If you think eating out in Dubai is all gold-leaf lattes and fancy fine dining, think again. With a little inside knowledge of where to go, it’s possible to feast on a budget in the ‘City of Gold’. So whether you’re craving traditional Arabic cuisine or hipster burgers by the beach, these budget-friendly restaurants prove fantastic food doesn’t have to come with a hefty bill.
Dubai is regularly named as one of the most expensive cities in the world, but the famously over-the-top emirate is also a top spot for foodies on a budget. The city has a thriving international dining scene, thanks to its large multicultural population, and top-notch cuisine can be sampled at affordable prices. To start off, here are a couple of tips. Head to less costly neighbourhoods such as Bur Dubai, Deira and Jumeirah Lakes Towers, which are brimming with cheap eats, and skip the expensive booze – most budget restaurants won’t have an alcohol licence anyway. Here’s where to find Dubai’s best cheap restaurants and affordable eats.
Al Ustad Special Kabab
Restaurant, Middle Eastern, $
Run by the Al Ansari family for more than 40 years, this Iranian restaurant in Bur Dubai is famous for its barbecued kebabs. One bite of the signature khas kebab, a yogurt-marinated chicken or mutton dish, and you’ll soon see why the walls are plastered with photos of smiling customers. Combine with a mountain of Persian saffron rice and endless cups of mint tea.
Restaurant, Middle Eastern, $
With its contemporary regional cuisine and modern interiors – think honeyed woods and funky camel motifs – this casual eatery hits all the right notes. Logma has three locations around town, serving traditional Emirati breakfasts (saffron scrambled eggs and pancake-like chebab with date syrup), along with healthy salads, aromatic rice dishes and traditional desserts like saffron milk cake. For a uniquely local experience, try the chips Oman paratha, a flaky flatbread filled with cream cheese, crisps and hot sauce.
Restaurant, Seafood, $
Ask any in-the-know resident where to find the best seafood in town, and you’ll probably be sent to this no-frills joint in the bustling coastline area of Umm Suqeim. The menu is so popular with residents that it hasn’t changed much in more than two decades. Order the masala-marinated fish and prawns with a side of coconut fish curry sauce and piping-hot paratha, and then take a table on the outdoor terrace that overlooks the fishing harbour. Come ready to queue and to eat with your hands, Dubai-style, off stainless-steel plates.
Dubai is awash with clean-eating and health-conscious cafés right now, but none are as pretty as this pink-hued spot in the vibrant area of Barsha Heights. American-Iranian chef Mandana Shabani dishes up California-inspired cuisine to crowds of vegans, flexitarians and snap-happy Instagrammers. You can’t really go wrong with any dish on the menu, which includes peanut butter açai bowls and shakshuka breakfast tacos, but the avocado pizza and kale brownie are Brambles’ bestsellers.
Slurping Vietnamese noodle soup might not be on the standard Dubai itinerary, but this restaurant is well worth a visit. At this humble hotspot in the busy district of Jumeirah Lakes Towers, chef Lily Hoa Nguyen serves the best pho in town, made with 14-hour bone broth with a choice of shredded chicken or beef. The decor may be simple, with laid-back bench seating and hanging bulbs, but the flavours are finely balanced and authentically Vietnamese. Try the duck sausages wrapped in betel leaves and crispy ravioli.
Food Truck, Fast Food, $
From residents in traditional dress to bikini-clad beachgoers, Salt’s sleek silver Airstream parked right on the sand at Kite Beach is popular with everyone. Salt offers a limited menu, with a choice of just three burgers, including a delicious Wagyu beef burger and an inventive fried chicken topped with Cheetos option. Order a side of fries and a Lotus Biscoff milkshake with your burger, and grab an umbrella-shaded table for an affordable lunch overlooking the Arabian Sea.
Restaurant, Indian, $
Fans of Indian food are truly spoiled for choice in Dubai; however, this small chain, directly imported from Mumbai, is an insider favourite. Located in the residential area of Al Barsha, Delhi Darbar has quickly become a foodie hotspot for residents thanks to its subtly spiced biryani dish, with 10 variations to choose from. Be sure to also try the tandoori kebabs and spicy curries, and whatever you choose, wash it all down with a fresh mango lassi or fragrant masala chai.
Nestled in the bustling area of Satwa on 2nd December Street, this casual Arabic restaurant has been serving cheap and tasty Lebanese cuisine since 1979, making it almost as old as the UAE itself. Head here for a quick meat kebab flatbread known as a shawarma, or treat yourself to a full meze spread with fattoush salad, tangy vine leaves and oven-fresh flatbread. Afterwards, check out the street art along this always buzzing boulevard.
Foul W Hummus
Hole in the Wall, Middle Eastern
Regulars will tell you this hole-in-the-wall joint near Sharaf DG metro station serves the best hummus in Dubai – and they’re not wrong. Go for the restaurant’s creamy classic, sprinkled with roasted pine nuts or beef, or try the warm, whole-chickpea hummus known as musabaha. Order alongside small plates of foul, a stewed fava-bean dish, and moutabal, an aubergine dip, mopped up with fresh flatbread and crispy falafel.
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