Sparkly-sleek Dubai — one of seven states that comprise the United Arab Emirates — boasts futuristic architecture within a land of luxury where indoor skiing and outdoor air conditioning are the unusual perks. Long-known for its extravagance and big-brand imports, Dubai has recently been welcoming home-grown concepts, especially in the realm of food and beverage. Here, a guide to Dubai’s most exciting independent restaurants, connecting Dubai to various culinary corners of the globe.
Fatima Rabbani, Iman Nazemi and Homaira Nasser-Zia are the ladies behind Kishmish, a duo of hip, affordably priced, casual eateries that aim to reframe Afghanistan’s identity through food. And after opening their first location just one year ago, the trio recently spawned a second outlet — this expansion is simply a testament to the excellent home-style cuisine they’re serving. That includes Afghan leek-filled ravioli and lamb-filled dumplings called ashak and mantu, respectively; fried okra with coriander, tomato, and chilli; and larger-format dishes like lamb shank buried beneath a mountain of steamed rice seasoned with green and black cardamom.
Many big-name Asian restaurants in Dubai lack soul and authenticity of flavor. But tiny new Jumeirah Village Circle addition Sticky Rice, with just 14 seats, fills that void. It’s a project from mother-and-son team Thidaporn “Amena” Rakkuson and Mo Abedin. After getting her start selling food straight out of their home, then going on to cook with some of Thailand’s most respected chefs, Rakkuson finally has a restaurant of her own. Come for vibrant, regional Thai dishes from tom yum soup to pad nomai kai sap (minced chicken stir-fried with bamboo), and don’t miss the seasonally changing desserts including Thai favourite, mango sticky rice.
While it might sound strange to talk about Neapolitan pizza hailing from Japan, many pizza enthusiasts will say that the Japanese are now making better pies than the Italians. That’s precisely why Samer Hamadeh decided to open a Japanese pizza concept within his spunky izakaya-inspired eatery Akiba Dori in Dubai’s Design District. Hamadeh hired Naples-born pizzaiolo Luigi Mercogliano, and sent him to train under Tsubasa Tamaki at his lauded Tokyo-based pizzeria PST. Mercogliano then brought the Japanese magic back to Tokyopolitan, the pizza counter within Akiba Dori. Pizzas here — mostly topped with simple arrangement of tomatoes, cheese, basil and olive oil — are fired in the same 1.8-ton oven as found at PST, rapidly baked at around 930°F. Pro tip: Tokyopolitan caps out at 100 pizzas during the week and 150 on weekends, so come early. And it’s a convenient, 15-minute drive from InterContinental Dubai Festival City.
Newly minted Kizmet — from the team behind Dubai’s seasonal café chainlet Baker & Spice — is like any neighbourhood bistro, just a lot prettier, and with a more comprehensive menu. Decked out with palm trees and poppy pink plush sofa chairs, this bi-level restaurant near the Dubai Opera offers eats that span from Italy to Mexico and Morocco to California. That translates to a small-plate menu full of dishes like squash blossom pizza, tuna tostada, duck leg tagine and avocado fries. It’s a modern take on global eats served up in a comfortable, sleek space.
The Sum of Us
Australia’s coffee culture and the country’s affinity for clean eating has inspired food and beverage concepts in every corner of the globe. In Dubai, the Aussie coffee and seasonal eats theme is led by Tom Arnel over at The Sum of Us, an all-day café and bakery with an on-site coffee roaster near Trade Center. Pop by in the morning for some of Dubai’s best single-origin cold brew and brûléed banana chi pudding, while globally inspired afternoon and evening offerings include a plethora of salads and entrees like Thai fish curry and crispy shrimp tacos.
Al Ustad Special Kabab
For those who reside in Dubai, there’s no shortage of places serving great grilled kebabs. But the one hole-in-the-wall eatery that does it better than them all is Al Ustad Special Kabab. Considered ancient by Dubai standards, this inexpensive Iranian café (which changed locations not too long ago) has been serving succulent grilled-meat skewers beside puffy piles of rice since 1978. While the kabab khus — served with mutton or chicken marinated in yoghurt — is the house signature, a great way to get a feel for the place is to order one of the mixed grill options.