How Doha's Food Scene Has Transformed From Hotel Buffets to a Smorgasboard of Qatari—and International—Creativity

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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food, how doha's food scene has transformed from hotel buffets to a smorgasboard of qatari—and international—creativity

Located at the 4th Floor of the National Museum of Qatar, Jiwan offers contemporary Qatari cuisine prepared by Ducasse Paris chefs.

food, how doha's food scene has transformed from hotel buffets to a smorgasboard of qatari—and international—creativity

Our sharing dishes are placed at the center of the table, enabling everyone to enjoy a taste of everything together.

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).

food, how doha's food scene has transformed from hotel buffets to a smorgasboard of qatari—and international—creativity

The dining room at Raffles Doha restaurant L’Artisan.

Hot hotel dining

Even before the FIFA World Cup hotel rush, Doha’s skyline bristled with towering luxury properties, and it’s inside of them that you’ll find many of the best restaurants in Doha. The main reason? As with other Middle Eastern hubs, alcohol is largely restricted to hotels in Qatar—so if you’re looking to have a grown-up beverage with your meal, hotel dining is often the only way to go.

When food writer and 16-year Doha resident Rachel Morris first arrived in Qatar, the restaurant scene was far from where it is today. As author of the Life on the Wedge website, a good place for any Qatar visitor to get a sense of what not to miss, she chronicles Doha’s dining scene, including old stalwarts and new additions. “When I first arrived in Qatar, we had a few five-star hotels with generic buffets and Italian, Arabic, and Asian restaurants,” she says. “Now you can dine around the world in one day in Doha. We have nearly a dozen South American restaurants, a huge number of Korean places, and a wonderfully vibrant café and specialty coffee scene,” says Morris.

South American food does indeed seem to be hot right now in Doha. At the Four Seasons hotel on West Bay, Jean-George Vongerichten’s latest venture in the city—Curiosa—has just opened, with Peruvian head chef Edgar Hurtado whipping up empanadas, anticuchos and more at an open show kitchen. Over at the beachside InterContinental hotel, Gaston Acurio’s Peruvian cuisine at La Mar is as popular as ever, and can now be enjoyed from a private cabana at the new La Mar Beach lounge. And Sushisamba has just opened the brand’s first beach club, bringing its blend of party spirit and Latin American flavors to the new Waldorf Astoria Lusail hotel.

New arrivals are also on the horizon in the just-opened Raffles and Fairmont hotels, each taking up one side of the crescent-like Katara Towers in Lusail. At Raffles, Michelin three-starred chef Enrico Crippa’s Alba is creating a buzz with the promise of greens and flowers from the restaurant’s greenhouse, theatrical meat-carving, and—of course—plenty of truffle. And at the Fairmont, Jiggs Kalra’s Masala Library offers contemporary Indian tasting menus that also traverse the culinary traditions of Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives.

food, how doha's food scene has transformed from hotel buffets to a smorgasboard of qatari—and international—creativity

Pastéis de nata, the Portuguese egg tart, at Santa Nata.

Impressive independents

For proper people-watching in Doha, head for one of the outdoor tables at Damasca One. Set on an atmospheric corner of Souq Waqif, the casual Syrian food here is top-notch—memorable mezze like lamb makanek sausages with pomegranate molasses and eggplant makdous stuffed with walnut and chili score top marks.

Deeper into the souq, Persian restaurant Parisa is a kaleidoscope of mirrored mosaics, stained glass, and crystal chandeliers. While it feels like a standalone, it’s actually managed by the Ritz-Carlton Doha hotel, but the corporate connection doesn’t take away any of its individual charm, and the food is reliably excellent.

A stylish Qatari crowd hangs out in Msheireb Downtown, and it’s a good place to feel the buzz and energy of the modern city. Contemporary Sri Lankan restaurant Nourlaya is always bursting at the seams, with tables spilling out onto the pavement outside and appreciative diners tucking into bone marrow masala, blue swimmer crab curry, and chicken paratha tacos.

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On the edge of Msheireb’s Baraha square, there’s always a queue for fresh-from-the-oven pastéis de nata at Santa Nata. A few steps away, inside M7, Doha’s new fashion, design and tech hub, Profiles café is filled with young creatives sipping cascara fizz and nibbling Basque cheesecake with rose-petal coulis. The pastries at Rusk Artisanal Bakery are the stuff of local legend, with out-of-the-box flavor combinations like chicken jalapeño ranch danishes, and za’atar and feta sourdough focaccia.

And there’s still more on the way: Outposts like Beef Bar, La Petite Maison, Zuma, Nammos Beach Club, and Billionaire are all set to open across the city in the coming months. While the FIFA World Cup may be a short-lived excitement for the city, Doha’s dining scene seems to be setting itself up for years to come.

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