The Best Cheap Eats In Dubai

It's not a mirage . . . there actually are affordable meals in the City of Gold

You might think that in the city of five-star hotels, you need a five-star salary to find a delicious meal. But you'd be wrong: From a retro Airstream that slings chicken-Cheetos sandwiches to a Levantine-inspired fast-food joint famous for its oven-baked manouche, Dubai boasts some seriously excellent, and sometimes seriously quirky, discount dining spots. Read on to navigate the best cheap eats in the City of Gold.

① Bu Qtair Fish Shack

A first clue that Bu Qtair isn't your typical upscale Dubai dining haunt? It's located in a run-down shack on the beach. With no menu and plenty of fresh fish (including marinated hammour and chilli prawns), this tiny restaurant, run by a family from Kerala, India, got its start as a place for fisherman to grab a bite to eat after docking their fishing dhows in the nearby port. 

② Ravi's

Since 1978, crowds from around the emirate have been flocking to this legendary hole-in-the-wall Pakistani restaurant for forkfuls of butter chicken, chicken sukh and mutton palak. Vegetarian? Opt for the thick, silky paneer butter masala.

③ Smiling BKK

If you're willing to look past the goofy names, including Where's My Mojo Baby? (Thai-style fish cakes served with sweet sauce) and Miles of Smiles (stir-fried chicken with soy sauce), this Thai joint is a winner. If it's heat you want, go with the Purple Rain ($12), a fiery red curry with barbecue duck, pineapple, tomato and coconut milk.

④ Salt Food Truck

This silver, retro-style Airstream initially gained popularity by launching a burger treasure hunt around Dubai. The concept was simple but viral: Follow @findsalt on Instagram; find out where the truck would pop up next; and dash there for Wagyu sliders, cheese fries and chicken-Cheetos sandwiches in buttery buns. Although Salt now has a permanent location on one of Dubai's public beaches, it remains a popular place to score a grab-and-go gourmet burger for only $10.

⑤ Zaroob

This fast-casual dining chain sports colorful decorations from around Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Egypt and Palestine in a tribute to the vibrant street food vendors of the Levant. And then there's the food, which includes oven-baked manouches served with cheese, sumac, za'atar or meat ($5); shawarma ($3); and crunchy-moist falafels (20 for $7). Also nice: the Lebanese foul with tahini or ghee ($5).

⑥ Xiao Wei Yang Hot Pot

At this hot pot restaurant, you do the cooking yourself. First, mark your selections in pencil on a paper menu; choose from a huge variety of meats, noodles, vegetables and fish. Then, drop your spoils in a pot of mild, medium or spicy boiling broth. For a sure bet, go with the fat-streaked beef, cabbage, tofu knots and mushroom medley. Gather four of your friends and enjoy this hearty meal for only $7 apiece.

Dylan Essertier is a Nutella-worshipping Aquarius with a penchant for hot pot and travel. Prior to moving back to New York, she worked as a culture editor in Dubai for five years. Follow her on Twitter at @DylanEssertier.