Hessa Street brings taste of Lebanese life to Dubai dining scene

Business is booming in the city's own version of Beirut's famed Hamra Street restaurant strip

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Dubai's bustling Hessa Street is delivering a bite-sized taste of Beirut to the UAE's dining scene.

A cluster of Lebanese eateries have set up home in the area, serving up culinary comfort to the country's natives in the city, while also introducing their national cuisine to a whole new audience.

Lebanese citizens who have lived in Dubai for years regularly make the journey to the growing dining district near the Saudi German Hospital in Al Barsha for a generous helping of home-grown nostalgia and meals like their mother used to make.

For some, it is reminiscent of Hamra Street in Lebanon's capital, which boasts a popular strip of restaurants.

'I feel like I'm back in Beirut'

Delicious offerings from Qalat Baalbak. Victor Besa / The National

Qalat Baalbak, which has one of its three Dubai branches in Hessa Street, has all the right ingredients for Lebanese interior designer, Amin Riachy, 47.

“As soon as I step foot here, I feel nostalgic for the warm home I left,” he said.

“I feel like I’m visiting a restaurant on Beirut's streets.”

He speaks fondly of the mezzes and salads and the shawarma sandwiches, but it's about more than just the menu for him and many other customers hungry to rekindle happy memories.

“The first time I visited this place, I felt like I’m eating in a diner in Zalka or Beirut. When I eat tabbouleh here, I feel like my mother prepared it,” he said.

Ten meals a week for loyal diner

Shawarma being prepared at Qalat Baalbak restaurant. Victor Besa / The National

One long-time Dubai resident has made Qalat Baalbak a home from home, enjoying about 10 meals there each week.

The family feel is a big part of the appeal for Lebanese citizen, RN who has lived in Dubai for 22 years.

“I come down to this restaurant because I live nearby and because I love Lebanese food,” said RN, who asked to be referred to by his initials.

“It’s extremely healthy. I am diabetic so I cannot have junk, pasta, or Italian foods that are full of carbs.

"I come here very casual, on my bike, and the restaurant is reasonably priced. Most importantly, it feels like home here. I know everyone here. They are part of my family.”

While he has a well-established favourite eatery, RN is glad to see so many options for fans of Lebanese food.

“To a certain extent, Hessa Street is reminiscent of Hamra Street — which is full of life — but Hamra Street has a deeper cultural history beyond the food," he said.

"But yes, the fact that we have Barbar, Allo Beirut and Malek Al Tawouk brings a flair of Lebanon.”

Street food on Hessa Street

Barbar is famed for its wide selection of street food dishes. Victor Besa / The National

Renowned Lebanese street food restaurant Barbar opened its doors in Hessa Street last year.

Established in Beirut in 1979, it has risen from its humble beginnings as a bakery serving citizens during the country's civil war, which lasted from 1975 to 1990.

The Hessa Street branch serves up a host of staple dishes that are pulling in the crowds.

They include IT worker, Chris Chedid, 38, who often pops in for a bite on his way home to Dubai Hills.

“In Lebanon, we are used to a variety of restaurants, and I think that it is similar here,” he said.

“To me, Barbar is the ideal place if I’m looking for practicality, authenticity, affordability, quick service, and good-quality food.”

Going back in time

Allo Beirut, which opened in 2018, celebrates Lebanon's rich history.

The restaurant is adorned with vintage telephones and colourful graphic art covers its walls.

Sweet aromas drift in from the open kitchens, offering a reminder of the bustling street corner eateries populating Beirut.

The menu attracts not only Lebanese customers but people of all nationalities in the multicultural melting pot of Dubai.

It also has a wide variety of vegan dishes, including warak enab, tabbouleh, fattouch, falafel and the much-loved manakeesh.

Helping pave the way

Charbel Khalil, operating manager at Qalat Baalbak. Victor Besa / The National

Charbel Khalil, operating manager at Qalat Baalbak, said it was the first restaurant to open in the area, about six years ago.

The venue continues to be in high demand, so much so that it recently expanded its dining space.

“To accommodate the heavy footfall and reduce long queues outside, it was crucial to expand.” Mr Khalil said.

Diners walking through its doors, are transported to Beirut. Walls are decorated with pictures of famous Lebanese singers and of cedar trees and the country's Baalbek Roman ruins.

Classic music from Lebanese legends serenades guests savouring a taste of tradition.

For a flavourful slice of Lebanese life, Hessa Street is set to remain high on the menu of food fans in Dubai and beyond.

Updated: July 22, 2022, 7:21 AM
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