Dubai: “Did you know that Karama is also known as the Filipino buffet capital of Dubai?” Gulf News’ resident foodie Mary Anne Martinez Relano tells me.
“It makes sense,” I tell the long-time Karama resident who has lived in the area in the last 11 years and has tried every Filipino restaurant in Dubai.
In 2001 when I first arrived in Dubai, Tagpuan at the Karama Shopping Complex was the lone restaurant serving Filipino food here. Now, there are at least 28 in Karama alone.
In Al Attar Business Centre, there are four Filipino restaurants offering budget buffets. There are also more in Al Attar Shopping Centre. They’ve also spread out in other areas, such as Deira’s Centurion Tower and Satwa.
So where is the best Filipino budget buffet in Karama? I tapped Mary and fellow Gulf News foodie Irish Eden Belleza to give their review.
Here’s our verdict on what kabayan restaurants have to offer.
If you’re on a budget and don’t mind sitting elbow-to-elbow with fellow diners (or a blast of caterwauling from the open mic videoke), you only need to shell out less than Dh30 for a decent buffet that includes about 12 dishes, plus drinks and dessert.
What we liked: Deep fried shrimp, fried dilis, fried chicken with gravy
What we didn’t like: Fishy smell on cutlery
Pia: Quality than quantity compared to other budget buffets, with regional specialties, such as creamy dinakdakan, and some surprisingly simple dishes big on taste and nostalgia: fried dilis (anchovies) paired with monggo (mung bean soup). 3/5
Mary: Good food with karaoke entertainment to boot. The deep-fried shrimp is a must-try. 3/5
Irish: Tasty food with plenty of choices in the buffet. I liked the desserts: buko pandan and macaroni salad. 3/5
Location: Al Attar Business Centre, Karama. Price: Dh27 on weekdays, Dh29 on Fridays. Open from: 8:30am to 11:30pm. Telephone: 04 3486864
When it comes to budget buffets, 365 Restaurant has the numbers checked. They were the first to introduce the budget buffet at their Satwa branch and the second to offer it in Al Attar Business Centre, with a spread that includes 21 dishes and an assortment of Filipino desserts.
What we liked: That fun Filipino mural on the wall and their spacious dining area
What we didn’t like: Packed restaurant on Friday, which makes it hard to get up from our seat and weave our way though the narrow walkway that connects the dining area to the buffet area
Pia: Definitely more food for your dirham. I liked the crispy honey chicken. 2.5/5
Mary: Not sure what that “trying hard” sushi is doing in the buffet, but the rest of the food is good. I especially liked the fried rice and papaitan, a spicy-bitter soup made with beef innards. 3/5
Irish: Tasty food with plenty of choices in the buffet. 3/5
Location: Al Attar Business Centre, Karama. Price: Dh27 on weekdays, Dh30 on Fridays. Open from: 10am to 12am. Telephone: 04 3345866
Pinoy Lomi House
The buffet here costs a dirham or two more than other cafeterias in Al Attar Business Centre but it has a big spread that includes plenty of meat and seafood dishes, and some barbecued delights.
What we liked: Goto, lomi, adobong pusit, deep-fried shrimps, halo-halo station
What we didn’t like: Paying a dirham or two extra
Pia: Nice set up, with the buffet table easily accessible from the dining area, and a wide food selection. 3/5
Mary: Nice food, wide selection. 4/5
Location: Al Attar Business Centre, Karama. Price: Dh31.50. Open from: 9am to 11pm. Telephone: 04 3986826
The newest challenger in Al Attar Business Centre has 12 dishes in its buffet plus something that might give the others a run for their money: chicken feet, barbecued in Filipino street style fashion.
What we liked: Spacious dining area, with nicely arranged mini buffet
What we didn’t like: Location hidden from view, at least from the Karama-side entrance
Pia: I love the little extra they put in the buffet, such as the Filipino biscuits and roasted peanuts in jars. 2.5/5
Location: Al Attar Business Centre, Karama. Price: Dh25 on weekdays, Dh27 on Friday. Open from: 7am to 12am. Telephone: 0545796495
One of the oldest Filipino restaurants in Karama has also jumped in the buffet bandwagon. The selection includes 13 tastefully prepared dishes and buko pandan for dessert.
What we liked: kare-kare, savoury chicken, calamares and buko pandan
What we didn’t like: being forced to miss out on al fresco dining in this summer heat
Pia: Going buffet just made this iconic Filipino restaurant more fun and affordable to dine in. 3/5
Mary: Limited selection but home-cooked meals leave you feeling good after a bite. I love dining al fresco here during winter time, with that nostalgic view of the old Karama souq. Reminds me of dinners with my mum: mouthfuls of good food and “sermons”. 4/5
Location: Block G, Karama Shopping Centre. Price: Dh30 from 6pm onwards. Open from: 9am to 12am. Telephone: 3374029
The restaurant ticks all the boxes when it comes to ambiance, service, and of course the wide food selection, which includes sushi and make-your-own soup. Staff are attentive but not obtrusive and will promptly replace your used plate and cutlery with a fresh one so you can dine with ease. Plus, expect staff to break into an impromptu birthday performance at your nearest table at least once every hour.
What we liked: Filipino street food barbecue nights on Wednesdays, assorted kakanin (sweets made of glutinous rice and coconut milk), like palitaw, cassava cake, puto and more.
What we didn’t like: When they run out of bowls for halo-halo or soft-serve ice cream
Pia: I keep coming back here for the affordable price, the nicely presented Filipino food and the modern ambiance. It’s perfect when I’m trying to introduce Filipino food to non-Filipinos. 4/5
Mary: Very wide selection of food, nice ambiance, fair taste, with a delicious dessert section. 4/5
Irish: Beautifully presented dishes with a Tagalog taste. 3.5/5
Location: Al Wasl Hub, Karama. Price: Dh29 for lunch, Dh49 for dinner. Open from: 11am to 12am. Telephone: 04 5269042
If you’re looking for authentic food from the Visayas, you’ll like the spread in Authentic Angels. The 12-dish buffet is available every Friday for Dh23 and includes unlimited iced tea.
What we liked: Utan bisaya (vegetable soup with moringa leaves) and tinolang isda (fish soup)
What we didn’t like: Small, cramped dining space
Mary: Limited selection, but the taste is fair. The caldereta is a must-try. 3/5
Irish: I love the authentic taste of the Visayas, and I go here for the utan bisaya.
Location: Shop G9, Civil Defence Colony. Price: Every Friday, Dh23. Open from: 10am to 11:30pm. Telephone: 04 5269042
Komedor literally means dining room, and they have a spacious al fresco area that is regularly full when the weather is cooler but remains largely deserted in the summer. But this hasn’t stopped regulars from diving in the buffet in their indoor dining area.
What we liked: You really want to go here for the boodle fights (more on that in another story), but the 10-dish buffet is also not bad
What we didn’t like: Small buffet spread
Pia: I love the daing na bangus and the fried shrimps. 3/5
Mary: The ambiance makes up for the small food selection. Dessert is so-so, but the papaitan is a winner. 3/5
Location: 10D Street, Opposite Karama Centre. Price: Dh28. Open from: 11am to 11:30pm. Telephone: 04 3940007
With inputs from Mary Anne M. Relano, Digital Advertisement Controller, and Irish Eden Belleza, Videographer