Abu Dhabi restaurants: Where to go for shawarma, shish tawook and more

Story highlights

  • Visitors to Abu Dhabi will find everything from Arabic cuisine to Korean and French fare
  • Recommended eateries include Shish Shawerma on the Corniche waterfront

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(CNN)The winter months are by far the best time to visit Abu Dhabi and explore its burgeoning restaurant scene.

Though often overshadowed by its cooler sister city, Dubai, Abu Dhabi's understated nature encourages more authentic and less showy eateries. This often means better quality food.
Abu Dhabi is also far more walkable than Dubai, thanks to its compact grid layout.
Even though some of the best restaurants are tucked away from the main streets, those exploring by foot or by taxi will still find seeking these venues out relatively easy. There's also something for just about every taste and preference.
Visitors will find everything from traditional Arabic cuisine to much more unexpected options like Korean and French fare.
Here's a roundup of restaurants worth seeking out while exploring the United Arab Emirate's capital:

Shish Shawerma

Shish Shawerma: An authentic Abu Dhabi food experience.
Order one or two of Shish Shawerma's sandwiches -- chicken or beef -- and take a stroll down the Corniche waterfront as the sun sets to watch Abu Dhabi come alive.
Drivers in giant SUVs pull up to give their orders before driving around the block three or four times as their meal is prepared.
This is the capital at its most authentic.
Though Shish Shawerma offers a more modern and welcoming vibe than the many other traditional shawarma shops that line the city, this in no way means lesser quality.
The restaurant also prides itself on baking its own bread.
Lighter options include Shish Shawerma salad and tabboule, while kebbeh, moutabbal and mozzarella crepes are also available.
Shish Shawerma, Corniche Branch, Behind Corniche Towers, Abu Dhabi; +971 2 650 5576 (More locations on its website)

Bu Tahfish

Mix freshly caught fish and seafood with local history at the city's iconic Bu Tahfish.
The establishment, owned by Radwan Al Tamimi, now in his 70s, first began as a small mobile kiosk close to the Corniche.
After paying an unexpected visit in the 1950s, the UAE's founding ruler Sheikh Zayed was so impressed by the quality of food that he helped Al Tamimi expand.
The current restaurant now serves up some of the best seafood in town, in a slightly rough around the edges, kitschy nautical-themed dining area, where even the servers wear sailor outfits.
Recommended is the prawn soup starter, a creamy and spice-infused dish served with a hearty helping of prawns, and one of the many hot and cold mezzeh options.
Fish -- ranging from red snapper and mullet fish to sea bream and hamour -- is cooked several ways: grilled with spices, fried with seasonings or simply grilled on its own. Prices are based on weight.
Bu Tahfish, Opposite Al Salama Hospital, Hamdan Street, Tourist Club Area (Al Zahiyah), Abu Dhabi; +971 2 677 7780

Sambusek

Sambusek: Beautiful dishes with unbeatable views.
Though Lebanese restaurants are on almost every corner of Abu Dhabi, few match up to the setting of Sambusek.
This establishment, located on Al Maraya Island, boasts a large terrace and offers beautiful views out onto Abu Dhabi Island, making for a scenic dinner experience during the cooler months.
The menu includes an impressive variety of hot and cold mezzehs, mutabbal and sambusek, all ideal to share as starters or as mains for a lighter meal.
Worth trying are the eggplant mutabbal, hummus with tahini, fattoush, spinach fatayer and grilled halloumi cheese.
Mains consist mainly of grilled meats, though a few seafood and fish dishes are also available.
For a truly traditional Lebanese option, however, there's the shish tawook, a simple dish of grilled chicken breast, marinated with garlic, lemon juice and Arabic spices.
Conclude the meal with an Arabic coffee and shisha.
Sambusek, Rosewood Abu Dhabi, Al Maryah Island, Abu Dhabi; +971 2 813 5550

Hanoi Naturally

The Bun Dau at Hanoi Naturally -- a delicious mix of tofu, rice vermicelli noodles, fresh salad, roasted peanuts, fresh herbs and tangy sauce -- makes for a filling lunch or dinner option.
Abu Dhabi isn't, admittedly, the most obvious destination for authentic Vietnamese food. Hanoi Naturally, however, serves up just that, in a cheap and cheerful canteen-style setting.
The extensive menu features traditional dishes that offer a blend of fresh ingredients and spices.
Equally delightful is the Cha Ca La Vong, Hanoi style turmeric fish fillet served with dill and peanuts on a sizzling hot plate.
Meals should be accompanied by a steaming pot of (lightly) sweetened ginger tea.
Hanoi Naturally, Khalifa Street, Al Markaziyah, (Opposite NBAD, Near Europa Car), Abu Dhabi; +971 2 626 1112 (See website for more locations)

Peppermill

Peppermill's paneer makhanwala: Medium spiced cheese with creamy tomato gravy, green cardamon and sweet fenugreek.
Despite the mall setting and somewhat garish ambiance, Peppermill serves up excellent north and south Indian fare.
The menu is extensive and dishes vary in spice levels -- even vegetarians are well catered to, an otherwise unusual experience in Abu Dhabi.
Favorites include paneer makhanwala, a medium spiced dish of fresh cheese served with creamy tomato gravy, green cardamon and sweet fenugreek.
Alternatively, the chicken chettinad offers a south Indian style boneless chicken curry with blended spices and coconut.
They go well with a helping of naan, roti or steamed rice on the side.
Peppermill, GF, Bawabat Al Sharq Mall, Baniyas, Abu Dhabi; +971 2 585 9581 (See website for more locations)

Le Beaujolais

Visitors who've had their fill of grilled lamb or chicken can head over to Le Beaujolais for French food and friendly service.
This tiny bistro, with its cliched French white and red check tablecloths, Parisian-style bar and Théophile Steinlen-esque posters, is an institution among the expat set.
Though, like most licensed restaurants in the UAE, it's located in a hotel, the fact that it looks out onto the street offers the feeling of a standalone establishment.
Recommended is the coupe standard cut 200 grams Angus beef fillet, served with a hearty portion of pommes frites and the option of pepper, mushroom or red wine sauce (we prefer the red wine sauce).
Other dishes include pan fried chicken liver salad, baked mussels and boeuf bourguignon .
A raspberry creme brulee rounds off the meal.
Le Beaujolais, Mercure Abu Dhabi Centre Hotel, Hamdan Bin Mohammed Street, Abu Dhabi; +971 2 633 3555

Manna Land

For a quick helping of Korean cuisine, Manna Land serves up lunch boxes with just the right amount of food for a midday meal.
The chicken lunch set has spicy chicken strips, steamed rice and various other items, depending on the day and the mood of the chef.
The Bibimbap is also a thing of beauty. It's served in a piping-hot silver pot with rice, seasoned vegetables, meat, an egg and hot pepper paste.
All meals are accompanied by six starters, which usually vary (though guests can almost always count on kimchi and spicy tofu squares).
Seating options include regular tables or on the floor, traditional style seating with cushions, behind sliding doors where Korean shows are always playing on the televisions.
Parking can be a bit of an issue during the week, so it's best to visit on weekends.
Manna Land, Muroor Road East Road, (Behind National Bank of Abu Dhabi), Abu Dhabi; +971 2 446 6860