Dubai is a true melting pot, and this is reflected in the city’s dining scene. Every cuisine you can think of is represented here, and there is something for every tastebud and wallet. Here is our guide on how to navigate this plethora of choices:
At the most popular restaurants in Dubai, advance reservation (sometimes several weeks ahead) is crucial in order to get a table during the weekend (Thursday-Saturday). Some places will call you back to confirm your reservation on the day, so make sure you leave a valid phone number. During the winter season, the most popular tables are outdoors so be specific if you want to sit outside, and make sure you inform the person taking your reservation.
Some of Dubai’s more upscale restaurants will also require that you leave your credit card details when you make your reservation. If, for one reason or another, you fail to show up, the restaurant reserves the right to withdraw a certain amount from your card.
Most US fast food chains are present down here, so if you’ve never been to IHOP or Wendy’s, this is the chance to see what it is all about.
Many big shot celebrity chefs also have branches of their signature restaurants in the city, and Dubai has its very own clones of a number of fine dining spots including Zuma and Nobu. Though fine dining is expensive in Dubai, and in many cases, you can dine cheaper at the original branch, but if you are celebrating a special occasion and want to splurge, there are a number of good options. There is no Michelin guide to Dubai, even though marketing from certain restaurants want you to believe otherwise.
Down here, we use to say that only tourists pay full price, and it is indeed very true. Most people living in Dubai have access to special deals through their job, their credit cards or various deal sites. Some of them, such as Groupon or the The Entertainer, are also available to tourists. Groupon is a typical deal site which you have probably already heard of. The Entertainer is an app, where you can purchase different bundles of discount coupons. The selection of restaurants is better at The Entertainer, than at Groupon, and if you are staying more than a couple of days, it might be worth looking into.
It requires a special license to serve alcohol in Dubai, so ordering a glass of wine with your meal should not be taken for granted. Many traditional restaurants in the older parts of Dubai as well as most casual eateries, do not serve alcohol. If alcohol is essential, make sure to check in advance. Most upscale restaurants are located inside large, international hotels and thus allowed to serve alcohol.
Overall, service has improved a lot the last couple of years, and these days it is rare to experience really bad service in Dubai. However, since Dubai caters to visitors from a wide range of backgrounds, all with different definitions of what makes up good service, you might find the approach a bit different than what you are used to in your home country. If you are from Northern Europe, you might find it slightly intrusive, with three waiters constantly hovering over your table, ready to refill your water glass after every single sip, but in in many Asian and Middle Eastern country, this is what is expected.
Beverages are where the restaurants get a lot of their profit, and mineral water seems to be the cash cow. International brands of mineral water are often priced ridiculously high, so make sure you ask for a local brand, as they are often significantly less expensive.
Most upscale restaurants are located inside hotels, so you can leave your car with the hotel valet for free. Just remember to get a validation stamp from the restaurant before you leave.
For a cheap, solid and often spicy meal, take a walk in Karama, Bur Dubai, Deira or Satwa. Shawarma is sold from small shops along the street for a couple of dirhams, and if you are looking for more exotic food, these areas are treasure troves for South Asian and Middle Eastern food.
One thing you should not miss while in Dubai is Friday brunch. This is the time to indulge in everything from sushi to lamb roast and the brunch deals often include unlimited drinks (with or without alcohol). Friday brunch is available at most upscale restaurants and even though it is pricey (typically 400AED-700AED with house beverages), this is something you should not miss. Friday brunch is as much Dubai as it gets.
Most upscale restaurants have a dress code, and people usually dress up, when dining out in Dubai. For Friday brunch, people would dress up as if it is Saturday night with heels and dresses.