Khyber (Mumbai)

With so little time to explore a city as behemoth as Mumbai, you might think we’d be more judicious in choosing where to enjoy our coveted few meals in town.  But to be honest, by the time dinner rolled around on our first full night, we were so exhausted from traipsing around in the blistering heat all day, the thought of straying too far from home seemed entirely impractical.

To kill two kingfishers with one stone, we looked for a place within walking distance to our hotel - and the Voodoo Lounge, Mumbai’s only “somewhat out and maybe a little proud” gay bar. A few write-ups of the restaurant Khyber sounded promising enough, and after a quick peek inside earlier that day, we knew the spot would be a safe bet.

And that was succinctly what it was.  With dramatic, but worn, interiors recalling any world traveler’s dreams of the exotic, Khyber consistently draws tourists from both near and far based off its decades-old reputation of providing tasty Punjabi/ North Indian fare.  And yes, on the evening we visited during Diwali 2013, the place was packed.

In what seems like precision coordination, reserved parties are first segued into a trio of alcoves downstairs, or sent up the floating staircase to navigate another maze of dining halls and snug anterooms dripping in Mughal majesty.

We were seated in the 2nd floor open area, thankfully far enough way from the heaping gaggle of Western youngsters who had probably read about Khyber in the latest edition of Lonely Planet. At first, their presence cheesed us off, but once a local family was placed beside us, we knew the offerings at Khyber would likely be up to snuff… at least enough to impress our inexpert tastebuds.

Our amiable, yet speedy, waiter first coaxed us into ordering cocktails - complete with ice! (Don’t worry: he assured us cubes were made from filtered water.) Looking back on it now, we shouldn’t have bothered. Though attractive, our “Pineapple Upside Down” and blueberry mojito choices did not quite pack the punch our beleaguered thigh muscles demanded. (Having traveled to a number of other countries where alcohol consumption is frowned upon, we should have known better.)

Happily, the quality of the food did not disappoint. Doug enjoyed his chicken korma while I opted for a spicy dish of reshimi masala with chicken kebabs that was just hot enough. We finished off the meal with another round of unremarkable drinks, our trade-in for dessert, and what would end up our final cocktails for the night. (The Voodoo Lounge is closed Monday and Tuesday nights.)

Though not necessarily a place to jump up and down for, Khyber was proficient at providing a decent, tasty meal in an environment that should feel right at home to most Westerners.  Clean, modern, and just shy of romantic, Khyber still felt safe… which is to say you could probably find more exciting cuisine in town, but you could also do a lot worse.  Set of Drifters tip: Check out Khyber’s Facebook page for picture after tantalizing picture of what you’ll miss if you don’t dine here.

Khyber - Fort 145, Mahatma Gandhi Road, Mumbai, Maharashtra  400023, +91 22 4039 6666 and

Frangipani (at the Trident Nariman Point) (Mumbai)

Laying low upon our arrival to the Trident Nariman Point in Mumbai, we opted for its subterranean-level dining room for our first breakfast of the trip. Offering a wide selection of staples from both India and beyond, Frangipani draws huge crowds all morning long. We suspect it has something to do with the airy, convivial vibe that is boosted by a smart Italian-style coffee counter complete with espresso, dainty pastries and newspapers in a variety of languages.

We tried a little bit of everything that first morning from semiya pulao and neer dosa to chocolate donut minis and some much-needed strong coffee. All tasty. In fact, we loved Frangipani so much, we returned at lunch time to take advantage of a small window of time between sightseeing.

Buoyant flute music that we could have sworn was indigenous to India percolated from speakers as we sat in the re-polished dining room that had certainly upped its elegance factor in the few hours since breakfast. (We later found out the jaunty tuneage was courtesy of Gino Finocchiaro and Frank Faro, Sicilian musicians who specializes in traditional piccolo arrangements. Makes sense looking back on it; Frangipani considers itself first and foremost an Italian restaurant.)

While Brady ordered a succulent dish of pan-fried prawns with wasabi mash and sweet pepper caponata, I opted for the chicken dum biryani served atop basmati rice with mint, saffron and mace. I wish words could describe accurately the taste sensation that occurred while chowing down on this yummy delight. I can still recall the fresh cardamom flavor alongside rice noodles and pieces of subtly-spiced chicken. (My mouth is watering just thinking about it.) Other signature dishes on the menu run the gamut from Goan shrimp curry to potato and parmagiano gnocchi. Needless to say, you’ll find something to sate your tummy.

Ahhhh, the tasty memories.

Frangipani at Trident Nariman Point - opposite the Air India Building, Marine Drive, Nariman Point, Mumbai, Maharashtra  400021, +91 222 282 1854

Tandoor (Aurangabad)

Wow.  That Lonely Planet write-up is certainly doing the trick.  This place was crammed back-to-back with Westerners the Friday we visited on our first night in Aurangabad.  And while that normally would have left us vexed, the equal percentage of locals present hinted we’d likely be in for a real treat… above and beyond the kitschy Egyptian decor that we never quite figured out.

So, was the North Indian tandoori fare worth the trek out into the middle of nowhere?  In short, absolutely.  We split a few beers and an order of chicken masala curry, but our favorite item on the menu?  Without a doubt, the spicy dal tadkha with a side of garlic naan.

If you can handle rubbing shoulders for one night with a bunch of cackling kids just back from Goa, Tandoor is a nice place to drop a few rupees.  Led by an affable gent in thick horn-rimmed glasses whose smile never seem to wane, service was a well-oiled machine.  Clearly, management is aware that if they move fast, they’ll have enough business to fill seats once you’re gone.

Set of Drifters tip:  Arrange round-trip transportation to/ from Tandoor ahead of time.  Its location, on the complete other end of town from the airport, felt a lot further than it looked on our map. Though we turned down our auto-rickshaw driver’s offer to wait for us through dinner, we now wish we hadn’t.  Trust us, you don’t want to attempt hailing a similar vehicle from a dusty ditch at 10:15 PM in pitch blackness - and freshly-generated smog.

Tandoor - Shyam Chambers,     Railway Station Road, Bansilal Nagar, Aurangabad, Maharashtra, Aurangabad, Maharashtra  431005, +91 240 232 8481

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Madhuban at the the WelcomHotel Rama - R-3 Chilkalthana, Aurangabad, Maharashtra  431210, +91 240 663 4141,