one is spread over two floors in the middle of the Main Bazaar. It serves a wide range of Tibetan, Chinese, Thai, Indian and Continental dishes. The building doesn't have an elevator so be prepared to climb four flights of stairs up! There's cold beer, soft cushions, and free WiFi available at the end of it though. Opening hours are 8 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Need a break from yet another curry or ordinary traveler fare? Shim Tur is the answer! You can sample authentic, home-style South Korean food at this peaceful cafe, whose name means "take some rest". While backpacking through India 20 years ago, its Korean owner came up with the idea of opening a hidden restaurant that catered to other Korean backpackers. However, the secret is out, and it's become sought after by Indians and foreigners alike. Of course, this is not surprising because the food is darn good. Opening hours are 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily.
If you're craving some Delhi street food, head to Sita Ram Diwan Chand for a plate of chole bhature (spicy chickpeas and fluffy deep fried bread). This legendary hole-in-the-wall restaurant has been in business since the 1970s. Before that, the founder pushed a food cart around Paharganj for a couple of decades. The chole bhature is renowned for being among the best in Delhi. You can even get super soft bhature filled with paneer, and wash it all down with a lassi. The restaurant is always crowded and there's no seating, so be prepared to stand and eat at a table. It's situated in a lane off the Main Bazaar. Opening hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Tadka is where most people go to fill up on inexpensive and authentic vegetarian Indian fare in Paharganj. The restaurant gets its name from the tempering technique in Indian cooking, whereby spices are fried to release their flavor before adding them to a dish at the end (it's particularly common in preparing dal). On the menu are classic dishes such as shahi paneer (cottage cheese in creamy tomato gravy), malai kofta (balls of cottage cheese in cashew gravy), aloo gobi (potato and cauliflower curry), Kashmiri dum aloo (potato filled with cottage cheese in tomato gravy), bhindi masala (spicy okra curry), and channa masala (spicy chickpea curry). Opening hours are 9 a.m. to 10.30 p.m. daily.
If you want to party on in Paharganj, My Bar is the best place to do so. This iconic bar opened in 2009 and was so successful that six more outlets have since sprung up across Delhi. Its aim is simple: to provide a decent bar environment and cheap drinks -- the beer towers are a real hit! A recent renovation has give the interior an industrial hip look with exposed brickwork. The crowd consists predominantly of fun-loving college students, interspersed with foreigners. Even young Indian women feel comfortable there. There are DJs on weekends. Opening hours are 11 a.m. to 12.30 a.m. daily.
Cavernous Gem Bar and Restaurant is another reliable option for a drink and evening out in Paharganj, and it won't blow your budget. The biggest draw is the live band that performs upstairs every night of the week. It can get loud and crowded, although the downstairs area remains more sedate. Opening hours are 11 a.m. to 12.30 p.m.
Not only does Open Hand ethically manufacture bespoke garments, but they also have cafes where you can get real Espresso coffee, hearty breakfasts, light European lunches, and yummy smoothies. The corridor-like cafe in Paharganj promises "a gentle ambiance, a subtle hint of sanity to prepare you for the next wild chapter in your travels". Who wouldn't welcome that! It also doubles as an art gallery. Find it down the lane towards Chabad House, opposite Hotel Vishal in the Main Bazaar. Opening hours are 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.