12 Affordable Hidden Gems in Karama, #MyDubai

Dubai is thriving with good food, even more so in old Dubai which has some of the best hidden gems in the city. ? This is courtesy of the confluence of the working classes of various nationalities and cultures, who have all come together to live and work in these neighborhoods and call this city home.

It is also where we grew up and are proud to see that old Dubai – Karama in particular – has remained true to its roots. Even with all these new restaurants springing up in Dubai by the minute, at heart, they are solely there for one purpose i.e. to serve great food and give patrons a taste of home. ?

Nancy the co-founder of She said, She said (with Namrata, her BFF of 18+ years!!) runs a blog on all things food and travel, I must mention they were the finalists for the Cosmopolitan and Stylista Arabia awards too! They both have a knack in finding hidden gems and cool culinary experiences around town ? Nancy has been kind enough to curate a list of what they consider to be some of the best, hidden gems in Karama! It was hard to narrow it down to just 12 restaurants – some of them have been around for years and are popular with local residents of the area as they are always busy. Yet they remain a treasure trove to be discovered by the masses. ? Add these restaurants to your Dubai bucket list, if you haven’t been already.

Listed in no particular order:

1. Darjeeling cafe

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Don’t let its small size fool you. The walls inside this little cafe are adorned with prayer flags – the colorful rectangular cloths found strung along mountain ridges and peaks high in the Himalayas. ? The person serving your table might also be the one cooking; it is a small set-up and that’s what makes it all the more adorable. Enjoy the spiced momos, or thupka, which is a traditional Tibetan soup with noodles, or try the Nepalese style aloo chaat with wai wai (a popular brand of packet noodles), or head here for a cup of authentic tea from the tea estates of Darjeeling. ☕ A sweet little spot that definitely deserves the local community’s support!

2. Al Afadhil

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This is hardly a hidden gem because it already has a cult following from its early days in Sharjah, but it’s surprising to know that many people still haven’t been here! Its another no-frills place specializing in Lucknowi kebabs. ? You can also find chicken tikka, korma, kofta curry, dal fry and a veg dish – that’s it. I’ve listed the whole menu for you! It’s also great on the wallet as everything is priced under AED 16. End your meal with the special lassi – driving here for this ultimate cooling yogurt drink is definitely worth it. ?

3. The Meating Room

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The three guys who started this little place in Karama are besties who love food and have an appreciation for succulent, flavourful meat. ? They hosted many barbeques for friends and family until they realized ‘Hey, we need to do something with this!’. And so the Meating Room was born, serving some of the best-marinated meats in town. They have several kinds including Turkish style kebabs and Bihari chicken boti, but our favorite remains the Psychedelic lamb chops. You’ll want to order an entire plate just for yourself! ?

4. Canara

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It wouldn’t be fair if we didn’t give a shout out to one of the very few restaurants in Dubai that represent the cuisine of our motherland – Mangalore. Canara is a small restaurants with some delicious food. Go for the chicken sukka and panpole (neer dosa), the rava fried pomfret fish, some crab ghee roast, kori roti, mutton green masala and sannas (like idlis). ? The further south of India you go, the more generous the use of coconut there is in the cuisine. But unlike its neighbors in Kerala, Mangalore has its own special spice mixes like bafat and meet mirsang. Definitely worth a visit! ?

5. Tamarind Terrace

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This one is a new entrant on the scene. Opening just a few weeks ago, it features Keralan cuisine, specifically from a coastal town called Tangasseri which was leased by the native Rani to the Portuguese in 1505. Hence the beautiful blue and white tiles. ? Expect some good seafood meals, beef fry, duck roast. The generous use of pepper in the mutton paya soup is bound to open up all your sinuses. Or try kappa (mashed tapioca) with fish curry, and finish off with jackfruit ice cream. It’s delicious and very reasonably priced; you’re guaranteed to leave stuffed and happy! ?

6. Golden Dragon

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Opened in 1976, it was the first Chinese restaurant in Dubai. It developed a huge following in the next couple of decades after which it closed down for a few years. It has since returned with a bang at the Oud Metha location and continues to serve some of the tastiest Indo-Chinese / pan-Asian food. ? Sure, the title is up for debate but we recommend it for its great service, and the weekly specials such as 40% off Tuesdays and Saturdays, the All-you-can-eat Dim Sum with fried rice and green tea deal for AED 65 per person. No compromise on quality here. ?

7. De Fish Seafood Restaurant

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Move over BuQtair, De Fish is the new player on the scene, serving simple Kerala style seafood. ? You pick your fish from the counter and they’ll cook it for you as you want it. Or you can select from a whole range of chatti (claypot) curries, fried rice or appetizer options. They really are the masters of packing in all that flavor on your plate so trust them, order lots of parathas, and you’ll be licking your fingers clean. ?

8. Al Damyati & Iskandron

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This is such an old Dubai institution and has been a regular spot with the residents of Karama for good ol’ simple, weeknight Arabic food. The hummus is spot on, the arayes meaty and flavorsome, and the lamb chops a delight! ? This place has existed since pre-Instagram days and luckily, not much has changed in terms of decor or service. It’s still excellent and professional, and the food is delicious. ?

9. Maharaja Bhog

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Another one that’s so popular that you may have to wait in line on a Friday afternoon is Maharaja Bhog. Maharaja Bhog makes the list for the best thali in town, serving a Rajasthani meal fit for royalty. ? Dig into an assortment of over 20 dishes, all served at your table non-stop, and expect top-up after top-up until you have to beg them to stop. But who’s complaining! ?

10. Zagol

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We’re all for unique experiences, especially with regards to food, and what an experience this is. Ethiopian cuisine is unchartered territory for us and so we let the servers bring us whatever they recommended. Great call! ? The food is served on a large communal plate which you sit around and dig in with your hands. Looking for a special old Dubai experience? It’s right here. The curries are served on a sourdough-risen flatbread called ‘Injera’ which is made of teff flour – naturally gluten-free. Hurrah for all those who can’t tolerate the horrid “G” word. ?

11. Kulfiholic – The Mumbai social

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It’s not all dessert here as the name might suggest. ? This restaurant in Oud Metha is a funky, kitsch, all Mumbai set-up, complete with movie posters, wall art, a bit of a rickshaw/ scooter/ bus, and Amitabh Bachan asking you, “Tumhare paas kya hai?”.  Well, let me tell you, sir. I have an appetite. And one that Kulfiholic can happily satisfy. The menu features all things Mumbaiya like vada pav, grilled sandwiches, burgers, pasta… all with a Bombay twist. Come for the food, stay for the atmosphere. ?

12. Sthan

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If you’re looking for a taste of the “sthans” i.e. Hindustan, Pakistan and Afghanistan – all under one roof, look no further than Sthan, located near the Karama Post Office. It is owned by the company that owns India Palace and Golden Dragon ? – so they know their food. Try the bhalla papdi chaat, the chappein, yakhani biryani, Peshawari kadhai murgh, Afghani korma, and the mutton halwa.

Yup. Dessert made with minced meat. You heard it here first! ?

There are so many more we could add to this list. Notable mentions include Al Reef Lebanese Bakery, Arabian Tea House, Elia, Khan Murjaan, Spice Klub, Aaraamam, Tum Tum Asia, Moreish, and Midnight cafeteria.

Any other hidden gems in Dubai that you would add to the list?

Written and Researched by Nancy D’Souza

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