Visiting Chennai for the first time could be a challenge for most travellers, especially if they are not attuned to the local culture and most importantly the weather. Chennai is hot and if you are from a cooler latitude, chances are you will say ‘the hottest summer you ever spent was a winter in Chennai’. Actually we have no winter, just summer and ‘Crispy Fried’ weather. If you do have the luxury of planning your trip, I suggest you avoid April and May and better still aim for a month between October and February when the humidity is lower.
Having migrated to Chennai over 12 years ago after having earlier lived in places like Dubai and Bangalore and not having grown up here perhaps puts me in a good position to present a comprehensive insight to an outsider. Chennai is now home and I am going to narrate this in a way I as an individual experience the city. So here’s a list of places you are most likely to spot me in, which are my picks for the best restaurants in Chennai.
A great Chennai way to start the day would be with a proper South Indian vegetarian breakfast and there are two places I’d most probably hangout, them being the ‘Woodlands’ and ‘Saravana Bhavan’. They both have multiple outlets but I like the ones on RK Salai. In the less humid months, when sitting out in the open is feasible, they also have an outlet of the ‘Woodlands’ attached to the ‘Narada Gana Sabha’. Both are good but different from each other reflecting the region their recipes have originated from. ‘Woodlands’ is today an entirely Tamil Nadu brand but their beginnings were with chefs who brought in recipes from Karnataka so for instance you will taste a marked difference in the flavour of their Sambhar versus the one you would get at ‘Saravana Bhavan’. ‘Saravana Bhavan’ to me wins over in terms of their options and on the taste but my choice is usually made keeping parking facilities in mind so ‘Woodlands’ it is. The other advantages to ‘Woodlands’ is that it’s also a great choice if you’re treating a friend or want to have a breakfast meeting where you’d want to sit down and chat.
Breakfast is the only time I would compromise on by settling for a vegetarian diet because I otherwise prefer having loads of meat throughout the day. So as the day progresses, the options grow and these are places I’d head out to for lunch or dinner. There’s a wide variety of cuisines to choose from and I’m most likely to go for food that is less on oil and spice. Samco on TTK Road is a great place to feast of semi Arabic food. They have an awesome Bar-B-Cue spread and I particularly like their chicken. If I feel indulgent, I’d go for their famous Biriyani.
Biriyani in itself requires a special mention since there are a variety of regional variations one could get throughout the city. The Thalapakatti restaurant chain is popular with their brand of the Dindigul Biriyani which is unlike anything you would have seen or tasted if you are not from Tamil Nadu. If you’re heading there, don’t forget to ask for their signature dish - the Karandi Omelette, which is a ball of egg with meat stuffed inside. On the same lines another chain you must try out is the Buhari’s restaurants. They have a signature Biriyani dish where the rice is substituted with string hoppers. They call it the ‘Idiyappam Biriyani’ and it is a must try. If you like spicy food you must try out an Andhra version of the Biriyani you’d find at the ‘Amaravati’ restaurant. This place is also great place for an elaborate sit down, plantain leaf Telugu meal.
Sticking to a south Indian spread the flavours of Chettinadu will also appeal to all those who like spicy food and among them Ponnuswamy, the one in Royapettah, is a great choice to try out exotic dishes like quail and rabbit. Those of you wanting to try out some authentic Kerala cuisine must head to ‘Kalpaka’ behind the Music Academy. Do not miss their coronary block inducing Syrian Beef Fry that is honestly worth dying for.
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Chinese n Continental
Among other options, India is also famous for a Hindustani version of Chinese food and my most favourite place for this is the ‘China Town’. If its lunch time you could try out their buffet and it’s worth it. If you like Continental Food you would like to try out the Crimson Chakra in Gandhi Nagar, Adyar. I am very finicky about the authenticity and this is probably the only place in Chennai where I’d say that their steak is a steak.
If you like rich sandwiches and pasta you should try out Eatalica in RA Puram. The food is super tasty and a calorie bomb, but it’s worth it on a day you wish to indulge yourself. Another great place to feast on Italian food is the Pasta Bar Veneto. I particularly like their outlet in T. Nagar for its ambiance.
Lastly we are a city on the coast and that makes seafood an excellent choice to opt for. I often take the trouble to drive down a little towards Mahabalipuram to dine at ‘Moonrakers’. They have a wide spread of fresh catch from the Bay of Bengal that will be served grilled or fried with your choice on the level of spice.
The city is also dotted with a variety of cafes and my most favourite place to catch up be it business or friends is this place called the Amethyst which is opposite the Sathyam Theatre Car park. You are bound to spot the who’s who there.
I’m consciously not mentioning the restaurants attached to the luxury hotels across Chennai. They are great but then the whole purpose of experiencing the city is lost if you’re in their confines.
Pubs & Lounges
Chennai though has a very unique predicament when it comes to sitting down for a drink with one’s friends. Unlike in cities like Bangalore or Mumbai most restaurants in Chennai do not serve alcoholic drinks and we have no standalone bars or pubs. To bypass that lounge bars and pubs have to be attached to a lodging facility so you will be forced to head to a luxury hotel if you are thinking of catching up with your friends for an evening out. A good lounge bar would be the Chipstead at the Taj Coromondel followed by the Leather Bar at the Park. A good place to catch up earlier in the day for a drink and short eats would be Zara’s on RK Salai.
This more or less sums up the options I would choose from though I am constantly discovering new places and newer places keep cropping up in the city. For now, I am sure those looking to discover Chennai would be happy with this dashboard that I present.
Go out, have a great time. Bon Appetite.