If I were to ask a stranger the first thing that occurred to them when I said ‘Dubai’, I’d probably hear some version of the following words strung together: super cars, sunshine, skyscrapers, and mansions. There isn’t a single person that hasn’t heard of at least one of the many tales of luxury and abundance that Dubai has in its arsenal. And who can blame them? Dubai drips glitz and glamour!
So, for a change, I thought I’d shed light on some of the less flamboyant yet equally charming spots in my beloved sweltering hometown Dubai. Why should you take my word for it, you ask? Well, I was born and raised there and lived there for 18 years before moving to Toronto, so I know a thing or two that TripAdvisor might not be able to tell you.
Today, I’ll be sharing with you some of my favourite tried and tested eateries and hangout spots. Keep in mind that they might not be fanciful, but they’re worth their salt.
Dubai might be a melting pot of cultures but that doesn’t mean you get anything short of an authentic experience when you’re out for a meal (and you don’t always have to break the bank).
1) Al Reef Bakery, Al Karama – One of Dubai’s oldest Lebanese bakeries, the 24/7 Al Reef is an old favourite of any resident. My personal favourites from their menu would have to be the cheese manakeesh (dough topped with halloumi cheese and baked to perfection) , and the arayes with meat and cheese (tender marinated meat and cheese grilled between two layers of pita bread, served crispy, fresh, and piping hot).
2) Al Mallah, Satwa (pictured above) – Equally as popular as Al Reef is the always bustling Al Mallah restaurant. Here you will experience a typical Arabic street food scene. I would suggest getting their cheese manakeesh, shish tawook sandwhich, cheese shawarma, or a classic shawarma. To drink, I would suggest the Tahiti – but I should probably warn you that this is not your average healthy blended juice. These bad boys come loaded and can be quite sweet but are pretty damn popular nonetheless.
3) Bayat Al Fatayer, Jumeirah Beach Road – While I only discovered this joint late last year, it’s quickly become a favourite stop-and-go to grab a piping hot cup of chai at. An infamous trend in Dubai is to drink karak chai aka saffron or cardamom tea in little white styrofoam cups for as little Dhs.4 ($1). Don’t get looped into trying pricey versions of this at flighty restaurants. Take it from me and stop by Bayat Al Fatayer for your tea fix. It may not look like much but you won’t be disappointed.
4) Shakeism, Mall of the Emirates area – I was introduced to Shakeism on a visit back from university by my cousins and it was honestly unbelievable. They have some fantastic concoctions and some of the friendliest staff I’ve known. Although it’s quite a small little location, it’s ideal for grabbing a shake and chilling out for a little bit. As someone with an all-too-intense chocolate obsession, I would recommend the Viva La Shake.
5) Haji Ali Juice Centre, Al Karama – Originally founded in India, Haji Ali is another old time favourite of any Dubai resident. Don’t let the name fool you as it is everything and more than just a juice centre. They offer up some magnificently creative vegetarian sandwich options alongside fresh juice and sinful dessert. My absolute favourite is the Schezwan Grill Club Sandwhich. As someone of Indian descent who is attuned to incredible levels of spice, I should warn you that this is pretty high up on the spice scale (but every bit worth it). Consider pairing it with a fresh orange or mango juice to cool down.
6) Dubai Marina Walk – Located right on the beach, this strip of land basically holds everything you would ever need from hotels, cafes and restaurants to club and bars. All you have to do is take your pick. Want to dip your feet in the water? Go right ahead. In the mood for cheesecake? Step right up. Ideally, my friends and I would grab dinner or a snack and then walk by the beach after.
7) QD’s (pictured above) – For hookah (or sheesha as we would say in Duabi) enthusiasts, this place boasts a pretty spectacular view with their terraced location. They also serve alcohol since they are registered under the Dubai Creek Gulf & Yacht Club. If you’re looking to grab a bite, I’ve tried and loved their pizzas.
8) Reem Al Bawadi – Easily one of the most popular franchises in Dubai, Reem Al Bawadi is your one stop shop for a complete Middle Eastern experience. From the earthy toned decor, to the occasional live musician, to wafts of double apple sheesha while you sink into your (massive) shawarma – Reem Al Bawadi has it down to every last detail. It’s perfect for sitting down after an evening of shopping and unwinding over good food, sheesha and company.
9) Khor Fakkan – Okay, so this isn’t actually located in Dubai, but trust me when I say you need to visit it. Only about an hour and half drive away from Dubai, Khor Fakkan is one of the many amazing day trip destinations within the UAE. On the way you will greeted by many a views of the open desert and mountains. Khor Fakkan hosts one beach resort, but has a number of other attractions by the beach including parasailing and jet skiing (both for an amazing bargain that you would not find in tourist-packed Dubai).
10) Kitesurf Beach – Kitesurf Beach is quickly developing into a super trendy spot along the coast of Dubai. With the addition of a few food trucks and pit stop restaurants, you can now find throngs of people lining up to try out all the new joints. The most popular of the lot is Salt, which if you ask me isn’t exactly worth its salt but does serve some splendid chocolate milkshakes on a hot, hot day. A little distance from all the food you will find people kitesurfing (gasp!) as well as a couple of blow up volleyball nets. Something I’ve never actually tried but have heard is great fun is the ‘soapy’ football on Kitesurf Beach, which is a blown up, scaled down football pitch with a soapy surface. You figure out what happens next!
I hope that this list will prove useful to someone visiting. I can vouch for each of the places mentioned on this list as know to deliver top notch food and fun.
Keep in mind that this list is in no way exhaustive. It has been ridiculously difficult narrowing down over 18 years to just 10 items, so I strongly suggest that if you are planning a trip to Dubai and would like a few insider tips, leave me a comment and I would be more than happy to help make your vacation one for the books (not like it isn’t going to be by default).
[Click on the names of any of the restaurants mentioned above and you will be redirected to Zomato, which is a user driven review website. Any of the reviews on there can attest to the claims I’ve made above. Due to its regional popularity, Zomato is great if you’re looking to satisfy any kind of food craving in Dubai and need to know where to go!]