It's known for its spicy nature, but the heat has really been turned up on Indian food in recent weeks.
Tom Cruise was spotted ordering not one, but two chicken tikka masalas while in the UK this month, while Paul Rudd went viral for returning to London restaurant Darjeeling Express for a thali – and bringing friend Dan Levy with him.
While many of us can relate – those who love deliciously flavourful curries, biryanis or masalas – there are some who have misconceptions about the cuisine.
Last week, Washington Post columnist Gene Weingarten attracted the ire of the internet when he claimed that Indian food was entirely based on one spice. But he couldn’t be more wrong; Indian food is as versatile as it gets, and we have proof in the form of some of Dubai’s best Indian restaurants.
From chaats and curries to everything in between, here’s where to get your fill in the emirate.
The humble vada pav is one of Mumbai’s best-known street foods, and this quirky joint is all about reinventing the classic.
A vada pav (sometimes spelt pao in homage to the bread's Portuguese roots) is a slider of sorts, usually with a potato dumpling filling. But at O’Pao, you’ll find a creative range of options such as ones stuffed with mince mutton or cottage cheese. If you want to stick to the traditional, try the o’vada pao or the o'cheese burst vada pao.
If you’re looking for something unique, the o'mutton khicha pao – with tender, melt-in-your-mouth pulled meat – is a must-order.
Open daily, 11am-midnight; Dh60 for two (approx); branches in Karama and JLT; opaodxb.com
One of Dubai’s golden oldies, Sind Punjab opened in 1977 and is famous for its rich Mughlai cuisine. If you’re on the lookout for budget butter chicken, dal makhani, pani puri and kebabs, this is the place to visit, having racked up celebrity clientele over the years, with former customers including Saif Ali Khan and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan.
Open daily, 8am-midnight; Dh75 for two; Meena Bazaar, Dubai; 04 352 5058
If it’s authentic fare from the south coast state of Kerala you’re craving, we advise heading to this restaurant with branches in Karama and Al Nahda. Calicut Paragon is a Keralite restaurant that opened its first branch in Dubai in 2005, and has garnered quite a reputation for its Malabari cuisine dishes.
The biryani is famous in its own right, but you can’t go wrong with warm buttery Kerala paratha, appam, traditional fish moilee (a curry with coconut milk) or beef ularthiyathu (stir-fry). Their filter coffee is also a must-try.
Open daily, 7am to 12.30am; Dh100 for two (approx.); branches in Karama and Al Nahda; calicutparagon.com
Another Dubai institution, Eric’s is a quaint venue designed to transport you straight to the streets of Goa. The tasteful interiors, complete with prints by Goan cartoonist Mario Miranda, create a cosy ambience.
Must-tries on the menu include Bombay duck (a popular fried fish dish), chicken lollipops, chicken cafreal (a green gravy) and fish ambot tik (a spicy-sour gravy). Apart from traditional Goan cuisine, Eric's also offers many popular Indian and Indo-Chinese dishes.
Open daily, hours vary; Dh100 for two (approx) branches in Karama and Al Safa; ericsdubai.com
Inspired by the streets of Chandni Chowk, a bustling old market in Old Delhi, Chatori Gali is the place to be if you’re looking for north Indian street food.
The variety of chaats available can be overwhelming, so we recommend coming with an empty stomach and trying out a variety of items. The vegetarian-only restaurant also has a number of other Indian favourites, from pav bhaji to rolls, while its jalebi is acclaimed, also making this a great place to stop for just dessert and chai.
Open daily, timings vary; Dh100 for two; branches in Karama, Al Barsha and Jumeirah Lakes Towers in Dubai and Abu Shagara in Sharjah; chatorigali.ae
If you’re looking for a side of theatrics with your meal, SpiceKlub is a great spot. The vegetarian restaurant offers molecular gastronomic takes on classic Indian dishes, so expect intriguing serving options.
From pav bhaji fondue and naanza (naans topped with cheese) to a pani puri dished up alongside test tubes, there’s a wide range to choose from. Don’t leave without trying the bubbling kulfi or signature falooda for dessert.
Open daily, noon-3.30pm and 6.30-11.30pm; Dh150 to Dh200 for two; Al Reffa Building, Mankhool, Dubai; 04 393 1233
Breakfast favourite Raju Omlet has quickly made its mark in the UAE thanks to its creative variety of egg dishes and egg-cellent puns. The interiors are eccentric and the menu has so many options you’re bound to feel spoilt for choice.
Try the eggs Kejriwal (a desi eggs Benedict) if you’re looking for something different. You'll also find a wide variety of omelettes, scrambles, rolls and curry options, non-egg dishes (the keema biryani with spiced onions is a delight) and a mean cup of chai.
Open daily, hours vary; Dh100 for two; branches in JLT, Karama, Al Quoz, Business Bay, Deira City Centre in Dubai and Safeer Mall in Sharjah; rajuomlet.com
This restaurant is known for its rich, indulgent takes on classic Indian dishes, so if you’re looking for an outstanding chicken tikka masala, butter chicken or lamb rogan josh, you know where to go. For dessert, try the towering shahi tukda served between two slices of caramalised brioche.
The interiors are upscale yet traditional while some of the branches – such as ones in JLT and Dubai Festival City – have excellent outdoor seating areas with views that will elevate your dining experience.
Open daily, timings vary; Dh100-Dh200 for two; branches in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Ras Al Khaimah; peppermill.ae
This vegetarian restaurant specialises in thali, with different options every day. If it's your first visit, sample the all-you-can eat meal, which includes a number of dishes from Gujarat, Kathiawar and Rajasthan. The staff are warm and friendly, and you can get refills of all your favourite sides, and choices between types of rice and bread. The interiors are warm and inviting, with the choice to sit at a table or on the floor on a cushion.
Open daily, timings vary; Dh110 for two; Karama in Dubai and Yas Mall in Abu Dhabi; rasoighar.ae
For indulgent north Indian fare – reminiscent of those enjoyed by maharajas – this restaurant chain has it covered. It has a number of branches across the UAE, with tasteful interiors and golden lighting, while its menu is extensive, featuring kebabs and grills, creamy curries, flavourful masalas and biryanis to choose between. The galawati kebab, served on mini reshmi parathas, is a must-try.
Open daily, timings vary; Dh100-Dh200 for two; locations across the UAE; gazebo.ae
Expect quirky interiors, from a statement motorcycle at the entrance to vintage telephones, at this restaurant, the name of which translates to "hiccup" in Hindi. Meanwhile, the dishes, which are cleverly named after Bollywood films (such as Tiger Jhinga Hai and Mr India), are creative and well presented, whether you’re going for kebabs, chaats or a full meal of curry and naan.
Open daily, noon-1am; Dh200 upwards for two (approx); Grand Millennium Hotel Dubai, Barsha Heights; 04 587 7189, hitchki.co
Widely considered one of the UAE’s best restaurants for gourmet, modern – even fantastical – Indian dishes, Tresind should be on every foodie’s must-visit list.
The restaurant launched in Dubai in 2014 and quickly made its mark on the country's culinary scene, under the helm of head chef Himanshu Saini. On the menu are dishes that are almost too pretty to eat (think arugula pani puri and corn-crusted spinach kebabs), as well as a special chef's tasting menu (with a wild mushroom chai soup and tandoori rosemary lamb chops) for those who can’t quite decide what to order.
For those wanting to take their dining experience to a whole new level, there’s Tresind Studio, a guided chef’s table experience with only 20 guests per service.
Open daily, noon-11.30pm; Dh500+ for two; voco Dubai, Sheikh Zayed Road; 04 526 0728; tresind.com
Carnival by Tresind
A sister restaurant of Tresind, Carnival pushes the envelope when it comes to how Indian food is prepared and served. On the menu are dishes such as vada pav, raj kachori, avocado taco, lotus root, chicken momos, crispy crab and more, and plates may not come served as you'd expect in this Willy Wonka-esque space.
Open daily, noon to 11pm; Dh350 for two; DIFC; 052 242 4262; carnivalbytresind.com
Mint Leaf of London
A stalwart in the UAE’s fine-dining scene, Mint Leaf of London has garnered a reputation as the Indian place for a quiet celebration or a gourmet night out.
The restaurant has largely eschewed the molecular gastronomy trend and stuck to its roots: good food, presented well. On the menu are dishes such as cauliflower arancini, paneer pinwheel, tandoori portobello, herb-encrusted fried fish, and beef steak, pepper and coconut masala.
The sparkling Dubai skyline views – complete with the Burj Khalifa in the distance – through the floor-to-ceiling windows add to the classy vibe.
Open daily, noon to 1am; Dh500+ for two; South Tower, DIFC, Dubai; mintleaf.ae
Its name translates to “fun” or “mischief” in Hindi, and the restaurant definitely lives up to its promise. The La Mer venue is decorated in a riot of colours, with plenty of seating areas, both indoor and outdoor.
The food, meanwhile, reinterprets Indian cuisine for a global audience: think black bass ceviche, butter chicken pizza, tamarind BBQ beef ribs, and mushroom and truffle kichadi.
Open daily, 4pm onwards; Dh500+ for two; La Mer, Dubai; 800 62784, mastidubai.com