Friday, Oct. 10, 2008

1. Cheap and Chic Eats

This is a city of the super rich and the super poor. You are unlikely to see a place where the divide between the "have nots" and the "have yachts" is so apparent. The local-born Emiratis, who make up about 12% of the population, are typically extremely wealthy, but the town was built on the backs of a huge working-class population predominantly from the Indian subcontinent and from less prosperous areas of the Gulf. Sitting between the two groups is a burgeoning band of expats, mostly from the West, who are profiting to varying degrees from the city's modern day Gold Rush.

The best way to experience these distinct social strata is through your stomach. At the top end is five-star cuisine of the highest order. British chefs Gary Rhodes and Gordon Ramsay have culinary outposts in the Grosvenor House Hotel and the Hilton Dubai Creek, respectively, both offering Michelin star–courting cuisine. They are joined at the top of the tree by the excellent Chinese restaurant Noble House in the Raffles Hotel. In any one of these gilt-edged places you'll sample sensational fare in a high-end setting surrounded by Emiratis and those who have benefited most from Dubai's economic boom, all paying about AED 500 ($140) per person for the privilege.

On the other end of the social spectrum lies Al Dhiyafah Road, Dubai's cheap-eats street. Here restaurants catering to the city's less affluent residents spill out onto the sidewalk so you can people-watch while feasting on food from Lebanon, Iran and the Indian subcontinent. On the northern end of the street lies Sidra, with zesty salads and a gut-busting mixed grill that gives you a taste of the Levant. On the other end of Al Dhiyafah Road, Pars Iranian Kitchen dishes out succulent lamb and fresh seafood straight from its outdoor grill. Opposite Pars (although you'll have to navigate six lanes of highway traffic to get there) is Pakistani spice-peddler Ravi Restaurant, one of the city's best regarded, if least presentable, curry houses.

Due to licensing laws, restaurants outside hotels can't serve alcohol, but if you're paying less than $25 for a meal for two it's hard to quibble.