Dubai has come a long way in the last few years. The city's relentless growth has brought an explosion of restaurants of seemingly every cuisine type, ranging from European, Asian, and American to Latin, Middle Eastern, and African. With the expanded variety has come improved quality - so much so that Dubai is now able to attract the likes of award-winning chefs Gordon Ramsay and Gary Rhodes.
Ironically, it's difficult to find good Emirati cooking in Dubai, in large part because local food is bland when compared with that of, say, Lebanese or Moroccan. Don't despair - if you're looking for quality Arabic food, Dubai's Lebanese and Moroccan restaurants are world-class.
Just as the diners at Dubai's restaurants seem to come from every corner of the globe, so too does the staff. Service has improved markedly, but the limited English ability and lack of familiarity with Western tastes among some waitstaff means that service isn't quite up to par with London or New York yet. Nevertheless, you can usually get by with English, and almost every restaurant offers an English menu. As you might expect, you'll find a significant difference between the attention you receive at a five-star restaurant and a hole-in-the-wall establishment.
Lunch is generally served between noon and 3pm and dinner between 7pm and midnight. Emiratis often dine around 9pm, and restaurants are seldom crowded before then. You can usually find breakfast at establishments that are more casual. Most restaurants are open 7 days a week, although many serve only brunch on Friday, which is a weekend tradition here.
The city's top restaurants lie inside hotels, for the simple reason that they're by and large the only establishments that receive liquor licenses (public drinking is only allowed in hotel restaurants, bars, resort pool areas, and clubs). Although you can take food on to public beaches, keep in mind that alcohol is not allowed. Note that during the fasting month of Ramadan, most restaurants (with the exception of those in some international hotels) do not open until after sundown. There is also no live music or dancing during this period.
Smart casual is the dress code for five-star establishments, and beachwear is only appropriate at casual Western-oriented venues in Jumeirah beach. You should always make a reservation for dining at hotel restaurants.
Prices in Dubai have been rising rapidly in the past few years. The most expensive international restaurants are found in the five-star hotels spanning Jumeirah beach. Two of my favorite walking areas here are Madinat Jumeirah and The Walk at Jumeirah Beach Residence, both of which boast quality restaurants and culinary diversity. As you might expect, the seafood is particularly good in this area.
Less expensive, but still delicious, Arabic and South Asian restaurants dot the traditional neighborhoods of Deira and Bur Dubai. You will find a wide selection of moderately priced restaurants along Sheikh Zayed Road, where the city's key business hotels stretch high into the sky. We have divided restaurants into the following categories: Very Expensive (main courses AED 180 and up), Expensive (AED 110 and up), Moderate (AED 55 and up), and Inexpensive (less than AED 55). When you receive your check, see if the tip has already been included. If not, 10% is the rule of thumb.
Friday is to Dubai what Sunday is to the Western world, the one day set aside for rest and rejuvenation. And what better way to relax than by whiling away the afternoon over a sumptuous buffet? Friday brunch is a thriving tradition here, and many families, couples, and friends settle in for hours at the city's most popular restaurants, many of which offer brunch service. The normal time is noon to 3pm (Saturday brunches are possible, too), and children often receive significant discounts off the fixed-price buffets. Brunch costs around AED 150 at most moderately priced restaurants and may be considerably more expensive at more upscale venues. My recommendations ranging from the most sophisticated to most family-friendly include: "Brunch in the City" at the Fairmont Dubai's Spectrum on One (tel. 04-332-5555) with free-flowing Moët & Chandon champagne; Friday Brunch at the Hilton Dubai Creek's Glasshouse (tel. 04-227-1111) with all-you-can-drink sparkling wine or sangria; Friday brunch at Carter's (tel. 04-324-4100) in Wafi City, with a complimentary Buck's Fizz on arrival; Friday brunch at Al Qasr (tel. 04-366-6730), a stunning palace hotel in Madinat Jumeirah; and "Family Friday Brunch" at Scarlett's (tel. 04-330-0000) in Emirates Boulevard with children's entertainment including a clown, face painting, and specialty balloon making. If you're looking for more of a party atmosphere, then the obvious answer is Yalumba (tel. 04-217-0000) in Le Méridien Dubai, which offers a raucous Australian-style champagne brunch.
Late Night Munchies
Most Dubai restaurants close around 11pm or midnight, leaving hotel room service the most obvious answer to late-night munchies. But there are a few late-night eateries scattered around town, including the following 24-hour options: Dusit Deli in the Dusit Thani hotel; the French Bakery off Sheikh Zayed Road's Interchange 1; and Counter Culture in the Dubai Marina's Marriott Harbour Hotel. Other casual late-night options include Carter's and Seville's, both located in Wafi; Pars Iranian Kitchen (tel. 04-398-4000), located next to the Satwa Roundabout; and Jabal Al Noor - which serves great kebabs - on Al Mina Road in Satwa. These popular joints are open until at least 1am and often later, depending on the crowds.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.