In one of the world’s most exciting dining cities, visitors can taste freshly fried samosas on a street corner as easily as they can indulge in a multi-course omakase dinner at an eight-seat counter. While Dubai may not have a Michelin Guide yet, the World’s 50 Best Restaurants Middle East North Africa will be launching in 2022, and it’s expected that the city will feature prominently on the list. Read on for a few of Dubai’s most notable recent restaurant openings, as well as ones to watch.
When it debuted in 2016, Café Isan quickly became known for serving the best Thai food in town, including hard-to-find dishes from the northeastern province of Isan such as tom saap nua, a spicy and sour soup with beef innards, and som tum pla ra, papaya salad with fermented fish sauce. Chef Patthama Chaklang, known by her nickname, New, doesn’t shy away from adding “Thai-spicy” amounts of chile either, although cofounder Lisa Knight always issues a warning that if you go for this option, you’ll get the real, tongue-burning flavors of Thailand.
The only thing diners couldn’t get was a cold Singha to wash it down with—like many places located outside of hotels in Dubai, the venue wasn’t licensed to serve liquor. Fast forward to June 2021 and all of that has changed, with a new Café Isan opening in the Armada Blue Bay Hotel in the Jumeirah Lakes Towers neighborhood with a big outdoor terrace, and finally, a license to serve beers and cocktails. Don’t miss the street food–style gai yang grilled chicken, only available at this branch.
Established in Paris in 1927, Caviar Kaspia offers a sense of louche luxury that feels right at home in Dubai, where the black stuff is added with gusto to everything from sushi to Peking duck to pizza. The signature dish is actually a lot simpler: a baked potato with a huge dollop of caviar on top, although at around $100 per spud, for 25 grams of Baeri—$400 if you go for Royal Beluga—it’s the most lavish tuber in town. There are other less wallet-busting options too, such as the tortiglioni with Caviar Kaspia and a good old classic chicken Kiev. After dinner, head upstairs to the bar to continue the Russian tradition with a Kaspiatini made with the restaurant’s own signature vodka.
On the 70th floor of the new SLS hotel, the views of downtown Dubai from the terrace of Fi’lia are nothing short of jaw-dropping. But the cuisine is equally as impressive. The team of mostly women, led by 25-year-old Palestinian Jordanian chef Sara Aqel, has created a menu of hearty Italian dishes inspired by three generations. Categorized as Nonna, Mamma, and Fi’lia, items under Nonna (grandmother) veer more toward the classic, whereas the Fi’lia (daughter) dishes tend to be lighter and more contemporary. Think burrata with fresh asparagus puree, and sea bass crusted with herbed feta. Look out for the weekday business lunch—a steal at under $30 for three courses.
Burgers are big business in Dubai. What started as a pop-up in the Alserkal Avenue art district has now moved into a new home in the buzzy Wasl 51 complex in Jumeirah. And while wagyu burgers are a dirham-a-dozen in this city, Inkognito’s menu is refreshingly vegetarian- and vegan-friendly. Carnivores will love the smoked chorizo burger and the slow-cooked brisket burger, but the menu gets really exciting for herbivores. The Korean Fried Not Chicken Burger gets a good kick from gochujang mayo and a fresh bouquet from mixed herbs, and the BBQ Pulled Burger, made with slow-cooked pulled jackfruit, vegan feta, and crispy onions, comes with a satisfying slather of barbecue sauce.
Orfali Bros Bistro
The cuisine at Orfali Bros Bistro isn’t Middle Eastern per se, but the restaurant’s roots are firmly Levantine. The three Orfali brothers are from Aleppo, Syria, and the city and its centuries-old culinary traditions inspire many of the dishes. The perfect start is the deceptively simple corn bomb, a crisp corn tortilla topped with a thick puree of sweet corn, charred kernels, a generous heap of parmigiano reggiano, and toasted corn silk. Don’t miss the Come With Me To Aleppo, skewers of juicy wagyu beef topped with sour cherry, roasted pine nuts, and the lightest sprinkle of cinnamon. And save space for dessert: Two of the brothers, Wassim and Omar, man the creative pastry kitchen. The standout rice pudding mandarina is a glazed sphere in the shape of an orange that gives way to a smooth, creamy center punctuated by al dente grains of rice.
When the weather gets cooler, life happens outdoors in Dubai. There are plenty of beach clubs to choose from around the city, but Twiggy’s location at the Park Hyatt along Dubai Creek takes people far from the melee and offers a serene way to spend a beach day. While it’s not on a beach—it’s a 330-foot infinity “lagoon” with a swath of sand on top of it—the vibe is chic, and the Mediterranean food equally so. King crab, oysters, and carpaccio make for good beginnings with a generous selection of salads, pastas, and grills to follow; or go for a poke bowl or sushi, served right to your sun lounger. And don’t hurry home: The sunsets here are sensational.
Ones to Watch
Ariana’s Persian Kitchen
When it opens its doors on the Palm Jumeirah in late 2022, the new Atlantis the Royal will introduce 18 restaurants and bars, including 8 by celebrity chefs, to Dubai. One of those will be Ariana’s Persian Kitchen, the debut restaurant for French-trained Iranian American chef Ariana Bundy, former pastry chef at the Mondrian Los Angeles, author of multiple cookbooks, and host of Nat Geo People’s travel and food show Ariana’s Persian Kitchen. The menu will feature family-style Persian classics, and while the menu hasn’t been finalized yet, if her recipe books are anything to go by, we can look forward to dishes infused with pistachio, saffron, pomegranate, rose-scented sea bass, Caspian kebabs, and alabaloo polo sour cherry rice. Let’s hope her wild orchid ice cream makes it onto the menu, too.
La Mar by Gastón Acurio
Joining Ariana Bundy’s Persian Kitchen at Atlantis the Royal will be La Mar, the first Dubai outpost for Peruvian chef Gastón Acurio, the recipient of the coveted Diners Club Lifetime Achievement Award in 2018 credited with helping to put Lima on the map as a major culinary capital.
La Mar promises to bring the first traditional cebichería to the city, with a focus on sustainably sourced fish. Acurio’s Novoandina cuisine includes leche de tigre, tiraditos, causas, anticuchos, and pisco sours, but we’ll have to wait and see if the menu will include another of Acurio’s signatures, Cuy Pekinés, or Peking-style guinea pig pancakes.
When chef Vito Mollica left Four Seasons hotels after 25 years, many people wondered what he was going to do next. That all became clear when, soon after, he announced that he would be opening a new restaurant, Chic Nonna, with Italian hospitality group Mine & Yours in Dubai International Financial Centre. The restaurant will include a lounge, bar, open kitchen, chef’s table, and the region’s largest wine cellar spread over five floors with 3,000 bottles. Mollica’s cuisine focuses on Italian traditions and aims to preserve the original flavors of fresh ingredients. Always passionate about produce, he’s already been out exploring farms in the UAE to see what he can source locally ahead of the restaurant’s opening in early 2022.