Big and blingy doesn’t always apply to Dubai’s food scene. Here’s where to find authentic fare…
Part of a small chain, multi-cuisine restaurant Aappa Kadai has a variety of world food on offer, including Chettinad, South Indian, Malabar, Chinese, Tandoori, North Indian and Hyderabadi. Head here for the appams, a speciality hailing from Kerala, in the southwest of India. Occasionally referred to as hoppers, appams are pancakes and at Aappa Kadai, can be cooked in a variety of ways.
Various locations including Discovery Gardens, Garden Cross Road, daily 11am to 3.30pm and 6pm to 11.30pm. Tel: (04) 354 8080. aappakadai.com
In Filipino cuisine, no part of an animal goes to waste. So, if you’re feeling particularly adventurous, try Little Manila’s chicken helmet, a grilled chicken head that is barbecued and eaten with a choice of sauce or vinegar. For a snack, try kwek-kwek, deep-fried quail eggs in a bright orange hue, or fish balls.
K6 Building, Al Muraqqabat, Sat to Wed 7am to midnight, Thurs & Fri 7am to 1am. Tel: (800) 626 452. @LittleManilaME
Chicken intestines may seem like the dinner choice of the brave, and if that’s you, hit up Eskinita in Old Dubai to try their isaw – a street food favourite hailing from the Philippines. It tastes better than it sounds.
Welcome Hotel Apartment Abu Baker Al Siddique Road, Al Muraqqabat, daily 6pm to 2am. Tel: (050) 829 90700. @ESKINITADXB
Small Karama restaurant Canara serves Mangalorean food, and tends to get busy during the weekends, so get there early. Seafood fans should order the prawn ghee roast but there are other options to try, such as the Bombay duck fry, Sanna (steamed savoury rice cakes) and the Schezwan fried rice too.
Karama, daily 11.30am to 3.30pm and 6.30pm to 11.30pm. Tel: (04) 396 3966.
Rahat Al Madinah
It may be a bit of a trek for Dubai’s residents, but it’s worth the time in the car for Rahat Al Madinah’s breakfast of halwa poori and cholay. The Pakistani community wax lyrical about the spicy chickpea dish mixed with potato and separate sweet semolina – always a good sign.
Al Wahda Street, Al Majaz 2, Al Majaz, Sharjah, Sat to Thurs 6am to midnight. Tel: (06) 555 0544. @RahatalmadinahRestaurant
Afghan Khorasan Kebab
A hidden gem for those looking for Afghan cuisine. Don’t expect much in the way of glamour; do expect very good Afghan food.
Various locations including Al Quoz, daily noon to 2am. Tel: (04) 338 9838.
Put down your knife and fork and be prepared to be adventurous. You’ll eat with your hands at this small back alley restaurant frequented by an Ethiopian and North African clientele.
Al Khaleej Road, daily 10am to 1am. Tel: (04) 271 7610.
SS Bucket Biryani
You won’t be left hungry at SS Bucket Biryani. For Dhs16, you’ll get (quite literally) a bucket of chicken biryani cooked over a slow fire and served with onion raitha and brinjal curry. For four dirhams more, you can get the mutton biryani.
Karama, daily 11am to midnight. Tel: (04) 398 5005. ssbucketbiryaniuae.com
Al Yemen Mandi
Named after the traditional Yemeni dish Mandi, it’s fitting that this is the most popular on the menu. Made from rice, meat and spices, you can choose from either chicken mandi, mutton mandi, or if you’re very hungry, an entire sheep.
Hor Al Anz, Deira, daily 7am to 2am. Tel: (04) 266 2207.
Arguably the best Chinese in Karama, what it lacks in size it certainly makes up for in food. Try their bestselling dish, the chicken in Hoi Sin sauce. We recommend pairing it with chili garlic rice.
Karama, daily 11am to 3pm and 7pm to 11.30pm. Tel: (04) 397 6068.
If you’re unfamiliar with Korean cuisine, HYU is the perfect place to become acquainted. Try their dakgangjeong, crispy chicken covered in a sweet and spicy sauce. Once you’ve tasted this addictive Korean fried chicken, you’ll never look at KFC in the same way again.
Cluster O, JLT, daily 11am to 3.30pm, 6pm to 10.30pm. Tel: (050) 227 3004. @koreanrestaurantdubai
Feras Aldiyafa Sweets
Regulars rave about Feras Aldiyafa Sweets having the best kunafa in town. there are several locations, so you can get your fix of this traditional Levantine dessert with gooey cheese soaked in sweet rosewater syrup, topped with shredded pastry, whenever the craving hits.
Various locations including Barsha 1, near Mall of the Emirates, daily 8am to 12.30am. Tel: (04) 341 3123. @FerasSweets
Hidden away in Karama, Betawi isn’t easy to find, but the laminated menu at this small, low-budget restaurant features some fine traditional Indonesian cuisine.
Various locations including Street 4B, Karama, daily noon to 11pm, Fri 2pm to 11pm. Tel: (056) 759 8118. betawi.ae
Contemporary Emirati restaurant Seven Sands is a previous What’s On Award winner, and for good reason. The Aishu Laham, a traditional lamb dish, and the camel burger are popular options.
The Beach at JBR, Sun to Thurs noon to 1am, Fri 9am to 1am, Sat 9am to 2am. Tel: (04) 551 6652. sevensandsrestaurant.com
For a small sum, you can eat like a king at this south Indian restaurant.
Karama, daily 11am to 4pm and 7pm to midnight. Tel: (04) 337 7077.
Al Damyati & Iskandaron
Al Damyati & Iskandaron is so popular for its kebabs and grills, it’s not uncommon to see long queues as cars line up on the street waiting for their takeaways to be prepared.
Karama, daily 7am to 1am. Tel: (04) 396 0001.
There are a lot of dishes to try at this popular chain serving Pakistani fare. Work your way through chicken tikka masala, mutton peshwari, butter chicken, kebabs, korma and tandoor roti.
Various locations including Damascus Street, Qusais, daily 5am to 2am. Tel: (04) 258 9111. karachidarbargroup.com
A Dubai institution, the crowds keep flocking to this Pakistani restaurant, thanks to its tasty Punjabi food. Located in the Satwa neighbourhood, some items on the menu might put punters off (goat brain, anyone?) but for a speedy meal, you can’t go wrong. The What’s On Award winner is great value, too – tuck into heaped plates of biryani, curry and grills, and you’ll still manage to walk away with change from Dhs100.
Satwa, daily 5am to 3am. Tel: (04) 331 5353. @RaviRestaurant.ae
Serving seriously delicious South Indian vegetarian specialities for more than three decades, Saravana Bhavan is best known for their thalis and dosas. But if you fancy something more substantial, try an Indian breakfast of fresh steamed idli or spend an evening mopping up a ghee roast masala with a buttery naan.
Various locations including Summer Land Building, Barsha 1, Sat to Thurs 8am to 11pm, Fri 8am to 11.30am and 1pm to 11pm. Tel: (04) 427 6682. saravanabhavan.com
Al Mallah is usually packed with late night party stragglers for good reason. A classic shawarma spot, they serve large quantities on a big plate for a low price. Top your meaty treat with hummus, tahini, garlic and tomato. The Dhiyafa street stalwart is also a long-time favourite among vegetarians for their falafel. Stuff them in a pita pocket for a sandwich, or enjoy the crisp morsels on their own, dipped in tahini.
2nd of December Street, Satwa, Sat to Tues and Thurs 7am to 2am, Fri 6am to midday and 1.30pm to 2am. Tel: (04) 398 4723. almallahuae.com
Al Hara Cafeteria
Tea in the parking lot in front of a cafeteria may sound slightly bizarre to the uninitiated, but people flock all the way from Sharjah and Barsha to Al Hara Cafe purely for their milky tea, also known as disco tea. Try the karak chai, the UAE’s favourite beverage – a comforting blend of black tea, milk, sugar and cardamom.
Al Shamook Building, Sheikh Hamdan Colony, Karama, daily 8.30am to 3.30am. Tel: (04) 379 5659.
Famed for its nihari dish, a slow-cooked stew with mutton, beef or chicken, this place has been a favourite with the Pakistani community since opening in 1978.
Al Nahda, Sharjah, Sat to Thurs 11.30am to midnight, Fri 1pm to 11.30am. Tel: (04) 526 0882. delhinihari.com
If it’s a quality biryani you’re after, you’ll find it at one of Delhi Darbar’s several branches dotted around the emirate.
Various locations including Barsha 1, Eros House, opposite Jashanmal Building. Tel: (04) 397 2727. delhi-darbar.com
Al Reef Bakery
This Lebanese bakery is so popular for its divinely doughy manakish, it’s not uncommon to find a line out the door, even in the early hours of the morning. The popular flatbread can have a variety of toppings but one of the tastiest combinations is a sprinkling of za’atar and some seriously gooey cheese.
Various locations including Al Wasl Road, Jumeirah 3, daily 6am to 5.30pm. Tel: (04) 394 5200.
A must-visit for fresh seafood, it may not be an easy find, but when you turn up, you’ll be able to pick your fish from the kitchen before settling a table to wait. Expect to be presented with grilled fish, salad, paratha, rice, curry sauce – and a small bill.
4D Street, Umm Suqeim, daily 11.30am to 11.30pm. Tel: (055) 705 2130.
Al Ustad Special Kabab
Some of the most mouth-watering kebabs outside of Iran can be found at this legendary Iranian restaurant. They’ve been serving up the marinated cubes of juicy grilled meat since 1978, making it one of Dubai’s longest-running restaurants.
Al Musalla Road, Sat to Thurs noon to 4pm and 6.30pm to 1am, Fri 6pm to 1am. Tel: (04) 397 1933.