Dubai restaurants recommended by locals - hidden gems
Time Out Dubai teams up with Dubai Food Festival 2016 to celebrate Dubai restaurants recommended by locals - these hidden gems are some of the best in town
As part of the Dubai Food Festival 2016, organisers reached out to the food fans across the emirate to discover your favourite spots away from the shiny lights and tourist traps. These are the unsung heroes of the best restaurant scene in the world, proving you don't need hostesses, in-house entertainment and a drinks list too heavy to pick up, just to be a hit.
From local fare to seafood on demand, the list has plenty for every kind of tastebuds, and for every part of town, because hidden gems doesn't just mean off the beaten track. So next time your out and about, why not take a peek down that unassuming side street, you never know what you might find.
Here's what else you will find at Dubai Food Festival 2016
Beach Canteen - Kite Beach pop-up returns as the heartbeat of the whole festival
Eat The World DXB - 15 of London's best food trucks set up for the weekend in Burj Park
Located on Al Mina Road, just a stone’s throw from 2nd December Street (formerly Al Dhiyafah), Mannaland is one of the city’s more affordable real Korean restaurants. There’s value in the free kimchi served up once you’ve taken your seat in the small, but clean and light restaurant. The food is fantastically authentic, and the yachae bulgogi (marinated beef with mixed vegetables) is a particularly moreish dish, with thin tender strips and bags of flavour, bulked up with a side of steamed rice.
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 evenings 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 prawns or the fish they’ve caught that day. And whatever you order, it’ll be marinated in a mildly-spicy seasoning before being fried and served with rice or paratha and curry sauce.
Formerly Special Ostadi, this restaurant has been in existence, and apparently run by the same family, since 1978, making it nearly as old as the union itself. And even after all these years, it’s still worthy of your attention. Once you’ve made your way past the queue of people waiting for takeaway or a table, you’ll be seated amid some charmingly ram-shackled and mish-mashed decor that looks like it has been accumulated, item by item, over the decades.
Certainly one of the more unique concepts in town, a bakery rooted in Japanese tradition. Cakes, pastries and breads are piled high, while on the a la carte menu, you can expect healthy twists on common cafe food. The owners admit to being influenced by popular European eateries, but maintain the authenticity of the East with things like curry doughnuts.
There is much about this restaurant that is charmingly befuddling. The venue takes over almost an entire block in Deira, and sandwiches a third, seemingly unrelated restaurant in the middle of its bulk. Outside there are several hawkers whose job it is to pull in customers. The menu boasted all the usual Middle Eastern suspects – houmous, shawarma, kebabs – and only a handful of items are clearly uniquely Syrian. But you will notice plenty about the taste.
Quaintly decorated and cosy, this place is a hit for seafood fans, not least because you choose your cut. Using fresh produce straight from the Gulf - and a little further afield - it is strongly linked to a Mediterranean history enjoyed by the owners. There's little frill in what they're offering, just straight up fresh fish cooked to perfection.
With a grand and impressive looking façade that stands out on Jumeirah Beach Road, Samad Al Iraqi is a key spot in Dubai for a mid-range Iraqi dining experience. The restaurant, which is set over two floors, has an attractive appearance that fuses that feeling of traditional ethnic restaurants, with the experience of being in a decadent domestic space. Service is polite and swift. From the menu, you’ll find a familiar Levantine mixture of mezze, kebabs and rice dishes, all amid a few Iraqi specials.
Originally a runaway success in the heart of Amman’s most lively area, this Jordanian modern-retro casual-dining spot is contemporary and cool. The twists they've put on traditional Arabic cuisine stands it out from the crowd, drawing on historical influences as well as more common modern cooking techniques.
Not sure what they serve here? The popular American chain specialises in, well, wings, obviously, serving them covered in one of 16 sauces and five types of seasoning. They also give you that US comfort food so come wearing elastic pants and make room for triple-decked sandwiches, sharing platters and more.
You could play it safe and order a kebab, houmous, and hot, crispy flatbread at Arbel. Or you could live on the edge and order a plate of lamb’s testicles or Iraqi bacha – a bowl of broth and mashed up sheep’s head. Either way, Deira’s Al Muteena Street is the place to be if you’re looking for amazing Iraqi kebabs and lesser-known Iraqi dishes.
At Seafood Market, as the name would suggest, diners can choose fresh seafood from a display, before having it cooked with a choice of sauces and butters. The venue has a strong aquatic theme, right down to the wavy blue carpet. There is a wide range of fish and shellfish for diners to choose from, and the large lobster tanks span the entire back wall of the market area. Fish is prepared in an Asian style, so you can expect plenty of flavour in the sauces, and dishes are complemented with a choice of noodles, stir-fried vegetables or potatoes, making for a hearty meal.
Right down to the low level seating, this is as authentic as it comes, maintaining the style despite a rapid expansion across the area. Taking traditional cooking techniques for meat, especially chicken and lamb, they are loaded with flavours so unqiuely mandi in style, you'll feel transported.
This motorcycle-themed café in the bustling heart of Jumeirah offers an expansive, varied menu to satisfy the appetites of road weary bikers and the general public. The indoor and outdoor seating areas are pleasant and comfortable, and the chocolate option is not to be missed - a huge slice of deliciously moist and sticky cake served with vanilla sauce, perfect for sharing.
A big hit in Garhoud, and now open in JLT, it is, as they say themselves, a hot dog revolution. Sure they're fast food, but their dogs are also low fat and reasonably healthy, depending on what you load on top. Options include spicy Japanese, plain and simple, or a selection of wild bites. The whole thing is customisable, right down to the seeds on your bun. Something different every time, then.
It may not have much competition in Sports City, but regardless, Wooden Cellar would stand out anywhere. Top notch Greek food in a gorgeous and utterly European setting, it's part deli, part casual eatery. Breads by the basket load and traditional Athenian dishes like spanakopita have the seal of approval from Greek expats already. Not to be missed.
A vast space that maintains the friendly, cosy atmosphere famed by big Lebanese diners. The menu is uncomplicated , choosing instead to just nail the basics, which is certinaly does. For the adventurous, though, there is stuff like lamb tongues and inventive soups. Enjoy the location too, very regal without feeling stuffy.
Part restaurant, part shisha café, the menu of traditional drinks and food make it a must visit for anyone without so much as an interest in smoking. Levantine fare like halloumi and watermelon salad, presented in a toasted bread bowl inside a bowl shows how effective keeping it simple can be. You don't need frills to take our bills.