There's something sinfully appealing about a shawarma, that most humble of sandwiches. All it needs is good-quality meat and marinade, well-infused spices and fillings, and fresh saj or pita.
It's little wonder that the shawarma regularly tops most ordered dish lists and is the Middle East's most tagged dish on social media. Most recently, residents from the Emirates selected shawarma as their grub of choice for a Time Out survey of the most beloved dishes around the globe, according to 38,000 locals.
Of the two main types, a chicken shawarma typically comes with pickled cucumber and turnips, garlic paste (toum) and potato fries, while the lamb and beef versions are paired with tahini (ground sesame) paste, onions and tomatoes.
Finding the "best" shawarma restaurants in any of the UAE's cities is a tall order, simply because there is no secret ingredient or special cooking technique involved here. Even so, here is a list of restaurants in Dubai (and here's one for Abu Dhabi) – from hole-in-the-wall joints to beloved franchises and food court favourites – that come highly recommended, juicy meat, fluffy bread and all.
Price: from Dh9
It's the place "all the Dubai kids swear by", says The National's lifestyle writer Janice Rodrigues. And indeed, Al Mallah – which opened in 1979 and has three locations in Dubai, in Al Diyafah, Al Seef and Ibn Battuta – garners regular recommendations and rave reviews on most foodie groups. It offers pita, saj and Mexican options, as well as a chicken and meat combo shawarma (Dh18).
Price: from Dh13
Another Dubai staple, Zaroob also operates from multiple locations, including from within The Radisson Blu Residence in Dubai Marina, plus Trade Centre, Uptown Mirdif and Silicon Oasis. Although questions have been raised about its slow service, there’s no denying the freshness of its offerings.
Eat & Drink
Price: from Dh5.50
With more than a dozen outposts – from Meena Bazaar to Jumeirah – this cafeteria serves its Lebanese fare alongside Indian and Chinese food, with burgers thrown in for good measure. Its chicken and Mexican shawarmas are some of the cheapest you’ll find in the emirate, though, and tasty, too.
Price: from Dh6
Another cafeteria that does it all – from porattas to zinker sandwiches – is this Al Satwa hole-in-the-wall fast food joint. Visit when you’re super-hungry and you won’t be disappointed by the size of its special “Mexicy-Arabic” shawarma.
Price: from Dh6
"This tiny Lebanese cafeteria, located just outside Al Fahidi metro station, serves one of the best shawarmas I've ever had in Dubai. They have a killer spicy version that's falls under the try-if-you-dare bracket," says The National's sub-editor Mary Paulose.
Kabab Erbil Iraqi
Price: from Dh20
With branches in Al Rigga, Al Muteena and Jumeirah 2, Kabab Erbil is better known for its kubba and tashreeb, but its Iraqi shawarma sandwich is a worthy contender. The restaurant also serves tashreeb shawarma, maglouba shawarma and shawarma with rice (Dh75 each). Samad Al Iraqi, with locations in Al Muraqqabat, and Jumeirah 2 and The Pointe, is another good option. Its shawarma sandwiches start from Dh16.
Saad Al Warani Cafeteria
Price: from Dh5.25
For those in the know, this tiny spot in Rashidiya is the birthplace of the Hassan mattar sandwich, a variation of the shawarma that is now a staple of roadside cafes across Dubai. A flat, open sandwich (rather than your typical rolled variety), the bread comes toasted, for added crispiness, and you can add chips and cheese, plus Saad Al Warani’s special spicy sauce.
Price: from Dh12
It may have launched a two-level, fountain-facing outpost at Dubai’s hottest dining destination, The Pointe at Palm Jumeirah, but this casual dining Lebanese chain is known for its juicy meat, which tastes delicious in its simple chicken and meat shawarma options. As Dubai cookbook author Flavel Monteiro puts it: “Justice can only be done when you are there eating every bite of the shawarma in its original Al Rigga home.”
Price: from Dh14
This Beiruti street food concept started life in Boxpark, but it has since moved to Dubai Marina Mall. The restaurant’s name refers to its in-house chilli, described as “the strongman of delectable street food ... the one accompaniment that makes all the difference”. So if it’s a spicy shawarma you’re after, make this your go-to.
Barbar Beirut Restaurant
Price: from Dh6
With its bright orange facade, this tiny cafeteria is something of a local secret in Dubai’s Al Khabaisi district. Its pita and saj shawarmas are an example in tasty simplicity and worth the trek for everyone else.
Price: from Dh11
The Al Barsha and CityWalk restaurant is a favourite with Foodiva founder Samantha Woods, who says she loves “the large portion of its beef shawarma with tomato, pickles and tahini wrapped in toasted Arabic or saj bread”. The street food outlet also does its supersized chicken and beef shawarmas in Arabic bread (from Dh35).
Zaatar W Zeit
Price: from Dh32
Wood also says she appreciates that this chain serves its “shredded beef shawarma with tomato, parsley and tahini in an oat flatbread, because it feels healthy. I also love that it’s literally opposite my house” – which is no surprise, really, given Zaatar W Zeit’s 14 branches.
Price: from Dh10
Don’t get confused by its playful misspelt name, this tiny cafeteria in Al Barsha takes its shawarmas very seriously and is known to give full value for money. Lebanese and Mexican styles aside, it has an Italian version served in saj, pita or Arabic bread. Tahini and toum aside, it also serves peri-peri mayo and a creamy tomato-mushroom mayo sauce.
Qaalat Al Balbak
Price: from Dh8.50
Another Al Barsha gem, Qaalat is nestled close to the Saudi German Hospital, and is the go-to for those craving lamb (rather than beef) shawarmas.
Al Reef Bakery
Price: from Dh7.35
For 24/7 shawarma options, look no further than this 35-year-old Lebanese bakery and visit its Al Karama branch for an authentic experience of Old Dubai (a second outpost is in Jumeirah 3). Regular pita shawarmas aside, it has Arabic and Mexican iterations.
Price: from Dh5.50
In the depths of Deira, this is a fabulous 3am option, serving everything from club sandwiches and biryani to a simple yet tasty shawarma stuffed to the brim with fresh fillings.
Belad Al Sham
Price: from Dh6.50
Generous is the term most associated with this Qusais cafe’s chicken, meat and Mexican shawarmas. This one is strictly for fans of garlic.
Hatam Al Tai
Price: from Dh7
An expansive neon-lit cafe in the Binyas area, close to the metro, Hatam allows you to dictate the quantity of its many fillings, or you could just get them as a side salad for an extra Dh3 to go with your tightly wrapped shawarma sandwich.
Sure, it’s pricey for the simple sandwich, but this here is a rare spot serving seafood shawarma, complete with sauteed king fish, tahini and lemon dressing. Don’t confuse this Bab El Bahar restaurant in Downtown Dubai with the branches of Al Hallab found in Mall of the Emirates, The Dubai Mall and Al Garhoud, which also serves tasty albeit regular chicken and meat shawarmas, from Dh11.