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Panaji is a sweet little town strung out along the southern bank of the Mandovi River just
above its outlet to the Arabian Sea. It’s friendly for a state capital and very manageable for visitors. The Portuguese-era colonial charms are apparent in the colorful blue, purple and yellow buildings, the small, balcony gardens and the churches and alter spots that dot the town. It’s a perfect little town for walking and a good place to base your-self for exploring the rest of Goa.
Panaji is a place to eat.
Cheap, clean, delicious food abounds. Goan food is unique among Indian cuisine (Check out The Essential Goa Cookbook for a full idea).
After an extensive and delicious few days experimenting, it’s a pleasure to recommend my five favorites – plus two bars.
1. Vihar. Yes, they might look at you as if you’re some criminal but go ahead and sit down anyway. This is a popular,
clean, simple place with a seemingly endless menu of “pure veg” dishes and a host of fresh juices and yummy smoothies. Vihar was hands down the best food I found in Panaji and it is incredibly inexpensive. Like I said, the menu is extensive (and the service slow) but after several samplings I settled on the steamed rice and spicy mixed vegetables for ₹95 – about $2.00USD. Oddly, they don’t serve beer. Never mind though. It is worth it.
Where? On Mahatma Gandhi Road just east of the intersection with 31st January Road.
2. George Bar and Restaurant. By far my favorite for atmosphere. Don’t bother with the enclosed air-conditioned room upstairs where everything costs much more and there is little fun to be had. At street level, drunk western tourists crouch in the well-lit corners while boisterous families come and go. The front of the place is open to the busy road and an action-packed corner where young people park their scooters and hang out. Now this is the place to have a few beers. And fish. The red curry fish is a favorite but they also do a delicious vegetable pilau and fabulously spicy Schezwan noodles dish. Nothing on the menu was over ₹200 – about $2.00USD.
Where?The east side of Church Square just below the Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception.
3. Shar E-Punjab. Don’t let the chain appearance turn you away. This place is the bomb. A huge list of perfectly spiced Punjabi dishes await – and the staff is friendly here. Clean and well lit, this place attracts a fancier crew that congregates at the indoor garden terrace in the back. I preferred the paneer dishes with rice and garlic nan. That ran about ₹150 or $3.00USD.
Where? 18th June Road just east of the intersection with Dr. P. Shirgaonkar Road
4. The Quarterdeck. The main attraction here is definitely the large open patio right next to the picturesque Mandovi River. The tropical river-side atmosphere definitely makes up for the more expensive food – expensive being $5-6.00USD for a huge meal and beer.
Where? Just off of the main riverside road Dayanand Bandodkar Marg 50 meters east of the Betim ferry point.
5. Hotel Venite. Just around the corner from Vihar. Many of the guidebooks have this supposedly popular place down as Hospedaria Venite but as you seek it out – and it is challenging to find – you will come across not a single person who knows it by the longer name. A minor detail but one that kept me wandering the streets longer than I’d wanted to. This is a gorgeous building with a fabulous balcony overlooking the narrow streets below. The gimmicky tourist writing on the wall is a turn off – as are the seats on the tiny balconies, not for anyone larger than the elven folk. The point is that the food is quite good. On the more expensive side though with dinner going from ₹200 – ₹350. About $4-7.00USD.
Where? 31st January Rd near Vihar.
Panaji abounds with small bars of cheap beer and plastic tables that are great for chatting up the locals and taking a break from the sun. Don’t pass up on these as you’re walking the town. I chose the following two for the unique atmosphere they offered.
6. The Mandovi. While totally overpriced, this place has a colonial charm not to be missed. Overlooking the main road and the casino boats on the river this second-story bar begins with dusty staircase carpets and ends with a small tight man in a bow tie aggressively ordering you to your table. Elderly India gentlemen sip and whiskey and discuss cricket then retire to the wide wonderful balcony for a smoke. From here the view of the city and river is fabulous. One of the best things about this bar is the lack of television or blaring music. You’ll have to wait until 7pm to visit but it’s worth the wait.
Where? On the main riverside road Dayanand Bandodkar Marg just opposite the Quarterdeck.
7. Down the Road. A charming, fabulous balcony overhanging the putrid Ourem Creek and the 500-year old Patto Bridge. This is the place for cheap beers and a wide, affordable selection from the bar – and comfortable chairs. The downside here that they don’t open until 7pm (oh…and Kenny Rogers on endless play), which is really too bad because this would be the perfect balcony for a cold one around 5pm on a steamy tropical day before you move on to dinner. The cocktail bar downstairs opens a big later.
Where?Mahatma Gandhi Road next to the Patto Bridge.
Do you want to eat your way through the Panaji Market and end with some paan? Learn more.