Dubai is a little like Singapore; it’s a city full of immigrants. But Singapore has time since 1819 to develop its own characteristics and culture. Dubai is a relatively new city, still finding its ground. So they don’t have a “national” food, unlike Singapore’s chilli crab or chicken rice. In a sense, there is no such thing as an “authentic Dubai food.”
In this list I’ve written, I’ve done extensive research, reading blogs, and browsing through many “Best Food in Dubai” lists. I want to give a variety and I have also tried to keep a list of food cultures that influence Dubai. For instance, Dubai food is much influenced by Indian cuisine because there are many Indians and Pakistanis in Dubai, and because India is just an ocean away. You’ll find 2 out of the 10 food on this list to be Indian/Pakistani.
I’ve also included influential international chefs who set up shops here. You can’t say you’ve been to Dubai if you don’t live an extravagant lifestyle, right?
BEST STREET FOOD IN DUBAI
Al Mallah Restaurant (Dhiyafah Street)
2nd of December Street, Dubai
T: +971 4 3984723
Open Sat-Thu 6am-4am, Fri, 1pm-4am
At this Middle Eastern street food restaurant, two gay Indian patrons squealed with satisfaction, “Best decision of my life.” Gay men are so given to hyperboles, but the food here is spot-on, and very delicious.
Their speciality is chicken shawarma (aed 7 for sandwich, aed 35 for plate). Shawarma is basically sliced meat off a spit, like a kebab. It is available from 4pm onwards and I was there for lunch. The shish tawook (aed 9 for sandwich, 35 for plate) is similar to shawarma/kebab, except it comes in chunks, not sliced.
And wow! Despite the wrap looking thick, it is in fact very soft. The cubes of chicken are beautifully marinated and smoky, and they are dipped in a well-balanced yogurt that isn’t too sour. I want to return with friends and order platefuls of meat.
Damage: Including a lemonade mint drink (aed 14), I paid aed 23.
77 2b St, Jumeirah, 71825 Dubai, United Arab Emirates
T: +971 55 7052130
The seaside restaurant is a little out of the way and you will have to take a taxi but it is worth it. When I was there, there were no tourists; all locals. You queue, you sit, and they will serve you a standard set menu of 1 deep-fried turmeric fish, sourish Assam curry, and basmati rice. If you want more fish or rice, ask for it. I saw locals eating 2 fish and 2 plates each. In the evening, you can sit on the sand, al fresco.
The food is orgasmic. Impossible to stop. The sour curry, only mildly spicy, gives a high when eaten with the rich basmati rice. Is the robust rice cooked with coconut milk? The fish is crispy and succulent and well marinated. A must visit.
Damage: aed 9 including a bottle of water
Nearby: the public beach is nearby so bring your swim wear and sunblock.
Shop # 245,Al Dhiyafa Rd,Satwa, Near Satwa Roundabout, – Opposite Emirates Co-operative Society – إمارة دبيّ
T: +971 4 3315353
Open daily 5am-3am
1 out of 3 people in Dubai is a Pakistani, so Dubai food has great influences from Pakistan, and no Pakistani restaurant is more famous than Ravi Restaurant. It occupies two or three shophouses.
The menu is extensive and they are good for nihari (aed 12) and haleem (aed 12). The former comes with chicken curry and a flat bread like prata. The flavors take some getting used to: the bread too thick and the curry not spicy enough, but once you push past a few bites, it’s ok.
Damage: it’s actually aed 14 (including a drink) but the boss only charged me aed 10!
BEST CAFE IN DUBAI
Tom and Serg
15A Street, Al-Joud Center, Al Qouz, Near ACE Hardware, Sheikh Zayed Rd – إمارة دبيّ
T: +971 56 4746812
Weekdays 8am-4pm, Weekends 8am-5pm
The lovely Tom & Serg is located in an industrial area, so you have to taxi there. The front is sort of a florist, and the cafe with walls of white tiles is subway-styled. Very smart of them to shy away from the boring and overused industrial decor.
The best cold brew (aed 25) I have had, it possesses a complexity with a sweet aftertaste. Freaking awesome. I was so tired of not eating pork, and although Cubano sandwich (aed 55) does not have pork, the veal ham and veal belly taste exactly like pork, complete with the distinctive porky gaminess. I had lunch 20 minutes before visiting the cafe, but still I finished it! That’s how good it is.
Damage: aed 80 + aed 10 (I gave tips)
BEST FINE-DINING RESTAURANTS IN DUBAI
Indego by Vineet
Al Sufouh Road, Grosvenor House, Dubai Marina – إمارة دبيّ
+971 4 317 6000
Reservations can be done at the website
The handsome Aashitji asked, “Do you want your Rogan Lamb Shank (aed 225) non-spicy, mild, or spicy?”
I asked, “I’ve eaten food in the past few days that claim it’s spicy but it’s not. Is your food really spicy or white-man spicy?”
“It’s spicy, and if you can take spicy, you should get the spicy authentic version,” he replied.
I can’t take spicy food, but challenge accepted.
Complimentary: Deep-fried cauliflower and broccoli, beetroot puree, saffron puree
Vineet Bhatia is the face of modern Indian cuisine, and is the first Indian chef to win the Michelin star for both his restaurants in London and Geneva. He also overlooks the inflight food on Qatar Airways. And his accolades are well deserved.
Lamb shank slow cooked in rogan josh sauce rajma pulao, asparagus stir fry
BEST INDIAN I HAVE HAD IN MY LIFE and I just returned from Chennai. So good I wanted to cry. I feel like I’ve been lied to all my life; I feel like this is the first time I have ever had real Indian food. This is the Platonic Ideal of Indian food. The food is so complex and so refined and pairs ingredients imaginatively, yet at the same time, it still keeps to the cultural Indian roots of heartiness, heat, boldness, brashness. A must visit.
Damage: Tasting menu from aed 550. I went a la carte and paid aed 280 (discounted to aed 200 by using Mastercard). Serves alcohol.
Ambience/decor: 6/10 (Dated, very 1980s)
Le Petite Maison
Gate Village 08 DIFC, P.O.Box 506711, Dubai UAE
T: +971 4 4390505
It is a dream, a Renoir painting, with walls of mottled beige and garcons in shirts, ties, and aprons. It is like a movie, like in a ballroom. Chattering of businessmen and women all around. Unfortunately, the servers are too busy to prattle or be nice. Is it me or that the white servers in this restaurant aren’t as nice and polite as the Indian servers in other restaurants on this list? French food, French service.
Fortunately, the Mediterranean French cuisine is orgasmic. I sent the lamb cutlets (aed 185) back because I ordered medium and it came medium-done. But it is still amazing. So well-marinated with an orgy of flavors of olive oil, sun-dried tomato, and rosemary. I wanted to cry.
The gratin potato (aed 35) as a side is so much, but so wonderful. Came steaming hot, and even when it is cooled, the cheese doesn’t coagulate, giving the sliced potato a silky richness.
The server also recommended the chocolate mousse (aed 60), which is also damn mind-blowing. It’s not the boring lava cake; it’s actually molten cake inside. The amazing vanilla ice cream doesn’t melt quickly despite the very, very hot chocolate. And the chocolate is wonderfully well-balanced that one person can finish it without feeling sick.
A must visit.
Damage: I paid aed 344 + aed 40 (I tipped because there is no service charge) = aed 380. Serves alcohol.
Al Sufouh Rd, Al Qasr Hotel, Dubai
T: +971 4 366 5866
Pierchic is more than its romantic location of being out at sea, of being a chic pier, overlooking the 7-star hotel, Burj Al Arab. The service is extremely warm. When the server heard my nasal voice, he brought me tea to soothe my sinus.
The restaurant focuses on seafood, naturally, and its speciality is the seabass for two (aed 900). But since I was alone, I got the set lunch. Looking past the slightly overcooked dory, a tad salty, I could see how the creation could be bright and simple as a summer dish when executed well. Despite its imperfections, there is design and thought here, and knowing the restaurant has the potential to be great, I would return.
The dessert pavlova is exceptional. Under the sweet dome of meringue is a sourish mango sorbet–refreshing. I finished it despite not feeling hungry.
Damage: aed 210 for 2-course executive lunch, 250 for 3 courses. A la carte for dinner. Expect to spend about aed 500 for a 3-course a la carte. Serves alcohol.
Ambience/Decor: 8/10 (could have gotten a 10 if not for the window sill!)
Tip: Don’t sit by the window if you want a view of the Burj Al Arab. The sill blocks the view.
How to get to Pierchic: Take a taxi to Al Qasr hotel, and request for a buggy to the restaurant.
Wafi City opp the Raffles Hotel, 117253 Dubai, United Arab Emirates
T: +971 4 709 2500
Wafi City is an over-the-top but also overwhelming space that is modeled after Egypt, the pyramids, and statues. The Wafi City’s extravagance conspires with the Arabian decor of Qbara to make me awestruck. Qbara took my breath away when I entered with its extremely high ceiling, and the posh red chairs, and the “flying carpets” on the wall made from ancient Afghani. Such grandeur! I felt like a sheikh in Arabian Nights.
6-hour milk-soaked chicken liver with croutons (aed 60)
Usually at such beautiful places, the food is subsidiary to the decor, but no, not here. The modern Arabian food here is thoughtful, smart, and delicious. Although the concept is for sharing plates, I ate alone and it works too.
A good example of their modern Middle Eastern cuisine, grilled poussin (aed 130), may look like a burger but it retains its Arabian roots. On the flatbread, the Moroccan-spiced poussin and arugula are finished with pomegranate molasses. Great flavors and textures.
This looks like the stupid, gimmicky milkshake in Singapore, but it’s not. On the contrary, it is one of the smartest dessert I’ve eaten. Milk and Honey (aed 64) comes from the biblical reference when God promised Mosses the land of milk and honey, a land of abundance, which people identify as Israel.
Furthermore, the ingredients is made from Middle Eastern influences, such Greek yogurt (the “milk” part); sumac panna cotta; sidr honey (the sidr tree is a sacred tree mentioned in the Quran); and saffron pashmak (the most expensive spice in the world meets expensive Persian candy floss).
You’ve to know your mythology, influences, food, and geography to understand the dessert. And it tastes good too: sour, savory, sweet, crunchy, fluffy. I told you the food is smart here.
The service is amazing but one thing that I do not like is how they keep pushing for the alcohol although I said I didn’t want it. I understand that they make most money out of alcohol sales, but they must have asked me for more than 10 times.
Damage: aed 312 + aed 30 tips = aed 340. Serves alcohol.
Reflets par Pierre Gagnaire
InterContinental Dubai Festival City, P.O. Box 45777 Dubai, United Arab Emirates
T: +971 4 7011199
Headed by three Michelin-star chef Pierre Gagnaire, Reflets is a proper old-school fine-dining restaurant. There is a private lift to enter the restaurant and the decor reflects its datedness. But wait! don’t dismiss it yet.
Despite the antiquated facade, the Modern French food is full of surprises. When you order one dish, for example a fish, the fish comes in many small dishes done different ways. Even the amuse bouche (above) comes in many portions.
Not only is each dish full of surprises, the pairing of ingredients is very smart too. I surmise that my main course, Mediterranee (aed 240), is to present Gagnaire’s version of the Mediterranean. There is aubergine, a reminder of Greek moussaka. Although the main plate of red mullet is boring, the smart pairing comes in with the side of octopus stew–so soft–on a bed of roasted tomato with powered seaweed. Tomato and seaweed are umami-rich food, and combining them like this, what chance of my tear ducts have except to shed?
After the main, I was stuffed but embarrassed if I leave without dessert, so I ordered espirit Pierre Gagnaire (aed 130), that comes in 8 dishes of desserts (or maybe 10, I lost count). Well conceptualized: there is savory, sweet, tangy, sour, rich, etc; each mouth brings a different experience, but the desserts may be tired for the experienced eater. Still, I am being picky.
The smart and delicious food, coupled with the impeccable service, makes Reflets a must visit.
Damage: aed 900 for degustation menu, aed 450 for half degustation; I went for a la carte, ordering a main and a dessert for aed 515. Serves alcohol and pork.
Value: 8/10 (not cheap, but good value)
Al Sufouh Road, Le Royal Meridien Beach Resort
T: +971 4 316 5550
British Michelin-starred chef Gary Rhodes’s Rhodes Twenty10 steakhouse is built around the theme of gangsters, The Billy Boys: Swarovski-designed chandeliers, veneer-black walls, ambient music, and food gangsters eat. A painting of the Billy Boys hangs in the waiting area. Being an ah beng in Dubai has never been so sexy and classy.
Although the menu is small, it is hard to make a decision even for a decisive person like me. Rhodes Twenty10 Burger (aed 150), their speciality, is a piece of prime fillet sandwiched between foie gras and confit potato. But I went for the sirloin (aed 105/170g, aed 210/340g), which has a nice clean bite.
Two out of three on the dessert platter (aed 60) are well executed and well thought-out. The iced pecan parfait is the best with crunch and varying degrees of sweetness from pear and caramel; order this in its individual portion at aed 50. But ignore the sticky toffee pudding with a mushy, sticky texture.
At the end of the meal, I requested for a feedback form and wrote “The service is a 11/10!”
Damage: aed 280 reduced to aed 240 (they had a mastercard promotion, and I used the card). Serves alcohol and pork.
What to Buy Back for Families, Friends, and Colleagues
(multiple locations, but remember to go to the boutiques, not the cafes. The cafes only have pre-packaged dates, not as fresh as the boutiques.)
Dubai is famous for dates and nuts. And Bateel is the “Godiva of dates,” as my friend wittily said. The most expensive dates here can go up to more than aed 200 a kg. Although they are expensive, they are incredibly tasty and worth buying.
Their intense sweetness acts as natural preservative so you can keep them for a month in the open or 6 months in the fridge.
The honeyed macadamia dates (aed 155/kg) are their best seller, and the most delicious one. But make sure you sample a few varieties before purchasing your favorites. If you’re buying for your friends, and colleagues, get them to pack in 100g of small boxes. 100g will give you about 8-10 dates.
Although Dubai’s food is more expensive than Singapore’s, the service and quality are more superior. The scene is more dynamic. Singapore’s food scene is dominated by that few companies bringing in same old boring shit, but Dubai has so many players. All 10 restaurants on this list are amazing in different ways. But if you don’t have time to visit all, these are the must visit (in alphabetical order):
Al Mallah – Middle Eastern street food
Bu Qtair – Indian street seafood
Indego by Vineet – Modern Indian fine dining
Le Petite Maison – Hearty French Mediterranean cuisine
Qbara – Modern Arabian fine dining
Reflets par Pierre Gagnaire – Modern French fine dining
Written by A. Nathanael Ho.