Guess what? I’m learning Arabic! Not surprisingly, a lot of the words I’ve been adding to my vocabulary involve food, including moussaka, khobz, and tagine. I can’t wait to put my studies into practice.

One culinary giant you shouldn’t miss is Abu Dhabi. This cosmopolitan city is a place where you can eat your way around the world or sample delicious Emirati dishes. Traditional food in the UAE is rich and spicy, with a variety of meat and fish. In fact, until about 50 years ago, fishing and other industries propped up the country’s economy. If you’re ready to start your gastronomic adventure, keep reading for some of the best traditional and international restaurants in Abu Dhabi.

Traditional: Meylas

A young, passionate Emirati woman named Shaikha Al Kaabi opened Meylas in 2011. This welcoming waterfront restaurant serves delectable dishes such as Chbaab (pancakes with date syrup, honey, and cheese) and Salonat Badu (traditional Bedouin stew). The ingredients are grown locally, and everything is freshly cooked. This place has become so popular that the owner has opened a food truck to bring the unique flavors and culture of the UAE to even more people.

Al Raha Beach-Al Muneera

Hours: 9:00 a.m.–10:00 p.m. daily

Luxury: Byblos Sur Mer

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Photo via Flickr by TomEats

Byblos Sur Mer is one of the fabulous restaurants at the InterContinental Abu Dhabi resort near downtown. Revel in the views over the marina and the Arabian Gulf with creative Lebanese dishes. Chef Raed heads up this spot and offers tasty signatures such as sujok w ferreh (spiced lamb sausage and quail’s breast) and warbat (baklava stuffed with halawa ice cream). Evenings come with a side of Lebanese entertainment, allowing visitors to relax with a shisha while basking in the extravagance.

King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud Street

Hours: 12:00 p.m.–2:00 a.m. daily

Comfort Food: Famous Dave’s

Emirati cuisine is known for including all types of meat, from camel to goat and sheep. Famous Dave’s is perfect for unleashing your inner carnivore. This American restaurant is popular among tourists and locals for its smoked meat slathered in sweet sauce. Add on a side of cornbread, burnt ends, and coleslaw, and you’ve got a plate of the Southern United States right in Abu Dhabi.

Level 3, Abu Dhabi Mall

Hours: 11:00 a.m.–11:00 p.m., Saturday to Wednesday; 11:00 a.m.–12:00 a.m., Thursday to Friday

Local Delights: Saudi Cuisine VIP

Savor a local Khaleeji meal at Saudi Cuisine VIP, a traditionally decorated restaurant in Al Khalidiya. Choose the cozy majlis-style (my-lis) seating for a real feel of the Arabian dining experience. You’ll sit on cushions around small, raised platters in what feels like a Bedouin tent. The kabsa (mixed rice dish with meat) and lamb madfoon (lamb rice dish) are flavorful and tender. This traditional experience comes at budget-friendly prices, so it’s certainly worth a visit!

3rd Street, Al Khalidiya

Hours: 12:00 p.m.–12:00 a.m. daily

Through food, you quite literally incorporate cultures and experiences into your body. It’s one of the reasons why my favorite thing to do when I travel is eat. Abu Dhabi is a place where many cultures collide, and the city’s eclectic spirit is especially evident in its architecture, shops, and cuisine. Let Abu Dhabi become a part of you!

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