Betawi Café This budget Indonesian eatery is based on a sleepy Karama back street, Betawi Café serves affordable, wholesome and delicious food that bursts with flavours and spices, a few bites of classics like gado gado, nasi padang or ketoprak and you’ll feel transported from said Karama sidestreet to a rainforest bamboo hut, accessed only by a dirt track. This relaxed restaurant is basic but bright and clean, with nice touches like a magazine rack, and scented candles in the toilets. This truly is a hidden gem. Open Sat-Wed noon-11pm, Fri 2pm-11pm. Mabrooka 1 Building, behind Park Regis Kris Kin, Karama (04 279 0302).
Bu Qtair This casual seafood café is a popular entry in many Dubai residents’ little black book. Located in a residential area along Jumeirah Beach Road, you’ll find queues most evening at this unassuming spot, with punters happily waiting for a plastic table and chair to become available. There are no reservations here, and you can only order from the fish they’ve caught that day, or prawns. It’s a simple meal, but absolutely delicious thanks to the freshness and quality of the fish. There’s no entertainment or live fish tanks here, it’s all about a wallet-friendly, finger-licking seafood experience. Cash only. Open daily 10.30am-3pm, 6.30pm-11.30pm. Road 4d, near Burj Al Arab, Umm Suqeim (055 705 2130).
Calicut Paragon Paragon is popular, and for good reason. The Keralan food menu is varied, but the seafood is a speciality. Crab Thusar is a thick, spicy sauce with a full crab broken up inside, it isn’t dainty but it is delicious. Mop it up with appams, pancakes made from fermented rice and coconut milk. The Pollichathu is also recommended, a fish in a masala rub and cooked in a banana leaf. Portions are plentiful and service is excellent. This is food to delve into and enjoy, leave any inhibitions at the door and take a trip to Southern India. Open daily 7am-1.30am. Opposite Lulu Centre, Karama, www.paragonrestaurant.net (04 335 8700). Other location: Near NMC Hospital, Al Nahda (04 298 8858).
Klayya Bakery and Sweets Set in the Al Barsha Mall, one of the quieter shopping centres in Dubai, is this gem of a cafe. It is a small, but perfectly formed, space, brightened up with colourful patterned cushions and seats, giving it a quirky look. It’s definitely worth coming here for breakfast. Klayya is one of the best places in the city to try Emirati food. The breakfast dishes all come with karak tea – a sweet, creamy and spiced drink – and wonderful traditional bread. The chebab (a warm saffron-infused pancake) is perhaps the pick of the bunch. Open daily 8.30am-10pm. Al Barsha Mall, Al Barsha 3 (04 325 5335).
Rangoli Once inside this basic canteen you’ll have a thali tray placed in front of you and waiters will come around to dish out your food. Top ups of the tasty vegetarian dishes, including yellow dahl, chickpea curry and potato curry keep coming, along with chapatis and popadoms. This is basic vegetarian Indian food served without fuss or pretentions. Certainly a place to try at least once. Cash only. Open daily 8.30am-11.30pm. Cosmos Lane, Meena Bazaar, Bur Dubai (04 351 5873). Other location: Near Lamcy Plaza, Oud Metha (04 357 6710).
Ravi Restaurant What you will find here is excellent, extremely affordable Pakistani food. It’s very basic (plastic tablecloths, polystyrene cups) but the focus is on the cooking. There’s a menu, but staff will tell you what is available when you’re there and recommend what to have. The dahl fry is amazing – gently spiced lentils in a silky yellow sauce – as is the mutton peshwari (spicy and a little sweet, with tender meat, full of flavour). Naans, crispy on the outside and soft in the middle, are the perfect way to make sure you get every drop of the delicious sauce. It’s hard not to love Ravi, a restaurant worth seeking out, and returning to. Open daily 5am-2am. Satwa Road, Satwa, (04 331 5353). Other location: Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Street, Al Karama (04 352 8090).
Venus You’ll get a warm welcome at Venus, a small café in Karama serving vegetarian food. The menu is long with some dishes that you won’t find anywhere else, but the friendly staff will make suggestions. If you’re indecisive, go for the thali – it’s about as good here as anywhere in Dubai, and you’ll get plenty of change from Dhs50. As well as the dahl and three vegetable curries, you’ll get as much rice as you can manage and perhaps the best poori in the city. Mounds of them. The food here is fresh, tasty and cheap, and the service is everything you’d want from a café-type restaurant. Open daily 7am-midnight. Opposite Lulu Hypermarket and Karama Park, Karama, (04 335 2113).
Yalla Momos A ‘momo’ is the Himalayan answer to the dumpling, popular in Nepal and Tibet. YallaMomos in Karamawas Dubai’s first eatery dedicated to serving this little Himalayan street food snack, with an additional branch now in International City. Expect momos delivered to the table freshly cooked, still too hot to devour and perfectly twisted and formed in dough casings that are clearly freshly prepared in house. After eating here, YallaMomos’ neighbourhood popularity is pretty self-explanatory. The food is excellent, cheap, moreish and even unique in Dubai. A must-try. Open daily noon-midnight. Behind Park Regis Hotel, Karama (04 385 2233). Other location: International City (04 276 5772).
Zaroob, Sheikh Zayed Road You’d be forgiven for thinking you’ve walked into a Japanese eatery given the decor at this Sheikh Zayed Road eatery. Graffiti is sprayed on corrugated iron adorning the walls and manga-style cartoon characters decorate the ceiling. Thanks to the delectable dishes on offer for astoundingly low prices, this cool comic book-style Lebanese street food restaurant is perennially packed with all kinds of patrons, from businessmen and women in suits to expats and students from around the world. Zaroob offers outstanding, fresh and juicy shawarmas for a nominal Dhs10 as well as other light bites and sandwiches. Zaroob is well worth a visit and staff are friendly and keep their cool despite the vast numbers already dining, milling around both inside and out waiting for and to be seated and waiting for takeaway. But the good service, great prices and undoubtedly delicious food makes all the waiting worth it. Open 24 hours. Jumeirah Tower, Sheikh Zayed Road, www.zaroob.com (04 327 6060).
Taqado Mexican Kitchen This funky restaurant and takeaway is a staple on the city’s food scene. You’ll find stalls at concerts and at pop-up food markets, and the quality of the dishes never wavers. For breakfast, the food on offer is hearty stuff, with a good amount of spice. Organic ingredients from Ripe have been introduced to the recipes, making it a little more healthy. The breakfast burrito with chilli con carne is stuffed with tasty mince, fresh tomatoes and scrambled eggs. There’s a lot of flavour going on, so it’s hard to say the Ripe ingredients make a huge difference to the taste, but it’s good to know they’re there. The huevos rancheros is another favourite of ours – chilli on a base of small tortillas topped with two over-easy eggs and spicy salsa. There’s nothing fancy about the food, but it never fails to hit the spot. Served daily 8am-11am. Mall of the Emirates, Al Barsha, www.taqado.com (04 385 1171). Other location: Marble Walk, Gate Building 5, DIFC (04 351 5210).