I have a bias. Nainital is one of the hill stations that I’m always drawn towards- maybe because every year I skip the maddening summer months and choose to travel in the last week of July or the first week of August. It’s usually drizzling (and often raining), the weather is ideal, the mall road is empty, the hotels are cheaper and the lake is just so serene. Which has often made me wonder why most people travel during the peak months and then crib about congestion and crowds. Until, of course, this year- when it poured throughout our trip, and it became pretty darn clear why. Every time I find myself in need of a breather, I run away to the hills. Nothing else refreshes the soul like fresh mountain air, a great view and some quiet, down time. This year I chose to stay at Jilling Terraces. Some distance from Nainital, Jilling is an experiential stay near a village called Matial. After 2 days there, we spent a night in Nainital, wandering around the empty street, and in and out of cafes. Here’s a mini-guide to the cafes on mall road- some new, some old, and some iconic.
Delhi’s popular Mountain Cafe (now called Music and Mountains) originated in Nainital. This cafe was once a bakery and is still famous for its baked treats: tarts, patties, pies and pastries. They also have a full menu containing a mix of cuisines and dishes, shakes, salads, beverages and snacks. The food is consistently good and the desserts are heavenly, making Sakley’s one of the best cafes around mall road. It’s a little on the expensive side, but the food won’t disappoint.
2. Pots and Stones Cafe:
This one is new to Nainital and hails from Haldwani, where it originally launched. The cafe serves a mixed menu of typical cafe food, that includes pizzas, pastas and beverages. The staff is helpful and pleasant, often going out of their way to assist customers and offer recommendations. They have a selection of board games, and are open till 11:00 pm, later than most other cafes remain open. The food is not too great, both in terms of quality and taste, and they often run out of ingredients for various dishes. This is not a place to experiment, but to stick to the basic can’t-go-wrong-with-this-one sort of choices.
3. Zooby’s Kitchen:
Weird, weird place this one. The tag line to Zooby’s Kitchen says “Grills from the Hills” and wonder of wonders- they don’t have any grills on the menu. Not a single one. The menu is all-Indian with a little bit of Chinese thrown in. Order the pan fried noodles and they’ll tell you “Our pan fried noodles are basically Hakka noodles because that’s our recipe” or the chicken sweet corn and find vegetable sweet corn with tiny bits of chicken. Some dishes they do well though- the Honey Chilli Potato, Biryani and some others. In short- this place is a gamble. But it comes with cute interiors and vast open windows that look over the Naini Lake. Go for the view and order an iced tea. Then enjoy the lemonade they serve you instead.
4. Cafe Chica:
It’s a walk from Mall Road, but this cafe is so “wild garden” with a picnic-in-the-sun vibe. It’s outdoors, tucked away in the hills and really gives out a family-soirée-on-a-warm-winter-day vibe. This cafe has white garden chairs and wooden garden tables out in a garden, which, in the evening, is lit up with lanterns. Little umbrellas and flowers outside a kitschy mountain cottage makes it the ideal pick for a dreamy afternoon.
There are some other cafes around the area as well, including Good Old Cafe- one that’s recently opened near Bhimtal, iHeart Himalayas Cafe- en route Nainital from Bhimtal, and the usual hill station suspects: Honey Hut and Cafe Coffee Day- also found on Mall Road. There’s a plethora of restaurants as well, but I’ve only gotten around to trying Embassy yet- and would happily recommend it.