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Where to eat in Old Town Dubai, & is it possible to explore Dubai on a budget?

The first thing I think about when I land in a new country or city is food, so, which restaurants to eat at in Old Town Dubai was the question I pondered most as I touched down in the UAE. Much like eating tapas in Menorca, or seafood in the Florida Keys, I like to tune into the local food scene as much as possible when I travel, and Old Town Dubai enabled me to do this more than any other area of Dubai.

doorway in old town Dubai
Old Town Dubai 

As my first time discovering Dubai and also my first visit to the United Arab Emirates, it turned out to be like no-where I’ve been before which is an odd feeling to have. I kept trying to compare Dubai to other places I’d visited previously, the buildings felt reminiscent of New York or Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, while the area around the Burj Khalifa in Downtown Dubai reminded me of Las Vegas. But upon reflection, I think it’s safe to say that Dubai is a place like no other. I’m glad I went to see it for myself but it’s not a place I’ll return to in a hurry—the lack of birds, nature, rugged beaches and culture being the main reasons why. 

I did, however, make the most of my trip and found some fabulous places to eat in and around Old Town Dubai…

Where to eat in Old Town Dubai?

Al Seef became my favourite area of Dubai for the creek which you can cross on motorised water taxis known as abras (just turn up when you want to cross—journeys cost one AED which is around 30 cents!), and for the beautiful buildings, souks and great traditional food.

Alfanar Seafood Market, Al Seef

Alfanar is a global chain with restaurants throughout the UAE, one in London and another in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia but the company was born in Dubai. The menu is made up of dishes with Indian influences as well as Emirati dishes and desserts like date pudding. For my visit, I tried shrimp biryani and shrimp machboos (a fragrant rice dish), a couple of Emirati pickles (mango and lemon), watermelon juice and fresh mint tea. 

Dinner at Alfanar in Old Town Dubai
Dinner at Alfanar in Old Town Dubai

The food at Alfanar is filling and tasty, the drinks are good, the surroundings are pretty and prices are reasonable with my meal for two including drinks and service charge coming in at 260 AED ($70/£54). 

Metro Falcon, Deira

Deira is another interesting area of the city, it’s filled with many shops, a heap of the best South Indian restaurants in Dubai, and seems to be the area for buying replica designer handbags as I passed many guys offering to show me their best ‘copy bags’. But the place I liked the most was Metro Falcon, a very basic eatery with the hugest menu (this usually puts me off but turned out to be fine) and good light bites. My friend and I ordered Karak chai, chicken tikka paratha and hummus with shawarma, all were delicious and amazingly only cost 37 AED ($10/£8) proving it is possible to explore Dubai on a budget if you swerve the flashy beach clubs and high-end restaurants. 

Where are the best beaches in Dubai?

As well as exploring Old Town Dubai I, of course, wanted to check out the beaches, swim in the sea and soak in some of that much-needed Vitamin D. I visited three different beaches during my stay with Kite Beach becoming my favourite and the one I returned to. 

Ocean at Kite Beach
Ocean at Kite Beach

Kite Beach

This public beach has a deep stretch of sand which is great for sunbathing, while the sea is pretty clear with gentle waves. If you don’t like to lie on the sand, daybeds and sunshades are available to hire. Behind the beach, there’s an amazing selection of cafes and food trucks where you can choose from an array of snacks, drinks and delicious delights. My favourite snacks were soft tacos and kombucha from Taqado Mexican Kitchen, iced coffee from 95 Degrees, and the best natural ice pops I’ve ever tasted in my life from House of Pops

Mango and strawberry ice pop from House of Pops
Mango ice pop from House of Pops

La Mer Beach 

Entering La Mer beach area feels like walking onto a film set due to being surrounded by super new shops and a sense of artificiality. The public beach is quite small, but pleasant, with shoals of fish and small stingrays and the city skyline as you look back from the sea is pretty impressive. There are fewer stalls and eateries here than at Kite Beach but it’s easy to spend the day here without bringing a picnic. 

West Beach The Palm

While West Beach is nowhere near the calibre of beaches in Barbados, it's fairly vibrant and mostly packed with holidaymakers and influencer types. The best way to experience West Beach is to book daybeds at one of the beach clubs that call this part of Dubai home, I opted for February 30 with its red and white theme and menu of experimental cocktails. It’s obviously more expensive to sunbathe at beach clubs than on public beaches as loungers, food and cocktails can all be fairly expensive but I did enjoy having everything brought to me and trying out new drinks, as alcohol is also prohibited on public beaches throughout Dubai. My friend and I had lunch at February 30 opting for guacamole, a delicious kale and asparagus salad with avocado tempura and a dish of ceviche which was lacking in lime somewhat so didn’t compare to the best restaurants in Lima and the stunning dishes I ate there.

Lunch at February 30 Dubai
Lunch at February 30 Dubai

In terms of drinks, I ordered the Surrealist cocktail—an interesting mix of smoked truffle cognac and Campari—a vodka and sake cocktail called Timeless Highball and a beer, all of which were good. The total cost for the day, including service, came to nearly 1000 AED ($270/£205) making this our most expensive outing but it was worth it for a different experience. 


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