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Abu Dhabi: The Middle East’s Emerging Foodie Destination

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Editor’s note: (This CNN travel series is, or was, sponsored by the country it highlights. CNN retains full editorial control over the topic, coverage, and frequency of articles and videos within the sponsorship, consistent with our policy.)

(CNN) in the second year The 50 Best Restaurants in the Middle East and North Africa Held in Abu Dhabi earlier this year, it helped shine a light on the emirate’s own food scene and honored the region’s best culinary creations.

Restaurants in 14 cities across the Middle East and North Africa were honored, with the overall winner named Orfali Bros Bistro, a Dubai restaurant founded in 2021 by three brothers originally from the Syrian city of Aleppo.

While its flamboyant neighbor Dubai has taken the lead, Abu Dhabi has now joined the fray, with three entries proving the strength of the United Arab Emirates capital’s burgeoning gastronomic scene.

In Emirati and Arabic culture, hospitality is everything and aromatic local food is always shared. Saffron, turmeric, cinnamon and countless other aromatic spices, along with nuts and dried fruit, are often found in traditional stews and sauces.

Almost 90% of Abu Dhabi’s population is expatriate, and the emirate also offers a wide variety of cuisines from around the world, from Peruvian to Thai, French to Japanese, Indian to Ethiopian.

On the 50 best list is Koya Abu Dhabi, located high above the Four Seasons Hotel Al Maryah Island, serves contemporary Latin American cuisine with East Asian influences.Some spots were also found, including Zuma Abu Dhabia Japanese restaurant, and outpost of the legendary restaurant in Abu Dhabi Hakka people Cantonese restaurant.

Here are seven of the best restaurants in Abu Dhabi – and what to order when you get there:

Martyrdom of Hemant Oberoi



One of Martabaan’s signature dishes is biryani.

Photos proudly framed outside Mataban Showcasing some of the celebrities who have enjoyed the cuisine of celebrity chef Hemant Oberoi over the years, including no less than four US presidents: Clinton, two Bushes and Obama.

Martabaan takes its name from the earthenware pot in which the signature lamb curry is served alongside cardamom-scented biryani rice. A slow-cooked creamy black lentil dish called dal makhani and raita, a cooled cucumber and mint yogurt sauce, are perfect accompaniments.

Other surprises on the Indian food menu, which Oberoi calls “contemporary classics”, include classic French dessert creme brulee, made with the much-loved Indian spiced tea, masala chai.

The restaurant is one of several main dining venues at the luxurious and spacious Emirates Palace hotel, which was recently taken over by the Mandarin Oriental hotel group.

Martabaan by Hermant OberaiMandarin Oriental, Emirates Palace, West Corniche, Abu Dhabi

Beirut-sur-Mer



Beirut Sur Mer specializes in Lebanese cuisine.

Meaning “Beirut by the Sea,” the airy hotel sits on an elegant boardwalk overlooking the turquoise waters and pristine sands of Saadiyat Island. With a vibrant interior and funky soundtrack, this waterfront restaurant specializes in a wide variety of Lebanese cuisine.

Among the dizzying array of plant-based dishes, quintessentially Lebanese, grilled eggplant salad is served with pomegranate molasses, while grilled halloumi is served with sweet and sour figs, lime and thyme honey.

Carnivores also love grilled seafood and meats, such as char-grilled lamb tenderloin with walnut and tomato sauce, or juicy roast chicken marinated with lemon and garlic. There are decadent desserts like kunafa, a type of grilled cheese, and pastry pudding soaked in syrup.

Beirut-sur-MerJacques Chirac St, Cultural District, Abu Dhabi

Know



Tean’s name comes from the Arabic word for fig.

Jumeirah at Saadiyat Island Resort is the home of Tean, named after the Arabic word for “fig”. It’s a laid-back venue celebrating the flavors of the Levant, the eastern Mediterranean region that includes Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Cyprus. Just steps from the water, it’s no surprise that seafood features prominently on the menu in the bright and spacious restaurant.

If you’re a hummus fan – who isn’t? — There are 10 impressive versions to choose from, including beetroot, avocado, king prawns and a delicious grilled chicken shawarma. Other specialties include the Turkish dish Imam Bayildi – whose name cleverly translates to “Imam swoons”, which is excellent when they try it – beef cheek meets smoked eggplant and tomato.

Best of all, don’t miss local Emirati specialties including prawn mash, a hugely popular rice dish made with prawns from the Arabian Gulf, nuts and local spices.

KnowJumeirah and Saadiyat Island Resort, Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi

Turtle Bay Bar and Grill



Australian grain-fed lamb chops are on the menu at Turtle Bay.

A stone turtle on the lawn at the entrance means you’ve come to the right Turtle Bay Bar & Grill, named after the species of sea turtles found in Abu Dhabi, including hawksbill and loggerhead sea turtles. Overlooking Saadiyat Rotana Resort’s huge swimming pool, surrounded by palm trees, the best tables are on the rooftop terrace with beach and sea views.

Japanese cuisine is a highlight. There are dishes like rich tuna sashimi with citrus flavors of yuzu, soy sauce and jalapeño, or a platter of nigiri and rolls.

Fresh oysters, Alaskan king crab and caviar are options for those celebrating high-profile, while the grill is also home to premium cuts, including grain-fed Australian lamb chops and USDA prime Angus.

Turtle Bay Bar and GrillSaadiyat Rotana Resort & Villas, Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi

mezlay



Mezlai offers a real window into Arabic culinary culture.

Nestled within the awe-inspiring scale and elegance of Mandarin Oriental, Emirates Palace, Mezlai’s design is reminiscent of a billowing Bedouin tent and offers an authentic window into Arabian culinary culture. Dishes from all over the Middle East use ingredients from the sea and deserts, mountains and even oases.

Hearty small platters are set on the table, including tabbouleh, a fresh bulgur, parsley and tomato salad, a crunchy fatty meat salad with fried pita bread crumbs and perfectly smooth hummus.

Main courses span the region, from Syrian karaz kebabs with cherry sauce, Arabic mixed grill or stunning seafood platters. Their signature dessert, pistachio baklava, a wildly popular filo pastry with walnuts and syrup, is seriously kicked up a notch with local honey from the hotel’s own beehives, camel milk ice cream and gold leaf.

mezlayMandarin Oriental, Emirates Palace, West Corniche, Abu Dhabi

Saadiyat Beach Club



Saadiyat Beach Club is the perfect place to unwind and dine in style.

Saadiyat Beach Club is the ultimate hideaway for those looking to unwind along the Blue Flag shores of the Arabian Gulf, with live DJ performances throughout the day, cool cabanas – and plenty of pools to cool off in.

While there are many restaurants and lounges to choose from, Safina serves Mediterranean flavors in a relaxed yet chic setting. Seafood linguine features plenty of prawns, mussels, baby squid and clams in a tangy tomato sauce, while paella is an excellent take on a Spanish classic.

Tiramisu, sticky toffee pudding and local favorite umm Ali (bread pudding with pistachios) are all great ways to end a meal.

Saadiyat Beach ClubSaadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi

LPM Abu Dhabi



LPM’s menu features Mediterranean dishes inspired by the French Riviera.

Since it first opened in 2017, LPM Restaurant & Bar Abu Dhabi has been a favorite with locals and tourists alike, thanks to its elegant yet relaxed interiors and French Riviera-inspired cuisine.

Signature dishes focus on Mediterranean ingredients, including warm prawns with olives and lemon juice, pissaladière, an onion and anchovy frittata, and lamb chops with olives and eggplant caviar.

Located on the vibrant island of Al Maryah, LPM has successful sister restaurants in destinations such as London, Dubai, Miami and Hong Kong.

LPM Abu DhabiThe Galleria, Al Maryah Island, Abu Dhabi

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