What When Shaikha Al Kaabi opened Meylas on Al Raha Beach in 2015, her aim was to make Emirati cuisine accessible to all. The restaurant’s recipes have been prepared by Emirati grandmothers for generations and celebrate the very best of Arabic cuisine.
The vibe The décor is far from grandmotherly and the bright, modern restaurant is normally packed with hip young things updating their Instagram.
Dish to order Fareed, a wholesome vegetable stew made with lamb and served with warm flatbread. But don’t skip dessert because the legeimat, fried sweet dough balls served with date syrup, are touted as the best in Abu Dhabi.
Al Raha Beach-Al Muneera; +971 2444 8884
Bait El Khetyar
What Bait El Khetyar has built a reputation among Emiratis for serving Abu Dhabi’s best shawarma. You might end up eating it on the pavement but it’s worth it for this small canteen’s legendary food.
The vibe Bait El Khetyar is liveliest when the sun goes down. Local families and groups of friends crowd the outdoor tables after dark.
Dish to order Shawarma is the main event here, but get fatteh on the side, pieces of toasted flatbread covered with ground meat, pine nuts and chickpeas then doused in yoghurt and butter.
Fatima Bint Mubarak Street; +971 2633 3200
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What You might smell Ibsais before you see it, as the Al Danah-based bakery cooks fresh dessert all day long. Fragrant and sweet, Ibsais’s desserts are popular among Emiratis and tourists alike, so don’t be surprised if there’s a queue out the door.
The vibe Ibsais has limited seating so make like the locals and take your dessert out.
Dish to order Knafeh is the Arabic answer to cheesecake. The delicious semolina dough pudding is filled with soft cheese then drenched in syrup and topped with pistachios.
Al Falah Street, opposite Ministry of Finance; +971 2445 5091
What If you ignore the plastic tablecloths, this traditional Saudi restaurant feels like a step back in time. Seats are covered with sheepskin throws, and lanterns cast shadows over woven textiles. The Saudi cuisine often consists of many dishes shared between a group.
The vibe Family comes first at Saudi Kitchen and weekends see booths packed with generational groups sharing feasts of plates.
Dish to order Popular Saudi cuisine like mathlotha chicken, a layered dish of wheat-based porridge, shredded flatbread, rice and succulent chicken.
Opposite Mushrif Mall, Al Dhafra Street; +971 2665 5355
What Radwan Al Tamini arrived in the UAE as an immigrant and set up a small seafood kiosk on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi’s Corniche when Sheikh Al Zayed stopped by. The Sheikh was so impressed, he helped fund the opening of Tamini’s first restaurant. That was in 1968, and 52 years later, Bu Tafish is regarded as one of Abu Dhabi’s best seafood restaurants – now moved from a kiosk on the beach to a permanent site and one of the UAE’s longest-running names.
The vibe Bu Tafish attracts crowds of regulars and is often busy with raucous groups of friends after work.
Dish to order Try the grilled hamour (spotted grouper). Get a fresh lemon juice on the side, just like the Sheikh used to do.
Hamdan Street; +971 2666 6108