Eating out needn’t hurt your wallet. Try these ten top spots from the Time Out Dubai Restaurant Awards’ Best Budget category this summer
Time Out Dubai staff
Eating out needn’t hurt your wallet. Try these ten top spots from the Time Out Dubai Restaurant Awards’ Best Budget category this summer.
Aappa Kadai Head here for the bargain – and downright brilliant – chicken biryani. Also try the special vegetarian meal (thali), served on a banana leaf, which is authentic, flavoursome and filling. This no-frills canteen, which has branches across the city, has top dishes that keeps us coming back time and again. And at least with the more than affordable menu, it means we’re not damaging our wallet every time we do. Tuck into a selection of combo meals for under Dhs17, just pick your meat, fish or veg curry served with two appams and raita. Delicious. Dhs1-25. Unlicensed. Open daily 10am-3.30pm, 6.30pm-midnight. Various locations including Discovery Gardens (04 334 8030).
Al Mallah Fancy a bit of old-school Dubai streetside dining? Grab a table on the pavement near Satwa’s textiles and tailoring hub then go to town on the Middle Eastern menu (sandwiches start from just Dhs9, so you can dine like a king on a limited budget). For those eating on the run, opt for a chicken or lamb shawarma, so succulent and moreish it’s difficult to settle for just one. Otherwise, the mixed grill (from Dhs44) is a great place to start – a vast plate of grilled meats, including kofta, lamb and chicken, complete with fries, herby-tomato flatbread and grilled onion. Dhs8-65. Unlicensed. Open Sat-Thu 6am-4am, Fri noon-4am. 2nd December Street, Satwa (04 398 4962).
Ayubowan One of the first things you’ll notice about this Sri Lankan eatery, Time Out Dubai’s Best Budget Restaurant 2018, is the smell. Fragrant, appetite-spiking aromas of curry and fresh spices greet you as soon as you walk through the big wooden doors. The restaurant is small, with only a handful of tables, and service is as personable as you’d expect for an eatery that feels almost like someone’s home. Staff are also quick to offer recommendations and explain some of the more unfamiliar dishes on the menu, which has mains priced at as little as Dhs20. The (almost alarmingly bright yellow) potato mustard curry is an absolute highlight, spicy yet sweet, with a creamy coconut base and a kick of mustard at the end. Paired with a simple side of steamed rice, it’s sublime. For the meat eaters we recommend the traditional Sri Lankan string hoppers with beef curry. A whopping 15 hoppers are served with a side of fresh, spicy beef curry. At this point, we insist you add coconut paste to the meal. It’s brilliant without, but utterly excellent with. Dhs20-50. Unlicensed. Open daily 10am-11pm. Lake Point Tower, Cluster N, JLT (04 452 1007).
Bu Qatair For casual beachside fare, you can’t get much better than Dubai institution Bu Qtair. Set just off Jumeirah Beach Road, it’s not fine dining but we neither expect nor want it to be. There’s no menu, either. What you’ll get is the catch of the day, or prawns, in a curry sauce. Simple, fresh and delicious. Service is friendly and fast too. There are no fancy touches but the food is so tasty you won’t notice. Whether you’re a visitor or a long-term Dubai dweller, this is one budget restaurant you shouldn’t miss. Dhs15-100. Unlicensed. Open daily 1.30am-11.30pm. Umm Suqeim Fishing Harbour, off Jumeirah Beach Road (055 705 2130).
Café Isan Last year’s Best Budget winner remains a top down-to-earth spot with a menu inspired by the flavours and culture of north eastern Thailand. The food in the region is lighter than you’ll usually find in more typical Thai restaurants. Curries and soups are clear, rather than coconut-based, and it is all a touch more spicy. Spring rolls have plenty of vegetables and come with a lovely chilli sauce, crispy sun-dried beef has a great chew and comes with an excellent spicy sauce, while juicy stir-fried prawns with green beans, red onion and garlic soy sauce are excellent, as is the sticky rice. The prices are keen, the service superb, and the food delicious. Dhs15-50. Unlicensed. Open daily noon-11pm. Waterfront Cluster M, JLT(04 513 5289).
Calicut Paragon Having to queue to get into a restaurant is surely a good sign, especially when it is in the heart of Dubai’s “curry corridor” of Satwa, Karama and Bur Dubai. Paragon is popular, and for good reason. The Keralan food is delicious and it is a brilliant choice for budget eats, with most main courses coming in at around Dhs25. The 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 and it is delicious. Mop it up with appams (pancakes made from fermented rice and coconut milk). Portions are plentiful and service is excellent. Dhs15-50. Open daily 7am-12.30am. 16th Street, Karama (04 335 8700).
Hanoi Haturally As close as you’ll get to Vietnam anywhere in the city – except perhaps Vietnamese Foodies, also in JLT – Highly Commended eatery Hanoi Naturally is as authentic as they come. From the no-frills cafeteria-style interiors to the eye-poppingly strong Vietnamese coffee, this is a transporting dining experience at a fraction of the cost of a flight to the Far East. Absolutely unmissable is a bowl of pho (pronounced “fuh”) – whether chicken, beef or vegetable, slurping up this fragrant, brothy noodle soup is one of the best comfort food experiences in town. And if that doesn’t bowl you over then other classics of bun noodle dishes and crunchy salads packed with julienned papaya, carrots and punchy fish sauce will. Ultimately, Hanoi Naturally doesn’t do anything fancy with its food, nor does it try to elevate the cuisine into something else. And that’s what makes it the affordable, reliable favourite it is. Dhs20-55. Open daily noon-10pm. Gold Crest Executive Building, Cluster C, JLT (04 431 3099).
Raju Omlet There’s often a wait for seats at this tiny little café which is decorated in an eclectic variety of humorous egg-themed signs, actual eggs painted with funny faces and hipster touches like black and white photos of Mumbai and vintage tea tins. As you’d guess, it serves eggs done every which way and flavoured with all sorts of Indian spices and ingredients from garlic, ginger, masala and chilli to coconut. There are plenty of curries like paneer tikka masala and Patiala chicken on the menu, too – usually with eggs thrown in – but it’s the breakfast dishes that you really want to visit for. It’s cheap as chips so you can order several different dishes to try and the bill still won’t set you back more than Dhs100. Everything on the menu is worth trying, though the scrambled egg dishes and egg sandwiches served on extra-soft bread buns are particularly standout. There’s also a newer second branch in JLT, so if you’re up that end of town you needn’t miss out on the spicy, egg-based dishes. Dhs7-20. Unlicensed. Open daily 8am-11.30pm. Near Noor Islamic Metro Station, Sheikh Zayed Road, Al Quoz (04 388 3355).
Ravi Restaurant There’s nothing grand about Ravi, and you won’t find fine dining here, but what you will find 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. That approach is fine with us. We can tell you 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. Biryanis are also plentiful and popular. It’s hard not to love Ravi, a restaurant worth seeking out, as many Dubai residents will tell you. Dhs4-45. Unlicensed. Open 24 hours. Satwa Road (04 331 5353).
The Meating Room If you’re planning on heading to this Highly Commended, quirky grill house in Karama, make a reservation. The dining room is tiny and it gets very busy with groups of friends and families. As the name would suggest, it’s not ideal for vegetarians, but there are a few bites that are suitable. Think corn on the cob with lime, chilli powder and cheese, paneer rumali rolls, naanzas (pizza-style naan) and “shiny disco fries” topped with cheese, beans and peppers. The menu is all over the place, but it’s the Indian dishes that dominate – and they’re the ones we recommend most. Chicken tikka is an absolute standout, cooked perfectly in the tandoor, spicy and served with a cooling yoghurt and mint raita. Another Indian stalwart, dhal makhani, will hit home, too. Just why there are so many dishes on the menu remains to be seen, but stick to the grilled meat and Indian dishes and you’ll love it. Dhs20-35. Unlicensed. Open Sat-Wed 12.30pm-11pm, Thu-Fri 12.30pm-midnight. Street 41, Al Wasl Hub, Karama (04 453 5200).