Where to eat
We’ll leave you to argue over whether there’s such a thing as a free meal. But there’s definitely such a thing as a cheap one – even in Dubai. Here are 10 restaurants that’ll fill a gap for under Dhs100 a couple.
Afghan Kebab House: Forget all your horrible memories of sizzling elephant’s feet revolving in tawdry kebab house windows, because this place is the real deal. Once you’ve found it among the labyrinthine alleys of Deira, grab a naan bread the size of a continental quilt and fill it with chicken, lamb and beef licked into juicy tenderness by lashing flames on the skewer. It’s a unique experience – all around you, groups of weary men huddle over crouching tables deluged with food, discussing the trials and tribulations of the working day. Kick back with a full belly and smile to yourself about the job you’ve had just to find the place.
Naif Souk (04 222 3292). Taxi: Next to Naif mosque, Deira. Open 4am-12.30am daily. Unlicensed. Credit cards not accepted.
Arbel Iraqi Kabab and Restaurant: Arbel was the scene of much jubilation a few months ago, when the Iraqi national football team lifted the 2007 Asian Cup against all the odds. But for fans of grilled meat, there’s still plenty of excitement to be found here. Sit outside on the terrace and your table will fill up with a bumper attendance of pickles, fresh salad, creamy hummus, hot soup and crisp flatbread before you’ve even kicked off. Don’t argue the toss; just get it down you before you start on the lamb kebab, which is tender, delicate and moist on the inside, and scorched, crunchy and dizzyingly flavoursome on the outside.
Al Muteena Street, Deira (04 272 0843). Taxi: Nr Marco Polo Hotel Open Sat- Thu 11am-1.30am, Fri 1.30pm-1.30am daily. Unlicensed. Credit cards not accepted.
The Curry Leaf: OK, so there’s Chinese food, fish and chips and curry-meets-pasta fusion options on offer here, but we suggest you stick to the authentic Sri Lankan goodies. Try the hoppers – rice flour pancakes with a fried egg, usually eaten with chilli sambol (a spicy side dish) – along with lumpries, a Dutch colonial dish of rice, baked with boneless chicken, beef or lamb, fish cutlets, boiled egg, aubergine, and a delicious sweet onion sambol. Fish plays a large part in Sri Lanka’s cuisine – try the kiri maalu; kingfish cooked in a lightly-spiced coconut sauce. Sri Lanka’s favourite dessert, watalappan, is strange but very satisfying; a custardy combo of coconut, jaggery (a type of sugar cane), eggs, milk, cardamom and cinnamon, served with ice cream.
Food Court, Al Mussalla Tower (04 397 8940). Taxi: Bank Street. Open 11am-12 midnight daily. Unlicensed. Credit cards not accepted.
The Fish Basket: In a city where many restaurants will happily slap on a cooking charge for a scorched slab of salmon, here you can feast like a king for Dhs50 per person. Diners can either choose their own fish from the market or be guided by the knowledgeable staff. Either way, it’s clean, cheap and guaranteed to hit the spot. Feast on fresh bread, salads and yoghurt dips, before getting stuck into a tray of grilled hammour, battered calamari, anchovies, some super-fresh crab and a couple of stately king prawns. It’s not the place for a long lingering lunch or date, but dirham-for-dirham, The Fish Basket is a great bet.
Bur Dubai (04 336 7177). Taxi: Opp. Mövenpick Hotel Bur Dubai. Open 10am-12.30am daily. Unlicensed. All major credit cards accepted.
Karachi Darbar: The uniformed waiters dash among the crowded tables carrying platters piled with extremely cheap and exquisitely tasty Pakistani food, so flag one down and ask for a chicken or mutton biryani. No sooner does the last syllable leave your lips than fresh naan breads, salad, mint yoghurt with chilli and a dish of curry sauce arrive with a flourish. Then brace yourself for a gigantic portion of subtly-flavoured basmati rice strewn with soft nuggets of juicy meat. Feel free to scoop it up with your bread and your hands, especially if you need to toss away any bones – this place is all about keeping it real.
Deira (04 224 9594). Taxi: Omar Bin Al Khattab Road, near Fish Roundabout (04 224 9594). Open 4am-2am daily. Unlicensed. Credit cards not accepted.
Habiba Al Nabulsi: With furniture plonked on either side of a nearly empty fish tank, the restaurant next door to the sweet shop feels like an afterthought – but it’s here where Dubaians can sample some authentic Palestinian home cooking. This is the sort of restaurant where you eat what you’re given, and you’ll more than likely be handed a plate of mansaf – a heaped pile of yellow pilaf rice with a scattering of pine nuts and a couple of rotund lumps of tenderly flaky lamb. The dish, which is Bedouin in origin and also the national food of Jordan, has a distinctive flavour from jameed, an aged, sun-dried yoghurt that sours the flavour of the dish.
Muraqqabat Street, Deira (04 227 7760). Taxi: Near Reef Mall. Open 9am-2am daily. Unlicensed. All major credit cards accepted.
Pars Iranian Restaurant: Throw off your shoes and spread out over the low seating here behind the basketball courts of Satwa to enjoy a spread of salads, breads, dips and kebabs under the stars. The dips can be scooped up on crispy, warm flatbreads and eaten with feta cheese and sabzi, the mixed fresh herbs that come with every Iranian meal. The kebabs are huge and marinaded to juicy perfection – try the lemony seafood platter of grilled hammour and juicy prawns, or the excellent beef option.
Satwa (04 398 4000). Taxi: Behind Satwa roundabout, beside Rydges Plaza hotel. Open 7pm-1am daily. Unlicensed. All major credit cards accepted.
Pillars: So it looks like a tatty grey disc of old deckchair foam, but injera – a traditional Ethiopian flatbread made with a tiny grain called teff – is the most versatile foodstuff known to man. Probably. Not only can you use it as a tablecloth, a plate, a napkin and a utensil, but you can eat it too. At this nondescript Ethiopian coffee shop, the yefisig beyanetu is a combination of spicy meat stews and salad served on a giant injera you could hold a circus under. But that doesn’t stop most of the Ethiopian diners here from unloading lots of their food onto the table. Maybe they want to see injera in all its naked glory?
Phoenicia Hotel (04 222 7191). Taxi: Baniyas Square, Deira. Open 24 hours daily. All major credit cards accepted.
Ravi’s: The simple Pakistani food and unintentional street drama at Ravi’s can be just as compelling as any swanky hotel restaurant’s entertainment – at a fraction of the price. Sit outside, watch the tireless tide of humanity sweep along the Satwa Road, and enjoy a tender bihiri kebab alongside a feisty mutton palak in a rich curry swamp spiked with chilli, or an aggressive chicken sukha in a rich quicksand of spice. You’ll struggle to spend more than Dhs50 for two people and the food is excellent, which might explain why Ravi’s is still legendary.
Satwa (04 331 5353). Taxi: Satwa Road, near Rydges Plaza. Open Sun-Thu 5am-3am; Fri 1.30pm-3am; Sat 5am-3am. Unlicensed. Credit cards not accepted.
Smiling BKK: The eccentric dish titles at Smiling BKK (‘fook mi’, ‘experience of crack’, ‘like a virgin’) are a perfectly innocent (if a little cheeky) facet of this quirky Thai restaurant’s immense appeal. The ‘shiny happy people’ offers deep-fried prawns with garlic, while the ‘balls of delight’ are nice and spongy orbs of fish. And the aforementioned ‘fook mi’ is a jumbled mass of flat noodles, chicken and cabbage in soy sauce. With its café-style food, daft interior, bonkers menu and shameless amateurishness, this tiny place has something that all the five-star restaurants in the world can’t buy – charm. And if you tell some funny jokes on comedy night every Monday, you could get to eat for free. We defy you to find cheaper grub than that.
Al Wasl Road (04 349 6677). Taxi: Next to Jumeirah Post Office and the Emarat garage. Open 11.15am-12.15am daily. Unlicensed. All major credit cards accepted.
Five cheap all you-can-eats
(04 227 4446), Twin Towers, Baniyas Road Deira. Cracking Persian buffet with spectacular views of the Creek, Dhs50 each.
(04 359 8888), Majestic Hotel, Bur Dubai. Continental buffet including alcoholic drinks for Dhs105 between 8pm-11pm every day.
(04 338 4500), Sheikh Zayed Road. Chinese and Indian buffet, Dhs15.
Ponderosa Steak House
(04 295 3527) Deira. Mexican, Italian and Chinese buffet which gets busy with its Dhs45 deal (that doesn’t include steak but does include soft drinks).
Rangoli Vegetarian Restaurant
(04 351 5873) Meena Bazaar, Bur Dubai. Gujurati buffet at Dhs12 per person.