11 Middle Eastern restaurants that opened in 2023 – and what each has to offer

Venues range from award-winning concepts to legacy brands with strong following across Arab world

From locally sourced Emirati ingredients to the best of the Levant, the Arabic restaurant scene was abuzz with new launches this year. Photo: Alya
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The Middle Eastern restaurant scene heated up this year with nearly a dozen openings capturing the vast flavours of the region, from the Levant to the Gulf. These include everything from time-tested favourites such as Babel and Soul Kitchen, which are both from Lebanon, to exacting South Korean chef James Kim's Les Dangereaux, which experiments with “new Arabian” cuisine and flavour.

The cherry on the cake was the Emirati-inspired restaurant Erth winning a Michelin star this month.

If you haven't already, here are 11 new Middle Eastern restaurants to sample, of which eight sprung up in the capital.


Located in Al Zahiya in Abu Dhabi, Alya pays homage to the Levant and, as such, is inspired by the Mediterranean artichoke. It opened in November.

This is Lebanese dining but not as you know it, in that it’s familiar, though anything but traditional.

“Here, appetites are used to trying traditional-style dishes with a modern spin,” consultant chef Charbel Safi, who helped shape Alya’s menu, tells The National. “You will struggle to serve dishes like this in Lebanon, even though they’re dishes that are found across the country, only elevated.

Five to try: Artichoke hummus with marinated artichoke and Parmesan; Lebanese ceviche with lemon-cured white fish; kebab halloumi with caramelised molasses sauce; cheesy truffle kebbeh nayyeh with crispy Lebanese crackers; and mhalabiyeh pistachio cigar with white chocolate Valrhona.

Daily, noon-11pm; Beach Rotana Residences, Al Zahiyah, Abu Dhabi; 02 555 0018


The Lebanese fine-dining restaurant opened a 9,500-square-foot location at Dubai Mall's Fashion Avenue in August, including a terrace overlooking the Dubai Fountain.

With a flagship restaurant in Dbayeh, Lebanon, Babel is named after the ancient city on the banks of the Euphrates.

On the menu are Levantine classics, such as smoky caviar hummus, kibbeh nayeh, falafel truffle, smoked short ribs and baklava pistachio.

Daily, noon-midnight; Dubai Mall; www.babelrestaurant.com

La Sirene

Launched in April, the restaurant in Avani Palm View Dubai Hotel & Suites draws inspiration from Beirut’s contemporary cafe culture and sharing-style dishes.

Also look out for the artworks by contemporary Lebanese painter Michel Rouhana, who has created seven pieces for the restaurant using his popular waves motif in keeping with the venue's name “sirene”, which comes from the French word for “mermaid”.

Five to try: Sea bass sayadiyah with roasted fish sauce, fried onions, pine nuts, and sayadiyah rice; tiger prawns and avocado salad; grilled octopus; red snapper with potatoes ragout, artichokes, tahini and pine nut sauce, and black lemon powder; and makanek ghanam, Lebanese lamb sausages.

Daily, noon-3pm, 6pm-10pm; Al Sufouh 2, Dubai; 04 604 2220


Taking the “love local” motto to heart, Erth promotes Emirati culture through its food, design and even its location. The restaurant, which opened in January, sits between Qasr Al Hosn, the oldest and most significant building in Abu Dhabi, and the Cultural Foundation. It was conferred with one Michelin star, making it the world's first and only Emirati restaurant to get one.

Ingredients are sourced from farms across Abu Dhabi, Al Ain and Hatta, while the dining area is inspired by a traditional majlis and carved out of a raised floor. Erth was designed by the architects from Bone Studio in collaboration with multidisciplinary designer Aljoud Lootah and furniture designer Khalid Shafar.

Five to try: Mini taquitos of Emirati shrimps with green curry paste, coconut milk and black garlic; bzar-marinated beef short ribs; torched salmon crudo with mango and fennel; margooga ravioli in Parmesan sauce with charred asparagus and confit tomatoes; and Gahwa chocolate cake with Sidr honey mousse and honeycomb candy.

Daily, noon-11pm; Al Hosn, Abu Dhabi; 02 679 4014

Grand Beirut

The clue lies in the name, as Grand Beirut – which first opened in Silicon Oasis in Dubai – brought its authentic Lebanese dishes to the capital with its Al Qana outpost in September.

The colourful restaurant is known for its olive oil and vinegar tastings, which diners can sample as they wait for their food.

Five to try: Lobster with tahini salsa and Parmesan; salt-crusted sea bass; baby chicken marinated in citrus and garlic sauce; baby octopus and calamari with lemon butter and coriander salsa; and baked kofta stuffed with eggplant, cheese, walnut and pistachio.

Open 8am-midnight, Monday to Friday, 8am-12.30am, Saturday to Sunday; Al Qana, Abu Dhabi; 050 442 9211


The Beirut-headquartered restaurant opened its second outpost in the UAE capital at The Galleria Al Maryah Island in May. The restaurant offers breakfast, lunch and dinner, and is an extension of the brand's original food counter concept.

The expansive menu is divided into salads, sandwiches, grill platters, hot and cold meze and rice dishes.

Five to try: Shish taouk; balila and pine nuts; quinoa tabbouleh; chicken kabsa; and mohalabiya and date pudding.

Daily, 10am-11.45pm; The Galleria Al Maryah Island, Abu Dhabi; 600 595951


Opened in September at Yas Mall, Karaz puts a modern spin on home-made dishes from Lebanon, Palestine, Syria and Jordan.

Five to try: Shakshuka; mansaf; maqloubeh with meat; chicken freekeh; and fish siyadieh.

Daily, 9am-1am; Yas Mall, Abu Dhabi; 050 494 5471


An Argentinian steakhouse with an Emirati twist may sound more like confusion than fusion, but the result is one of the best-kept secrets in Abu Dhabi.

The restaurant has been accepting diners since its soft opening in May, but had its grand launch in December.

MouzMari is named after owner Moadad Almazrouei’s children, Mouza and Mariam, and is set on the Reem Island waterfront in the capital. MouzMari is a carnivore's dream, which offers new and exciting flavours and concepts that ignite even the most seasoned palettes.

Five to try: Oven-cooked papa gratinada potatoes with Parmesan foam and onion charcoal powder; classic rack of lamb presented as a reinterpretation of Emirati machboos; Muhammar paella; otoro bluefin tuna drizzled with aji Amarillo and black garlic emulsion; and Wagyu tenderloin with steamed corn in cheese sauce.

Open 2pm-11.30pm from Monday to Thursday, 2pm-midnight on Friday, 3pm-midnight on Saturday and Sunday; Marina Bay 1, Al Reem Island, Abu Dhabi; 02 626 6344


The popular Dubai Mall resto-cafe opened its first branch in the UAE capital at Marina Mall in June followed by Yas Mall in November, offering creative Arabic fusion dishes. Each branch of Somewhere is inspired by a different city. The Corniche outpost, for instance, pays homage to Abu Dhabi with its camel motif, and sand dune and gold leaf-inspired decor.

Five to try: Truffle and cheese batata harra fries; halloumi focaccia; shawarma bao buns; shrimp kunafa; and French coffee baklava.

Open noon-10pm from Sunday to Thursday; and noon-midnight on Friday and Saturday; Marina Mall and Yas Mall, Abu Dhabi; 056 141 5517

Soul Kitchen

The Beiruti restaurant pays homage to the Arab diaspora across Latin America, and the niche popularity of Levantine cuisine in areas such as Buenos Aires and Mexico City. It opened in Dubai in September.

Its UAE outpost is a chic-looking venue located in Business Bay.

Five to try: Sheri fish crudo infused with tabbouleh water and jicama crudite; grilled calamari with achiote spice; tamarind-glazed lamb chops; chicken shawarma empanadas; and lychee ceviche.

Open Sunday to Thursday, 5pm-1am; Friday to Saturday, 5pm-2am; Radisson Blu hotel, Dubai Waterfront; soulkitchendxb.com


Adding to Al Qana’s eclectic dining scene, Terra combines two beloved regional cuisines in its greenery-dotted, industrial-chic venue. It opened in May.

Five to try: Watermelon feta salad; crab and lobster salad with seaweed caviar; sea bass ceviche; sticky date pudding; and caramel spice cake.

Daily, noon-midnight; Al Qana South, Abu Dhabi; 02 562 0233

Updated: February 13, 2024, 7:46 AM