Dubai is always touted as a shopper's paradise. That it's also a salvation for the hungry is rarely written about. Name the restaurant chain and you're bound to find it here. For many of us who have grown up (only) hearing of The Cheesecake Factory or IHOP in popular sitcoms and flicks, Dubai makes for a relatively cheaper one-stop destination to all these international food shrines. Here's my list of the top mid-budget picks you should plan your next trip around.
Shake Shack sprouted from a hot dog cart in Manhattan to grow into a popular burger chain. The understood rule for a great burger is the ''no vegetarian'' law. Surprisingly, we preferred their vegetarian Shroom Burger (25 DHM) over the beef cheeseburger. It's a crisp fried Portobello mushroom patty filled with Muenster and Cheddar cheese. Imagine thick melted cheese oozing out of the patty with every bite. Our only complaint was the size, especially for the price. Pair it with Cheese Fries; crinkle cut potatoes topped with Shack cheddar and American cheese sauces (18 DHM). We saved the best for last: Concrete is their signature frozen custard blended with toppings and fillings (21 DHM). Shack Attack is a bowl of chocolate custard with fudge sauce, cookie dough, chocolate pearls and sprinkles. It has a light ice cream-like consistency. Delicious.
A Malaysian food and beverage chain with over 200 kiosks which serves just ONE food item! How can you not be curious? There are 9 outlets in Dubai and finding one isn't tough if you just follow your nose. Their signature hot buns are both their one-trick pony and claim to fame. The glazed caramel coated buns (11 DHM) are simply genius. The crisp exteriors make a slight crackling sound which is music to the ears. It leads into the softest warm bread insides. The centre is specked with melted butter that heightens the experience. Just the hot buns would suffice, but you can pair it with loads of hot and cold coffee options. This is the perfect pit stop in the middle of a tiring shopping day.
With its origin in NYC, Magnolia Bakery is credited for making cupcakes the craze they are today. And yes, this is the bakery mentioned in Sex and the City and The Devil Wears Prada. It's beautiful and minimalistic with pastel green and cream interiors, in a corner of the Bloomingdales store in Dubai Mall. The only hurdle you'll find here are what to choose from the hundreds of colourful cupcakes. We insist you resist all the cupcakes (get them packed for later) and fall face first into the Banana Pudding (25 DHM). This is a crossover between a Banoffee Pie and the Banana Split. Dig into a mix of fresh light custard, whipped cream, caramel, banana slices and vanilla-flavoured cookies.
A massive country-style American diner done in blue and red, there are no two ways about what you will go for here. If the name - International House of Pancakes isn't enough, maybe the jars of maple syrup and strawberry jam on each table would wake up the Sherlock in you. Feast on their award-winning Buttermilk Pancakes. Yes, apparently someone somewhere gives out awards for pancakes. This is the softest stack of fluffy pancakes we've encountered and we demolished it with their rich and nutty Butter Pecan Syrup and some butter (34 DHM). In case you want something savoury , go with their American classic Chicken & Waffles (38 DHM). It's an excellent, uncomplicated meal where fried chicken goodness is paired with crispy, buttery waffles.
Keeping with the trend of American and Brit chains making their way to Dubai, the popularity of UK ramen central - Wagamama comes as no surprise. Known for their quick, value for money slurpy meals-in-a-bowl, the Japanese inspired bistro's USP lies in its clear, precise flavours with umami textures. Their Yako Soba Chicken is a big hit along with the Yasai Cha Han. But our vote goes to the wholesomely sticky sweet Teriyaki Salmon Soba (59 DHM) with perfectly flaky fish, and firm hand-rolled noodles. Ramen-seekers won't be disappointed if they go for the Chili Beef Ramen (49 DHM). For even heartier meals, we recommend their bento boxes.