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Abu Dhabi

dates abu dhabiEmirati cuisine reflects Abu Dhabi's trading heritage with ingredients and spices from around the Middle East: cinnamon, saffron, turmeric, nuts and dried fruit. Fish is a staple. Al Madrooba, for example, is a mix of salted fish, spices and a thick sauce served with white rice. For a snack, look for falafel or shawarma, pita bread filled with lamb or chicken carved from a spit. Fruit juices come in many varieties, including a popular lemon-mint drink sweetened with cane syrup. Serving Arabian coffee is a social ritual. It's made blended with cardamom and saffron and served in small cups, often accompanied by dates.

With more than 130 nationalities residing in the U.A.E., you'll find a wide variety of ethnic restaurants: Indian, Italian, French, Mexican, Middle Eastern -- you name it.

Because liquor licenses are expensive and difficult to obtain, most restaurants that serve alcohol are found in hotels. Some of the largest hotels contain more than a dozen restaurants and function as social centers for residents.

During the holy month of Ramadan, observant Muslims abstain from food and drink during daylight hours, and non-Muslims are asked not to eat or drink in public. Most restaurants close during the day. The time of Ramadan varies according to the Islamic calendar.

Lebanese Flower is popular with locals and often crowded but worth the wait. Try the mezze or the grilled meats or fish served with freshly baked Arabian bread. The restaurant has multiple locations around town.

For local eats, Marroush is a homey and inexpensive Lebanese and Arabian spot known for its kebabs and shawarmas. Al Arish is popular with visitors for its buffet of Emirati dishes.

Looking for a gourmet option? Mezlai is the only five-star Emirati restaurant in the U.A.E., located in the Emirates Palace. You might order hammour mafrook (fish mashed with cream) as a starter and the Bedouin dish, lamb shoulder Medfoun, as a main.

Quest overlooks the city center from its perch on the 63rd floor of the Jumeirah Hotel at Etihad Towers off Corniche Road. The pan-Asian cuisine turned out by chef Benjamin Whatt earned him a best chef designation from What's On magazine.

Li Beirut, also in the Jumeirah Hotel, is an upscale take on Lebanese cuisine. Time Out Abu Dhabi magazine gave it an award for best menu. Start with mezze or foie gras and progress to a fish, seafood or lamb main dish. For dessert, consider the delicious honey fudge. If the weather is pleasant, choose a table on the balcony.

Emirates Palace, a hotel and an attraction in its own right, features several restaurants inside its expansive walls. The busy Le Vendome Brasserie is especially good for lunch, particularly if you can snag a table on the terrace. Choose from a variety of dishes on the international buffet, but save room for Palace cake, a rich, double chocolate cake with flecks of gold in the icing.

Pearls and Caviar occupies a separate structure next to the main building of the Shangri-La Hotel. The menu marries Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisines and is especially known for its seafood and its Friday brunch. It is located in Bain Al Jessrain between the three bridges connecting Abu Dhabi city to the mainland.

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