2 February 2020

Best Restaurants in Lahore For First-Time Visitors

Lahore is known for delicious, mouth-watering food and a never-ending variety of dishes on offer.

We arrived in the city equipped with a collection of recommendations and a list of places to eat in Lahore, kindly shared with me by Lahori people I connected with on social media.

There were many 'best restaurants in Lahore' - of course, in a city so dense (population 11m), everyone had their own idea of what the best restaurants in Lahore were. It was actually quite overwhelming!

As I sat in the bus making the 4-hour journey to Lahore from Islamabad, I was already imagining the food I would be eating over the next three days.

Sampling as many dishes as possible whilst making sure to tick off important 'must-visit' restaurants in Lahore was going to be a tactical mission with the short time we had and as first-time visitors to Lahore/Pakistan.

So based on my own experience, here are my recommendations for the best restaurants in Lahore you should try if it's your first time in the city

It's a short list that includes a mix of modern, more tourist-popular places, and traditional restaurants more frequented by local customers. MAP INCLUDED (end of post).

 

BEST RESTAURANTS IN LAHORE 

COOCO'S DEN (Food Street)

When in Lahore you will no doubt make a visit to Badshahi Mosque, one of the most popular attractions and things to see in the city. And why not - it's beautiful!

We were urged to visit one of the restaurants located on Food Street Fort Road, which is a traffic-restricted area just south of the mosque.

Some of these restaurants, including Cooco's Den, have open-air rooftop seating which offer an incredible view towards the mosque grounds and surroundings.

^Food Street Fort Road, Lahore

The buildings on Food Street looked colourful and quirky, and I thought Cooco's Den was the most eccentric of them all!

Entry is through a lift that takes you to the 3rd floor, and then through stairs that snake though multi-level outdoor seating areas - make sure you go all the way up, until you can't anymore!

Cooco's Den serves traditional Pakistani food - so expect a variety of tikka and karahi dishes. Prices are on the higher end for Lahore - you pay for the view!

Our meal for two including mutton karahi, chicken tikka, mixed vegetables, rice, and drinks came to Rs4800 (£24 / $32).

This was one of the best restaurants in Lahore for me not because of the food (it was average), but because of the breathtaking views that I'm sure you'll appreciate if you're visiting as a tourist :).

TIP: Visit Badshahi Mosque an hour before sunset to tie it in with a delicious dinner at Cooco's Den, as you watch the sky turn orange from the top floor.

 

MUHAMMADI NEHARI HOUSE (Mozang)

One of the dishes that came highly recommended was 'nihari' (also spelt 'nehari').

My friend Nizeer from Lahore describes the dish:

Much like hareesa, nihari is something one can have for breakfast or lunch. Its thick gravy cooked with mutton or beef, garnished with green chilies, coriander, ginger, and lemon is served with Sheermal, Roti or Naan.

I HAD TO TRY IT.

And THE restaurant in Lahore to eat nihari, according to many-a-local, is Muhammadi Nehari House, located in the Mozang area.

Muhammadi Nehari House specialises in nihari, and you can order the dish with chicken or beef. They also offer it with blood or bone marrow - sadly they ran out of bone marrow when I was there. What a bummer!

I absolutely loved this dish and it remains one of my fondest food memories of Pakistan. I'm literally salivating now as I remember it.

My travel buddy unfortunately didn't feel the same - she ordered the chicken and felt that it was way too oily!

TIP: Make sure to order the 'fry' version - that's the traditional and more tasty version. And don't forget to squeeze lime juice into the gravy - it really brings out the flavours ;)

'Half plate' serves 1 person and 'full plate' serves two.

As you can see from the menu, prices here are on the lower end and the restaurant is frequented by many locals.

We were in fact the only foreign visitors there that day. We received curious stares from everyone there, as expected - we were used to it by now. The staff were friendly and helpful despite their limited use of English.

 

MONAL (Gulberg)

Monal restaurant is located on the top floor of Liberty Plaza, a shopping centre/commercial complex in Gulberg, which is a more developed and modern area of Lahore.

Our Uber/Chalo car dropped us off in the parking area downstairs, where we had to take a lift up to the top floor to reach Monal.

Monal is known for its buffet lunches and dinners, which is popular and what we went for. A la carte is also available but didn't seem a good choice for a party of two!

TIP: Take the buffet option - you'll get to sample a good variety of Pakistani dishes, including dessert!

The ambience at Monal is modern and trendy, and you can enjoy spectacular view of the city if you sit outside.

In addition to freshly cooked chicken tikka and other meats, they also have a few 'chinese food' options which I found amusing! 

There was a salad bar and a good selection of fruits - this was MUCH appreciated. We found that vegetarian options were extremely limited in the restaurants we visited in Pakistan beforehand. Neither of us were vegetarian but after consuming so much meat, we were desperate for fruit and veg!

The buffet dinner was about Rs2100 per person - that's £10.50 / $14. This is again on the higher end for Lahore.


BUTT KARAHI in Laxmi Chowk

Ok so first things first.

'Karahi' is a popular/stable dish in Pakistan - it's a kind of curry cooked in a pan that is called 'karahi'. It's like a wok but with steeper sides.

So what is BUTT Karahi?

Everyone told me I HAD to try 'butt karahi' in Lahore. I thought it must be some kind of special karahi that you could only get in Lahore.. and that:

  • it was cooked using chicken butts
  • it was cooked using a lot of BUTTer
  • both of the above

Well, turns out it's NONE of the above.

As my friend Alex of Lost With Purpose explained, 'Butt' is actually a common Pakistani surname, and 'Butt Karahi' was the name of the restaurant that served what many Lahori people considered the best karahi in town! 

Everyone said to 'try Butt Karahi in Laxmi Chowk'.

I thought it sounded pretty straightforward. So we looked for  'Butt Karahi' on the map and selected the one that was on 'McLeod Road', which is in Laxmi Chowk.

What I didn't expect was exiting the cab and finding that EVERY SHOP on that street seemed to be a 'Butt Karahi' restaurant.

So which one was supposed to be the best restaurant in Lahore for butt karahi? Who knows!

We went into the one first/closest one to where we got dropped off. It was definitely not a fancy restaurant. We noticed a lot of live chickens in cages outside many of the restaurants, including the one we entered.

We were skeptical about whether we were in the right place, but a couple of local women at the next table assured us that all 'butt karahi's were good, haha.

They were right! 

Our chicken was freshly slaughtered and tasted delicious. Lunch for two cost us Rs710 (£3.50 / $4.60) in total!

TIP: A half-chicken karahi is good for two. Use your hands to eat with bread - it tastes better that way and it's how the locals do it.

 

BARANH - Exotic Cuisine of Old Lahore

Baranh means '12' in Urdu and it's meant to signify the 12 gates of the old Walled City of Lahore, which forms the historic centre of the city.

Baranh restaurant is located outside the Gaddafi Stadium, which perimeter seemed to be exclusively populated by restaurants and other food vendors!

We were invited to have dinner at Baranh by a Pakistani friend, Umar, joined by Muiz, the restaurant owner.

In the way of true Pakistani hospitality, we were offered a generous spread of various traditional dishes to try. This included a selection of tikka, karahi, and tawa meats.

And even a few interesting Iftar specialties such as 'pakoray' and 'gol gappay'. Iftar (or 'fatoor') is the evening meal that Muslims have to end their fast during Ramadan.

One of my favourite dishes was the tawa chicken (pictured above) because it was really tender, and spicy! 

My other favourite was a dessert - shakar paratha - which is warm flatbread topped with brown sugar and butter. So simple but SO GOOD!

Prices here are mid-range/affordable. For example, a tawa chicken is Rs399 (£2 / $2.60).

We enjoyed the outdoor seating and lively atmosphere. The area seemed to be a popular local hangout.

I would recommend this restaurant if you're looking for a wider and more varied menu of traditional Pakistani food

TIP: Order a tawa chicken esp if you like spicy food. If you're an adventurous eater, be sure to end your meal with 'paan', a preparation made with betel leaf meant to serve as a palate cleanser or digestive aid. It has a.. unique.. taste.

 

SPICE BAZAAR (Gulberg)

This was our little treat at the end of our time in Pakistan.

After enduring the many frustrations of travel and dealing with all that noise and pollution, we wanted to eat somewhere 'nice'!

A local friend suggested Spice Bazaar in Gulberg (the more developed/modern neighbourhood where Monal is located too).

It turned out to be our most expensive meal in Pakistan thus far but we enjoyed it. Since the staff all spoke English and there was good service, we could relax a little.

Our meal for two including desserts: Rs6200 (£31 / $40). 

Tip: If you have a sweet tooth, definitely order a dessert as they are delicious. We had 'rasmalai' and 'falooda with kulfi' (pictured left). Kulfi is a south-asian type of ice-cream that isn't to be missed!

There is also Chashni, a sweet shop, that has a sort of concession stand inside the restaurant. It's popular with the locals and here you can pick up all sorts of traditional 'mithai' (Hindi/Urdu word for 'sweets'). It's take-away only.

 

BONUS TIPS From A Local

These are places I never managed to check out for myself due to lack of time, but recommended by a local acquaintance, Nizeer. As you will see, there are plenty more delicious Lahori dishes I need to tick off.

I will be saving these for my next visit to Lahore but but I'm being generous and leaving these tips here for YOU!

In Nizeer's own words (& my comments in pink):

Phajjay kay Paye

Paye is one of Lahore’s favourite breakfasts. Additionally, Phajjay kay Paye located near Taxali Gate, is a house of taste itself. Paye are served with oven fresh Naan or Kulcha.
So, if you are planning to have a full desi and enjoyable breakfast this weekend, then do not forget to place Phajjay kay Paye in your list.

Paye (or paayee) is made with goat's trotters/hooves! I really wanted to try this but we simply ran out of time.


Amritsari Hareesa

Amritsari Hareesa located at Nisbat Road close to Laxami Chowk is the finest Hareesa you will ever eat in Lahore. While this is something that can be had for breakfast or lunch, it is so popular locally that it is better to head out early in the day since it usually ends before dinner.

Hareesa is a kind of porridge made with wheat, and mixed with chicken, beef, or mutton. Also sad I missed this.


Sadiq Halwa Puri

Sadiq Halwa Puri, located at Gawalmandi, is one of the best halwa puri one can have in Lahore. Special Ata Puri and Meetha Pura are also served as well.

Its specialty is that everything is made in pure Desi Ghee. So, on your Sundays if you are not having this finger licking halwa puri ka nashta, then you don’t have the license to call yourself a true Lahori.

Halwa puri (or poori) is another traditional breakfast dish in Lahore. It consists of deep fried bread (puri) served with halwa (sweets) and chickpea + potato curry.

Nashta = Breakfast!


Feeqa Lassi Walla

Feeqa Lassi located at Gawalmandi is the best lassi you can enjoy in Lahore. It is famous for its delicious Perry vali Lassi and is a must try. While both sweet and salty lassis are available, traditionally sweet lassis are consumed in breakfasts.


Tooba kay Chanay and Kulcha

Lahore is known as ‘Khaabon ka shehar’!
Lahoris are fond of eating and the most significant breakfast here includes Naan Chanay.

Tooba kay Chanay located at Laxami Chowk is famous for Murgh Chaney, Kulcha and Kashmiri Roti. To experience impeccable breakfast, go to Tooba Chanay with your family and enjoy a real Lahori taste.


Dish: Lahori Chargha 

Marinated with special masalas – this rich in flavor and juicy chatkharaydaar dish is bound to make your weekend special. Gawalmandi’s food street is considered as the best places to head out to if you are looking to have chargha. It is served with naan, paratha or puri.

Chargha is a whole chicken that is deep-fried in oil after being marinated overnight in a yoghurt + spice concoction!


Dish: Katlama

Katlama, also known as poor man’s pizza, is one of the most popular street-foods of Lahore. A large orange-coloured roti topped with various masalas and lentils attract food lovers across the city.


Yousaf Falooda

And your weekend must not end without a dessert. Yousaf Falooda located at Old Anarkali has made its place among one of the yummiest dessert places of Lahore. The falooda is made with Rabbri and Kulfi, which sets it apart from all other desserts.

Well that's tragic. I ended my trip without tasting the sweet treats at this place. If you're reading this PLEASE GO THERE!


 

MAP OF RESTAURANTS IN LAHORE

My tried-and-tested restaurant recommendations are in BLUE, and the bonus local tips are in PURPLE.

HAPPY EATING! 

Please do drop me a line if you had a delicious meal using this guide or if you know of something that I should include. 

2 Comments

Unknown |

No doubt Lahore is famous for its delicious foods. After a spice meal Lahories used to taste sweets.Thank you for sharing this kind of post.

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