Who says you have to go out to a five-star hotel for a good brunch on the weekends? There are plenty of independent options for a leisurely breakfast in Abu Dhabi, and new ones continue popping up every few weeks.
Tucked into a villa in a residential area not far from the waterfront of the United Arab Emirates’ capital is a café just over one month old. It’s called “Third Place,” and its name comes from the idea that most people have three locations where they spend time: 1) home, 2) work, and 3) a place to relax, read, study, or hang out with friends. Third Place sets out to be that third place.
This popular restaurant is located just off a major road, but set back enough that passing cars could easily miss the building. There are no signs outside advertising its location on the first floor of a residential apartment building on Abu Dhabi’s waterfront corniche.
Still, once you do find your way inside, somehow every single table is full.
Welcome to Max’s Restaurant, the most popular Filipino restaurant you’ve probably never heard of.
Kosebasi, a grill serving South Anatolian Turkish cuisine, is a chain restaurant that first opened in Turkey in 1995. Based on its success and popularity at home, it began expanding to international locations in 2008, according to its website.
Today it has several branches in the Arabian Gulf countries. Its Abu Dhabi restaurant opened just over one year ago in the upscale food court of a large mall in the heart of the UAE capital.
But Kosebasi isn’t your average food court stop.
The sea port on the northern edge of Abu Dhabi is lined with fish sellers, cargo storage facilities, and wooden fishing dhows – perhaps not where you’d expect to find a restaurant with one of the best and widest selections of Emirati food in the UAE’s capital.
But Al Arish, an Emirati seafood restaurant along the docks, is all about unique surprises.
If you’re hungry for baba ghannouj, hummos, and succulent kababs, Lebanese Flower is one of Abu Dhabi’s most popular restaurants for traditional Middle Eastern food outside a five-star hotel.
On any given weeknight, there is a steady stream of customers filing into this popular Lebanese joint, which is located across from a dense collection of cell phone shops on a busy stretch of road in the UAE capital. Outside, the open-air patio section is almost too full to find a tablel. Servers with glowing baskets of shisha coals carefully weave around the droves of customers, balancing fresh coals atop the bubbling pipes. It’s the same on the street too; waiters clutching plastic takeaway bags dash to a long row of double-parked cars to hand out ‘drive-thru’ orders before quickly scribbling arriving cars’ new orders.
You don’t normally walk into a shopping mall food court expecting to find delicious, healthy food.
Especially if that mall is the Madinat Zayed Shopping Center, one of the oldest enclosed shopping malls in the United Arab Emirates. Madinat Zayed feels very long-in-the-tooth for an ultra-modern capital like Abu Dhabi. Aside from its dozens of Indian-run gold shops, the mall offers little for most shoppers. There are a few perfume kiosks and plenty of stores peddling cheap, Chinese-made electronics.
The mall’s second floor food court is home to several American-style burger joints, as well as the uninspiring Biryani Hut and ChicKing, where most of the food is deep-fried.
But Madinat Zayed, perhaps surprisingly, is also home to what is quite possibly the finest Indian restaurant in the entire Middle East.
It’s easy to become disoriented in downtown Abu Dhabi’s Madinat Zayed neighborhood, a bustling area of mini-blocks and narrow streets crammed with cars, people, and every type of storefront imaginable, from mobile phone kiosks to one-room laundromats to curtain rod wholesalers.
It’s also easy for a new shop or restaurant to go unnoticed in the fray.
Unless you’re from Nepal and searching for authentic momos, that is. Recently, the capital’s sizable community of Nepalese cab drivers have been congregating in this neighborhood, chatting in the streets about a new restaurant that opened just a few weeks ago, filling a much-need gap when the nearby Nepalese Curry House closed earlier this year.
Who says you have to be Chinese to make good Chinese food?
At the Mongolian Chinese Restaurant in Abu Dhabi, the chef is Indian – but he sure knows how to “tingle your taste buds” with a good meal of Asian food.
Sudis Rana, originally from Calcutta in the eastern region of India, came to Abu Dhabi to cook his specialty, Cantonese and Szechuan cuisine. Rana learned from Chinese chefs working in hotels in India beginning at age 14. That was 30 years ago.
Most of the challenge of finding good food in Abu Dhabi is in knowing where to look – and then literally finding the restaurant.
Even though it’s located just off of a busy street in the Khalidiyah neighborhood, one of the capital’s outstanding Indian restaurants is easy to overlook. Anjappar has an illuminated sign that one can see only when standing directly underneath it (the facade and sign are partially obstructed by a shed that appears to house a utility box). And its door is nestled between several shops, including an Afghani bakery, a barber shop and a separate store that sells merchandise for barber shops – like combs, scissors and swiveling chairs.
If you can find it, though, Anjappar is worth the hunt. It serves some of the spiciest South Indian Tamil food in the entire United Arab Emirates.
Visiting Abu Shakra, an Egyptian food restaurant in Abu Dhabi, is like dining in Cairo.
This working class restaurant evokes Egypt’s crowds and frenzied pace. In its crowded kitchen space, a single cook grabs from assorted bowls of hummus, fried eggplant, and French fries, all sitting within reach on the counter.
Even its main location – on the ground floor of a faded apartment tower with paint peeling from its concrete facade and wires dangling from dusty windows – would fit in more in old Cairo than in the UAE’s modern capital.
Abu Shakra’s food is as authentic as it comes.