All Articles Eat your way around Dubai

Eat your way around Dubai

Dig into the best bites in this global capital.

Sarah Khan
By Sarah Khan19 Feb 2024 7 minutes read
Prawns, chicken, shiitake mushroom shu mai at Jun's
Wagyu tsukune at Moonrise
A small plate at Trèsind Studio
Wagyu at Moonrise, shu mai at Jun's, and impeccably decorated small plates at Trèsind Studio
Image: Tripadvisor/Misbah; Tripadvisor/management

Hear me out on this one: Dubai is one of the world’s greatest food cities—this is, after all, a hub where global cultures and flavors converge. But if you hear the world “Dubai” and immediately conjure images of international celebrity chef-run imports that you can just as easily find in London, Paris, or New York, then it’s time to open your mind (and your palate).

When I moved to Dubai a few years ago, I was excited to taste my way through five-star restaurants awash in marble and gold as well as scores of local haunts catering to every conceivable community that calls the expat-driven Emirate home, from Filipinos and Jordanians to Nigerians and Malayalis. I found all of that, of course—and more—in the year that I spent eating my way through Dubai. I also loved discovering new restaurants from a host of homegrown talents determined to demystify what Dubai cuisine really is.

I’m hardly the only one dazzled by all Dubai has to offer—Michelin, World’s 50 Best, and Gault & Millau have all arrived in recent years, doling out plenty of well-deserved accolades. This is a city that excels at both high and low, and while narrowing my favorites down to six was no easy feat, read on for a starting point to help you decipher Dubai’s dizzying culinary scene.

Tip: If you want to do a deeper dive, consider booking a food tour through Frying Pan Adventures. Dubai-bred sisters Arva and Farida Ahmed take groups deep into the souks and winding alleys of Old Dubai in pursuit of dishes like Jordanian galayet bandoura, Hyderabadi biryani, Persian faloodeh, and much more.

For Middle Eastern omakase: Moonrise

Sumac ceviche at Moonrise
Moonrise blends flavors from multiple cultures, like this sumac ceviche
Image: Tripadvisor/Misbah

Hidden away in a petite rooftop space overlooking downtown Dubai, the Michelin-starred Moonrise, with 12 seats flanking an intimate kitchen, certainly looks like a quintessential omakase experience. And while most of the dishes are indeed rooted in Japanese influences, surveying the menu reveals a trove of unexpected flavors: Is that sumac in my sashimi, and za’atar in my furikake? As Dubai born-and-bred chef Solemann Haddad walks diners through his Middle Eastern/Japanese hybrid experience, one thing becomes abundantly clear: These dishes are quintessentially Dubai, a tribute to the global communities and ingredients that have found a home here.

What to order: Moonrise has a 10-course set menu so you’ll get to try it all, but standouts include the foie gras puri on a bed of saffron-pineapple chutney and drizzled with date syrup, Haddad’s spin on traditional charcoal khubz bread slathered with miso butter, and Hokkaido scallops drowned in a Sarookh beurre blanc and flecked with Kaluga caviar. Trust me, this meal is like nothing you’ll find anywhere else in the world—a truly only-in-Dubai experience.

Travelers say: “Homegrown concept in Dubai, young chef who’s the favoured child in the local culinary world, intimate dining space, personalised service. Japanese and Middle Eastern ingredients, contemporary cooking techniques based on French cuisine and Middle Eastern flavours. Peak aestheticism in food plating, complexity in flavour composition, plus some of the best mocktails I’ve tried.”—@HavoLibre

For third-culture comfort food: Jun’s

Heirloom tomatoes on smoked labneh at Jun's
One of Jun's great magic tricks: making this rainbow carrot/smoked labneh dish taste just like bagels and lox
Image: Triapdvisor/management

Think of the expansive menu at Jun’s as a roadmap of chef Kelvin Cheung’s winding culinary journey: He grew up spending time in the kitchens of his father’s Chinese restaurants in Toronto. Then, with stints in the U.S., Europe, and India under his belt, he eventually rocked up in cosmopolitan Dubai, where he opened his ode to Asian-North American comfort food inflected with his global detours. When the weather is nice, I love sitting on the patio to watch the Burj Khalifa shimmering prettily overhead, as the affable Cheung comes by to share the complex narratives and influences that make their way into each dish.

What to order: The rainbow heirloom carrots have sparked a thousand questions in Dubai—how on earth does this vegetarian starter, crafted with smoked labneh and soy honey butter, manage to effortlessly channel the taste of a classic cream-cheese slathered bagel and lox? Let me know if you figure out the answer. Follow it up with the lobster pani puri, prawns in XO sauce, and a za’atar scallion pancake that evokes an aloo paratha layered with kimchi and crowned with a dollop of burrata—the ultimate third-culture hybrid.

Travelers say: “My friend and I met for dinner one evening and had a quite enjoyable experience. We were able to be seated outside with Burj views - this definitely added to the experience. The starters and mains were full of flavor and of decent portion size. I stuck with the jalapeno waygu burger - it's so good!”—@aaronmshelby

For Indian cuisine like you’ve never experienced it before: Trèsind Studio

A small plate featuring a breaded pepper at Tresind
Trèsind's tasting menu keeps your tastebuds on their toes
Image: Tripadvisor/management

With one of the world’s biggest Indian communities outside India, Dubai has no shortage of restaurants specializing in every corner of the subcontinent. But even amid intense competition, chef Himanshu Saini’s Trèsind Studio stands out—as evidenced by the restaurant’s two Michelin stars. With an experimental degustation menu presented with dramatic flair, Saini and his team reimagine dishes and flavors from across India in unexpected ways: slivers of charred lobster tail swimming in a corn and tamarind curry in tribute to the coastal plains; tender coconut kushiyaki from the Deccan plateau; cacao ghevar with cauliflower crémeux and roasted barley ice cream inspired by the Thar desert.

What to order: You’ll get to sample all of the above and much more over the span of 20 indulgent courses. Pair them with some creative drinks designed by mixologist Dom Carella from the Papadum botanic bar, like the pani puri martini, with pani puri dry vermouth and cardamom bitters, and the Halwai Negroni, infused with beetroot, vermouth, gin, and ghee.

Travelers say: “Trèsind Studio offers a totally immersive, almost otherworldly experience, as they take you through four regions, climates and cultures of India by food. The food itself is among the finest I’ve ever eaten with every plate seemingly eclipsing the last - if I had to pick a favourite it would be the humble kebab scarpetta but every dish was truly exceptional.”—@harvrust

For quick eats with a view: Time Out Market Dubai

An atrium with a sign for Time Out Market Dubai
Need a one-stop shop for Dubai flavor? TimeOut Market is the place
Image: Tripadvisor/management

A lot of people breeze through Dubai on an all-too-short extended layover, and if I can’t convince them to add a few days to their itinerary, I always recommend they make a stop at this city’s iteration of Time Out Market. Aside from the dizzying array of outposts of popular homegrown eateries to choose from, the vast balcony has some of the best views of the Burj Khalifa and the spectacular fountain show. If you’re pressed for time, there’s simply no better way to eat your way through Dubai’s best bites, conveniently assembled under one roof.

What to order: Pay close attention as I chart for you the perfect meal: First, fuel up with a nitro cold brew coffee at Boon (you’ll need it to power through), then pair a pastrami reuben from Mattar’s Barbecue with Reif’s chicken katsu sando (the Portuguese fries from Lana Lusa will go well with both). While you’re waiting for your order of the burrata butter chicken at Masti, snack on some fried kibbeh from Liban. Then when you’re ready for dessert, head to Little Jun’s, a new sibling at the market from the team behind the aforementioned Jun’s. Here, you can get chef Cheung’s legendary “Kelvin cakes”—which are usually made to order in flavors like ube, piña colada, mango, and spiced carrot pineapple—by the slice.

Travelers say: “Hands down my favorite spot in Dubai. Visiting time-out can be a last minute decision, where a great meal is guaranteed without any table reservations. This place has a buzz and a vibe which makes it the perfect spot for a date or just a casual catch up with friends after work. My favorite spot is the Michelin bib-gourmand Reif - and their Truffle Udon. There are plenty of tables outside on a balcony where you can see the amazing Burj Khalifa and Dubai Mall Fountain show.”—@saniyam2020

For Kenyan-Indian barbecue: Hashmi Barbeque

Barbecue prawns at Hashmi Barbeque
Prawns, fried chicken, roasted beef—you really can't go wrong at Hashmi's
Image: Tripadvisor/Munir D

Originally opened in Nairobi in 1978, Hashmi Barbeque has been a Kenyan institution for decades. The Dubai branch arrived in Al Barsha in 2020, bringing its familiar nyama choma grilled meats laced with Indian seasonings to the UAE. The perennially packed, family-friendly spot serves some of the most succulent meat I’ve ever had—there’s a reason I chose Hashmi as my final meal before I moved back to New York.

What to order: Pretty much everything on the menu is outstanding, including the crunchy poussin deep-fried chicken, the addictive stir-fried lemon-chili prawns, and the roasted beef mushkaki. But if you’re short on time (or space, after eating everything else I’ve instructed you to), just get the unfathomably luscious Chooza chicken with an order of fries to drown in the sauce and a fluffy naan to temper the heat. You’re welcome.

Travelers say: “It was good to experience Hashmi in Dubai having been on many occasions over the years in Nairobi. The chicken tikka marinades and accompanying sauces are very different to your regular Indian or Pakistani restaurants. We had the Chicken Tikka (breast piece is the best), poussin, beef kebabs and pili pili and masala chips. My personal favourite is their chicken tikka and it was marinated and cooked to perfection. Passion juice is good too.”—@ImranLondon

For a classic shawarma: Aroos Damascus

The patio at Aroos Damascus
The vibe is just as good as the food at Aroos Damascus
Image: Triapdvisor/Islam Abdelaziz

It’s virtually impossible to determine the best shawarma in Dubai—trust me, I tried. There are so many to choose from, and every time I think I’ve found The One I discover another spot vying for its place in my heart. I have a lot of favorites, but for just the right balance of flavor and ambience, I like Aroos Damascus in Deira. A vast patio with a glittering canopy of fairy lights spills onto a sidewalk in a lively stretch of town, where you’ll find locals from all walks of life converging to dive headfirst into platters of Syrian staples like arayees, manakeesh, falafel and, of course, shawarma.

What to order: The menu is vast so come prepared for a proper Levantine feast, but if you have your eye on the prize, my go-to shawarma order is a sandwich with chicken, no pickles, extra toum, and a dash of shatta.

Travelers say: “Outstanding Arabian food in a festive environment. Indoors is air-conditioned but outside (during nighttime) it is also very nice in a hectic Dubai crossroads. But the food is so worth it!!! Had been here 10 years ago and it has not changed a bit. Still great and affordable. Try the humus with beef.”—@Claudiofin

Sarah Khan
Sarah Khan is an award-winning travel and food journalist based in New York City. Previously Editor in Chief of Condé Nast Traveller Middle East, she's now a contributing editor at Condé Nast Traveler and Robb Report and has reported from seven continents for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Food & Wine, Afar, Travel + Leisure, and many others. Her work also appeared in the 2021 edition of Best American Travel Writing. Sarah has lived in six countries — Canada, Saudi Arabia, India, South Africa, the UAE, and the US—and has 2.5 passports. Follow her on Instagram @BySarahKhan and read her work at www.bysarahkhan.com.