Since the late 80's our family had holidayed in Goa. Albeit mostly in the south near Benaulim and Colva, the first time I headed to Northern Goa was in 1997 with a few friends from Sweden. We stayed in Baga before it became overrun with British holidaymakers who took 1 day to get sunburnt and spent the rest of their week in the shade trying to kill their insides with cheap alcohol. From then on I managed to visit Goa on average once a year, mainly staying in or near Anjuna/Arpora. This is when I discovered Chapora, Santosh Bar, and met a whole host of people that would be instrumental in my life the next 20 years. To this day I still go and see them and keep in touch. Many are dead, some went mad, others seem to keep on the steady path of sunshine and afternoon beers and a life less ordinary.
In and around the area touching Chapora-Anjuna-Vagator are quite a few options for the hungry kind. I headed back there in spring 2018 to see if the old places still held their standards, and if some new cats had crept onto the scene.
Below is a comprehensive list of places visited, honest reviews, and a surefire tip to make your journey there memorable.
Warning: Like everywhere in the world, but ESPECIALLY in India, restaurants ply through cooks and servers like they're going out of fashion. So a place that bestowed holy food on you one year, can ruin your holiday the next. Measure everything with a pinch of salt and understand that no guide is ever foolproof.
Where I ate
1. Goan Spice ($$)
This is where you go for seafood. Whether it's their daily fish thali, that proves monstrosly popular with the hordes of Indian visitors, or my favourite: The Prawn Curry! Succulent tiny shrimps cooked in rich, flavoursome curry with some gentle heat, puffy fresh tandoori roti and the token lime and onion slices.
You literally shouldn't miss this place if you are in the viscinity.
2. German Bakery Anjuna
The grilled vegetable salad with all sorts of micro-greens, sprouts, herbs, seeds and a delicous dressing is reason enough to come and relax under the canopy. This seasoned veteran of the Goa scene has changed a lot over the years in terms of remodelling, but the food has remained the same. Chilled background music, global nomads busy on their laptops, and quality food that won't leave you depositing all of it orally in the toilet the next day (which lets be honest, can happen in India if you eat salads).
3. Mango Tree ($$)
This place has the benefit of being open very, very late. The kitchen closes around 11pm for a one hour break before opening up again to the post-bar crowd. No place in Goa is the rule of "things can change" more apt than here. For years I have eaten their Chili Chicken with Gravy, Tandoori, Pasta, Chicken Curries, Prawn Fry, with a generally solid standard of execution. I visited again in 2019 and the old cook had switched and now works the graveyard shift instead of the pre-midnight one.
I only found this out of course after ordering just before the first shift ends, which is when he would normally be hitting his sweet spot. The food was unimaginably salty and poor. I complained to which I was told "Always people sending back too salty".. well, why not fire your chef then? Regardless, I did stay out late on more than one occasion and ordered when the old chef was back behind the flames, and the food was it's original taste. So, figure out who's in the kitchen before ordering here.
4. Noahs Ark ($$)
Bizarrely a mini-zoo and a restaurant on the side of a very dusty road a stonesthrow from Anjuna Market. I had to try it.
Unfortunately for me, I am not the greatest fan of screaming children, especially after a night at Paulo's Bar, and what confronted me almost made me turn and ride my scooter back home. 5 little hippie kids running around screaming at the chickens frightening the be-jesus out of them. I held back and found a corner as far out of earshot as possible. The owner sat at a table with some friends seemingly lost in hash-dreams. Service in this place was slooooooow. I actually ended up walking up to the kitchen counter and asking for a menu. The chef and an Israeli girl were too busy watching youtube clips on their phones. I ordered a plate of hummus with meat dreaming up images of the delicous food at Le Chef in Beirut, some bread and a chopped salad on the side.
The food was a mediocre suicide. Hummus with absolutely no flavour (no tahini it tasted like), no salt, meat that was dry and completely devoid of flavour and had a sandy texture in your mouth, one day old bread and a chopped salad that had no lime or lemon on it to zing it up. Politely struggling to eat more than a few bites I asked for the bill, paid in full and left before the inquisitive owner could make it over to me with his pleading eyes awaiting affirmation. Sorry buddy, this is not middle eastern food, this is an abomination.
5. Chinatown ($)
My go-to since the late 90's. A small place that seems to be dying a slow, painful death at the lack of tourists visiting the area, they serve the best damn Thukpa you ever ate. Same chef, same owner, same tablecloths. The only worry here is that I have gotten sick a couple of times, the cleanliness is not super high in low-season so it's best to eat there when there are customers and not on lone-afternoons.
Basically, eat a thukpa or their phenomenal momo's, but not the day before you have to get on a plane or train. It's worth the risk.
6. Burger Factory ($$)
Beef being almost impossible to get in vast parts of India, the locals here have turned a blind eye to the imposition of this holy matter. I'm guessing the flattering reviews online may partly be down to the fact that a percentage of their customers haven't or don't eat beef on a regular basis. I made the journey down one afternoon ready for a slight derailment from the copious amounts of Indian food i'd been consuming of late.
The burger patty was bizarre... almost like meatloaf. The cheese wasn't melted, the special sauce underwhelming and I GODDAMN FREAKING HATE IT when burger places give you crisps instead of fries (chips). My advice would be to let the cow's maintain their divinity, and the chickens and fish be the volunteers for slaughter.
7. Le Pearl ($$)
I'm not 100% sure they still do these DELICIOUS thali's because last time I tried to go there the waiter spoke no English and just said "Yes" to every question I asked. However, the previous visit was a lunchtime thali and it was sensational. Everything was delicious.
8. Oasis ($$)
Mistakenly ordered the Goan coconut prawn curry here, but what I got looked like dishwater and tasted pretty much what i'd imagine it to taste like too.
Plenty better places in Goa.
9. Piccola ($$)
Like most humans, I love my pasta. Piccola had always screamed at me from the side of the road when I hurtled past on my way to Chapora, but i'd never made it in. Today was the day. I generally go for standard dishes on my first visit to places, if they manage a decent job with those I get adventurous. Spaggy-Bol. Tasted fine, but absolutely nothing to write home about.
Another visit to Goa I found a way better pasta place 100 meters away called Buon Appetito, but as usual didn't take a photo cause the food smelled too good to wait.
Where to Drink
A long lost institution in Chapora, home of alcoholics and alcohol appreciaters alike, home to druggies and bums and hippies and acid-heads and runaways and criminals-on-the-run, this little pearl of a bar is a home for everyone. Grab a beer, say hi to the locals and sit outside and watch the cows and cars go by.
If you are still reering to go when the shutters close, then head up to Roberts Place where you can continue on into the early hours and take home a hot pizza that satisfies.