The flurry of activity around the FIFA World Cup has put Qatar in the spotlight recently. But the best restaurants in Doha are drawing their own attention away from the attention of the sport and the shiny new stadiums and museums. The city’s burgeoning dining scene is starting to give its regional rivals some friendly competition all their own. New hotels have brought big-name restaurants with them, but there’s also a strong line-up of innovative independents, as well as talented local chefs putting Qatari food squarely in the spotlight. All of it is making today’s dining scene in the Qatari capital its most exciting yet—here are the best restaurants in Doha, from international inspired fare to Middle Eastern mainstays and food tour stops.
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Local flavors, from traditional to fine dining
Embrace Doha’s three-hour walking tours, led by Qatari guides and long-term residents, offer a real immersion into Qatari street food, taking in ten different stops throughout the capital’s central bazaar, Souq Waqif. From spiced karak tea to freshly baked bread, balaleet (sweet, saffron-scented vermicelli) machboos (a local staple, similar to biryani) and more, it’s not only an introduction to the variety of local flavors, but also a great way to meet some of the people—most of whom are women—behind Doha’s street food culture.
For a relaxed start to the morning, Bayt Sharq is hard to beat. A Qatari restaurant inside a century-old heritage house, Bayt Sharq has its own little museum and a sprawling courtyard with alcoves full of vintage tchotchkes, shady date palms, classic cars, and birdsong. But as delightful as the surroundings are, it’s the food that’s just as much a draw, and the generously sized breakfast trays come loaded with falafel, foul (bean stew), shakshouka, lamb liver, fresh breads and pastries, olive oil and zaatar, and sweet rehash halwa.
For a quick, more casual bite, Shay Al Shomous, on the edge of Souq Waqif, is run by Shams Al Qassabi, the first woman to open a spice shop in the souq—a trade typically dominated by men. Head to the sunny terrace for crêpe-like regag and doughy saj bread filled with egg, cheese, thyme, or honey, washed down with cardamom milk tea. Inside, groaning shelves are laden with jars of Al Qassabi’s signature spice mixes, with blends for biryanis, broths, and more.
In Msheireb Downtown, a stylish new neighborhood just a short walk from Souq Waqif and home to an impressive mix of cafés, museums, and boutiques, another female chef is putting Qatari cuisine in the spotlight. Sheikha Ahmed Al Meer heads up the kitchen at Saasna, turning out contemporary takes on traditional Qatari favorites such as barnioush fish with caramel sugar and fried onion, and fragrant smoked chicken with rice and cumin seeds.
Perched on the fourth floor of the Jean Nouvel-designed Qatar National Museum is Jiwan by Alain Ducasse. The interior twinkles with four million pearlescent Swarovski crystal beads that hang from the ceiling, a nod to Qatar’s pearl-diving heritage. Jiwan’s fine dining menu is rooted in inspiration from classic Qatari dishes mixed with a helping of French flair. Surprising flavor combinations include chicken kibbeh with apricot, confit lamb shoulder with mint and fennel, and desserts that combine rhubarb, strawberry and labneh, and caramelized apple with goat’s cheese and loomi (black lime).