Traditional emirati food lamb salona and chicken mandi

5 Incredible Traditional Emirati Restaurants in Abu Dhabi To Try

by Abu Dhabi Travel Planner Team

An important part of travelling is trying the local cuisine. Exotic flavours and intriguing food combinations add to any holiday experience, stimulating the senses and forming long-term memories. No visit to the UAE is complete without sampling real Emirati food.

It’s easy to think of Emirati cuisine as being the same dishes available across the Arabic-speaking world. Tasty mezze dishes and succulent barbecued meats dating back to ancient times and were carried across borders by various invaders, from Alexander the Great to the Ottomans.

Of course, you will find numerous restaurants dubbed ‘Lebanese’ or ‘Turkish’, which offer wonderful baba ganoush, hummus and fattoush, as well as delicious sambousek, kibbeh and kebabs. There is, however, a unique local cuisine that many visitors miss out on when they visit Abu Dhabi.

Here, we take you through what is meant by ‘Emirati Cuisine’ and, most importantly, where you can find it!

You can see our complete guide to the Abu Dhabi dining scene here

A variety of Arabian delicacies but are they Emirati?

What is Traditional Emirati Cuisine?

Long before the establishment of the UAE, nomadic tribes travelled across the region with their camels and other livestock, such as sheep, goats and chickens. These early inhabitants’ diets reflected the ingredients these travelling tribes had available to them.

Each tribe would trade with other travellers and passing by merchants for rice and grain, which formed a large part of the Bedouin diet.

Depending on the season, vegetables were added to dishes wherever they could be found, and of course, the ubiquitous date played a large part in this early nomadic cuisine. Once settlements were made, other fruits and vegetables found their way into local cooking, forming the basis of what we now call Emirati cuisine.

Some Classic Emirati Dishes

During different seasons, the dishes served vary based on seasonal ingredients. In colder months, it is common to consume dishes that are rich in rice, vegetables, and wheat. However, dishes with animal protein such as goat, camel, and freshly caught fish are preferred in the summer months. These are some of the early dishes that remain popular with Emiratis today.

Khuzi

Khuzi, also known as ghouzi and ouzi, is the national dish of the UAE. This dish is popular during Ramadan and on other religious holidays. The dish comprises slow-cooked roasted lamb or mutton served on a bed of rice mixed with vegetables and nuts.

Machboos Diyay

The mother of all Emirati meals, Machboos Diyay, is a chicken and rice dish flavoured with cardamom, cumin, cloves and other spices. The rice is cooked with chicken broth and topped with roasted marinated chicken. Other forms of machboos including mutton or seafood, are also available.

Tasty Machboos

Harees

A porridge-like dish of boiled, coarsely ground, cracked wheat, or bulgar mixed with meat and vegetables.

Balaleet

This traditional breakfast dish is a sweet and savoury combination. It consists of sweetened cardamom and saffron spiced vermicelli noodles, topped with a sort of omelette.

Legaimat

These delicious little dough balls are the perfect way to end Emirati meals. Like Greek Loukoumades, balls of cardamom and saffron fragranced dough are deep fried and then coated in date syrup and sesame seeds. They are crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. Legaimat is particularly popular with locals during Ramadan and around National Day.

Yummy Legaimat

5 Best Emirati Restaurants to Try in Abu Dhabi

Al Fanar

This Emirati chain restaurant has several outlets across the UAE. The Abu Dhabi branch is located in Yas Mall, close to the entrance of Ferrari World. It is clearly identifiable from its elaborate façade, which looks like a traditional coral stone building, and the large model camels by the door. The inside of the restaurant is beautifully decorated with lots of quiet nooks offering privacy for you and your family.

The exhaustive menu contains every traditional Emirati dish all cooked to a high standard and presented beautifully. We recommend trying the ragaag here. It really is delicious!

  • Where to find Al Fanar: Yas Mall Cascade Dining Area
  • Opening hours: 9.00 am until 10.00 pm daily

Learn more at www.alfanarrestaurant.com

Meylas

Meylas provides delicious local food in a unique setting, laying its claim down firmly as the best Emirati restaurant in Abu Dhabi! It offers indoor and outdoor seating in Al Muneera’s beach plaza and is open for breakfast at 8.30 am. The surroundings are rustic but comfortable and charming, and the food is exactly as it should be.

Dishes include traditional Machboos Diyay as well as Balaleet and sweet treats like Chebab (Emirati pancakes) and Legaymat.

Here, you can also try camel milk, date milkshake, and zaatar (thyme) tea.

This place is very popular with the locals, so they must be doing something right! It makes an awesome location, too for firework nights in Yas Bay; you’ll have front-row seats!

  • Where to find Meylas: Al Muneera Beach Plaza, Al Raha Beach Area
  • Opening hours: 8.30 am until 10.30 pm daily

Learn more at www.meylas.com

Al Mrzab

Al Mrzab serves traditional Emirati cuisine alongside dishes from other countries in the region. The restaurant is usually quite busy, so be prepared to book a table or wait.

The setting is not overly fancy, but the service is of a high standard, and the food is absolutely delicious. They have recently earned themselves the distinction of “Bib Gourmand” in the latest Michelin guide to Abu Dhabi dining for good quality, good value cooking.

  • Where to find Al Mrzab: Located on Airport Road in the Mushrif Area
  • Opening hours: 7.00 am until 11.30 pm daily

For reservations, call +971 2 666 2333

Yadoo’s House

Yadoo means Granny in the Emirati dialect, and ‘Yadoo’s House’ brings you all the warmth and wholesomeness that you could predict from a place with such a name. Portions are large, and the price is very respectable.

This is a great spot for breakfast with a range of Emirati and other Arabian dishes; Yadoo’s house serves up some of the best Shakshuka anywhere in Abu Dhabi!

  • Where to find Yadoo’s House: Al Nasr Tower 2, Al Amman Street, just off Muroor Road
  • Opening hours: 8.00 am until 11.00 pm daily

For reservations, call +971 2 441 1311

Erth

A relative newcomer to the Abu Dhabi dining scene. This modern chic space plays homage to Emirati culture and values through its inspired decor, but the real star at Erth is definitely the food.

The menu may not be entirely what you’d call traditional Emirati, but everything on your plate is locally sourced from farms around the UAE, earning the ‘modern Emirati cuisine’ classification.

We’re not the only ones recognising this rising star; they have recently been awarded One Michelin Star and the TimeOut award for best MENA Restaurant.

  • Where to find Erth: Al Markaziyah West, Al Hosn Area
  • Opening hours: 8.00 am until 11.00 pm on Saturdays and Sundays and from 12.00 noon until 11.00 pm Monday to Friday.

Learn more at www.erthrestaurant.ae

A Real Emirati Dining Experience

As well as the various restaurants around town offering Emirati cuisine, there are other culinary experiences that you should consider incorporating into your trip.

One option is to have a traditional Emirati meal inside an Emirati home. In order to do this, you do not need to quickly find yourself a friendly Emirati and wrangle a dinner invitation… although it would be fabulous if you could!

There are some ways, as a tourist, you can get a real taste of Emirati hospitality. One option is to book a ‘Savour a traditional meal with an Emirati’ experience on AirBnB experiences.

Another way to learn about Emirati hospitality is to attend a coffee-drinking ceremony at the House of the Artisans, situated in Al Hosn. These usually take place daily at 2:00 p.m., but do call ahead to avoid disappointment. For more information, click here.

Other Places to Get Arabic Cuisine in Abu Dhabi

In addition to the Emirati restaurants listed above, numerous Middle Eastern restaurants around town offer flavours from throughout the region. Some of the best Middle Eastern restaurants in Abu Dhbai include:

  • Bushra – perfect for an elegant night out, Bushra, part of the Trilogy by Buddha Bar, is located in Abu Dhabi’s newest entertainment hotspot, Yas Bay. Following a delectable meal full of local flavours, head upstairs for cocktails at the swanky Siddharta Lounge. For more details, click here.
  • Beirut Sur Mer – Situated in the Mamsha area of Saadiyat Island, Beirut Sur Mer offers the full range of Lebanese mezze dishes and grills right by the sea. A great family dining spot and offering some seriously tasty Iftars during Ramadan its one to watch out for sure. For bookings and more information, click here.
  • Tean – another 5-star location is Tean at the Jumeirah Saadiyat resort. Enjoy an al fresco dinner full of local flavours as you listen to the waves lapping against the sand. To find out more, click here.
  • You can also find lots of budget Arabic restaurants on the backstreets. Do not be afraid to try them. If they’re full of locals, they will surely have great food!
Iftar spread at Olea restaurant, The St Regis Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi
Various dishes from across the Middle East served as part of a Ramadan iftar.

Catch all our guides to the best Abu Dhabi dining over here


Before you go… Important things to consider when planning a trip to Abu Dhabi

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