50 Best Restaurants in the Gulf for 2020
Where should you eat tonight? We know. We’ve done the legwork.
The Esquire Middle East team has put in countless miles for the past 12 months, crisscrossing the region looking for the best eats, the best chefs, the best backstories and the best vibes.
Behold The Esquire 50 Best Restaurants List, class of 2020—one that celebrates what it means to eat well right now in a region filled with diversity and dynamism.
We hope you’re hungry:
#50 Avli by Tasha’s
Last year was big for Greek cuisine, with no less than five high-end restaurants opening their doors within months of each other (a few of them are on this list). Avli is by far the most authentic of the bunch, stripping almost everything away (save for the old-school ‘Greek” façade of its Financial Centre restaurant) in favour of putting all the effort in can into making authentic plates of food. The results are good, and delicious.
Tucked away in what might the most subtle room going at the Palazzo Versace Hotel in Dubai, Vanitas is an elegant Italian restaurant that puts emphasis on fine dining. Served on some of the finest tableware we’ve ever soon, the food is a tad flouncy for our tastes but backed up with some serious silver service.
#48 Gaucho Dubai
Dubai Financial Centre’s go-to steakhouse, Gaucho’s understanding of meat is exemplary. Yes, it prefers to call itself a Latin American restaurant (but one that specializes in meat, lots of meat) and it has shrunk down since it first opened back in 2011, but there’s no denying that it – along with its seven specialty cuts of Argentinian meat – is a steakhouse. The empanadas (like the ones filled with Argentinian beef) are also very good.
#47 Bleu Blanc Dubai
Trying to reproduce the heart-warming food of a rustic Southen French bistro can be fraught with peril, but Bleu Blanc does the concept justice. With a chef’s table that puts diners just a meter away from the kitchen’s huge open-flame grill, the food is simple and lets the ingredients to the talking. For those not wanting to feel the heat from the kitchen, elsewhere the dining room is light, bright and cosy.
Rockfish is certainly befitting of its name; it specializes in fresh seafood and is located seconds away from the beach. Gorgeous by day and night (it boasts one of the best views of Dubai’s iconic Burj Al Arab) the menu has been pepped-up this year by Chef Marco Carfagnini, who has brought a typically Tuscan approach to the food.
#45 3 Fils
The small 30-seater, homegrown restaurant tucked away in the Jumeirah Fishing Village marina has amassed a loyal list of regulars (including us) and is very rarely empty because of that. Helmed by Singaporean-born chef Akmal Anuar who used to help at his parents hawker stall, the restaurant serves a handful of high-end but simple Asian-inspired tapas dishes, at casual eatery prices. We’re hoping to see a lot more like it come 2020.
Walking through what is Dubai’s largest hotel (complete with its own mall) doesn’t quite set the scene for one of the world’s greatest Japanese chefs, but that’s all forgotten the moment you walk in to Nobu Matsuhisa’s restaurant in The Atlantis Hotel. His world famous blackened cod is still one of the most-ordered on the menu, and even after 25 years in the game it’s evident that Nobu is still one to beat when it comes to Japanese fine dining.
#43 Opa Dubai
There are a few Greek restaurants on this list, but none offer the same authentic entertainment like Opa. This rowdy restaurant features Zorba dancing and a whole load of plate smashing that promises to be one heck of an immersive evening (but then again, what do you expect from the same team behind Bistrot Bagatelle). The menu is full of Greek favorites, served without frills but complete plates.
#42 Stay by Yannick Alleno
If ever a chef needn’t an introduction, it would be Yannick Alleno. When not busy juggling his nine Michelin stars, his namesake in Dubai is one of the city’s best examples of how modern cooking techniques best intersect with classic, French cooking. Alleno is a visionary chef for a reason, and Stay is a fantastic example of that.
#41 Indego by Vineet
Vineet Bhatia’s high-end Indian has been a staple on the Dubai dining scene for years. Recent menu changes (that complement the chef’s dedication to modern Indian cuisine) only solidify the impact this restaurant has had in the city. Dishes remain inventive, clever and delicious, and are a fantastic way to see how much more there is to Indian cuisine than curry (although, his curries are rather excellent, too).
#40 La Cantine Du Faubourg
If ever a restaurant were to double as a film set, La Cantine in Dubai’s Emirates Towers would be it. And they wouldn’t be hard-pressed at finding extras, either. The Parisian-inspired restaurant is never want of a good-looking crowd, attracted to the menu Mediterranean flavours served with an exciting Asian twist. The white-washed walls are home to ever-changing art exhibitions, which only add to La Cantine’s joie de vivre.
#39 Prime 68
It’s hard to re-invent a steakhouse. Provided you have the obligatory high-end steak, a few sides and a decent sommelier, there isn’t a huge amount you can do to elevate the humble art of cooking meat with fire. But Prime 68 has done its best, by plonking its restaurant on the 68th floor of one of Dubai’s tallest buildings. The spacious monochrome interior screams ‘High End New York’ but the view, overlooking the Burj Khalifa and its fountains, are all Dubai.
#38 The Maine Oyster Bar and Grill
It’s been a good year for The Maine Oyster Bar and Grill. Not only has it taken its place as one of the go-to restaurants in Dubai’s bustling Marina, but expanded its brand to include a new location in Studio City, a brasserie in Business Bay and even a taco truck. It’s further evidence that ‘gastropreneur’ Joey Ghazal and his excellent combination of fresh seafood mixed with a fun, vibrant atmophsre, is a concept here to stay.
#37 STK Downtown
STK Downton is the perfect place for food, served alongside a fresh slice of party. The restaurant and nightclub, is unmistakably New York chic – with an international following thanks to venues in Las Vegas, New York and London. Now world famous for its steaks, expect a solid menu of meat alongside a few token fish and vegetarian options served in heaping portions that will leave you stuffed (but still wanting just one more scoop of the signature mac ‘n’ cheese).
Asado is best enjoyed via its new floating terrace, which puts diners even closer to the Burj Khalifa and the whimsical fountains of the Dubai Mall. That’s controversial, to be sure, as many guests at this Argentinian restaurant choose to be closer to the other view – the kitchen’s large open fire. Located at the centre of the restaurant and ringed with floor-to-ceiling windows, the showpiece is often ringed with baby goats roasting on the open fire (the restaurant's specialty). Regardless of where you sit, Asado is one of the finest grills in the city.
#35 La Serre
Homegrown concept la Serre is divided in two – elegant bistro upstairs, casual boulangerie down – regardless where you sit this Parisian-inspired restaurant is charming. Bright and effortlessly chic, the menu is a collection of Mediterranean-inspired comfort foods such as a traditional onion tart and burrata (made from local milk).
#34 Akira Back
Chef Akira Back thought he’d become a professional snowboarder. Fortunately, he gave up on that dream a long time ago and is today in charge of 16-restaurants that all bear his name. Each one also features his mum’s art on the walls, along with crockery with his name on it. It’s both swish and personable at the same time. His Dubai restaurant serves up a nice mix of fusion dishes, alongside some of the dishes that put Back on the culinary map (such as tuna pizza smothered in truffle oil).
#33 Carine Dubai
Another Chef Izu special; and this time it’s the celebrated chef’s love affair to the humble French brasserie. Carine is both charming and unpretentious, with a no-frills dining room boasting a lovely terrace overlooking one of Dubai’s best golf clubs. The food is – as to be expected – top notch, but don’t immediately discount the bread basket. Like any true brasserie, the bread (notably, the homemade pain de campagne or French sourdough) is worthy of a course its own.
Alici is the charming cousin of Il Borro, the number one restaurant on this list. That should tell you everything you need to know about the quality of the food, and the service. But if you need know more, the restaurant spans two floors and provides some of the best views of the Dubai Marina one could hope for.
Just like the country itself, Japanese food comes in all shapes and sizes. While many of Dubai’s best Asian restaurants prefer to air on the side of sophisticated fine dining, Izakaya prefers to channel more quirky aspects of Japanese culture. Expect punk-tastic neon signs, servers clad in wasabi-coloured wigs and a whole lot of fun. Fortunately, between swigs at the mobile sake bar, the restaurant also puts out generous portions of tasty food.
#30 Scalini Dubai
Scalini follows the same ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ approach as its first branch, which has been going strong in London’s Mayfair district for more than 20 years. The food at the self-described ‘quintessential fine-dining Italian’ restaurant isn’t nearly as pompous as you might think, and the food is served with few bells and whistles. Fortunately, that makes for delicious results, as Scalini boasts some the most authentic plates of food this side of the Adriatic
#29 Aya Dubai
Did we mention that Chef Izu has had a busy year? Aya marks his sixth restaurant in Dubai, and the focus this time around is on Asian dishes with an ‘international twist’. We’re not big fans of ‘fusion’ cuisine, but we can certainly get behind Izu’s use of surprising flavors to tart-up signature Asian dishes (such as his signature grapefruit-infused miso marinades). Interestingly, Aya means ‘beautiful’ and Japanese and ‘wonderful’ in Arabic, two words that go a long way describing this place.
#28 Pai Thai
Getting to Pai Thai is an experience in and of itself. Diners must first take an abra through the Madinat Jumeirah’s colourful waterways, before arriving at this charming restaurant. Despite the funky laid-back interior, it’s best to sit on the terrace – one of the best that Dubai has to offer – for some of the most authentic Thai food this side of Bangkok.
#27 Din Tai Fung
Din Tai Fung is one of the most accessible restaurants on this list, now with four locations in Dubai (all in malls) and with further expansion into Abu Dhabi on the cards. Its growth has been extraordinary, and we know why – because it produces hands-down the best dim sum and dumplings in the Middle East. The restaurant doesn’t take reservations, and so features daily queues of people lining up outside, but trust us… it’s worth the wait.
#26 Kizmet Dubai
Kizmet is at the same time a charming little eatery offering up delicious small plates of food, and a huge part of Dubai Tourism’s plans for getting punters to attend the Opera. And it just kind of works. Not presumptuous in the slightest, Kizmet is spread out over two floors (and yet it’s somehow cosy?) and has a menu that fits on a single sheet of pink paper. It’s perfect for a spot to eat before a show - and then a visit to the upstairs bar after.
#25 Marina Social Dubai
Many regional restaurants boast big-name chef partners, but not many see those partners on a regular basis. Celebrity chef Jason Atherton does things differently, and is oft seen behind the pass of Marina Social’s open kitchen. The British-inspired menu features all of your favourite comfort foods ‘poshed-up’ with the sort of high-end flare you’d expect from a multi-Michelin starred chef.
This year also saw the restaurant double-down on its vegan menu, and today boasts one of the finest plant-based dinners in Dubai.
For those not fluent in ancient languages of the sub-continent, ‘masti’ roughly translates to the word ‘fun’ in Sanskirt. And fun is exactly what La Mer’s new Indian restaurant brings to the table. The brainchild of award-winning chef Hari Nayak, the menu is a modern interpretation of some India’s better-known dishes – but shrunk down to (fun sized?) sharing plates. But don’t let that concept scare you away, the food here packs big flavors, despite its diminutive size.
The Dubai branch of the London restaurant continues to delight, both in terms of atmosphere and food. One of the first to really champion Peruvian food in the region, Coya has since expanded to the UAE’s capital of Abu Dhabi – what has stayed the same is the emphasis on fresh ingredients and delicious, but unfussy, food. Be warned, more is certainly merrier here and Coya’s food is best enjoyed as part of a group.
#22 Bistrot Bagatelle
Bagatelle is an anomaly in the region’s dining scene. Walk through its bright blue doors at around nine in the evening, and you’ll spot well-heeled groups of people digging in to some truly decadent and somewhat experimental French cuisine (such as the roasted garlic and Burgundy snail sourdough pizza). Come back a few hours later, and its party central; with thumping music and waiters dancing on tables strumming pretend guitars (that double as flamethrowers). An anomaly indeed, but one that backs up its party spirit with truly inspired dishes.
#21 Mama Zonia
The second new entry on the list to specialize in Amazonian cuisine, Mama Zonia brings a varied menu served alongside lots and lots of fake plastic greenery. As you might expect from the eclectic dining room and brightly-painted wall art, nothing is understated at Mama Zonia – not least the flavours. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, and the menu’s scattergun approach produces some real bangers (such as the frogs legs served with curry sauce).
#20 Nusr-et Dubai
What can we say about Salt Bae (and his food) that hasn’t already been said a couple million times before on social media? Certainly, chef Nusret Gökçe’s internet fame has helped fill its reservation books, but it’s the food that has punters coming back for more each week. It’s still one of the best steak restaurants in the region (attracting big-names like Leonardo DiCaprio and Paul Pogba) and has since expanded to Abu Dhabi’s Four Seasons Hotel and Dubai’s newly-opened Salt Bae Burger (which wants to do for Instagrammable burgers, what Nusr-et did for steaks)
One of the region’s most romantic restaurants, Pierchic overlooks the iconic Burj Al Arab and gives you 270-degree views of the sun setting over the Arabian Gulf. Fortunately, the restaurant boasts far more than just a pretty view and has recently adopted a fully sustainable food philosophy that sees everything – from the oysters to the yeast used in the freshly-baked bread – taken from ethical sources. Fortunately, Pierchic’s new guilt-free food is even tastier because of it.
#18 Ruya Dubai
When it launched in 2016, Ruya put high-end Turkish food on the map. It continues to do just that, with a full dining room (especially on the weekends) and fantastic terrace overlooking the yachts of Dubai Marina. Since 2018, it has expanded into London – to mixed reviews – but we are still firmly in support of Chef Colin Clague’s quest to elevate Anatolian cuisine beyond that of simple cheesy bread (that said, the two-cheese pide bread remains one of our favourite dishes anywhere in the region)
The phrase ‘Amazonian cuisine’ is a bit of a catchall term used to describe the food and preparation methods of the hundreds of thousands of people based around the jungles of South America. Fortunately, Amazonico handles the daunting task of sorting through an incredible number of ingredients, dishes and cooking methods with gusto. The paired-back menu spans ceviches, strange tubers and meats grilled over an open flame. The flavours are all very tasty, in a ‘I never thought I would eat that’ kind of way. Throw in a bar that makes use of the same eclectic ingredients, and we’re happy Amazonian cuisine has arrived to the region.
#16 LIMA Dubai
Created by celebrated Peruvian chef Virgilio Martinez, whose first restaurant in London has garnered a prestigious Michelin Star, Lima’s menu takes Peruvian cuisine to another level but - unlike some contemporary chefs attempting to put their own spin on traditional dishes - in keeping with tradition. The food is presented on remarkable tableware, with some dishes being almost too pretty to eat. But push past the aesthetics, and you’ll find the food is far better than it looks (which is saying something).
#15 Masala Library
Masala Library picks off where the ill-fated Rang Mahal left off. The restaurant remains unchanged (huge dining room, floor-to-ceiling windows, incredibly large murals painted on the walls) but this time the menu is presented by the ‘Czar of Indian Cuisine’ Jiggs Kalra. The 12-course degustation menu is a fantastic and inventive tour of some of India’s best-known regions, including includes plenty of the chef’s progressive flair (right down to its signature dessert, a floating chocolate truffle).
#14 Zheng He’s
Most Asian restaurants typically focus on one region, but Zheng He’s serves a relative ‘best-of’ list of Chinese cuisine. But that’s to be expected, from a restaurant named after one of the first explorer to visit every corner of China. Malaysian Chef Lai Min Wei was appointed just last year, and has shaken up the menu with more specialized regional dishes (beyond the typical, ‘Beijing Duck’ and ‘Szechuan Chicken’ type fare). The result is a most dynamic menu that is well worth exploring time and time again.
#13 Torno Subito
Massimo Bottura’s first restaurant outside his native Modena (home to last year’s number one in the world best restaurant, Osteria Francescana) breaks from the celebrity restaurant mold; it was never meant to ape Bottura’s Michelin-starred restaurant. Instead, it is a fun, eclectic bistro concept based around the chef’s frequent trips to the seaside as a child. Dishes are grounded in tradition, but pepped-up with the same contemporary twists Bottura is known for. All the hallmarks are there, but presented a different enough way as to make Torno Subito a place (especially for those who are fans of the chef) worth visiting.
Indian food in the region has come a long way since a bowl of chicken tikka masala served alongside a buttered naan was the height of cuisine. And a lot of that credit must surely go to Tresind, which has been at the forefront of gastronomic innovation for more than a decade. The newly revamped dining room does what Tresind does best, serve up ultra-modern and incredibly tasty food courtesy of executive chef Himanshu Saini – and its second location, near Dubai’s International Financial Centre (Carnival by Tresind) is no different.
#11 Folly by Nick and Scott
With two of Dubai’s favourite chefs in the kitchen, you’d think there’s little more to be done at Folly then update the menu every few months. Not so. Nick Alvis and Scott Price haven’t stopped tinkering with their eponymous location over the years, expanding beyond a high-end dining room and chef’s table to include a dedicated grape and cheese area, an award winning rooftop bar, and newly-opened outdoor terrace with some of the best views Dubai has to offer.
#10 Cipriani Dubai
It’s so very easy to overdo restaurant concepts; the grey line between ‘corny’ and ‘cool’ is very thin indeed. Fortunately, Cipriani treads this line with the same grace as some of its most famous clientele (everyone from the likes of Charlie Chaplin and George Clooney to Jerry Lewis and Liza Manelli have graced Cipriani’s original Venice location over the years). The results are top-notch food, more traditional than flouncy, and with a dining room seemingly straight out of Frank Sinatra’s NYC penthouse.
#9 Reif Japanese Kushiyaki
The latest restaurant from Chef Reif Othman is like none other you’ll find on this list. For starters, it only has ten tables – and far from being in one of Dubai’s lavish luxury resorts, it takes up a quiet spot in a mall along the city’s beachfront road. That’s not to say the food is lacking; Othman spent most of the last decade working at some of the city’s finest restaurants, and has decided apply that knowledge here at Kushiyaki. The result is some of the best Japanese food in the city, served simply and without pretension.
Certainly not the first time this world-famous Cantonese restaurant has appeared on this list, and for good reason. The Michelin-approved chain helmed by Corporate Executive Chef Andrew Yeo is a stickler for standards, and while The Guide has yet to open its doors here in the Middle East, even they would be hard-pressed to spot the difference between Hakkassan’s two regional locations, and its flagship London eatery. The food here is fantastic, as are the locations: at Dubai’s The Atlantis Hotel and Abu Dhabi’s Emirates Palace.
#7 Celebrities by Mauro Colagreco
It has been a whirlwind few months for Chef Mauro Colagreco. His restaurant Mirazur in the French Riviera garnered its third Michelin star just recently, and was also named the number one best restaurant in the world for 2019. That makes him something of a culinary hot property, a fact not lost on the team at the One & Only Royal Mirage. Colagreco is now collaborating with the hotel on three restaurants, but Celebrities is the one closest to the talented chef’s heart. The menu changes daily – as it does at Mirazur - and features dishes and organic ingredients flown direct from Southern France.
#6 La Petite Maison
LPM – as it is lovingly referred to by the region’s foodies – has set the benchmark for high-end dining in Dubai since it opened a decade ago. Since then, its decadent atmosphere and consistency for high-quality (but not overly-elaborate) Nicoise food has made it a must-visit restaurant not just in the city, but the greater region. This year saw it take steps to capitalize on its buzzing atmosphere, with an ever-revolving gallery of 20th century art on its walls. Fortunately, the eccentric style does little to detract from the real star of the show: the food.
Zuma has widely been regarded as one of the best restaurants in the region since it opened in Dubai back in 2008. Since then, it has won accolades for both its food and top-notch bar (which was named number 62 in the annual World’s Best Bars list earlier in the year) and expanded to Abu Dhabi’s The Galleria on Al Maryah Island. The reason for its success is surely its consistency, and the fact that you’ll be hard pressed to visit either location and not find a packed dining room on any given night. Zuma pairs great atmosphere with brilliant Japanese food – which is a recipe for success in our book.
When Indochine opened its doors in New York back in 1984, it quickly became known as the place where everyone (everyone) wanted to be. Madonna, Warhol, Bowie, everyone. Swap out those names with the likes of Ronaldo and Beyonce, and the restaurant has remained pretty much the same over the past 35-years. It was a daunting task then, for Indochine’s first international expansion, to capture that same celebrity magic here in a different city. It needn’t have worried: while there may be fewer A-listers in Dubai, there’s no shortage of star power and all of them (all of them) have flocked to Indochine. Fortunately, the eclectic menu more than holds its own here, making this truly one of the most interesting restaurants in the region.
#3 Gaia Dubai
Chef Izu can do little wrong when it comes to Dubai’s food scene. The ever-smiling chef is no stranger to our Top 50 Best Restaurants list, and has had a string of hit restaurants over the last few years. Gaia – his striking Greek restaurant in the heart of DIFC’s Gate Village – is surely his best. Still nearly impossible to drop in without a reservation, the quality of the food and the genuinely elegant atmosphere cannot be underplayed. True to both the restaurant’s Greek concept, the cooking style of Izu and his long-standing chef de cuisine Oresti Kotefas, the simple, ingredient-led dishes are best enjoyed shared. And in that context, with dishes such as the lobster salad, raw tuna, garlic prawns, spinach pie and baked feta cheese, Gaia gets it very right indeed.
#2 Il Borro Tuscan Bistro
Il Borro has carved a name for itself on the UAE’s fine dining scene, not for its world famous owners (fashion’s elite Ferragamo family) but for its total dedication to ingredients. One of the first restaurants to wholeheartedly embrace organic dishes - most of the biodynamic food served in the restaurant hails from the family’s estate in Tuscany – three years later Il Borro still produces simple, traditional Italian dishes without flair. But while the food may be rustic, the service certainly is not. Staffed by what seems like an army of Italian stewards who are as charming as they are knowledgeable about, it’s no surprise that that a typical evening at Il Borro will be crammed with regular customers coming back for more.
#1 Shanghai Me
There are not many restaurants in Dubai that can claim to have hit the ground running. Even less that can say their dining rooms have been packed out since the moment they opened their doors. But Shanghai Me is not just any restaurant.
Put together by the same team behind last year’s best restaurant winner Gaia, is it any surprise that in just a few months Shanghai Me has become one of the city’s hottest places to eat, and garnering such celebrity fans as Ronaldo, Akon and even the UAE’s Royal Family. Interesting clientele aside, the restaurant features one of the best-looking dining rooms this side of the orient (which pays tribute to China’s 1930s art-deco movement) complete with an outdoor terrace and cocktail bar.
Despite its name, food here spans all of East Asia – but what differentiates this from the swathes of other Asian restaurants in the city is the sheer quality of it all. Shanghai Me then ticks all the boxes of a great restaurant, which is saying something given that it’s only been open a few months.
That has been the 50 Best Restaurants in the Gulf list for 2020. Like it? Loath it? Do let us now via Instagram, Twitter or Facebook. Also if you'd like to nominate a restaurant for next years' awards - do let us now via social media.
The Best Restaurants list was put together featuring restaurants that opened their doors sometime during 2019. For all new restaurants, head to the Review section of the website to see how they match up with the best of the best.