If you’re planning on travelling to Tamilnadu, get ready to experience some of the world’s best food! Our guide to restaurants in Tamilnadu will give you some idea of what and where to eat when visiting this South Indian state.
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When we decided to travel to Tamilnadu, in South India, we were fully prepared to be blown away by the incredible temples in the state. While the temples were exciting, we found that food was the real adventure!
Though we have had a chance to sample authentic South Indian food many times in Europe, it doesn’t come close to the real thing. And even in Malaysia, where they also serve Tamil-style food, it just doesn’t measure up.
We hope this guide to restaurants in Tamilnadu helps you create your own exciting food adventures when you’re in South India!
Read on for…
Your Guide to Restaurants in Tamilnadu and South Indian Food
What’s in our guide to Tamilnadu restaurants?
1. Tamilnadu Foods You Shouldn’t Miss
2. Tips for Ordering Tamilnadu Food
3. Veg Restaurants in Chennai T Nagar
4. Storytrails Food Tour in Chennai
5. Restaurants in Pondicherry, Tamilnadu
6. Where to Eat in Mammallapuram
7. Chidambaram, Tamilnadu Restaurants
8. Restaurants in Trichy, Tamilnadu
9. Yercaud Restaurants
Tamilnadu Food You Shouldn’t Miss
Gobi Manchurian or Gobi 65
Breaded and deep-fried cauliflower smothered in a rich red slightly spicy sauce. Yum.
We probably would have eaten this at every meal if we weren’t so set on trying new things.
Tiny savoury donut rings made from black lentils. When they’re prepared well they are crispy and hot on the outside, soft and fluffy on the inside. The are not prepared well all that often.
A mashed up rice dish that comes in sweet or not-sweet. A little bit like curry mashed potatoes.
A fluffy pancaked made from partially fermented dough. Weird but good.
While in Tamil Nadu we learned that Indians are slightly obsessed with Chinese food and have developed their own dishes based on Chinese classics. In our experience it’s not very good, but once you’ve been in India for a while, you’ll be ready for something a little bit different. Indian Chinese food is as different as it gets.
Another national obsession and the perfect treat on a sizzling hot Indian summer day.
Tips for Ordering Tamilnadu Food
When you walk into a Tamilnadu restaurant, typically a waiter will take charge of you and seat you in his section. He will then stand there expectantly, assuming you already know what to order.
We could never decide if this was because:
- Most South India restaurants have the same stuff on their menus
- Foreigners always order a thali (usually called “meals” in Tamilnadu)
Since you probably won’t know what to order right away, here’s what to do instead:
- Step one is to ask for the menu – Tamilnadu restaurants usually have an English version.
- The menu is great to get ideas, but they probably don’t have everything on it. If you order something they don’t have, you’ll get the Indian sideways head shake and be told to choose something else.
- There will definitely be stuff on the menu that you have no idea about. If your waiter can speak English well enough, don’t be afraid to quiz him.
- You can order a bread item (like dosa, chapati, or paratha) which will come with a runny curry called sambar and a few different chutneys. If you’re not a huge eater, this can be enough for a meal. Sambar is often bottomless, and someone will come around and refill yours when you need more.
- In some Tamilnadu restaurants, you can order a “gravy” which is what we would call a curry. Gravies include things like Paneer Mutter and Channa Masala. One of these per person plus a serving of rice and/or a naan or roti is enough for a meal.
- Plain rice is usually not on the menu, but just ask for plain rice or basmati rice if you want some.
- Thalis, or meals, as they are more commonly known in Tamilnadu, are pretty universal on every menu. There is often a “Special Meal” which comes with somewhere between 5-10 little dishes of curries and chutney and some assorted bread. The “Mini Meal” is a smaller version and we found it was usually plenty for lunch.
- Nobody serves dosas / dosai at lunch, only for breakfast and dinner. We don’t know why, but I suspect it’s because nobody wants to slave over a hot tiffin during the middle of the day.
Veg Restaurants in Chennai T Nagar
According to the internet, many people skip Chennai altogether when they come to Tamil Nadu, heading straight for the seaside town of Mammallapuram.
But we say, don’t do it! We really enjoyed our three days in Chennai and could have used more time to get a feel for this sprawling city.
Chennai has plenty of temples, LOTS of shopping, a diverse and delectable food scene, a million twisty back alleyways, and even a beach. So if you can deal with the noise and the frenetic pace of the city, plan for a few extra days here.
We stayed in the T Nagar area, where we learned the ins and outs of shopping in Chennai’s Pondy Bazaar and tasted some of the top-rated food and coffee in the city.
Since we stayed in T Nagar when we were in Chennai, we had most of our meals there. These are the Chennai restaurants we recommend when you’re out for a day of shopping in Pondy Bazaar.
A2B (aka Adyar Ananda Bhavan Sweets)
The Pondy Bazaar location of this (giant) Tamil Nadu chain of restaurants looks, from the outside, to be a mega-sized sweet shop. The sweets counter at A2B is to-die-for if you like Indian desserts. But the savoury food is also well-prepared and reasonably priced.
I especially liked the channa masala from the chat (snacks) station. Also, their filter coffee is purported to be some of the best in the city.
Hotel Saravana Bhavan
Confusingly, restaurants in Tamil Nadu are often called “Hotel” even if they don’t have guest rooms. Hotel Saravana Bhavan, another chain with locations all over the world (including the UK, Malaysia, Canada, the US, Australia and more), is one such restaurant.
They serve up typical South Indian dishes like idli, dosa, medu vada, and thalis (which are usually called “meals” in Tamil Nadu) and more. The non-AC hall in Pondy Bazaar doesn’t look like much, but the food is great and the staff are friendly. You can opt to sit upstairs in the AC hall if you prefer.
Filter coffee and chai tea are both excellent here as well.
Murugan Idli Shop
The location just near Panagal Park is a little dark and dismal inside, but the food is good and the sambar flows freely. The staff at Murugan seemed to be a little less used to tourists than at A2B and Saravana, so it was a little harder to order here.
If you decide to eat at Murugan, and you’re a little unsure of your South Indian foods, get something simple like a meal or a masala dosa.
Storytrails Food Tour in Chennai
This isn’t a restaurant per se, but the Storytrails Food Tour is a great way to try a bunch of Chennai specialities from tiny one-of-a-kind food stalls and shops.
Lakshmi from Storytrails was so welcoming and friendly it felt like we were being shown around Chennai’s George Town by a close friend. (It may have helped that we were the only two on the tour that day).
She walked us through the narrow busyness of George Town’s Mint Street, taking us to street stalls, hole-in-the-wall restaurants, hidden away modern cafes, and even one large sweet shop all the while telling us the history of the area and the people in it.
Of course, there were many crazy foods to try – not one of which we’d ever laid teeth on before – and entertaining stories about where those foods originated.
The Storytrails food tour is the best way to try all those food vendors you might otherwise not notice, while also ensuring that you don’t get sick by picking the wrong one.
Other Chennai Tours
If a food tour isn’t your thing, we highly recommend booking into a Chennai day tour when you arrive.
The city offers so many great experiences — it has long stretches of beach, upscale shopping malls, inexpensive markets, incredible temples, and narrow, twisting lanes filled with kids and cows — that you will have a hard time discovering all of its delights on your own.
Customize Private Walking (and Tuk Tuk) Tour
A great way to introduce yourself to the city is with this customized private walking tour. A local guide will show you around the neighbourhood where you’re staying, teach you the best way to get around Chennai, and set you up with a good understanding of how the city operates.
Chennai Heritage Buildings Tour
We like the looks of this Chennai Heritage Buildings & Local Culture tour, where a private driver will take you to visit landmarks like Victoria Hall and the Ripon Building, see the Mylapore Temple, Marina Beach, and lots more.
A Chennai Tour for History Buffs
For history buffs, try this tour, which includes a visit to St. George Fort, the 7th Century Kapaleeshwarar Temple, and the Government Museum of Chennai. After soaking in all that culture, a trip to Marina Beach for sunset is the perfect end to the day.
Restaurants in Pondicherry, Tamilnadu
Pondicherry – more commonly called Pondy – is touted as a colonial gem of South India. We were expecting streets lined with beautiful old buildings, like you would see in Luang Prabang, Laos or George Town, Malaysia.
While those buildings do exist, Pondy was a bit different because the colonial beauty is marred by the narrow, dirty streets and the almost constant heavy traffic.
We did find the local fish market, which is one sight in Pondicherry that you should not miss!
Artika Cafe Gallery, Pondicherry
Adjusting to Indian food for breakfast was hard for me, as I like to have a light breakfast of sweets, not a heavy breakfast filled with garlic and onions. I’m also a big fan of fresh fruit, which is best avoided in India unless you prepare it yourself.
So it was great to be able to get a huge bowl of fruit, muesli and homemade yogurt at Artika. The also do a decent-looking toast and omelette if that’s more your breakfast style.
As a bonus, the man running the show had a very sweet vibe about him and the outdoor patio seating on designer antique furniture invites you to spend the day sitting around in the shady yard.
There is supposed to be WiFi here, but we couldn’t make it work during our visit.
When I read that Xtasi serves Italian-style pizza from a wood-fired oven, I was skeptical but thought it was worth a try. Yes, we went for pizza in India; after a few weeks of Indian food, I was dying for a little change of pace.
The pizza was actually pretty decent (far better than the pizza in say Slovenia or Croatia) and the restaurant is popular hangout for local 20somethings, young Indian tourists, and a random foreign backpacker or two.
Also, they have cold beer which is a rare find in Tamilnadu.
Hotel Surguru, Pondicherry
Hotel Surguru, which is both a hotel and a restaurant, has three branches in Pondicherry and gets consistently good reviews online. It is central and convenient, especially as a place to get set meal in air conditioning. The food was good, if not spectacular.
The Pondicherry A2B is similar to the branch in T Nagar, Chennai, except the non-AC hall has a self-service counter. This may make it a little more difficult to decide and get what you want if you’re not familiar with the South Indian cuisine.
Upstairs, the AC hall is filled with well-heeled Indians on holiday, who will make you feel positively grubby in your travel clothes! As far as we could tell, prices are the same or only slightly more for table service in the AC hall.
Where to Eat in Mammallapuram
This seaside resort is a popular tourist destination because it’s so close to Chennai. It’s also a little sad and, quite frankly, I wish we’d skipped it.
Of course, my distaste for the town is in no small part due to the egregious error I made in choosing our hotel. Yes, even experienced travellers screw things up sometimes.
We weren’t too thrilled with any of the restaurants in Mamallapuram.
Sri Ananda Bhavan became our mainstay while we were in town. Expect the typical array of South Indian dishes at a budget price.
Perhaps if we’d been able to get online – which we couldn’t because our hotel’s WiFi didn’t work – we could have found somewhere better to eat!
Chidambaram, Tamilnadu Restaurants
Likely the only reason you’ll come to this ramshackle town is to visit the spectacular Nataraja Temple around which everything in the town is centred. Sadly, Chidambaram is also infamous for its lacklustre / terrible hotels.
Many people make it a day trip or a stop off between Pondy and points further south. Aside from our hotel, we quite liked the atmosphere in Chidambaram and were happy be able to visit the temple multiple times.
Located on the west side of the Nataraja Temple, Hotel Palagaram is probably the best place to eat in Chidambaram. One of the dikshitars (Tamil priests) at the temple, a self-proclaimed foodie, told Stephen that Palagaram was his favourite place to eat in the city.
It is fairly new and the cleanest, most up-to-date restaurant we saw in India.
For a start, all of the staff were wearing hairnets or hats – that was only time in Tamil Nadu that someone at the restaurant seemed to be taking hygiene seriously. Secondly, after taking our order, the manager asked if he could play some music we’d like on the sound system.
At first, we were a little uncomfortable with the idea, but then we decided “Hey, he asked!” A few minutes later we were listening to Radiohead in a restaurant in Tamilnadu. After one track, they very quickly switched back to Indian music!
And how was the food? It lived up to its reputation. Excellent. In fact, if we go back to Chidambaram, we’ll try to find a hotel on this side of the temple to be closer to Palagaram.
Black Forest Bake
Almost a Western-style bakery, Black Forest Bake is the place to go if you are craving cake, cupcakes, brownies and the like while in India. The cakes are not spectacular (we tried an eggless chocolate layer cake), but they’re a good approximation of Western desserts.
They also have a selection of flaky “sausage” rolls that are filled with vegetarian fillings like mushroom, green peas, and potatoes. This was the perfect thing for Stephen to bring home for my lunch the day I was too sick (with a cold) to be bothered getting out of bed.
Hotel Saradharam Restaurant
If you’re staying at Hotel Vandayar, the nearest decent restaurant is in the bottom of the Hotel Saradharam (hidden behind the gas station and ATM adjacent to the Chidambaram bus station). The best dish that we tried was the Gobi Manchurian (breaded and deep-fried spicy cauliflower) which was paired with Chinese noodles as a lunch special. They also do well with the typical range of South Indian foods.
I wasn’t too impressed with the hygienic standards here, but it was not much worse than most South Indian restaurants, and we never got food poisoning!
Restaurants in Trichy, Tamilnadu
For some reason, probably to do with the local politicians, Trichy seems to be a little better off and a little better maintained than most of the other Tamilnadu cities we visited.
For the first time, we saw people painting buildings and doing maintenance on public structures. There are far fewer empty derelict buildings in Trichy and the city bus system seems to be flourishing. We also really liked the vibe of the town and especially recommend the wonderfully atmospheric Sri Jambukeshwara Temple.
Usually, we would never eat in a hotel restaurant, but in India, hotel restaurants have some of the best food available. (Sometimes they are awful though. You just have to take your chances.)
After two outstanding breakfasts at Vijey Hotels, we decided to try it for lunch before hopping on the bus. The two “gravies” we had may be some of the best food we have eaten in India. The service is also outstanding.
Sri Saraswathi Lodge
We found this place by wandering around the area of the bus station until we found a restaurant that was busy. In contrast to all the others we passed, Sri Saraswathi Lodge was nearly full.
The food was above average, if not exceptional, and the dining hall was clean and well kept. They had women doing the cleaning – which almost always means a more hygienic environment.
Shri Sangeethas Restaurant
We had two meals at this cavernous restaurant on the edge of the bus station; both times it was heaving with people. Though the service at Shri Sangeethas Restaurant was a little slow by Indian standards, it was comparable to service in an American restaurant, so you can actually go for a leisurely meal.
The menu has descriptions of all the food they serve, so you can actually figure out what to order without asking a million questions to a waiter who may or may not be able to give you detailed answers in English.
The Gobi 65 was very tasty here, as was the special dosas with Alu Gobi (potato and cauliflower curry) inside.
If you’re in the mood for something sweet, they also have luxuriously named ice cream treats, such as the Sizzling Brownie, for dessert.
Pro India travel tip: In most countries, eating at the bus station is a fast-track to food poisoning. In Tamilnadu, the best food in any small city is often found in or near the bus station (which they call the bus stand). Look for any place teeming with locals, and get ready for some of the best food of your life.
Yercaud is often described as the poor man’s Ooty, and it may be so, but we enjoyed our brief stay here.
If you need a quick getaway from the heat and don’t have the time (or the money) to go to Ooty, or if you’d just rather avoid the tourist crowds, Yercaud makes a nice little retreat.
There’s not a whole lot to do in Yercaud, so be prepared to just kick back and let the hours float by.
Sri Saravanabhavan Elite
Though we’re not sure what accounts for its elite status, the Sri Saravanabhavan Elite branch of the Hotel Saravana Bhavan chain delivers just what we’ve come to expect – tasty South India food at a good price.
Just off of the roundabout near Anna Park, we stumbled upon a great tiffin stand by just mooching around one night, checking what everyone was serving up in their street stalls. The friendly guy running the place came over for a chat and to explain to us what they were making. Even though we’d just eaten, we knew we’d have to come back.
We ate here twice, and both times the food was good and the service excellent.
They even had a korma that featured some kind of soy fake meat product in it – great if that kind of thing floats your boat. If you can keep the waiter from serving you more sambar and chutney than you could ever possibly eat, you are a better man than me.
Note: This stall is not quite vegetarian; they serve chicken for the non-veg crew.
We hope this guide to restaurants in Tamilnadu is helpful on your trip to this fascinating state in South India. Our favourite part of our trip to Tamilnadu was getting to explore all the wonderful foods. Let us know in the comments below if you have a favourite restaurant in Tamilnadu or a favourite South India food!
♥ Happy mindful adventures, Jane & Stephen
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