The best restaurants for truly local cuisine
While modern flavours and techniques influence Emirati food, the cuisine still retains much of its traditional character. A medley of aromatic spices such as cinnamon, saffron, turmeric and nutmeg take centre stage alongside dried fruits such as almonds and pistachios, and generous sprinklings of fresh herbs such as coriander, mint and thyme.
Meals often start with an elaborate mezze of dips and salads. Although traditional dips such as hummus and tabbouli trace their beginnings from the kitchens of Lebanon and the Levant, these have worked their way into Emirati classics. In fact, local UAE cuisine has been shaped by a mélange of cultures – Indian biryani is the inspiration for many Emirati rice dishes, while the use of limes, lemons and rosewater stems from Persia.
An Emirati food trail
Hospitality is a strong part of the Emirati culture and you’re guaranteed a warm welcome and a full plate at all of the Emirati restaurants and cafés across Dubai. You could start here:
For a traditional breakfast…
But don’t be misled by its American-diner inspired interiors, this is one of a handful of places that offer a traditional Emirati breakfast. For AED48 you can order the Flavour of Arabia breakfast and enjoy a plate of khameer, chebab, rice-like balaleet and wrap-style muhalla, served with jam, honey, dates and cream cheese, and a cup of karak chai.
Jumeirah Beach Road, Jumeirah
+971 4 349 3585
Klayya Bakery & Sweets
At Al Barsha Mall, this local establishment is the place to find ryoog yerena – a delicious combo plate comprising a date omelette, three types of fresh bread and a cup of karak chai.
23rd St Barsha 2
+971 4 325 5335
For a real Emirati lunch…
Apart from the authentic Emirati fare, Al Fanar’s other USP is its ambience. In a village-style setting of Barasti huts, cushioned majlis, camels and donkeys (not real, of course), Al Fanar (it’s the local term for the kerosene lamp used to light the homes in Dubai at the old times) focuses solely on Emirati food. Try the hearty margougat laham, a stew using Arabic bread in a spicy tomato sauce.
Ground Floor, Festival Centre, Crescent Drive, Dubai Festival City
+971 4 232 9966
This restaurant might be located in a fast food court, but it manages to replicate the authentic flavours of a time when the dishes were cooked in a hole in the desert ground. Mandi is the signature dish – rice, spices and slow-cooked meat.
Times Square Center, Level 1 Food Court
Sheikh Zayed Road, Al Quoz
For dinner with the locals…
New to Dubai’s dining scene, Al Barza’s sandstone-coloured interiors accentuated with deep brown wooden lattice work form the perfect Khaleeji (Gulf) environment in which to experience Emirati classics. Its rich and creamy harees laham with shredded meat a signature dish as is the camel meat with panned rice.
Jumeirah 1, Bach Road, next to Emirates NBD Bank
+971 4 343 5910
One of the newer local kids on the block, this café has brought Emirati flavours to the cool oceanside promenade at Jumeirah Beach Residence. Named for each of the seven emirates, the café is decorated in Arabic designs to reflect a menu based on authentic Emirati recipes handed down over generations. And like a traditional Emirati dining experience, plates are made for sharing – if you’re dining with a large party, the chef will even prepare a complete feast with a whole lamb and all the trimmings (24 hours’ notice required).
The Beach at JBR
+971 4 551 6652
Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding (SMCCU)
Located in Al Fahidi, the SMCCU is a great place to sample the full variety of authentic Emirati cuisine while learning about the local culture at the same time. Through its regular program of tours and lectures, visitors can tuck into breakfast, lunch or dinner while relaxing on the cushioned floor in the courtyard of the centre’s beautiful merchant house. Dishes are prepared using age-old recipes, thus preserving the traditions and customs of the Bedouin meal.
House 26, Al Mussallah Road, Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood
+971 4 353 6666