That the people of Amritsar live to eat is obvious from the scores of dhabas, Punjabi-style "fast-food" joints serving tasty and filling thalis (multicourse platters), that showcase various traditional dishes everywhere. This is the land of desi-ghee (clarified butter) and butter, added to almost every dish: Those watching their weight or unable to consume rich, heavy food should take it easy on the Indian fare here. But if you're up for the adventure, this is a culinary exploration like few others in India, where for as little as Rs 50 you'll be served a sizable spread that you eat with your fingers, dipping piping-hot parathas (fried flatbread) into maa ki dal, channa, and other concoctions arranged in little heaps on your platter.
If you're looking for a clean, glitzy restaurant that serves a wide range of dishes, then the one just about everybody in town will steer you to, is Crystal (Crystal Chowk, Queens Rd.; tel. 0183/222-5555 or -9999), which is the most famous restaurant in Amritsar. It may not win any awards for atmosphere, and service is atrocious (especially on weekends and after 8:30pm when the place is usually packed), but it's the most popular "upmarket" restaurant in town. The menu is eclectic, with the standard array of Chinese and Continental dishes thrown in, but we suggest you stick to what they're really good at: North Indian specialties like the delicious malai tikka. Although it doesn't yet have quite the same legacy, another contender worth considering is Astoria: Tucked into a posh colony and run by young Navneet Singh, Astoria also offers an extensive menu and great value for money (38 District Shopping Centre, Ranjit Ave., G.T. Rd.; tel. 0183/250-5722).
Smart options aside, what Amritsar is known for are its traditional dhabas, simple eateries where food-mad Punjabis happily look beyond the less-salubrious surrounds in favor of a lip-smacking meal. Chief among these is Kesar da Dhaba in Bazaar Passian, where, for close to 100 years, superb vegetarian curries have created countless devotees. For Amritsari fish -- here, fabulous batter-fried sole from the Beas River, flavored with lovage (a thymelike spice) -- you must go to Makhan Fish House (Lawrence Rd.), another famous dhaba, where things are eternally simple and cheap. Another stalwart serving delectable fish and chicken is Bharawan da Dhaba (tel. 0183/253-2575), which also does simple, delicious paratha, and dal is dished; wash your meal down with one of their utterly decadent lassis. Surjit's Chicken House (Lawrence Rd.) is the spot if you're looking for a sit-down meal of delicious butter chicken and kulchas or lachedar parathas.
Finally, if aesthetics matter to you, the smartest restaurant in town is Thai Chi at the Ista hotel (G.T. Rd.; tel. 0183/270-8888), where you can get authentic, surprisingly good-value Thai and Chinese dishes served in chic surroundings. Everything's made to your specifications, so you can ask chef Mani to tone down the spices if you prefer (incidentally, anything with silken tofu is highly recommended, as is the Szechuan-style bean curd). If you're not staying in the hotel, have after-dinner drinks at the Lotus Lounge (just off the lobby) which has become a favorite haunt for wealthy nonresident Punjabis out to pay tribute to their holy temple.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.