The best shawarma restaurants in Abu Dhabi: where to buy the popular sandwich in the capital

From hole-in-the-wall joints to favourite franchisees, here are the top spots for a shawarma

There’s something hypnotic about watching a man skilfully carve slivers of juicy meat off a spinning rotisserie. And yet, it’s a common enough scene, replayed across hundreds, if not thousands, of shawarma cafes across the UAE.

The simple sandwich has oft proved its popularity – from regularly topping most-ordered dish lists to being the 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 behind this humble dish. Rather, a worthy shawarma is one that encompasses high-quality meat and spices within fresh saj or pita. Even so, here is a list of restaurants in Abu Dhabi (with Dubai to follow suit) – from hole-in-the-wall joints to beloved franchises and food-court favourites – that come highly recommended, well-marinated meat, fluffy bread and all.

Bait El Khetyar

Price: from Dh7

With locations in Najda and Hamdan Street, Bait El Khetyar is a must-try, according to those in the know, with people "raving over these shawarmas because of how simple, clean and flavourful they are", says The National's senior foreign reporter Nada Al Taher. Regular shawarmas aside, the menu includes variants such as shawrma alkhtyar (with chicken and meat options), shawrma mexicy (with a spicy option) and shawrma arabi.

Maroosh

Price: from Dh7

Since its inception more than 30 years ago, Maroosh has gone from strength to strength, and now boasts multiple branches across the capital, including at Al Dhafra, Khalifa City, Istiqlal, and the food courts at Abu Dhabi Mall and Makani Al Shamkha Mall. Regular, saj and Arabic shawarmas aside, Maroosh has created its own dynamite and majboos versions (both from Dh24).

Al Farah

Price: from Dh6.50

The Lebanese restaurant, with branches in Al Markaziya and Mussaffah, does its shawarmas in saj bread and, says The National's marketing lead Duaa Zietoun, "it has the right ratio of ingredients and, most importantly, it's not oily". Small and large chicken and beef shawarmas aside, the menu includes Arabic shawarma and shawarma arayes.

Shish Shawerma

Price: from Dh11

When it comes to the pita variety, Zietoun recommends Khalifa City's Shish Shawerma for its "freshly baked and oh-so soft bread". This comes stuffed with all manner of different fillings, from Kraft cheese to roast beef to labneh with zaatar, but you won't go wrong with a traditional chicken shawarma sandwich. The restaurant also does one-kilogram shawarma platters (from Dh125).

Shawerma Molok Al Sham

Price: from Dh5

This hole-in-the-wall Lebanese cafeteria in Al Khalidiya has a simple page-long menu, with staples such as chicken and meat shawarma, plus a range of baked dough sarookh. The quality of its meat more than makes up for its harried service.

Abul Nawas

Price: from Dh6

Nothing beats this cafeteria in Al Dhafra, opposite Al Wahda Mall, for authenticity. As The National's homepage editor Stephen Nelmes notes: "This was recommended after I moaned about the major chains ruining the shawarma scene with tasteless gimmicks, and I was not disappointed. It's an example in classic simplicity." Chicken, meat, Mexican and Arabic shawarmas aside, Abul Nawas's menu includes chicken kebab, tikka and liver, all in sandwich form.

Yom Be Yom

Price: from Dh6

Known for the home-cooked flavour of its dishes, this little cafe in the Tourist Club Area was started by a woman who began delivering food from her own kitchen. Translating to “day by day”, Yom Be Yom is popular for its falafel sandwiches in addition to its chicken and meat shawarmas.

Kings Shawarma

Price: Dh7.35

Located beside the Dar Al Dhabi Cafe in Al Khalidiya, "the Syrian restaurant is so popular that residents use it as a landmark for delivery drivers from other restaurants", says The National's Arts & Lifestyle writer Saeed Saeed. Small and large shawarmas in regular and French breads aside, its most popular item is the Arabian Meal, popularly known as the "Arab box" (Dh23), a hearty meal comprising juicy shavings of chicken or lamb shawarma, cottage fries, an assortment of pickles and spicy garlic sauce.

Al Akkawi Cafeteria

Price: from Dh6.30

Another Syrian cafeteria, this small store has been at Al Mushrif on Airport Road for 36 years now, “a testament to its shawarma's durability”, says Saeed. On the menu are chicken, beef, Mexican and saj shawarmas. It was started by Mohammed Al Janem’s father, and the current manager tells Saeed: “We don't have the money for the advertising and the colourful signs, but what we have is customer loyalty built by years and generations."

Karam Al Sham

Price: from Dh7

A masterful blend of spices infused in perfectly cooked meat makes this Al Mushrif restaurant on Airport Road a standout option for its saj, Mexican and Arabic shawarmas.

Shawarma Al Reem

Price: from Dh8.40

Lebanese, saj and samoon chicken and beef shawarmas aside, this restaurant on Reem Island also has a brown bread option. Its mixed grill plate comes highly recommended, too.

Al Ajaweed

Price: from Dh7

If it’s a spicy shawarma you’re after, sample the try-if-you-dare fare at this Al Khalidiya restaurant. Saj and Lebanese bread aside, it also offers a chicken shawarma fajita.

Al Bait Al Ateeq

Price: from Dh7

You know a restaurant does a good shawarma when fans are hard-pressed to choose a favourite from among all three options offered on the menu, as is the case for this Al Maqtaa joint, which serves its straightforward but tasty shawarmas in Lebanese, saj and Arabic breads.

Shawarma Al Raai

Price: from Dh6

A veritable hidden gem, this little cafe is located just off Muroor and, as Rachael Partington from Best Bites UAE, instructs: "Drive up 4th and just before you turn on to 11th, turn right, then left. It's around there somewhere, and is worth looking for" – particularly for the perfectly cooked meat and delicately spiced sauce of its chicken and beef shawarmas.

Al Bosphor Shawarma & Restaurant

Price: from Dh6

With two branches in Al Dhafra and Al Nahyan, this restaurant makes good on its name and serves its shawarmas infused with Iskender kebab and delicious Turkish spices. You can also replace the tahini with Turkish tomato sauce in the beef shawarma.

Otantik Restaurant and Cafe

Price: from Dh39

On the upscale spectrum, at least where the shawarma is concerned, is this Mediterranean cafe in the Tourist Club Area. Its shawarmas are available from 2pm, and are known for their top-quality fillers and generous portions.

Recommendations come courtesy of The National’s reviewers as well as members of the Best Bites Abu Dhabi Facebook group