South Asian cuisine ultimately edged out most of the competition during this year’s list of Dubai’s Hidden Gems, with residents voting for fuss-free flavourful food.
Dubai’s best culinary secrets were announced on March 2 at the swyp Beach Canteen, as part of Dubai Food Festival’s promotion in partnership with Zomato.
Voted from among 40 shortlisted restaurants by Dubai’s residents, the top 10 Hidden Gems will allow diners to try a special two-course meal priced at Dh35 per person until the festival ends on March 9.
While you plan your social diary over the next week, Gulf News tabloid! sets the table with recommendations at the top 10 Hidden Gems of Dubai:
1. Bait Al Mandi
Since its opening in 2001, Bait Al Mandi has been a Friday staple for families looking for that comforting taste of Arabic cuisine. Traditional mandi is a rice and meat dish that has its origins in Hadramaut, Yemen, which is soaked in a melange of spices and cooked in a underground pit.
Over the years, mandi has found its own traditions in the UAE and Bait Al Mandi’s madfoon and the mazbi are legendary. If you haven’t already, go on and give it and try. One order is usually goon enough to serve two, which is accompanied with a side of rich, creamy sauce and yoghurt.
One of the best kept secrets in Jumeirah Village Circle, the cosy environment comes with its own character and charm with the smells of South Asian spices beckoning you to sample the dishes on the menu.
The neighbourhood eatery serves progressive Asian cuisine, with the flavours of Thailand, Japan and Vietnam all finding their space on the extensive menu, along with a selection of baos for those looking for lighter fare.
We recommend the edamame falafels (yes, it’s a thing), along with a hot bowl of ramen or the Vietnamese pho. Vegetarians and vegans also have a lot to choose from. After the meal, do spend time to sample the extensive selection of teas.
3. Cedar Tree
Another gem tucked away in the by lanes of Motor City Dubai, Cedar Tree’s recipes can be traced back to the 1920s, which were discovered hidden away. Legend goes, the recipes were created by a Lebanese couple from the Cedars, who spent a lifetime perfecting authentic flavours.
After their tragic deaths during the Second World War, the recipes were lost until they were rediscovered and brought to the tables of Cedar Tree, which opened its doors in Dubai back in 2007.
The restaurant is well known in the neighbourhood for its mixed grills and mezze.
4. MTR – 1924
Anyone who has ever lived in the Indian state of Karnataka would understand the cultural significance of Mavalli Tiffin Rooms or MTR as we know it. Since its inception in the 1920s in a sleep hamlet near Udupi, MTR ultimately found fame in Bengaluru for its wholesome and affordable South Indian cuisine.
The legacy has seen MTR grow from a small hole in the wall in Udupi to branches in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Dubai. To be honest, we aren’t surprised the restaurant made it to the Hidden Gems list this year. We are surprised how it didn’t make the cut sooner.
The restaurant has two branches in Dubai, serving up authentic dosas, palya, curd rice and a variety of South Indian meals. A personal favourite is its bisebeli bhaath (a comforting dish of rice and lentils).
5. Unforgettable Biryani
Tucked away in Cluster T of Jumeirah Lakes Towers, this restaurant serves up an interesting mix of authentic Pakistani and Filipino cuisines. And while on paper, this shouldn’t work, Unforgettable Biryani manages to surprise us with its limited, yet flavourful menu.
Needless to say though, with ‘Biryani’ in its name, the restaurant’s rice dishes have earned the place a loyal fan-following since its opening in 2013. While the boneless chicken and mutton zaffarni biryani have been highly recommended, patrons also swear by the nihari or meat stew, that packs a punch — quite literally.
6. Dil Se Desi
Hidden away inside the Pearl Residence hotel apartments, Dil Se Desi is renowned for its Bengali food.
If you happen to live in Al Mankhool, chances are you have sampled the restaurants Ruyi Kalia (fish gravy) or Kancha Lanka chicken (green chilli chicken curry) at least once.
However, if you are a purist at heart, we will recommend to sample the Chingri Macher Malai Curry, a Bengali prawn curry that is bursting with spices. Plus, the Patturi Illish or deboned fish wrapped in banana leaf makes for a dinner party favourite.
Inspired by the bustling urban streets of Asia, Asian5 is a vibrant spot in Downtown Dubai that boasts flavours from across Thai, Chinese, Singaporean, Vietnamese and Indonesian cuisines.
A personal favourite of the tabloid! team, we love the perfect portion sizes that make for a great lunch option without sending us into a food coma before the work day is complete. Plus, the token the vegetarian and the vegan has options to choose from.
PS: We recommend the green curry.
8. The Desi Circle
Can we just say that we are positively gutted that The Desi Circle is no longer a secret? For the Sindhi community residing in Bur Dubai and Al Karama, the Friday Dal Pakwan breakfast — crispy flatbread with spicy yellow lentils — has been a fiercely guarded tradition.
The menu, which heavily leans towards Indian street food, serves up hot parathas (stuffed flatbreads) off the grill, which you can pair with paneer gravy or gulp it down with a side of chilled mango lassi.
9. Sai Dham Vegetarian Restaurant
This one is for the vegetarians and the vegans in the house. Growing up in Bur Dubai with a large family, we have spent many a Friday lined up outside Sai Dham’s doors in Oud Metha, waiting for a table to open up.
Serving satvik cuisine, food that is traditionally cooked without onion and garlic, the restaurant is renowned for its unlimited thali meals (a variety of dishes served in a plate). We recommend skipping breakfast to make room for the delicious treats and be prepared to sleep for a few hours once you’ve managed to finish your meal.
10. Khana Khazana
Offering traditional Mughlai food with a modern twist, Khana Khazana is located in the Ibis Styles Hotel, Al Hudaiba.
With an extensive menu that goes into double digits, chances are high that you may find yourself confused by the number of dishes you would be tempted to order. Our suggestion: stick to a selection of starters on your first visit and follow it up a few days later for the mains.
We do recommend the hara bara kebabs and the dhaba dal.