Dubai is known for show-stopping style — its diverse restaurant scene is no different.
Eat out in the emirate and you’ll be faced with virtually every cuisine under the sun, not to mention some novel environs.
These nine restaurants put on particularly memorable acts (except for the one with no act at all) and with damn fine food, as well.
At.mosphere: high standards and … just high.What’d be the point of having the world’s tallest building — the Burj Khalifa — if you couldn’t put the world’s highest restaurant in it?
Welcome to At.mosphere.
The full stop in the name appears to have something to do with “at,” although the concept seems to run out of sense after that.
Sitting 122 floors up, this swanky dining spot has what you want to call bird’s eye views, except not that many birds appear to fly this high.
To reach At.mosphere, you hurtle upward in an implausibly smooth “express elevator” (ears will pop) before stepping out to a two-level glass atrium.
Does the food live up to the altitude?
Actually, yes — cuisine is modern European and artfully presented and, if you time your trip right, Michelin-starred guest chefs pop up in the kitchen (November brings Philippe Etchebest).
It may seem counter-intuitive when the view is part of the package, but you’re advised to visit At.mosphere at night — Dubai looks best when it twinkles.
At.mosphere, 122nd floor, Burj Khalifa, Downtown Dubai; +971 4 888 3828; autumn tasting menu 650 dirham ($178) per person, 1,070 dirham ($292) with sommelier’s champagne and wine pairing
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The seafood restaurant at Atlantis the Palm hotel is, in a word, theatrical.
Yet despite the gold color scheme and gargantuan aquariums instead of walls, Ossiano’s cuisine rises above the cheesiness.
Lobster gazpacho, superior Sturia caviar and crispy monkfish are among the sophisticated seafood offerings.
After you’ve got over initial discomfort at feasting on fish while surrounded by their relatives, the finned passers-by undoubtedly make for a spectacular — and finally rather serene — dining setting.
Atlantis on the Palm, Palm Jumeirah; +971 4 426 2626; daily five-course set menu 750 dirham ($205)
After a dinner at Tribes, you’ll never think about meat-on-a-stick the same way again. Dubai isn’t the first place you’d expect to watch African tribal dancers as you eat, but then Dubai isn’t most places.
At African-themed steak house, Tribes, meat sizzles in an open kitchen while the (mostly Kenyan) staff hurry past in bright tribal patterns.
Men should make sure not to sit with their backs against the main door — a waiter will quickly tell them to switch in order to protect their date from intruding lions.
In addition to the wholly carnivorous menu — the multi-Tribal sausage platter is probably even meatier than you imagine — meals include staff bursting into African song and dancing to feverish drums.
Yes, it’s all a bit clichéd and, yes, it does distract a little from the meal.
And, yes, it’s a lot of fun.
When it comes to the “African” meats, don’t be disappointed to find that most of them are imported from Sharjah.
Tribes, Mall of the Emirates, Sheikh Zayed Road; +971 04 395 0660; set menu 180 dirham ($49) per person
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Look out to sea from Al Qasr hotel or Jumeirah beach and you’ll see Pierchic’s black warehouse-style facade suspended over the waves on wooden stilts.
It looks more like a mysterious Arabian beach house than a first-rate fish restaurant.
To reach it, you can stroll along the long private pier — sail-shaped Burj Al Arab luxury hotel is on one side, vast Atlantis the Palm hotel is on the other.
Or you could save your legs and hop aboard a golf cart.
Oysters, yellow-fin tuna, sea scallops and various fishy carpaccios are all sparkling fresh and elegantly served.
The tables on the ocean-facing terrace are the ones to fight for.
Pierchic, Madinat Jumeirah, Umm Suqeim 3; +971 04 366 6370; main courses from 100 dirham ($27)
Meant to evoke the glory days of colonial Indian rail travel, the Royal Express is nonetheless permanently stationed in a Dubai hotel.
With waiters in porter-like uniforms, regular platform announcements in Hindi, tinny train track sound effects and plush scarlet and gold furnishings, the heritage railway theme is pretty convincing.
The quality of the cuisine is less so — resembling more an Indian takeaway you’d consume on the London Tube than something you imagine being fed to rajahs.
Still, members of Dubai’s train-spotting community must be in heaven here — there aren’t any real long distance trains in the UAE.
Royal Express, Admiral Plaza Hotel, Khalid Bin Waleed Road, Bur Dubai; +971 04 393 9247; main courses from 20 dirham ($5)
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Despite its diverse dining scene, one of the hardest things to track down in Dubai is Emirati cuisine.
As if to compensate, Al Hadheerah packs in as many Arabian desert clichés as a vacationer can handle.
For starters, you’re inside the walls of a traditional fort.
The main event is the entertainment: falcons perch on handlers’ mitts, Arabian horses parade with their tunic-swirling masters, local singers let rip and Sufi dancers whirl.
It’s all a bit Disney, but the regional cooking wins through — a highlight is the whole lamb, lowered into a charcoal pit and slow-cooked for six hours.
Al Hadheerah, Bab Al Shams Desert Resort & Spa, Dubai; +971 04 809 6100; from 425 dirham ($115) per person for buffet dinner
Aprons & Hammers
Buckets of seafood fun.Once upon a time, Dubai was sustained by fishing and pearl diving — today you can revisit that era by dining on a dhow, at Aprons & Hammers.
Moored a stone’s throw from expat-favorite Barasti beach bar, this revived traditional sailing vessel serves crab and lobster by the bucket-load.
Literally — crustaceans arrive in little tin buckets.
Once aboard, there’s no mistaking the theme — tables are shielded from the sun with fishing nets festooned with plastic crabs, starfish and lobster baskets.
The simple fun that adults can derive from hammers, pincers and, you guessed it, aprons, shouldn’t be underestimated.
Aprons & Hammers, Dubai International Marine Club, Mina Seyahi Beach Resort; +971 4 454 7097; crustacean buckets from 140 dirham ($38)
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When you get almost 365 sunny days a year, barbecuing on your balcony loses its shine.
It’s not every day, however, that you can light up the barbie sitting on a dinghy in the Arabian Sea.
Dubai’s aptly named BBQ Donuts aren’t the accident-waiting-to-happen they may sound: a doughnut-shaped dinghy is fixed with a central grilling station, and up to six of you can float off, armed with a cool box of ready-to-grill meats.
You can fork out 200 dirham ($55) for a captain for the day if you don’t want to handle the (not terribly demanding) navigation.
The Boardwalk, Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club, Deira; +971 4 295 6000; from 1,200 dirham ($328) per two hours, per six people with a Tasty Mix meat selection or 950 dirham ($260) with afternoon tea
“Low key” isn’t an oft-heard commendation in Dubai — which is precisely what makes Bu Qtair stand out.
There’s a pleasant irony in eating at this port-a-cabin on Jumeirah beach, plastic pews and all, with the luxurious, sail-shaped Burj Al Arab hotel in sight.
It’s this pining for simplicity that makes so many Dubai expats seek out this basic fish shack at least once.
There’s no menu (it depends on the catch of the day) and you’ll have to squeeze in to order what’s likely to include shari (spotted emperor), pomfret, snapper or shrimp.
The latter often comes marinated in salt, turmeric and an added ingredient that the owner, Moosa, wouldn’t give up if you fried him.
A bowl of fish curry, meanwhile, costs a dollar or two.
In Dubai, that’s novel.
Bu Qtair, Road 4d, near Burj Al Arab; 055 705 2130; from 5 dirham ($1)
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