I worked in Abu Dhabi as a teacher for 4 years, so obviously I tested quite a few restaurants here and there during that time. Lamb is big, so is chicken and other things you don’t wanna see dead on a plate, including camel. But Arabian cuisine has much to offer than just that.
Typically, (and I experienced nearly the same -with some regional variations- in Oman, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan) a dish often contains a variety of little appetizers, so-called „mezze“ so when we ordered, our table was always cramped with little pots full of the most exotic flavors of 1000 and 1 night. The Humus is to die for, so is Babaganush, Tahine, Chickpea salad, Falafel balls, Taboule, Mutabal, Olives, Cous Cous, dates, stuffed wine leafs….the list is endless.
This is best washed down with a glass of lemon with mint (or a coke. For some unexplainable reason we developed a craving for coke during that time. Must have had to do with the desert heat or something, but all our visitors shared that same habit after 2/3 days. Weird.)
We were regulars at Lebanese Flower whenever we were after Arabian food. They have all the aforementioned things and much more. And if you are into Shesha, you can have that after (or even during) your meals as well. There’s an alternative option, not as frequented as Lebanese flower but much nicer located. You get the same sort of food (Did I mention fries? They have somehow made it on every Arabian menu) but as it is right on the bridge between the Corniche (near Emirates Palace) and the Marina Mall on 18th street, you can enjoy a terrific view on AD’s skyline. Come after dark when temperatures allow sitting outside and the city lights are on. Priceless.). However, there are countless little shops like that, and a lot of people like to take their food away and have it either at home or they sit in one of the parks. Shawarma (containing meat) is the take away number one for lots of locals. But most of the restaurants offer a falafel sandwich though, too.
Apart from these little stores, Abu Dhabi prides itself with having some the best cooks and countless top notch restaurants in all the fancy 5star hotels. Some of which do have a vegetarian or vegan choice, and they always tried to please even the most uncommon demands. Plus, being a multicultural melting pot (or rather: salad bowl) in which the locals are by far the minority in their own country, you have all sorts of cultural influences. Hence, you’ll find all the restaurants, from German, Italian, Thai, Vietnamese, French…
Still, we found the little shabby joints much more enjoyable and authentic (and easier on the wallet…). There are lots of tiny Indian restaurants which attracts a lot of the big Indian community in Abu Dhabi, many of which have a lot of vegetarian options on the menu. You might wanna push your luck persuading them not to use „ghee“, an animal fat. Mostly, those places aren’t exactly cosy places (although quite fun to eat in every now and then, just for people watching), but good for take away as well. Keep your eyes open and wander in the little side streets (try the area Mooror Road/19th) and you might come across a unique bakery where you can get a fresh bred from a guy who’s sitting on top of a huge oven in which he makes his bread for just one dirham. Extremely interesting to watch.
Another vegetarian Indian place is close to the Gold souq in Electra Street, opposite Cristal Hotel (Still, there are hardly addresses in Abu Dhabi, taxi drivers use landmarks or hotels to find their/your way around). It’s called Sangeetha Restaurant“ (they have a branch in Dubai as well, directly at the Creek). Here, the Thalis are recommended (see what I’ve written about it in my India post). It’s highly likely that you’ll be the only non-Indian customer in this place, but that tells you something about the quality and authenticity of the food and is half the fun anyways.
Just Falafel offers just what the name promises, in a funky variety though. It’s a small street shop: take it away and enjoy it in a park or on the nearby Corniche.
Generally speaking, communication is not a problem in Abu Dhabi, everyone speaks English. So make sure you’ll let them know what you eat (or rather: what you don’t) and they’ll make it possible.
Enjoy the Arabian culture!