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.
Lemongrass is one of those sad examples of when standards are allowed to slip. The restaurant's home base in Oud Metha proudly displays a row of Time Out Dubai Restaurant Awards – notably the last gong dated 2008. Since that heyday the brand has expanded into a chain, now with a half-dozen full restaurants across Dubai and Abu Dhabi, and even more outlets of the mall-based Lemongrass Express concept. To be successful in so many spots, Lemongrass clearly isn't getting everything wrong. The pad thai, served in a nest of egg, is fresh, moist and tasty. The talay pao seafood medley, by contrast, is one to be avoided. Subtly decorated in warm yellows and oranges, with well-meaning if slightly confused service and piped lounge beats on the stereo, Lemongrass is a pleasant, if generic, spot to dine.
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.
An overload for the senses, this oddball restaurant in Deira is popular with Chinese expats and for good reason: you won’t get a more authentic mainland China dining experience in Dubai. A live seafood tank welcomes guests on entry, the decor is outlandish, the tables are covered in plastic and the vibe is casual and low-key. The menu is huge and offers delights including fried sea cucumber and vegetable and seafood steamed ‘gootey’ dumplings. The fried jellyfish is surprisingly tasty, the small and squiggly, rind-like tentacles marrying well with the wok-fried bean sprouts accompanying them. The mud crabs are pristinely fresh and considerably well-priced compared to other venues in the city; wok-fried and chilli-style they arrive with doughy bread to soak up the sweet, sticky sauce. Veggie options include a celery and cashew nut stir fried in garlic, which is cooked to absolute perfection. If you’re an adventurous eater, you can’t go wrong with this offbeat offering.
A quirky, quality find in the backstreets of Oud Metha, don’t let the uninspiring decor put you off this Far Eastern gem. The restaurant itself is nothing like its Hong Kong namesake, but as far as stereotypes go, it’s right on point. Imposing painted terracotta warriors are scattered to one side, and a rather depleted fish tank is plonked near the kitchen. The Cantonese cuisine, however, is worth a visit alone. The deep-fried sesame prawn toasts are crispy, not oily and the half peking duck is not only affordable but succulent. There’s the option to try traditional Chinese delicacies such as fresh abalone and seafood soup, as well as the standard beef and chicken stir fries with oyster sauce and sautéed vegies. The chef has an impressively light touch, the meat dishes are perfectly cooked and will keep you coming back.
Fried chicken feet, sea cucumber with spinach sauce, duck’s head chili, preserved eggs, cold jellyfish... not everyone is going to like the sound (or, to be honest, the taste) of every dish at this triumphantly Chinese restaurant. In fact, unless you happen to be one of the dozens of Chinese expatriates cramming in here every night of the week, much of the experience may be mildly confusing. But rest assured, this is the real deal for authentic Chinese food, and it’s utter refusal to be a standard Dubai restaurant gives is plenty of charm. Whether you go to the ballroom like main dining hall, with its classical and operatic decor, or the numerous upstairs private rooms, it’s best to just go with the flow and embrace the experience. Familiar-sounding dishes are available, so if you don’t really fancy brined duck’s wing, then try the range of stir fries and noodle dishes. For the adventurous, it’s a gem that may never be really understood, but will be enjoyed without fail.
Dubai doesn’t suffer from a shortage of restaurants, and it’s rare to find one even half full let alone packed with people, but the unassuming South East Asian eatery in Satwa that is Noodle Bowl isn’t short of customers. The small, glass-fronted restaurant buzzes with families and friends catching up over steamed baskets of dim sum, huge noodle dishes or crispy duck pancakes. With a healthy smattering of all your favourite Thai dishes, plus some yummy Asian salads and steamed fish mains, you’ll find something to suit all palates, whether you’re familiar with Thai food or not. Refreshingly the place is about as authentic as you’re going to get in Dubai, with friendly waiting staff and a clutch of obvious regulars. The only slight issue: the staff insisting on serving main courses when you’re halfway through your starter. If they got over this, Noodle Bowl would be even more popular than it is.
When you walk into Xiao Wei Yang, it’s immediately apparent that this is one of Dubai’s hidden gems: the packed restaurant and queue for tables speaks for itself. Choose a soup – which will arrive at the table in a huge metal dish to be placed on top of the hot plate – and pick from an extremely lengthy list of ingredients that includes everything from fish, shellfish, dumplings and almost any kind of meat, to vegetables, noodles, tofu and more. Each selection arrives fresh, vibrant and raw to be cooked at the table. The thin slices of beef, enoki mushrooms and fresh noodles in particular are wonderful; the noodles never venture into soggy, the juicy beef cooks in seconds and the mushrooms have a mildly nutty flavour and just enough bite. Staff are genuinely welcoming and happy to help first-timers with the menu. The venue itself is very basic, but it’s clear that the draw of this restaurant is its sublime food and the fact that it won’t break the bank.
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.