Susanna Myrtle Lazarus drives down Old Mahabalipuram Road and discovers the city’s food paradise

Driving down Rajiv Gandhi Salai on a Tuesday evening at rush hour is no mean feat, but one chooses to risk it. It’s worse when one is hungry and all that can be seen on either side of the road is a plethora of restaurants, each promising to provide much-needed sustenance. Even though it’s a weekday, it’s difficult to find a place where people aren’t waiting for a table or where the parking lot isn’t full. A burger, wolfed down while seated at one of the last available tables in McDonald’s, will have to do. Although there’s school to go to the next morning, the fast food joint is overflowing with kids running around with Happy Meal toys clutched in their sticky hands.

This is the new Old Mahabalipuram Road: from a deserted stretch of road dotted with software companies, the IT corridor is fast on its way to becoming a food lover’s paradise. A quick search on sites like Zomato or Burrp confirms this. The nearly 25 km stretch from Madhya Kailash junction to Siruseri is chock-a-bloc with choices: fast food, biryani, Arabian, Chinese, North Indian, South Indian, Bengali, Thai, Japanese, Andhra, Continental, Italian, Malaysian, Mexican, street food... Whatever you’re in the mood for, it looks like OMR is the place to go.

John Christopher, who works in a software firm, says, “I shifted to Kandancavadi from Perambur about two years ago to be closer to my office. I only knew to cook a few basic dishes and used to live off roti and dal from a small hole-in-the-wall place near my apartment. Now there are several places that serve good, simple everyday fare, apart from places for upscale dining.” His favourite haunts are Gongura for Andhra food and Pasta Land for Italian cuisine.

However, it’s not just the IT crowd who are thrilled with the spurt in restaurants. Anamika Shah moved to Chennai from Mumbai to be with her husband who lives in Navalur. “I hate to sound like a cliché, but I do love vada pav. Everyone told me that it’s really difficult to get the same taste here, but Mumbai Cafe comes pretty close to it.” The little chaat shop in Padur is quite popular, especially with the younger crowd.

Karthik S., a college student who lives in Thiruvanmiyur, swears by an Andhra mess in Sholinganallur. “You have to try the food there. It’s brilliant, especially the biryani. It is like nothing you have ever tasted before,” he says emphatically. (Mental note: add this to the list of places that have already been recommended by the others.)

For someone like Kalpana Sundaresan, the increased number of restaurants is not just about the variety of food. “I stay in a ladies hostel, and there’s precious little for us girls to do. By the time we’re done with work, it’s too late to go even up to Phoenix Market City, which is the closest mall and we’ve spent way too much time in all the coffee shops around here. The new places give us a chance to go out and relax as a group,” she says, as she waits for her friends outside Flaming Wok in Okkiyampet.

Her friend M. Rukmini chimes in: “Of course not all the places we have been to have had great food; in fact some were downright bad and overpriced along with terrible service. We just don’t go there again. Anyway it doesn’t look like we are going to run out of places to try out!” She also says that it’s good for the overall development of the area. “A lot of people from surrounding neighbourhoods have got jobs in these new places. It improves the quality of their life as well,” she says.

For those too tired (or lazy) to dress up and drive down to the nearest restaurant, there are the home delivery specialists. Apart from the usual suspects like Domino’s, KFC and Subway, there’s the popular Call 4 Biriyani — no doubt about what they deliver. At any given time of the day or week, there are several brightly coloured two-wheelers zipping from apartment complexes to offices, delivering various cuisines. “People are constantly hungry, especially when they are working late,” laughs Mohan, who is off to deliver some grilled chicken and half a dozen shawarmas to an office nearby. “I make around 20 to 25 trips in a shift; it can go up to 40 on a busy weekend,” he says, as he straps on his helmet and leaves.

With the bigger hotels like Fortune, Asiana and Aloft offering weekend specials like brunches, buffets and swimming pool packages, OMR is now also a family destination. The next time you’re tired of going to the same old restaurants, take a drive down OMR: you just might surprise yourself.