What do we mean when we say ‘dining districts’? We’re talking about those pedestrian-friendly, restaurant-centric parts of town that you merely need to park up at to discover a whole range of exciting eateries all conveniently nestled together. And Dubai has an absolute abundance of them. This may be a city that has no real centre, but from Old Dubai to New, almost every major neighbourhood has its own dining district, and in a place that enjoys such a love affair with great food, these areas are typically the heart of activity in each community.
Spread out across the city, there’s heaps of variety in terms of both budget and the type of cuisine on offer. Fancy Japanese desserts? Citywalk has got you covered. Five-star dining overlooking world-famous landmarks? Set your sights on Souk Al Bahar. Build your own burger by the beach? JBR’s your place.
To help you navigate the options ahead of your next breakfast, lunch or dinner on the town, we’ve assembled a guide to the city’s biggest and best dining destinations, with tips on when it’s best to visit, what you can expect to spend and which outlets you absolutely must try. Heck, we’ll even show you where to get frogs legs in Garhoud.
Al Wasl Square Sitting at the busy Safa Park junction on Al Wasl Road, opposite Choithrams and Dubai’s beloved Al Reef Lebanese Bakery, this stylish complex features a series of shops and cafés at ground level, with expensive apartments above. Perfect for post-park refreshments, find wallet-friendly options such as Canadian coffee and doughnut house Tim Hortons alongside more loftily priced yummy mummy hangouts like Pantry Café.
Best for: Post-park snacks and refreshments. The area is also one of the few that is quieter on weekends than during the week.
Bad for: Quickly nipping in and out on weekdays – the junction is notoriously busy so be prepared to spend some time sitting at traffic lights, unless you visit on a Friday or Saturday. What can I expect to spend? Roughly between Dhs20 and Dhs120, depending on your choice of café.
Five to try: 1 Chez Sushi Head here for a menu of classic Japanese sushi and bento, plus the opportunity to create your own. Head down Sunday to Thursday noon-3pm to enjoy bento box happy hour (Dhs15 off your order), while Tuesdays 6pm-10pm is ladies’ night, with buy one, get one free on custom rolls. (800 78744).
2 Pantry Café While in the past we’ve found the service to be slow and disinterested, and the menu lacking value for money, this corner venue closed during Ramadan for renovation and a revamp of the menu, throwing open the doors again at Eid. Could things now be improved? Only a fresh visit will tell. (04 388 3868).
3 Smiling BKK This Thai seafood restaurant is an offshoot (albeit larger one) of the popular Thai eatery hidden away in Al Safa. Summon your waiter with the crackling of a fake machine gun, and place your order for a feast of authentic Asian flavours, from sweat-provoking tom yum soup to hearty bowls of pad Thai and beyond. (04 388 4411).
4 BookMunch This family-friendly café combines a love of food and words, with books sold and a vibrant menu served. Tuck into salads and sandwiches, all-day breakfasts and hearty burgers while browsing everything from novels to cookbooks, self-help to kids’ titles. (04 388 4006).
5 Yamanote Atelier Sample European bread, pastries, cakes, croissants and more – all made in-house with a distinct Japanese touch. We love the character Totoro bun, a sweet dough filled with chocolate custard cream, while the yakisoba bun (which, as the name suggests, is a roll filled with savoury noodles and ginger) is the ultimate late-night treat. Stock up here to be the talk of any at-home afternoon tea or baby shower. (04 388 1811).
Century Village, Garhoud One of Dubai’s original dining districts, this modest courtyard nestled up against the side of the Dubai Tennis Stadium offers a variety of casual dining spots – from extremely low-key to more aspirational outlets. Alongside chains such as Arabic eatery Mazaj, you’ll also find a couple of one-offs to try here. If Dubai can sometimes make you feel as though you’re drowning in a sea of glamour, this cute, no-frills ’hood offers unpretentious options that will make you feel welcome and relaxed.
Best for: Laid-back licensed dining, shisha and a slice of Dubai’s more rustic side.
Bad for: Posh nosh and views of major landmarks.
What can I expect to spend? From Dhs100-300 a head, for a good solid meal.
Five to try: 1 Masala Craft Choose this charming spot if you’re in the mood for a spot of Indian cuisine. As well as the classics, such as tandoori chicken and Goan fish curry, there are a few more unusual dishes on the menu, including the chicken tikka masala quesadillas. (04 282 9626).
2 Soho Bar & Grill This New York-inspired steakhouse is Century Village’s newest outlet, and has injected a trendy, youthful vibe to the area. Try any of the steaks or the enormous, juicy burgers and you won’t be disappointed, though the dishes don’t come cheap. (04 286 8520).
3 Sarband Like Iranian food? Try this cosy restaurant, which serves up a huge range of classic kebabs over rice, plus lamb and fish stews, rice dishes, salads and soups. While the starters are pretty good value, the mains are a little on the pricey side for this type of cuisine and location, but the portions tend to be large enough that you won’t feel short-changed. (04 283 3891).
4 The Irish Village Easily the area’s best-known hangout, The Irish Village, just around the cobbled corner, isn’t just popular for its setting and laid-back atmosphere – the pub grub is more than just decent, too. Try traditional dishes from the Emerald Isle, such as stews, roast dinners and pies, plus enormous sandwiches, salads and its famously filling breakfast. (04 282 4750).
5 St Tropez As implied by the name, this is a French restaurant, serving up some surprisingly authentic classics – right down to dishes of snails and frogs legs. If you’re hankering for a steak, this is a surprisingly affordable place to find one, particularly considering there’s the option wash it all down with a glass or two of French grape. (04 286 0929).
Citywalk, Jumeirah 1 One of Dubai’s newest dining hubs, and an area that is likely to really come into its own once the city begins to cool down again, Citywalk sits at the junction of Al Wasl Road and Al Safa Street. The area has a classy vibe, and as well as a variety of smart restaurants and not-too-shabby chains, you will also find a range of small shops and boutiques selling products ranging from posh Japanese biscuits to gymwear, South American garments to extravagant home furnishings.
Best for: A more relaxed outing, sans road-rage.
Bad for: Dining with a view. Sitting between two perpendicular main roads in the heart of a busy neighbourhood, there’s no beach or waterways to enjoy.
What can I expect to spend? Dhs50-100 per head in one of the cafés, Dhs100-200 in one of the swankier restaurants.
Five to try: 1 Edo There’s no better time than summer to get addicted to this Japanese café’s range of mochi – sweet, sticky Asian rice sweets filled with cooling ice cream or silky cream. There are more than 20 to choose from, including classics such as green tea and red bean, along with peach, pistachio, strawberry cheesecake and – our favourite – caramel pudding. Cream mochi start from Dhs12, and ice cream from Dhs15. If mochi’s not your bag, you can also try shaved ice desserts, bon buns, crêpes and a huge range of teas. (055 730 1435).
2 Mo’s A haven of American fast food favourites – but don’t be fooled into expecting casual dining standards. On our last visit, we were bowled over by the burgers – and everything from the buns right down to the pickles tasted freshly made. Worth blowing your budget. (04 344 3305).
3 Rice Creamery Like rice pudding or simply potty about desserts? Chances are you’ll love what this little outlet has to offer. Serving more than 20 different varieties of pudding, from ‘crazy about coconut’ to ‘I love kunafah’ via ‘more s’more’, once you’ve chosen your main flavour you get to sprinkle it in toppings ranging from pretzels to dates to brownie bites. Starting from Dhs18, it’s not bad value either. (04 344 4553).
4 Sapori di BiCE Brought to the scene by the same brains behind two more established BiCE outlets in the city, Sapori offers a more casual, family dining experience than BiCE at the Hilton Dubai Jumeirah Resort in JBR and BiCE Mare in Souk Al Bahar. Expect fresh pastas and pizzas, salads and classic Italian mains. The chic eatery also serves breakfast and afternoon tea. (04 344 2550).
5 Y by Yabani More Japanese eats – this time imported from Lebanon. This place already has fans from its native land (or should that be lands?), with an epic menu featuring everything from classic sashimi to contemporary and Arabic riffs on the rolls. (04 344 3371).
JLT As well as becoming one of New Dubai’s most desirable places the live over the past couple of years, Jumeirah Lakes Towers has seen its dining scene blossom. While not technically a dining district in the same sense as our others, the sheer number, variety and quality of eateries dominating the neighbourhood meant we couldn’t possibly ignore its presence.
Best for: Affordable dining and a leisurely lakeside stroll (when the weather cools down).
Bad for: Parking. Like much of Dubai, JLT suffers from a severe lack of parking spaces, so get the Metro (two stations service the area) or a taxi if you can.
What can I expect to spend? Anything from Dhs20 for a hearty thali to Dhs120 a head for an impressive two-course lunch.
Five to try: 1 Fraiche Café & Bistro With its stylish décor and a menu that will have you salivating from the first line, this Canadian pit stop (yes, they do poutine) deserves your custom at least once. Thanks to an ever-changing menu, expect to find yourself thoroughly spoilt for choice every time. There’s an all-you-can-eat-and-drink breakfast (Dhs65, Fri-Sat 9am-4pm) that’s well worth trying if you’re struggling to choose. (04 369 7821).
2 Hanoi There is simply no better place to try authentic Vietnamese cuisine in Dubai. This low-key café whips up well-known staples such as pho (a brothy noodle soup pronounced ‘fuh’) and summer rolls plus lesser-known yet equally tasty dishes including crispy fried whole fish with tamarind and lemongrass stewed beef served with a French baguette. Goldcrest Executive, Cluster C (04 431 3099).
3 Memsaab The menu offers vegetarian and tandoor clay oven specials, with creative-sounding dishes such as mango and green cardamom-flavoured crème brûlée. J2 Tower, Cluster J (04 442 9816).
4 Nais Italian Kitchen In a simple but sleek space, this Piedmontese venue serves an excellent menu of northern Italian cooking. Try the freshly made pasta dishes. HDS Tower, Cluster F (04 452 9991).
5 Nofara Café Using traditional Arabic dishes as an inspiration springboard, this chic eatery cooks up stacks of creative dishes as well as a must-try breakfast shakshouka (eggs baked with a tomato-based sauce). There’s also a separate area for those who like to linger over a coffee with shisha. Cluster Y (04 432 2023).
Jumeirah Fishing Harbour This new development along the waterfront features two components – the main harbour stretch and an indoor Al Souq complex, both of which house a series of recent and upcoming food openings. Still quiet and relatively undiscovered, head down now to be among the first to discover this picturesque new community.
Best for: Independent and boutique eateries.
Bad for: Variety – there are only a handful of eateries here, but each of them is worth visiting.
What can I expect to spend? Approximately Dhs100-200 per head.
Five to try: 1 Bait Misk A Lebanese restaurant with cosy, rustic interiors serving classic mezze and snacks, plus a breakfast menu. There’s also a brick oven firing out fresh Arabic bread and manakish. Al Souq (04 343 7332).
2 Boteko Brasil The second branch of the Brazilian café (the other is inside Dubai Ladies Club, so not accessible to gents). Try gnocchi made with chickpeas, sun-dried beef and the new casual Friday brunch, served 11am-3pm. Along the harbour (04 385 6668).
3 Charm A quaint Thai eatery with arguably the best views in the entire area, thanks to its location at the very end of the jetty. Once the weather cools, it will be a great place for an al fresco meal, but until then, don’t hesitate to visit for affordable, decent Thai eats. (04 344 8895).
4 Mint Leaf Not to be confused with the also recently opened DIFC-based Mint Leaf of London, this restaurant serves up Indian fare in light, airy and decidedly elegant surroundings. Try dishes from all over the country here. (no number).
5 Omnia Gourmet A new restaurant by chef Silvena Rowe, the vibe here is healthy café-deli, with farm-fresh, locally grown ingredients given centre stage. The venue itself has been designed with a ‘secret garden’ feel in mind. (04 343 7181).
Marina Walk, Dubai Marina Lining the edge of the waterway, this wide path running the full length of the Marina on either side is full of small restaurants and cafés, with their number swelling gradually throughout the year. If you don’t mind a walk to the busier parts of the promenade, Dubai Marina Mall can be the easiest place to park (and cheapest, as unlike other spots it’s free). All outlets (with the exception of those in new tower Pier 7) are unlicensed, but it’s hard to find a place that doesn’t offer great views of the neighbourhood.
Best for: Family friendly waterside dining.
Bad for: Having the option of licensed or non-licensed venues.
What can I expect to spend? Dhs50-200 a head, depending on whether you’re grabbing a wrap at Zaatar W Zeit or having a two-course meal at The Rupee Room.
Five to try: 1 Pier 7 Though technically this building’s outlets aren’t on the actual walk, the building itself is, and adding to that the fantastic new openings inside, we couldn’t possibly leave it out. Head here to sample delicious Mediterranean, European and American-style cuisine at Fumé, Asian-inspired snacks at Cargo and soon, contemporary British fare at The Scene. Fumé (04 421 5669); Cargo (04 361 8129); The Scene, www.facebook.com/thescenedubai.
2 Bateel Café Head to this modern European-meets-Arabic café for delicious breakfasts and pastries, interesting salads and hearty mains. Be sure to save room for one of the indulgent desserts, specifically for those with a touch of heritage, such as the date and pistachio pie or the date dhibs millefeuille. Al Mesk Tower, near Johnny Rockets (04 368 4696).
3 Reem Al Bawadi A flamboyantly decorated Lebanese restaurant, famed for its fresh fruit juices and extensive selection of mezze. Try the malfoof (cabbage) salad, chicken livers and whole grilled sea bass, for something a little different. Opposites Spinneys (04 452 2525).
4 Bazerkan Treat yourself to a Middle Eastern breakfast or try some of our favourite baked goods in the area – the spinach pie in particular is deliciously tangy (and by no means worth feeling guilty about afterwards). With an absolutely enormous menu, expect to agonise over your decision – but don’t worry, it’s all good. Silverene Tower, near Marina Mall (04 442 0129).
5 Picolo Mondo Bay As well as a menu spanning every imaginable cuisine, this restaurant boasts some pretty quirky décor. It’s also hugely popular year-round, drawing crowds for shisha late into the evenings. Near Marina Tower (04 447 5449).
Madinat Jumeirah, Umm Suqeim Perhaps Dubai’s most recognisable dining district, this old Arabic souk-style development, which spans both the Mina A’Salam and Al Qasr hotels plus the central souk, houses a wealth of eateries to suit a range of budgets. From mid-shopping sweet treats at Cinnabon to high-end restaurants perfect for a celebration, Madinat’s variety and accessibility makes it an appealing choice for pretty much any occasion.
Best for: Most occasions – from lunch at a licensed pizzeria to post-work snacks to slap-up birthday dinners.
Bad for: New openings. With the exception of new Frioul Bistro de Luxe, there haven’t been many exciting new eateries here for some time, but work is currently in progress to expand the complex over the next couple of years.
What can I expect to spend? Anything from Dhs50 to Dhs400 per head, depending on whether you’re grabbing a sandwich at Dôme or splashing out at Chinese eatery Zheng He’s.
Five to try: 1 Segreto Easily one of the city’s most upmarket Italian restaurants, a meal here will set you back a fair wedge, but the ingredients and resulting dishes are top notch. This would be a great place for a romantic meal for two if there was a little more in the way of mood lighting. (04 366 6730).
2 The Meat Co A steak specialist serving cuts of Australian Angus, US and New Zealand A-grade, grass-fed beef, alongside a couple of cow-free mains of seafood and lamb. There’s a branch in Souk Al Bahar, but the Madinat’s is the original, arguably better laid-out and with a more relaxing waterside setting to enjoy. (04 368 6040).
3 Belgian Beer Café The third branch of the popular European restaurant and bar and without doubt our favourite. Set over two floors, and with large outdoor terraces upstairs and down, head here to gorge on meatballs, chips and mayo, steaming pots of moules and more, all while soaking up delightful views of the twinkling Madinat complex. (04 447 0227).
4 The Noodle House Perhaps the Madinat’s most popular casual dining spot, on busy weekend evenings you may find yourself lumbered with a wait for a table. Fortunately, the food is mostly worth hanging on for – try the creamy, tangy laksa, satisfying chicken lettuce wraps or stir-fried noodles with beef. For a laid-back dining, however, you may find the prices a little steep. (04 366 6730).
5 Pai Thai A charming Thai restaurant, partially sitting over a section of the Madinat’s waterways, and reachable either by abra from the main complex or through the Al Qasr hotel’s main entrance. While the outdoor terrace is its greatest draw, you can still enjoy inside seating in the summer, plus live traditional Thai music and dancing. (04 366 6730).
Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Boulevard Over the past 12 months, this street circling the Burj Khalifa, Souk Al Bahar and Dubai Mall has become a dining destination in its own right. A huge range of culinary bases are covered here – and none too shabbily. Try everything from Armenian to French, seafood to American diner fare. Take a stroll during the day, or head down at night when the pedestrian-friendly strip is beautifully lit up in fairy lights.
Best for: Casual dining in upscale surroundings, plus the occasional one-off restaurant.
Bad for: Walking around during the day in summer. There is no air-conditioned walkway connecting each outlet – the whole area is outdoors, so either you will need to choose a restaurant quickly or head down at night.
What can I expect to spend? Anywhere between Dhs50 for a casual coffee and cake to Dhs400 a head at one of the swankier, licensed venues.
Five to try: 1 La Serre Bistro & Boulangerie Overlooking the popular downtown boulevard, La Serre has become one of the hottest spots in the city. It’s a stunning venue, in the form of a two-tiered glass cube, with chandeliers tapering down the facade from the bistro housed on the upper level. Vida Downtown (04 428 6969).
2 Maison Bagatelle While French in concept, the bistro comes to Dubai from New York’s trendy Meat Packing District. The venue teams clean, cream interiors (think La Petite Maison goes café-casual) with a menu of elevated bistro dishes such as truffle mac and cheese and croque madame. (04 420 3442).
3 Mayrig A quirky, home-style Armenian restaurant, designed to look like the owners’ memories of their grandmother’s house in Lebanon. The menu reflects a cooking style specific to the Mediterranean Armenian diaspora – try the lentil salad, pandjarov sarma and the fishnah kebab. (04 453 9945).
4 Steaky Here the menu is just as ‘steaky’ as you might expect but within a casual and affordable environment. The American-style selection of burgers and steaks also offers items such as Philadelphia steak sandwich, banana split, as well as an all-you-can-eat soup and salad buffet for Dhs19 if you choose it as a starter to your main course, or Dhs39 on its own. (04 454 8998).
5 Toko Australia’s answer to Japanese dining launched in Dubai earlier this year, with stylish interiors and an outdoor terrace, plus a decidedly zen vibe. Popular with a smart, stylish crowd, try new style sashimi alongside classic robata grill dishes, though expect exciting fusion touches throughout the menu. (04 442 8383).
Souk Al Bahar, Downtown Dubai Hugely popular among tourists and Dubai-dwellers alike, this complex boasts some of the best places to get a great meal with uninterrupted views of The Dubai Fountain. Throngs of people, smartphones held aloft, line the edges of the water to record a segment of the performance (which takes place every 30 minutes in the evenings), but you won’t have to elbow your way through the crowds to find your table, or stand on a chair to see the action, as the restaurants are on a slightly higher level to the footpath. Many of the outlets in the complex are licensed, and aimed more at the evening crowd than daytime diners. That said, most are open during the day, and visiting at lunchtime (particularly with young kids) can be far less hectic.
Best for: Views of some of the city’s most impressive landmarks: The Dubai Fountain and Burj Khalifa.
Bad for: Budget dining.
What can I expect to spend? If you want to overlook the water, expect to spend just over Dhs100-300 per head, depending on beverage consumption.
Five to try: 1 Sake No Hana An impressive international Japanese restaurant-bar-lounge from the man behind Hakkasan and Wagamama and latterly Crystal Group. Try top notch and creative maki (there’s a fish and chips roll), delicious chef’s platters and impressive East-meets-West desserts. (04 432 7808).
2 Mango Tree During cooler months, this Thai restaurant’s terrace is among the best to sit out on for an up-close experience and light soaking from The Dubai Fountain. A meal here is by no means cheap, with starters alone priced upwards of Dhs50, but there’s great variety on offer from the remarkably long menu. (04 426 7313).
3 Rivington Grill Head here for posh British dining and an ever-changing menu of daily specials. Since opening in Dubai, Rivington has become a go-to for expats missing their beef Wellington and fish and chips, and improving the overseas reputation of British cuisine among residents of every other nationality. The fact this outlet has a fantastic view of the fountain adds to its appeal. (04 423 0903).
4 Tolosa Bodega One of Souk Al Bahar’s newest restaurants, tucked away in a corner, this eatery takes its name from the southern French city of Toulouse, drawing inspiration from the area’s French-meets-Spanish cuisine. Try escargot (snails) and octopus, smoked duck breast and home-made pate among others. (04 453 9220).
5 CLAW BBQ A notoriously busy seafood spot with no views to speak of but a bustling vibe nonetheless. Chow down on buckets full of crab and oversized mixed drinks, though fans of the rodeo bull will be saddened to learn that it has been removed from the restaurant due to complaints from neighbours. (04 432 2300).
The Walk and The Beach, JBR Congested the area may be at times, there’s a reason why you’ll find yourself sitting in an epic traffic jam to get here for an evening meal. Both JBR’s The Walk and new development The Beach are heaving with eateries, from one-off burger bars to gourmet restaurants, casual dining chains to fresh fruit and juice kiosks. Whether you’re in the mood for Italian or Japanese, Indian or Greek, Turkish or Canadian cuisine, expect to be completely and utterly spoilt for choice at this beachside location.
Best for: Variety and budget accommodating eats.
Bad for: Traffic. Parking can also be quite pricey.
What can I expect to spend? Dhs50-200 a head, or slightly more at a licensed venue.
Five to try: 1 The Counter An LA import specialising in burgers. In true carb-conscious Californian style, you can choose not only to assemble your own sandwich from a huge range of fillings and toppings, but also scrap the bun altogether in favour of a salad bowl. The Beach (052 640 8814).
2 Eat Greek Discover New Dubai’s first all-Greek restaurant, serving everything from fresh and healthy salads to more sinful national favourites such as fried calamari, plus souvlaki, fried sardines, grilled octopus and even a moussaka burger. The Beach (04 430 5249).
3 Kosebasi Go Turkish at this relatively established eatery, an import straight out of Istanbul. Sample salads, grilled meats, Turkish pizzas from the wood-fired oven or head down in the morning to not only beat the traffic, but indulge in one of the city’s most sinfully delicious breakfasts. The Walk (04 439 3788).
4 Rosso An enormously popular, licensed Italian restaurant and bar inside The Walk’s Amwaj Rotana hotel, Rosso may not strictly be on ground level, but we’re including it anyway for the fabulous food, daily drinks deals and relaxed, jovial atmosphere every night. Amwaj Rotana, The Walk (04 428 2000).
5 Peacock Head to the oldest hotel in JBR to chow down on perfect Peking duck, salt and pepper squid and dangerously moreish dim sum. Sheraton Jumeirah Beach Resort, The Walk (04 399 5533).
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Jack Aug 06, 2014 05:44 pm
I am a resident of JLT. In my opinion all the five restaurant mentioned are extremely expensive.
There are much more better options available like Fussion in cluster G for non veg ..
Since you mentioned Thalis for that Spice Kraft JLT in cluster I is a classic food joint to visit. They are pure veg as well..
Cluster I is the biggest food hub of JLT now with good parking available..
Ample of choices..
Singaporian : Merlion King, Thai : Little bankok,, Japanese : Hako Sushi are few more options available in cluster I.....