3 Lebanese Flower: Eye-poppingly tasty and always buzzing, the Khalidiyah branch in particular feels like some rustic kitchen. It’s probably one of the dearer Lebanese outfits, but a shish taouk with houmous, soup and a glass of juice will still only set you back Dhs49. Meanwhile, a cheerful man wanders the restaurant dishing out huge discs of fresh, hot Lebanese bread like some benevolent king. Forget the fries, they’re always lousy, but the kebabs are succulent and delicious.
4 Istanbouli: The difference between Lebanese and Turkish cuisine is probably about 1,000 calories. Just add cream and yoghurt appears to be the motto. At least that’s the case at Istanbouli, a clean, friendly cafeteria where Turkish gentlemen are usually to be found in hot debate in the corners. The menu reveals a variety of creamy kebabs, starting with the habitual dish of grainy, but delicious soup. The tahini kebab, in particular, is very good, and even if the houmous is a little bland, there is more than enough here to make you want to come back.
5 Hatam Al Tae: Not the overpriced, mall-friendly Hatem, but rather a cheerful little independent gaff. A sign above the door promises ‘famous Persian food’, and while we’re not sure if this place is world-renowned, it is cosy and looks pretty sharp for a backstreet restaurant. The Iranian fare is also delicious. The menu is laden with kebabs, which arrive juicy and just the right side of charred. Be sure to top the basmati rice off with a pat of butter and inhale the subtle fragrances that make this cuisine so special.
6 Marroush: Essentially a drive-by takeaway, Marroush has fed the addiction of many a shawarma fanatic in the city. It’s also the Lebanese Flower’s fiercest rival. The decor might err on the side of efficiency, but the food is consistently satisfying. A fanfare of half-a-dozen bowls of olives, houmous, chillis and pickles accompanies even the smallest order. The kebabs are tasty – the lamb khishkash especially is well-spiced, juicy and brilliant. Dinner for two is unlikely to break Dhs70, but unless you speak Arabic you will find yourself pointing at things and mouthing ‘yes’ a lot.
7 Safier Al Sham: A no-fuss Lebanese eatery with walls draped in rugs (useful for hiding stains) and loud Arabic music screaming out of the TV – it isn’t exactly romantic, but it is cheap. Their one-kilogram mixed grill, at just Dhs80, is enough to feed an army and the meat is tender and delicious. Stay away from the French menu, however – croque monsieur should surely never be made with kebab meat. If all else fails, just grab a shawarma, a Nutella pancake and a ‘cock drink’ (we think they mean ‘coke’) for just over 10d’s and relax.
AsianPrices from Dhs60-100
8 Asian Garden: Hidden behind a Bollywood movie theatre, Asian Garden is a no-frills gem with most dishes costing less than Dhs15. While the decor is simple and the tables Formica, the food is anything but plastic. Full-flavoured Filipino and Chinese cuisine makes up the bulk of the menu, but Thai is its speciality. The chicken green curry is perfection incarnate, although liable to take the roof off your mouth if you opt for the hot version, while the pad Thai is likewise excellent – we just wish they’d ditch the tiny dried shrimps.
9 Bandung: Indonesian food is pretty rare in the capital; it’s also fairly inexpensive if Bandung is anything to go by, where two people can stuff themselves for less than Dhs70. Slightly shabby on the outside, inside, it is busy, neat and tidy. For an authentic slice of Indonesian cuisine, check out the nasi goring – fried rice with prawns, chicken and a fluffy omelette on the side – but for the less adventurous, the chicken satay is delicious.
10 Kathmandu: While The Curry House tries to be all things to all Asians, this Nepalese hideout just around the corner is decidedly more authentic. Indian soap operas and velvet pictures of Mount Everest lend a comic side to the decor, but for lovers of buffalo meat (a Hindu-friendly beef substitute), there is plenty of scope. Servings are huge and the thali, in particular, is a bargain, with huge steel dishes containing enough mutton curry, rice and spicy veg to feed a hoard of ravenous yeti. Rock-bottom prices make it unmissable.
12 Beijing: At last count, the population of the city of Beijing exceeded 17 million. By the looks of it, most of them eat here. The scene is basic: a few prints and a bubbling fish tank count as decor, but Beijing is busy, inexpensive and authentic. The food is very good and the huge servings mean that two mains, rice and a starter to share will leave you begging for mercy for little more than Dhs80. Try the beef with black mushrooms and pancakes, in particular; it’s like a cheap, tasty version of Peking duck.
13 Hanoi: Regardless of price, this is one of the best Asian restaurants in the capital. A Vietnamese cafeteria at heart, it is usually full to bursting – and for good reason. The noodle soups are excellent and start at around Dhs25. It takes 12 hours to make the broth, the menu boasts excitedly. We believe them – it’s like noodle soup for the soul. The vermicelli salads are likewise superb, but start with a plate of traditional goi, pickled vegetables and peanuts, and just go from there. There are a few dearer items on the menu, but two can eat like Vietnamese emperors for less than Dhs100.
Indian/ PakistaniPrices from Dhs40-100
14 Al Fujairah: Al Fujairah is ancient by Abu Dhabi standards, having been in business for over 14 years. The delicious nosh reels in a diverse clientele of Pakistani regulars, well-heeled locals and the occasional Westerner. The hearty Pakistani food would certainly make good fuel for trekking the mountains of Peshawar, with chewy bread and pots of meaty curry. The cooks can be too generous with the ghee, though, and clarified butter pools atop the signature chicken kadai. Complimentary salad accompanies every meal and the friendly service is swift. There are also few cheaper eateries in the capital.
15 The Curry House: Hidden in the chasms of Electra Street, this schizophrenic Indian-Nepalese-Chinese establishment is almost legendary and a decent enough joint, as long as you don’t mind practically eating out of your partner’s lap – inside, it is well presented, if a touch cramped. The Himalayan mystical momos (a Nepalese version of dim sum, served with a thick and rich tomato relish) is a pale imitation of the real thing; we also found the curries a little stodgy (not to mention lava-hot) for our liking, but if you’re in the area and fancy bloating your belly at an incredibly low price, you can do that here for less than Dhs60.
16 Tandoori Corner: Owned by the same people behind the reliable Nihal, on Electra, this charming little restaurant deserves good word of mouth. The creamy saag paneer transforms a loathed vegetable into something delicious. Graceful waiters guide diners through the large menu of north Indian delicacies, and the mutton-flecked keema nan could be a meal in itself. Kebabs and tandoori-cooked meats will satisfy hungry carnivores, and the chefs will make the food as spicy as you like.
17 Evergreen Vegetarian Restaurant: From the outside, Evergreen Vegetarian Restaurant doesn’t resemble much more than another shabby cafeteria. But inside, the interior sparkles with white tiled walls, a case of fresh Indian desserts, and tables packed with trays of condiments such as fresh mint chutney and salted chillies. The amazing veggie fare, particularly the thali, is some of the best in the city, offering a rotating selection of dishes like tempered black lentils and spicy cauliflower curry. The Friday edition comes with a special treat, such as crunchy pakoras or exotic bread. The prices are obscenely cheap for food of this calibre.
18 The Royal Vegetarian: Another diamond in the rough. Nestled amongst a labyrinth of chaat counters and Asian eateries, this tiny hole in the wall may have something of a humble exterior, but venture inside and decent Indian food for little more than Dhs8 a dish is your reward. At Dhs10, the full thali includes curd, soup, bread and vada (a fried lentil patty) is a great deal. Elsewhere, a fine selection of Indian snacks from dosas to chaat (samosas, poori and katchori) accompanies a full menu of masalas, kaddais, koftas and kormas. Perfect for vegetarians seeking something with a bit more bite.
InternationalPrices from Dhs80-100
19 The Cauldron Café: The signs were not good. Italian and Mexican food are hardly the most obvious of bedfellows, nor is The Cauldron an entirely appetising name for a restaurant; it rather suggests a dank, dark pit best left undiscovered. But, while it may be ill-lit, this cauldron is a rather comfy, cheerful establishment. The basement walls are lined with murals of Italian landscapes, as if to ram home its Mediterranean credentials, and upstairs, comfy sofas offer a plush spot for a bit of shisha. Food-wise, the Mexican element consists largely of fajita, but good, reasonably priced pizza and pasta at Dhs25-35 per dish are its forte.
20 Pizza Amore: The decor is the kind of rustic Italy that exists only in the minds of people who have never been there. Never mind, because the menu at Pizza Amore is decent, if eclectic – more than one pizza boasts a topping of caviar – and for as little as Dhs25 no less – now that’s amore, if not beluga. With over 35 pizzas and as many pasta dishes on the menu, the quality is fair to average, but shouldn’t add up to much more than Dhs100. Indeed, the moon has hit our eye like a big pizza pie, that’s… you know the rest.
21 Planet Café & Restaurant: The mains can be a little on the dear side, but stick to the pizza, burger and pasta dishes (Dhs25-35) and this stylish café is a bargain. The fettucini, in particular, is very good and the pasta selection is huge. Inside, Moroccan browns, terracotta tiles and busy staff give it a warm, vibrant feel, which mingles pleasantly with the scent of rose shisha. But in truth, this feels like a European café given an Arabic makeover, although the food and presentation are way too good to write it off as a shisha joint. The only downside was the difficulty getting a seat.
22 Russian Waterfalls Cafeteria: Its name and decor owes much to a series of photographs of Niagara Falls (incidentally, not in Russia), which were clearly bought at a garage sale circa 1982. Nevertheless this café has an undeniable charm. Authenticity may not exactly be high on the menu – that privilege goes to an improbable collection of hearty and microwave-warm Russian stews – but the borscht is both good and something of a rarity in the capital. A basic cafeteria downstairs; upstairs, it is a tidy restaurant, usually vibrating to the sound of eastern-European pop music. The novelty factor alone demands a visit.
23 Transilvania: It takes nerve to put Vlad the Impaler on a restaurant menu, but skip past the safety of the Italian section and you’ll discover a wealth of tasty Romanian dishes. The ones that don’t consist of brains, stomach or lungs – there aren’t as many as you’d hope for – at least offer a gentle introduction to the vagaries of Transylvanian cuisine. It’s stick-to-your ribs fare, with entrées like the ostropel de puicupiure, slices of chicken smothered in a mild tomato sauce, and the cold meat platter, usually accompanied by the saltiest of Carpathian cheeses, a good start. Vegetables certainly aren’t high on the menu, but given their logo, we think Vlad would approve.
Pub grubPrices from Dhs100-150
24 49ers The Gold Rush: 49ers is cofused. It doesn’t know if it’s a restaurant or a bar. It can’t even decide on one name, but at least the food is pretty consistent: it’s either deep-fried or barbecued. Oh, and its cheap. It’s pretty appropriate that 49ers resides on the top floor; if this were a magazine it would be pure ‘top shelf’. The nosh is X-rated, with greasy burgers and steaks clogging the arteries of even curious onlookers. The decor is also pretty hardcore – expect some truly cheesy Western clutter – but it’s good fun and always busy at night, with punters usually pawing at plates of moreish chicken wings.
25 Ally Pally Corner: As with a number of Dhabi’s bars, if you go after 9pm on certain nights, they’ll charge you to get in. At which point, the correct response is to turn on your heels and flounce to PJs. Ally Pally doesn’t exactly hold the shiniest of reputations – there is certainly nothing here worth a cover charge – the food is some of the sturdiest and stodgiest to be found in the capital, but therein lies its appeal. Cheap, if not so cheerful, the all-day breakfast is usually a good place to start, and if you like your pubs to be of the homely variety, packed with ‘character’, then this is where you head.
26 Captain’s Arms: The Captain’s Arms is notoriously packed on the weekends, when loyal punters typically spill out of the dark, wooden interior onto the tables outside. It’s insanely popular with expats, particularly homesick Brits tearfully clasping deep-fried Yorkshire puddings to their bosoms. But there’s a reason the hungry throng don’t mind being packed in elbow to elbow: the food. The usual Brit pub fare of burgers, pies and fish and chips are available (the carve-up is also really good), but the pizza diavola is also one of the best in the city. It comes covered with spinach, spicy chilli flakes and, if you want, topped with lamb. Better still, this is one of the more reasonably priced hotel bars, although sharing a starter (the Caesar salad comes recommended) will help keep the bill under Dhs150 once the service charge is added.
27 Harvesters: The prospect of gourmet dining at this Brit-style boozer is perhaps less tangible than the clouds of smoke that fill the air. Both the atmosphere and regular clientele can only be described as ‘colourful’ (hence the legions of bouncers), and yet it holds an almost hypnotic fascination for the benign visitor – like when you slow down at a traffic accident. The food is epitomised by the pub bundle, which, true to form, at Dhs40 is a gut-busting, car crash of a starter, taking the form of an artery-swelling mass of melted cheese, potato wedges, spring rolls and chicken breasts. Elsewhere, pies (of the shepherd variety) and, bizarrely, Canterbury chicken (we don’t even want to hazard a guess), are all on the menu for around Dhs35-40, but we say stick to the fish and chips and just breathe in the atmosphere – then issue a loud, hacking cough.
28 PJ O’Reillys: Ah, PJs. The bathrooms are grimy, the waitresses are icy in a way that only Soviet blondes can pull off, and cigarette smoke is a given. Don’t get us wrong, though – we love the place: the drinks are cheap, there’s always at least one TV in eye-line and the fish and chips are divine. Skewered chunks of hammour arrive in a tall, wire basket, with a pile of hand-cut chips, accompanying tartar sauce and mushy peas. Glorious. It’s also generous; the chef’s salad is packed with cubes of Emmental cheese and turkey ham – the tasty bits that the average pub chef usually skimps on. This is comfort food at its most comfortable and at a decent price, too.
Quick eatsPrices from Dhs15-100
29 Al Ibrahimi: At just Dhs46 per person, you won’t find a cheaper, non-toxic, all-you-can-eat buffet in the city, and as far as bargain feedbags go, this is a decent effort. It’s certainly popular. On a Friday night, Al Ibrahimi must fuel half the city’s Indian and Pakistani community. The food is simple fare: grilled chicken, biryani and, err, brains make up the bulk of the menu, but the more timid can of course opt for the curried lentils, which come accompanied by huge discs of fresh bread. Bargain.
30 Fish Hut: Put simply: Fish Hut is a bit of a dive. A shabby exterior hides an even tattier interior – in fact the only thing that doesn’t look battered is the fish. Strictly a take-out affair, it’s no surprise to learn that it has been around longer than most. The only thing on the menu is fried fish (no chips!); and perhaps the reason the UAE’s hammour stocks are so low is that they go for a mere Dhs6 at the Hut. Served with tahini or a slightly ominous green chilli sauce, this isn’t gourmet, but it is tasty and something of a rarity in the city.
31 Just Falafel: For some of the best falafel in the capital, this tiny outlet does a great job. The menu is somewhat limited – you certainly can’t accuse them of false advertising – it really is just falafel, usually smothered in a variety of sauces. Nevertheless, it is tasty and a lot better than the dry, tasteless hunks of chickpea meal we’ve sampled in some of the city’s supposedly classier establishments. A selection box costs just Dhs8 – what more can you want?