Time Out Dubai guide to Old Dubai restaurants; places to eat in Bur Dubai, Deira, Wafi by price and cuisine, with reviews, contacts, hours and deals.
A trip to Old Dubai is never uneventful, and exploring the city’s more pedestrian-friendly streets is never short of adventure. Whether in Deira, Satwa or Bur Dubai, there are so many foodie finds there and beyond to encourage you to perhaps veer away from your usual dining destinations. Put your feet up on the banks of the Creek, or experience some traditional Emirati dining. Kiosks, hole-in-the-wall kitchens, and the best manakish in town are all here and the best thing is your wallet probably won’t feel too much lighter after chowing down in Old Dubai.
A cute, quaint Thai restaurant in Oud Metha, Lemongrass has a lovely vibe and nice, down-to-earth décor. Staff are pleasant but don’t try too hard to make sure you’re having a good time.
The menu is filled with dishes you’d find across Thailand, with spicy soups, vibrant salads, rice and noodle dishes and curries providing the big hitters. Seafood and wok dishes are less successful, however.
Satay-style chicken is a good option to start, along with fried fish balls. The minced chicken salad is one of our favourites, the sweet, sour, salty and spicy all working in harmony. We find the duck Penang curry a little salty, and the duck is tough, while the crispy red snapper really needs the tangy tamarind sauce with it, as the fish itself lacks some flavour. More successful is the guay tiew tom yum – a spicy noodle soup with minced chicken, prawn and squid.
If you’re in the older part of town and fancy something other than the Indian food that’s more readily available, Lemongrass is as good as anything you’ll find there and it’s pretty decent value, too.
To reach Wox one must embark on a rather magical (or certainly slightly odd) expedition through the Grand Hyatt’s huge indoor rainforest. It is a unique, beguiling experience that should be experienced by everyone at least once. Having made the trek you’ll be rewarded with Wox, a refreshingly-casual noodle house that we’d love to call a well-kept secret – but the fact it’s never empty means the secret clearly got out some time ago. It’s refreshingly simple because there aren’t too many five-star hotels packing such authentic, raw, and competitively priced Asian dining option. The theme is street food and as such the tiny venue has just a handful of tables set around the small central open kitchen, where two chefs thrash about with woks in unison. The menu is short and simple in scope, which means everything on it – noodles primarily – has been well road-tested, and can be knocked up in a storm. Wox may only set itself modest goals, but it meets them all amply, and then some.
Let’s get this straight, we are big fans of Lucien here at Time Out. For a few drinks with friends, to catch a game, or to listen to some live music, it’s great. For food, not so much.
The bar menu won’t empty your wallet, in fact some of the deals are almost unbelievable (pint of hops and a roast dinner for Dhs55 anyone?), but really, you get what you pay for here.
Trying to be relatively healthy, one of us ordered a Caesar salad with prawns, and throwing caution to the wind, the other ordered a burger.
The waiter who served us deserves top marks for salesmanship, or for having Bur Dubai’s brassest of necks. He made it sound like a chef had laboured over the burger, grinding beef and making his own patties. “My burgers are pink in the middle, I hope that’s okay with you,” he said. It really would have been.
The burger might have been handcrafted somewhere, but it didn’t seem like it was in the Lucien kitchen. It was tasty enough, and the chips were okay, as was the salad.
If all you want from food is to fill you up at little cost (the bill came to just over Dhs100), Lucien provides a friendly place to spend a few hours relaxing (with excellent drinks deals). The bottom line Great for a drink, but we don’t recommend going solely for the food.
Choix Patisserie and Restaurant is one of two concepts in Dubai (in the same hotel) under the name of three Michelin-star French chef Pierre Gagnaire. It’s also chef Pierre’s first standalone patisserie concept anywhere in the world. Displaying elegant and colourful-looking tarts, éclairs, macaroons and more at the entrance, you’ll have to get past this tempting sight before taking a seat in a sophisticated dining room of white and gold, accented by chairs in bright and feminine pinks and yellows. Outside on the terrace, the space is equally ambient, with a lounge bar-look, shisha available and views of the Burj Khalifa in the distance. Open from early-morning through to dinner, Choix offers a plethora of dining choices, from breakfast, afternoon tea and à la carte lunch or dinner options such as salads, pasta and complete bento box meals. For a fairly refined café experience, with a little of that Reflets-style je ne sais quoi but at much more accessible prices, Choix Patisserie and Restaurant is well worth a visit.
Unassuming is the best word to describe Mellow Yellow Café in Uptown Mirdiff. It’s tucked away towards the back of the development and there’s a chance you might walk past it if you’re not paying attention. Small, but nicely decorated and quite cosy, you can tell that Mellow Yellow is a labour of love for someone. There are attractive design features in the decor, while the menu is clearly well-thought out. As for the food, the ‘Crunchy Munch Burger’ is a particular standout, mounted on a mouth-watering brioche bun with a side of thick-cut home-made chips. Desserts, too, are excellent – we’re not sure we can ever forget how good the mini salted caramel cookies tasted. Mellow Yellow is a lovely café that offers warm service at a great price. Even if it’s out of your way, it’s worth a visit.
Once you’ve found your way through the alleyways of the historic Al Fahidi neighbourhood in Bur Dubai and into XVA Café, you’ll feel a sense of calm wash over you. The café is set in a quiet courtyard with a beautiful tree in the centre, and serves mainly vegetarian food with a few fish options thrown in for good measure. The menu changes regularly, but the bun-less eggplant burger is a perennial favourite. The apple ice tea and fresh mint lemonade are wonderfully zingy and refreshing drinks. A cool, cultured café, XVA is a hidden gem in Old Dubai.
No frills and plenty of cheap thrills – China Sea truly feels like dining in deepest, well, China.
Service and décor are rough around the edges, in stark contrast to Dubai’s usual glitziness and overly attentive waiters. Portions are huge, so your best bet is to order a vegetable dish – such as the juicy fried tofu home style with peppers – to accompany one main course per person. The more expensive à la carte fish and seafood dishes have the freshness that the cheaper spicy crab or Guangdong-style fried prawns on the menu lack, which are ample servings but miss any distinguishable Chinese touch. The Double Taste duck, a DIY fajita-style dish with succulent sliced duck breasts and bone marrow, as well as a powerful soy-based paste and celery sticks, is a great and adventurous choice. Some menu options could do with “how to eat” instructions for non-Chinese customers, such is their authenticity. A visit to China Sea offers more cultural delights than it does culinary ones.
Everything about Lan Kwai-Fong suggests it’s seen better days. Nestled among several other restaurants in the backstreets of Oud Metha, the venue’s décor is dated and somewhat outlandish. The four multicolour warriors in the entrance – a spinoff of China’s famed terracotta army – take top prize for kitsch. And although this may be a breath of fresh air for Dubaians who’ve grown tired of the city’s relentless pizzazz, Lang Kwai-Fong can no longer claim to be the hidden gem that it once was. The Peking duck, so “signature” that it actually forms part of the restaurant’s name on the sign outside, is the tastiest dish on the menu. Many other options are very well priced but not executed brilliantly, such as the crispy cuttlefish and vegetable spring rolls. There are friendly staff and low prices here – but don’t expect much else.
Standoffish service and a menu featuring everything from duck’s head to fermented chicken feet – it’s fair to say that New Times Restaurant caters for a pretty niche clientele. But it’s this budget restaurant’s indifference for what usually constitutes eating out in Dubai that makes it bizarrely charming and unique. The restaurant includes a ballroom-like main dining hall and numerous private rooms upstairs, all furnished with décor fit for Marie Antoinette’s boudoir. Even ordering is different to usual practices. You’re handed a pamphlet menu on which you have to tick boxes next to the meals you want. Even though some of the food choices may be off-putting for Western palates, there are recognizable options such as the shrimp dumplings and fried noodles with seafood that are expertly prepared and great value for money. And then there’s the more unusual, including dishes like steamed sticky rice with chicken in lotus leaf. It’s all part of the experience and, at around Dhs100 for two people, a very cheap one at that.
Noodle Bowl is a little diamond in the rough. The venue is cheap and cheerful, the staff are friendly and the outdoor seating lends itself perfectly to a spot of people watching – if you can tear your eyes away from the menu.
The list of dishes is long and everything sounds good. Service is speedy once you decide and our prawn cheng feung dumplings arrive promptly. These little parcels will put your chopsticks to the test, but persevere and you will be awarded in juicy abundance.
The soups we try are packed full of flavour and we are particularly delighted with the hot and sour version, which is fragrant and packs a good spicy punch.
The Singapore noodles are the dish that just keeps on giving – literally. No matter how much we eat, the mound just doesn’t decrease. Not that we’re complaining. The noodles are packed with flavour and have a lovely warming kick thanks to lots of fresh chillies.
The beef in black pepper sauce is succulent, with a tasty mix of spices. It comes with a scattering of onions, peppers and chillies, which add a good crunch and breadk up the heaviness of the meat and rich sauce.
After we finish our meal we’re happy to sit a while longer and enjoy the bustling streets of Satwa.
The bottom line A welcome change of scene we’d be only too happy to repeat.
Tucked away down a non-descript side street in Karama, Yalla Momos doesn’t suffer from its location. You’ll often find this casual cafeteria packed, although that could be down to its size. There are only six seats inside, with some tables spilling out onto the pavement when the weather is cool enough. But the food is another reason why Yalla Momos is often at full occupancy. Momos are Nepalese dumplings, quite similar to dim sum, that come either steamed or fried, with a variety of fillings. Half of the options are vegetarian, with cottage cheese, spinach and vegetable choices, while there are chicken, mutton and shrimp versions, too. But whatever you choose, it won’t break the bank: an order of six momos costs between Dhs12 (vegetable) to Dhs16 (shrimp). This is about as far from fine dining as you can get, with momos served on plastic plates to be eaten with plastic cutlery. It’s also not an option if you’re looking for a substantial meal, as aside from various momos, there are only three basic noodle dishes and some fries on the menu. But the lightly spiced, flavourful momos are a good enough reason to visit here alone. Pop in if you’re feeling peckish in Karama. You won’t regret it.
Having to queue to get in 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 about Dh25. 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 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, so leave any inhibitions at the door and take a trip to southern India.
Eric’s, to sum it up in one word, is a curiosity. The exterior is more reminiscent of an Italian trattoria than a Karama-based eatery and purveyor of Goan fare. As for the food, it is also rather bizarre. The Forbidden City chicken – four skewers of chicken in a thick red sauce – has a consistency that makes it seem like the main ingredient is monosodium glutamate. But the sauce gives the meat a sticky, barbecued, smoky flavour, which we like. The prawn toast is also interesting, with four prawns encased in batter served on toasted white bread cut into finger-size pieces. The presentation makes it look like the prawns have been mummified, but the batter is fresh and the right consistency. Among the mains, the mutton curry with potato is excellent – creamy, moreish, well-spiced and wonderfully free of any of those gloopy, acidic undertones. Sadly, slow service puts a dampener on the experience.
You’ll get a warm welcome at Venus, a small café in Karama serving vegetarian food. The menu is long, but the friendly staff will make suggestions. We say got 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. The food here is fresh, tasty and cheap, and the service is everything you’d want from a café-type restaurant. There are many places to eat in Karama, but we love Venus and we’re sure you will, too.
Previously Special Ostadi, Al Ustad Special Kebab has been serving kebabs to the community for the past 38 years. Packed on any given day of the week, the small Bur Dubai canteen-style eatery is decorated with thousands of pictures of people who have eaten in the restaurant and met its late proprietor, various trinkets from around the word and clocks set to various Middle Eastern country’s times (that we’re not entirely convinced actually work, but were too engrossed in eating to really notice). The menu is short and sweet. It consists of chicken soup, hummus, kebabs, kebabs and more kebabs, all served with either rice or bread and slices of onion, tomato, cucumber and a small dish of garlic sauce. Staff are quirky and personable and aren’t afraid to pick your meal for you if you’re unsure what to order. You’ll get a comprehensive assortment of grilled meats that are all outstanding; we could not find fault here. And as well as the delicious, juicy marinated meats, the price will put a smile on your face, too. A generous meal for two will set you back a little over Dhs100, making this restaurant a must-try. Be prepared to queue for a table and persevere. It’s well worth it.