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When the second annual Middle East & North Africa’s 50 Best Restaurants was hosted in Abu Dhabi earlier this year, it helped shine a light on the emirate’s own fine dining scene as well as honoring the region’s best culinary creativity.
Restaurants across 14 Middle Eastern and North African cities were garlanded, with the overall winner named as Orfali Bros Bistro, a Dubai spot founded in 2021 by three brothers originally from the Syrian city of Aleppo.
While its glitzy neighbor Dubai has had a head start, Abu Dhabi is now stepping in to the fray and its three entries on the list are testament to the strength of the food scene now emerging in the capital of the United Arab Emirates.
In UAE and Arabian culture generally, hospitality is everything and aromatic local cuisine is always shared. Saffron, turmeric, cinnamon and countless other fragrant spices, along with nuts and dried fruit, often feature in traditional stews and sauces.
With almost 90% of Abu Dhabi’s population made up of expatriates, the Emirate also offers scores of cuisines from around the world, from Peruvian to Thai, French to Japanese and Indian to Ethiopian.
On the 50 Best list was Coya Abu Dhabi, located high on top of the Four Seasons Hotel at Al Maryah Island, which serves contemporary Latin American cuisine with east Asian influences. Also recognized were spots including Zuma Abu Dhabi, a Japanese restaurant, and the Abu Dhabi outpost of the legendary Hakkasan Cantonese restaurant.
Here are seven more of the finest places to eat in Abu Dhabi – and what to order when you get there:
Martabaan by Hemant Oberoi
Photos proudly framed outside Martabaan show some of the famous names who have dined on celebrity chef Hemant Oberoi’s cuisine over the years, including no fewer than four US Presidents: Clinton, two Bushes and Obama.
Martabaan is named for a pottery jar in which one of its signature dishes of lamb curry is served, alongside the rice dish biryani, fragrant with cardamom. A slow-cooked creamy black lentil dish called dal makhani and raita, a cooling cucumber and minty yoghurt sauce, are perfect accompaniments.
Other surprises on the Indian dining menu that Oberoi calls “contemporary classic” include the classic French dessert crème brûlée, but made instead with the beloved Indian spiced tea, masala chai.
The restaurant is one of several prime dining spots in the lavishly expansive Emirates Palace Hotel, which was recently taken over by the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group.
Martabaan by Hermant Oberai, Emirates Palace Mandarin Oriental Hotel, West Corniche Road, Abu Dhabi
Beirut Sur Mer
Meaning “Beirut-on-sea,” this airy establishment sits on an elegant boardwalk overlooking the turquoise water and pristine sands of Saadiyat Island. With vibrant interiors and a funky soundtrack, the seaside restaurant specializes in the fabulous diversity of Lebanese cuisine.
Amongst the dazzling spread of plant-based dishes, typical of Lebanon, roasted eggplant salad is lifted with pomegranate molasses while grilled halloumi cheese is topped with sweet and sour figs and lime and thyme honey.
Carnivores are also in for a treat with seafood and meat from the grill, like chargrilled lamb tenderloin with walnut and tomato spread or succulent grilled baby chicken marinated with lemon and garlic. There are decadent desserts like kunafa, a baked cheese and pastry pudding soaked in sugar syrup.
Beirut Sur Mer, Jacques Chirac St, Cultural District, Abu Dhabi
Jumeirah at Saadiyat Island Resort is home to Tean, named after the Arabic word for “fig.” It’s a laid-back spot celebrating flavors of the Levant, the swathe of the eastern Mediterranean including Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Cyprus. Sitting just steps from the water, it’s no surprise that seafood features prominently on the menu in the spacious and bright dining room.
If you’re a hummus fiend – who isn’t? – there are an impressive 10 versions to choose from, including beetroot, avocado, prawn and delicious spit-roasted chicken shawarma. Other specialties include the Turkish dish Imam Bayildi – whose name translates brilliantly as “the imam fainted,” so good was the dish when they tried it – where beef cheek meets smoked eggplant and tomatoes.
Most of all, don’t miss local Emirati specialties including prawn mashbous, a hugely popular rice dish with shrimp from the Arabian Gulf, nuts and local spices.
Tean, Jumeira at Saadiyat Island Resort, Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi
Turtle Bay Bar & Grill
A stone turtle at the door on the lawn shows you’re in the right spot for Turtle Bay Bar & Grill, named for the species of turtles found in Abu Dhabi including Hawksbill and Loggerhead. Overlooking the vast pool at Saadiyat Rotana Resort and surrounded by palm trees, the best tables are on the roof terrace with beach and sea views.
Japanese cuisine is the big draw. There are dishes like a punchy tuna crudo with the citrus notes of yuzu, soy sauce and jalapeno, or platters of nigiri and maki sushi.
Fresh oysters, Alaskan king crab and caviar are options for those celebrating in style, while the grill is also home to quality cuts including grain-fed Australian lamb rack and USDA prime Angus.
Turtle Bay Bar & Grill, Saadiyat Rotana Resort & Villas, Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi
Set within the jaw-dropping scale and elegant surroundings of the Emirates Palace Mandarin Oriental, Mezlai’s design recalls a billowing Bedouin tent and offers a real window into Arabic culinary culture. Plates from across the Middle East feature ingredients from sea and desert, mountain and even oasis.
Tables heave with generous small dishes of mezze including the freshness of the bulgur wheat, parsley and tomato salad tabouleh, the crunch and texture of fattoush salad with shards of fried pita bread and perfectly smooth hummus.
Entrees cross the region, from the Syrian karaz kebob with cherry sauce, an Arabic mixed grill or a stunning seafood platter. Their signature dessert of pistachio baklawa, the popular filo pastry with walnuts and syrup, is seriously taken up a notch with local honey from the hotel’s own beehives, camel milk ice cream – and gold leaf.
Mezlai, Emirates Palace Mandarin Oriental Hotel, West Corniche Road, Abu Dhabi
Saadiyat Beach Club
Saadiyat Beach Club is the ultimate hideaway for those seeking to kick back along the Blue Flag-certified shores of the Arabian Gulf, with live DJs playing throughout the day, cabanas to chill – and plenty of swimming pools in which to cool off.
While there are a number of restaurants and lounges to choose from, Safina celebrates flavors of the Mediterranean in relaxed but chic surroundings. Seafood linguine features generous shrimp, mussels, baby squid and clams in a rich tomato sauce, while paella is a great rendition of the Spanish classic.
Tiramisu, sticky toffee pudding and the local favorite umm Ali, a sort of bread pudding with pistachios, make for fine ways to sign off.
Saadiyat Beach Club, Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi
LPM Abu Dhabi
Since LPM Restaurant & Bar Abu Dhabi first fired up the ovens on opening in 2017, it has remained a consistently firm favorite among locals and visitors alike, thanks to its classy but relaxed interiors and cuisine inspired by the French Riviera.
Mediterranean ingredients are championed in signature dishes including warm prawns with olive and lemon juice, an onion and anchovy tart called pissaladière and lamb cutlets with a caviar of olive and eggplant.
LPM is located on vibrant Al Maryah Island and has successful sister restaurants in destinations including London, Dubai, Miami and Hong Kong.
LPM Abu Dhabi, The Galleria, Al Maryah Island, Abu Dhabi