© larry morgan / Alamy
Aditi Datta
January 23, 2015

We have a saying in Hindi that goes “ghar ki murgi, dal barabar,” which roughly translates to “even chicken at home is no bigger deal than dal.” Usually meant to imply that we overlook genius in our own backyard, it’s actually pretty true in the culinary sense as well. We’re so used to the stew-like dal that we can sometimes forget how it can be exalted to rock-star standards. Luckily for us, the chefs at these five top-drawer Indian restaurants still make it a big deal. These Delhi restaurants are almost in a constant battle for top place, and foodies all benefit from the competition. You’ve got a legend like Bukhara, which isn’t just a must-visit in the restaurant category—it’s a must-visit, full stop. And just down the way, you’ve got Dum Pukht, which is India’s top restaurant in the Asia’s Top 50 rankings. Here are the five restaurants that make my top list—but like all ancient wisdom tells us, sometimes you’re the best judge. Let the games begin.

Bukhara by ITC Maurya

The rann (leg of lamb) here is cooked with tender loving care, only to be matched by their superior Kali Dal. Many years ago, when I was leaving Delhi—for what I thought would be a permanent move—this was the last meal I ate in the city. All things considered, it’s the sort of meal that keeps you coming back for more.

Indian Accent at The Manor

Strong on flavors and, if it’s possible, even stronger in technique, Indian Accent does modern Indian dishes that are surprising, but always pleasant. Wild-mushroom kulchas with truffle-oil drizzle go like a dream with the achaari New Zealand lamb shank, and go even better with the wine pairing recommendations.

Dakshin, Sheraton

If you’re a fan of Southern-style comfort but don’t feel up to the usual clatter and clang that South Indian restaurants bring, Dakshin is here to show you the way. South India’s states and nuances are perfectly represented in Dakshin’s traditional dishes, plated rather pretty. A lovely bunch of coconuts was never put to better use.

Dum Pukht, ITC Maurya

You know you’ll be treated like royalty, not just because this is one of the hotel chain’s crown jewels but also because Dum Pukht specializes in cuisine from the princely times of Kashmir, Hyderabad, Awadh and Lucknow. Decadent yet elegant slow-cooked meals using traditional methods—like sealing dishes with an atta flour mixture—fit right in to the palace-style dining hall. 

Varq at Taj Mahal Hotel

The menu of Varq feels like it came from a chef who’s got his Indian cooking principles down pat, but couldn’t resist having a bit of fun along the way. The Varqui Crab, for instance, comes with crabmeat and tandoori shrimp on filo pastry, while the humble paneer comes with an unexpected spin—masala Edamame—in this very classy joint.

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