The best of Dubai's homegrown dining scene
Dubai’s eating and drinking scene is unrecognisable from what it was ten years ago. Over the past decade, the city has seen a huge influx of globally acclaimed international brands, but every bit as much development of home-grown restaurants and bars from local entrepreneurs.
Competition is now fantastically fierce.
It’s an incredibly exciting time to be hungry in the city. Bur Dubai’s iconic curry corridor route is no longer the fairly sole example of an organically occurring food destination. Newer neighbourhoods such as Jumeirah Lakes Towers now represent an equally fantastic place to eat your way through brilliant independent restaurants and cafés.
And after a wave of enthusiasm for high-end, fine dining restaurants in the city, triple-ironed tablecloths and all, a period of maturing has seen demand shift to more casual experiences. Industrial-chic now has a solid grip on the interiors of many of Dubai’s coolest haunts, while gourmet fast food and sustainable ingredients are all having an extended moment.
With hundreds of new outlets opening every year (427 in the first four months of 2019 alone), Dubai’s eating and drinking circuit is certain to continue evolving at lightning speed, with venues moving swiftly in and out of favour, closures giving way to determined new arrivals.
The future looks mouth-watering. But if you want a taste of the sensational home-grown scene, look no further than these, for starters.
Crammed into a tiny space overlooking Jumeirah Fishing Harbour, this Asian restaurant serves Japanese-inspired sharing plates from a menu packed with cheeky asides. Expect creative sushi and an absolutely banging wagyu burger, plus a wait for a table if you’re heading down for dinner. Hang in there – it’s worth it. Unlicensed.
Where: Jumeirah Fishing Harbour, Jumeirah 2
Contact: +971 4 333 4003
Inspired by the Akihabara area of Tokyo, this funky Japanese looks not unlike a funky downtown side street. But you might be surprised to learn that it’s the pizzas everyone’s raving most loudly about. The Tokyo-style Neapolitan creations, made with Japanese flour, are blistered for a speedy 60 seconds in a wood-fired oven before they’re slid out to serve. Go for the margherita before you graduate to the likes of the kabucha, topped with pumpkin purée (among other things, obvs).
Where: Building 8, d3
Contact: +971 4 770 7952
BB Social Dining
It’s all about the bowls and bao at this tightly stacked DIFC eatery, which has the narrow, winding layout of an old Parisian townhouse. A fusion of Middle Eastern and Asian eats await, so join the eclectic crowd in tucking into Vietnamese-style pho, Japanese-inspired beef tartare and a spinach-stuffed pretzel that you’ll still be thinking about three weeks later. Licensed.
Where: Gate Village 8, DIFC
Contact: +971 4 407 4444
Expect to find this Spanish-leaning Mediterranean restaurant absolutely heaving on a Thursday night as the DIFC crowd pour in the blow off some steam. Grab a seat at the bar for huge boards of brilliant calamari, washed down with a glass of ice-cold grape (of which you’ll find a superlative selection). Don’t miss the lemon olives… Licensed.
Where: Gate Village 6
Contact: +971 4 323 1833
Cool usually comes at a cost. And indeed it does elsewhere on this list. But not so at this trendy (and not too try-hard) café inside an unassuming hotel apartments block, which serves up the likes of avocado pizza and shakshouka tacos without the overblown industrial interiors. Açai bowls here are held in particularly high regard – and should be, given they start from AED36. Unlicensed.
Where: Auris Metro Central Hotel Apartments, Barsha Heights
Contact: +971 4 452 9529
Brunswick Eatery, Bar & Terrace
Quite how the team at Bull&Roo (of further home-grown entities Tom & Serg, Commons Grounds, et al) have managed to pack so much furniture into this tiny restaurant and bar, we’ll never know. But pack it they have, and as such the place can feel like a pretty busy refuge from the high-intensity shopping going on outside. It’s quirky, it’s cool, and it’s conveniently located if the hypermarket downstairs has you hyperventilating. Go for the sourdough pizzas. Licensed.
Where: Sheraton Dubai Mall of the Emirates, Al Barsha
Contact: +971 56 404 0685
folly by Nick & Scott
One of the most creative meals you’ll have in Dubai. From locally based chefs Nick Alvis and Scott Price, who once trained under the tutelage of Gordon Ramsay at Claridge’s, expect an inventive, seriously modern European menu paired with some of the best views in town. This is what the duo love most, and do best. Book in for dinner and have the monkfish cheeks in the restaurant, or swing by for a sundowner – just be sure to pair your drink with the sharing platter of bar snacks. Top nosh. Licensed.
Where: Souk Madinat Jumeirah, Umm Suqeim
Contact: +971 4 430 8535
A fantastically colourful restaurant and bar by the beach (though don’t go expecting sea views), this place grounds itself in Indian cuisine, with influence drawn from all over the planet. Grab a funky mixed drink, soak up your lounge-y surroundings and summon forth the likes of quail eggs kofta, pizza topped with butter chicken and burrata, and a palate-punching jerk barbecue beef chaat. A far cry from Dubai’s budget-friendly curry corridor, but a welcome one. You’ve never eaten Indian food like this. Licensed.
Where: La Mer, Jumeirah 1
Contact: 800 62784
Funked up Indian street food is having an extended moment across the city, and at the time of writing, Mohalla was the latest to peddle the trend. While the restaurant is committed to avoiding preservatives, food colouring, artificial sweeteners and enhancers, it doesn’t skimp on flavour. Jackfruit tacos in Gujarati flatbread, Bombay potato toasties, lamb kebab sliders… The menu combines the old and the uber-new, but keeps prices keen – especially so for the area.
Where: Building 5, d3
Contact: +971 4 427 2855
This reliably lively JLT restaurant serves up some of the best classic Greek eats in town, served up in a quintessentially taverna-style setting (minus those azure sea views). Sure, there are now many more extravagant Hellenic eateries in town, after a wave of new openings in 2018 and 2019, but those in the know will tell you this is the place to go. Licensed.
Where: Armada BlueBay Hotel, Cluster P, JLT
Contact: +971 4 399 8166
Think you know food courts? This place will blow your convictions right out of the water. Housing a collection of local brands in a space that marries polished concrete floors with leather armchairs, head here to try a variety of foods and specialist coffees, plus keep an eye out for industry talks and live entertainment. Unlicensed.
Where: Dar Wasl Mall, Al Wasl Road
Contact: No number
Butter chicken bap? Sold. This Karama cafeteria takes the Mumbai street food and dials it to 11, loading up with all manner of all-star ingredients in a stripped-back setting. Tired of traditional vada pao? Go for the Manchurian, or chilli cheese. Meat options include the jaw-dropping (and -breaking) butter chicken, and mutton seekh kebab. Pair with masala fries and a masala Thumbs Up… Unlicensed.
Where: Abdul Salaam Building, near BurJuman, Bur Dubai
Contact: +971 4 349 6726
Try, if you can, to ignore the annoying punctuation in the name of this place, and focus on the menu. The warehouse-like interiors provide little distraction, so crack on and get stuck in. Chicken burgers (or ‘sando’, as they’re calling them) arrive looking every inch the Insta-addict’s dream post, with a giant golden fillet spilling generously in all directions from the potato bun housing it. The team here make their own pickles in a variety of brines, and they’re front and centre of the agenda. Gerkin-dodgers need not apply. Unlicensed.
Where: One JLT, JLT
Contact: +971 4 584 6859
A tiny café at Alserkal Avenue’s trendy Cinema Akil, whose interiors feature traditional rugs and posters for retro and independent movies from the region. Head here for (surprise!) chai and a small menu of bites including vada pav, chilli cheese toast and ‘smashmosas’. It’s not the cheapest you’ll find in town, but you’re in the heart of one of the city’s artiest districts. Unlicensed.
Where: Cinema Akil, Alserkal Avenue, Al Quoz
Contact: +971 4 223 1139
All day breakfast, done Indian style? You’ll be looking for a branch of this place, which has three locations around the city. And of course, it’s all about the eggs here. Omelette, half-fried, boiled, with rice or rolled up in a wrap, you probably never knew they were so versatile. Raju has become a go-to for those who know their breakfast and appreciate great value in funky, yet no-frills environs. A cracking pick. Unlicensed.
Where: Various locations including Executive Towers, Business Bay
Contact: +971 4 388 7755
Possibly Dubai’s worst-kept secret. Head to Dubai Garden Centre for an ever-changing array of cakes and pies, plus breakfasts, salads and sarnies, all served up inside a charming greenhouse. Its location means there’s rarely a shortage of people-watching to enjoy, just make sure you keep an eye out for the swirling, impending domestic over which type of fertiliser is the right one, before garden forks start flying. Far better to wind up with a harissa chicken wrap in your face. Unlicensed.
Where: Dubai Garden Centre, Sheikh Zayed Road
Contact: +971 4 399 1662
Streetery Food Hall by Zen
Love food of the Far East, but struggle to decide which to go for? Well, it’s not going to get any easier here. This authentically rustic Asian street food collective is home to multiple kitchens, churning out everything from Chinese dumplings to Thai noodles, via Mongolian barbecue. If the weather permits, grab a seat outside by the lake and watch the world go by. This is where the cool kids head for their Haianese chicken. Unlicensed.
Where: Cluster D, JLT
Contact: +971 4 587 3373
Familiar as much for its breakfast queues as its specialty coffee – if you know what a Chemex is, this place is for you – this café behind the old Dubai Zoo serves up some mammoth morning meals served until 1pm, and creative ones at that. Try the walafel Benedict (yes, that’s falafel waffles), cold summer porridge, or the mighty breakfast pizza topped with chorizo, mushrooms, scrambled eggs, chilli, cherry tomatoes, baby spinach, toasted pine nuts and a scattering of fresh coriander. Unlicensed.
Where: Street 12D, Jumeirah 1
Contact: +971 4 344 4451
Part café, part shop, part trendy hangout for the office bods of Dubai Design District. Inescapable culinary force of nature Izu Ani is the man behind the menu (and an increasing number in Dubai, for that matter), which traverses European and Middle Eastern cuisine. There’s an emphasis on fresh, sustainable produce and healthy eating, which feels reflected in the cool, white interiors of a dining room filled with natural light. Don’t miss the beef tartare. Licensed.
Where: Building 6, d3
Contact: +971 4 422 6024
The MAINE Oyster Bar & Grill
A stalwart on the seafood scene, this American-inspired restaurant boasts cool art deco interiors and an inventive mixed drinks menu, and no small number of moustaches on the bar-tending staff. While you’re unlikely to pay anywhere near AED64 for a clam chowder in New England, pay for it in Dubai they do. So popular is this restaurant that it’s now spawned a second in Dubai Studio City. Go for a business lunch, go for brunch, go because it’s Tuesday. Just go. Licensed.
Where: DoubleTree by Hilton Dubai – Jumeirah Beach, The Walk, JBR
Contact: +971 4 457 6719
This award-winning café now has a branch in Downtown Dubai, but we recommend the JLT branch for a more authentic experience. Outdoor tables allow diners to soak up the street life, and a miniscule indoor dining room is as true to a Hanoi hole-in-the-wall as they come in these parts. But don’t sweat over it. Sweat over a steaming bowl of the superb chicken pho instead. Unlicensed.
Where: Cluster D, JLT
Contact: +971 4 565 6088