It’s almost impossible not to eat well in Dubai, whatever your budget. If you’ve got cash to burn, the city offers a superb spread of top-quality restaurants (including an ever-increasing number of places run under the auspices of various international celebrity chefs), with gourmet food served up in some of its most magical locations. There are also plenty of good cheap eats to be had too, from cheap and cheerful curry houses to the plentiful shwarma stands and kebab cafés. Dubai is a particularly fine place to sample the many different types of Middle Eastern (aka “Lebanese”) cuisine, with restaurants across the city offering varying takes on the classic dishes of the region, usually featuring a big range of classic mezze and succulent grilled meats, sometimes with a good selection of shisha (waterpipes) on the side.
As you’d expect given Dubai’s cosmopolitan make-up, a huge variety of other international cuisines are also represented. Italian, Iranian, Thai, Japanese and Chinese are all popular, and Indian food is particularly good, with inexpensive but often surprisingly excellent curry houses scattered all over the city centre catering to Dubai’s large subcontinental population.
Note that only hotel restaurants and a very small number of mall-based establishments have alcohol licences. You won’t find booze at independent restaurants and cafés.
The Dubai Friday brunch is a highlight of the weekly social calendar among the city’s Western expat community – a bit like the British Sunday lunch, only with a lot more booze. Restaurants across the city open for brunch from around noon, often with all-you-can-eat (and sometimes drink) offers which attract crowds of partying expats letting off steam at the end of the long working week. Check Time Out Dubai (wtimeoutdubai.com) for the latest offers.
Drinking in Dubai
You won’t go thirsty in Dubai, and the huge number of drinking holes tucked away all over the city attests to the extraordinary degree to which this Muslim city has accommodated western tastes. The best bars encapsulate Dubai at its most beguiling and opulent, whether your taste is for lounging on cushions in alfresco Arabian-themed venues or sipping champagne in cool, contemporary cocktail bars. Superlative views are often thrown in for good measure, whether from a perch atop one of the city’s tallest skyscrapers or at one of its many waterfront venues, some of which offer sweeping coastal or creekside panoramas. Most larger hotels also have English-style pubs, with obligatory faux-wooden decor and banks of TVs showing the latest sporting events – a lot less stylish than the city’s bars, but usually a bit cheaper.
Not surprisingly, boozing in Dubai comes at a price, thanks to high government taxes. A pint of beer will usually set you back around 30–35dh in a pub (more in a bar, assuming draught beer’s available, which it often isn’t), a glass of wine around 40dh and a basic cocktail around 50dh. Costs in the city’s pubs can be cut (slightly) by looking out for happy hours and special promotions.
Most bars open at 6 or 7pm and stay open till around 1–3am; pubs generally open from around noon until 2am; some places stop serving alcohol between 2 and 4pm (although they may stay open for food and soft drinks). Most of the city’s more upmarket drinking holes accept reservations (phone numbers for relevant places are listed), although the more club-style DJ bars often require a minimum spend in return for booking you a table. Smarter bars usually have some kind of dress code – don’t be surprised if you get turned away if you rock up in shorts and T-shirt.
Although Dubai is extremely liberal (at least compared to the rest of the region) in its provision of alcohol, be aware that any form of public drunkenness is strongly frowned upon, and may even get you arrested, particularly if accompanied by any form of lewd behaviour, which can be taken to include even fairly innocuous acts like kissing in public. Find out more about etiquette in Dubai. The city also has a zero-tolerance policy towards drink-driving – worth remembering if you get behind the wheel on the morning after a heavy night, since even the faintest trace of alcohol in your system is likely to land you in jail. Find out more tips for following the culture and etiquette in Dubai.
Alcohol is only served in hotel restaurants, bars and pubs, along with a small number of mall-based restaurants. It’s not served in independent restaurants, and isn't available over the counter in any shop or supermarket in the city, although visitors are allowed to bring up to four litres of alcohol (or two 24-can cases of beer) with them duty-free when entering the country. The only exception to this is if you’re a resident expat in possession of an official liquor licence, in which case you can buy alcohol from one of the city’s two authorized retailers. In addition, note that alcohol is not served anywhere until after sundown during Ramadan.
Ladies’ nights are something of a Dubai institution. These are basically an attempt to drum up custom during the quieter midweek evenings – they’re usually held on Wednesday, Thursday or, most commonly, Tuesday nights – with various places around the city offering all sorts of deals to women, ranging from a couple of free cocktails up to complimentary champagne all night. Just be aware that where ladies lead, would-be amorous blokes inevitably follow. Pick up a copy of Time Out Dubai for latest listings.