It’s the meal of the masses. Even though the vada pav finds itself in the menu of some of the top restaurants in the country, the origins of this snack are rather humble. Essentially, the vada pav is a fried potato fritter or dumpling enveloped in a bread. While the stories of its exact origins remain somewhat unknown it is generally believed that the vada pav owes its roots to the mills of Mumbai.
Long before Lower Parel became known for its malls and luxury stores, the neighbourhood was at the heart of the largest cotton mills district in the country. Locally known as Girangaon (not to be confused with Girgaum, a neighbourhood that continues to exist) or the Village of Mills, this area houses several small and big cotton mills that earned Mumbai (or Bombay as it was known then) the sobriquet, Manchester of the East.
The mills employed thousands of workers, most of them immigrants from villages around the city, who worked in shifts that kept the mills running round the clock. Since most of the workers lived alone in the city, sending money to their families back home, they’d depend on local stalls for their daily nourishments. The khanavals or eateries that served full meals out of a single chawl room and narrow spaces were born out of this need. And while the khanavals were generally preferred for the weekend meals or weekday dinners, most lunches were had standing, at stalls outside of the mills. Stalls that served vada pav. By virtue of it being fried, rich in carbohydrates and served in a loaf of thick bread, vada pav was as good as a full meal, for a fraction of the cost.
Eventually, as the son of the soil movement in the city rose, the vada pav became more than just a meal and became a political tool. Local pressure groups and political parties funded vada pav stalls in an attempt to push out dishes such as dosas, medu vadas and idlis that they perceived as being foreign to the culture of Mumbai. As a result, the legend of the vada pav spread outside of Girangaon and into different parts of the city. Even today, it isn’t unusual to see multiple vada pav stalls along a single stretch of road. Most of them don’t even carry names making them difficult to locate. But it is from among these that a few stand out. For the sake of this list, we’ve kept out Khidki Vada Pav (one of the oldest and definitely of great repute but located outside of Mumbai, in Kalyan) and the ones in Thane, the satellite town that shares its border with the metropolis.
Best vada pavs in Mumbai
1. Ashok Vada Pav
Arguably the most popular vada pav stall in Mumbai, Ashok is also known as Kirti Vada Pav because of his proximity to Kirti College. You’ll likely be told that Ashok’s customers include Shabana Azmi, Sonu Nigam, Jackie Shroff and Madhuri Dixit among others but, really, the only thing that matters is the fact that even 35 years after the stall first opened and gained its reputation, Ashok continues to serve consistently good vada pavs. There’s something admirable about that.
Address: Near Kirti College, off Kashinath Dhuru Marg, Prabhadevi
2. Dhiraj Sandwich
Dhiraj makes an appearance in our list of the best places to have street food in Mumbai and returns in this list for good reason. The range of dishes available at Dhiraj boggles the mind – wide variety of dosas, sandwiches and, of course, vada pav. Being located right outside a college filled with ever-hungry teenagers means you’re unlikely to get stale or cold vadas. But Dhiraj’s standout ingredient in the vada pav is not the chutney but rather the butter he slathers on the pav. Access to a sandwich grill also means you can experiment with the vada even more. Ask for a grill vada pav sandwich and be ready to have your mind blown.
Address: Navyug Society, Opposite Mithibai College, Vile Parle (W)
3. Anand Vada Pav
Yet another place outside Mithibai college that stands in competition to Dhiraj is Anand Vada Pav. Just think of this as Dhiraj’s twin. After a few visits, you’re bound to lean to one or the other but on a crowded Saturday evening, it simply comes down to whose attention you manage to get.
Address: Opposite Mithibai College, Vile Parle (W)
4. Shivaji Vada Pav
This may be an unpopular opinion (and, really, bound to get us into trouble with the loyalists) but Shivaji, Dhiraj and Anand are basically each other’s clones. Regulars may say Dhiraj is better than Shivaji by a whisker or Anand is better than Dhiraj by a nose but, in essence, the three serve similar kind of vada pavs and you wouldn’t be poorer if you opt for one or the other.
Address: Opposite Mithibai College, Vile Parle (W)
5. Samrat Vada Pav
On the other side of the railway tracks, in the heart of Maharashtrian neighbourhood Samrat Vada Pav serves vadas with an ingredient that isn’t always found everywhere – coconut slices. Admittedly, the addition makes Samrat stand out and keeps its customers returning for more but coconut in vada is a bit of an acquired taste – you’ll either love it or completely and utterly hate it.
Address: Nehru Road, Parleshwar, Vile Parle (E)
6. Aaram Vada Pav
For so many immigrants and travellers, Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus is the gateway to the city of dreams. It’s almost poetic that one of the first food stalls that they’re likely to encounter is one that serves the food of the people. Located diagonally opposite the city’s primary railway hub, Aaram Vada Pav makes deliciously soft-yet-crispy vadas hugged by fresh pavs and served with a range of lip-smacking chutneys. While here, consider their kothambir vadi (or coriander fritters) too.
Address: Capitol Cinema Building, Dr DN Road, Mumbai CSMT
7. Graduate Vada Pav
By some estimates, Graduate Vada Pav serves nearly 2,000 customers every day, which shouldn’t come as a surprise considering its location – right outside Byculla railway station. But what makes this place stand out (and indeed popular among its patrons) is its consistency in quality – they’ve been in business for nearly 20 years now – and the various chutneys – from chilli and garlic to tamarind and coconut – that are served as accompaniment to the vada pav.
Address: Outside Byculla Station, Dr Ambedkar Road
This Dadar restaurant was once located across the junction from Shiv Sena Bhavan, headquarters of the local political party that spearheaded the son of the soil movement in the ‘70s. Aswad serves a wide range of vegetarian snacks – from sabudana vadas to thalipeeths – but what it’s really known for is kothimbir vadis and missal. Aaswad’s vada, however, remains an underrated gem that often gets overlooked for other items in the menu. Consider it the next time you’re over.
Address: 61 Mejwani, Sadanand, Gokhale Road, Opposite Amar Hind Mandal, Dadar (W)
9. Shree Krishna Batatawada
Located opposite Chhabildas School in the maze of lanes outside Dadar Railway Station (W), Shree Krishna Batatawada is often known as Chhabildas Vada. Unlike most of the vadas, Shree Krishna’s vadas aren’t as crispy but retain a flavour that’s so distinct, you’ll likely not forget it even years later. Ditch the pav here, just have the vadas and wash it down with a glass of sugarcane juice from the stall located just across the lane.
Address: Radha Niwas, Chhabildas Rd, Dadar (W)
10. Mangesh Vada Pav
Babhai in Borivali (W), is among the few predominant Maharashtrian neighbourhoods – pockets of Vile Parle (E) and Dadar (W) are two others – in Mumbai. It should come as no surprise and the neighbourhood is also home to one of the best vada pav stalls in the city. Mangesh Vada Pav may not find a mention in most lists (and indeed it takes some effort to locate it) but locals swear by it. And, having done a test drive ourselves (the waistline is a dead giveaway of our commitment to food), we can indeed endorse Mangesh’s vadas. Try them; you won’t regret it.
Address: Babhai Naka, Borivali (W)
11. Nitin Vada Pav
Another local gem in Borivali that bears no name and simply goes by the name of its owner, Nitin Vada Pav is easy to locate because of the crowd it attracts every evening. It’s situated across the junction from IC Church and serves just two items – dal vadas and vada pavs. Nitin, like Mangesh, opens for business only in the evenings and pushes off his cart when his stock for the day is over. The best time to make it in time to grab a vada at Nitin’s would be around 7 pm.
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