As part of a new series of culinary guides to various areas in the UAE by The National, we start by exploring Dubai's Motor City, where diners will find neighbourhood-style cafes next to famous restaurant chains, whether home-grown or internationally renowned, and plenty of acai bowls.
While this is not all that the automotive-themed destination has to offer foodies, it's a selection of the best, newest and most popular.
Hyperama, the UAE's South African shop, has a new restaurant branch at Motor City's The Ribbon Mall, which only opened a few months ago, right next to Friends Avenue. Get your fill of boerewors, bunny chow and frikkadel, plus beloved desserts such as malva pudding, lamington and koeksisters, all within a space that boasts bold hues and bright neon signage, plus a retail area selling some of Hyperama's hard-to-find-elsewhere products.
Open Saturday-Wednesday, noon-10pm, Thursday-Saturday 10am-11pm; The Ribbon Mall, Motor City; 058 108 8786; hyperama.ae
Since first opening in 2015, Friends Avenue has garnered quite a reputation as a go-to neighbourhood hang-out and now has three branches across Dubai, including in Motor City.
Industrial-style decor in the fashion of exposed ceilings and concrete floors is softened by a natural earthiness in wooden tables and plants dotted about.
The food spans breakfast favourites such as avocado on toast and shakshouka, plus salads, sandwiches and heartier mains, including truffle mushroom pasta, spiced lamb and a golden vegan bowl.
Friends Avenue is also home to two other food brands – Acai & the Tribe, and Melt Burger Company – and you can order those dishes from the menu, too.
Open daily 7am-midnight; The Ribbon Mall, Motor City; 04 243 2866; friendsavenue.ae
Bowls made from acai berries from Brazil became all the rage in Dubai a few years ago, and one of the most popular spots to get one is Projeto Acai, which has four branches in the city.
It might be small with very limited seating, but the Motor City venue still offers frozen bowls full of flavour and with plenty of toppings, from berries to cacao and home-made granola. You can also find poke bowls, sandwiches, breakfast items and smoothies on the menu.
Open Sunday-Thursday 7.30am-1am, Friday 8am-2am, Saturday 7.30am-2am; First Avenue Mall, Motor City; 04 557 2682; projetoacai.com
As far as burger joints go, Pickl’s domination has been fast and resolute. It only opened in 2019, and there are already six branches across the UAE, with a relatively new one in The Ribbon Mall, Motor City.
Its fresh ingredients and big flavours have won over the crowds, with its cheeseburgers, chicken sandos and those homemade pickles. There’s even a vegetarian option using Beyond Meat (it's not vegan).
Open Saturday-Wednesday 11am-1am, Thursday-Friday 11am-2am; Ribbon Mall, Motor City; 04 568 6882; eatpickl.com
The Cycle Bistro
Anyone who’s ever dabbled with the paleo diet or simply enjoys healthy food will know The Cycle Bistro, which is an extension of bicycle shop The Cycle Hub, and has two branches in Jumeirah and Motor City.
The menu appeals to a range of tastes: a pure chia pudding sits next to steak and eggs, while the vegan Godzilla salad sidles up against some baha fish tacos. Main dishes include sticky beef short ribs, tikka chicken breast and butternut gnocchi. Smoothies, shakes and “fitness cocktails” are also available. The produce is seasonal, so the selection changes every three months.
Open Sunday-Tuesday and Thursday 8am-7.30pm, Wednesday 8am-8.30pm, Friday-Saturday 8am-5.30pm; The Cycle Hub, Dubai Autodrome, Motor City; 04 425 3000; thecyclebistro.com
The Lime Tree Cafe
Home-grown favourite The Lime Tree Cafe & Kitchen has a relatively new branch next to Waitrose in Motor City. With indoor and outdoor seating, and an a la carte menu as well as daily specials, the venue always has a buzz about it. There’s also a retail section where you can pick up preserves, cookbooks and beautiful chopping boards.
While the breakfast and lunch selections are great, from pancakes to salads and pizza, it’s the cakes and bakery that really draw in the crowds; think carrot cake, a salted caramel and dark chocolate brownie, and vegan sticky toffee date cake.
Open daily 7.30am-9.30pm; Waitrose Community Mall, Motor City; 04 338 8345; thelimetreecafe.com
Bhoujan is a go-to Indian eatery for people in the vicinity of Motor City, although people further afar can sample its spoils too, as it offers delivery via its own drivers or on various platforms.
The menu is vast, spanning street food, tandoori and grills, curries, biryanis, kathi kebab rolls, plus desserts and Indian sweets. There are also a few Indian-Chinese options, including paneer chilli, chicken lollipop and veg Manchurian dumplings. The chilli idli comes highly recommended.
This can all be enjoyed in the vibrant, cosy and colourful restaurant.
Open daily 11am-10.30pm; Main Boulevard, Motor City; 04 447 5360; bhoujan.com
A self-described hidden gem, SanSation offers Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine in a laid-back atmosphere with indoor and outdoor seating, all inspired by Santorini, Greece.
From foul medames to ka’aek and shakshouka for breakfast, through to grills, rice dishes and salads for mains, and plenty of mezze plates to choose from, the menu has the region covered. There is also an array of international options, including pasta, pizza and chicken cordon bleu. Desserts such as chocolate fondant and crepes are available, too.
Open daily 7.30am-1am; Green Community, Motor City; 04 456 7371; facebook.com/SanSationRest
Le Petit Belge
This is the only one of these venues on this list that’s located in a hotel, as, unlike many parts of Dubai, Motor City isn’t teeming with five-star properties. Le Petit Belge, which also has a branch in JLT, is a laid-back, unpretentious bar and restaurant with an inviting ambience, comfy seating and decent beverage deals.
The menu emphasises European flavours, from British fish and chips to Belgian-style mussels and Italian wild mushroom risotto. There’s also a selection of bar bites if you’re looking for something smaller, including the bierplankje, a platter of Gouda cheese, beef chorizo, gherkins and baby pickled onions, with mustard on the side.
Open Sunday-Thursday 4pm-1am, Friday-Saturday noon-1am; Park Inn by Radisson, Motor City; 04 521 5900; lepetitbelge.com
Pepe’s Piri Piri
Pepe’s Piri Piri opened in London in 2004 and has since become one of the fastest-growing food chains in the UK, with branches all over England and one in Northern Ireland. It expanded internationally, first to Pakistan and has one branch in the UAE.
It’s known for its chicken wings, classic tender strips and original Piri Piri chicken, all available in flavours such as mango and lime, mild and extra hot. There’s also a vegetarian-friendly menu with a paneer wrap, paneer rice and veggie burger. (If all this has you craving a Nando’s instead, there’s one of those in Motor City, too.)
Open Sunday-Wednesday 11am-midnight, Thursday-Saturday 11am-1am; R29, Fox Hill 5 Uptown, Motor City; 04 564 5778; pepes.ae
The moist falafel bites this Dubai-born chain is famous for aren’t just beloved in the UAE, but now also in Saudi Arabia, Paris, New York and soon London.
It’s not only perfectly fried chickpea fritters on the table, but a whole host of Middle Eastern classics, including sambousek, shakshouka and the ubiquitous chicken shawarma, to name a few dishes from the expansive menu.
You can dine in the rather spacious Motor City branch, which has indoor and outdoor seating.
Open daily 8am-1am; Ribbon Mall, Motor City; 04 514 2805; operationfalafel.com
While there are several branches of this popular Japanese chain located across the UAE, it was a popular addition among Motor City residents when it opened next to Waitrose supermarket in 2020.
All the teppanyaki dishes, don buris and ramen bowls you’d expect are present on the menu, including Wagamama’s famous plant-based selection for vegan diners.
The venue is even has a large terrace for al fresco dining when the weather is cool enough.
Open daily noon-10pm; Waitrose Community Mall, Motor City; 04 575 5912; wagamama.ae