Best restaurants in Egypt: four Cairo spots on Mena 50 list

A trendy Mediterranean-Asian fusion outlet, two Japanese concepts and an Egyptian street food brand all made it to the inaugural regional ranking

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For a country of more than 100 million, Egypt’s culinary scene is still in its infancy.

But that is slowly starting to change, as shown by the four Cairo restaurants that earned spots on the inaugural Middle East and North Africa’s 50 Best Restaurants list. One even made it to the top five.

From Egyptian street food to high-end Japanese, here is a closer look at the venues:

Sachi

Mena's 50 Best Restaurants ranking: No 5

Sachi, Cairo. Photo: Sachi

Entrepreneur Ayman Baky is a pioneer in Egypt’s restaurant industry, starting his Baky Hospitality Group in 2013 and opening Sachi in 2014.

The group’s seven eateries include Kazoku and the recently launched Cairo branch of Reif Kushiyaki, which was also ranked on the Mena 50 Best list.

Baky started his career in the nightlife business before deciding to “focus on the food”, he tells The National.

His first restaurant Sachi is a Japanese word that means “child of joy” and combines Sasha and Chris, the names of his first two children.

“I didn’t expect Sachi to be number five at all,” Baky says of the competition that encompassed 19 countries in the region, including the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon.

He credits the fact that it is a home-grown brand with “a marvellous impact on the Egyptian market, over and above the strategic alliances we made with international chefs”.

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The curated Mediterranean-Asian menu, widely praised by its patrons, sets Sachi apart from Cairo’s other upscale spots

These include Greek chef Athanasios Kargatzidis, known as “Chef Tommy”, who worked with Sachi in its first few years.

Now with two branches at opposite ends of the Egyptian capital and one on the North Coast, Sachi has garnered a well-deserved reputation as one of Cairo’s quintessential date spots.

Decorated in a modern, maximalist style that utilises a warm colour palette, clean lines and reflective surfaces, the dimly lit eatery looks like somewhere you might find Carrie Bradshaw having a romantic night out.

The curated Mediterranean-Asian menu, widely praised by its patrons, sets Sachi apart from Cairo’s other upscale spots. While the sushi selection is perfectly fine, it is actually Sachi’s simpler dishes such as the mushroom risotto, their house fries and the mouth-watering Chateaubriand steak that patrons can’t get enough of. For anyone with a sweet tooth, the sticky date pudding deserves an honourable mention.

One of the pricier eateries in Cairo, an appetiser, a main dish and a dessert cost about 900-1,200 Egyptian pounds ($57-$76).

Open Saturday-Wednesday 2pm-12am, Thursday and Friday 2pm-1am; 3 Cleopatra St, Korba El Montaza, Heliopolis; +201280902028; sachirestaurant.com

Kazoku

Mena's 50 Best Restaurants ranking: No 19

Kazoku, Cairo. Photo: Kazoku

Looking for high-end Japanese food in a sophisticated setting? Kazoku, nestled in the lush Swan Lake compound of east Cairo, is the place to be.

Launched in 2015, the restaurant has received praise from industry experts and proved popular, despite its high price point.

It is best to go in a big group and share, as patrons will have a hard time choosing between cold starters such as salmon tataki, signature sushi rolls, ceviches, Japanese tacos and gyoza.

That is not to mention the signature main dishes that include miso glazed black cod and oven-roasted Chilean sea bass, ranging between 820-1,125 Egyptian pounds each.

For dessert, the bento box is the way to go to get samplings of the matcha brulee, dark chocolate fondant with caramel and yuzu lemon curd.

Behind the scenes is Tarek Alameddine, the kitchen director who joined the Baky Hospitality Group last year after working as a sous chef at the world’s No 1 restaurant in 2021, Noma in Copenhagen.

To create the right ambience at both Kazoku and Sachi, Baky Hospitality signed a contract with Spanish DJ Jordi Carreras in 2019 for curated playlists.

Open Saturday-Wednesday 2pm-12am, Thursday and Friday 2pm-1am; Naguib Mahfouz axis, Swan Lake compound, Second New Cairo; +201270004877; kazokuegypt.com

Zooba

Mena's 50 Best Restaurants ranking: No 38

Zooba, Cairo, Egypt. Photo: Zooba

Zooba started in 2012 “on the very simple premise that Egypt has fantastic food, but no one in the world knew about it”, founder Chris Khalifa tells The National.

Khalifa, along with head chef and co-founder Moustafa El Refaey, sought to get innovative with traditional Egyptian street food. The cheap staples of the masses — such as foul, taameya and koshari — are prepared with top-quality ingredients and a bit of a twist.

For example, fresh foul, or fava beans, are soaked overnight, slow-cooked for 12 hours daily and then mashed with a special spice blend.

But perhaps Zooba is best known for its taameya, the Egyptian version of falafel made with fava beans. Try it paired with fried aubergine and beetroot-hibiscus tahini, or fried cauliflower and a spicy harissa-raisin sauce.

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[Having] a very simple Egyptian concept be amongst the restaurants on that list is incredible
Chris Khalifa, Zooba founder

As an added bonus, a meal at Zooba is probably the cheapest you will find on the Mena top 50 list. A foul sandwich costs 10 Egyptian pounds (less than a dollar) and the most expensive item on the menu, the newly launched shrimp fereek, tops out at 145 pounds ($10).

That calls for dessert, so don’t miss out on the Zooba rice pudding topped with angel hair halawa, honey, crushed nuts and orange zest.

Since Zooba first opened in Zamalek in central Cairo with its hip, colourful branding a decade ago, the chain has expanded to seven more outlets across the city. In 2019, it made its international debut in New York’s Nolita neighbourhood, followed by Riyadh last year.

Khalifa says another outlet in Riyadh will open by next month, at least three more in Egypt this year, as well as more in New York and elsewhere in the future.

As for making it to the Mena top 50, Khalifa is beaming with nationalistic pride and says having “a very simple Egyptian concept be among the restaurants on that list is incredible. We’re still pinching ourselves”.

Open 10am-12am everyday; 16 26th of July St, Zamalek; 16082 delivery hotline; zoobaeats.com

Izakaya

Mena's 50 Best Restaurants ranking: No 45

Izakaya, Cairo, Egypt. Photo: Izakaya

Izakaya sets itself apart as Cairo’s first Nikkei restaurant, blending Japanese and Peruvian cuisines at the helm of Peruvian chef Martin Rodriguez.

It is one of several restaurants under Sanctum Hospitality, founded by brothers Tamer and Taymour Erian in 2015.

As one of the few places that specialise in robatayaki, a Japanese method of cooking meat, where it is barbecued over hot coals at varying speeds and temperatures, Izakaya’s menu is by far its best attribute.

Boasting a specificity that few other Cairene restaurants possess, the menu offers a varied selection of Japanese dishes that first-time patrons may not have tried before in Cairo, making it perfect for adventurous eaters who want to try something new for the night.

While some of the sushi items on offer are also available at other places in Cairo, Izakaya puts a spin on almost every item on the menu, leaving one surprised by what they are tasting every time.

Some of the gems on the menu include the Izakaya ceviche, which features a tangy ponzu sauce you can smell a mile away. The sauce pairs perfectly with the cured sea bass in the dish. The unassuming king crab tacos are also a must-have. Not to mention the matcha fondant, one of the highlights of the dessert menu.

The decor, like the menu, is an undeniable homage to Japanese architecture and design as it features a lot of wooden panels and warm lighting. The overall vibe is chic but cozy.

It is one of those places that is perfect for celebrating a special occasion, and it is definitely worth the splurge.

Open Saturday-Wednesday 2pm-12am, Thursday and Friday 2pm-1am; Palm Hills compound, Sheikh Zayed; +201271116223; izakayacairo.com

Mena’s 50 Best Restaurants 2022 in full:

1. 3 Fils, Dubai, UAE

2. Zuma, Dubai, UAE

3. OCD Restaurant, Tel Aviv, Israel

4. Tresind Studio, Dubai, UAE (also won Art of Hospitality Award)

5. Sachi, Cairo, Egypt

6. Orfali Bros, Dubai, UAE

7. Fakhreldin, Amman, Jordan

8. LPM Restaurant & Bar, Dubai, UAE

9. George & John, Tel Aviv, Israel

10. Gaia, Dubai, UAE

11. Il Borro Tuscan Bistro, Dubai, UAE

12. Baron, Beirut, Lebanon

13. Coya, Dubai, UAE

14. HaBasta, Tel Aviv, Israel

15. Myazu, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

16. Reif Kushiyaki, Dubai, UAE

17. Animar, Tel Aviv, Israel

18. Tresind, Dubai, UAE

19. Kazoku, Cairo, Egypt

20. Mimi Kakushi, Dubai, UAE

21. Liza, Beirut, Lebanon

22. Em Sherif, Beirut, Lebanon

23. Lowe, Dubai, UAE (also won the Sustainable Restaurant Award)

24. Pescado, Ashdod, Israel

25. Hakkasan, Abu Dhabi, UAE

26. La Grande Table Marocaine, Marrakech, Morocco

27. 13C Bar in the Back, Amman, Jordan

28. Tawlet Mar Mikhael, Beirut, Lebanon

29. Amazonico, Dubai, UAE

30. Marble, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

31. Mirai, Manama, Bahrain

32. Iloli, Casablanca, Morocco

33. BB Social Dining, Dubai, UAE

34. Coya, Abu Dhabi, UAE

35. Indochine, Dubai, UAE

36. Cut by Wolfgang Puck, Doha, Qatar

37. Porterhouse, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

38. Zooba, Cairo, Egypt

39. Fusions by Tala, Manama, Bahrain

40. Milgo Milbar, Tel Aviv, Israel

41. Sufra, Amman, Jordan

42. LPM Restaurant & Cafe, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

43. White Robata, Kuwait City, Kuwait

44. Hoseki, Dubai, UAE

45. Izakaya, Cairo, Egypt

46. La Closerie, La Marsa, Tunisia

47. Clap, Beirut, Lebanon

48. Butcher & Still, Abu Dhabi, UAE

49. Plus61, Marrakech, Morocco

50. Tokyo, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

See photos from the Mena 50 Best award ceremony:

Updated: February 12, 2022, 8:19 PM
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