After the World’s 50 Best organisation released its first Mena 50 Best list, The National wondered: what if all 50 happened to be from the UAE? The country certainly has the volume and variety to merit it.
The final list, which was announced at a gala awards ceremony in Abu Dhabi last week, spanned the Mena region, from Bahrain and Egypt to Lebanon and Saudi Arabia. Even so, the UAE led the charge with 19 entries in the top 50.
Immediately, discussion and debate ensued among foodies as to what other restaurants would also deserve a spot.
So we put that question to our readers, asking: which restaurant would you have voted for?
The responses poured in. Food is, after all, one of the most divisive and delightful topics. This list is by no means definitive, rather a representation of the breadth of culinary offerings in the UAE.
The end game? To add 31 restaurants to the 19 already voted the best in the country to form a master list of top 50 restaurants within the Emirates based on the perspective of The National's readers.
While the suggestions were predominantly from Dubai, there were also a healthy number of Abu Dhabi restaurants, chains with branches all over the Emirates, plus one from Khor Fakkan that received about half a dozen recommendations.
The 19 UAE restaurants on the Mena’s 50 Best list:
These are: 3 Fils, Zuma, Tresind Studio, Orfali Bros, LPM Dubai, Gaia, Il Borro, Coya Dubai, Reif Kushiyaki, Tresind, Mimi Kakushi, Lowe, Hakkasan Abu Dhabi, Amazonico, BB Social Dining, Coya Abu Dhabi, Indochine, Hoseki and Butcher & Still.
More information on each is here.
The 31 reader-recommended UAE restaurants (in alphabetical order):
The restaurant at Meyan Mall, Dubai, serves food from the Balkans, and is famed for its ajvar dip, komplet egg and burek, in addition to hearty meat options.
99 Sushi Bar
Japanese Kobe Grade A5 and sushi rolls aside, the restaurant at the Four Seasons Hotel in Abu Dhabi offers fine-dining Japanese dishes with innovative flavour profiles: think king crab served au gratin with creamy yuzu mayo; umami crystal toast with caviar; and sauteed fish in a bouillabaisse of yellow chilli mussels.
The Italian restaurant on Bluewaters Island specialises in seafood, with offerings ranging from raw amberjack and fried calamari to an anchovy and sea urchin pasta and a classic salt-crusted sea bass.
The dishes might twist the unpractised tongue a bit, but the Greek restaurant at Conrad Dubai is all about authenticity, with a menu that takes in dakos (bread rusk salad), tzatziki and taramosalata dips, grilled octopus, cod fricassee, and astakomakaronada (lobster pasta), plus the traditional orange cake, portokalopita.
Avli by tashas
South African restaurateur Natasha Sideris explores her Greek heritage through this Mediterranean restaurant in the Four Seasons Hotel DIFC. On the menu is a mix of traditional mezze, salads and slow-cooked meats.
Beirut Sur Mer Abu Dhabi
“A culinary escape to the Levant at the sandy shores of Mamsha” is how the restaurant describes itself — and that’s exactly what it is. The beautifully decorated eatery, which is at Soul Beach, has an expansive menu full of authentic Lebanese food, from breakfast favourites to staple mezze plates and tempting desserts.
The home-grown restaurant in the Dubai International Financial Centre serves modern European cuisine with a focus on Spanish flavours. Its USP is using locally sourced ingredients to whip up delicious dishes that cater to all manner of dietary preferences. Lobster rolls are its signature creation, and these are served in a home-made brioche with tangy, creamy lemon aioli, purple cabbage coleslaw, thin strips of fried veggies that change according to season, and a sprinkling of dill and mustard seeds.
The Turkish restaurant has five outposts in Dubai and one in Abu Dhabi, and its JBR branch is positively buzzing this season. The tome-like menu offers everything from Turkish sac and doner wraps to kofte and saslik burgers, with plenty of baklava to boot.
Cipriani, Abu Dhabi
The fine-dining Italian restaurant on Yas Island has stood the test of time, and offers classic dishes such as lamb chops scottadito, veal Milanese and chicken al Mattone, while the Chilean sea bass is something of a signature. There's a branch in Dubai, too, but it's the Abu Dhabi venue our readers voted for.
While Clap Beirut placed 47th on Mena’s 50 Best Restaurant’s list, Clap Dubai merits a spot on top UAE restaurants, too, according to our readers. The swanky DIFC restaurant serves Japanese fare, although in-the-know diners recommend splurging on the chef-selected omakase menu, which includes everything from umami wings and black cod to king crab leg and Wagyu-foie gras gyoza.
Couqley French Bistro and Bar
The cosy, unassuming and ever-packed Parisian-style bistro in JLT, Dubai, serves classic French fare: think signatures such as steak frites and French onion soup, as well as foie gras with strawberry coulis; creamy mushrooms in a puff pastry; and pappardelle pasta in a truffle sauce.
Dampa Seafood Grill
The Filipino hotspot from Deira, Dampa — as its name suggests — dumps freshly caught shrimp, crab, mussels and clams by the kilo (or half kilo for smaller parties) straight on the sharing table, and its offerings are best enjoyed by hand.
It started life in 2017 as folly by Nick & Scott, and this Souk Madinat Jumeirah restaurant is now a veritable culinary powerhouse. No reference to its menu would be complete without mentioning the signature crispy hen’s egg served with pancetta and maple syrup, but the team also do a mean lamb saddle, monkfish tail and beef Wellington.
The in-house restaurant on Louvre Abu Dhabi premises serves fine-dining French dishes in collaboration with Michelin-lauded chef Pierre Gagnaire. On offer are classics such as snails with butter and garlic, French onion soup and sole meuniere, as well as specialities such as thinly sliced haddock with ratte potatoes, and lobster tail with pilaf rice.
For indulgent North Indian fare — reminiscent of those enjoyed by maharajas — this restaurant chain has it covered, with venues in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Al Ain, Ajman and Sharjah. The extensive menu features kebabs and grills, creamy curries and flavourful biryanis. The galawati kebab, served on mini buttery parathas, is a must-try.
Indigo Abu Dhabi
The North Indian restaurant at Beach Rotana Abu Dhabi serves flavourful kebabs, curries and biryanis laced with a medley of spices. Vegetarians are well catered for as well, with options such as aloo gobi, palak paneer, dhaba-style chickpeas and taka-tak, a hot-off-the-girdle dish that combines baby aubergine, okra, mushrooms and bell peppers in a tomato masala.
Chef-patron Neha Mishra won the One to Watch Award at the Mena’s 50 Best Restaurants ceremony, but The National's readers reckon newbie eatery Kinoya is already one of the UAE’s best restaurants. The Japanese hot spot is best known for its ramen.
Touted as the first “gourmet Afghan street and soul food restaurant” in Dubai, Kishmish opened its doors in Dar Wasl Mall in 2018. The menu offers traditional dishes such as the hearty mashawa soup with lentils, beans and ground lamb; mantu dumplings with minced beef, lentils and yoghurt; and Kabuli palou; plus koftas and kebabs galore.
La Carnita, Abu Dhabi
While its Dubai Marina outpost has been around for some time, readers voted that La Carnita’s Abu Dhabi branch should make this list. The Mexican cantina opened at Yas Bay Waterfront in December, and serves flavourful tacos, tostadas, ceviche, quesadillas and churros.
The Portuguese restaurant in Wasl 51, Dubai, prides itself on its laid-back vibe and authentic menu that seeks inspiration from the eateries found in Lisbon’s bohemian Bairro Alto neighbourhood. On offer are veal and beef croquettes with peri-peri mayo, salted codfish, braised monkfish and duck rice.
Lola Taberna Espanola
The Spanish restaurant in Tryp by Wyndham Dubai has an intimate dining room and cheery patio, and serves an extensive Iberian charcuterie menu. Other signatures include liquid olives and Manchego cheese in olive oil, but for a taste of something different, sample the sea bass tiradito that comes doused in a Canary Islands sauce with a kick of coriander. There's also the delightful garlic-infused squid ink paella with a crunchy socarrat base.
Mythos Kouzina & Grill
This hidden gem in JLT, Dubai, will transport you to the isles of Greece with its charming interior and authentic menu. Must-haves include the cheese saganaki; burnt leek with metsovone cheese and peanuts; grilled octopus; and spanakopita with spinach, feta, Greek yoghurt and thyme honey.
Its eponymous chef, better known as Salt Bae, may have courted his share of controversies, but there’s no denying the dishes at this Four Seasons Resort Dubai steakhouse are par excellence. If you only have room for three, sample the beef carpaccio, Ottoman steak and short rib.
Serving authentic Pakistani food since 43 years, Ravi Restaurant in Satwa, Dubai, has become something of a tourist attraction. But it also has its loyal customers who visit week in, week out. The one thing its patrons have in common? They want to eat some of the city’s most famous chicken tikka and mutton kebabs. It is known for its fuss-free interiors, its reasonable prices (a cup of tea still goes for Dh2) and a menu that has stood the test of time (the chicken handi is legendary).
The Italian restaurant in Jumeirah Al Naseem, Dubai, serves fresh crudo (Italian for raw bites) and grilled mains. From the former, the yellowfin tuna with black truffle and saffron arancini with spicy tuna tartare are particularly good, while the langoustine ravioli and veal chop Milanese are hearty enough to share.
Another newbie, the Dubai outpost of the famed New York restaurant SushiSamba opened at The St Regis Dubai The Palm in November. The concept is a mix of Japanese, Brazilian and Peruvian flavours, which translates as fresh and flavourful taquitos, seviches (spelt with an “s” on the menu in tribute to the restaurant's name), tiraditos and sushi rolls (including one with Maine lobster that’s exclusive to Dubai).
Texas de Brazil
The Brazilian-American churrasco in Mall of the Emirates has a friendly vibe and fabulous food. Various types of steak aside, it’s known for its chicken sausages, lamb cutlets and hearty seafood bisque.
The steakhouse in Khor Fakkan is known for its high-quality, perfectly cooked meats — from short ribs and marrow to rib-eye and Wagyu — which can be had slow-cooked or straight from the barbecue. It also does salads, handi biryanis and Turkish baklava. This spot got several votes from our readers.
Dubai’s first dedicated Jamaican restaurant opened in 2016 in Souk Al Manzil, where it continues to serve traditional delicacies such as jerk chicken, Scotch bonnet shrimps, callaloo loaf and curry goat. There's a branch now open at Mamsha Al Saadiyat in Abu Dhabi as well.
Although not strictly a restaurant, this cafe in Khalidiyah Mall, Abu Dhabi, gets a shout-out from our readers for its delicious breakfast food (think bagels, avo on toast and fluffy Japanese-style pancakes), Middle Eastern dishes such as shakshuka and ful, while the taboon mess — eggs on freshly baked taboon bread with herb-infused yoghurt and a paprika butter drizzle — is a must-try.
The all-day restaurant at Le Meridien Dubai Hotel & Conference Centre is well known for its vibrant brunches. It serves a wide-ranging international menu, which includes Indian, Japanese, Chinese and Middle Eastern fare. This is one to seek for a buffet meal.