As the thatched roofs of the beach shacks start going up; the overgrown weeds on the abandoned restaurant plots get sickled away and the buses of domestic tourists slowly give way to the arrival of the first charters of the season, you know that the burning embers of the Goa season have been reignited and the warm glow will soon turn into a full blaze.
Having visited Goa repeatedly through the off season; we aren’t quite sure how we feel about the impending influx of hedonistic tourists, but it’s a reality that we have to live with. And being the glass-half-full people that we strive to be, we focus on the positives that every new season brings. Fresh new restaurants, rechristening and relocation of some old faithfuls and the rebirth of others into new avatars. The constant evolution of Goa’s food and nightlife scene with authentic influences from diverse parts of the world gives Goa an unparalleled, multicultural quality that even large global cities can only aspire for.
So here’s the Goa Hot List of our favourites restaurants, bars & beach-clubs to visit this season.
Calangute & Candolim
This quaint little bungalow is set in a strangely peaceful oasis just off the heavily trafficked Aguada road. It also happens to be a long-time favourite that we tend to stop by at whenever we find ourselves in that neck of the woods, craving a cuppa joe and a sweet something something. With divine tea cakes and diabetes-inducing thick shakes, this makes for a great breakfast or post-lunch pit stop.
Now here’s an oldie but a goldie, A Reverie is emblematic of creative cooking tailored to the Indian palate but sealed with a French kiss. Priced higher than even the most frou-frou restaurants in Goa, what you are paying for is the air of exclusivity together with some truly outstanding food.
We have reluctantly included this in our list because every place deserves a fair chance and although our personal experience at Koi was a little underwhelming, a bunch of our friends swear by this place. So give it a go and see for yourself although our personal preference for an Asian meal in the area would still be Wok & Roll. This restaurant serves Pan-Asian cuisine with a side of far-too-loud and rather-out-of-tune live music. The Singapore chilli crab was, however, a stand out dish.
Tucked away near Fort Aguada, dinner here requires you to weather past the throngs lining up, to get into the hottest bar in Goa – Cohiba. But once you push through that, you are greeted by a large smiling Buddha, pleasant service and some excellent Thai food.
This hidden gym is right on the beach, a few steps to the right of the Taj Village. However, it remains relatively undiscovered and therefore, relatively, uncrowded. Spend an afternoon here on one of their loungers and don’t miss out on the prawn papad and tandoori fish. But be prepared to deal with the iron-handed owner who has no hesitation with turning unruly guests away.
We have recently heard a lot of buzz about this beach club and restaurant at one of Goa’s first boutique hotels, Pousada Tauma. Since we aren’t huge fans of Calangute beach as it is, we have been hesitant to check it out ourselves but as the buzz grows, the bees will swarm and we will probably find our way there as well, in the times to come. Do keep in mind that it’s only open during the day.
And one for the young ones……Cohiba
If throbbing crowds, commercial music and colourful cocktails are your thing, look no further than Cohiba. It’s perhaps the closest nightspot millennials will have to the legendary Club Cabana (minus the murder mysteries and stunning hilltop vistas).
Sangolda & Nerul
Forming part of the Paper Boat Collective, Chef Ben D’s new (and first) restaurant is a welcome breath of fresh air, serving dishes that you are unlikely to find on other menus in Goa. The Pork/Beef three ways and the cinnamon infused cocktails were a very promising start to what we hope will be a long and successful journey for this newbie on the Goa restaurant circuit.
Bhatti Village Cafe
This continues to be our favourite venue for a menu-less, authentic Goan meal, replete with drunk locals and slow service. This is old Goa at its very best and our go-to place for an authentic reacheado.
For anybody who has eaten Bengali seafood you will know that ‘mustard’ forms a very important component of their cuisine and this restaurant apparently delivers the kick that all good mustard can be recognised by. A little far from most places so we haven’t made it out here as yet, though it has been around for a few seasons and we hope to visit soon.
And one for the young ones……Sol
Home to the Goa’s social set, any two nights at Sol will likely result in you seeing the same faces. Think washed out actors and models and Goa’s playboy elite. But the music is its redemption and Saturday night at Sol is where you will want to be.
Baga & Arpora
You won’t be wrong to assume that this place seems to be as old as time itself. Our earliest memories of Goa always involved a visit to their all-white set up near Baga creek but they have now shifted to the Arpora-Siolim road. Lila, the German owner who never seems to age, continues to commandeer her troops and the potato roesti with ham is still as delicious as when I first ate there.
Yes this still exists, and if you are brave enough to enter the lane that houses Titos then this is where you want to be for some euro-inspired food in a pretty setting. The strawberry margaritas also used to be a firm favourite.
Great for a healthy start to your day and popular with avocado-toast-eating millennials. Despite not quite falling within the right age bracket we enjoyed our poached eggs, asparagus on toast and very healthy smoothies.
This place has been around for decades and if it wasn’t for our deep-rooted aversion to Baga, we are sure we would go here more often. Serving up authentic French food, this is one place that has clearly stood the test of time.
And one for the young ones……Cavala
Actually this one is for the not-so-young, given that the average age hovers somewhere around 35 and Billy Joel is still frequently played. Friday nights are Cavala Night.
Anjuna & Vagator
No longer able to digest Mariketty’s greasy Greek food, we would still make a trip to Thalassa for a sun downer; but leave quickly thereafter.
While Baba Au Rhum has shifted from its old location in Arpora to a new, airy space, the croissants remain the best we have eaten outside of France. Flaky, yet crisp and stuffed with some ham and bacon and drowned down with some local, Goan, craft beer (yes, that is now a thing in Goa too), we continue to be happy to come here at any time of the day.
The first and original Burger Factory serves the same food as its sister restaurant in Morjim but at a slightly less fun location. Right on the main road and with no liquor license (I didn’t even know that was a thing in Goa??), the straightforward menu of burgers and sides are satisfying as a quick lunch option.
Japanese food is tough to execute in any location, but the guys at Sakana continue to do a commendable job. Some sushi and teriyaki with hot sake is sometimes just what is required to kickstart a big night.
Whats more Italian than gelato? How about Gelato made by an Italian in Goa? A welcome alternative to Baskin Robbins, this ice cream parlour is the perfect, cool refresher after a hot day in the sun. Try the cheesecake ice cream if you like some tart with your sweet.
While this is the new ‘it place’ for a sundowner, we only visited this clifftop bar during the off season when it wasn’t fully operational. However, we can understand the appeal for a certain, 5 star loving, type.
And one for the young ones……Hilltop
Hilltop continues to rage and rave with international artists lighting up the psychedelic stages. We haven’t been back here in close to a decade but our less-weak-hearted pilgrim friends continue to pay homage to this temple of trance and assure us that if anything, it’s become more organised and has better tasting Maggi than ever before.
Assagao & Siolim
Call us biased but there is something about Mario and his warm, personal service that brings us back here time and again. It might also have something to do with the specials that change daily and never leave you feeling like the menu is repetitive. With luscious platters of freshly imported prosciutto and hams, exquisitely cooked gnocchi and pastas, hunks of meat and wood fired oven pizzas, Ciao Bella caters to all. And is a must-visit for authentic Italian food.
This popular spot is better at night than during the day, and its food is certainly better when washed down with one of their Maple Old Fashioned’s. Score a table at the back and be sure to order the Andhra Prawns and Pork with an egg hopper. Vegetarians might find it a little less enjoyable.
A new entrant from late last season, this Asian restaurant set under the shade of an actual banyan tree is sophisticated yet understated. The ample bar makes us hopeful that it will get a more buzzing (less fuddy-duddy) vibe as people catch on. Rely on Rahul’s (the manager) recommendations and you are unlikely to go wrong. The dimsums and the Beef Rendang were the highlights of our meal.
The Goan version of a dhaba, the air conditioned section is dodgy at best, but any qualms about the setting quickly dissipate as the food arrives. The seafood thali is the most popular item on their menu for the budget conscious; and despite its meagre price you will not be disappointed.
We haven’t yet made it out to Rutas but it is high on our list of places to visit when we make it to Goa next. It comes strongly recommended by some local friends and is popular for their baked goods.
And one for the young ones….Soro, The Village Pub
A popular bar for the young and the restless, Soro has a different theme every night. So check before you go or you could find yourselves trapped in a room full of salsa dancers with no way to escape other than to cha-cha-cha your way out of there. Other nights have a live pop band and still others are for the ladies. If you’re in the area this village pub is a good post-dinner option.
A constant over the years, La Plage’s popularity is also its drawback but don’t let the dozens of Delhiwallas deter you from still hitting it up. The carpaccio, salads and chocolate fondant still remain as good as when the place first opened. Visit around sunset or for dinner to escape the throngs of people fighting for a table. Reservations are recommended.
Steps away from a secluded stretch of beach; serving fresh, green salads, crisp pizzas, and chilled beer, L’Atelier is a great option if you want a break from the “seeing and being-scene’ crowd at the nearby, La Plage.
Whether you go to enjoy the owner – Raju’s company and tall tales or go simply to enjoy his filo pastry and chocolate fondant, a meal here is certainly not one you will forget easily.
This is the second outpost of the burger factory after the one in Anjuna and this is the one we much prefer. Not only does it have a far nicer setting near the beach, but they also serve some great cold beer on tap to go along with the juicy buns. We like the simplicity of choice and the burgers are better than average.
While grabbing a beach bed here for the day will cost you a princely sum of 100 Rupees, the money is well spent as not only does it result in some automatic crowd control, but also gives you a day-long spot; on what in my opinion is one of the nicest stretches of beach. It does help that the tandoori calamari and prawn biryani are divine and what I always associate with as being my perfect, Goa beach shack meal.
On our ‘to visit list’ for some real coffee, beautiful temple views and often good, live music.
And one for the young ones…Marbella Beach
With cool gigs, a great setting and pretty people, Marbella Beach has all the fixings of a good beach club. It’s a great place to spend the day or watch the sun go down. It gets pretty busy on nights when they have special events.