South Mumbai

about Kings Circle, Matunga East, Mumbai

Viator rates the dosa one of the ten things to try before you die. I have my own periodic dosa cravings, but this isn't entirely simple in Mumbai. There's no dearth of options - udipis abound on every street corner peddling dosas and idli any hour of the day that Dhoble allows - but most are not very good. One has to battle a lot of sugared sambar and funny batters before one stumbles upon one that satisfies my Bangalore-honed tastebuds. Rescue, however, is at hand.

If you're looking for sambar with bite, idli with fluff, dosa that might bring Rajnikant back to Mumbai and coffee that is not nescafe then the best way South is East. Matunga East, that is.

Kings Circle is now called BN Maheshwari Udyan but it is still the birthplace of the Mumbai udipi and the only place in Mumbai to get a dosa fix. For decades, two ornate southern style temples in the vicinity have served as the city's anchor for Tamilians, Kannadigas and various other flavours of southies. The udipi revolution is named after the free feasts at the famous Krishna temple of Udipi in Karnataka; it came to Mumbai on the backs of immigrants in search of big city dreams. The sugar in the sambar, the nescafe in the coffee and those atrocious lassi-flavoured dahi-vadas were picked up later; Kings Circle continues to serve the orignals to all and sundry from geriatric regulars to giggly teenagers. All these places serve decent dosa-idli-sambar, but other choices vary. Neer dosa, set dosa, pesarettu, ulundu dosa, various kinds of idli, all these are hard to come by elsewhere but abound at this circle.

I've been wandering these streets for years, and finally compiled what I'm fairly sure is the definitive list.

Cafe Madras
A relatively new kid on the block, but in my opinion the best overall South Indian restaurant in Mumbai. You will rarely hit a miss on the menu, and specials like Madras Misal and Idli with white butter are must haves. No reservations and a perennial wait to get in is part of the experience. Remember to order their magical white butter on the side. Alternative outpost Cafe Gopal in Malad West is usually called a branch, but in reality that's where they started.

What to have: Rasam Vada, Madras Misal, Idli with malagapudi & white butter, coffee

Cafe Madras  Khottu Idli Cafe Mysore

Cafe Mysore
Another part of the venerable Nayak empire, this place is full of celebrity associations - especially Mukesh Ambani. I love those khotto idlis steamed in jackfruit leaves, but do not care as much for their "famous" coffee.

What to have: Khottu Idli

Idli House
This tiny place serves many different kinds of idli including a number of unusual varieties not found elsewhere in Mumbai – and nothing else, no dosa here. There are two kinds of poodi on the counters (each with its proper oil – til or coconut) and even a few dessert idli options make this a place much worth a visit. Also part of the Nayak empire.

What to have: Khottu idli, kanjeevaram idli

Mani's Lunch Home
Mani, like Ramanayaka Udipi, serves only thali for lunch but does the usual dosa-idli fare the rest of the time. The lunch is rather nice, not quite as good as Rama Nayak's but near enough and without all that queueing up. The dosa-idlis are as competent as anywhere in the area. They have a couple of branches – one a stone's throw from Poddar college, but this is the prominent one.

What to have: Lunch thali

Sharda Bhavan
Quieter and more isolated from the crowds that throng Bhandarkar Road, Sharada Bhavan shares the quaint old-world charm of its sibling Amba Bhavan but relies on young collegians rather than geriatric regulars for custom. Usually the easiest of the lot to find parking at. The kela baji is very popular, but I failed to see the point of it. The rasam vada is wonderful.

What to have: rasam vada

IMG_2876 IMG_2872 Rasam Vada

Amba Bhavan Coffee House
If you want great coffee, good dosas and no queues, this unassuming place is the way to go. It still looks like it could have been in a black and white movie, and manages to serve some unusual dishes such as coconut sevai along with competent renderings of the staples. A sibling of Sharda Bhavan, it shares some successes with that establishment such as that lovely kadhi vada. And don't forget the coffee.

What to have: rasam vada, limbu sevai, coconut sevai, coffee

Ram Ashraya
A crowded location at a corner of the Matunga market means the parking is a challenge, but this place serves among many competent dosa-idli choices an earthshaking upma that's the best in the city.

What to have: upma

Upma Ram Ashraya

A Rama Nayak Udipi Shri Krishna Boarding
This venerable grandfather is the udipi that started all udipis in Mumbai. Only serving lunch thalis on banana leaf, it still continues to pack them in seventy years on and with very good reason. Interminable lines are to be expected, but this leads to a procession of simple but very well-made dishes, a couple of sambars and rasams and if you took the luxury option – a sweet - all guaranteed droolworthy. A triumph of simplicity in food; it makes the wait worth it.

What to have: the special lunch thali

IMG_3245 IMG_3241

Anand Bhavan Restaurant
I find Anand Bhavan's basic dosa the best in an area full of great dosas. Reputed to be the olderst, its been around for the obligatory three quarters a century and has gathered its own cohort of fanatic regulars who will, if asked, give free advice on what to eat and sneer loudly if you mention Cafe Madras or old rival Amba Bhavan. The coffee is as good as any on the circle.

What to have: dosa, set dosa, coffee

A Rama Nayak & Sons Udipi
The air-conditioned version of Cafe Mysore next door, serving the cafe menu rather than the banana-leaf thali of its namesake landmark.

What to have: the same things as Cafe Mysore

Ayyapan Dosa Stall
This crowded roadside stall attracts a lot of attention but serves fairly average dosas. Its poodi is nice though, and so are the dishes that use it (such as the poodi upma).

What to have: poodi dosa, poodi upma

The map says it all. Enjoy.

View South Indian Restaurants in Matunga East in a larger map

10 comments:

  1. have been to only 2 of these places - cafe mysore and madras cafe. definitely much better than the junk that udipi restaurants serve. will need to complete the rest.

    do you know of any place which serves Sri lankan cuisine in Mumbai? or any place where you can buy their readymade spices?

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  2. Shanky, I love South Indian food and this post just has my mouth watering. The best place in Chembur is Saroj near the station but am going to head to Matunga soon.Priya

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  3. now if only one could get decent dosas at Bandra

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  4. I think that lumping all South Indians together food wise is a mistake. South India has 4 different states where the food differs a lot. In fact, South and North Karnataka have different varieties of food including the dosas which are quite different. Dosas in TN, Kerala and parts of Karnataka vary a lot. The Matunga restaurants are also different according to the origin of their owners. Rama Nayaks (including Cafe Mysore and Idli House) and Ananda Bhuvan are owned by GSB Konkanis, who originate from Mangalore by way of Goa. Ramashraya is a Shetty owned place (like almost all the Udipi restaurants in Mumbai) and their food tends to different from GSBs. Tamils have very different doses as well and there are a few Tamil owned cafes in Matunga opp the station and in one of the bylanes. I think Cafe Madras is Konkani owned as well. Idli house isa truly unique restaurant. Some of the dishes they serve will never be seen outside peoples houses. Try Khotto (steamed in Jackfruit leaf), Mudho (steamed in a different leaf), Sanna Khotto (which they call Masala idlis) and Cucumber idlis, all stuff which no other places will serve.

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    Replies
    1. Traditionally, I would agree with you - the food of the many parts of South India differ dramatically from each other. Matunga, however, is a bit of an amalgam - the eateries are all owned by people from udipi district or nearby, but only A Rama Nayak's lunch service sticks faithfully to the GSB rice plate. The others serve a mix of Tamil, Telugu and Kannada dishes. However, they're usually much better than anywhere else in Mumbai, where sweet sambar and even sweeter dahi seems the order of the day.

      I suspect the cuisine is shaped not so much by the owners as by the patrons. If your customers are unforgiving about the coffee, the coffee will be good.

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  5. Nice post. Will check out these places when in Mumbai.

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  6. Wonderful! Totally saving it for my next trip to Mumbai. The title was misleading, but yeah, its funny.

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  7. I have been in Mumbai since 28 years now. Sad part being I have never been to the places you have mentioned. :)

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  8. Cafe Madras is a 72 year old restaurant. Surprised why you call it a new kid on the block.

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    Replies
    1. A slightly misplaced attempt at humour; "relatively" newer than Cafe Mysore (1934) and Anand Bhavan (apparently the oldest, not sure exactly when).

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