It might be a by-word for luxurious hotels and terrifyingly tall buildings, but there’s a whole lot more to Dubai than meets the eye. Behind the skyscrapers, stellar resorts and spectacular desert, the city has a rich cultural heritage - exemplified by some of the most exciting food in the Middle East.
Dubai’s popularity means that its dining scene is just as, if not more dynamic and diverse as any other destination. However, you don’t have to have deep pockets to enjoy the best of what’s on offer. Alongside glitzy kitchens, the city is home to some of the tastiest economical options anywhere, ranging from local favourites to international icons. Whether you’re travelling on a budget, or taking a break from Michelin stars, there’s something to discover on every corner. Here are 12 dishes that prove Dubai has some of the best cheap eats in the world.
1. Billo - Anday Walla Burger
Even though Billo is technically an ice cream bar, it’s the savoury selection that will really whet your appetite. At the top of a long list of tasty sandwiches and snacks comes the epic Anday Walla burger - a blend of yellow lentils, eggs, herbs and spices, formed into a patty and served inside a burger bun with fresh chillies and yoghurt. As sloppy as it is satisfying, and a steal for 14 AED (£3.00), it will definitely keep you coming back for seconds.
2. Raju Omelet - Omelette
No prizes for guessing what a restaurant called “omelet” might serve. Raju has carved out a niche by only offering egg-based recipes, as well as Indian flatbreads and “slow cooked” chai tea, making it a wholly eggceptional eatery. We’re not yolking. Dishes such as the sumptuous 17 AED (£3.50) cheese masala omelet have helped the chain expand to three separate locations across the city, so you won’t have to look hard to find yourself in eggy heaven.
3. Maiz Tacos - Tacos
Another aptly named restaurant that doesn’t require much lateral thinking, Maiz is a taco truck and shop that proves you can eat amazing Mexican, even if you’re on completely the wrong side of the planet. With an extensive menu starting at around 25 AED (£5.50), there are plenty of tasty options on the table, but we’d recommend the carne asada. Once only available as a special, there’s a reason why this languorously slow-cooked meat dish is now a permanent feature.
4. Al Reef Lebanese Bakery - Manakish
Often likened to Middle-Eastern pizza, manakish is an iconic example of Arabian cuisine and is a staple across the city. As such, there are plenty of places to try it, but none come close to Al Reef Lebanese Bakery. Featuring a diverse and incredibly cheap menu, costing around 35 AED (£7.80) per person, the highlight is undoubtedly the cheese manakish, which was described as “the best in the city” by TimeOut.
5. Al Ustad - Kebab
A fixture of Dubai’s late night food scene, Al Ustad enjoys almost iconic status among locals, and with good reason. This joint is a haven for meat lovers, and specialises in serving giant skewers of perfectly cooked lamb and chicken, all at around 35 AED (£7.80). If choosing proves too difficult, you can even opt for a mix, meaning you have no excuse not to leave stuffed to the brim.
6. Feras Aldifaya - Kunafa
Another iconic local dish, kunafa is a sticky sweet blend of pastry, honey and stringy cheese. The result is spectacular. While it’s readily available all over Dubai, the dish’s unofficial home has to be Feras Aldifaya, a specialist sweet shop slap bang in the heart of the city. Pull up a chair, tear into a slice and feel that all is right with the world. Trust us, it’s impossible to be in a bad mood after eating something this satisfying.
7. Chaat Bazaar - Chilli Cheese Vada Paav
Outside of the subcontinent, Dubai’s Indian food is arguably the best anywhere, and with dishes like Chaat Bazaar’s vada paav on offer, it’s easy to see why. A pillowy soft bread bun, stuffed with a subtly spiced potato masala patty, grated amul cheese and three different types of mouthwatering chutney, this is the type of sandwich that makes you wonder whether beef burgers really are ‘all that’. Starting at around 16 AED (£3.10), it’s also seriously good value.
8. Al Mallah - Shwarma
A legendary Lebanese eatery with a 40-year legacy in the city, Al Mallah is the standard when it comes to cooking shwarma. Open in four different locations across Dubai, the menu includes iconic dishes such as giant shwarma plates for just 43 AED (£8.70) and mixed grilled skewers, as well as a range of sensational sandwiches if you’re after something lighter. But, rest assured, it’s all about the juicy, shredded meat at Al Mallah.
9. Ravi’s - Butter Chicken
Described by The Telegraph as “the most famous subcontinental restaurant in Dubai” Ravi’s has a well-established reputation for top quality Indian cooking, cemented by dishes like it’s famous 15 AED (£3.00) butter chicken. Think butter chicken’s boring? Think again. Once you’ve tried this creamy, sumptuous, spicy treat, you’ll never want to order anything else.
10. Calicut Paragon - Crab Thushar
Yet another of the city’s slew of superior Indian eateries, Calicut Paragon’s menu focuses on the fragrant, delicately coconutty flavours of Kerala. The result is food that’s both different and delicious. Though the fish dishes are universally excellent, it’s the AED 43 (£8.70) crab thushar that steals the show, serving delicate flakes of tender shellfish inside a powerfully creamy brown gravy that demands to be slurped.
11. Taste of Brazil - Churrasquinho
A food truck that’s been a beach fixture since 2017, Taste of Brazil serves what is indisputably one of the best sandwiches in the city. The Churrasquinho is a Sao Paulo staple, featuring pulled barbecue beef and melted cheese in a massive crusty bun. Served alongside a scattering of cassava fries and tangy acidic vinagrete and costing just 36.75 AED (£7.80), super-sized snacks simply don’t get better.
12. My Mosa - Jamaican Beef Samosa
The Carribean meets Calicut in this top notch culinary mash-up. Although the menu does offer a more traditional selection of samosa-style fillings, My Mosa’s USP is its daring but delicious 30 AED (£6.36) Jamaican beef dish, which comes with its own signature spicy passion fruit sauce and rocket salad. It might be a far cry from Kolkata, but the results are definitely worth the risk.
It would be easy to use the city’s glamorous surroundings as an excuse to be unadventurous. Certainly, you could survive if you decided to spend your entire time enjoying the hotel pool with a cocktail in your hand. But, as this list proves, this would mean missing out. Not just on the spectacular cityscape for which Dubai is famous, but for the occasionally surprising and always delicious affordable dishes that are waiting to be discovered.
This is a sponsored article in association with Dubai Tourism.