Putting together a comprehensive guide to Darjeeling’s café scene is like herding cats while rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic – it can be quite a task to create a list that includes new cafes and other gems hidden away in nooks, crannies and inside lodges and hotels. But we tried anyway, and here’s what we found. The thing to do is to look beyond old favourites like Keventer’s; there’s no shortage of stellar cafés which knock it out of the park with simple bites and piping hot tea or coffee.
If you fancy some live music, world cinema, documentaries or sports matches with your coffee, try Gatty’s – an uber cool cafe with a lounge-like vibe. They serve up excellent local food and sandwiches, homemade pastas, ravioli and lasagna. You can hang out on the low couches with your cup of Lavazza and some sandwiches, browsing through books, playing Scrabble, using the free wi-fi, or chatting with hip locals. Gatty’s has a small but well-stocked bar. You could and end up staying late – this is the only place with some action after 9pm with live music, open mike and karaoke. And dancing is often part of the fun. The owner Gautam (or Gatty) is friendly and ready to help with travel tips. He runs a biking tours company and rents out premium bicycles.
Location: Dr. Zakir Hussain Road
The coffee here is good enough to make you forget that you are in the world’s top tea destination. Sonam’s is also known for the generous breakfast of pancakes or porridge (served with banana slices and gooey honey), buttery toast and eggs with fried tomatoes and great bread. But the best part is the hash browns and chunky wholemeal sandwiches. They also have a great collection of books.
Location: Dr Zakir Hussain Road
Hot Stimulating Café
This is a cosy eatery on the way to Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, on Hooker Road. It is perched on the edge of a steep drop, surrounded by greenery and serves only tea and momos. They offer informal momo-making classes for a small fee. The owner, Rumba, is a Bob Marley fan (the walls of the café are covered with the musician’s photos) and looks a lot like Carlos Santana. The café gets its share of mysticism thanks to the egg shells Rumba has hung on the trees to fend off ‘evil spirits’. The café is known for its masala chai with ground cardamom, cinnamon, clove and black pepper.
Location: Hooker Road
This charming and spacious café offers an all-day breakfast with waffles and pancakes, organic foods, vegan dishes and a range of gluten-free baked foods, multi-grain breads and grilled sandwiches. You can order the baked stuff à la carte or with a range of afternoon set teas. On the way out, pick up a bagful of delicious homemade cookies. Their range covers chewy flapjacks, peanuts and molasses, almond and chocolate, biscottis and more.
Location: Nehru Road (near Chaurasta)
If you want to go local for breakfast, head to Kunga’s. Their steamed momos and noodle soups are legendary. They also have the usual cereals, muesli, juice and fruit curd. The place is family-run and its wooden walls are covered with Tibetan scrolls, and Buddhist motifs. We declare it your duty to try their shafales, Tibetan meat pies, and gyathuks, a creamy soup with thick spaghetti-like noodles and meat. Kunga’s counts Hindi film actor Ranbir Kapoor among its fans – he had “freaked out” on Kunga’s Tibetan delicacies during a film shoot.
Location: Gandhi Road
Frank Ross Café
Vegans and vegetarians are well catered for at Frank Ross Café, one of a handful of only-vegetarian eateries in this town. It claims to have a global menu with pizzas, burgers, enchiladas, tacos and pav bhaji, idlis and vadas. The attached pharmacy sells groceries.
Location: Mall Road
A strong Beatles theme dominates this cafe/restaurant attached to the quirky Revolver Lodge. The whole place has a fab four theme with posters, books, mugs, and sundry other memorablia from Europe on sale. The café serves up forgotten Naga cuisine gems. Owners Asenla and Vikash Pradhan are music fans and have named it after a number by their favorite band. The rooms are named after the iconic four – John, Paul, Ringo, George. The café area has informal wicker seating, coffee tables, reading lamps and a good collection of books and magazines, comics (including the Tintin series and Amar Chitra Katha). Enjoy pancakes, eggs, sausages and mashed potatoes with masala or ginger-honey tea. Or go for Asenla’s Naga food. Rockband Nights on a Sony Playstation 3 are part of the entertainment scene.
Location: Gandhi Road (behind Union Chapel)
Hot Pizza Place
A tiny pizza joint with excellent pancakes, pizza, pasta, panini, salads and sandwiches and good coffee. Breakfast means bacon, Nepali cheese, and the delicious beef merguez sausages, a spicy mutton or beef concoction found in North African, Middle East and European cuisine. The main claim to fame at this place is the terrific fresh pizzas they produce with chipolata toppings. Service tends to be a bit slow.
Location: HD Lama Rd
Clink of china, cream rolls, pastries, apple pies and freshly-brewed tea – this legendary British-style café used to be synonymous with Darjeeling. Walk in through the huge wooden framed glass door to a counter heaving with pies, cakes, pastries, scones, tarts, brownies and breads. Glenary’s was a time-capsule stalwart serving up the best evening teas and breakfasts in a cheerful cafe with plastic-topped red-and-white checked tablecloths. The decor was redone some years back and now it sports a rather confused and cluttered look with a red telephone booth in the middle. Do pick up their much-loved jars of fresh jams, chutneys and pickles.
There was a time when breakfast in Darjeeling meant Keventer’s and its full monty platter of sausages, bacon and eggs and a great view. The view today has been blocked by some really ugly real estate and better breakfast platters can be had elsewhere.
The article was first published in 2015, and has been updated since.