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4 Hidden Culinary Gems in the UAE
The best restaurants you’ve never heard of.
In a bustling place known for extravagance and wealth, sometimes the crowds and exorbitant prices can be too much. When waiting in line to spend a lot of money at the hot new restaurant isn’t your idea of a relaxing night out, turn to these hidden gems. Some are so hidden that almost no one has heard about them, and some just specialize in simple, down to earth food: here are the best secret and low-key places to dine out around the United Arab Emirates. Just don’t tell too many people!
1. Bu Qtair Restaurant
Before the Burj Al Arab and the development that came with it were around, the Bu Qtair Restaurant was the hidden gem of the Jumeirah Beach area. Today, with the popularity of the spot, this isn’t quite the secret hole in the wall that it used to be but it’s still a great find. The specialty here is the seafood. Like so many restaurants that rely on the season and environment for their offerings, Bu Qtair alters their menu depending on what they catch that day. Go with an open mind and order what’s been freshly caught for a unique and local meal. With their attention to freshness, everything on the menu is a sure bet to be delicious so it’s hard to go wrong. Even with its famous seafood fare, this restaurant is still a bit hidden. To find the Bu Qtair Restaurant, drive down Beach Road towards Abu Dhabi and turn right before the Emarat gas station/McDonald’s. All the way at the end of the road, this hidden gem is on the left side.
2. Bait Al Wakeel
For those that want their meal with a side of history, head to the Bait Al Wakeel, located in Dubai’s first office building, which was commissioned in 1934. The building fell into disrepair in the 1990’s until the Dubai Municipality stepped in to restore it. Now it houses the restaurant as well as a fishing museum. Take a minute upon arrival to learn about the history of the building and how it came to be. The restaurant itself is housed on three different levels, the most popular of which is a living room area, complete with cozy couches and bookshelves for customers to relax with friends, a good book, or a cup of tea. There’s also a private dining room for groups to enjoy an intimate sit-down dinner of classic Arabic food, especially fresh and local seafood. And speaking of seafood, in nice weather guests can dine al fresco on a floating deck on the Dubai Creek. Those that have discovered Bait Al Wakeel enjoy the respite from the big city in the peaceful waterside environment. Check out the classic food at this unexpected restaurant location before word spreads.
3. Dusit Thani
While a restaurant known for a Dhs2,200 (or US$600) specialty item is not exactly low-key, Dusit Thani is still off the beaten path and not very well known. Located on the 24th floor in the Dusit Thani Hotel on Sheikh Zayed Road, the pricey specialty item is a tom yum seafood soup. What make the soup unique are the ingredients: fresh blue lobster, abalone, and gold leaf. If trying this item is on your must-do list, you’ll need to plan ahead. The ingredients are all flown in upon request so the dish has to be ordered at least 48 hours in advance of the visit. While the cost of the meal is extravagant, the money goes to a good cause, which should help alleviate some of the guilt. Each meal sold sponsors up to four operations for children with facial deformities, through the Dusit Smiles Charity. So if you’ve got the cash to spend, enjoy a hidden, fine dining experience and make a difference in children’s lives.
4. Merlion’s King
If you’re craving crab on the cheap, look no further than Merlion’s King’s specialty – the Singapore chili crab. This new restaurant, located in the Jumeirah Lake Towers, is run by a Singaporean chef and serves up authentic Singaporean food, like curries, noodles, and of course, seafood. The low-key atmosphere, affordable prices (the chili crab is 65AED), and newness of Merlion’s King make this a great restaurant to head to fast before the crowds get there.
Finding hidden gems of restaurants can be a tricky business. If you’re hearing buzz about it, it’s probably not too hidden anymore. The best way to find these secret spots is word of mouth. Ask around and see where friends and family are dining and what they’ve discovered. Keep an open mind when checking out restaurants, too. The prettiest and most expensive restaurants are not always the best. There are many great hole-in-the-wall restaurants that are inexpensive and in modest settings with great food and atmosphere, just waiting to be discovered.
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