Dubai's Latin dining scene is bursting with exotic tastes from Mexico to Peru
Winner – Best Latin American Time Out Dubai Restaurant Awards 2014
Asado This inviting fine-dining Argentinean restaurant in Downtown is unfussy and understated, the interior walls lined with brick, giving the feeling you’re sitting inside a warm oven. But if you have any sense you’ll book a table outdoors, with views onto the Dubai Fountain and Burj Khalifa. The fried seafood platter is as you’d expect and includes a lobster claw, king crab, prawns and tender calamari, served with a tangy herb and pine nut mayonnaise. Try every empanada on the menu and get the selection that includes king crab, mushroom and shallot and corn, chilli flakes and bell peppers. The sliced beef tenderloin is a standout, and you’d be mad not to order the venue’s signature dish and namesake, the roasted baby goat, which is moist and sinewy in that lamb shank kind of way. For the more adventurous, the pigeon is also tasty and there’s even ostrich. Desserts include twists on the traditional Latin delicacy dulce de leche, as well as a tart and crème caramel. Open daily 7pm-midnight. The Palace, Downtown Dubai (04 428 7888).
Highly Commended – Best Latin American Time Out Dubai Restaurant Awards 2014
Gaucho This swanky Argentinean restaurant and London export is a cut above when it comes to steakhouses in Dubai. A glass elevator descends into the moody interior of black carpeting, artful sheet metal chandeliers and chairs and booths upholstered in cow-hide. Once seated, a well-informed waiter appears holding a cutting board of raw meat, explaining each cut and how they should be cooked. The ceviche sampler is light and features raw tuna in truffle oil, lobster and scallops marinated in distinct flavours. Opt for the duck and foie gras empanadas to follow, or tuck into the organic salmon, which is cured in traditional mate tea, sugar and salt. As for meat, there are succulent lamb chops, tenderloins and fillets, but nothing quite compares to the bife de ancho, or rib eye. The cut is sliced down the centre, revealing three separate pieces, which have been rubbed in chimichurri sauce. It’s melt-in-your-mouth good. Finish things on a sweet note with the dulce de leche fondant, which oozes with caramel goodness. Open daily 11.30am-11.30pm. Gate Village 5, DIFC, www.gauchorestaurants.co.uk (04 422 7898).
Highly Commended – Best Latin American Time Out Dubai Restaurant Awards 2014
La Parrilla You’d be hard-pressed to find a steakhouse with a better view in Dubai – this fine-dining Argentinean hotspot sits 25 floors up in Jumeirah Beach Hotel, with its eyes firmly on the Burj Al Arab. Service is slick, attentive and the waiters know their stuff. Start with a selection of dishes from the tapas menu, which includes enormous chilli prawns on corn fritters, salted cod sticks, seafood croquettes and arepa with duck confit, a teeny corn cake-type offering with goat’s cheese and tasty meat. Carnivores will go nuts for the vast meat choices, including a somewhat under-seasoned beef short rib and a 250g Argentinean lomo cut of beef. Be sure to scoff them down with a serving of vegetable sides, such as mushrooms and thick-cut fries. Sweet tooths will be in awe of the signature dessert, a forest of churros served on a tree with accompanying dulce de leche and chocolate dipping sauces. Open daily 6.30pm-11.30pm. Jumeirah Beach Hotel, Umm Suqeim (04 440 9300).
Cafe Habana This rather cosy and deliciously dingy Cuban-Mexican restaurant in Souk Al Bahar has a masculine feel; there’s the scent of smoke in the air, mosaic tiling on the floor and simple wooden framed chairs and tables. Pieces of art are scattered on the walls, but it’s the menu we’re most taken with. Blackened corn on the cob comes charcoal-grilled and rolled in mayonnaise, parmesan and Tabasco sauce, the kernels bursting in your mouth as you bite into them. The grilled chicken wings are equally moreish and come served with blue cheese sauce and sticks of celery. For a slice of history, try the traditional Cuban sandwich filled with mayonnaise, corned beef, pastrami, pickles and mustard sandwiched between thick bread. They were served to the Cuban immigrant communities of Florida back in the day. The accompanying fries, however, are somewhat disappointing, but the chicken quesadillas prove quite filling and stacked with vegetables and cheese. Open Sat-Wed noon-1am, Thu-Fri noon-2am. Souk Al Bahar, Downtown Dubai (04 422 2620).
Frevo The outdoor terrace at this popular Brazilian churrascaria gets booked up quickly, so make sure you phone ahead to enjoy a stunning view of the Dubai Marina. The staff, though friendly, can be a little overbearing, checking in on us more often than is really required. The all-you-can-eat set menu kicks off with a simple beef and vegetable soup, before a basket of delicious onion and cheese bread lands on the table. As well as the usual leafy greens, the salad buffet includes beef carpaccio, smoked salmon, palm hearts, grilled Mediterranean vegetables and a cheese board. With a push of a button, diners can notify the waiters that they’re ready for some barbecued meats. First off the post is some rather tough flank steak, but you’d be wise to hold out for the garlic-glazed striploin, roast lamb and turkey-wrapped chicken. The grilled pineapple is a fine way to end the meal. Open Sat-wed 7pm-11.30pm; Thu 7pm-midnight; Fri noon-3.30pm, 7pm-midnight. Fairmont The Palm, Palm Jumeirah (04 457 3457).
Loca Teaming with atmosphere, this lively Mexican restaurant and nightspot is ideal for chatty groups and anyone looking to continue the party after their meal. Tortilla chips land on the table as swiftly as you sit down and the staff seem rather keen to get the food under your nose as quickly as possible. The starters seem to be the standouts here: try the ceviche de pescado, bite-size chunks of raw kingfish marinated in fresh lime juice and tossed with papaya, tomatoes, coriander and red onion. The massive crumbed jalapenos oozing with melted cheese, meanwhile, will enliven your arteries. When we visited, the beef short ribs arrived disappointingly overcooked and the fajitas main on a rather weathered skillet, which seemed to overpower and flavour the meat. Traditional Mexican desserts are also on offer, including a take on the popular dulche de leche – the version here being a three-milk cake served with chocolate ice cream. Open noon-midnight. Dubai Marine Beach Resort & Spa, Jumeirah (04 346 1111).
Maya Modern Mexican Kitchen + Lounge This recently refurbished modern fine-dining Mexican venue is a sleek affair, complete with terrace seating, a DJ and an outdoor bar. You’ll find a good selection of mixed drinks, but the food can be a little on the non-adventurous side, with the usual suspects including enchiladas, quesadillas, tacos and fajitas all fighting for your attention. The key here is to stick with starters (though, disappointingly, we found the marinated huachi ceviche to be drowning in sauce). Opt for the Maya nachos with bean puree, pico de galle and topped with a duo of cheeses and jalapenos or wild mushrooms and goat cheese on huarache flatbread with truffle oil. If you’re guacamole-inclined, there are four different types you can choose from, including one dish with pomegranate and apples. There are also a good number of options for vegetarians and gluten-intolerant diners, such as vegetarian fajitas with grilled marinated vegetables. Open daily 5pm-midnight. Le Royal Meridien Beach Resort & Spa, Dubai Marina, www.maya-dubai.com (04 316 5550).
Pachanga The name alone makes you want to cha-cha your way down to the Hilton JBR, so it’s only fitting that a massive dancefloor, flanked by Roman-esque pillars, splits the dining room of this offbeat Latin American gem. Onlookers can watch live entertainment until things pick up later in the evening. The Argentinean cheese-filled empanadas (Latin America’s answer to the pasty) are nice and gooey on the inside, with a crunchy outside, plus they’re a decent size. There’s also salmon ceviche with roasted apples and duck and date terrine. Carnivores can tuck into a range of steaks, including a 500g prime rib steak, which is accompanied with a variety of condiments, including Chimichurri sauce. There aren’t a whole lot of options for vegetarians, but sides such as creamy mashed potato, deep-fried tapioca and sautéed mushrooms should tide you over before tucking into the South American bread pudding. Open daily 6.30pm-11pm. Hilton Dubai Jumeirah Resort, The Walk, JBR (04 318 2530).
Taqado Mexican Kitchen Tucked away in the lower ground food court in Mall of the Emirates, this smart Mexican outlet puts most fast food venues to shame. Their motto is fresh, flavourful, authentic Mexi-Cal food and they have a simple three-step system for ordering meals at the counter (choose your meal, filling and toppings). Opt for a tightly-packed chicken burrito with flavoured rice, beans and salsa, sour cream and cheese or go for the fajitas, tacos and chili con carne. Fillings include chicken, marinated beef (all cuts are from New Zealand) or chunky avocado guacamole for vegetarians. Top off your feast with a choice of black or pinto beans, a selection of fresh salsas, lime and coriander rice or a red Spanish variety. The dishes are very filling, so it’s unlikely you’ll be disappointed they only offer one option for dessert – churros, which are Mexican donuts served with cinnamon and a pot of hot chocolate. Open Sun-Wed 9am-midnight, Thu 9am-1am. Mall of the Emirates, Al Barsha, www.taqado.com (04 385 1171). Other locations: DIFC (04 351 5210).
Toro Toro A sleek, slender and dimly lit venue in the second tower of Grosvenor House, this Latin American restaurant occupies the lower floor of the two-tier Toro Toro and is a hotspot for small plate delights. Tapas servings are sizeable in comparison to other venues in the city and four or five dishes should be more than enough to fill a hungry belly. Tapas options come in the form of cold and hot dishes, and the zesty ceviche huachinango – a chunky medley of raw pink snapper, leche de tigre sauce, avocado, onion and coriander – is an ample way to kick-start the meal. Follow that with a fresh heirloom tomato and watermelon salad, which exceeds expectations. Next move onto hot dishes, such as the deep-fried salt cod croquettes, with a gooey centre, the zucchini-filled empana pastry, or rich and saucy beef short ribs. Round things off with the Toro Toro tres leches featuring genoise cake, dulche de leche and coconut sorbet. Open Sat-Wed 8pm-2am; Thu 8pm-3am; Fri 12.30pm-4pm, 8pm-3am. Grosvenor House Dubai, Dubai Marina, www.torotoro-dubai.com (04 399 8888).