Social restrictions in Riyadh make meal times a very different affair from most other cities of the world. Meals are a bonding activity solely for men as women are not permitted to dine in public without a male accompaniment. While dining, women and men sit in separate rooms or in a partitioned family room separate from the public.
Riyadh is bordered by Iraq, Kuwait and Jordan in the north, the Gulf of Oman and Qatar in the east and by Yemen in the south; as a result, this capital city promises an array of Middle Eastern dishes. It also boasts of an extensive range of cuisines from around the globe. For just a few bucks you can get a tasty Saudi meal in almost any corner of the city, consisting of everything from mouth-watering Kabsa to Kultra. Most restaurants in the city have the trademark hookahs and shishas, traditional lamps and seating.
If only a quick bite is on the agenda, then roadside stalls serving rolls, shawarmas and falafel sandwiches will do the trick. Every nook and corner in Riyadh has at least one roadside vendor serving such Middle Eastern treats. All malls in the city also have at least one food court offering various kinds of foods – everything from sandwiches to shawarma. For an elegant meal in an upscale setting, look for restaurants housed in four and five-star hotels, which serve a plethora of gourmet dishes.
Alcohol is forbidden in Riyadh by law, and as a result there are no bars in the city. The minutest of violations leads to prosecution and a strict punishment. Instead, people in Riyadh enjoy mocktails, fresh fruit juices along with the famous Arabic coffee.
With regard to social etiquette, it is advisable to follow the local custom. For example, refrain from over-tipping the waiters; a ten percent tip will suffice. Also, don't expect the waiters to be too generous about the time they spend at your table as they are often serving a mind-boggling number of tables simultaneously.
Despite the seemingly endless restrictions and rigid social practices prevalent in Riyadh, dining in one of its several restaurants can be an unforgettable experience.
Places to Dine
The famous Olaya District has several restaurants on every street. An extensive list of eateries, including Chinese, Mexican, French, Lebanese, American, and Indian are but a stone's throw away from each other. For a traditional Middle Eastern dinner, head to Shaabiyah. This eatery on Olaya Street features world-class traditional Lebanese and Saudi cuisine. If Arabic food is not tickling the taste buds, head to Biyano for delicious French food or to Aladdin for Indian cuisine.
King Fahad Road houses some of the best hotels and restaurants in the city. Highly recommended are Ranwa for traditional Saudi food and Terrazo II in the Al-Faisaliah Hotel, which serves authentic Brazilian dishes. For a truly unforgettable experience, try Spazio 77 also located in the exclusive Al-Faisaliah Hotel at one of the highest altitudes in Riyadh.
Sheraton Riyadh offers a very rich buffet for breakfast, covering a wide spectrum of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern delicacies, as well as regular European food. The Italian restaurant in the ground floor of Sheraton Riyadh is excellent. The pasta with its freshly prepared sauce is recommended.
Don't forget to try the best Chinese restaurant in all of Riyadh, Al-Mada'yin, located in the Al-Rahbaniyah District or for a speedier meal, go to Mama Noura for Lebanese. There are also plenty of other fast food options such as Al-Fukhar.
The Al-Malaz District has a few dining options, including mouth-watering Egyptian and Thai specialities at Gad or Italian and American cuisine at the Eastern Flower.